Our staple diet

Our staple diet

The contents of one large bag of maize forms the staple diet of a family of ten for two weeks. But each family has a long, hard haul before any meals are on the table.

Even once they’ve grown and harvested the maize, they have to get it to the mill for grinding – along dusty and potholed tracks, pushing the heavy sacks of maize cobs in a wheelbarrow. Usually, it’s left to the women and girls in the family. Joyce and her sister know what’s involved only too well.

On the way, up the hill from their home, knowledgeably avoiding the holes in the track, they exchange a greeting with friends of their own age – the casual ‘Bo!’ – or a more respectful greeting for their elders. Smiling broad smiles, each sister takes it in turn to wield the weighed-down wheelbarrow on its course, cheerfully enduring the customary taunts and teasing from young men at the roadside stalls.

Every grain counts

At the mill, the girls wait patiently for the woman in charge to finish her lunch, so she can check how much maize they’ve brought for grinding, and so she knows how much to charge them. Then the girls soak their crop in water in an old oil drum, before passing their crop to a machine operator for shelling through a noisy grinder that sprays dust in all directions. The operator has a bad cough.

And then it’s time for ‘winnowing’ – women sitting cross-legged on the dirt floor, shaking the crop through hand-held sieves, which filter the grain ready for grinding into flour and bagging into sacks.

In a land where every grain counts, remaining bran is turned into alcohol, or fed to local chicken and goats.

One bag feeds 10 for two weeks

And so the milled maize begins its journey back home, back down the hill, avoiding the potholes, with the wheelbarrow tipping over from time to time in the excitement of it all. There’s laughter all the way.