November 7, 2009

HOW TO: build a garden in The Gambia

I'm sorry I haven't posted pictures or videos recetnly, I haven't been to the capital for a month. But I have a ton of stuff to post and will be going in next week, so keep an eye out. In the meantime, for those of you interested, I'm going to go into some details about what this process of making the garden has been like. For those of you not interested, skip it.

Because no one has cars here, transportation of materials is a serious pain in the ass. If I lived 10k off the road and far from any towns, it would have been extremely expensive and annoying to get all the materials from Banjul, the capital, to my village. Fortunately for me, everything except the barbed wire was available in Bansang, a town 1k from the garden. I cannot begin to describe how much easier this made the process. Thus, my biggest concern was getting the barbed wire from Banjul to Bansang. Fortunately for me, again, the owner of a store in Bansang that I frequent (called Pa Foaud's, I'm sure I've mentioned it before), was in Banjul getting supplies and agreed to take the barbed wire back to his store. Problem solved surprisingly easily.

According to our grant timeline (a lovely formality, as nothing, and I mean nothing, happens on schedule in this country), on the day I purchased the barbed wire, the women's group was supposed to have erected all the fence poles. But, they hadn't. I told them that I couldn't get the money until all the tasks they agreed to complete in the grant application were done. This was not true, but I wanted to make sure they held up their end before they received any materials. So, I didn't tell them that the barbed wire was at Pa Foaud's until a week later when the task had been completed at which point they sent a donkey cart to retrieve it. In retrospect, this lie was probably unnecessary, because they really are so reliable. The fact that they finished their task only a week behind schedule is phenomenal.

Then I met with the women's group and the carpenter and well digger, for a second time, to verify start and finish dates (again, a formality) and pay them half their labor fee. At this meeting, my counterpart suggested we write a contract for each of the men. The men signed the contract, agreed to start work the following Saturday and were paid. And the following Saturday, they BOTH started work! I cannot explain to you how amazing this is. I bragged to EVERY SINGLE volunteer I talked to about the fact that work was actually going according to schedule with this garden. No one could believe it. Mind you, according to the contract, the fence should be finished today, but probably won't be until tomorrow or the day after. But still, by GMT (jokingly referred to here as Gambian Maybe Time), that is a great success.

Between the meeting with the carpenter and well digger and the start date, my counterpart and I went into town (Bansang) to purchase the rest of the supplies-- 92 bags of cement, 100 rods, 50 kilograms of nails and 3 kilograms of binding wire. Everything was available at one store. I paid for the goods, happy to be rid of the 60,000 Dalasis in cash I had had buried under my underwear in my house (better than under the mattress where every other Gambian keeps his money). Everything was totaled using a hand-held calculator and after the purchase was made, I was given a hand-written receipt by the store owner. And as promised by my counterpart, by the next evening, all the materials had been brought to the village by donkey cart.

They (the members of the women's group) do everything they say they're going to do and I don't even have to hound them about it. I cannot, cannot explain to you that while all this seems very normal to you readers, it is ANYTHING BUT normal for us volunteers here. Nothing ever happens on schedule, without hang-ups or serious prodding. My experience with this garden thus far has been nothing short of a miracle, and everyone here is very jealous that I am working with such good, reliable, motivated people (again, not the norm for Gambians).

That's not to say there haven't been a few hang-ups here and there, but they have all been minor and were resolved quickly. For example, the day before yesterday, I went to see the garden (I probably go three or four times a week just to check-in, and I am surprised every single time that things are still going according to schedule), and I ran into the well digger who said he hasn't been able to work because his "push-push," commonly referred to as a wheelbarow, "is having problem." Despite the 12,000 Dalasis given to him two weeks ago, he says he has no money to repair it. Well, I think, that's your problem, buddy. But my counterpart and I discussed it with him and agreed to give him an advance of 500 Dalasis to be taken out of his final labor payment. And just like that, problem solved.

Let me just add that I have never seen the well digger not wearing his shirt with a huge middle finger on the front. I'm not sure if he knows what this means. I've seen many funny clothing articles here, like the shirt worn by a 45-year old man that said, "Free Sex Toy," and then the arrow pointed down said, "Inflate Here." Tons of clothing is shipped here from America and rarely do the people buying them have any idea what they actually say. This leads to hilarious combinations, like an old woman wearing a Metallica shirt and a 14-year-old boy wearing a hat that said, "Life starts at 40."

But anyway, everything is great with the garden. Inshallah, the fence will be done today or tomorrow. The door we commissioned to be welded yesterday should be done by 5pm tonight. And once it is erected, the women can begin to start planting seeds. Note: If another PC volunteer read this paragraph, they would laugh at my naivete, convinced that the carpenter will travel or get sick and the fence won't be done for weeks. And that the door will have a problem or it will sit completed at the shop for days before the village retrieves it. But, they have not worked with these women and men and do not know them as I do. They are dedicated and want this garden much more than me (which is the only sort of project a volunteer should take on). I have total faith in them and this project. Already, we have made so much progress. The garden looks completely different than it did just a month ago. And anytime I walk around the garden, I see the fence, and the wells and the people working, and I feel so proud.


Jason Kim said...

Rod Flanders : Butthole Surfers T-Shirt :: Gambians : anachronistic garments

jacobsoliva said...

This post details some things that sounds completely unrealistic and unusual....
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wgflorin said...

Wonderful story, and I might add, well done!You must be so proud. I know I am.
xox Mom