Hilary Beans

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Time Capsule

I soar over Africa on a route that I have traveled before. The land below me now seems familiar, even if not completely known. This path from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania to Nairobi, Kenya is one I have now traveled four times; three times in air and once overland.
As I peer out the window in this moment, I see the recognizable shape of Zanzibar. It is a color 3-D version of the map I have studied in the Lonely Planet during my explorations. In my head, I locate the towns and roads and landmarks that I have visited on that off-shore island. From up here, it is a very different perspective.
As the minutes put miles between me and Tanzania, it feels strange to leave this part of the world. I am sure that it will seem even stranger in a month’s time when I board another flight on an east African carrier to leave Africa for the foreseeable future. Though it has been only three short months, some part of me feels like I have been exploring roots here forever; that my time here is timeless, sort of like the continent herself.
This morning, Torin and I looked out over the water and the port of Stonetown on Zanzibar. It is an ancient island with varied history. Around us, a group of African men congregated in the shade of rusty shipping containers, headed from who knows where to who knows where carrying who knows what from one place to another. Many stared at me with my curly blond hair waving in the wind. Torin made a comment about the stares despite his presence. An old man wearing blue denim shorts over the top of torn khaki trousers waltzed by and smiled a “Habari?” in our direction. “Nzuri sana,” I replied. “Nzuri sana, unasema, nzuri sana!” he laughed back over his shoulder, chuckling at my Swahili response of very good to the greeting question “What’s the news?” Another man twinkled by us on an antique one-speed bicycle, sending good feeling and good will with a simple good morning. As the departure time for our ferry neared, a pair of gentlemen tried to pick up our bags and carry them to the ferry for a tip. I hoisted my heavy backpack onto my shoulders and shrugged them away. After ten months, I’m accustomed to packing around my belongings.
In line, a little girl with plaited braids, no shoes and a fancy dress a size or two too big smiled and waved at me, looking away shyly when I smiled back. Gaining courage from my attention, she began to speak to me in both Swahili and English, laughing when I responded, but still giggling when together we exhausted our mutual vocabulary. With dimples and bright brown eyes she looks like a poster child. This morning she is nestled between her mother and baby sister, who sit in a line of women in traditional colorful kangas, one wrapped around their waists and another around their tops. They look in some way mysterious and powerful surveying the world from their covered bodies. How does it look to them?
We boarded the ferry behind two short, waddling Indian women. Suitcases with maps of the world went before us, followed by cardboard boxes tied with string and Torin’s and my mountaineering backpacks. Torin’s yellow ski boots, flung over shoulders outside his backpack, drew even more curious looks than we did.
Africa is what she is. She is timeless and changing. The months I have shared here in 2006 show her in a particular dynamic light. They are a time capsule, a vision of a particular moment in her perpetual history. Leaving Tanzania this morning, the singularity of this time, of the insights that I have gained, has hit me harder than it has leaving any other place. Sitting today on the dock, I was struck as I have never been by what it means to be here now. Observing the world around me, thinking of the history I have read, I recognized in a new way how vastly different these places will be in a few short years. She is dynamic and ever changing, this Africa. These months are portraits of a moment in part of a much greater, larger, complex history. They are impressions from three short months, a time capsule of the East African story, one portrait among thousands, part of my portrait from May 2006.
Africa. I call her thus knowing that my moments of experience do not encompass Africa as a whole or the experiences and histories and cultures of her dozens of countries. However, I think that some of my observations are relevant to Africa generally, particularly in the light that many outsiders see her, which fails to acknowledge her variety. Even so, the history of colonialism, (shared by all Africa except Ethiopia), of underdevelopment, affect many of the continent’s contemporary issues and may make it possible to draw some conclusions. In addition, when it comes down to it, all that appears here are my unedited impressions. They are to be taken as such.
Africa has so much to share and to celebrate. She is particular, unique, unlike anywhere else in the world in diversity, in history, in riches. She is what she is, and must be taken as such. She has her own soul and countenance, her own frustrations and eccentricities. Some of these include a constant inability to make change for anything. It is almost impossible to buy something without the change making turning into an extended journey to each neighboring shop. Her cultures understand time completely differently; large towns are centered around a clock tower, but in the market one buys watches by the pound, and neither buses nor meetings nor anything else obey the rule of time anyhow. For me Africa has meant spectacular sunsets and natural landscapes of every type, plains and hills and mountains and volcanoes and waterfalls and deserts. She has shown me old men with caved in lips and glasses that magnify their eyes as they clarify the world around them. It has been pool tables outside in the rain and checkers played on street corners with plastic water bottle caps and barefoot football games on muddy fields with balls made of twine and plastic bags. She has been smiling children anxious to have their photo taken and older women who begin to shake their heads as soon as they see the camera in your hand. She has made me more visible than I have ever felt as I am identified as “Mzungu” out loud everywhere I travel. She has challenged me to smile and connect with people inclined to see me skin color as a walking dollar sign, and taught me the art of bargaining patiently while I learn the rules of proper pricing. She is white-toothed or toothless smiles in dark faces, overcrowded buses, malnutrition, Coca-cola in glass bottles, colonial history, tourists in khaki wear. She is products that I have seen nowhere else in the world, a place where cars and boats and bicycles have second, third, and fourth lives after they would have been long retired other places.
Africa is no darker or more mysterious or less accessible then anywhere else in the world. She is no further away than a plane ride, and communication anywhere else is no farther away then a $2 cell phone SIM card. She is a mix of tradition and modernity unlike any other place I have experienced. She is large and eccentric and humbling and so human. She can’t be judged by anyone thing, or characterized in any one way. She is what she is, and must be loved and respected and valued for her multiplicities and contradictions. She is willing to share them with you, and if you are open to her, she will change you in some deep non-understandable way. Opening my eyes to this dynamic world in these months in these African countries has humbled me both in the face of nature and that of humanity. She is what she is. I try to learn to love her for all of it.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Quarterly Report 3

