The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba

Book: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba Read Free Book Online
Authors: William Kamkwamba
any hopes of high yields.
    But like us, many farmers hadn’t been able to purchase fertilizer anyway. As a result of the new president’s policies, a bag of NPK fertilizer (consisting of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) now costs three thousand kwacha. It was far too expensive to buy once, let alone twice if the rains washed away the first round. After the floods, the president went on Radio One and vowed to assist every farmer with “starter packs” that contained two kilos of maize seed and five kilos of fertilizer. The starter packs had been implemented back in 1998 and 1999 and given to every farmer in Malawi who needed one. Those years the rains had been good, and with the additional seed and fertilizer from the packs, the yields had been high. But due to pressure from international donors, the program had been slashed to about one million farmers. So it was nice to hear the president promising to broaden this assistance.
    But a month passed and nothing happened. A government list then appeared in the trading center of those who’d receive packs. My father’s name was missing, along with that of many others. But this hardly mattered. By then, it had stopped raining altogether.
    After the floods, the rains simply vanished and a period of drought cursed the land. Each day the sun rose hot in the sky and showed no mercy on the young seedlings that had survived. By February, the stalks were wilted and hunched toward the ground like an old woman sweeping the dirt. A bit of rain in March saved us from total disaster and allowed the stalks to mature, but just barely. By May, the sun had burned half the crop. The stalks that survived were so stunted they only reached my father’s chest.
    One afternoon I walked out into the fields with my father and we looked out across this destruction. The maize leaves looked like onions, brown and brittle and ready to crumble to the touch. We were thinking the same thing, but I said it first.
    “What will happen to us next year, Papa?”
    He let out a sigh. “I don’t know. But at least we’re not alone. It’s happening to everyone.”
    My father was right. In many parts of the country, the yields were far smaller. Droughts hurt the smaller villages the most since the tiny farms had to feed large families year-round. The slightest problem in weather, fertilizer, or seed productivity could tip these families off the edge into hunger. That year, the drought would be felt for several more seasons.
    As for our own farm, we managed to fill only five sacks with grain that barely filled one corner of the storage room. One night before bed, I saw a lamp flickering inside and found my father there alone, staring at the sacks as if he’d just asked them a question. Whatever they told him, I’d find out soon enough.

    D URING THIS TIME OF trouble, I discovered the bicycle dynamo.
    I’d always seen them on bicycles, the way they were attached to the wheel like a tiny metal bottle, but I’d never paid them much attention. But one evening, my father’s friend rode up to our house on a bicycle with a lamp powered by a dynamo. As soon as he hopped off the bike, the light switched off.
    “What made the lamp go off?” I asked. I hadn’t seen him turn a switch.
    “The dynamo,” he said. “I stopped pedaling.”
    Once he went inside to see my father, I jumped on his bike to try it myself, to see if I could make the lamp work. Sure enough, after a few meters of pedaling, the light came on. I got off, flipped the bike over, and traced the wires from the lamp all the way down to the rear tire, where the dynamo was attached. The dynamo had its own metal wheel that pressed against the rubber. Turning the pedal with my hand, the tire spun round and also spun the wheel of the dynamo. Then the light came on.
    I couldn’t get this out of my head. How did spinning a wheel create light? Soon I was stopping everyone with a dynamo and asking them how it worked.
    “Why does the light

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