Redneck Shamba Worker

Kathy Randall: Lela, Maseno Division, Kenya
I am a redneck.
I am now the proud displayer of a thoroughly bright burned red neck. Proud? You might ask. Yes. Proud. Because I worked hard to earn this red neck. I mean, yeah, it hurts, but it was worth it.
So, here’s how it happened. We are staying at a very (very) generous local woman’s house. This fireball of a woman, Margaret, is a leader in her community, organizing numerous programs such as caring for orphans and the sick and guiding the area to a consensus to have running water to every property. She is a brave woman. Her husband travels and she invites various westerners to live in her house (including some very strange divinity students).
On Monday she invited the three girls to come help her in her shamba. “It is very far.” [In Kenya, you never really know how far is far exactly. It could be anywhere from a twenty minute walk to a treacherous eight (or fourteen) hour drive.] We did not know quite what we had gotten ourselves into. But we gathered our water bottles and ventured out into the field.
A brief note: on Sunday evening and into the night, it rained heavily. Stormed, actually. The roads, already packed red dirt, have the amazing tendency to turn to slippery mud. But it drains amazingly well here, considering the closest tarmac is at least a mile or two away. We waited for the sun to come out and dry up most of the mud, and amazingly, it did. Sure there were puddles, and sure I managed to dip my toes inadvertently into the muck before we got out of sight of the house, but it was not too bad of a start. As we walked on dirt paths in single file, conversations caught and lost as we spread out and came closer together on our journey through the Kenyan countryside. These dirt paths are just wide enough for one person to walk, mostly one foot in front of the other, narrower than paths on the AT, but just as muddy in some places. At one point we came out to the railroad, and walked along the metal crossties cast in 1962. We took the long way around because the main road was “very bad.”
At one point, we came to an outlet from the footpath to a road, but at the entry to the road the path was eroded, swamped, and basically an eight foot long puddle in a trench. But, industrious us gathered stones, and Mama Margaret in her gumboots (rainboots for us) placed them at step long distances so that we could cross over the expanse of mud to reach the road. Then we climbed a rocky hill, jumped a few ditches, passed schools and homes and trees, and came to the red roof that Margaret had pointed out across the valley when we were on the rails. After an hour, we had finally arrived at her shamba. Yes. It was far. And we hadn’t even started working yet!
Margaret had bought into a program introducing some new plants into the area. Imagine my surprise when I saw that the delicious snow peas and sugar snaps came from her garden! We received a basic primer on how to pick the peas, and bent to our work, working up and down the lines of the crop staked to the hill. Back bent to the work of moving leaves aside to pick the peas that were the proper size, we continued to fill the sack, and work on in our labors. One of Margaret’s workers found us later, and worked on beside us, together we gathered over nine kgs of peas. Two hours work for five people. Every Monday and Friday Margaret and her crew come to gather their crops, and then they bring them to the collector who pays either fifty or eighty shillings per kg (she’s not sure). In US terms: that’s sixty-six cents to a dollar and six cents. At most, that is eight and a half dollars for our two hours of work. These peas will be frozen immediately and shipped to be sold in a supermarket in England. “Home Grown” indeed. They are sweet, but I’m not so sure it is fair trade. (Margaret is not suffering for it, but it is a lot of work.)
Then we had to carry it back. Laura placed the large bag (at least ten pounds) on her head, and managed to walk Kenyan momma style all the way back to the house, with only one half slip and usually not even touching it with her hands. Famished, we ate our lunch, and then took “showers” (cold bucket baths). That was when I found that I had missed a spot or two when I put on sunscreen. Granted, I did not know that I was going to be working or walking outside for four hours when I started, but I should have known better. I am practically on the equator anyway. I still have a vibrant red neck. But our peas tonight were so fabulously scrumptious.


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