Hi all,
I know it has been a long time. I have some backlogged blogs I will be putting up here in the next few days, about four of them on my awesome experience of the last month in Rwanda, where I was learning cupping, doing interviews, trying to speak French, talking to people about coffee, experienceing genocide commemoration week, and eating tons of bananas and french fries (who knew fries were such a staple food the world over?). Anyway, thank you all for continuing to read even when I am bad about updates. Here is my third quartely report. Hard to believe we are down to the last few months...

Africa. It is a continent that in my younger days I didn’t expect to visit. Full of mystery. Dark and different, unknown. In Tanzania, I stepped out of the Arusha Airport unsure of what I was stepping into; excited, but nervous. How would I get by in countries where English (or Spanish) were not so widely spoken? How would this continent be different than where I had spent the last few months, in somewhere more familiar? Starting this section of the project on a new continent, I was faced with many more of these questions than when I hopped on an airplane headed for Nicaragua. They needled my confidence as much as the questions I had about my project coming in.
But the magic of the Watson is that we are each given the opportunity to claim parts of the world that before seemed unimaginable. My self-confidence has been boosted greatly these last few months, as I have found that I can make my way in new countries on an unfamiliar continent in countries that seemed daunting to begin with. I have learned that I can communicate in places where my knowledge of local languages is exceedingly limited. I have spent hours laughing, chatting and communicating with people when our shared vocabulary consists of only a dozen words.
My experience working with organizations in Africa has helped mature my understanding of how community development happens. I am passionate about ensuring that people have opportunities and access to resources. This year has been about investigating models that facilitate development in that way. However, I came into the year imagining that cooperatives needed to be philanthropic and solely development focused. In Nicaragua I was disturbed by the focus of CECOCAFEN on business. How could producers relate to this? How did this best serve members? Why were they so profit oriented? Shouldn’t they put more effort into their education programs and other development initiatives rather then being so business driven?
During these three months, I have reevaluated this preconception and come to understand that in order to be successful, cooperatives must be business oriented. I have realized that having some focus on efficiency is not a negative trait, nor does it imply that the group is not working to aid and empower members. Rather, it illustrates a commitment to running successful programs. Many of the cooperatives that I have encountered in these two countries are working to build infrastructure that is integral to increasing farmer incomes. I have come to understand that this is a clear precursory step to implementing education or other kinds of empowerment programs. In addition, seeing how people are incorporated and empowered through the development of successful small businesses has shown me one very successful way to ensure producer empowerment and ownership of projects. By developing structures that increase income while working to develop cooperative spirit and community consciousness, people and communities are far more empowered than by aid models implemented in so many places. I have seen how strategies for gender equality and reducing child labor can be worked into business models. This focus is changing the way many cooperatives operate.
In Tanzania the history of giant, unresponsive, and mismanaged cooperatives is one of the major challenges to developing successful producer organizations today. Farmers are not anxious to jump into a ‘cooperative’ when their previous experience included handing over their products and never receiving payment. It was very interesting to work with both NGOs and parts of the Tanzanian government, USAID, and other organizations to see how producers are negotiating this history in attempts to create new farmer organizations. New Farmer Business Groups seem to be replacing historical cooperatives, with similar missions but more of a focus on business development in hopes of avoiding some of the pitfalls of past cooperatives.
