Grace's Dream

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs


A story to inspire Tanzanian school kids.

Submitted: November 04, 2017

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Submitted: November 04, 2017

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We can’t start this without being traditional.

Storyteller: Hadithi, hadithi! A story, a story.

Audience: Hadithi, hadithi, hadithi njoo, uwongo njoo, utamu kolea. A story, a story, a story come, lies, come, sweetness.

 

As the midwife was cleaning Grace's small body, the light of a bright falling star shone upon her face. The next day the midwife told the village people about this strange event, and the oldest, wisest man in the village predicted that someday Grace would do wonderful things for her people.

As Grace grew up, she seemed no different to the other children of her village. She caught the usual childhood sicknesses and suffered the usual bumps and bruises. As well of course, she was punished for her misdemeanours. It was noticed however that the beans and maize seeds she planted always seemed to grow better that anyone else’s.  

When Grace was about eight years old, on an especially hot and dusty day, she fell asleep in her favourite place, under the big baobab tree [Mbuyu] which grew near the edge of the village. Grace had a strange dream: The Mbuyu had a gaunt face, and the lower branches bent so it appeared like a person with hands on hips. The face was sad, and the tree spoke to her in a booming voice.

‘Grace! Grace! Please help us!’ Begged the tree, ‘Our land is being destroyed by erosion, the forests have been felled and the people of the land do not understand how important the environment is to us all! Grace! Please tell them and help them understand!’

Little Grace woke with a troubled mind. She remembered her dream vividly but did not understand what it meant. In the village, she knew there lived an old man who had been Headteacher at the school. Grace did not know him but had heard of his great wisdom and kindness. She decided to go and talk to him.

‘Shikamoo! Good morning wise teacher.’ Grace greeted the old man in the respectful way.
‘Oh Marahaba! Good morning young child.’ The old man's greeting was just as respectful.
Grace was a little embarrassed and shy, so looked at her feet not know how to begin.

‘How can I help you?’ asked the old man. But Grace continued to inspect her feet. ‘You can call me Olasiti,’ he encouraged, ‘what is your name?’

 ‘Grace.’ she spoke softly, then brightened, ‘isn’t Olasiti the name of a tree?’
‘Yes it is,’ replied Mzee Olasiti, ‘a tall strong tree!’

‘Mzee Olasiti, what is erosion?’ Grace asked.

The old man rubbed his chin in thought, then replied. ‘See that gulley over there?’

‘Yes, I see.’ Replied Grace.

‘Rainwater has washed the soil way to gouge out the deep gulley. That is erosion. That gully was once a road, but when the trees were cut down there was nothing to prevent the water washing the dust and soil away to form the gulley.’

‘How does that happen?’ asked Grace.

‘Well, when the rains come, water begins to trickle down the animal tracks and the more rain that comes, the faster the water will flow. Soon the water has enough strength to carry the soil with it so the animal tracks become deep ditches then form that gulley you see there. The soil fertility is washed away!’

‘Mzee Olasiti, why does cutting the trees cause this? I don't understand.’ said Grace.
The old man replied. ‘Trees prevent erosion in two ways. When it rains hard, the drops hit the soil with such force that the soil particles are moved and begin to wash with the flow of water. The leaves and branches of the tree protect the soil by breaking the force of the raindrops. The leaves can even break big raindrops into smaller, less powerful ones. You know, this helps the soil to soak up water instead of it running off and causing erosion.’ Mzee Olasiti stopped for a breath, but Grace was enjoying listening to the wise old man.

‘You said there were two ways trees prevent erosion.’ Grace reminded him.
‘Yes. The roots hold the soil together. Very small roots that are hard to see. With the roots holding the soil, erosion is less likely to happen.’ he paused, ‘Some of Tanzania's trees are special because they add fertility to the soil, which encourages other plants to grow. This too protects the soil.’

‘I think I understand Mzee Olasiti’ said Grace.

Olasiti continued, ‘In the dry season, have you noticed the small whirlwinds?’

‘Yes, great clouds of dust whirling around!’ replied Grace.

‘That is erosion too! The dust is actually valuable top soil, the soil that has the most fertility for crops. After the rain has scoured the land, the wind comes to make things worse! The sun dries it and the wind blows the particles away. Even worse though, when man makes the ground bare by lighting fires, or even through cultivation. The wind blows valuable fertility away!’ The old man seemed sad.

