Monday, June 21, 2010

Moringa with Djelika!

Esther and Cassie came out to my village and helped me make this video; enjoy!*

One of the mini-projects I've worked on as a Peace Corps volunteer in Mali is the cultivation of the Moringa tree. I've planted about 10-15 in my yard and then walk around village giving seeds to folks who are interested (and able to plant them where goats won't eat them). Dramane, one of the more successful farmers in my village, planted about 30 of them last year in his garden and they've taken incredibly to the dry, sandy soil. Some additional uses of the tree include live fencing, wind breaks in fields and fodder for livestock.
Moringa can do so much!  In order to avoid plagiarism, I'll direct you to a great site where you can learn even more about the incredible properties of the Moringa tree:

Dramane, one of the farmers in my village, planted these moringa trees in April 2009 from seed!  This photo was taken in June 2010. 

Here Batuma is sifting the dried, pounded Moringa leaves

*Since I'm home in America for the next month I have the luxury of speedy uploads and so will be putting up some videos that would take too long to download in Mali. 

Monday, June 14, 2010

We took the Philly flight headin' Mali bound!

To celebrate our close of service we put together a song and dance routine to the beat of 'Don't stop believin'' by Journey.  Our tailor in San, Abu, made all our matching tops.  Enjoy!

Just a toubab girl, livin’ in a toh-filled world
She took the Philly flight headin’ Mali bound
He’s just a brusse-y boy, corn and beans are his first choice
He took the Philly flight headin’ Mali bound

I see you in the conference room,
The smell of cheese and drinks for two.
For a smile we can share the night
It goes on and on and on and on.

Strangers. 2 years.  Meeting at the campagnard
There’s toubabs. Yala-ing in the night
Whereabox.  Didn’t text.  Here comes Admin separation.
Eating. Zamé by moonlight.

Drinking tea to get my fill,
Flag is how I get my thrill
Payin’ anything to not eat rice just one more time.

Some will stay.  Some we’ll lose.
Some are born to be en brusse.
And the mem’ries never end,
Mali lives on and on and on and on.

Don’t stop believin’
Our bachée will be leavin’
COS.  Peace Corps  Oh-oh-ohhhh!
HoBo San Kaw (l to r) Jennifer, Cassie, Alaric, Shelby and Esther
Don't Stop Believin'!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A house of friends

This past weekend I traveled with 5 San volunteers to Teriyabugu, an eco-tourism site nestled in a small village on the Bani river, where we celebrated our impending close-of-service and also the one-year mark for the 2009 group.  After setting down our bags and baskets of breakfast and lunch provisions in our 5,000 CFA/night/person ($10) dormitory we proceeded to explore.  My mom and I came in January for the first time together and coming back made me fall in love with Teriyabugu a little bit more.  After traveling all over Mali I haven't found another place where you can enjoy the beauty of the river in peace and with creature comforts like fans and potable water. There are over 200,000 eucalyptus trees planted on the grounds, roaming peacocks, friendly wild animal statues, a jatropha seed oil press to make bio-diesel fuel and an incredible tree nursery.  With accommodations ranging from camping (3,000 CFA/night/person, $6) to air-conditioned bungalows (29,000 CFA, $60) and the option to bring your own food (the restaurant is a bit pricey) what's not to love?  

 San-kaw on a swinging bench by the Bani river 

In the mornings we bought fresh baked bread from the boulangerie for 50 CFA a loaf (10 cents USD) and ate it warm with mango jam Cassie made in her village or laughing-cow cheese from the toubab store in San.  After filling our bellies and slathering on sunscreen we splashed and aerobicized in the pool before napping on chaises and eating tuna fish sandwiches and sliced cucumbers and mangoes (all imported from San and stored in our baskets).  Cassie's friends and my Kate (Shellnutt) also sent copious amounts of summer sausage in packages right before the trip so we had most delicious sausage sandwiches for dinner (thank you!). 
The bakery at the bugu

On our last night we decided to go all out and spring for a fancy dinner at the hotel restaurant.  Alaric chose the rabbit in a mustard sauce, beef brochettes for Holly and Esther, grilled chicken for Cassie and the fish kebabs for Caitlin and I.  After dinner we gathered our kebab sticks and made a fire by the river to toast s'mores (thank you, Mom for sending the supplies).  It was nice to sit and talk with some of my closest friends in Mali with close to zero distractions.  The stars were incredible and orange dots lined the banks of the river from the Bozo fishermen's fires.  
Sunset on the Bani river - view from Teriyabugu

Morning and night men would pass by on pirogues laying their fishing nets and then collecting them for the day's catch.  Sitting on the swinging bench by the river, Esther reading 'A series of Unfortunate Events' or Cassie writing in her journal, I felt satisfied. Teriyabugu means 'the house of friendship' in Bambara and while surrounded by some of my closest friends in Mali I couldn't help but think - It doesn't get much better. 
they're beautiful and so smart!

