Going back to school after winter break was never easier than today. After a long vacation filled with both homesickness and new experiences, I was rejuvenated to get back to work. I managed to drag myself to school (nearly) everyday and made some real progress on my newest and most exciting project, the school garden. I am responsible (along with about 100 6th graders) for turning a big plot of land cornered by two classrooms into a garden. My job is to teach these 6th graders how to maintain a vegetable garden of lettuce, tomato, onions and peppers, while coordinating physical science lessons with their teachers so that they have a hands on experience of what they’re learning in class. My goal is that no child sits through class or goes through the day hungry. After incorporating a child’s rights into every class’ curriculum, I aim to ensure our children’s right to health. Sounds like a pretty hefty task, but I guess I have to try, right?
For a long time the idea of a garden was well conceived, and the school backed the idea 100%, but it took about 2 months to get even just the funding together for the starting materials to clear the area we wanted to use and lay down some patches of fertilizer. Finally, just in time for winter break, we had a starting point. I spent my Christmas days in the West African sun, beating the dry earth for hours and making 75-100 trips a day from house to garden, carrying 20 liters of water on my head. But I loved doing all of this, even thought by the end of each day my hands were all ripped up and blistered.
Occasionally, in pulling out a weed or patting the damp soil, memories of working in my mother’s flower garden would float back to me. I’m truly lucky for how much she taught me in the garden, but also for inheriting her work ethic (I think) and tolerance (if not appreciation) for physical labor. Every time I am ready to quit, I bring myself back to a Northeastern blizzard with my mother standing in the middle, shoveling her small-town, world-renowned antique shop out of the frozen chaos. Something to admire, something to inspire, and after a moment I’m ready to slam my shovel back into the ground and keep going. Who knew winter could be so hot?
Now, this morning, when I arrived at school I had no intention of spending all morning in the garden but evidently when another teacher told me a hose had arrived I was thrilled and went straight to set it up. A hose meant we could start planting because we could fulfill the amount of watering we needed to do each day without having to carry 20 liters of water back and forth for hours on end.
The hose was, quite literally, a long, blue tube of plastic. There is no screw on top or fancy spray handle and setting it up turned out to be more of a challenge than I expected. First, I looked for my water source. One spout too far away, another broken all together, I finally just attached the plastic to the faucet of my director’s house, close to the garden. I turned it on, and immediately there were over 10 holes sprinkling more water than I could afford to lose all over the place. Tackling them each one at a time, tying plastic bags tightly around each and hoping it stays, I finally get a good amount of water in the hose, but not much coming out on the other end. I decided elevating the entire hose and letting the water fall out would increase the pressure, so after climbing trees and brick walls to stick the hose somewhere it would actually stay I had a steady flow of water. Next, the plastic on the biggest hole kept sliding and it seemed like the hole had gotten even bigger and was now spurting the majority of my water onto everything in sight, including me. Soaking wet, I wrestled with the hose for about 20 minutes, endlessly tying plastic garbage to the kink. Once it stayed, the end attached to the faucet simply refused to stay on. Each time, it slid right off. Tying it with a rag, backing away slowly and then running, fingers crossed, I prayed there was something in the bottom of the big metal barrel I was trying to fill. I peaked over the edge: Water! I stared at my reflection. I was shamelessly beaming ear to ear, and was suddenly reminded why I’m even here.
I began carrying bucket after bucket of water and watered each 5 meter patch 3, 4 times, upturning the soil as I went, perfectly content with my work and myself. One by one, boys wandered into the garden excited to see me working and ready to work themselves. I brought out every shovel and rake and put each one to work and by lunch time, we were ready to plant.
We all returned in the afternoon and tomato was the popular vote for our first plant. Handing out the seeds and watching how even the most impolite, reckless, middle school boys could cherish just the smallest, helpless, fuzzy white piece of potential and gently lower it to the soil was reminiscent of me, and my decision to come to Senegal. My whole life I’d been nurtured by family, opportunities, basic necessities. This year is my first seed, planted. Now we wait to see what comes out of it as I try to fulfill the outrageous goals set for myself.