Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Camp Nyika Day 4- Field Trip Day

The teaching was finished for us, so it was a great day for us to just sit back and watch the students have fun together. It's great to see after just 4 days together, how close the students who come from all over the Northern region have become. On the matola ride to Livingstonia I watched the students laughing and singing as they held onto each other for dear life as the truck hurled up and down the hills of the Phoka valley. Between songs Shadreck would lead the group in screaming random cheers like “Nyika camp is so beautiful!” or “Mr. Dan Ho-Yeaaaa!”We were entertained by Shupe Mzembe's sassy facial expressions as she reacted to every cheer before she buried her laughing face into her new friend Leah's shoulder. The truck driver had to make a stop at the Livingstonia hospital to pay a debt, while we waited Juma Nkhoma one of the smallest boys in the camp spotted some beautiful college aged nursing students, and reluctantly approached them with the encouragement of his friends. We all watched with great anticipation and cheered wildly when he managed to earn a smile from the very professional looking young women, and came running back with a smile of triumph.

Our first stop in Livingstonia was the beekeepers cooperative where the students learned about processing and marketing honey. We then went over to the old stone house museum for some history since it was the first time all of the students had been to Livingstonia aside for the three youth councilors who were with us last year. We took lunch at an overlook over Manchewe Falls. It was a great way to enjoy beans and rice, with the 300 foot plus waterfall on our left and the stretching lake shore below and the escarpment climbing up on our right,.

After lunch we visited the home of Leeza Dupree an expert in Permaculture design, Her assistant Alex gave us a detailed tour of the entire garden which contained many plants the students didn't know, but also many they knew very well, and planted themselves but never inter-cropped with so many different things. The main thing they all noticed was the abundance of perennial trees and crops that don't need replanting every season but continuously provide food so long as they are cared for.

From there we went to visit a similar farm of a Malawian women named Nya Bwindee who also relies on perennial crops like coffee trees, and Pineapple bushels. In fact her farm has over 2,800 pineapples, if they are sold at an average of 100MK, she's making a pretty impressive annual income from something she doesn't have to recultivate each season....sure beats tobacco. She originally acquired the land for free because everybody said that it's rocky soil and steep hillsides are useless, so she covered those hills with apple, peach, and lemon trees that provide a steady income as each different fruit comes into season. I think her place was one of the most useful sites we visited for the students, it really shows how anybody can make a good living from the land if they work hard and are willing to think outside of the box a little.

The whole idea of the camp was to bring the brightest and most interested wildlife club members together from all around Nyika and provide them with some useful skills and get them thinking about how they can live more in harmony with their land instead of degrading it. Hopefully they will take what they have learned back to their home communities and the ideas continue to spread.

The last morning as students were loading up on a Matola to head back to their various homes Atupele came running up to me with a folded up piece of paper; it was the poem she had read at the talent show, it cracks me up and deeply touches me all at once, here it is:

Bye, bye Dan
The night sky I have observed
The seven sisters not brothers
In the sky I have known and
I will not forget them.

Bye, bye Davie
How to plan I have known
Good record keeping I will do
The good work you have done
No one can believe it.

Bye, bye Mathias
Grafting crops I have known
That sugarcane can not be grafted you have taught me.
Quality fruits all over Malawi because of your knowledge.

Bye, bye tenley
Nursery making I have known
That chibuku packets can be used
Instead of polythene
The knowledge I have it's yours.

Bye, bye Devin
Fish farming I have learned
Scientific names of fish you have taught me
That zooplanktons are small animals
from seeds I know
Although they drive me crazy I will never leave the knowledge behind

Bye, bye Alinon
That a place is good if there is fun
I have believed in you
You really are a Fun-gi.

Bye, bye Nyika camp teachers
With different friends of different cultures we have met
Because they say no man is an island united we have stayed as one.
Ignorance you have buried.
I will never cut down trees carelessly
because it conserves soil
No words can express my cries.

Atupele Mbukwa

Not only did the students pick up some valuable lessons this week but they also had a lot of fun, and none of this would have been possible without the financial support of our family and friends who donated to the camp. I thank you all from the bottom of my heart.

Camp Nyika Day 3- Banana and Bee Day

I started the day off in the classroom teaching beekeeping theory; including the benefits of beekeeping, as well as how to make a budget for getting started, the demensions of a 29 top bar box hive, and selecting an apiary to hang hives in once they are ready. I also talked about using local materials like maize sack suits, and bamboo hives instead of expensive planks.

