"The body is the harp of the soul. It is yours to bring forth from it sweet music or confused sounds" Kahlil Gibran

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The most rewarding thing I have done here.

So, what is my job here?

I have been trekking now for about two weeks. In that time I have held a week of business training with the women of Fass.  I tried in Wolof the best I could, but my counterpart Malik was my primary crutch for saying complex things as it is very difficult to explain complex ideas in a language that has a limited vocabulary.  

We want to train these women in business - savings, credit, debit, supply, demand, business planning, and employment. This is so that they can start their own business with the equipment that IRD is going to provide them. Many of the things we want to train these women on have never been explicitly explained despite the fact these women may already know much about business from their day to day selling in the market.  The difficulty is how to help them realize they know some of these things already, so our business trainings were essentially me and Malik showing the village images of what business looks like in their day to day life. 

To my surprise and delight this was the most successful and fulfilling work I have done since I have arrived.  The women had made acceptable progress on the building and held a meeting where we did our business sessions.  They were excited, engaged, and able to come to many conclusions on their own about how many people fighting over one loaf of bread would cause the price of it to rise. 

After this trek and the weekend mentioned in Water with a Hint of Goat, our women and a few of my IRD coworkers trekked to Senegal to see how women process cashew there.  A 12 hour road trip later, we sat, watched, and talked to women who had been processing cashew their whole lives. Let me reiterate, everything about the cashew is difficult to manage even with $100,000 dollars of processing equipment; these women have been doing almost all of it by hand: cooking it in a wood fired oven to soften the shell, cutting it by hand, putting it back in the wood fired oven to roast, and then peeling the outer covering off the nut.  Listening to how they managed their business will hopefully help these women construct their own business in a way that runs efficiently.  The BIG problems that must be faced, is the concepts of time, charity, and responsibility.

Malik, my IRD counterpart who works in the villages.
Time – In the Gambia, not everyone really knows what time it is due to lack of watches and literacy, and everything runs very slowly, sometimes people are late by days.  Problems like this in reference to business are obvious, if you have sign a contract saying you will provide cashew nuts by Wednesday being a few days late is a big deal.  Here if you say there is a 4pm meeting, people show up at 6pm.

Moise, my manager, on our trip in Senegal, explaining some of the cashew business and asking questions of the women who work there.
Charity- In the Gambia things run on sharing and credit.  People lend out things, forgive others of their debts, and ask the more fortunate for hand outs.  To the extreme of Muslim concepts of giving out charity (which is a huge part of the religion), this instead breeds a system of not paying for things on credit, laziness, and incessant borrowing.  We are really afraid that others in the village may try to just ruin the business inadvertently by constantly asking for some of the money coming into the village through this new business.
Peeling the outer cover off the nut after it has been cooked, cut, and roasted.

Responsibility- Here the responsibility is to the family and community to the extreme.  In a very collectivist way, people here miss meetings and business opportunities because there is a naming ceremony in the village for the consistent stream of babies here that are born in high volumes, and they will not come if the lunch has not finished cooking or they get lost in the cleaning or daily plowing.

A woman prepares nuts to go into the oven

We are trying to impress that things must have consequences because the business will fail if your workers are two hours late, hand out your money, or just don’t show up. In a society where these values have been ingrained from birth, it will be difficult.

Checking to see if the nuts are evenly cooked

I am coming to realize I am one of the luckiest Peace Corps volunteer in world; my assignment to an NGO as an agribusiness consultant gives me two years of experience internationally in business and non-profit preparing me perfectly for my next step in life.  At the moment, my current plan is for going back for some combination of a MBA and/or master’s degree in international development.  I am learning so many things about importing and exporting, supply chain management, and small scale entrepreneurship. I just want to say, that despite the cultural and social challenges, Peace Corps has been the best choice of my life. Thank you everyone back home for keeping in touch and being so supportive of my journey.

Spend the day in Peace

1 comment:

  1. Xander, I loved reading this post, and your photos are awesome! You are so much richer now than when you left the "rich" country you call home. The world is fortunate to have you in it, working to make it better and sharing that journey with us.