7 am. The steady scratching of a grass broom against the sandy ground of the compound, sweeping up the night’s refuse. Empty soda bottles, palm fronds, scat dropped by wandering creatures in the dark. I am awake, having slept fitfully, and am relieved that at last I can emerge from my tent. To the “office,” a metal frame covered with tarps, where I type up notes from a meeting with school teachers yesterday afternoon. Before I forget. They were lovely people, had so much goodwill. “Madam,” one of them said to me, a visiting teacher from northern Uganda, “if you want a thing to succeed, you have to plan. Of all things, you must first make a plan.” We were speaking of gardens, specifically the school vegetable garden that our organization helped to kick start there nine months ago. The seeds were distributed late, only two months before the close of their academic year, and when the students left for the holidays, the plants were still in their infancy. The caretaker appointed to maintain the garden, lacking guidance and support, gave up, and all the plants died.
8:50 am, and breakfast is still not ready. We normally buy bread from the kitchen of the other NGO in town, but the baker has been away, and we have had nothing but digestive biscuits and Nescafe for breakfast for the past four days. My stomach would prefer to escape another such meal, and I am hoping that the rumor that the bread lady has returned is true. It is. The bread arrives, and I scarf down a roll and head out to the front gate, so as not to hold up the car that is to take us out to today’s field site. Either the drivers are getting better, or I’m simply getting used to the roads. I’m rarely nervous in the cars these days.
10:15. I needn’t have worried about promptness. The car is only now ready to leave. A flat tire, it seems, first needed repairing (our second in two days), and then a stop by the malnutrition center across the way to load up boxes of Plumpy Nut, a UN-sanctioned feeding supplement for young children. And now we’re off, bouncing along the rutted orange road, green fields dotted with grass-crowned tukuls to both sides. Paul, my neighbor in the front seat, is wearing a plain pair of eyeglasses. He explains that they’re to protect his eyes from the dust. I jokingly tell him that I’m sure he’s just trying to look cool, and that it’s our job, as front seat passengers, to look fashionable, since we’re the ones the villagers, crouched in front of their storefronts, or leading lone cows by a length of rope, stick over their shoulders, gaze at curiously when we bump by. I explain that in the US, only a few people have cows, or farms, for that matter, and that most of the farms are very large. “Here, everyone has cows,” he says, “and there are many farms, but all of them are very small.”
Noon. Approaching the demonstration garden, we startle three sheep, which have found their way inside and are nibbling on the sorghum shoots. The garden is fenced, but there is only space where the gate should be. The local extension worker, Santino, who oversees this plot, shows us the garden’s various sections, designed to introduce villagers to “improved” agricultural techniques, like row planting and intercropping, in this case groundnut with maize. Germination has been slow; we haven’t had a substantial rain in almost two weeks. I am starting to worry about the fate of the field crops in Warrap, which can weather a ten-day drought but start to falter soon after. Santino is new to the job. His household broadcast-seeded its crops this year, but next year, he insists, he will plant in rows. We will soon ask him to run trainings on vegetable growing, and I want to know if he has experience growing any. Pumpkins and okra, he says. He would like to know about vegetable nurseries, and how to start such fragile plants from seed. I tell him not to worry, that vegetables are simply like babies; they just need lots of pampering and attention. I’m not sure how useful that analogy is here.
1:30 pm. We are back early, in time for lunch. The base’s gardener speaks to me in Dinka, gesturing at his stomach and saying, “Money, money.” I usually plead incomprehension at times like these, since I do not want to get in the habit of giving out money, but my English-speaking colleague is only to happy to translate. The gardener is hungry, he explains, and is asking for 5 Sudanese Pounds for lunch. His wife and child have been sick for some time, I know, and he has welcomed my directorship of the garden, and I oblige with the money (What else can I do?), adding that this is not something I plan to do often.
4:30 pm. Finally the rain has come. I visit my Dinka colleague in the main office. I had suggested that he print out a market survey form, since one must be filled out by Friday. He is staring at the computer screen blankly. He looks at me sheepishly, and it is evident that he has absolutely no idea how to use Excel. Hardly a computer whiz myself, I guide him through some simple operations, teaching him how to copy and paste and use the shift key. Among the more educated of this village’s locals, Paul has completed two years of secondary school, which clearly did not include computer training. We would like to be able to hand over management positions to as many Sudanese as possible, but some major roadblocks remain.
5 pm. I retreat to the lounge with my computer, planning to continue revising a vegetable garden training manual. “Knocked Up” is playing on the TV; the internet is down because of the storm, and so the expats are enjoying a break. There are Kenyans here; I wonder if the slacker/pothead culture the film depicts makes any sense to them whatsoever.
6:30 pm. The rain has stopped, and I venture out, as I almost always do in the evenings, to the vegetable garden, just to check on things. The eggplants have sprouted, along with some of the carrots and pumpkins. “What is your name?” a girl of about 14, walking over from the water pump, says in confident English. I am impressed. She is maybe the third local girl I have met so far who can speak any English at all. She is in her sixth year of primary school, I discover. I hope that her studies will not be derailed by early marriage or pregnancy, or a lack of funds with which to pay school fees. We chat a bit, and she returns to the pump, while I check on the pumpkins. “Goodbye, sister,” my new acquaintance calls out, hoisting a plastic yellow jerry can onto her head and strolling off into the dusk.