By Tom Campbell
The sun has set on another day in Guinea-Bissau as Adrianne Huber, BS ’12, prepares for bed in the small village of Catel. From the well in the front yard of the mission house, she draws just as much water as she can balance on her head in an earthen pot.
The water is not potable, but it will do for cleaning purposes. The drinking water must be drawn from a communal well in the school yard a half mile away, where the daily wait in line may take an hour.
Huber and her friend, Wimbale, 7, often braid each other’s hair. Huber earned her degree in International Agronomy in 2012.
Huber takes a bucket shower. The refreshing earth-cooled water washes away the daily accumulation of the gritty, red, African earth from her skin.
Huber doesn’t even bother to dry off. With temperatures still above 90-degrees, it would be the ultimate effort in futility. She scrambles to her room, locks the door, pulls down the mosquito netting on her bed and begins the nightly ritual of fanning herself to sleep.
It’s hard to tell where the shower stops and the sweat starts. While the sun has left the sky, the heat never does in this sliver of an emerging nation about the size of Maryland located on Africa’s western coast.
Huber came to this equatorial collection of islands, estuaries and red clay to teach agriculture to people she had never met, who speak languages she had never spoken. Here, soil high in iron content and low in organic matter makes anything more than subsistence agriculture a minor miracle.
Her world now is a place where each nightfall begins a race to see if she can fall asleep before she becomes drenched in sweat. A good night’s sleep is important for Huber. In the morning she’ll travel 12 miles to São Domingos to shop for some vegetables in the open-air market.
To market, to market
In São Domingos, the market — about half the size of a football field — is filled with shops and street vendors. But São Domingos also has other things that are not available in Huber’s tiny village of about 400 people. Real toilets, electricity and running water — things she stopped taking for granted the moment she settled into Guinea-Bissau as her home in 2012.
Catel is powered by the sun, at least during the dry season of October through May.
The mission house in Catal, a community gathering place for old and young alike, has been home for Huber since graduating from Purdue in 2012.
“During the rainy season, we may not even get enough solar power to charge our cell phones,” Huber said. But the local cell tower is solar powered as well. So if there isn’t enough sunshine to power the tower, it doesn’t really matter if her cell phone isn’t working either.
“I really have it easy here,” Huber said. “Some people say ‘Are you crazy, woman? Pits for latrines, no running water and limited electricity are not the elements of an easy life.’”
But if she wanted an easy life, Huber would have stayed stateside, perhaps even enrolled in graduate school — something her Purdue adviser, George Van Scoyoc, lobbied for.
“Sure, I may have involuntarily become a vegetarian because of the diet here, I may still be living out of a suitcase because wood is so expensive that I haven’t bought a wardrobe yet, and rainwater showers may be ice-cold,” says Huber. “But if that’s all I have to complain about, what a life I live!”
The land of powdered milk and smoked honey
Shortly after 6 a.m., Huber turns on the two-burner gas stove in the kitchen to heat enough water to dissolve instant coffee. It’s slightly more palatable with the scoop of powdered milk and pinch of sugar she drops into the coffee mix.
Huber fixes a breakfast of couscous with a dab of natural peanut butter. But to call it peanut butter may be a disservice to George Washington Carver and peanuts everywhere.
“It’s really just crushed peanuts in their own oil,” Huber explains. “It’s extra, extra chunky.”
Huber adds some fresh, smoked honey. It tastes good and helps hold everything together. All of the honey in her village is smoked. It’s part of the collection process.
“They just set the beehive on fire and collect the honey left behind,” said Huber, who graduated from Purdue’s College of Agriculture with a degree in international agronomy.
The third annual Purdue Ag Week festivities include 27 different events, including Hammer Down Hunger. Some 400 students will attempt to pack 58,000 meals for communities in Haiti. We'll share the results in the next edition of ConnectionsNow! .
In her relatively short time at Purdue — she graduated in three years to save one year of out-of-state tuition — Huber became involved in a program called Bridges, supporting Purdue’s international students. She has taken two, summer-long mission trips to Uganda — one as a Purdue student and one while she was still in high school.
But her fire for international service started burning long before then.
“When I was in the first grade, I wrote a paper that said, ‘When I grow up, I want to be a missionary-farmer-teacher.’ And that is exactly what I am doing.’”
She teaches English to approximately 30 eager students ranging in age from 12 to 50.
“It gives me great joy when I catch them outside of class struggling through a conversation in English with a fellow classmate, when I know that they could much more easily communicate with them in Creole,” says Huber. “They really want to learn, and many of them will take any opportunity they can get to practice the language. I love seeing their faces when they grasp something for the first time.”
Huber recently started a women’s group to develop a community garden she hopes to fill with corn, beans, okra, cucumbers, peanuts and local leafy vegetables such as chaya and bajik.
She dug a soil pit to show the villagers how different layers of soil can affect a garden’s productivity but found limited interest.
“They weren’t as enthusiastic about my soil pit as I would have liked for them to be,” Huber admits.
In two orchards at the mission she operates, she is training three interns, teaching them to graft oranges, tangerines and grapefruits onto host trees.
“My work is to train people so they can take over, and hopefully, I won’t have a job anymore,” she says.
After breakfast, she heads out of the house and walks the half mile to the main road. Eventually, a van will come by. There is no bus schedule, so Huber may have to wait an hour or more for a ride.
Seats have been stripped out of the 15-passenger van and replaced by wooden benches. The drivers are private businessmen. They never leave until the van is packed, no matter how long it takes. There are never less than about 30 to 35 people wedged into the van. They, too, are going to market. Some carry the chickens or pigs they plan to sell when they get there.
