Wednesday January 22 2014

A week at the farm with visitors from Sweden

By Ndawula

The last time I was sacked from a salaried job, a friend advised me to take it as a blessing. Comparing it to being pushed into deep water, you are forced to learn how to swim to avoid drowning. In the end, you become a good swimmer since you had to learn the hard way.

That advice came in handy last week. A team of four students from Sweden asked to camp at my farm for a week to follow my work as a farming journalist. I was excited; it was a dream come true.
For some time now, I have been advising farmers to diversify into agro-tourism, a lucrative niche that can boost their incomes.

The visitors
After visiting many farms in different parts of the world, I started dreaming of the day when I would host visitors on my farm to share my farming experience. However, I did not imagine it would be this soon.
I still needed time and money to set up decent accommodation, toilet and other facilities to ensure the visitors are comfortable.
I would also need to replace the crude structures, built with local materials, with something more pleasing to the eye.
That would mean diverting resources from crucial ongoing projects such as developing a reliable water system. That is why the agro-tourism dream had been put on hold.

However the visitors from Sweden were already in the country, eagerly waiting to visit my farm. Ready or not, the project had to start. No accommodation? The visitors thought it would be exciting to sleep in a tent. No flushing toilets? They would figure out how to use the pit latrine.
Transport from their hostel in Kabusu in Rubaga to the farm in Nakaseke was at the back of a decommissioned Ministry Of Works pickup truck.

At the farm
For them, it was an opportunity to combine sunbathing with sightseeing. Along the way, people kept wondering what was up with the bazungu riding at the back of a battered pick up.
After setting up and moving into their tented home, the visitors had a guided tour of the farm, to see the different crops, animals and structures. Coming from a different world, everything was new.
The tour helped dissipate earlier fears that there was not enough to engage the visitors for a full week. They found everything interesting.
They picked ripe berries off the coffee tree and, using all their five senses tried to ascertain that indeed it is the same coffee they consume in such huge quantities back home in Sweden.

The visitors wanted to take part in every activity on the farm ranging from pruning bananas to drawing water from a deep well using a bucket and a rope.
The workers at the farm found this particularly amusing. Using sign language buttressed with a few English words, they would show the visitors how to prune, harvest, peel and eventually make a meal out of bananas.

Bananas, bananas and more bananas
Equipped with Swiss knives and pangas, the visitors volunteered to peel, the appropriate word would be sharpening, the bananas for their meals. They wanted to eat local.
In Nakaseke, that means matooke at every meal.
For breakfast, there was katogo of matooke in groundnut or bean soup, for lunch and dinner, there was steamed bananas, and in the evening, there were roasted banana fingers to pass around at the camp fire.
Since their tent was pitched right in the avocado orchard, there was an avocado to accompany each and every meal. However, the pawpaws proved a bit too much. How do you tell a ripe pawpaw? “Avoid over ripe pawpaws. Those are for the pigs. Only pick those which are just ripe.” Our resident fruit expert advised the visitors, who dashed off to try out their newly acquired knowledge about pawpaws.
Later one of them complained about a burning sensation on her lips. Investigations led to sap from a pawpaw she had wolfed down.

Songs and dances
Everyone looked forward to evening time around the camp fire. It was time for Sweden to learn about Uganda and vice versa.
Folk stories, songs and dances made up the evening programme. Very proud of their culture, the Swedes would try to teach us some of their traditional songs and dances.

These were an instant hit with the children from the homes neighbouring the farm, who would converge around the camp fire for the evening live performance.
Not to be outdone by the visitors, the farm workers also staged a “live show” dancing away at Lucky Dube hits recorded on their mobile phone.
Improvising a mic out of a cassava tuber, the Lucky Dube wanna be serenaded us with the fallen hero’s hits in a language none of us could figure out; it was neither English nor Swedish.

Porridge for dinner
When they took to the stage, the children started with innocent nursery rhyme like Ffe tuli embata ento (we are the ducklings) then abruptly switched to hard stuff like Gwe Kisumuluzo. (You are the key to my heart).
The live camp fire show would be crowned with a sumptuous meal of porridge. It was the visitors’ idea.
They were not used to having three heavy meals a day like us Africans. So, they suggested we skip dinner and instead have porridge around the camp fire. The visitors offered to prepare the porridge.

Those who tasted it say it was heavenly. Even at the risk of being called a poor host, there was no way I could take porridge that had pineapples, mangoes and other fruits mixed there in.
The visitors wanted to learn how to make baskets, mats and other crafts. We visited some old women around the village, who organised crash courses in basket-making and mat-weaving.

Hugs and goodbye
At the end of the lesson, the visitors conceded it was easier to buy the crafts, so they bought few.
On their arrival, I had warned the visitors that in Africa we only hug people we are very close to. For others, we just shake hands. So on their arrival at the farm, the visitors had shaken hands with everyone.
However on their departure, they insisted on hugging everyone. As I hugged each of them in turn, I thought to myself, why did I take this long to get into agro-tourism?

The author is a farming journalist
and a consultant .