Heather in Senegal

Monday, November 13, 2006

September 24
After some research and consideration, I assembled a list of rotations of pesticides that I want to test. The sprays are almost all made easily from common items. Soap, baking soda, salt, hot pepper, tobacco, garlic, neem (a local leaf), and mint are my ingredients. Dimathoate is the one chemical spray on my list. I want everything I test to be easy and affordable so that local women will be able to copy any techniques that I find especially successful. The rotations involve spraying one of the pesticides in a group once a week. For example, I will spray a certain table of tomato plant with tobacco one week, soap the next, tobacco after, and so on. At most I have four pesticides in one rotation.

Once I decided what my tests should be, I had to figure out how to apply them to the plants. Seck has a big spray pump that he straps onto his back. It holds many gallons of water. Besides being overkill for a little household garden, the hardware stores ask a price that makes such pumps entirely unpractical and unaccessible for individual gardeners. I trolled the market looking for a hand held spray bottle. I could picture a colorful little thing that I have seen in many drug stores in the US, but no one sells those here. I walked up and down a street where merchants set up stands to sell jewelry, toiletries, vegetables, knives, clothing, and the like, looking for a bottle of perfume. I found quite a few, but they were all of the type that have you squeeze out a drop rather than spray. Finally, in a shop that specializes in paper supplies, I found a bottle of strawberry perfume that had a spraying nozzle. And happily, this perfume's label said the product was not tested on and did not contain animals. Funny what makes it to Senegal.

I had the plan and I had the bottle. Now I just had to wait for the weather. The rainy season is near its end, but we are still getting small late evening showers. For about a week after I was ready, every night had showers or just ominous clouds, so I kept postponing the commencement of my experiments. When finally the weather was perfect, I took out my perfume bottle which had been strapped to my bike for a week, and Seck told me he had forgotten that I wanted certain tables and had sprayed everything earlier that day.

A few days later the conditions were finally all right, and I dumped the perfume into another container for my gardener's daughters, Awa and Nafi. I filled up with soapy water and began to spray. For all of four seconds it was gloriously easy, and then the thing broke, and that was the end of that. I tried, Awa tried, and Nafi tried, but we could not fix it. I was resolute on doing the pesticide application that day, so I put the liquid for that table and then for two others onto my hand and petted it onto the leaves.

Two days later, when I was to start pesticide rotations on another few tables, I found that despite my hopes, a good drying had not healed the perfume bottle. I have seen a bottle of Windex in a shop on the way to the garden, so I planned to buy it for this second spraying. The price was more than I expect gardeners will agree to, but I figured it would serve me well enough until I found something better. On the afternoon scheduled for my spraying the shop was closed. I raced around town trying to find another spray bottle before dusk. Hardware stores had nothing except the big expensive pumps. The toubob stores (stores that carry foods toubobs like, from corn chips to candy bars to apples to ketchup), other paper stores, and the gas station all lacked what I wanted. People were intreagued by my mission and by the bucket of foul smelling liquid I was carrying (a mix of garlic, ash, mint, and tobacco), and every store owner I asked had somewhere to send me where they were sure I would find the right bottle. One man promised he could get some in his store for me, but it would take three weeks. Just when I was resigned to another hand application, I biked past the man who had sent me to the gas station, and he gestured for me to try the boutique to his right. I pedaled to it to be polite. I walked in expecting nothing but, low and behold, there on the top shelf was precisely what I wanted, and at a good price, no less.

With the bottle in hand and the sun setting, I gleefully rushed to the garden, where I rinsed some gasoline-like liquid out of the bottle and replaced it with my fragrent mix. I began to spray, and in less than a minute I had thoroughly covered the tomato plants. I let out a whoop to the sky and danced, jubilant that my pesticide testing was finally getting underway. I had to share this with someone, so I called my mom in New York. She called back on her phone card, and as darkness descended I talked to her and slowly made my way through the other sprayings. I had to use the light on my cell phone when I mixed the baking soda solution.

The next morning Seck told me that the guard at the garden had called him the prior night because he saw someone in the garden after dark. Seck said he ran from his house to the garden, and when he whispered that he was, "well armed," he gestured as if he had a gun in his pocket. Grand guard system, and crazy old gardener. But I sprayed! And, after all the preperations, it was easy.


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