Saturday, January 31, 2009

The heat and the fields

For the first time here in Togo I am wondering if my body was made to withstand this climate. Don’t get me wrong, I strongly believe in the body’s ability to adapt, but the way I “suffer” in the heat in comparison to my Togolese friends makes me eager for a long-overdue, evolution-scale acclimatization to the weather. Unfortunately, the true heat has yet to arrive. According to a teacher at the CEG «l’harmattan a fini et la chaleur va arriver» (harmattan is over and the heat is going to arrive). So, now it’s official, no more of this high 80s/low 90s crap of the harmattan season, that’s for the amateurs we are looking at temperatures in the upper nineties until about midnight when I’ve been told is when you drag yourself inside your house to escape the nightlife (i.e. creepy crawlies) which can be worse than the sauna that has become your tin-roofed bedroom. So with the end of harmattan comes the “dry season” «la saison séche» that will last until April when the heat is alleviated by massive amounts of rain that commence the rainy season. Apparently, during rainy season rain falls by the bucket leaving you, at times, trapped inside for days at a time. Despite it all, it is exciting to witness a change in seasons that is so unlike what I know and am familiar with.

I’ve come to appreciate how the people there schedule their lives and activities around the agricultural calendar. Since about 90% of the people in Datcha are either farmers themselves or own land that is being farmed, it is necessary for anyone living here to be aware of the changing seasons. For example, I’ve been told it would be futile to schedule a meeting with villagers or to expect full attendance at school during the prime harvest time. Since everything is done by hand in the fields (with just a hoe and a machete) it is sometimes becomes a race against time to finish the necessary work. Perhaps a few of you can remember a time when things were done solely with the hands in the fields, but as for me sometimes when I look out behind my house into the fields, it is like I am looking back in time where the thought of a tractor or irrigation systems seem absurd.

That leads me to a concern I foresee with working with farmers here. I see how hard they work to just eat, as not many have an excess to sell. Literally, many of the people here are living season to season, day to day, meal to meal. Because of that, it is hard to speak of long-term agriculture projects. When you can hardly afford to feed your family for the week can you really afford to think of a three-year investment in agroforestry (the incorporation of nitrogen-fixing trees into certain field crop-something that has proven particularly successful in West Africa)? Furthermore, the initial start-up fees for such projects are not available and thus make talking about such things even more difficult. Further, I’ve found that some of the popular farming trends that are starting to pick up speed in the U.S. (i.e. organic, local eating, etc.) have been used in Togo for years but are now seen as out-of-date because of “Western” agri. technology (like chemical fertilizer, tractors, etc) which, like all things Western signify money and success. Whereas in the States we see organic techniques, agroforestry, composting, as sustainable, essential, and in some ways “trendy” some people here, understandable, see some of these same things as out-of-date and backward. Lastly, I am still learning so much from farmers here and am not ready to impose any ideas on them until I feel adequately informed about farming here.

I’ve found that there are times in Datcha that I really enjoy the work that is starting, the people I’m meeting, and the things I am learning. At the same time, there are times when I am overwhelmed with all of those things and have feelings of helplessness, loneliness, and guilt. Nonetheless I am confident that sorting through those emotions while trying to continue to create work for myself will in the end make me a different, if not better, person.

Thanks for all the letters and support I have gotten from all of you recently. I miss you all and think of you often as I continue on my quest for understanding, patience, and physical adjustment to my new home here in Togo.

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