By Emmanuel Unah
CALABAR—MOST mornings, afternoons and evenings, the expansive field of the New Airport field in Calabar South, Cross River State, is covered in a melee of umbrellas, which women use them as shades while they work in their small farms.
The expansive land which stretches several plots was acquired during the Shehu Shagari administration for an International Airport project, but was abandoned and women have since turned the location to little farms.
They have carved the place into tiny plots on which they cultivate water leaf and pumpkin. They go to the farms with umbrellas to shield their bodies from the sun during the dry season and rain during rainy season.
Spectacle to behold: The sight of so many umbrellas clustered around the abandoned field with women sitting or squatting under them is amazing to a first-time visitor to Calabar. To the average Calabar woman, the umbrella is a veritable companion and an essential component for the farm just as machete and hoe and she would ‘never’ attempt to leave it behind while heading to the farm.
“Do you want the sun and rain to kill us because we do farm? Arit Bassey, one of the farmers retorted when asked by NDV why they go to the farm with umbrellas.
Her words: “We cover ourselves with umbrellas just like the women in the market and those that work in the office. At the end of each day, we take them home and come back with them the next day,”
We can’t expose our bodies to sun, rain—Bassey
The middle-aged woman planting water leaf on a portion of land when our reporter met her, said: “Have you seen this small portion, it could take as many as four days to plant the stems of water leaf on it and so we come with umbrellas, food, water and other refreshments to make the work less difficult and laborious.”
She said the fact that they work on the farm does not make them less human, even if people look down on them. “We make a lot of money from selling the vegetables we grow here and without us, that delicious affang and edikang ikong soup your wife serves you will not be available,” she asserted.
Reminded that the abandoned airport field is not the only vegetable farm in Calabar, she said virtually all the farms where women plant, they take umbrellas with them. “It is not a sign of laziness, but a way of taking care of our bodies for our husbands. You know the Calabar woman is beautiful and has succulent body, so we cannot punish and destroy our bodies in the farm by exposing ourselves to the sun and rain – we take care,” she said.
It’s a sign of indolence— Omari
However, Agbo Omari, a woman from Ogoja in the northern part of the state, expressed a contrary opinion, asking: “How do you take an umbrella to the farm and expect to do any serious work because you can hardly concentrate.”
According to her the use of umbrellas in the farm is because the women in Calabar only plant vegetables and not “serious crops like cassava, yams and rice, otherwise how would you move the hoe to till the soil while the umbrella is covering your body?”
She maintained that the Calabar women only do farm work as a hobby and not as an occupation, which was why it could take a woman many days to plant water leaf stems on a tiny piece of land. “I can plant 10 of those plots in a day without sitting down or covering my body and besides, are those stems not brought from our area, we do not see it as serious work because water leaf farm cannot sustain a family,” Ogbari added.
Hobby or occupation, the Calabar woman seemed unperturbed so long as the portion of soil she cultivates provides her enough vegetables for her delicious pot of soup and ample quantity to sell.