Monday, May 3, 2010

Irrigation Project Moves Ahead

Well it has been quite a while since my last post, so it is definitely time for another update. The months of March, April, and May constitute the long rainy season here, so we have been getting a lot of rain for the past number of weeks. This is a welcome development as the weather has been cooler and cloudier. Those of you living in West Michigan might be appalled that someone would ever wish for cooler, cloudier weather in May, but the constant sun and hot weather here can actually get a little old sometimes. Don't get me wrong, I would certainly never trade the weather here for a Western Michigan sunless winter, but the constancy of the sun and the heat do make me miss the changing seasons. So I consider any change in the weather, especially one that brings relief from the heat, to be a good thing.

The irrigation and farming project that I have been working on is coming along slowly but surely. I had been planning for a number of months to build a large cement tank on a small hill above the field that we are trying to turn into a demonstration farm. The plan was to repair an existing windmill and redesign it so that it draws water directly from the lake and pumps it into the holding tank on the hill above the field. Then, simply by opening a valve at the bottom of the tank and letting gravity do its thing, we would have lots of water to use throughout the field wherever it might be needed. I had hoped to have the tank finished in January or February, but as things tend to go here it took a lot longer than I had hoped. But I was finally able to find someone who had some experience building large cement water-holding tanks, and a few weeks ago we spent about two weeks building the tank. Another SALTer named Cara who is living and working in a small town a few hours drive from Shirati came over to help, which was a lot of fun.

After completing the tank, we waited for about a week for it to dry, and then a few days ago we were finally able to put the finishing touches on the windmill restoration project and connect a pipe from the windmill to the tank. An Italian Catholic brother named Sergio has lived in the Shirati area for about ten years, and he has a lot of practical knowledge about all sorts of things, including windmills. He has been teaching me a lot and has done most of the work in repairing the windmill. So now, after months of waiting, the windmill has finally started to pump water to the holding tank, which is great news!

Now, with access to plenty of water, we hope to move forward with planting various trees and crops. We had hoped to do this earlier, but as the rainy season approached, suddenly a number of farmers had planted crops on the church-owned land that we had planned to use. Understandably, they figured that if the church wasn't using the land then they could. But it was pretty frustrating to discover that just when we were ready to start planting, others had already planted their own crops in exactly the places the we had planned to use. But those crops are now beginning to be harvested, so hopefully we can begin planting soon.

Below are some pictures of the project (and a few other random, unrelated pictures) with descriptions.

Me with some of my host family siblings: Eva, Felista, and John. Their mother died in September giving birth to her fourth child, so now they live with their grandparents (my host parents) in Shirati.

We needed sand for the tank construction, and since we didn't have a wheelbarrow, we carried it with buckets (hard work!) I decided to try it the African way, by carrying the bucket on my head. Unlike most Tanzanians, I needed to use my hands to balance the bucket. I know, pathetic. What an amateur. The head-carrying-method is surprisingly effective for carrying heavy loads though I discovered (although for a rookie like me it was a little painful without some sort of padding on my head).

We paid this woman to bring us some water from the lake to mix with the sand and cement for the tank construction. I watched in awe as this petite woman hoisted that large bucket full of water up onto her head, then proceeded to re-wrap her kanga (dress-like leg covering) while effortlessly balancing the bucket full of water on her head, and then picked up two more jugs full of water and walked a few hundred meters to the tank construction site. This, like so many other things I witness here on a daily basis, regularly reminds me that I am a big whimp.

This windmill, which was installed around ten years ago right on the shore of the lake on church property and has been out of commission for a number of years, is now being used in our project to draw water from the lake and pump it up a slight hill into the cement tank that we built.

Putting the finishing touches on the tank. It holds about 20,000 L of water, and the hope is that it will allow farmers to grow crops on the adjacent church property during the dry season.

This picture has nothing to do with the rest of this post, but I liked it so I decided to post it anyway. This man walking along the side of the road carrying a coffee table on his head is a pretty common sight. People carry all manner of things on their heads and their bicycles. Among the more interesting things I have seen are a woman carrying an upside-down coffee table on her head, complete with all the settings including a tablecloth, cups, tea, bread, etc., and the occasional live goat strapped down into a basket on the back of a bicycle.