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Color Matters?

November 3, 2013

In the color lab

Every Friday Dr. Tappa and I try to do a soil science lab.  This week it was color.  As an art history major I was thankful to (almost) have something to contribute.  Rather than fumble around and look for answers I could simply say, “Check your hue.  The sample has small more red than that,” then direct them toward the window.  They had about 30 minutes to classify six samples and, as usual, I worried it would be too much.

Not a chance!  These kids are getting really serious.  They huddled in their groups, conferring in hushed voices and pointing animatedly at different chips.  They called me over to check once consensus was reached or when they needed a tie-breaking vote.  Other than that they were entirely focused.  Coming from a school where labs were never even attempted it never ceases to amaze me when we pull one off.

After class most of us went back to the field to continue work on the farm.  Last week they broke their ground.  This week they needed to do their layout and make their beds.  I wanted to plant, but (Liberian) Thanksgiving break is coming and so is dry season.  Without them on campus to haul water the seedlings could die.

So we wait.

In the meantime, though, everyone is getting into the work.  And I’m so proud of the girls!  Last week I was worried they’d hold a grudge and never forgive me.  This week they came dressed to work and threw themselves into it with little complaint, although it probably doesn’t hurt that I bring water and my radio for them.

Leekplay continues to be a champion and I couldn’t help smiling when I heard her tell off some boys, “Go!  We want our area to be the best!  See our teacher right here with us?  Where is your teacher?  We don’t need you!”  One of them took the measuring tape right out of Naomi’s hand and pushed her aside, “You can’t do that.”  I just smacked him and took it back.  “Of course she can!  And you can’t do that!”  She smiled at me over her shoulder.

That girl has really surprised me.  The first time she ever spoke to me a month ago the conversation went exactly like this:

“Sis RB, my attendance!”

“Yep.  You were late.  Absent.”

(grumbling) “But I have another class!”

“So does Prince.  He got here.  See?  Present.”

(louder grumbling) “But I’m a girl!”

“So you can’t get to class on time?”

She just nodded, “Exactly.”

“When I see you on the field I’ll consider your attendance.”

The next day she showed up to the farm in a short purple dress, gold chains, and strappy sandals.  I found her sitting on a log and watching several boys work the field.  “See?  I’m here!” she yelled.  I gave her a thumbs-up.  “Beautiful.  Now, Edward, give her the hoe.”  Intense scowling followed by half-hearted working until I turned my back.

After that she started coming to class on time but continued to dodge fieldwork.  So Thursday I scheduled a special time for just her and another girl.  “Don’t worry!  I saved some just for you.”  I put on my boots and the three of us went down on the field.  They were different women!  With no men around they threw themselves into the work and sang along with the music.  Naomi was still dressed inappropriately, but acknowledged it and laughed about it.  “Sis RB, I’ll be flashing today!  My junction is coming out!”  (‘Junction’ is Liberian English for coin slot.)  “No problem,” I said, “no one is looking!”

Two days later she was back to help finish the job, the two of us some of the last people to leave.

I am so proud of the way they stepped up to my challenge and the progress we made in just one short week.  But what did my colleague say when he passed my Friday girls working?  He yelled at them for how they were dressed (this week in lapas instead of clubbing clothes—a big improvement by my standards).  Then one of the teaching assistants yelled at me across the field about Naomi.  “You better put someone with her.  That girl is laaaazy!”  I replied that she was my iron lady and the rest of the morning she proved it to be true.

You know the funny thing about soil color and appearance?  It gives you very little information about the properties and behaviors of that soil.  Maybe some things aren’t always what they appear…

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One Comment leave one →
  1. November 4, 2013 2:08 pm

    Great progress. I can’t wait to see what grows and how they tend their crops. Thanks for sharing all your life stories. Those young people are so BLESSED to have you in their lives.

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