One of my all-time favorite movies is Out of Africa. We recently watched it again. At the beginning of the movie, just before the music crescendos, Meryl Streep, as Karen Blixen, aka Isack Dinnesen, says, “I had a farm in Africa”. These words came to me as Tom and I were busily digging the soil next to our house.
Mama Mdemu, the Director of the home, graciously offered us the use of the land for a shamba, a farm. Two weeks ago, we started the work. First, we stopped by the Home and borrowed two hoes from the students. By the time we got changed into work clothes and went outside, two of the girls, Paulina and Asha, were there to help us get started. They wanted to be sure Bibi and Babu were not working too hard.
We measured out a good sized plot to start with. Paulina and Asha started digging up the ground, which is a deep orangish brown. The area had been planted last season with potatoes, beans and corn. The crops are intermingled in order to get as much as possible out of each square foot. As we dug, we found potatoes that were left from the previous harvest. Paulina told us to set these aside and they would be used as “seeds” for the next crop. After finishing a few rows, we thanked Asha and Paulina and manned the hoes. The work was hard, but very rewarding. The soil here is unlike any we have dug before. The clay content is very high and the ground is hard. Digging turns over large clumps that almost look like broken bricks. These need to be broken up with the hoe. Also, we have only seen two earthworms after digging an area of about 60 by 100 feet.
Once the ground is completely turned, the area is mounded into “terraces” with a trench between each one. Paulina instructed us on how to form the terrace and then showed that we would then dig holes in the terraces, put in some manure, cover this lightly and then put in a handful of potato “seeds” in each hole. The work is very strenuous.
In Tanzania, most people have at least a small shamba either at their home, or on land some distance away. The students here and also our neighbors find it incredible that this is our first attempt at growing vegetables. We showed them a postcard we received of the Philadelphia skyline and explained that there are very few farms in the city. Even at our home in New Jersey, we always planted flowers. With produce being so available, there is no need to grow anything.
In America we have the blessing of fresh or frozen food at any season. Here, they have the advantage of having weather that makes it possible to grow things year-round. Anything that is not used by the family can be sold in order to buy the items they cannot grow. Most of the corn grown at the Home is taken to Lushoto to be ground into corn meal. String beans are left on the vine until the beans inside are very large and the plants are dried. They are taken into a small area and beaten with large sticks. The beans fall to the bottom and are dried. The remains of the plants are used for compost.
We are blessed to be here and to be experiencing the life of the people around us. Like our neighbors, we will be growing carrots, onions, peppers, potatoes, sweet potatoes and beans. Unlike them, we have also planted zucchini and cauliflower.
As the saying goes, “Grow where you are planted”.