June 23, 2011
I just returned from a ten-day trip out to the field in Buhera District/Murambinda, which is in the eastern part of Zimbabwe, only three and half hours away from the capital of Harare. It was ten days of no internet, no television, 6 a.m. bucket baths and constant power cuts, and despite all this, I really enjoyed my time there. The people were kind and very friendly and I finally got the chance to practice what little Shona I have learned. With no rainfall since the early months of the year, the landscape in Buhera is filled with dry grass, green bushes and trees but clear blue skies and sunshine almost every day.
As I stated in my last blog entry, the main purpose of going to Buhera was to carry out a survey that would give an overview of the situation of orphans and vulnerable children in families who have benefitted from IRD’s building value chains REVALUE program. The program includes crops such as groundnuts (peanuts), sesame, paprika and sugar beans. Most beneficiaries are taught new conservation farming techniques by IRD field officers to increase their yield. The survey was going to look at primarily groundnut farmer beneficiaries since they are the ones who have mostly likely increased their incomes. In Zimbabwe, groundnuts are mostly a female crop, which means the woman is usually the one who plants and harvests them, so our target goal was to interview the same female farmer as she would know the most about the children she cares for in her household be they her own children or orphans.
People of Buhera district have seen a lot of nongovernmental organizations pass through their area. Even driving around the district you can see evidence of previous work, whether a small billboard promoting abstinence and monogamy in the town’s center or tin can containers that previously held cooking fat that was fortified with vitamin A. According to some, this has made the people of Buhera reliant on relief efforts and even while conducting our survey I received numerous questions if they would be receiving something in return of completing the survey. If you look at what IRD is doing, they are essentially building livelihoods. As the old proverb goes, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
There is one beneficiary who stood out for me. She is about 60 years old. All her children are adults and unfortunately she lost two of her children suddenly and thus had to take in 4 grandchildren. She and her husband have retired but their main source of income is still farming. Through the REVALUE program she was able to plant groundnuts beginning in 2009 and use the harvested groundnuts to pay for her grandchildren’s school fees. It costs about 10 dollars for primary and 30 dollars for high school per term and there are three terms in a year. To most people that is not a lot of money, but when you only make around a couple hundred dollars a year and you have multiple children to care for, it turns out to be quite a big amount to pay. She used the groundnuts as a barter trade, offering some of her harvest in exchange for school uniforms and sometimes even books. She has managed to do this twice and is really grateful for the good harvest; she eagerly waits for the next planting season so she can plant groundnuts again.
My fondest memories out in the field were with my colleague Mary. She knew almost every wild fruit that grew in the district and she introduced me to African bubblegum, also known as “Matohwe” and tons of other wild fruits. We ate them regularly as we walked from one household to the next. Every household we visited had a traditional kitchen, which is basically a hut with a thatched roof. But once you enter inside, you find a carefully constructed black cement wall that is meant to display all the decorative dishes that the family owns with a make- shift stove at the center. Here I was offered African rice, which in Zimbabwe is cooked rice that is mashed with peanut butter; I took a liking to it very quickly, which was a good thing as I had it almost every day.
After ten days in hot Buhera, my last day there was very bittersweet because I realized there would be no more late afternoon talks with my fellow survey enumerators, no more filling Ugali/Sadza dinners and no more farmers to interact with. I wish I never left or at least had another ten days there; I miss everyone dearly as I am back here in Harare entering and analyzing our data. Hopefully I will return to Buhera sooner rather than later.