Saturday, November 19, 2011

Stalking the Orange Potato II

After seeing the fine nursery of Orange Sweet Potato vines that Juliette had managed to maintain in her front yard under the overhanging matoke trees, we moved down the road closer to the swamp, to see if her friend and fellow community based health worker, Dovinia was home. Dovinia was there and happily greeted us, answering all my questions about Orange Sweet Potatoes.

Dovinia suggests laughingly that we call them Orange Potatoes rather than Orange Sweet Potatoes. This is the first time I heard that the potatoes were not sweet enough. In various tests , as the OSP has been shown to contain high amounts of sugar, so we are left wondering if the sweet potato here is somewhat different or if the taste itself is somewhat different. Certainly some people complain that there is a “different” smell to the OSP but then they tell you it is not too strange and one gets used to it. I wonder how much can be attributed to just being slightly different.She expressively told us how big the tubers were and what a fine crop she obtained. Then she told us how she waited for us to return to collect her Orange Potatoes because she had not been able to sell them. She had eaten some but many more had rotted because the people said they weren’t as sweet as the local variety. This was at a time when a debbe tin was selling for 7000-10,000 UgS.

But whatever the difference, both Juliette and Dovinia were inspired sufficiently to continue with them, without any outside encouragement, based on the fact that our project, which they trust an appreciate arranged for them to get the vines. It seems there are many different forces at work here and we could be better using, perhaps even exploiting, our influence as change agents

Dovinia tells us she knows they are better for people than the local variety but she didn’t know how to convince people. She felt they had to be special because our project had brought them to her. She was surprised it had taken so long for members of our project to come and check on them. I sense a big communication gulf that attaches itself to many of our best intentions. There was a community development coordinator for a short time who had introduced the Sweet Potatoes but after he left it seems no one even inquired as to how the farmers were making out. Dovinia, like Juliette, has provided vines to her neighbours and friends. She doesn’t know of anyone who kept on with them.

Dovinia is a tall, good looking woman who shines with vitality. Could this be the Orange Sweet Potato? She had managed to keep a ready supply of vines going by moving them into the edge of the swamp near her home.

When I asked to take Dovinia’s picture, she whips her head scarf off and stands proudly erect on the road still in her gardening clothes. Neither Dovinia nor Juliette speak English, so the conversation has to be translated, back and forth, with the help of both the driver and the senior facilitator, both of whom have excellent translation skills. It is tricky at times for them to understand my questions and for her to grasp what we are asking. But there is no impatience with the interruptions and explanations.

Dovinia laughs along with us as we stuggle to understand. Are the vines kept in the water or on the edge of the swamp? She seems to understand and appreciate that we are in awe of her dedication to the Orange Potato and listens carefully to our questions. We feel we have had a rich day.

On top of interviewing our Orange Sweet Potato adopters in detail we have also arranged for the field visits of our Community Facilitation Course to the community based health workers and communities in this area the following week. A lot of ground has been covered. As we are heading off I see a large group of Gloriosa Lilies, stunning on the side of the road. We stop to take pictures. The driver is learning how to do Macro shots as he is the only one who can scale the huge lip on the side of the road.

We are heading home out of the swamp when we come across one of our volunteers distilling waragi in the steam leading into the swamp. Waragi is local gin-like alcoholic drink made from bananas.
Angella points out the stills all around the outside of the swamp when the tiny streams flow into the papyrus swamp. The running water is needed to cool the vapours and convert them into liquid. there is a drum being heated with fire wood and a plastic jerry can with tube running into it to collect the distillate after it passes through the copper coils sitting in the water.
The whole apparatus is held together with banana fibre with the tube funnelling water onto the copper coils made from what looks like matoke outer casing of the stem. I am in awe at the ingenuity of the inhabitants and the productivity in the swamp.

We have passed a couple of “banana boats”, hollowed out logs which are used for brewing “tonto, or local beer, what is called “pombe” in Swahili. Waragi is distilled from the local beer it seems.

Photos: Dovinia; Gloriosa Lily; waragi still; connections.



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