Students in Matangwe have had the past month off school – a holiday put in place in recognition that going to school and studying is very difficult in the falling rains that usually come at this time of year. Of course, although the “rainy season” is predictable, it doesn’t always happen. This may be one of those years. There was rain early but it hasn’t fallen in awhile and people are anxiously watching the sky, praying that they might start up again – to fill ponds and rivers and to nurture the seeds that were planted when they first started. If the rains stop now – really stop – then the people of the area face the very real threat of their water sources running dry and crop-killing drought leading to starvation.
This is just one more hardship that complicates the already difficult circumstances that the people face daily in their ordeal of survival. The women of the area have a particularly hard lot: up before the sun to get children ready for school; spend up to 4 hours a day just drawing water from the ponds; and then more collecting firewood. This on top of cooking and washing clothes and tending animals and….and it just goes on and on. Often this has to be done without the support of a husband due to premature death or the necessity of work that can only be found many miles from home.
You would think that this daily regimen would grind them up. But these are remarkable women. They don’t readily give into hardship. And they support each other. For example, fetching water from the pond may be an onerous chore but they manage to turn it into an opportunity to laugh and talk over the news of the day.
When I was in Matangwe between the middle of January and the end of February, I had a chance to meet many of them informally in passing – always with a smile. And I was involved in a number of community meetings where they talked about things that would help improve the quality of life in their community. There have been a number initiatives coming from these meetings but, for me, one of the most interesting and exciting is the Ndege Na Mazingira Women’s Group. Freely translated this means the Birds and Environment Women’s Group. This growing group of women is meeting a few times a month with the initial aim of improving their environment by growing tree seedlings. Some of these seedlings will be replanted in strategic areas to improve the biodiversity of the area. Others, they are hoping, will be sold to other local people in order to earn money to continue to fund projects.
As you can see from the pictures, planting isn’t easy work. But these women have made the commitment to do what they can do to improve their natural environment. And they are already looking around for their next project. Africa gets a lot of bad press. But there’s a lot of people there that are ready and willing to do what it takes to make things better. All they lack is opportunity.
And throughout this rainy season/”holiday”, the Matangwe Bird Club has been meeting weekly – thanks to the efforts of Dan Odhiambo and Amondi Christine. Every Sunday the group meets to get binoculars and bird books and set up nets for catching and banding birds. Dan and Amondi are keeping a good record (written and pictorial) of the birds seen and banded. Dan is paying particular attention to changes in the avifauna, trying to get a handle on the changes that occur throughout the year and in response to weather events…like rains and drought. I was knocked out by the capture of the pictured Sulphur-breasted Bush-shrike. In all my time in the area I had never seen this stunningly beautiful bird. Was its presence related to the rains? Time…and careful observations and record-keeping….will tell.