Friday, December 5, 2008

Snakes and Superstitions

Snakes are a very big part of life here in Uganda and there are many strong fears and superstitions towards them, some warranted and others unfounded.

I (Mike) have seen five different kinds of snakes since I have been here. I’ve only been able to identify one of them and it is poisonous. The others I’m not sure about, people say that they are all poisonous, but that is just one of those unfounded fears.

Today I found a 5-foot cobra in the driveway orchard which is obviously a threat to the hundreds of children who are constantly running around here. I killed it with a garden hoe.

The people here (including the well educated ones) believe that holding a special black stone will cure a bite from a poisonous snake. They think it works because when someone gets bit and they hold it, the person usually lives. But this is not because of the stone, it is because most of the snakes aren’t actually poisonous and even when the snake is poisonous their bite is not usually fatal (unless of course it is one of the major ones like a mamba).

It was kind of scary today to think that if any of those children would have gotten bit by that cobra that they would have run for a black stone and not the hospital. I sat down with the ones present and told them what they should do, but it was very very difficult to convince them, and I even have a book here, “Where There is No Doctor” that discusses the superstitions around the black stone. Their grandparents and parents have been telling them since birth to hold the black stone, so this is what they believe very deep inside of them. And it is not just snakes; they have very strong superstitions about many things.

Anyways, poisonous snakes and very deep superstitious beliefs are a couple of the challenges we face working here in Uganda.

The Entrance Area is Transforming

The entrance area is undergoing a radical and sometimes controversial transformation. It is the centerpiece area of the site, the place that everyone sees as they are coming to the home, and that everyone walks through to go just about anywhere. Until now it has been an open area of compacted earth. There was very little shade from the hot hot sun, cars drove all over it, and it created a lot of dust which dirtied everything and made it hard to breath sometimes. The children swept the entire area twice a day which caused a lot of erosion. In the rainy season more soil was washed away and it turned into a mud pit which is difficult to walk on.

Below is a draft design of the area along with photos of some of the changes that are taking place. We have planted 20 fruit trees in the area and will be planting 22 more in the hopes that this area will be a lush food forest someday providing shade, a place to hang out, and many varieties of fruit throughout the year. We have also fenced out vehicles, dug up the hard compacted earth and will be planting Bermuda grass to control erosion, dust and mud, keep the soil loose to absorb more water for the trees, and to provide a lawn for children to walk and play on.


The design for the area

The transformation is happening

Good Luck Joseph

The past few weeks Ssegendo Joseph has been a huge help with the project and has been showing a strong interest in permaculture. Here are a couple of photos of Joseph’s work.

His garden bed just outside of the kitchen with a little pond (which we have filled with gravel and reeds) to catch the grey water coming out of the kitchen

Joseph making his artistic and functional goat-proof tree protectors for the tangerines and lemon out front of the library (and unfortunately next to the tree-eating goats)

Joseph has recently finished P7 and has left Sabina to begin secondary school, although I am hoping that he will come back now and again to continue feeding his interest in permaculture. Good luck Joseph and thank you.

Our Latest Designs

Some of our latest design creations

A draft design of the entrance area to provide fruit, shade, a place to play and hang out, and a beautiful entrance for visitors

A draft design for behind the dorms to deal with grey water, collect rainwater, and use the area to grow food

Lake Sabina for water storage, beauty, and more eco-diversity

Circa 2011-2013

Circa 2038

A brief whole site water design

Some Misc Photos

Paw paws, yams, and matooke (cooking bananas) at the bottom of our Mandala Garden

A few weeks ago:


Veggies growing in our Mandala Garden

Godfrey and his garden

Beautiful yams

Kids chillin’ after finishing the term

Dembe with his 89 baby chicks that he has been mothering day and night

Washing day

Our extremely talented Sabina girls and boys practicing the traditional Buganda dances

And eventually performing them

My beloved Rashida

Some of Kayinga and friends’ garden creations

Anthony helping himself to the Mandala Garden

Dan and Mike teaching some village women about composting, garden planning, and pest management

Anthony with his homemade football

The adorable Rona

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Why is it called the Auntie's Swale?

Because this is who planted the mango, avocado and jackfruit trees in and around it (on October 6th):

Auntie Stella

Auntie Silvia

Auntie Namaze

Auntie Kowala

Auntie Flo (we miss you!)

Auntie Agnes

Auntie Sarah

Uncle Richard

Uncle Mike with a grafted avocado in Freedom Park with young Golobus Edwards

Apologies to Auntie Deborah, Auntie Justine, Auntie Mirembe and others who did plant a tree, but whose photos we've yet to get up here.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Goodbye Sarah

Once again we have lost someone very special. This time our beloved Peace Corps volunteer, Sarah, has left us after spending two years. All of Sabina is feeling the gravity of her departure and she is already greatly greatly missed. Take care Sarah.

