We drive the 15km to Dete town quite often to fetch a number of things, such as eggs, cement, vegetables and fuel. At a certain time of the year, when the grass grows dry and long – you’ll see mounds of grass neatly tied in bundles and stacked in the yards of the homes all over the Dete compound.
The women of our community spend weeks in the forest cutting thatch grass in the National Parks, Forestry areas and on private concessions. The barter arrangement they make is that they’ll work (provide labour), in exchange for half of the bundles of grass that they cut. When they’re done cutting grass for the season, the women then load up their share of thatch grass and transport it to their homes where they keep it until they can find a buyer for the grass.
For the 3 years that we’ve been building Gwango, we have visited the Dete compound this time of year to buy thatch grass. One of the senior women will typically source the grass for us, then we go with her from house to house collecting the grass that the women have for sale. We’ve purchased countless bundles from the women of Dete for our various construction projects.
I absolutely love the time we spend in the Dete compound – the place is always so lively – with music bursting from loud speakers tucked away in the humble houses. You’ll hear roosters crowing at random times of the day. The chickens here are almost never caged (they run around in the streets and I often wonder how the residents here keep track of their chickens). Children always come running from all directions to gawk at the “kiwas” and check out the Gwango truck and trailer. I often will start speaking with the kids in Shona (my mother’s language), which is guaranteed to bring a few shy smiles and chuckles. Not to mention when we bring Husky to town - we attract quite a crowd...
I enjoy the creativity and the vibrance that I see all around. The clay houses built with bricks moulded from nothing more than sand. They rusty tin roofs patched together and held down with the odd rock. Makeshift kitchens, with no appliances and barely and any pots. Gates made from old mattress springs. There’s no limit to what you’ll see... and best of all it’s the smiling faces that I can’t get enough of.
What we pay for thatch grass helps the women of Dete pay school fees for their children and buy basic food supplies.. As one woman said to me “now I can buy sugar!”