As I write this I spent most of my night fending off one of our drunk neighbors who kept on wandering into our concession asking for some chewing gum from my host sister. What a strange night. So there’s been lots of change lately. I recently moved into a new house. Between having my water cut off by my host dad and my landlord being intolerable and my house being so far away from the stage house and the heat I thought it’d be prudent to move and so I moved into a house up the street from the stage house in Segoubougoni. It’s smaller than my other house and not as new but it’s got a better location and now I live with another family in the same concession. The house I moved into used to belong to a former Peace Corps volunteer named Caroline Delaney so my host “mom” (I use that phrase lightly because she’s an old lady) is used to having white people around.
In my new host family there’s Rukia Tankara aka “Woya”, the old lady. She has chickens she raises and she sells dried fish in market. She lives with her daughter, Jeneba, who’s frequently on business trips as she’s a commercant, and her granddaughters Rukia and Aminata aka “Kia” and “Mimi” respectively. Overall they’re very friendly and they get what it means to be a Peace Corps volunteer.
Other than that I’ve also got a new puppy named Layla. I had gotten another kitten and was going to try that again but before I moved one of my neighbors wanted her so I just gave her to him. After that I was just going to lay off the whole pet thing for a while but then I got Layla. I was walking down the street when I saw these two girls walking in my direction. In one of the girl’s arms was this cute little puppy. I went up to pet her and saw it wasn’t like most of the other dogs in Mali. For some reason the puppy in her arms was just a lot cuter than any other dog I’ve seen in Mali. She saw that I liked her and asked me if I wanted the puppy. I thought about it and after a moment took the puppy. After going through a few other names (Caramel and Oreo) I decided on Layla (after the Eric Clapton song) since that’s the only name that Malians could actually pronounce.
We’ve also started construction on the restaurant for my women’s cooperative. So far they’ve laid down the foundation and hopefully the walls should be finished some time soon. At first I thought the restaurant might be too small but after consulting several of the members decided the seating area should be alright. It’s not going to be this expansive place but maybe that’s a good thing as we’ll also have a hangar outside to seat people. I’m in the process of working with two of the women in the women’s cooperative who will cook and serve food. I’m also working with a handicapped guy who will do the accounting and would like to find another younger girl to help him. The idea is that I would train younger women as they’d be more open to new ideas and concepts and should hopefully stick around for a while. I really hope this thing works….if it does it could lead to a lot of other cool things.
Another thing I’ve been working on is this Food Security project for Peace Corps-Mali. Essentially we’ve been given this grant through USAID so over the next four years we could work on issues relating to food security. Essentially the idea behind food security is that food is both available and accessible to all people. So, a country is food secure if it can produce enough food that’s good for you and people can get it either through farming or buying it. This is different from food self-sufficiency where a country produces all the food that it needs. Food is something that has always interested me and it’s great to be working on something that has the potential to help so many. We’ve had a shaky start but I’m hoping over the next few months we tighten things up and start showing some results.
I recently watched a documentary, “Food Inc.”, which is about the food industry in America. It’s amazing that here I am in one of the poorest countries in the world and yet I probably eat “better” than I ever did back in the States. That’s not to say that I love all the food that I eat but I don’t really eat too many artificial foods. Most of my meals have homegrown vegetables, meat from cruelty free animals, and grains/pastas that haven’t been too processed. I’m not exposed to high fructose corn syrup because even the sodas I drink every day contain real sugar. It’s sad to think that I live in a country where people are dying because the cost of food is prohibitively high while people in America are dying because they choose to eat foods that are prohibitively low. If we only changed the food policy in America to reduce food subsidies it would help to solve a lot of our current problems. It doesn’t make sense to me that most foods in America contain corn because food companies use it as a filler because it’s so cheap meanwhile we’re subsidizing the cost of corn. What ends up happening is we’re getting taxed to provide subsidies to buy foods that are cheap but are extremely bad for us. Meanwhile we end up taking a lot of that same food we subsidize and “dump” it as “food aid” to countries in Africa/around the world propelling the very governments we’re trying to stop from being so corrupt. Unfortunately the food industry lobbyists are so entrenched that there’s very little the average citizen can do to change the status quo. It’s a shame. Ah well, c’est la vie.
I’m reading a book now that’s pretty interesting, “The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid.” The premise of the book is that MNCs (Multinational corporations) are ignoring potential customers for all the wrong reasons. I suppose conventional thinking is that poor people are too poor to buy anything. A lot of this book turns that conventional thinking upside down by saying maybe the poor aren’t really poor but that MNCs just aren’t creative enough. One of the coolest ideas is this concept that capital is “locked up” in these poor countries. I see a country like Mali and the flow of capital is almost nonexistent. People are too poor to buy anything but maybe that’s because there just aren’t enough MNCs willing to take the risk. MNCs CAN be successful, they just have to be more creative and patient and pretty much forget whatever they learned in more developed countries. Mali, like I said before, is backwards (literally) and so you can’t treat Malians like you would Americans. By catering to the customers instead of shoving American style consumerism down customers’ throats success is possible. The problem a lot of times is lack of information and networking. I was sitting in a training session today and was in a room full of NGOs. A lot of what the NGOs do overlaps and many of them are ineffective, but the money still flows in because as soon as the money is released most Americans just care about how much money was given to Africa as opposed to how the money was used. There needs to be more accountability and more incentives so that the programs that work can be rewarded while the programs that fail are shut down. But it’s just another case of lack of information. I really believe that markets are the ONLY way to ensure efficient use of scare resources.
It’s hard to believe it’s already been 9 months since I first arrived in Mali. I remember it was around this time when I got my invitation to come to Mali. I had no idea where it was or what to expect. There are so many things I wish I knew when I was younger. But one thing’s for sure. I’m glad I joined the Peace Corps and I know that after this whatever happens I’ll be ready. Leave for Barcelona in less than a month. Let me know if you’ll be in Europe in May. Ciao.