“I’ll pick you up between 6 and 6:30 am”. I (Jason) had just been talking with our local Pastor about wanting to go see his field, where he grows staple crops of rice and millet in the rainy season. He was happy to give me a little tour, and said we should go before the day got to warm. So, just as the sky was starting to go from black to grey, I pulled myself out of bed to get ready.
When the Pastor arrived on his moto, I hoped on the back and held on for the ride. The field is a ways back from the one main road, and about a 15 minute ride from his house. He told me there wasn’t much land close to the road, so that’s why he couldn’t grow his crops close to his house. I asked why he didn’t build his house back by the field, and he said it would have made it very difficult to get water, since the nearest well was several kilometers away from his field.
After taking several successively smaller paths (and getting me thoroughly lost), we pulled up to a mud house compound and parked. “My brother lives here”, the Pastor told me; “We should go greet him”. Of course, how could we visit the area without stopping to see the people he knew in the area! I guess they chose to put up with the difficulty in getting water, so they could live closer to the field. After stopping in to say hi for a few minutes, we continued on to the field.
Unfortunately, since we are near the end of the dry season right now, the fields are mostly just hard, cracked furrows of dirt with the remains of last year’s stalks in the ground. But, just by looking at the size of the fields, I could see that it would be a big job for one family to till the land, sow the seed, tend the crops, and then harvest them, all by hand! “During the rainy season, I’m out here in the field from about 7 in the morning till sundown, just after 6”, the Pastor told me. He still has to work on church activities like his sermon after that! He asked me, “Do pastors in Canada have to grow food or have another job to feed their families?” I know there are a few who do, but it’s pretty rare. We are so blessed in Canada! It seems that EVERYONE here has a field – even a family that seemed quite well off, where both of them have decently paying jobs (one at the medical clinic, one at the handicapped center) had a field. They said they needed to grow some of their own food to survive! I’m not sure how people like the pastor are able to actual get money for things like gas for his moto, since he doesn’t really grow enough food to sell – mostly just to feed his family for the year.
As we wandered to the far end of the rice field, the Pastor pointed out a small barrier he had constructed last season to keep the water from draining so quickly off the field. The dirt is really hard (especially when dry!), so it was a tough job to build up a barrier like that. Fortunately, he does have one steer to help with some of the plowing and other work. He’d like to buy another so he can add some more barriers next year and keep his fields better watered, but it’s quite expensive for a steer and he doesn’t have the money. His wife comes to help in the field during the rainy season a lot as well (I’m not sure what she does with their 2 kids, though!). I asked when kids start learning to cultivate fields, and he said when they around 10 or 11. So, maybe they’ll be helping out soon enough!
On our way back from the field, the trail we were on passed right beside a circumcision camp. This is an annual tradition here. Boys who are deemed by their parents or older siblings to be ready for the transition to manhood go out to these camps for about 3 weeks. They learn a bit about farming and other skills. However, the camps are also animistic (following the tribal religious traditions) and cause quite a few problems in the community. The boys dress up in masks (they are not supposed to be recognized, now that they are “men”), spread sand and clay on their shirtless chests and arms, and run around in the village with sticks demanding money from people. They are known to hit women and children with the sticks they carry around, and many people are quite scared to go out when the circumcision camps are going on! It’s prevented people from going to central locations where Shannon and other nurses from the clinic were giving vaccinations, and kept some kids from coming to hear Betty (another missionary on the station) do the Bible stories she does several times a week in various housing compounds around the village. A girl even had to go to the clinic last week to be treated after having been hit by these circumcision boys! One time, I noticed a number of kids crowding on our porch, peeking around the corner of our house. I asked what was going on, and they told me some of the circumcision boys were coming. When the boys came through the front gate of the mission station, about 100 feet from our house, the kids were so scared they ran straight into our house, which has always been off limits for them! Fortunately, I just went out and told the boys to leave, and they didn’t give me any trouble.
Anyway, as we were approaching the circumcision camp, about 30 boys (all early teens I think) started getting up and running to block the path. As we got closer, they started chanting and hitting their sticks together. Needless to say, I was a little nervous! Fortunately, the Pastor didn’t seem too concerned. He pulled out a bit of money to give to one of the adults leading the camp, after which the kids applauded and let us through. That was definitely a close encounter with a very different side of the local culture!