Tanzania – The story of Napandaela Nicodemu, research participant in Where the Rain Falls (2012)
Napandaela Nicodemu is worried for the future. She came to live in the village of Bangalala in 1973 when she married at the age of 23. Over the nearly forty years that she has lived in Bangalala, she has seen her family’s fortunes decline and life in the village become more difficult and uncertain.
At age 61, she remains the primary source of support for her two adult children and four grandchildren who live with her in her mother-in-law’s house most of the time. She works as a farmer on her small plots of land, some of which has access to canal water and some of which is entirely rainfed. Apart from the maize that she is able to grow with increasingly erratic rainfall, she also cultivates lab-lab (a black bean) as a cash crop and has five mango trees, the produce of which she can sell during years when there is good production. She also has a about a half dozen chickens which sometimes produce enough eggs to sell in the market, as well as two cows that belong to her mother-in-law. When rains are not sufficient and she knows that the harvest will be poor, she is forced to seek casual labor work in the market and other farms in the area. One of Napandaela’s adult daughters also contributes some income to the household by migrating for periods of time to Dar Es Salaam to work as a casual laborer for someone engaged in the used clothing business.
The fragility of Napandaela’s livelihood and her worries for the future have two main causes. The first cause is that her husband migrated from Bangalala to Makanya in the 1980s. He married another woman there and started a second family. He still returns to Bangalala occasionally, but he provides no cash income to support his first wife and their family. He reportedly occasionally brings some food from Makanya, where he is engaged in agriculture. He has left his aged mother in Bangalala in the care of his wife, and more recently with his sister after the mother became very ill. The family was reportedly better off in the past, with a large number of livestock, most of which either died in earlier droughts or were sold more recently to pay the hospital bills of the mother-in-law. The mother-in-law’s house in which she is residing now is relatively large by village standards, with five rooms, and has a television and a rainwater catchment system. Although still possessing some assets, food is not plentiful in the house, with both adults and children eating only two meals a day, with the morning meal consisting only of porridge (uji) and the main meal in the evening.
According to Napandaela, water scarcity is the main problem facing the village, and the main factor causing residents to have to leave the village to find employment elsewhere. She reports that rainfall has been less abundant since the 1980s and more erratic. The short rains (vuli)that normally begin in September and last through December are now very unpredictable and usually start later. Given the uncertainty of a successful harvest during this season, the months of December and January are now the periods of greatest food shortage. School fees also have to be paid in January, requiring that money be found for this purposes. The long rains (masika), which normally start in March and continue through May are also reported to be less reliable. The availability of water in Bangalala also depends on rainfall further upland in the Pare Mountains. The village has a limited number of reservoirs (ndiva) and a canal system that feeds waters to some farmers’ fields. Existing reservoirs have limited capacity and the canals usually only have significant water during the long rains. In summing up her assessment of the situation in Bangalala, Napandaela emphasized the importance of water scarcity and said “The problem of water is not just my problem; it is the problem of the whole village.” To address this problem, she suggested that more and larger reservoirs be built above the village to increase the availability of water for irrigation.
For herself, Napandaela expressed great concern for her future. Because none of her children or grandchildren have so far succeeded in achieving a high level of educational attainment (one grandson has completed secondary education but with poor marks) or securing regular employment, Napandaela fears ending her life in complete destitution, with no source of financial report. She also said that she has never migrated from Bangalala since coming to the village in 1973, but that she “now has doubts” and wonders if she should move to someplace with more reliable rainfall.
By Kevin Henry
March 10, 2012