I planted a garden, again. I left my Zambian mini garden to my friends who were happy to transplant the flowers and eat the vegetables. This one’s in Switzerland – just a square wooden box, with herbs and flowers. But it’s a garden. Some of us were made to grow things.
Like Patrick – Patrick drove us to the Botswana border for the Safari last week. He’s about 60 years old, and wants to retire and farm on his own land. We hear the same story from people his age all over Zambia. There’s a strong move back to the land. The land promises food and a place to stay, if nothing else. Their small pensions don’t promise much at all.
Vivienne’s another one. She’s a few years from retirement from her position as secretary to the director of a large international institution. She tells her peers: “You’ve got to prepare for retirement now, before you’re finished working; get things in place.”
Some years ago Vivienne started farming, and a year ago she was able to purchase five hectares of land along a permanent stream. There’s only one drawback – it’s a two hour walk into the farm from the highway junction. During the dry season it’s possible to drive in with a 4WD truck. But during the rainy season – then when planting and fertilizing happens, when she needs to be at the farm – the logging road is impassable. So she walks. Robert and I went with her the morning we left Kitwe. We were able to drive two thirds of the way that day.
During the week Vivienne is professional in suits and heels. Weekends she pulls on a cap, dons a t-shirt and runners, and catches the mini-bus to the turnoff to the farm. The morning walk is comfortable – it’s still cool and she’s fresh. She spends the day on the farm, helping her workers plant the maize by hand, or peanuts, sweet potatoes or cassava. Sometimes she spends the night there, formerly in a makeshift grass hut, now in the burnt brick beginnings of the house she plans to live in some day. Sometimes she walks back the same night – pumpkins, or other farm produce wrapped in a chitenge cloth on her back. The sun’s hot on her back, the produce heavy, and she’s tired now.
It’s commitment, she says, when I ask her how she does it. She has six children. Two are still at home, along with a grandchild. There are college fees now; mouths to feed. The farm provides the food at least, sometimes more.
So when I make a small garden, just because I like to feel the soil in my hands, I feel very humble. I don’t have to walk a long ways; I don’t even have to garden at all if I don’t want to. For me it’s a luxury. For Vivienne it’s a necessity. But one she loves.