A small fish in a women's club pond

By Jordan Blekking
Feb. 12, 2014

There's a women's club in my village – the Tukwatankane Women's Club – that I've been working with for a few months now.

blekking women's club
The Tukwatankane Women’s Club

There’s a women’s club in my village – the Tukwatankane Women’s Club – that I’ve been working with for a few months now. The club consists of some of the most physically imposing, strong willed and joyous women I’ve ever met. Tukwatankane means, “we’re united” in the local language, a fitting title for a group that formed to improve women’s lives – and livelihoods – through collaborative work opportunities.

At first I didn’t work with the group very much because they wanted me to help them to make fried pastries, a skill I knew a previous Volunteer had already taught them. But six months later they came to me and said they had a new idea: They wanted to build a fish pond. They had seen the production of my friend Mr. Nshimbi’s fish pond (the first and, until then, the only in the area) and wanted to build their own.

So I responded, “Absolutely. We start tomorrow.”

We didn’t start the next day, though. Instead, we had to meet with the whole group first to discuss how the project would be done. Plus, I had to formally join the women’s group – becoming the only male member.

We then mapped out the project and began the laborious process of constructing a fish pond in Central Africa where tools, strong backs and lots of hours of work must all come together.

The actual structure was simple: earthen walls that slope down into the center to create an ideal place for the fish to breed. But the construction itself proved more complicated. I join my fellow members about twice a week to construct the pond. Some women dig out the soil chucks, almost like sod, and pile them where the rest of us then form a line, pass the pieces to one another and place them along the wall.

I’m always last in the line because the women seem to believe I have an engineer’s eye and build a better wall than most. It’s the easiest job, which is also why I believe they gave it to me – they don’t think I can do the work.

In truth, I probably couldn’t keep up if I were doing the digging. These women are far stronger than I: they’re sturdy, and their resiliency is impressive. I’m afraid I don’t have their mental or physical wherewithal.

So, they give me the easiest job and force me to sit when they believe I must be tired. I love working with them – they take care of me. They even help to pull me out of the knee-deep mud when my legs get stuck, which I hate to admit is about once every half hour.

When the women are out there, they’re free. They gossip, laugh and carry on without any worry. To them it isn’t only about work, it’s also their time for socializing. I don’t understand a lot of what they say, but I’m happy to be out in the bush, working with some tough “bamamas” and building a fish pond – one that will bring improvements to their lives.

Jordan Blekking