I wake up with my mind on the mission. It has been almost two weeks and I haven’t yet persuaded my host family I am capable of doing anything useful around the house. They say they won’t let me help because I am a guest, and when I insist they are on the verge of offended. But, I think they are all just good actors. The root cause of this particular issue is they simply see me as incompetent. My one window of opportunity closed faster than I dropped the soap on doing my own laundry last week. I haven’t been allowed to clean my clothes, do the dishes, or other household chores since.
Today is different. Today I am going to help in the fields with harvest; slashing and piling the maize. I’ve made up my mind. I’m not going to take no for an answer no matter how good the acting.
It hasn’t been five minutes and already I’ve been sent back to my hut from the maize field. Mr. Zewa was fretting that my soft pale skin is no match for the burrs and tall weeds, “Spainca! You can’t work in the field. You will be all night ‘scratch, scratch, scratch’. Go and rest my brother. You can’t work without long sleeves.”
I grab a long sleeve from my bag and walk back to the field.
Mr. Zewa and Austen look up from their work to me struggling to walk through the thick weeds and ridged soil. They turn and look at each other, laugh at my foolish persistence, and shrug. Austen hands me a machete and I follow them to the boundary of standing maize stocks.
The weeds are almost as tall as the maize itself. They are intertwined creating a viney mesh which covers you with tiny sharp burs that prick you through your clothes. They are dreadful things. I start to scratch my arms through my shirt sleeves; now I know what Mr. Zewa meant. My frequent itching means I can slash 1 row of maize as quickly as Austen does 2.
As we go along the row, slashing the stock at the base and tossing them into piles, which will later be stacked upright for easy harvesting, Mr. Zewa tells me about his neighbor’s cow.
“The cow, Spainca, it went blind.”
“Oh? Why did it go blind?” In my head I’m thinking: old age, stared at the sun too long, ran head first into a pointy branch…
“A snake spit in its eye. It will probably die.”
“Sooo… Where did this happen?”
“Just in the field.” Mr. Zewa waves his hand nonchalantly to the west.
Oh perfect, a snake that spits venom in your eyes which kills you after you’ve been agonizingly blinded. I’m almost scared to ask what comes into my mind next.
“How common are these snakes?”
“Ahh, only one every square kilometer.”
I’m no stats buff, but I’ve covered my fair share of squared kilometers, and now I’m literally combing one back and forth slashing maize. I grip my machete a little tighter. I don’t know what my odds are, but probably outside of a comfortable range.
Despite lacking immunity to the devilish burs, and despite the looming prospects of a blind death, I feel good.
“Spainca, you are a real Zambian farmer now!”
I can’t help but smile.
Midafternoon Lemick comes by Austen’s to prepare for the meeting at the cooperative. Emerson still busy with police duties, and Enoke not having a cell phone and relying on word of mouth about meeting times, do not come. By now I almost expect it.
I help Austen and Lemick go through all of the services they can offer as CLAs to the farmers in the region. Then, they ask me if I can show them how to write a report.
They explain that the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries requires them to submit a report monthly on the number of animals treated, type of disease treated, and amount charged for service. This report is supposed to be done as a group.
Together we come up with a table containing column headings: Agent, Date, Farmer (customer), Phone number (of farmer), Animal treated, Number of animals treated, disease treated for, drug administered, and Amount charged.
I show how they can use it to track who in the group is active, who isn’t, and how much revenue the group is generating. I also show them how to add up the rows and get totals for each agent, and add up the column and get totals for disease, number of animals treated and what type. I explain how this would only work, however, if all four of them took accurate records in this way and then transferred them at the end of the month into the report.
When we finish they tell me how useful they found this and how much they have learned; and a feeling of satisfaction hesitantly creeps over me. Why do band-aid solutions make you feel accomplished? Every agent and CLA in Zambia isn’t going to have a Junior Fellow come and show them how to write reports. Clearly there is a bigger issue at hand and can’t be solved one at a time, not like this. But, in the short term the success is visible, tangible.
Huh. Sad, but it kind of makes sense now why there are so many band-aid development projects. Short term feel good success.
Tomorrow is my last day in Chinjala, and the big meeting at the cooperative between all cooperative farmers and the CLAs. I’ll be traveling to Lusaka afterwards to meet with PROFIT and AZCC to talk about the challenges agents are facing, and bring some of the ‘field realties’ up the chain to management. The goal is to take what I have learned in Chinjala and apply it to developing and testing agent support tools – come up with and test systems to provide long term support to agents across the country from the bases of issues.
Ripping off the band aid can be painful, especially when it is a slow process. The challenges are going to be many, but I’m excited. Bring on the hurt.