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Fried cakes Zabo


"Your attitude about who you are and what you have is a very little thing that makes a very big difference."

Theodore Roosevelt

Zabo is a small village in the district of Aka. The village is isolated by 30 kilometers of unpaved roads that are impassable for more than half the year. The people of Zabo rely on their excellent farming and hunting skills to feed their families. Any excess of produce, animal meat, or hides is easily sold at local markets. In fact, the fried cakes made in Zabo are known to be the best in the country and always sell out completely on market day. People say it is the superior corn raised on the soil of Zabo that makes the fried cakes so much better than others. The women of Zabo like to tease that they have a special and secret way of preparing them, which they could never share with outsiders.

In Zabo, both men and women work the fields year round. The men always manage the corn and manioc crops, while the women concentrate on vegetables and potatoes. The men are skilled hunters and the women know how to skin and treat the hides to get the best price at the market. In Zabo, it is the men who tend to participate in politics as community representatives at the district level. They even represent the needs expressed by the women of the village. The women don't hesitate to speak openly about their concerns in Zabo, but they rarely attend the district level political meetings.

The women in Zabo take almost exclusive responsibility for raising the children, cooking, cleaning and other household chores. Women, or the older children, are responsible for gathering water and wood for the family's daily needs. Men often carry large branches of wood home when they find it in the fields.

Access to clean water has always been a problem for the people of Zabo, but recently the situation worsened considerably. Two years ago, during the visit of a family member from another part of the country, the local pond was contaminated with guinea worm and now 30 percent of the population suffers the disease. Many of the men have not been able to plant their corn at all; others are not able to tend the fields to assure a good harvest. The women haven't had the necessary corn to make their special fried cakes, and in any case, many who are sick with guinea worm are not able to work as they did before and cannot make it to the markets at all. The older children with guinea worm are absent from school for weeks at a time and chores around the house simply do not get done. The smaller children suffer the lack of attention from their mothers and fall sick with belly aches, infections, and fevers from the unhygienic conditions that have developed around the house and community.

The women of Zabo asked the men to seek help for this problem at the district meeting because they were suffering so much and because they were not able to sell their goods at the market. Two of the men came back from a visit to the district and reported that there was nothing to be done about the guinea worm in Zabo. They heard it was the result of a curse placed on the village when someone did something to offend the ancestors. The entire village was upset with this news. Not everyone accepted it as truth.

One day, a woman of the village returned from a day at the market and spoke of a man who asked why he had not seen the Zabo fried cakes lately. The woman explained the sad situation in the village and the man said he had heard of this awful disease. He said it was not a curse put on the village, but rather tiny, almost invisible bugs in the water that were giving the people of Zabo guinea worm when they drank it. He said they should start to pour their drinking water through a cloth to remove the tiny bugs. He said it could be any cloth with a tight weave, but he had heard of a special filter cloth that was used in other parts of the country. He suggested that a request be made to the district health center to have a health agent visit the village and better explain the disease.

When the other women heard this news they asked the men to go again to the district for help. The men hesitated because they said it was embarrassing to reveal the curse that was placed on their village. The women insisted that the men try again or they would go to the district themselves.

In the meantime, a few women started to filter the water they brought from the pond with pieces of their cotton wraps. They weren't sure that it would do any good but when they looked at their sick children, the state of their homes and their own bad health, they knew they had to do something.

Friend cakes of Zabo

When health agents finally arrived in Zabo, they were shocked to see so many cases of guinea worm; it was not a common problem in this district. Through interviews with the villagers the agents confirmed that it was the visitor who stayed with them two years ago who first contaminated the pond, but since that time, it was the guinea worm infected people of Zabo who were recontaminating the water by immersing their sores in the pond water. Up until now, the people of Zabo had not understood the life cycle of the guinea worm.

The health agents held an afternoon education session to explain the causes and prevention of guinea worm. Nearly everyone was there to listen. Before leaving, they washed and treated some of the worst cases that they found in the village and explained that unless everyone took precautions to drink only filtered water and keep infected people away from the pond, the village of Zabo would have an even worse problem the following year.

After the agents left, it was the women who started filtering water that came from the pond, but they asked for help from everyone else to assure the water was filtered and kept clean. They asked the men of the village to build a dock that would extend into the pond so that no one would have to step in the water. The women were insisting on change. They wanted their children back in school. They wanted their husbands back in the corn fields. And they wanted to get back to the markets to sell the famous fried cakes of Zabo.