One of the most interesting things about crossing cultures, and living in Karamoja in particular, is the deep ways that the routines of your life become unsettled. It’s been said to death that everything you take for granted is turned back on you when you come to a new place, but everywhere I turn here, I am confronted with the lack of customary resources. Because of our internet situation, I frequently am forced to turn turn to local wisdom to solve simple problems and find answers to unexpected questions. You have pale skin on the bottom of your foot and it itches? You have a jigger. Don’t have a clean needle to remove it? Pull a thorn off of the tree next to you. You have a headache that won’t go away? Shave off your hair. A man is crippled in one hand? He is ideally suited for catching grasshoppers. Recently, I’m noticing these things particularly as they pertain to the garden.
One of our visitors had worked on building and stocking a greenhouse while she was here, but her curcurbits are having problems. Knowing that my garden is planted nearby, I do not want her problems to become my problems, so I decide I ought to find our what exactly her problems are. The leaves on many of the plants have gone from dark green to varigated light and dark green. The fruits are falling off when they are still small. Since virtually everyone here is a gardener, I start asking around. Do you see these leaves? What do they mean? One man tells me that it means the plant is getting old. Another says that it has a disease, but offers no more specifics. I do a Google search for “diseases of curcurbits” and find a page listing diseases and pictures that takes thirty minutes to load (go ahead, see how long it takes you). I find a picture that may or may not have been the problem these particular plants were having, and lack the patience to look any further.
Later, I start having powdery mildew on some of my plants. Normally, I would run down to Home Depot and look for a pesticide that listed powdery mildew as a target. Here, I’ve pretty much got water and neem leaves. I look up treatments for powdery mildew. Turns out fresh milk diluted in water has been proven just as effective as fungicide in combatting it. Normally, I would run down to Vons and get a gallon of milk. Here, I put out the word that I want milk and wait for it to come to me (this time, it takes four days).
Then, there is the problem of irrigation. Saturday was a normal day—afternoon clouds gathering into heavy rain. Sunday, it is hot and dry and windy. I keep hoping that there might be a few more rainstorms in the making, and in San Diego, I’d pop onto the Weather Channel website and look up the forecast for my zip code. It’s not a perfect predictor, but in most cases, it gets me reasonably close. Here, there are no weather tracking stations, no available records, just people who have lived here for their whole lives, watching the seasons change. So I point to the mountain and ask, what does this mean. One man says the heat means a storm is coming, one says the dry season has arrived, one shrugs.