Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Life at the Shamba

It did take awhile to settle into a routine, sleeping on a thermarest (thanks Matthew!) in Elke's tent. At bedtime we would lift off the fly (until it rained) for more air and open the screen doors briefly if it was windy. The night air was warm, not cool so the less movement the better. Morning light would bring me awake around 5:30 I'd get up and bring the water to boil. Small dry little limes not lemons for me and coffee for Elke with fresh cows milk provided by the Maasai boys. Maybe a bit of fruit or muesli and the day began while it was not hot. Some mornings I would have a shower with the bucket, the closest we ever came to cold water.

The day might bring plumbing fundis, carpenters or masons. And of course the brick makers. As the bricks accumulated for the firing, one morning a massive thunderstorm approached. All of us, kids included, ran into the field to pile the bricks. Passing them in chains to pile up and be covered with tarps, tent flys, plastic bubble wrap and banana leaves, anything to hold back the rain and getting completely soaked when it arrived.
I helped collect and sort tiles for the mosaics, hauled sand and clay for plaster, carried bricks, wood and compost. Spent time plastering, setting tiles, stretching tarps for shade, and the ever present need (in my mind anyway) of harassing the chickens from next door who assumed that the gardens, compost and outside kitchen area were their turf. A motley collection of hens and roosters who came in waves and were easily frightened by long pieces of plastic pipe waved menacingly in the air then hurled spear-like in their general direction. No one else except Elke seemed as concerned by the mess they made, the garden seeds they ate or the biomass/protein they consumed and converted into eggs which I'm sure the neighbours enjoyed. Occasional jokes were made about popping a rooster or two into a stew pot, but it never happened.
Food was a bit different from what I usually eat, the occasional goat they butchered would be sent off to town to be grilled, stewed or barbecued for the patrons of the Policemen's mess. At lunch with the workers us volunteers got to eat the tripe, in tomato sauce, some greens usually amaranthus retroflexus (that would be pigweed or redroot) in tomato sauce, small fish in tomato sauce and always, well mostly, Ugali. At night there might be rice or noodles and tomato sauce with greens, fish or, you guessed it tripe. Although, once in awhile Caito would cook delicious meals with beef or goat or a larger fish, once even burgers.Yum! Generally the food was good, satisfying, filling and tasty.
Ugali though was a challenge for my western palate. Just before the lunch would be served, a large pot of water would be brought to the boil. A yard long spoon begins stirring as a white powder is poured rapidly into the water, stirring and moving the congealed mass like rubbery mashed potatoes so it doesn't burn. It then gets turned out into a washtub and served using a plate as a scoop in large, shall we say HUGE chunks onto the plate. A piece is torn off rolled around in the right hand and then dipped into the side dishes. The white powder? Corn starch.

After lunch in the heat of the day I spent quite a bit of time resting, reading in the shade of the front porch and jumping up to chase chickens. It got so when I stood up, raised my arms they would turn and run away. Although to be honest one hen with 4 chicks would mostly proceed forward with increased vigor ducking into the nearest banana plant or scooting under the thorny fence. Eventually the dog got into it, half heartedly for sure, it was after all, hot!
Later as the sun lowered itself westward the temperature dropped somewhat and we might continue working, setting up the transit and mapping out the site checking elevation and distance between buildings and citrus trees. Occasionally a trip to town for beer, Stoney Tangawizi or access to internet. Often in the evenings the generator would be fired up, lights on in the house and to charge the batteries of cell phones and computers, so Elke could work on house plans while I was reading in the afternoons. And I read! From Terri's collection: Three Cups of Tea, Tears of the Desert, Baking Cakes in Kigali, Unbowed, Nisa: The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman and The Man Who Tried to Save The World.

After dinner at 8 we would wander back around the house, lie back in the wicker chairs and look at the stars or the lightening off in the distance, listening to the drumming and singing across the valley. It might go all night, at least it was going when I woke up some mornings.

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