Report from Dick Copeman

After two and a half weeks travelling around Uganda with my family, I arrived at Sabina on Wednesday afternoon 22nd October, to be met by Dan and Mike, plus the kids and staff. I spent the next two days getting acclimatised and helping a little with the permaculture project.

The mandala garden was most impressive and very productive. The extensive water management system of swales, diversion drains and ponds had recently been dug and I was able to help Dan and Mike with planting of the swale mounds and the banks of the pond.

On the Saturday I ran a workshop for about 20 people, including Sabina staff and teachers, two local farmers, agricultural college teachers, three community gardeners from near Kampala, some American Peace Corps volunteers, and a couple of the Sabina students. The topics covered in the workshop included soil improvement, seed saving, worm farming and, by special request, pests and diseases.

With most people in Uganda being able to grow their own food, the workshop became more an exchange of ideas and practices between me and the participants. They were all knowledgeable about crop rotation and companion planting, but seemed to have little awareness of composting and the use of mulch. The rationale for saving seeds and the disadvantages of hybrid and GM seeds were appreciated by most but one participant spoke in favour of GM, mentioning an improved (?GM) variety of banana in support of his argument.

They were very interested in the 'white oil' (soap and vegetable oil) spray concentrate that I made and then used on some aphids on cabbage in the mandala garden. They were particularly enthused when we started a small worm farm in a container Mike had fashioned out of an old trunk, with compost worms that I had brought with me from Australia. A tour of the permaculture project led by Dan and me was also included in the workshop and one of the agriculture teachers said he was most impressed by the productivity and health of the mandala garden.

The workshop was held in the library which had been recently painted and cleaned, and the Sabina kitchen made a sumptuous lunch for the workshop participants, including some greens from the mandala garden. Three photographers from the US and Ireland were visiting Sabina and took photos of the workshop.

Evaluation of the workshop by the participants was quite favourable, though I had overestimated the ability of some of the participants to fully understand my Aussie English. I could have used an interpreter more than I did. Ten year old Kayinga Andrew's comment, when asked to say one good thing and one not so good thing about the workshop, was that "The good thing is that I learned that worms are good for the soil. The bad thing is that I am sad because I used to think they were dangerous and when I was digging I would cut them"!

The success of this workshop, and of the others that have been held, certainly indicates that one key activity of the project should be an ongoing series of educational activities.

Dan and Mike and I spent some time discussing the permaculture design that Rowe, Dan, Amanda and Mike had done for the Sabina site. I was impressed by the design, and proof of its effectiveness was already evident in the productive mandala garden and the performance of the swales in the heavy rain. My only comment was that it may be preferable to stop vehicles using the turnaround area between the library and the home, so that it could be planted with trees and grass or other ground cover plants to prevent the dust in the dry and mud in the wet from such a large expanse of bare earth.

I did make some suggestions for other trees that could be included in the plantings, including Inga (Ice cream bean), Acerola Cherry, Tamarind, Carob, Ibeka and Black Sapote. I said I would see if I could post some seed of these trees to the project. However, I have found that seeds and plants are restricted imports into Uganda and I would have to get phyto-sanitary certification and a whole lot of other paper work, unless I lied on the declaration, and then I could be liable to prosecution. Inga is a legume that has shown weedy potential in some areas of Australia with a similar climate to Sabina's, so perhaps it should not be considered. Most of the others may well already be in Uganda and may be able to be tracked down at other permaculture projects or tree projects. I wil do some more internet research and let you know if I find anything.

After the workshop, Uncle Ddembe Joseph showed me his family's garden next door to Sabina, and then took me further on to show me a plot of land on which Bkenya Peter, with Uncle Ddembe Joseph's support, is growing passionfruit on wire trellises with an understorey of coffee. This great example of productive permaculture stacking has been established as a cash crop to generate funds to support Bkenya Peter's further education, and I was impressed by the effort that Bkenya Peter and Ddembe Joseph had put into it. It also demonstrates that the local people can be quite enterprising and that the permaculture project can work with those people and support them in their own projects.

While the first priority for the permaculture project at Sabina must be to grow vegetables, fruit, eggs, milk and meat to broaden the diet of the children, it may be worth exploring, as the project develops, the future possibility of growing cash crops as well, along the lines of Bkenya Peter's project.

So thankyou to you all for giving me the opportunity to visit and contribute, in a small way, to this exciting project. I learnt a lot and enjoyed it very much, even the cold sponge bathing, the posho and the beans! And the kids, of course, were amazing. I will never forget them.

Cheers and Best Wishes

Dick Copeman
Northey Street City Farm
Brisbane, Australia

Note: See photos from Dick's workshop here

Friday, November 7, 2008

Swales in Action

Here are a couple of photos of a couple our swales after a rain.