[ Due to recent server crash at our hosting company, we are reposting this entry due to data loss ]
I don’t think that I have ever been more nervous about this project than when I was sitting Travelers’ Corner in Masindi (my virtual office while I am in Masindi), waiting for my driver to take me to this meeting with the farmers. All week, my brother kept telling me that I was being refereed to as “the delegate from the US”. That I was here to speak with the farmers, and that all Association members and non-member aloe vera and Moringa farmers should attend the meeting. The project suddenly became real, and I was wallowing halfway between “oh-shitsville” and “I can not wait for this project to take off!”
Almost a year a go I was meeting Marsha Wulff and she was introducing me to the term “Africueticals”, Project Diaspora was a dream on paper, and I had no idea what I was going home to do or find. Within a month of arriving here in Uganda, Project Aloe was born, one foggy September morning, when I stood barefoot in my mother’s garden innocently eyeing this curious-looking prickly plant. I had no idea what I was getting into when I examined the fresh rows of aloe and uttered, “what’s this?”
I arrived late to the meeting. Not the usual 15-30 minute customary East African time late, but the “Keep Them Waiting, I am-an-Important-Delegate-Two-Hours-Late,” late. Not my fault of course, and the car did arrive on time to pick me up. But the driver needed some money for fuel, so I waited 45 minutes for him to get back. There was a gas station one block from where I was sitting mind you, but I digress. After picking up my mother, we arrived a cool two hours late. There were bicycles stacked outside the community hall and many had pedaled miles to get here. Later in the meeting I recognized one of the farmers because we had passed him as he furiously pumped up a hill. You could tell he was headed somewhere in a hurry and was not going to let one little hill force him to dismount and walk his bike the rest of the way.We walked into the room amid cheers, hand shakes, fist pumping and excited hand-clapping. It was at this point that the project became real to me. Like really real. The people became real affected men and women that had been waiting for over 5 years for a sliver of hope. There were about 250 people in attendance. A low number I was told due to the many burials in the area that had kept even more people from attending. If this project were to fail or if I ever decided to give up, these would be the faces that would show disappointment. These faces would haunt me for letting them down. Yes I know, that’s a tad dramatic, but you had to be here to soak up the atmosphere, the anticipation, the energy. We were attempting to create something, anything out of what had previously been an unmitigated financial disaster for the region. When I told them that we had sent 3 kg of Moringa to Canada for testing, the room erupted in applause because it was a small step in the right direction. They clung to every detail of the two-day effort to collect and process the seeds, as well as the day-long saga at the Fedex Office in Kampala of attaining export permission to send the seeds. They appreciated the effort and it really gave them an idea of all the thousands of details that go into accomplishing what we were attempting. So when I called for patience and a little bit of faith because this project would NEED an ample supply of both, there were no complaints, just nods of understanding. During the hour-long Q&A, the farmers were really eager to know the details of when, what, where and how much—really detail-specific questions. But I simply offered that this was a very complicated process and details will emerge as information is confirmed. I just told them to stay tuned and everything will play out in due time.
It’s been a long 10 months with Project Aloe, there have been moments where I’ve felt totally useless and a few times I’ve managed to convince myself that there’s no way these farmers could be helped, or if they could be helped, it certainly wasn’t going to be me doing it. What do I know about aloe vera farming and processing anyway? But slowly, by slowly, nuggets of evidence and random encounters have led me to believe that there’s a solution out there. This project has been an exercise in patience, persistence, and perseverance. Patience, because, had I simply dismissed this project, I would have completely ignored Marsha’s invitation to attend the KDNC conference in Dallas last November. It was there where I met Carole Robert at PharmAfrican. Had I not met her, there would be no 3 Kilos of Masindi Moringa sitting in a Canadian pharmaceutical lab. Persistence, because I pestered her and anyone I could think of with emails about the project. Lastly, the wherewithal to persevere amid thoughts of accepting early failure and walking away from this project.
Fortunately I’ve had a great team working along-side me. The Project Aloe team is nearly 10 members strong stretching across two continents and four countries. Hundreds-strong if you count all the eager farmers waiting patiently and mobilizing when needed. So here’s to all of you who are working day and night on this project. I most certainly would be nowhere with the contributions each of you have made. This is our project. And even though it’s just now getting some kind of traction, it wouldn’t be where it is without your help. So here’s my thanks to Mom, Marsha, Tracy, Carole, Isaiah, Pete, Joe, Stephen, and Cécile. And many thanks the many well-wishers who’ve given me a push and a kick in the you-know-what, when I’ve been down.