The ride costs the equivalent of 60 cents (US). That’s no pittance, considering Huber survives on a monthly allowance equaling $100 from the Pennsylvania-based Eastern Mennonite Missions. Any other money she gets is through the kindness of family, friends and sponsors.
“The ride usually takes about 90 minutes because of all the stops we make along the way to pick people up. We may make a dozen stops,” she says. “And we don’t go very fast because of the condition of the roads. They aren’t good.”
Just looking for a fair price
Purdue Agricultural Communication photo/Tom Campbell
Huber was overwhelmed by the amount of snow she encountered on a trip to campus earlier this year. “This was a shock to my system,” Huber said. “If the temperature drops below 80 degrees in Guinea-Bissau, I’m usually reaching for a sweatshirt.”
With the exception of a three-month period when she returned home to recover from an infection she contracted in Africa, Huber has been in Guinea-Bissau since August 2012. But she still doesn’t feel comfortable haggling for a reasonable price from the vendors for items she doesn’t grow in her garden — the onions, garlic, beans and carrots that are the staples of her diet, along with rice and fish.
“I want to pay a fair price,” Huber says. “I want to pay whatever the locals are paying. But there is a different price for white people because they think we can afford to pay more. A bunch of bananas may cost the locals 75 cents but $1.50 for white people.
I now have a regular person I go to and she doesn’t rip me off. The more I go, the more they know me and don’t take advantage of me because I am white.”
It’s not unusual for Huber to leave the market empty-handed, discouraged by the iron will and high prices demanded by the growers.
But shopping isn’t the only thing that has brought Huber to the marketplace. The market is a very social place. Huber spends a lot of time just walking around, saying hello to the vendors and chatting with her new friends.
“If you don’t talk to them, the next time you are there they may charge you a higher price,” she explains.
Huber uses the time in town to get other things done.
“I may go to use the Internet at a local school,” she says. “The service is spotty and it’s pretty noisy, what with all the children there, but it’s the best we have.”
She’ll write on her blog or contact family members back in Denver, Pennsylvania, a town of about 3,000 residents located halfway between Philadelphia and Harrisburg.
“Then I’ll visit some friends and grab a sandwich from a street vendor,” she says. “They have a split-pea sauce or a bean-and-noodle paste, but my favorite is a fish sandwich or spicy sautéed onion sandwich. You just have to be careful of bones in the fish sandwich.”
Once a month: a treat
On rare occasions, Huber will splurge on a cool treat.
“Maybe once a month or so I’ll treat myself to a yogurt, since the town actually has refrigeration,” she says.
The day spent, Huber heads back to the car park to get back on a van head for home. The vans are lined up, just like taxicabs at an airport. And the one at the front of the line doesn’t budge until it is dangerously and uncomfortably overcrowded.
“The wait never seems less than an hour, sometimes two,” Huber said.
“I’ve had trouble adjusting to waiting with nothing to do. I’m used to multitasking, but when you are waiting for the van to show up, that’s about all you can do — just wait,” she says. “It has taken me a while, but I think I am finally adjusting. I just have to look at that time and the time when I am doing my laundry as an opportunity to build relationships with the people of Guinea-Bissau.”
As evening settles, Huber returns to the mission house, which is bustling with a large number of people from the village. It’s home for now, but soon Huber will move into the home of a host family. Her new living space is tiny — only an eight-foot by eight-foot room — but it will allow her to more easily integrate with the community.
Some of the children help her sweep the dirt that has collected on the hard-packed soil. She realizes that she is sweeping dirt off dirt, but she says, “In Africa, it does make a difference. It’s a part of the morning chores for everyone.”
Huber and her friends share stories of their pasts and their hopes for the future in a mixture of Portuguese and Creole. She learned the local language quickly by total emersion in the culture. She is now learning some of the tribal languages as well.
And as the sun goes down, Huber heads to the well to draw water for the morning ritual. For tomorrow is another day. And Huber can’t wait to see what it has in store for her.
Contact Huber at AdrianneHuber@gmail.com
Rains make easiest tasks difficult
By Tom Campbell
There is very little electricity and no running water in Adrianne Huber's African village.
Tasks as simple as doing laundry or baking become difficult and time-consuming chores.
“It takes me about four hours to do my laundry,” said Huber, who journeyed to Guinea-Bissau in 2012 with a College of Agriculture degree and all of the worldly possessions she could cram into one suitcase.
“I get water from the well and carry it to the back veranda,” she says. “One of the useful skills I’ve learned in Africa is how to balance a container of water on my head. I have to do all of my laundry by hand. Doing laundry during the rainy season can be interesting. You put your laundry on the line to dry, and half an hour later, it’s all wet again from the rain.”
Depending on the frequency of the rain showers (Guinea-Bissau averages 78 inches of rain annually), it may take three to four days for her laundry to dry completely. Any longer and she’ll start the process all over again.
“It’s just what we have to deal with during the rainy season,” she says, which runs from June through early October.
And Huber doesn’t even consider baking during those months.
“In Guinea-Bissau, there is no such thing as putting something in the oven at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. That just doesn’t work here,” she says. “I have a solar-powered oven that uses a mirror to reflect the sun’s rays down into the cooking box. Sometimes it takes all day just to bake a loaf of bread. You continually have to move the mirror to track the sun as it moves across the sky.”
Being a multitasker, Huber has figured a way to fill the empty minutes between adjusting her oven to capture the maximum amount of heat from the sun.
“That’s the time I usually do my laundry,” she said.