In Rwanda, current cooperatives are fighting hard to dispel a historical conception of cooperatives as government-run farmer welfare programs. They are working to change mindsets to cooperatives as business, increase democratic participation and ownership of organizations. In the southern region of Rwanda, where I spent my time, this approach has helped farmers to double and in some cases triple farmer incomes in the last five years, creating new opportunities for members as well as providing a model for cooperative development around the world.
Also during this time, I attended my first conference with the international coffee community. In February, I spent four days at the East African Fine Coffee Association Conference In Arusha, Tanzania. It was held at a multi-million dollar resort, and present were those from the Founder of Starbucks to new independent roasters to producers from all over Eastern Africa. It was fascinating to see and imagine how all of these people are related as links in the chain of a $90 billion per year business.
Meeting exporters, importers, roasters, and others improved my understanding of the international coffee industry as well as the position of small-scale farmers within that industry. I learned more about certification, and the challenges facing those at the consumer end of the coffee industry. I was also able to hear their advice to producers, which was very enlightening, providing a virtual roadmap for growing quality for specialty markets. It is based on quality, not on labels. Consumers will not repeatedly purchase low quality products simply because they are marked with a Fair Trade or Rainbow Alliance label. Dependence upon consumer’s social conscience does not empower consumers or producers. Putting a focus on improving quality to empower producers to cultivate products that can sustainably increase their incomes allows independent development and empowerment. They avoid becoming dependent upon the philanthropy of consumers that puts producers at the will of fluctuating disposable incomes.
Since arriving in Africa, I have also been able to see how much I have learned. My ability to make comparisons has expanded. I have much more knowledge about the kinds of questions to ask to get the information that I want. I am able to question and challenge people and models that I see. I can determine which programs present in one place would be helpful in another and have been able to share that information. This exchange is the crux of the Watson Fellowship. It also helps me to understand how I want to be involved with development work in the future. It is fascinating and inspiring for me to see models that are working. I am thinking of applying for a Fulbright in the future to work on implementing some quality control programs at communities I have visited this year. It is awesome to imagine how my work from this year may shape my future, and how the knowledge that I have gained will be useful in the future to more than myself. Also, I have decided to return to Guatemala after visiting Ethiopia in June to talk to a few of the people I didn’t know to talk to when I was first there.
On life experience notes, I have had many other adventures during these months. Getting to talk to Amelia has been amazing, to engage about each other’s projects as well as about our experience as Watson fellows in general. It has helped me to know how our experiences are similar and different, and which ones are related to being a Watson Fellow. We traveled together to see Rwanda’s mountain gorillas, which was awesome! (If any of you get the chance to come to Rwanda, I recommend it as highly as possible!) I also trained during my time in Rwanda as a coffee cupper, learning to identify and score coffee quality, a necessary skill if I want to work in this area in the future. By the end of my month, I was impressed that my scoring of the coffee more or less matched that of the girls who work each day at the coffee lab. Finally, this process, which has seemed mysterious for much of the year, is coming clearer! Perhaps I will be able to do a cupping at the conference in August. Hard to believe how quickly that will be coming up…

