27 November 1998

A rush job to feed

ourselves from African soil

A letter from Zimbabwe

where Judy and John Vowles

are settling into a new 243ha

farm in the eastern Highlands

and continuing with the

Christian Village project

It has been such a busy time It seems that we have been here at Chokwa for much more than six months. Since we have to be self-supporting from 243ha (600 acres) including three mountains and the farm was non-existent, we have had to move fairly smartly.

John has built some internal fences – there was a ring fence around the area immediately adjacent to the Retreat Centre – which has given us three paddocks for the horses and the dairy cows. The cows have both just calved so we have milk and cottage cheese at the moment and when the rains come and we get green grass I hope to make butter and hard cheese.

Our two broiler houses are finished and one has a batch of broilers in, now four weeks old and doing well. We had a drama with these as day olds. We gave them an anti-stress medication in their water and made the water warm to dissolve the powder. So when we left them to settle down they all crowded around the water drinkers for warmth, and we went back half an hour later to find 23 of our 100 soaking wet, little legs stiffly straight and eyes shut. I gathered them all up and took them into the house. Each one just had that little vibration of life in it, so remembering my English shepherding days, I fetched a couple of jugs of hot water and dunked each chick in up to its little beak. After a minute or so each one would bring its little legs up to its chest and I would take it out and lay it on a towel in the hot sun pouring in through the window. Within two hours all 23 were little balls of fluff again and cheeping for food. They are probably the only chicks in Zimbabwe to have been prayed over.

Our layers are into their second year and we are getting more than 30 eggs a day from our 40 hens. They free range in the afternoons when they have laid their quota, so are not costing a lot to keep. The eggs are very popular with the locals so any surplus is quickly sold. We have started a vegetable garden using the fertility trench method, and already have Swiss chard and lettuce, with tomatoes, onions, green peppers and cabbage coming along nicely, all a beautiful colour. We inherited a small orchard of apples, plums, peaches and apricots. They all need pruning badly but the fruit has set heavily on the plum and peach trees. A local bee-keeper got us two catch boxes, both of which have swarms in so we look forward to our own honey from the masasa and blue gums. Our next project is a bread oven.

We have decided to put the arable land here down to pasture and get some sheep. If we plant maize we have to cope with the baboons in the daytime, and then the wild pigs move in for the night shift – not counting the local free-ranging goats, cattle and children. Lamb is a very good price to the producer, so it will pay us to buy in our maize from the locals who have plenty of children to guard their crops.

There was great excitement recently when John and our friend Larry got the tractor going. It is a 1932 German tractor that has been standing in the sun for the past four years. It is going to be really useful for hauling things around the farm. In our spare time we have been making bricks, thatching, decorating and general re-organising the Retreat Centre to accommodate us, our furniture, Johns tools and our all-important guests.

The visitors book shows that 90 people have stayed with us since we arrived. One group from England had a collection to improve our terrible road, raising just over $4000. So we have employed a group of strong, young lads and they are busy building mitre drains and back filling into the deep gullies until the money runs out.

I have had long negotiations with the local council, which has no money, and tried to get help from our local councillor who attends more beer-drinks than committee meetings, and was drunk to the point of being belligerent at our last meeting.

Many beer-drinks for the ancestral spirits are being organised at the moment. One year after you die, according to local beliefs, your family must brew beer for your spirit. If they dont do this you will not be accepted by the other ancestral spirits. They will say you are unclean, so you have every right to come back and cause trouble within your uncaring family. Also the beer gives you spiritual power. As most of the beer seems to flow freely among the locals I dont know how the spirit gets his share.