Over my 10+ years in Africa I have been gradually getting concerned about how we as Westerners model a lifestyle that is very consumerist. If everyone watching us here lived a Western lifestyle, we would need multiple planets to provide the water, fuel, minerals, materials etc, yet we only have one earth! Last year during our unexpected year in England, I did a Permaculture course which helped me to come up with a plan for a more earth friendly way that our family can live in Africa.
Here’s a look back in photos at the projects we’ve worked on this year.
When we arrived in August 2014, there was little or no water supply from the city – but fortunately it was rainy season.
One of our first purchases was large water collection containers for catching rain outside and for storing rainwater in the house.
Water is heavy! And it takes a lot of time to schlepp it round the place. So by the beginning of the next rainy season we had decided to get a new water tank to channel rainwater directly to the taps.
We had planned a compost toilet but with limited water, this became an early project.
The storms of rainy season cause a lot of erosion of soil and roads so we have been working on keeping rain water on our land instead of it running off. Our 2 new rain gardens are working well but we need to dig a few more, and the current ones need more work to make them prettier!
Most eggs here are provided by imported chickens packed into garages with their beaks and feet clipped and never seeing the light of day. We decided to use the beautiful local chickens to have our own eggs, and to use the chickens to clear and manure our land. No point in weeding if the chickens will do the job and enjoy it!
The chickens were also useful for eating termites when the goat shed got infected!
Our 4 chickens didn’t produce enough eggs for us so we splashed out and got 12 more hoping for great things, including the adventures of eating our own chickens!
However, our lovely chicken coop with 2 runs for rotation stands empty now as all the chickens died of Newcastles disease. This led to me co-ordinating a chicken vaccination for the entire college. After the holidays we’ll start again with 1 male and breed our own flock for eggs and meat.
Next came 2 adorable local goats! That involved building a goat shed, a rain shelter, fencing and a divider in the shed to separate the mother and baby overnight to allow milk to build up for morning milking. I also had to learn about goat diseases, pregnancy, miscarriage, delivery and finally, the goal of it all, milking tiny goats. Many local people keep goats, but the are often let loose during the day which causes problems when they eat peoples crops. We have had positive comments about our fences. They allow the goats to move freely but within a limited space so they don’t eat what they shouldn’t. We move the fences every day or so to give them fresh grass.
Cuddles the kitten was a lovely addition who is now devoted to Lowenna – and also expecting kittens any day now! Feeding and caring for a small kitten was new to us – and there is no packaged kitten food here to help us out! So we had to work out how to feed her. She is our natural pest control and is responsible for keeping our house and garden clear of rodents and snakes. And it seems to be working – phew!
The garden has kept me busy too, from re-designing beds, fencing a vegetable garden, enriching the land through composting, and gathering hay for animal bedding. I’m hoping to gradually build up some good soil to model organic vegetable growing in both the rainy and the dry season. Most farming here involves burning the land, burning organic matter, and adding lots of expensive fertilisers to crops, leading to depleted soils and chemical vegetables.
I’ve also done a certain amount of plant identification (although I still don’t know all the plants), mapped all the trees (104 trees, 26 species, wow!) and lots of pruning, including getting a tree cutter in to tackle the mistletoe on 16 large trees.
PRODUCE NO WASTE
One principle on my permaculture course last year that really struck me was the idea of producing no waste. Anything God created has a use – think of a forest where the leaves fall but are recycled back into the system as they protect the forest floor and fertilise the trees. We have tried to apply this no-waste principle to our home here by careful purchasing, avoiding plastic items or items in plastic packaging, and re-using shopping bags. Now most of our rubbish is compostable. I’ve also had teaching opportunities on this topic, doing tours of the house for interested people, and also at a schools event for teenagers.
IN THE KITCHEN
The unreliable electricity supply means I have been having lots of adventures with how to preserve food in the tropics without a fridge or freezer. I’ve experimented with a clay pot fridge, a screened cupboard for fresh produce, drying, canning/bottling, fermenting, preserving under oil or tallow, storing vegetables in the coolest place, ie on the floor, and storing dairy products in water. Lots of fascinating learning! I’ve also learnt how to handle leftovers so I can now cook for 2 days even without a fridge. (ie by keeping food overnight but not airtight, and bringing it to the boil in the morning as well as just before serving it again at lunchtime.)
I’ve also been having fun with sourdough as we’ve learnt about getting the optimal nutrition from grains and breads.
I’ve always hating cooking – and said so – but had to reform my ways when my daughter felt guilty asking for a snack! I had a good think about what I like (home cooked food, appreciative eaters etc) and worked out some things that would make cooking a better experience for me – a high stool so I can sit while I chop veg, and a comfy armchair so Russell or Lowenna can read to me or chat while I cook.
AROUND THE HOUSE
The house was fully furnished but we did a bit to make it our own, some new patchwork quilts, curtains and settee covers. We got solar panels installed which helps a lot with computer work and lights in the evening.
What a full year! Now that things are up and running we will concentrate on improving what we have before launching into new projects, so hopefully a quieter but more productive year ahead. Still a few jobs though…………
-learn all the plants, including weeds, on the land
-learn to cook with firewood and come up with a good fuel efficient stove. I tried this, a block stove based on a rocket stove………but it needs improving………
-learn from this years vegetable growing experiments to apply the lessons for next year.
Thanking God for His faithfulness in our new home.