Anthony Candelario, Market Facilitator, Zambia
I woke up with a jolt. Something hit me on the forehead. “What the heck was that?!” I thought. It felt like pellets. “Could that really be….?”. With a cringe I brought my hand up to my face to see what had landed on me. It was what I feared… mouse poop… a mouse pooped on my head and woke me up. Waking up in the morning has always been a challenge, and the night prior, I remember thinking to myself that I hope I wake up in time to find transport. Nature, it seems, has a sense of humor.
I had been living in a rural community, trying to better understand the effectiveness of rural agents, who work to distribute technical knowledge and agricultural inputs (such as seed, fertilizer, chemicals, etc) to small-scale farmers. Another NGO had already trained many of these agents in rural communities with the business and agricultural skills they need. Our team’s strategy is build around the idea that farmers will be able to increase their income and food security if inputs are more easily available. My placement was to assist in making these newly trained agent networks economically viable and sustainable by assisting a local agricultural business to adopt and support them.
My watch indicated it was 1:30 am. “Time to get up” I said to myself, and rolled off of the reed mat that I had been sleeping on for the past 3 days. I began to amass my belongings, avoiding the ploughs stored beside me. My partner organization’s head office, located in Lusaka 9 hours away from my village, had arranged a meeting where I was to give a 2-hour presentation on my work and recommendations thus far. Unreliable and costly transportation systems, however, means that my village is serviced by only one vehicle, and it circles the surrounding villages anywhere from 1 am to 4 am.
It didn’t take me long to get ready. I had already packed my mosquito net the night before, which explains my vulnerability to air strikes from rodents. Israel, the agent with whom I was lodging, arrived at the door to my hut, explaining that no transport had arrived as yet, and we would need to bicycle out to the main road in an attempt to intercept the transport. “Tieni”, he said (let’s go).
We navigated the dirt road on our bicycles, the moonlight offering limited help in avoiding large stones and the deep channels that had eroded the path. We passed other villages, still silent under the guise of slumber.
The task before me seemed daunting. If we did not find transport, it was another 45 km to town. At this point we had only traveled about 5 km, and I was already tiring, as I pedaled against the wind. We continued on, as I carefully trailed Israel as he expertly navigated the rough terrain.
“Tieni! Tieni! Let’s Go!” Israel shot forward without warning. I had not noticed the single rear brake light shining brightly in the distance. We began racing towards the beacon, the fear of traveling another 50 km providing strength to my tired legs. The sound of the wind, the tires crushing the gravel and the stones bouncing in my fenders were almost deafening against the silence of the night. Even with our speed, the brake light seemed immovable, locked at a distance.
I saw the brake light disappear, sending waves of panic. I heaved a sigh of relief as it reappeared. I pushed a little harder on my pedals, determined to catch the transport back to town. Finally, we skidded to a stop beside the truck, passengers still moving about in the darkness.
The truck set off racing east into the sunrise and towards Chipata, the first leg of my long journey. We made it.