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Memorial Day

People smile. They walk to the grocery store. They stop and talk on the street. University students study for exams. They meet with friends. They make their meals. They continue their lives.
Only these days, some of these daily activities are visibly interrupted to remember events that shook this country to its roots. The cotidial chores stop, and people take the time to remember.
This is Genocide Memorial Week in Rwanda, a time to honor and remember the four months twelve years ago that left more than a million people in mass graves, murdered in their homes, in schools, churches, on the street. It is traumatic. It is difficult. It is unbelievable. I don’t know how to write about it, and I have only been here two weeks. I have no notion of the actual experience. The sinking pit of knots in my stomach can be nothing compared to the anguish experienced both individually and collectively by the people with whom I am sharing these streets day to day.
The university students with whom I have spent the last days are members of the genocide survivor’s organization. Of the university’s 6,000 students, more than 800 belong to the organization. This week they are holding testimonials, movies about the genocide here and in other nations, making vigils in cemeteries, and aiming to support each other. For many, this is their family. They are orphans, siblingless, having lost in many cases their entire families twelve years ago.
Thursday night I attended a ceremony at the university, where a theatrical interpretation of the genocide was made. It followed a family from five years prior to the genocide, when boys in school were split up according to their ethnicity. It follows the family to the church five years later, where seeking refuge, they found death. It followed the son, who had fled the country, to the church, where he arrives as a rebel fighter, and finds his two parents dead.
Yesterday, we went to the national memorial service and heard the president speak. He stressed, as did others, the importance of memory. Of never forgetting. Rwanda has an entire genre of music dedicated to the genocide. All stress remembrance, which is what this week is about. But what does it mean? I walked through a memorial, a long hallway with a walkway on either side. In the center was a slightly raised block, twenty feet wide and four hundred feet long. Underneath reside the bodies of some 5,000 people, less than a one tenth of the people who were killed only in that region. Halfway through was a chest. Underneath the glass were the first human bones I have seen in person, 12 skulls and a pile of neatly laid femur bones. As the woman ahead of us passed it, she cried out and fell hysterically to the floor. She was half carried, half dragged out as she wailed out her grief and memory. Another woman behind us, mute, kept signaling to her back, where Rwandan women carry their babies. She then pointed to the grave, explaining through gestures that two of her children were buried there.
I don’t know how to deal with this event. It is so large as to be unimaginable. I can imagine the twelve skulls that I saw. But how do you imagine a million bodies, a million bones, the billions of screams, of minutes of fear, of anguish, of disbelief, of pain, that make an event like this one? The confusion engulfs not only visitors like me, but Rwandans, who lost their country, their families, and their lives. They played dead among the corpses of their loved ones to avoid death. They came away maimed and traumatized. They grew up fatherless or motherless or both. They survived to be traumatized, to attempt to rebuild a nation with a history that cannot be understood, but a pain so real it is tangible.
I want to cry, to ask, how is it possible to continue under this burden, this blackness of sorrow, this emptiness? But is it for me to ask? They do continue, no doubt they cry, they mourn, they remember. They are braver than I can ever imagine being, a whole nation of people of subtle strength, who are attempting to move forward together. They are 25 year-old orphans holding each other as they go to sleep on the bus after staying awake all night together, to remember those they lost. They are singing out their pain, singing out their memory, in an attempt, if not to understand, simply to make known what happened. They are recognizing.
And I am angry. How could we have done nothing? Allowed children and parents, fellow human beings to be slaughtered? What is the evil? The evil that prompts such acts, and that that allows them to continue as we stand by watching? It is both.
To this day in Rwanda, bodies are still being uncovered. The figure of 800,000 cannot be accurate, far more than 1,000,000 Rwandans were lost during the darkest time in their recent history. As I walk these streets, make friends, meet people, I wonder how they go on. I have asked. They say that you don’t always know how you continue, but you do. One way or another, you do.
I find it hard to express both my amazement and my admiration for Rwandans. They are braver than I can imagine being in the face of their experience. This week, they pack schools and community centers to watch documentaries, talk, ask questions, to remember. Their genocide and their loss is nothing they are trying to hide. These days they ache to remember, to ensure that it cannot happen again by instilling it in the national consciousness. Though I do not imagine that it needs to be reinstilled, this national time of mourning seems to be serving the purpose of nation building through mutual support. In the face of it, I feel awed, impressed and inspired. The wells of strength in the human spirit are immeasurable.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006


