Monday, December 13, 2010

Final Dispatch from Mali

This post is from CTI Volunteer and Africa Committee Vice Chair, Andrea Brovold. Andrea and CTI's Executive Director, Roger Salway, are traveling through Senegal and Mali to demonstrate one of CTI's newest set of devices, the Thresher and Winnower. This new set of equipment can help subsistence farmers increase the quality of their grain and reduce waste--nearly doubling their grain yield.

We land in Mali on Friday, December 7th, and I find myself somewhat disenchanted upon arrival. Something I cannot quiet explain, but one I will try to elaborate on. I must be careful not to negate what Mali has to offer, its people, its hidden jewels, but from the moment I arrived there was a looming curtain and a literal wall of haze from the immense pollution ring around the capitol city. There was almost an offensive piquant odor about the bustling city due to the refuse, the smog, the dust and wind combined with the heat. I have not been able to shake this unexplainable feeling, yet everyone I have had the pleasure of meeting is simply delightful.

Looking back, it is curious, or rather disheartening to me the Mali is one of the poorest countries in Africa, and yet it has allocated to it some of the largest funding for development. The Chinese own the roads, and the Libyan’s own the hotels. 

While in Senegal, we visited a distributor of industrial agricultural equipment, dozens of machines, and hundreds of thousands invested going unused by the immediate populations that they are meant to support. It is a gross reality of development, and one at CTI that we work hard to avoid by working with our partners, distributors, stakeholders and instituting accountability on all fronts. No machine that is needed and wanted by women doing this work should ever be sitting in a machine graveyard. So it is because of this that the undertone of this blog has some resentment and negativity. It is unconscionable to me to have a simple task, feeding famine, which can be so skewed. In 25 days we have been able to accomplish, facilitate, and create a mass awareness and desire for a move from traditional to modernity. Whoever said one person cannot make a difference was sorrily mistaken.

Wednesday we spent all day driving parallel to the Niger River (downstream) it was a 8 hour drive where we passed through Segou for lunch which was a pleasant departure from the mass chaos of the city. Segou was a very well kept area, and one I would have liked to explore more had we had time. But we are on a mission to reach a close proximity to meet our ICRISAT partner Tom for the evening, so we push on. Eight hours after leaving Bamako, we arrive at San, and bunk up there for the night. It is here that Verizon FINALLY turns my phone back on...the FRAUD department had shut it off 7 days prior unbeknownst to me and my wonderful Mother Barb orchestrated the fixing on that due to the fact that they wanted me to CALL them to FIX it...HELLO?? Did you NOT shut off my phone in a 3rd world country? How would you like me to CALL??? Anyways, that snafu gets rectified, but then I suddenly have 120 emails that come through...not sure which is worse. So I forego dinner and tend to my emails, and try to go to bed in a somewhat questionable abode.

Thursday morning, I rise at 4:00am and do some work, don't dare shower or turn on the water, rather I had some bottled water left (which was my dinner) to splash on my face, and brush my teeth. This much is good. What are you thankful for??

Roger and I have a nice discussion over a piece of bread this morning. It had been looming over me how so many machines we'd seen were abandoned and unused, and our grinder needed a foster home with one of the partners we had made in country rather than the condition in which we found it. It was agreed that this is what would happen, and it was a very intelligent decision to leave it with the Tominian Hope village, and Tom from ICRISAT to get use in the field in return for data collection and reports back on logistics.

Both Tom, and the Tominian Village were inviting and helpful. Tom is a bit of a comedian and makes certain the visit is lively and enjoyable for all. Even what can sometimes be the long, but necessary pre-placement surveys. Rose was the resident spokeswoman, and one who clearly was respected by all in the village.

After the demonstration and with multiple hands on the machines, Tom, who is a Dutchman and lived in Mali for 6 years interpreted some of the feedback. At one point there was another woman who was traditionally crushing the pearl millet in the mortar and pestle while we were winnowing and threshing in the modern (earlier model prototype). While she finished about the same time, the comparison of the labor needed coupled with what the finished product looked like, our sample was clean and without “brokens” (which run the risk of rancidity) and her bowl had much debris, shafts from the panicle, and needed to be sorted/sifted through in order to make it acceptable to continue.

Next we tried the grinder to show how fine the flour can be from their grains, and while this was somewhat labor intensive initially, the product that it produced was unquestionably superior and in far less time than a woman could do in her traditional ways, or cost.

Rose had us come to her home where she showed us their storage units—very ingenious design, and also a thresher that had no water/oil in it so it smelled, looked, and sounded like a rocket ship ready to blast off...I thought the machine was going to levitate at one point! We were invited to sit and enjoy some peanuts with them, when the village's “mean dog” as Tom put it came waltzing in...I looked and finally saw a 4 pound pup (what looked like a tan/white spaniel of sorts) and I picked him up. Britt we will call him for short, nuzzled in close, was eager to give soft puppy kisses, and nearly fell asleep in my arms. The village young women giggled. “MEAN dog” nearly had a one way ticket to frigid Minnesota!

I would not call the ride smooth, but I am sitting here typing this on Saturday morning, so you know I have made the nearly month long journey. This did not happen alone, and not without the huge support and love from all those involved, the people I have met, the friendships I now have, the smiles and hugs I have been witness to and everlasting memories this has instilled in an already fortunate life.

Thank you for following this journey, for your love, support, and Taranga. It means “friendship” in Wolof.

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