see more pictures from our trip here

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Balimaya - it's all in the family

The hollow, snapping noise of cracking peanut shells fills my ears while the agricultural technician from our arrondisement* capital arranges his papers at the front of the room.  I am sitting in the back of the World Vision literacy classroom on the outskirts of our village waiting for the fourth and final day of the training for the newly formed women's cooperative, Balimaya (meaning of the same family), to begin.  The 16 officers of the cooperative are sitting two by two on benches connected to desks in front of me.  The majority of the women's notebooks sit unopened and their pens unused next to growing piles of shelled peanuts since Anne, my host mom and the cooperative secretary, is the only woman who can read and write.  We have spent the last four days learning what a cooperative is according to Malian law,  officer roles and responsibilities, the work a cooperative can do and how to do bookkeeping and record the ins and outs of cooperative money and members.

My work as a Peace Corps Volunteer has largely been that of enabling people in my community to do things they already know how to do better by organizing technical trainings and applying for funds in the form of Small Project Assistance (SPA) grants to pay for those trainings.  The women's group in my village was loosely formed before I arrived but due to Anne's persistent and patient encouragement 112 women have committed to the association by paying a 1,000 CFA ($2USD) membership fee and agreeing to put another 100 CFA (20 cents USD) per month into the cooperative funds.  Anne also asked the women to commit another 5,000 CFA ($10) over the next year to beef up their coffers and prepare the cooperative for future projects.

Procuring cooperative papers confers legal recognition on the women's organization and will facilitate future relationships with work partners.  The women will also possess a heightened sense of duty and commitment to the cooperative due to the relatively steep financial commitment.  In order for the social worker in San to draw up their legal documents 8 of the 16 women needed to produce birth certificates, proof of residencies and judicial papers proving they have never been in prison or committed a felony.  I hope writing all that in one sentence does not lead you to believe it was an easy or quick process. No one had any of the papers required which meant starting from scratch.  The women used the money from membership fees to pay the administrative costs associated with securing the cooperative papers**.  I used my leg muscles and saucy attitude to bike back and forth from our commune capital and San to hound elected officials and government employees for our requested papers***.  Don't worry, I threw a few bean jokes in the mix for good measure and to calm flustered nerves.      

The four-day training taught me a lot about my work and role as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  I learned I should be more with whom I ask to deliver trainings.  The trainer selected was chosen because of his proximity to the village geographically but also work-wise since he is the agricultural technician for the arrondisement and the cooperative's work will involve agriculture.  Unfortunately, the trainer had an abrasive, disparaging teaching method.  Fortunately, I think the women took a good deal from the sessions and acquired that fired up feeling we all get after a workshop or retreat.  Another lesson learned is that Anne is an incredible shopper and stretched the money for lunch over the four days (onion sauce- jaba-ji, peanut sauce - tigadega-na (2 days) and my favorite - zamé) like a pro.  I was also reminded throughout the training of the power of teamwork and what people can accomplish when they pool their mental and financial resources.  Hearing the women speak passionately about work they could undertake as a cooperative like peanut commerce, soap making, gardening, shea butter and spinning cotton inspired me to want to be with like minded people where I too could speak passionately about my work (preferably also in my native language :)

 At the conclusion of our training I stood up and walked to the front of the classroom, sleeping babies sprawled on grass mats and baskets of sweet, sticky smelling mangoes lining my path.  I thanked the trainer for filling our minds and putting us on the right path (ka an ka hakili fa ani ka'an bila sira kan) and asked for blessings for Balimaya's work.  The women's hands, for once, rested stationary on their desks; their piles of shelled peanuts collected in one big bucket in the back of the room.  While I presented certificates to the women to thank them for their participation in the training and their commitment to the cooperative, my heart felt heavy thinking of the work that lies ahead of them and all the obstacles in their path.  Illiteracy.  Being a woman in a patriarchal society.  Bureaucracy and exhausting trips to government offices.  But then I saw Anne taking notes in her cahier and the eager smile on Miriam's (coop president) face and the weight lifted.   I thought of the cooperative name, Balimaya, and crossed my fingers the women will take the name of the cooperative to heart.  Because when it comes to work here, peanut or otherwise, it is all in the family.
Mali is divided into 8 regions (Kayes, Koulikoro, Sikasso, Segou, Mopti, Timbuctou, Gao, Kidal) 41 Circles, Arrondisements, Communes and Villages
8 birth certificates = 40,000
gas for the mayor's motorcycle to get papers stamped = 1500
8 proof of residency papers = 1600
8 judicial papers = 6000
Social worker fees in San and cooperative papers admin. fees = 35000
Total = 84100 ($210 USD)

When I wear a head wrap I mean business!

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