Living in the Community – Heat, Dryland, Wetland and Water

I did find the heat at night very difficult to deal with.  When you looked at what Fintonia was built on, you saw in the main that it was sitting on bare rock.  It was a massive dome shaped hill of stone that had a few areas where soil had built up, but usually you dug down more than a few inches and you were on the bedrock.  I realised it was for a good reason; in the wet season you wanted to be in the driest possible place.  With all the buckets of rain that would fall daily from May to October, you didn’t need to live in waterlogged soil and you wanted that water to run off into your surrounding valleys, not fill up your living spaces.  The downside was that during the dry season in particular, these rocks heated up intensely through the day, and at night radiated back into the houses.  This was why I was so hot at night and no amount of aeration of the rooms was going to make a difference.  I saw that many people in the houses around us would take rush mats out on to the veranda or onto the ground in front of their houses and lie there at night, idly chatting , trying to rest.  It was just that amount cooler to be in the open air and on soil than in a bed in a claustrophobic room with a concrete floor radiating through the heat from the rocks below.  Of course these people had to deal with the mosquitoes but maybe it was still more comfortable.  I could have really done with a hammock with a mosquito net to form a cocoon strung up on the veranda.

We continued our work with our guys each day, we worked on more types of plot.  One day we went into the valley bottom and walked one of Demba’s own fields of rice.  A healthy crop of green shoots were wallowing in a thick muddy soil; the sun on our backs and the humidity rising from the sodden soil made it a challenging environment to do work.  Added to this was the boundaries of the field – raised bunds built to contain the water during the early growing period were now strewn with tangled weeds.  We walked the entire bund together first to look for any challenges and mark out where the key turning points were.  Then we left Demba to carefully plot out his field.  He had calmed down a lot since his first rash enthusiasm.  He was a man who did not like to be shown up, and seeing how Karim and Alusine had patiently become quite expert in how to operate the GIS made him all the more determined not to be left behind.  We also walked some family plots with houses, and finally went up into the scrub to look for fields in the dryland areas.  These proved hard to find and I often have trouble with these myself.  To determine that there is a field here is not a problem, but to both identify the boundary between field and scrub, and determine the status of a field like this is very tricky.  People cut the scrub or burn the excess vegetation off in one season, but may not get around to returning to the site for a couple more years to cultivate.  By that time the scrub vegetation, the herbaceous bits at least, will have invaded back and parts of fields can look neither cultivated nor natural.  Where do you draw the lines here?

It was obvious the number of these fields in the drylands were increasing and the scrubby forest degrading away.  We were told later that we should not concentrate on these lands.  There were issues not only with who should be giving out this land to farmers, what they were taking for themselves and effectively squatting, and even in defining where the boundary between one village’s lands and another’s was not an easy task.  When the populations up here had been low it was not a massive problem but ,even with the losses in the civil war, the pressure of population up here was starting to fill in gaps between the villages – an ever increasing demand for land to graze and cultivate crops.  As I had seen, people walk a fair distance from Fintonia to tend their crops; others have stopped this commute all together and set up their own small villages in other places closer to where they are cultivating.  I wondered at the availability of all the other amenities a settlement needed – was there enough water in these areas in the dry season for example.  Fintonia was in a good site.  the hillside we could see against glowing evening skies was a massive rounded rocky outcrop and several permanent springs exuded a fresh supply of water for the village.  I had seen the small dams they had put up to tank the water, and it was piped down into the river valley and back up to the small hill on which Fintonia sat and the head of water from the dam was enough to sustain pressure from a number of taps set around the village.  The rubber pipes were mainly on the surface.  One reached a standpipe about hundred metres from our house, but the pipe, exposed to the elements and all the human activity, had sprung leaks.  It did mean while someone was using the tap to fill large buckets or bowls, often you could stand over a leak and collect enough  for a pan or kettle of water without having to wait your turn.

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In Demba’s rice fields

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