The Ladies Work!
Written by: The Bridge on Friday, June 2nd, 2006
So, you’re wondering what a single white female does in Palmgrove. The fact of the matter is, that the answer is up to the single white female. As far as I can tell, the Canadian females here are kind of caught in the middle. The Nigerian sisters work very hard from January to June. From July to December they rest. At the moment they’re right in the middle of their busiest time, they seem to be just as busy as we are in summer. They plant, hoe and weed almost every day. They often get up before breakfast to avoid the heat. Everyone is up by six and you can hear the children sweeping brooms, swishing across the sidewalks till the breakfast bell goes. When we get to breakfast, we usually find out that the mothers have been up weeding or planting on the farm. They don’t tell us before or after, unless we ask. And often if we do ask, it takes a couple minutes to actually clarify the question on their part and then clarify the answer on our part.
They honestly think we can’t handle some of their jobs and some, like brushing with a matchet, I don’t think we can. Especially now that I’m here, it takes the body awhile to adjust. You can’t even imagine how different everything is, even normal tasks are tiring, especially when you try to do them with their tools. Sweeping the house puts us in a full sweat. Just walking to the mill has the sweat running in rivulets. They sweat like that too, but they’ve been doing it all their life. Around here, everyone carries a handkerchief that is used to wipe sweat not to blow noses. They are constantly warning us to stay out of the sun, and in the afternoon, when we ask them if we can help at the mill or something, they tell us to go and rest. In a way they are right but I also think that it is a little overdone. They don’t even expect us to pitch in and help. I have complained about it to Glory, so she has started telling me when they have work that I can help with and so far they’ve kept me under a roof at all times. They won’t even let me sit in the sun to get a tan! Don’t sit there, the sun too strong.
In the line of their work, I’ve helped peel cassava, fry Gari, make epankuwo, and sort palmnuts in the mill. Peeling cassava is pretty straightforward and it kind of takes me home to all the women standing around our long stainless steel table in the Kitchen peeling cucumbers and chatting away. The only difference is, they peel the opposite of us. They cut away from themselves, while we cut towards ourselves. Gari, you just stir over heat till it’s dry to the touch. At the mill, it’s a little more foreign. They all tell me I’m catching on and pretty soon they’ll give me my own pile. I’m not sure if I’m ready for that but we’ll see. They boil the nuts, put them in some kind of a masher, press them, sort the nuts from the fiber, press the fiber, crack the nuts with a hammer mill, sort the kernels from the shell, and sell the kernel. It’s a lot of work and could be much more mechanized.
My mom, Clara and me also try to help with the dishes as often as we can, which is basically everyday that we’re home and well. When they have something to do, they often push off doing the dishes or just not come, so sometimes one person would stand there and do dishes for the whole community. We’re very glad to help if we know they are in the garden or something like that, but at other times when we’re not sure how valid an excuse they have, I occasionally get frustrated but then remind myself to try and be a good example. After all, if I stopped doing dishes then I wouldn’t be any better than they. Another thing we try to do is clean. The hutterites, of course, love cleanliness and have with the centuries built a tradition of all working together after the job is done, to clean up and then it’s done in a few minutes.
Here they haven’t established that yet, so things get cleaned by one or two sisters, and of course even then it isn’t as clean as we would like it. Since we came, we’ve cleaned the soapmaking factory, the water plant (used for storage but empty for now), the Yamalina (also used for storage), our house, the dining room and church, and a couple small offices and storage rooms.
When we have NEPA (electricity), my mom has been making cotton stretch mattress covers and sheets. They are needed badly. The sponges are quite dirty and the covers all split open and kaput. I went with my mom to help her put them on the beds, we managed to find enough cloth for giving each family at least one. Weï¿½ve also been sewing curtains, there is hardly a moment of generator or NEPA time when the sewing machines arenï¿½t humming. Sometimes we sew half a seam and the NEPA goes off again. There is also a big need for mending clothing. My mom has told the mothers that if they have anything that needs mending, they should bring it over and it’s starting to arrive.
We also found toweling from the last container and made towels, again not enough but there were enough for one each, for all of the families. There seems to be a big need for towels. I’m assuming it’s because when you wash them, it takes them a full day in the sun to dry and on a damp day even more time to dry. I’ve also priced them and they’re very expensive.
In the evenings, occasionally students will come over with a question. On a rather Ironic note, they found out I taught German at home so they bring me their math and algebraic problems. Between the two of us, Lance and me, we have been able to help them so far.
And then of course, we also have to cook for us here at home. The change in diet is so extreme that our bodies just plain and simply can’t handle eating just their food. That’s about it, I think. I guess if you want to know more about, you’ll have to come over here and see how much you can accomplish.
Oh! They buy all their bread, so when the container comes I’m planning to teach them to make bread in Eddy Vetter’s little oven that he made. It has no thermometer so we’ll have to figure something out for that. Glory says she wants to learn so I’ll teach her. Hopefully she’ll have it all figured out by the time we come home! Let me put it in a nutshell. For someone who is willing to look around and see what the people need, and how we can possibly help them there is plenty of work. For a junga dien with her own issues, I think this definitely isn’t the right place.