It won't be easy in Gambia…

Our neighbour wanted me to meet his visitors – a young
couple that will spend a year in Gambia on a mission station. The young man is a gardener,
and will be responsible for the large medicinal garden the station maintains,
especially the Artemisia. He doesn’t know anything about it – can I come and
tell him more?

Artemisia growing beside lemon grass, with moringa trees in the background, at Dawn Trust Community Care in Zambia. Artemisia is a tricky plant to grow.

The garden is five years old, and maintained after Anamed
guidelines. www.anamed.net/ I took the Anamed course ‘Natural
Medicine in the Tropics’ almost two years ago in Stuttgart, Germany. I was
interested.

“Are the locals growing the plants too?” I ask the young
man.

“That’s still a problem,” he told me. That the locals don’t
seem to understand the importance of looking after a plant that takes more than
a few months, of the concept of doing something year after year, the
continuance of the cycle. “They are lazy,” he was told.

I cringe. It’s a common enough comment, especially from the
workaholic Germans and Swiss. And from their vantage point a valid enough
statement. Actually, not just the Europeans say that. Often enough it will be
the Africans themselves that will say that of their own people: “They are
lazy.” “They are not committed enough.”

The young man goes on to tell me the mission is attempting
to teach the locals to grow vegetables to augment their meagre food rations.
But the locals are not catching on as the mission would like.

I think back to a conversation I had with Jessy Mpupulwa in
Mpongwe, Zambia a few years ago. I was discussing the importance of fruits and
vegetables in the diet, of the minerals and vitamins vital to our bodies. “And
I thought that the whites only ate so many fruits and vegetables because they
liked them!” he said. Jessy is a college educated man. If he didn’t see the
value of eating fruits and vegetables, why would his mostly illiterate rural
farmers do so? During the rainy season they had their tomatoes and cabbages,
squash and maize. Some only had squash and maize. Most of them grew some beans,
which they shelled and ate during the dry season to augment the staple maize
meal. In between seasons, there would be the ‘hunger months’. They’d always
lived like that.

My father grew up in the Emmental, in the Swiss foothills,
an area known for its stubborn farmers. He was never too interested in the
merits of food he wasn’t familiar with. I think of him whenever we are trying
to introduce new ideas to our Zambian friends. A people of long traditions and
little exposure to other ideas doesn’t easily change their way of doing things.
Neither do we, for that matter…

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