Friday, January 28, 2011

Landscaping Loopeng

Somedays I step outside and I'm instantly transported to medieval, rural Japan. I open my door and BAM! I'm standing in the middle of an enormous Zen garden, complete with rakes and miscellaneous, dilapidated scupture (old pit toilets, rusted cars and unused firewood). The entire yard of my host family's home is marked by the distinctive scrape of rakes through very fine sand, sometimes in what appear to be intricate patterns. I am the little figurine that lives in the miniature Zen garden on your coffee table.

While the sculptural elements of Loopeng's version of Zen gardens are an unintended consequence of poverty (no running water, certainly no recycling center or waste management authority in Loopeng), the raked sand is what a well-kept "lawn" in Loopeng looks like. Forget your fancy grasses, we have sand! Do we have plain sand because nothing will grow in it? Oh no, people here work at keeping their yards completely and totally devoid of greenery.

Lately, thanks to a load of recent rain, green shoots of plant life have been creeping out of every corner of the earth and the good citizens of Loopeng have their hands full destroying every living thing that attempts to enliven their yards. Every evening my entire family gathers in a selected corner of the yard to de-weed. Shovels are used to rip the plants out of the earth, and rakes collect them into neat little piles that are then wheeled far, far away to disturb someone else. The ground is re-raked post-disposal, just for good measure I suppose.

Of course, there are reasons for this sort of landscaping. Most prominent, in my experience, is that grass/weeds/green stuff provides a haven for snakes, and frankly, who wants a highly poisonous snake to make its home in their yard? No one I know, or wish to know. Snakes are scary. I'm glad to see people take precautions.

However, as terrified as I am of snakes, a really windy day here in Loopeng can make me curse whoever first gave the Batswana a rake. The slighest breeze easily turns into a veritable sandstorm, and hence I live perpetually covered in a thin film of grainy sand. Sure, it's a natural exfoliator, but I've had enough to last a lifetime. If only there was some kind of snake-repelling ground cover...

I may have just discovered my calling. Developing plants for people who dislike nature!

Anyway, I do not wish to do a disservice to the few, the proud, the gardeners of Loopeng. While most residents choose bare earth as their landscape architecture of choice, there a few truly lovely gardens here. Some are just pretty arrangements of potted plants, others are elaborately edged flower beds. A few people even have patches of grass, complete with plastic bottle irrigation systems. It's inspiring to see how people have managed to create little havens of Eden in such a difficult, desert environment, and their gardens are an asset to the village. Of course, no one's garden is 100% lawn and rose bushes. Everyone owns a rake, and it seems the people are powerless against their compulsion to use it.

So it goes that every resident of Loopeng inhabits their own life-size Zen garden, including myself.

Sayonara from South Africa,

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