After teaching theory we went outside and made a local materials hive as a group. We split bamboos and attached them to two end plates with rina (the wires pulled out of used tires) and nails through bottle top washers to permanently fix them into place. We baited the top bars with melted bee's wax and made a cradle out of eucalyptus branches to hang the hive. After finding a good site in a near-by forest we hung the hive and made a mixture of clay and cow dung to seal any gaps between the bamboo. After putting grass on the cover to keep the black plastic cool, and applying grease to the wires to keep the ants out, our hive was ready to be occupied! We snapped a few kung fu photos to celebrate.

Unfortunately my beekeeping took most of the day (I even teach at Dan speed!) So Matt only had a couple hours to do Banana propagation, which luckily was all he needed. He presented a very clear and straight forward demonstration of how to do split-comb propagation. He dug up a mature banana tree that hadn't fruited yet and cut it down to the core of it's root base. He then started hacking it into small chunks that we planted in a nursery with the same side facing up. After about 3 weeks of watering the nursery at least 10 shoots should have sprouted, each a clone of the original banana tree.

That night after dinner we had the Camp Nyika talent show, and Alinon decided that Elijah the natural born entertainer should be the MC for the event. Elijah did a stellar job, as did all of the students. Some of the most memorable performances included Shadrick Mwakasangira's word for word rendition of the Nas song “I can be whatever I want to be”, Paulina Gondwe (our only Form 1 student at the camp, who everybody called baby Paulina) smiling from ear to ear as she danced and sang a Chitumbuka church choir son, The Kaporo CDSS students doing the electric slide, the Mwazisi CDSS students doing a drama about fidelity, and a poem by Atupele Mbukasa thanking us for the camp. It was a very sweet poem and her kind words got me all misty eyed in front of the whole camp. The students weren't the only ones to perform. All of the teachers showed off our talents at once; Tenley worked out quadratic equations on the blackboard, while I reached back to my high-school basketball days to do some fancy dribbling with old soccer balls, Devin did his gangster crypt walk to an Akon song, Alinon juggled onions, and Matt pulled out his dentures to make the creepiest hand puppet I have ever seen. We were a 5 ring circus of odd Azungus! Then Alinon had the whole room hooting and hollering with an animated telling of the nursery rhyme “The old lady who swallowed the fly.” At the end of the show Al congratulated Elijah for being a great MC by giving him the giant straw top-hat he had been wearing the entire week with a slip of paper tucked into the brim's ribbon that said “Happy Fungi.”. Elijah wore it for the rest of the week with pride.

Camp Nyika Day 2 Agriculture Day

Devin Rippner my site-mate from Vwaza started the day off right with a very professional theoretical session on sustainable agriculture. Devin looking very dapper in his suit jacket and tie talked to the students about the value of good soil, and the benefits of maintaining its fertility and structure by adding compost and inter cropping nitrogen fixing trees. He talked a lot about the economics of conservation farming, and how they could save money by using compost and rotating a variety of crops instead of fertilizer and other inputs to grow just one crop.

After Devin's inspiring lecture the students visited a near-by lead farmer named Fredrick Msiska so they could see conservation farming in action. Mr. Msiska practices a wide variety of sustainable farming techniques in his fields and the students got some hands on experience as he invited them to help him mark the contour lines of a field using an A-frame with a line level across its top. They also got to make Bocash compost a Chinese method where they mix chopped maize husks, soil, wood ash, yeast, and water for fast decompisition in only about 21 days.

Mr. Msiska also showed us his demonstration plots where he mulches like a mad-man, intercrops nitrogen fixing trees and marks all of his boundaries with money making trees, like coffee or macadamia. He also showed the students his two chamber composting toilet which allows one side to decompose for 1 year while he is using the other side, when that side fills he clears out the decomposed chamber and starts using that side again. He also showed the students his liquid manure made by soaking chicken manure in water for 21 days, then dilutes the resulting tea with fresh water 20-1. He then uses that as a nitrogen rich top dressing for maize and tomatoes. It was really great for the students to see a Malawian who doesn't let anything go to waste on his farm, hopefully they take back some of these ideas to try and use in their own homes.

