Ilima Update and Matema Beach Adventure!

Last week was another busy week going from farmer to farmer. We have so far visited 24 of the 76 student farmers in Ilima. These visits have given us a chance to find out about any problems they’re having as well as those things that are going well. We’ve learned a lot from them and I hope that we were able to help them with some of their concerns.

One big issue seems to be predation, which is one of the many reasons why having a coop as well keeping chicks inside until they are at least 2 months of age is so important. Patison Majinja, a very excitable man and animated talker was telling us in rapid-fire Nyakusa about how salamanders were coming up the hill from the stream, going into his coop, and then eating eggs and killing chickens. These “salamanders” turned out to be monitors! Our translator was getting her lizards confused! Patison has a very nice, large brick coop in which his chickens spend most of their time. James saved the day by suggesting wired windows to stop the monitors while also allowing light and airflow. Sofia Msyania, who does not yet have a coop, said that monkeys have been taking her chicks. Another problem is that some of the older widows are unable to build their own coops. Both James and Margaret have a lot of student farmers that are old widows and we’ve discussed the idea of helping them to build coops while we are here. Since we are using all local materials money isn’t so much an issue, but time is. It turns out there’s quite a few widows and it’s probably going to take at least a day or two to build a decent coop complete with nest boxes and perches. And also we wanted it to be a project that the community is involved in, hoping that others would help us, perhaps the student farmers. This is something we’re going to discuss at the meeting with all of the teacher farmers next week. Another thing we have noticed is that some chickens don’t have access to water all day. Chickens that free range during the day or part of the day will have water outside, but very often there is none inside the coop or the house. And although most farmers have been very proactive about parasite prevention, we’ve discovered that some have been using insecticides meant for cattle that may be inappropriate for use with chickens.

Despite some of these issues and set-backs we’ve been very impressed by many of the student farmers. We’ve seen some fabulous coops, some hearty-looking chickens, and discovered that many students are incredibly enthusiastic about learning as much as they can. Emlike Kibona had a coop large enough for 5 of us to stand in with lots of space to spare complete with perches and nest boxes. Not many people have electricity in Ilima, but Emlike does and he has a light bulb inside his coop to provide warmth to newborn chicks. Gwakisa Mwasuka wanted to learn more about how to build the perfect nest box and provide a sufficient diet for his chickens. He also expressed interest in being more aggressive about vaccinating his chickens because he has noticed that some of his young chicks have died prior to being vaccinated. Others have shown interest in knowing what signs to look for in sick chickens and what they can do to help treat their chickens. However, because treating sick chickens is not always a viable option we’re focusing more on disease prevention. We’ve started spreading the word about de-worming and quite a few farmers are interested.

In addition to the fact sheets we made, we also delivered the farmers some very good news: an “expert” in poultry production has agreed to hold a workshop in both Ilima and Lubanda in Swahili. It will be great for them to be able to be taught by someone in their own language and we’re sure they will have lots of questions for him. The “expert” I’m referring to his the very friendly and funny Chris Chalange, who has studied animal science, wildlife management, and tourism and has had a lot of experience with poultry. Chris has his own large-scale poultry operation (700 chickens , down from 1,000 after recently selling some – and he started with day old chicks!) in Mbeya and he seems very excited to help out with the project in Ilima and Lubanda. Chris is a very enthusiastic individual, particularly when talking about wildlife, his two year old, and of course his chickens!

The farmers have been so nice and welcoming toward us. They’re always giving us oranges, avocado, and ground nuts. And they are very surprised when we use the occasional Nyakusa phrase – many will even start laughing and dancing!

We’ve expanded our horizons in terms of cooking – plantains with beef and vegetables, guacamole with all the avocados we’ve gotten from farmers, and we’ve even discovered that they sell spaghetti at the market! We’ve also spruced up our room a bit using some perfume samples from my magazines. They make pretty good air fresheners and now our room smells less like musty basement and more like Macy’s beauty department.

Last weekend we went on a getaway to Matema beach on Lake Nyassa a.k.a Lake Malawi. It was a four-hour drive by daladala (bus). And by bus I mean van packed to capacity with people with chairs not completely attached to the floors. The roads were pretty rough in some areas and falling out of the window seemed a legitimate concern. The lake was beautiful! Because it’s so big it’s very much like the ocean, complete with waves and sand and surrounded by mountains. We stayed at Crazy Crocodile Campsite 3 km from the village, right on the beach. It’s owned by a German man who greeted us with “Welcome to Paradise.” It was definitely a stark contrast to Ushirika – very quiet and peaceful with hardly anyone around. We were thrilled to have food with cheese for the first time in so long! We stayed in a bamboo hut and with the sounds of the waves crashing putting us to sleep and were very excited to have a tree shower and compost toilet! We spent our days swimming, exploring the beach, relaxing, and practicing some slack-lining. It was definitely hard to leave – but I’m also excited about getting back to the project!

Sorry my blogs are so long – not much else to do at night in Ushirika and we are running out of Downton Abbey episodes to watch on Shona’s computer!