I’ve finally moved in and it feels good to be here in my village starting the work I came here to do. I live in a house outside of my village. It takes me about 10 minutes to bike in to town during which there are many children who yell “Tubabu.” Tubabu is the Bambara word for a French person but really it just means foreigner. At first I didn’t mind being called Tubabu but now I just find children so irritating that my knee-jerk reaction is to smack them upside the head. I don’t have any furniture although I do have my mattress so i’ve set up my Tropic Screen II tent and am currently burning up in my room with my door closed because there’s a frog in the hallway and my window closed because I have no screen on it yet. Last night I spent most of the night sweating until thankfully it started pouring, at which point it cooled down long enough for me to fall asleep.
I started today early because one of the ladies at the women’s association I’m working with told me to show up at 8 this morning. Although I have a french press (thanks to my mom for sending it to me) and a stove, I decided to pass on the coffee this morning as I didn’t really have the time. I went over to say hello to my host family who live next door and went into town. Since it rained heavily last night there were puddles galore on the already treacherous path into town. I managed to avoid most of the puddles, but of course, took one puddle a little too quickly and ended up staining my pale khakis with orange spots on my first day of “work.” I arrived at the women’s association promptly at 8 only to realize that no one has shown up yet. Over the course of the next two hours most of the women show up. I am told by one of the women that some women from Bamako have come out to run a training for all the women in the women’s association on the “correct” way to produce shea butter. Over the course of the morning I saw the women of my group transform shea nuts that had been dried yesterday into a clear liquid that when cooled and solidified would be shea butter. It was very interesting to see and at that point I thought my day was done. I was preparing to go home and catch up on the housework that needed to be done until I was conveniently dragged to a meeting that would last several hours.
The market for shea butter, like many products in Mali, is for lack of a better description, incomplete. There are many producers of shea butter of varying quality and quantity. Furthermore there are very few ways to test the quality of the shea butter so even if you were able to get your hands on a large amount of shea butter it would be troublesome at the very least to test the quality of the batch. There are also very few buyers. Many people know shea butter is good for you but may not be able to buy it in Mali because it is cost-prohibitive. Foreign buyers are dissuaded from buying Malian shea butter because it is difficult to control the quality of the shea butter and transportation is extremely difficult for this landlocked country. It’s difficult to say whether or not there are too many producers or too few buyers because there are very few players who know the big picture. Even then it’s too easy for them to miss one or two small players. Like most markets for products in Mali there is a lack of information on availability of goods and prices.
One interesting development is that they held elections for new officers today for my women’s association. The woman I’ve been talking with ironically became the president. Maybe it’s more of a coincidence but the lady who was elected is named Korian Sangare.
The meeting ended around 6 and I headed back home before the sun set. The day had been much longer than expected and as such, I made light plans for tomorrow. I would meet with the head of the mobile caisse in the morning and that would be it. I arrived back at my place and promptly headed over to my host family’s concession. My host mom, Bintu, had asked me where I had been. She had prepared lunch for me and I had not been there to eat it. I told her I was stuck in a meeting all day and she told me she would heat up my lunch. She had made rice with okra sauce. I hate okra but begrudgingly I told her I would first wash up then return to eat the lunch I had missed. Upon first bite my fears about the okra sauce were allayed. All the crunchiness and sliminess I had anticipated weren’t there. I was pleasantly surprised and finished the plate. It was at this point I asked my host mom if I could start taking all my meals here. She, like my other host mom who coincidentally was also named Bintu, is a very good cook. I then proceeded to watch some soccer with my host dad. At first it was strange to be watching Champions League in this small town in Africa but I figured, screw it, and thought nothing more of it. I played with the kids a little bit and headed back for the night where I now sit typing this, sweating like it’s my job. Sometimes I really wish I could make it rain, or at least have a really powerful fan. Oh America I miss you.