The afternoon was all about fish farming, and was mostly lead by Mr. Masukwa the Nchena chena fisheries extension officer. He started out by giving the students a long and detailed theoretical session that explained how to select a site for a pond, dig it, lime it, manure it, and stock it. He also talked about different types of fish as well as diseases that might become a problem.

After Masukwa's talk we went down to he research center's ponds to see the real thing. These ponds were first dug by the British in the 1950s and they are still very impressive today. There are over 20 ponds, the largest one is about the size of a football field, while the smallest one is about 5x10 meters. The ponds have a constant flow of water into their main inlet canal that allows water into each individual pond through a floodgate called a monk. Each pond also has angle jointed pipes that act as an overspill outlet, or can be turned down to drain the pond completely into the outlet canal. All of the ponds are stocked with talapia. The students were mostly impressed with the sheer size of the operation, the ones who were most serious about fish farming went back to the classroom afterwards and watched my compass II fish farming videos until dinner was ready.

After dinner our Ambassador of Fun Al organized a version of the game “Mafia” with a wildlife twist on it. He called it “Poacher Mob,” the Mafia were replaced by poachers, the sheriff was replaced by a forest guard, the doctor a traditional medicine man, and the citizens were different animals and trees of Nyika. I was amazed how fast the students picked it up, in no time they were tossing back and forth accusations and frantically trying to defend their innocence, “ I couldn't have killed the zebra he's my friend, and besides Moses is the real poacher.” The teachers only lasted a few rounds before Alinon turned the role of God over to Elijah Chipeta one of our outstanding and most gregarious youth councilors. I woke up a few hours later to go to the bathroom and still heard accusations flying in the classroom, “You killed the Msangu sangu tree! I can see it on your face!”

Camp Nyika Day 1- Buisness Day

Yesterday the students arrived throughout the afternoon to be greeted by our enthusiastic “Ambassador of fun” Alinon Arpin, a country boy from Ennis with a smile as big as his home state of Montana. The shy and somewhat nervous students were immediately drawn to his welcoming aora, and left feeling at home in this strange place. Al brought the whole group together for an ice-breaker. We tossed a Frisbee around so the bearer could give their name, number one environmental interest, and favorite dende (dinner dish). The rest of that night we let the students get acquainted with each other and get settled into their dorms.

This morning instead of jumping right into the environmental activities we had Dave Jock teach the students a few basic business skills. I introduced Dave to the kids as the smartest guy in Peace Corps (he's on his way to Harvard Law next fall), so the students were very happy to pick through his brain with a barrage of questions. Dave explained how to make a business plan taking into account any externalities, fixed and variable costs, and how many business cycles it would take to reach the break even point for a variety of businesses. Most of which we are teaching the skills for this week such as fish farming, beekeeping and soap making. His main advice for the students no matter what business they would embark on was to keep good records, and always plan to reinvest.

The second half of the morning was led by Nya Tembo a Malawian women who generously offered to teach the group how to make soap from palm oil. She taught in the matter of fact even keeled sort of temperament that Malawian women always seem to operate in....never too enthusiastic or too dour, always somewhere in the middle just working their way through whatever task is at hand. Making soap is just one more thing to add to a long list of things she's getting done. I thought it was really great for the girls at the camp to see a women who has found a business that nobody else in the community is practicing and make herself an expert in it so that she can carve out her own money making niche.

After lunch it was all trees! First Tenely Scofield a PCV who traveled all the way from Mulanje taught the basics of tree nurseries, then Matt Jones a “bad-ass logger” from Idaho taught the students how to graft fruit trees. Between Tenely's ever positive attitude and ardent support for everything the kids do, and Matt's hands on approach to teaching allowing each student to practice grafting themselves I think just about every student is ready to go start their own tree nursery.

That night after dinner I took advantage of the break in the clouds to lead the students in some star-gazing, I walked them through the northern constellations with my own rendition of the Greek story of Queen Cassiopeia and King Cepheus and their daughter Andromeda who was saved from the sea monster Cetus by the hero Perseus riding on his flying horse Pegasus. We also tried to spot the rings of Saturn through my binoculars, and took a closer look at the glowing wonder of the seven sisters. Many students stayed out well after the others went to bed asking me questions. I was all to happy to try to answer their curious questions and encourage them to let their imaginations roam about what might be out their in the infinity of space. I was also happy to stay up to see Orion rise so I could share with them my all time favorite constellatioion.