Saturday, August 14, 2010

Farm Days

The yellow paint rusts off the hand plow as it scrapes the coffee toned earth, revealling long caterpillars and red furry spiders. The word "France" clings to the metal frame as it has, most likely, since the 1920s. Here in The Gambia nearly a century later the plow is led by the strong calloused hands of Gambian males with either cows or donkeys at the front. Saidu Jallow, a neighbor to Ney Ney plows through her farm with the payment of a pack of Busisness Royal cigarettes and attaya. Alieu, her 13-yr-old nephew cooks the tea dutifully like any good small boy, happy to take a break from farming.

The froth from the sweet tea bubbles to the surface of the teapot and splashes with the force of a wave against the rocky frontier of the burning wood. Mixing with the fire the sugary attaya lets out the aroma of cotton candy. At Alieu's back on a straw mat Ney Ney slyly pulls a large spider from her daughter's barefoot as to not scare her (me:).

The birds are actively following Saidu as he plows. The dark purple, teal and black feathers form a cloak as they flutter in the slight wind of the rainy season at his back.

During the rains,farming occupies the life of Banni's inhabitants. Men, women and children all have their roles and they carry them out from sunrise to sunset. The men plow, the women plant and the children pick weeds and chase away baboons if they come. All work is done by hand or with small hand tools. This leaves the hands of the villagers blistered and calloused and their backs sore. With incredible flexibility they bend at the waist, straight-legged, to work with the soil. This is repeated every day,weather permitting for three months, Ramadan included. They don't get paid for their labor, they dont take their crops to the market and profit from it. They can't afford to. Everything is used to feed themselves. They work everyday, all ages, to live hand to mouth.

Afternoon came and things slowed down at the Jallow's farm, the hottest part of the day rapidly approaching. The children skip home for the first time since sunrise. Their rice breakfast was taken at the farm but today they will have lunch at the compound before returning. Saidu finished his job and led the cows to graze and fertilize a nearby field. The long green grass next to the freshly plowed field swallowed their legs and noses all the way up to their rib-filled bellies. Ney Ney went home to finish cooking lunch while Alieu finished off the attaya and rest under a large tree to keep a sharp eye out for any animals that may hungirly wnater in from the bush.

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