It’s hard to believe that it’s already been two months since I’ve arrived in Mali. I remember being overwhelmed driving through Bamako when we first arrived. Now, after having been here awhile i’ve become used to life in Mali. Having spent some time getting used to the people and learning Bambara makes me think that maybe I can pull it off after all. I go back to my homestay for 10 days and then return to our training site, Tubaniso, for a week, before becoming a full-fledged volunteer. Swearing in is September 10 so hopefully my Malian clothes are ready by then. Right now I think I might be battling another round of bacterial diarrhea but I’ve resigned to the fact that I won’t be as healthy as i’d like for the next two years. After all, this is Africa (TIA).
The projects i’ll be working on for the next two years include a mobile bank and a shea butter cooperative. My Malian counterpart is a very capable guy named El-Haji and fortunately for me he speaks Bambara, French, and a little English. He’s worked with Peace Corps volunteers in the past so I feel fortunate to work with someone who knows how it’s done.
A mobile bank might also be called a rotating savings and credit association (ROSCA). Essentially most poor people can’t afford to have bank accounts with your typical bank because the fees are too high and many times banks are too far away. Furthermore, most poor people might only save 10 cents a week. So, a mobile bank has collectors that go out to the clients and collect a certain amount of money each week. Many times clients are illiterate so a visual accounting system is used where the clients might have a notebook stamped upon deposit of money or have pieces of paper taken away. There are many issues surrounding my specific mobile bank, but there are also many opportunities as well. I look forward to seeing how this all turns out.
My other main project is working with a shea butter cooperative. Mali has a large number of shea trees that produce nuts. When these nuts are processed it becomes shea butter, an increasingly popular skin beauty supplement often seen in soaps and lotions. The group I will be working with has a good sense of how to produce the butter and has been around a very long time but what they lack is strategy and buyers. They are very interested in exporting and marketing some of their own products so hopefully I will be able to help.
On top of these projects I hope to take part in a weekly radio show where I would talk about American stances on certain issues. I would love to build a chicken coop and raise chickens. I want to work with children in my area. I want to travel all over Mali too. I miss snowboarding and since it doesn’t look like i’ll get a chance to go anytime soon apparently there are sand dunes in Mali where you can take a board and go sandboarding. It sounds pretty fun. Alright, that’s enough for me. I’m going to take a nap and pray that I don’t wake up from a creeping eruption.
Bambara phrase of the day – mogo be be boke “Everybody poops”
Song of the moment – “Sister” by Sufjan Stevens