Monday, August 17, 2009

Simon Says . . .

Aaron, our most dependable campsite security guard watches us interact with the women's sewing cooperative and the campsite contractors. He hears us discussing, at least once a weekend, what projects to focus on next. A little over a month ago, we asked him about his own needs and professional goals and learned about "The Promoters of Good Health"--a group of farmers in a community of fishermen who are working their hardest to pull sustenance and livelihood from the jungle around them.

We told Aaron that we'd be interested in learning more about the Promoters of Good Health and woke up the following morning to discover that five of them had been sitting around our campsite since daybreak. Their bank account has been steadily growing since they make themselves available for post-rainy-season brush work and they seem to have most of the tools that they need for their small scale farming. Beyond that, they have about two acres of land and a desire to hear good advice about how to use it.

Since that point, we've been trying to coordinate a meeting between the Promoters of Good Health and Simon, the German Agriculture Specialist who we lived with during our first two months in Liberia. Simon has spent almost three years traveling all over Liberia training rural communities to make the most of their resources.

He arrived with his young German assistant on Saturday afternoon in the midst of a day-long, relentless downpour. The rain kept a large number of the Promoters of Good Health from turning up to benefit from Simon's experience; but nearly a dozen of us huddled together in the unused structure of a nearby hotel's restaurant, watching Simon kneel in the sand, sculpting it into topographical maps, outlines of tubers and diagrams of composting systems.

I had assumed that the Promoters of Good Health was a male only organization and I felt a bit awkward during the beginning stages of the meeting when a pair of women from the sewing cooperative monopolized conversation and Simon's attention while the men slouched and whispered on the periphery. But when we stopped for proper introductions, it turned out that they are also members of the Promoters of Good Health and that the organization has nearly fifteen female members.

For the next three or four hours, Simon's willingness to turn the sand floor into his own personal etch-a-sketch and his enthusiasm for the usefulness of human feces kept everyone in thrall. He was met with intelligent and consistent questioning, laughter and excitement. The recurring theme was definitely the strategic use of human waste products--something that Simon circled around until he was able to equate a bowel movement with a bowl of rice or twenty Liberian dollars.

At the meeting's conclusion the Promoters of Good Health repeated a clear request for written materials and explanatory pamphlets that I hope we'll be able to meet--seeing as nobody was taking notes and some of the concepts (especially regarding crop rotation and different chemical nutrients) might require study to fully absorb. Though the day was not the least bit relaxing in a conventional way--as it was split between quality control on lapa beach bags and talking about farming with poop--it was still rewarding.

1 comment:

  1. i would definitely be interested in seeing those materials on here when you do get them - or notes from the session or whatnot...
    also if you use a flip video cam you could record some of these and then play them back for audiences who might have missed them the first time around...just stick the flip on a table or whatnot and let it run