Tom Sawyer--African Style

Remember the scene in Mark Twain's novel Tom Sawyer where Tom has been told to paint the fence as a punishment for some misdeed? What does he do? He manages to make it look like so much fun that everybody else wants to do it. So, pretty soon, there are enough people painting the fence that Tom doesn't have to do it at all. He just sits back and watches them do all the work and take his punishment.

Now this scene has been repeated in the heart of Africa. "How's that," you say? Well, it is African style, and the names have been changed, but it's much like the scene out of the novel.

Let's say you want to collect manure. "Manure," you say? Yeah, lots of cow and sheep dung. Well, what you do is go down to the edge of the dam where the animals come to drink and people bring their animal-drawn carts to get water. There's lots of manure there. You get out of your truck and start picking up the stuff (with gloves, of course). Pretty soon you'll have a crowd of curious onlookers who wonder what you're doing. Then some of them start helping you.

It doesn't take long, with lots of willing little helpers, to fill up the back of a pickup truck....and they don't have gloves!

But after a full morning of collecting the stuff in the hot sun, you come home pooped!

Now you're probably wondering why in the world we would be collecting manure. Well, we're making compost, and one of the key ingredients in compost is manure. Sheep and goat dung are the best, but big cow pies are the easiest to find and collect. So, we get as much as will fill the back of our truck, take it to our house where we've dug a pit, mix it with lots of good compostable material (in our case the only really good thing is the chaff off the millet), water it for a few weeks, and presto! lots of good compost. We are going to use the compost to make what is known as zai holes. These are small round holes you dig in your field. Into each hole you put a shovel full of compost. The compost not only enriches the soil, it also holds in the moisture (otherwise it sinks down into the endless sand) and helps prevent weeds from growing. Making zai holes in a field can double or even triple the crop yield, but it is very hard, labor-intensive work. We have decided to plant millet on our church property this year and use the grain to help feed the poor. Jeremy has already dug a lot of holes on the property (see photo), and a team coming up March 9-11 from Sahel Academy will dig more.

So the next time you want to play Tom Sawyer, come to Africa and help us collect manure.