‘That's very bad!’ exclaimed Grace, ‘What can be done about it?’

‘First people need to be aware of the environment.’ Olasiti began.

‘Environment!’ Grace became excited, ‘That's the other word…’ she trailed off not wanting to mention the talking Mbuyu.

‘Hmm,’ Olasiti gathered his thoughts, ‘a healthy environment is vital for our very existence - do you understand?’

‘Not really.’ Admitted Grace.

‘Well the environment is all our surroundings. The land, the rivers, the trees, the animals, the birds, the mountains – everything, even you! One depends upon the other - understand? I have just told you how the soil depends on the trees for protection. The eagle depends on trees for a home and on smaller birds and animals for food. Other birds depend on insects or seeds. Everything depends on everything else - well for survival!’

‘Like I depend on my mother!’ Grace put in.

‘Exactly right, but it goes deeper than that. When a leaf falls from a tree, the leaf becomes food for ants or termites and smaller plants called fungi. After those things have used the leaf it returns to the soil as fertility which helps beans and maize to grow. So we need insects and even the plants we can't see.’

‘Sawa, I think I understand why the environment is so important,' said Grace thoughtfully, 'but I don't think my family or my friends know about it.’

‘There is much more to the environment that I have told you Grace. It is a precious thing and easily harmed.’ reflected the old man.

Grace never forgot about her dream of the Mbuyu speaking to her and she remembered what old Olasiti had told her. One day sometime after, Grace saw her father cutting down an Acacia tree.

‘Father! You are destroying the environment!’ she told him.

‘I know that trees are becoming scarce in our village, but if I do not cut this tree, we will be unable to cook our food - then you will starve.’ Grace's father replied.

Grace thought about this all day and at the evening meal, she said to her father. ‘You are right that we need to cook our food and I know wood is the best fuel. But we should make plans. It is easy to go from one day to the next and not worry about the future, but what happens to future generations?’

Grace’s father was a little embarrassed. ‘Maybe we will have to move away....’

‘But father, that wouldn’t be fair! This is a good place, our generation shouldn’t have to move away because your generation did not care for the environment.’ Grace said quietly.

‘I understand what you are saying Grace, but it is very difficult…’

Grace butted in, even though she knew it was bad manners. ‘No father, it's not difficult! Plant some trees before you cut even one down!’

‘Hmm, that's possible.’ he conceded.

‘Of course it is father! Why not find out how much wood we need in a year and plant trees to harvest for fuel?’

‘A good idea,’ said her father, ‘but there are difficulties.’

‘You once told me that nothing in life comes easily.’ Grace reminded him.

‘Well,’ her father decided, ‘you are in charge of growing our trees!’

Grace had no way of knowing how much wood was needed, she simply began working to make a small tree nursery and during the rainy season, she planted them around their homestead. Many grew. But over the following years she faced many problems; there were droughts, goats, cattle, hens and fire to contend with. She learned to cope with these problems and her successes became greater than her losses.

At first the village people laughed at her and watched her carry water during the dry months to water her trees. She worked hard while they watched, resting in their shady place.
It did not take long for her trees to grow and they provided shade during hot dry days, they provided shelter from the wind. Inside the house it wasn't so dusty anymore. There was fruit to eat and fodder for the cattle. Even her father's crops produced more because of the extra fertility and shelter.

Grace became an expert on growing trees and when people saw her successes, they asked for her help and advice. Grace gave it willingly and shared her experience, seeds and seedlings. Gradually as the village environment improved, and so did the quality of life there. Grace had grown a small forest and there was more than enough fuelwood from fallen branches and she was able to sell other wood products, the value exceeding the income from her father's cattle! The improved environment was indeed a blessing for her village!

Harvesting caused some worries at first for Grace because she loved her trees, but she learned about 'coppicing' and she either thinned her trees or replanted harvested ones. Without realising it, Grace was practicing sustainable forestry! Over the years Grace shared her knowledge with anyone who would listen and gradually the message spread, like the ripples in pond when a stone is thrown in! From village to village the environment slowly improved.

The old wise man had predicted that Grace would do wonderful things for her people and he was correct! But Grace would say it was her dream and the trees that did the wonderful things for the people.


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