Rwanda. Like any country, countless stories, lives and histories continue here on a daily basis. However, in much of the western world, we know only one of Rwanda’s stories. Rwanda seems inextricably linked to another word: genocide. Vague and concrete images of violence crowd the mind, statistics. 800,000 people killed in 100 days. An eighth of the population. In the United States, this percentage would be equivalent to 40 million people. One of the worst tragedies of our time. The biggest humanitarian failure of the 20th century. For many of us, it is the only story we know.
But in this small country, there are so many other stories. It is the land of mountain gorillas and a thousand hills, one of the most densely populated countries in the world. The size of Massachusetts with a population of 8.5 million. As I ride the minibus around these hills, everything is drenched in green. It seems each inch is under cultivation, a veritable checkerboard of lush grasses, maize stalks, cassava roots, coffee trees. Small streams separate crops, or different kinds of tall grasses or trees, creating lace like borders around the productive squares. In the countryside, small mud houses are intermittently dispersed among these, often on precariously steep hillsides.
On the streets of Butare, the university city where I am living, one hears both Kinyarwanda, the national language, and French. Muraho, bonjour. This, like baguettes, is part of the legacy left by the Belgians, who were Rwanda’s colonial guardians from the late 19th century until the early ‘60s. I wish that I spoke more French.
The main street through town is two lanes, lined by three grocery stores, the two ‘luxury hotels’ (still only costing $40 per night), a gas station, and countless young moto-taxi drivers. Women walk by with babies strapped to their backs and baskets of fruit balanced on their heads. Bicycles are common. People are everywhere. It feels slow moving despite being the nations second largest city and its intellectual hub.
I have been here a week and am starting to uncover some of Rwanda’s current stories. The one that I am working on most directly is the story of Rwanda’s run-away success in the specialty coffee industry. In the last five years, the income of some of Rwanda’s poorest farmers has doubled or tripled as farmers have joined new organizations and switched their focus from ‘more is better’ to ‘better is better.’ The farmers and workers and children I have met seem happy and hardworking, they are moving forward, progressing. I am hoping to uncover some of their secrets, their goals, their desires. I want to know more of Rwanda’s different stories.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

What is responsibility?

What do you do when someone gives you a story of needing $20 to go to school? When they cannot afford to pay that twenty dollars because they do not have a job? When they do not have a job for reasons that you do not understand completely, particularly in a country and a place where there is so, so much that needs to be done? It is that you need more educated people to bring up everyone else? Is it that the needs cannot be met by people that have not been to secondary school? This seems impossible. There is plenty to do, to fish, to learn, to work as a guide, to talk to everyone until you find someone who will hire you to do something. How can you have an economy that really has no jobs? I could give the Tsh20000, equivalent to twenty dollars, that must be paid in school fees. But do I believe that that is all it costs? Do I hand over my dollars hoping that he will use it to go to school? How do I react when told “All I want is assistance,” and, “If you return and want to take me to the United States, it would be very good”. I am not in a situation to bring someone to the United States, how do I explain, and more so, how do I justify, saying that it is not in my plans to adopt a 25 year old Tanzanian father to bring him to the United States to be educated?
How do I reconcile the fact that I will get on a plane on Tuesday and travel to another country, and another, and another, before going home to a comfortable house where if I choose to, I can turn on the television and forget about Noah in Kigoma Tanzania who would like to go to school, but lacks the dollar? Where if something comes on the news to remind me of him, of his life, I can click my tongue, think that is too bad, and switch the channel to watch some more Friends? After seeing and being in these places, how can I head back to that life, and forget? Or ignore? What kind of human being would that make me? Privileged? Callous? Fortunate? Selfish?
Some of us are born into white, upper class families in first world countries. Others are born into poor black families in third world countries. No one is to blame, but how do we understand the relationship that exists between those two people? It is just luck that the one has easy access to school and enough to eat, and the other nothing? Doesn’t that one have some responsibility to the other? What is that responsibility, and how can it best be met? Is aid enough? What does that even mean? It is just my fortunate lot that I can go away and think no more about parasites and children with inflated bellies? If I cast my lot with those of my own nation, with our shopping malls and gas-guzzling cars, where does that leave everyone else? Does having been born there make it alright for me to choose that scene in which I have a sense of comfort, albeit while I am uncomforted by the known discomfort of others? After these experiences, can that life really be comfortable, or will I forever be plagued by knowing what things I have, and knowing how many other people do not have them? Things that are necessary, key, important, life sustaining? I don’t know. Over and over again, I am faced with situations that make me uncomfortable, make me think, make me wonder. Sometimes they make me wonder why I come out at all, why do I not just stay home and be comfortable and happy in my storybook American life? This happens particularly when I am faced with someone asking me for something that I cannot or will not give, though I know they have as much a right to it as I do. Other times these experiences make me wonder why government does or does not work, what is human nature, can the world be fair? Why is there enough money for politicians to get rich but not enough to send youth to school? Other times it makes me wonder what it is to connect with people, how culture is different, how can I not be upset by people outrightly asking me for things that I could give them, but don’t want to because then I would be without. After all, how important are my sunglasses, or my shoes? I have other access, why am I so loathe to give them up? What right do I have to my four pairs of pants when people here have only one? Or none? What, what is right? How do I understand all of this? What choices can I make? Which ones are right or fair or just? How do you effect change when there is so much to be changed? And deal with knowing you have advantages based on pure luck? Can I turn my back on others simply because they were not so “lucky” as I?

