Year Under the Baobab- I wrote this for a collaborative book project I saw on here and can't find again. I thought I would share it with everyone because Baobabs teach you a lot
Dedicated to Jaci Ampulski and my mom.
This is a story of young love, trying to grow our future. I am a young woman from the States and I fell in love with a wonderful man from Kenya. After a failed job in Zanzibar we returned to Kenya to find his everything was gone. With the help of my remarkable friend Jaci and my mom we have embarked on an earthship to create a permaculture demonstration garden.
Don’t walk barefoot, the soil cemented under the sun sears through all the years of calluses. Your toes beg to bury themselves in the dirt but, it’s unyielding like reality. You are home no longer. The sweet succulent soil of my childhood is a world away.
We have arrived on Mombasa planet. A land of baobabs, voluptuous watchers of centuries, look over the parched hills. What have you seen? The brutality of colonialism, have you watched the dignified histories of centuries fall beneath bigotry and exploitation? Do you remember the wounds that created today’s scars? I see you old woman, watching over us. Do you remember the forest before these hills were barren?
When we moved in people came. Came to show their children the white girl. Came to sell their land. Came to get work. Not one came to say welcome. The first 4 months under the arms of this ancient mother are remembered in scars, scars on our hearts in the explosive nights where we could not see each other. What must you think of us fast, young things too impatient for answers to see sense? Scars on our bodies as infection festered for weeks in every little skin break. Heat.
The scraggily weeds are burned off by hopeful farmers. With pick axes they seek to break the unyielding ground. Time drags on, smoke drifts away, heat, there is nothing to eat.
Rats are our roommates of endless games. They run circles around our walls dropping dirt on our sleeping faces. Our house is falling, not even three months or a rain, and the whole thing is teetering down hill. We watch the stars through our roof at night. Mama, how do you stand so strong above us? How have you plunged your roots into this rocky slope? Maybe we need roots too. How can you see into another when you have not yet seen yourself? How can you make a home without a foundation? 4 months we have been scurrying around rootless, so much time, energy, money tumbling, rootless, pulled by relentless forces mostly within ourselves.
The rains come through our roof, the river runs through our house. Our feet, sunken in the muddy floor, rise out of animosity. Resentment washes away, drip by drip, polepole, moja kwa moja, until they are light. Light as the smile on your face, let the muddy dance party commence. What else is there to do in a house of mud?
Our empty house fills with laughter. Enough, tosheka. I am sorry everything is gone. I see you above us, swelling buds bursting. You are so good at living here. Seize the time when it is ripe and use it to your fullest, let yourself fill, kushiba, you know how to be full. Your flowers, unearthly, settle in my hair falling from his gentle hands. You grow like the something beautiful between us. Little baby roots into the hard, rocky ground.
You start to bring me little zawadi, presents. Little bouquets of delicate flowers, fossils that are strewn amply across the hillsides, crazy bugs, funky fungi, and other curiosities. These everyday beautiful are so special. We start taking the time to make delicious food. Some of the holes in our souls begin to fill with these everyday beautiful.
We start getting tires to fill the gaping hole we dug behind our hut. Jey loves the ocean, loves sailing, so we shall live in an earthship. Weeks digging through rocks. Weeks of pounding like the sun on our shoulders. An uneven piecemeal rises slowly filled with tetanus hooks and rats. Eventually it finishes just as the rains begin for real and before the roof. The deluge continues, the roof leaks, the pond overflows with the shitwater, walls collapse, fevers like mosquitoes rage, and the world comes alive with the vibrant voice of the night.
The wall might have collapsed but we didn’t. We have some roots. With a little help from our neighbor we lift the wall again. We can make it work, together. Your leaves are so flush. You are a different creature, in bloom, feeling the fullness of every moment. Our root has taken hold and our leaves begin to spread. A roof, shelter from the storm. A dry house sleeps safe. Thank you mom. Your flowers are falling, littering the ground with beauty. Your womb swells on your fingertips, like the wombs of our teenage neighbors. How does such a goddess bloom in this patriarchy?
The soil becomes slime under the rain, in a day it has returned to cement. Hundreds of seeds were planted with greatest care. Tens of babies stretched out their cotyledons to the hungry mouths of insects and ravages of rampaging chickens. A few stunted plants began to grow. The earthen dam built by the big man backs the water up to flood our farm and mosquitoes proliferate. Good intentions with destructive and, with malaria, deadly consequences. We learned our lesson. We dug trenches and built raised beds. Our hill became compost swales. But soil is not built in a day. Our plants don’t grow. There is nothing to eat in this soil.
I plant a hundred trees and watch them get destroyed by goats. So much work, so much time, we are still leaning being pulled by the forces of gravity, the forces of negative opinions. Mama, what do people say of you? The only attachments you have are to the earth that gives you life. You can’t move but, do you feel free? I feel caged by the bars of my whiteness, my poverty, my age, my vagina. What do they say about you? You have no possession but you possess yourself so fully.
We have a roof. We have walls. We start turning humble dirt into works of art. Our cob earthship begins to come together. After so many failures, so much ridicule, we start to see the transformation to something beautiful. As our house comes together our home begins to bloom.
My grandma died, after months of suffering. I could do nothing, on the other side of the world. Thank you for the inheritance, I came all the way back to the States to pay my respects but was too sick to leave the hospital, I am sorry. You loved the ocean, you loved to travel, I hope you loved me. I decorate our walls with the ocean for you. Because of you we can finish our house. Your death was our creation. Mama, how many things have died to nourish you? How many short lives died to live again- in your branches? To fall in your fruit?
The pond is deepened in the erosion gully and a mighty terrace rises. Finally, enough space for our dancing feet. The ugly piecemeal of uneven, destroyed tires becomes beautiful undulations of heart red cob. A soild wall rises to the roof. Trees flourish as the goats are contained in a goat tractor. Their pasture flushes green from rotational grazing.
The garden of edible cover crops, cow peas, pigeon peas, sun hemp, and cassava blooms under a thick blanket of mulch. Jey gets his drivers license, no more fear of bribes, fines, or imprisonment. Baby chicks fill up our beautiful new room, the walls crack from the charcoal fire we light every night. Leaves, coconut, grubs, claw marks of rats, and feathers of dead babies decorate our walls as babies and thieves eat. Papayas grow fat.
Trees contort their fast growing limbs. Pulled together by grafting with the accumulating plastic bags. What do you do with plastic when there is no garbage disposal service? Compost decomposes and soil begins to crumble. The dead soil comes alive with insects. We have learned a lot of lessons and now things begin to work. They work on our farm and in our relationship.
Your leaves drop, you go back to sleep as we wake up. You may be leafless but you are never rootless. And now, neither are we. Thank you.
If you are interested in our journey you can read more at www.growingfutureskenya.blogspot.com