Working and eating together

By Samantha Kvartunas
Sept. 11, 2017

Since arriving to my home in the Hadiya Zone just over a year ago, I have been welcomed into the homes, hearts and culture of the community. 

My time there has been full of conversations over buna about life here in Ethiopia along with many questions in comparison to life back in America. After a permagarden training given by one of my counterparts and me, a comparison was brought up that I hadn’t thought of before. 

Faris, a crop extension specialist from a neighboring district, and I had just completed a demonstration garden with a group of 12 women. This garden would become an example for us to recreate with the women at each of their homes. 

The garden used many techniques for water retention and maximum production in the space provided in order for these women to make use of their yards to yield a variety of vegetables, the end goal being increased food security and family nutrition. The idea and techniques were still new to Faris, but he was excited to be working together with me on this project. He became consumed in the garden creation and I could see his excitement to be working together on a new type of garden. 

The training was successful and afterwards we enjoyed buna and kolo with the women. This was the time that the women opened up, became more social and we were able to discuss our ideas further. They were just as excited about the new garden idea as they were to hear me attempt conversation in broken Hadiyyisa and to serve buna and give thanks in all of the culturally appropriate ways. 

As we were leaving Faris said to me, “This is the difference between Americans and Ethiopians: Americans like to work together, but Ethiopians like to eat together.” This idea was no new concept to me, but the way Faris directly spelled it out made it that much clearer. 

Working together with an American is new for Faris, but every time we meet I can see his desire to work and learn from one another. 

Over the past few months, we have been working to visit all of the women and their families to continue our relationships with them and to together create gardens of their own within their compounds. When we get invited to stay for buna after a morning of digging in the garden, Faris always hesitates. After the first few hesitations Faris turned to me and said, “We should stay, this is part of the extension method,” maybe a concept he was familiar with but had never fully put into practice. 

Over our visits Faris has come to appreciate the time spent and relationships built with the families with whom we are working. He has learned that behavior change doesn’t simply come from one visit to each of our households; it requires regular check-ins and plenty of time committed to encourage the change and ensure that it is sustainable. Luckily, Faris is hardworking, curious and genuinely concerned about the community’s well-being and was able to adapt to the time commitment of the project. 

We make regular visits to the women and their gardens to continue suggestions on upkeep and make sure we are all involved with one another and the gardens. I have watched Faris evolve to become proactive on the next steps of our project, punctual to all meeting times and patient in trusting the longer process of creating sustainable change through commitment to each individual family. 

At the first presentation on all of the new techniques we were going to incorporate into the gardens (double-dug beds, berms, triangle spacing, organic soil amendments, etc.), Faris was curious to learn about the techniques and how they would work to make our permanent garden beneficial to local families and how they would be higher yielding than current practices within our community. 

Since our initial planning steps of our project, he has learned more and more about the aspects of the garden and continues to pass along the idea to others within the agriculture sector. From our time working together, Faris has gained the capacity to build and explain the steps of these gardens to others. Faris and I have learned how to blend the aspects of our cultures (according to him): working and eating together. 

Our visits are more than just stopping by and observing; we are actively engaging with the families to reinforce the behavior change we want to see. This blending of our typical cultural habits has equipped Faris with all of the skills necessary to continue similar work with members of our community, keeping in mind the importance of mutual understanding and dedication to a project while also taking the time to sit down and eat with one another.

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