The Maize Story

Here’s a story from my recent trip to Africa…this event had a profound impact on me, so I wanted to share it!

Life in our research camp was not easy…with no running water and little electricity (from a solar cell which mainly went to a tiny refrigerator), we didn’t have a lot of the comforts we’re all so accustomed to. Beyond that, the nearest sizable town was a 30-45 minute drive away, and we could only go for drinking water and food once a week, so we periodically ran out of both.

But however challenging life in the camp seemed to be relative to my luxurious home life of plentiful, safe-to-drink, running water and virtually unlimited electricity (and toilets and showers and washing machines…), we were still living in ease compared to the farmers that lived all around us.

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One of my favourite farmers, Wabongo, and his maize, badly damaged by drought, baboons, and elephant raids

There were about 2,000 households in the Kenyan farming community that literally surrounded our research camp. Most of the people there lived in tiny handmade shambas, usually constructed from bricks made out of the clayey soil and saplings collected and carried from the nearby mountain. They, of course, had no running water, and no electricity, and pretty much nothing else. Many of them lived close to the edge of starvation, barely scraping together enough money to buy drinking water during the dry season.

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Shamba

Our research camp was a valuable resource to the people there. However little we had, we still had a wealth of resources compared to them. We never knew when community members would show up…a boy with a broken ankle, a woman with an infected wound…we even paid for a woman with malaria to be taken to a hospital for treatment. Our station was also a valuable asset for the community…we had a covered cement area (which we called the “hall”) where people from the community would come for anything from settling an argument to registering to vote.

One morning, around 9 am, people from the community started to arrive in our hall. More and more people gathered such that by 10 am there was quite a crowd, laughing and chatting and waiting. I asked a friend why the community was gathering and she told me that the government had promised each of them 2 kg (about 5 pounds) of maize (corn) and had told them to arrive at 10 am, though the maize would only be distributed at 2 pm. We muttered about how unfair it was to make them wait all day, but went on with our work.

I was in and out of the camp all day, but I noticed that 2 pm came and went, and then 3 pm…and then 4 pm. At 5 pm, the people were notified that the government would not be coming to drop off the maize after all, and that they should walk about an hour to reach a different distribution point to pick up their maize.

We at the camp were again muttering about how unfair this distribution system was, but the people filed out peacefully and disappeared into the bush. I was immediately distracted by work again, and didn’t notice time passing, but around 6 pm, my attention was captured once more.

Off in the distance, by the mountain, many voices were raised in great celebration! There was singing and clapping and laughing…I asked a friend in amazement what the celebration was about. I thought maybe there was a holiday or a wedding. But she informed me that the cause of that joyous celebration was that the people had finally received their maize.

That moment really stayed with me. I thought about how long they had waited that day, and how far they had traveled, and what it meant to them to finally get that maize. I remembered buying 2 kg of maize in a store at home, and what a trivial thing it was to me.

So I guess the point of me sharing this story is to make you think about what 2kg of maize means to you…and what the resources you take for granted might mean to someone else.

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4 thoughts on “The Maize Story

  1. A very important message. I was privileged to visit and stay in a small village in Cameron many years ago. What struck me was the people had so little but they were happy, particularly the children. Always laughing and smiling and the only thing they had to play with was a ball of newspaper which they used as a football.

    • I would love to say that the people were always happy…but of course they were not. They didn’t always have enough to eat or enough to drink and it’s hard to be happy when you’re hungry. Of course, they were friendly and kind people, but there was a natural divide between us, unfortunately, that I never felt I was able to fully cross.

      • It’s true! Sometimes I wonder if it is an inevitable fact of human nature. Today on the radio I heard about “vacuum shoes”…shoes with vacuums in them. I couldn’t help but feel a little miffed that people are buying these nonsense things…but I’m not the first person to feel this way, I’m sure.

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