Welcome to JP Melville's review, experience, and statement on foreign aid and the international development industry. A conservative faith in family. A love affair riding the riotous tensions between money, personal freedom, the majestic travesty of our specie's ecological footprint, and economic politics. Selected writing of both prose and poetry, anecdotal travel log to rhetorical essay, dating back from the 1980's to the present. Enjoy!

Monday, 8 April 2013

The Pumpking - The Mystery of How Development Monies Get Spent

It was a Sunday afternoon.  Clouds drifted above.  Long grasses tossed in the wind.  A chicken scratched beneath a guava tree.  Two horses and three cattle grazed in the far corner of the orchard.  Quiet and peaceful.  For the moment.  The next day,  I would dive back into the madness of spring in Bhutan, a focal time of the year at the Renewable Natural Resources Research Centre.
My colleagues and I, a United Nations volunteer,  were all experts working with vegetables.  Our plates would be full.  We had early season tomatoes blushing with the moment of ripeness.   Our potatoes had burst through the soil, burgeoning with deep green stems, some sufficiently vigourous to already flower in modest pinks.  Young chilli plants quivered their leaves, still in seeding pots in rows upon rows, eager for transplanting and a forward start on the coming season.  Asparagus ferns waved in a soft sea of tender green.  Kohlrabi and kale pushed up through warm beds of straw.  Lettuces flushed for picking.  Yes, our lives were no longer our own, each and every day scheduled on the fickle demands of the season’s deceptively simple gods: vegetables.
We would also continue playing with mechanical technologies.  A hothouse extended the total production season of many kinds of vegetables.  Tomatoes could have an early start and leafy vegetables could be grown out of season.  Such shifts in each vegetable’s season would give farmers a better price for their produce.
There was the vegetable dryer experiment, the machine being a simple device, about the size of a large television cabinet.  Inside the cabinet were six shelves, and below the shelves a small heater and fan.  Warm air was blown up through the vegetables.  With doors closed on the cabinet, everything dried without exposure to insects, dust, or sunlight.  Built with local parts, affordable to many with modest incomes, concept originating from existing traditions of drying vegetables on rooftops.
To boot, spring was a busy time of year for off-station activities.  I and my colleagues would be dashing from one corner of the region to the next (five districts inclusive), preparing farmers for the transplanting of our new asparagus variety.  I would be hanging out in the local sawmill, working with the carpenters in constructing ten new dryers for distribution across the country.  By the end of the following month, we would be hiking four days north into the mountains.  On the way we will be distributing fruit trees at district primary schools and basic health units.  At our destination, at four thousand metres, we would spend a week with yak herders and farmers. 
But the most exciting adventure for the last!
In early November of the previous year I was slipped a small, unmarked packet with ten large seeds inside.  Pumpkin seeds.  Giant pumpkin seeds, I was told.  From America.  To grow, I was also told, for the King’s Silver Jubilee celebrations the following June.
I looked my messenger and delivery man square in the eye and said, “Winter has just set in.  At best I can get these started next April?  Maybe two months to grow them, three at best.  Not really possible.”
“For next June,” my man said.  “Money is not an object.  No questions asked.”
And he walked away.
So back in that brisk November, with just ten seeds, we set out to grow the world’s largest pumpkins.  For comfort, we specially ordered and erected a complete plastic greenhouse from Japan, to protect the fledgling plants from frosts, occasional snows, and heavy rains.  When the late winter drought arrived, no problem to install a unique irrigation system, ensuring a constant supply of warm water to the pumpkin beds.  Need special staff?  No problem.  A close daily watch on the vines.  Special beds of straw for the burgeoning fruits.  A lovely diet of compost and synthetic fertilizer carefully monitored for extreme nutrition.  Pumpkins treated like babies.  Pumpkins already passing two hundred kilograms each.  A growth rate of six centimetres in circumference each day.  All well on their way to our target three hundred kilograms in June.
Pumpkings!  What more could a king want!
What a patently successful way to invest development monies and the career of a United Nations Volunteer!

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