Friday, March 17, 2006

what am i here?

I sit on the floor of my hotel room on a blanket. Ani DiFranco serenades me while I glance from the computer screen to the blue sky outside and to the door on the other side of the room. She sings about life, about figuring things out. Soothing I suppose while I sit here on the floor and try to figure out mine.
One of the things that they don’t tell you prior to this year is the extent of down time that you will have. One can send as many emails as they want to, make as many contacts as possible, and still will be left on occasion with days that are full of nothing. As the typical over active college student, the appearance of days like this in my life has unnerved me, and though I have tried to become accustomed over the last seven months, sometimes I still find it difficult.
I find it particularly so when the joy one might find in going out is diminished by the knowledge that going out means continued harassment. Not that it is so terrible, and I know that people are just expressing interest in me, but I have not being able to walk 500 meters without someone stopping me to talk, then asking for my email address or cell phone 30 seconds later, and being upset when I don’t want to just pass it out. Or leaving notes at my hotel from which they have seen me come out. Or coming and hanging out at the hotel in the hopes that I will walk up and they can continue to try to convince me to go on safari or better yet, to go out drinking with them.
And what the fuck makes talking to someone your property? Sometimes cross cultural communication is just too complicated, when someone asks if you can be friends and that really means that they are putting some kind of unspoken claim on you, meaning that other people on the street shouldn’t come up and talk to you. Which impedes one’s ability to just have a conversation. Which makes any conversation suddenly not about their experience and yours, about talking and sharing, but about being seen with a white woman and claiming her as your girl. Which makes me just a white girl, a symbol, and not a person. I don’t know how to deal with this. Just ranting a little...

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Weather breasts

Most of the agricultural economists and engineers I have been meeting this month are men. Oddly enough, so are the farmers. It seems that here in Tanzania men are mostly responsible for crops like coffee. Women on the other hand, tend products like maize and bananas. They use the income from these products to handle the expenses of the house. For this reason, it made me laugh when traveling with me Kenyan Coffee Business Adviser guide took me to coffee plantations near a community called Rombo and complained that the sheer number of bananas in the fields was stifling the coffee. Those are some hardworking and determined women, I thought to myself. Planting as many bananas as possible, they increase their incomes to the best of their ability. From the looks of it, they were doing pretty damn well.
It was market day for green bananas. Almost everywhere you looked, women, tall and short, wrapped in traditional kicoy fabrics, meandered balancing huge bunches of green bananas on their heads (the mastery of this particular skill seems to be an inherent trait in women across the world, I am not sure where us American and European women went wrong and feel it is a skill I should work on). They all advanced to numerous trucks congregated on one side of the dirt road, where piles and piles of green, assorted flashes of color as people bustled about, and dust dust dust in the dry air.
Arriving at the cooperative office, we got out of the 4x4 truck and were greeted by a bright eyed group of farmers. Moments later, we all piled back into the pickup truck to visit two model farms. These farmers are hopefully being pulled into an informal network of local mentorship, through with they will disseminate some of the knowledge they have gained through their own innovations to other community members.
At the second farm, I was comically reminded of my place amongst this group of smiley men. We pulled in, and all stumbled over tree stumps until we were in among the flowering coffee plants. As we walked between the closely set rows holding back and brushing branches heavy drops of rain began falling from the sky. I reached the group examining a plant and an old round farmer turned to me, gestured and said something quite involved in Swahili. I nodded. Everyone laughed. (Since my arrival, this situation of me nodding and others laughing is not uncommon, one of the consequences of not speaking the language I suppose.) Cyril, one of the agronomists with whom I have spent the last few days tapped me on the shoulder to explain the punch line. “Hilary, he says that it is raining because you have brought your breasts into the coffee field.”
I looked stunned for a moment and then started laughing. How does one respond to a statement like that? At my laughter, everyone else started laughing again. I asked if that was common logic, was informed that it was, and then told them it made sense; after all, we women are powerful beings.
So I chock this one up to the multitude of new knowledge I have gathered this year. I am becoming a more empowered woman all the time. After all, who knew that I could control African weather with my breasts?