I was leaving school last week, when the general worker stopped me and said, "Resego, your shade cloth!" He pointed at the floor of the computer lab. There was a giant pile of silvery mesh. How I had stepped over it for weeks and not once registered its presence, I'll never know.
"My shade cloth?"
"Yes, for your garden!"
As much as I enjoy gardens in general, the school vegetable garden has become something of a metaphor for my entire service that I do not particularly enjoy being reminded of. Every moment I've spent in the garden or talking with a colleague about the garden has in some way encapsulated an aspect of rural South Africa or Peace Corps that I strongly dislike.
To begin with, let's talk about community buy-in, or my lack thereof. If I had any, no one would call it "my" garden. It would be "our" garden. I had hoped everyone would feel a sense of ownership, a sense of responsibility for the garden. Alas, it is "my" garden and without my constant badgering it would never have been planted this year to begin with. I don't like my pestering, but it's what I've been reduced to. Everytime I make a suggestion, the most frequest response is "Yes, let's do it!" However, months will go by without anyone lifting a finger to help until I finally crack and start harassing someone. Whatever we had agreed upon will finally get done and all will be well, until I notice something else in need of attention and the cycle begins anew. A perfect example of this is the shade cloth fiasco.
Moshaweng's school garden has long been partially covered by a shade cloth. When I first arrived, I thought, "We need more shade cloth!" As it turned out, we had some, but it just wasn't up yet. It was in storage. "We should put it up," I said.
"Yes, we will. Tomorrow?"
Tomorrow turned from days to weeks to months. Tomorrow was about to stretch into forever, when, sensing my frustration from a counterpart project gone wrong, my countpart pulled things together and the shade cloth magically appeared.
The garden was planted, most of it was shaded. Life was dandy. Sure, no one watered it unless I issued reminders at regular intervals and sure, I could no more convince anyone to use compost than paint a donkey pink. I had no community buy-in, but I did have a dozen tomato plants. I made an uneasy peace with my quasi-failed garden.
Quasi, because it is home to some delicious looking green peppers, but failed because it's inspired exactly no one to keep it going.
And now, I have another shade cloth. There is a section of the garden that remains uncovered. I inspected it recently and despite the sun, it doesn't look too shabby. I think the far bigger problem for plants in Loopeng is the sandy soil. In fact, a department of agriculture official said that the soil was so bad in the area that it was totally impossible to grow crops. Water drains right past the roots, sun or no sun. The tomatos look especially pathetic, even though they're fully shaded. I'd love to try a hydroponic project here in Loopeng, but if few people are interested in traditional gardening I doubt anyone would care about hydroponics. Besides, the only local hydroponics project, about 90 km away, was a total failure so it's not like there are a ton of local experts available to help. Anyway, as tempting as it is to leave the shade cloth right where it is, I think I'll make an effort to put it up. It looks like there's quite a bundle, and if there's extra I may sneak it up to the creche. They also have a tiny garden, of which they are quite proud. Failure, as they say, isn't getting down, it's staying down.