The Mama Hope team is now in Kisumu, Kenya. Yesterday we went out to visit the 87 women who work in the Mama Hope garden. I think we surprised them by showing up, because upon arrival they saw us from across the field and thought we were just a bunch of tourists… as we came closer they recognized us and the greetings of smiles and handshakes began. An African handshake is very different from how we greet in the U.S, and the handshake varies depending on the tribe you are visiting. It reminds me of when I was little and had a secret handshake with all my friends in order to enter our secret clubhouse. The main tribe in Kisumu is Luo and their handshake consists of 2 hand twists and 3 different had positions. It takes a couple times to get it down.
When we got to the garden, half of the 3 acre field of corn had been chopped down and was in piles on the ground. We quickly learned that today was harvesting day. They do not have big machines to harvest crops as we do in the U.S. so everything is done by hand. The men were in the back of the field chopping down the corn stocks with machetes and stacking the stocks into 6ft tall piles. The women were gathered around the piles removing the corn cobs from the stock. The women were certainly excited that they were going to have two more helpers… because in Africa, when you are accepted as part of the group, there was no sitting on the sidelines and watching. They quickly put us to work shucking the corn. Now this in theory sounds easy… you take the corn stock, find the corn, break it off and then you’re done right?… Wrong. Here is how it’s really done. You grab for a stalk on the very top of the pile so it’s not buried and easier to remove. The stalk is bigger than you in height so it is pretty awkward to pull it out of the pile and stand it up without hitting the person next to you. I learned this lesson fast when I hit Pauline, one of the Mama’s next to me, in the head with my stalk. Thankfully she did not have a baby on her back. Then you find the corn cob which is covered in husk. To un-husk the corn you take a nail and cut the top of the husk, this is because the husk is a lot thicker than it looks and it would take forever to split it with just your fingernails. Once you cut a hole in the top of the husk, you begin to peel back the layers like an onion and tear them off one by one. Once you have done this comes the hardest part, getting the corn off the stock. The Mama’s made this look easy, but for me I would twist and pull as hard as I could and eventually it would come off. The Mama’s all got a kick out of this. They were probably thinking to themselves “Little American… why are you so weak?” Apparently doing office work at home in front of a computer has not prepared my arm strength for corn husking. After that day I questioned the renewal of my gym membership, thinking to myself “some good my working out has done.”
Corn husking in 90+ degree weather with no shade is not easy. I have to give it to the women for being the hardest workers I have ever seen. They started husking at 7am and by the time we arrived at 11am they were half way done with the field. By 2:00pm the entire 3 acre field (the size of 2 and 1/2 football fields) was harvested and being loaded into a truck to take to the mill. Once at the mill they pick off all the individual kernels of corn with their hands and then put the loose kernels into a machine that mills it into a finely ground flour which they call maize flour. The women use the maize flour to make numerous Kenyan dishes to feed their families and then sell the surplus at market to generate income. There is actually a shortage of maize in Kenya right now, so cost’s are a lot higher then normal which makes it an even more profitable crop. Corn is a staple of a Kenyans diet. The profit made from the garden allows the 87 women who work in the garden to support an average of 6 children, which includes paying school fees so they are able to get an education, an opportunity these women didn’t have when they were young. It is very interesting to hang out with the families because most all the women are uneducated and do not speak English but their children are fluent. So we often ask the children to be our translators. It is wonderful to see this new generation of youth living up to their potential.