I don’t know even how to start. The words that come to mind are hot, dust, sand, water, bare ground, struggle, promise, thirst, water (again), team work, manure, lions, fire, driving, children, bye bye, hello, and “What is the weather like in America”?.
We visited two villages today. They are in the Hwenge Communal Lands near the Zambezi River, about a two hour drive east from Victoria Falls. How Astrid, the College Director, finds any of these places is beyond me – as one dirt road in the bush looks like any other – but, then it’s also beyond me how people can drive on the left side of the road. It’s good that Astrid knows enough of the confluence of languages that mix together here like produce in a casbah. They are Ndebele, the one I’ve been learning, Tonga, Shona (the principal language of Zimbabwe), and Nambia. To my amazement, most of these villagers, to a greater or lessor degree, simply know all of them, as well as English. When you aren’t sure what language someone knows, you just start issuing greetings in each, so, for hello – “salibonani” (Ndebele), “mwapona biyeni” (Tonga), “Mwamuka chini” (Nambia). Of course, you could also just say, “Hello!”. And, when you can’t find the word you want in one language, you just say it in another. A smorgasbord language seems to be evolving. At any rate, Astrid is a native Zimbabwean and knows the region and the languages enough to get to the collection of mud and grass huts that is the center of a village, which may, in a few square kilometers, have thirty or so similar homes, plus livestock and gardens. Where there is a concrete structure with broken glass windows, it will be a school. Of course there is no electricity, and water comes from the bore hole, but we better pay attention, because these modest villages in the middle of rural Africa are going to teach us how to restore land, replenish ground water, prevent famine, build community, mitigate climate change (even though that’s not an objective), and, in short, save our asses.
The first village we visited presented us with three songs and a “drama” – a short play about their experiences with Holistic Management. Actually, the acting in this play was top notch with full emotional delivery. When I asked how long they spent writing and rehearsing it (which caused laughter), they responded, two days. Two days? That’s all to conceive, rehearse, and present a play with such conviction? Well, actually, yes, when you consider that the drama was based on their real life experience dealing with, um, life or death decisions. After all, that’s what this is, because, without the teamwork for collective management of their livestock and their land, they would be seeing the death side of the equation, as are their village neighbors, mile after mile, region after region, country after country. It’s the same everywhere – degradation of the land and encroachment of desert and famine. If you could do something to change that, wouldn’t you be animated?
Both villages showed us the movable kraal (stockade), where they were collectively placing all the village cattle. Instead of having each household manage it’s own few cattle, which is the norm, and which is destroying the environment, the Africa Center for Holistic Management teaches them to collectively stockade and herd their cattle together, where they can impact the soil as a group and graze according to a plan. The cattle are only stockaded in one place for two-weeks at at time, max. They impact a small plot, and then move on. These plots, also, are not separate from the crop fields, but, in fact, are directly on it. As is part of the practice being taught at the center, cows stockade on the crop fields themselves in order to properly impact the soil and deliver manure. There is no transporting of manure. The manure goes where it’s needed. Only Holistic Management promotes this practice, and, not surprisingly, only Holistic Management, as far as I know, is restoring depleted grassland soils. Mind you, these people have nothing else. Nothing. No fertilizer, no irrigation, no trackers, no petrol. Nothing. All they have is cattle, goat, and their own collectively reasoning to manage those resources differently. They are doing that. They are not using fire. They are not standing by and watching the desert invasion. They are pushing it out by moving their cattle in the way nature indented, as a herd. I can tell you straight out, that standing on that heavily manured field which was thoroughly impacted by hoof action and covered with liter, I had no doubt that when the rains came, there’s would be a bounty crop. The path toward soil recovery and water retention was on it’s way.
At the end of a day I was parched. We had done more filming and walking than intended and my personal water supply had been finished a few hours prior. Fortunately, there was a bore hole near by, and I was never in my life so appreciative for a pump. Seeing the water come from it was pure joy – shining like a gem, iridescent in the afternoon sun. Villagers came from all over to replenish – men and women, some with 5-gallon buckets, others with old petrol jugs. One man poured water into the cap of the jug and used that as a cup for his son to drink from. This will be the world that his son knows. Water comes from a pump and I drink from a cap. That is life, and this i my father taking care of me. I couldn’t not help, so I started pumping and did so for about ten minutes, filling many jugs and buckets, one appreciative customer after another. I asked a youthful villagers who was participating in the program if he had a song for pumping water. A song for this, he asked, pointing to the pump. Yes, I said. No, he said, curiously. I have one, I said, and then, as I pumped, starting singing the marching song from the Wizard of Oz – Yo he ho. Yee-ooo ho. Yo he ho. Yee-ooo ho. Needless to say, he started laughing.