Not surprising from a 14 hour bus ride, I arrived in Bamako with "cankles"....REALLY big "cankles." At first I thought it was just the transport...but I was neglecting to remember the cuts on the bottom of my feet that I had gotten due to all my running. As the days progressed my feet only got bigger, and then developed sores on the ankles. It got to the point where I could barely walk. But, as most PC volunteers know...we practice a grin and bear it approach to feeling sick or being injured. I finally break down and went to see the PC Mali nurses in Bamako where I learn I have a staph infection...FUN! So, needless to say I had to wrap both my feet up like casts and I am now on a seriously strong bout of antibiotics to knock this stuff out of my system. Oh, I love Mali!
Regardless, I spent a fabulous week at a shea butter formation learning all about the opportunities that exist in the shea butter industry in the world market, how to produce good nuts/butter, how to create/manage women's groups that could produce/harvest the nuts, and more. It was really invaluable for me as I work to get shea groups established in my village, and help various organizations with exportation and selling overseas. From what I have learned, Shea Butter is quite a hot commodity on the world market. What makes it wonderful is that shea production is done almost exclusively by women, so it gives them an opportunity to take ownership and control over a part of their lives, in a society where they are not allowed that much autonomy to begin with. It is really inspiring to sit at a table with 25 Malian women as they become empowered by knoweledge, and discover the confidence to create their own enterprises. I can't wait to take this information back to Burkina Faso and get the ball rolling there. Burkina Faso (along with Ghana) are actually the two most developed countries in regards to Shea Butter/Nut refining and exportation...so there is so much exciting opportunity in this area and I am only skimming the surface. Not only that, but the formation was held in Siby, Mali....a world famous hiking and rock climbing spot--and even though with my infected tootsies I couldn't really take advantage, it was beautiful scenery.
As if things couldn't get better, we heard that the First Lady was making a stop in Bamako, Mali and we were invited to head out to the Ambassador's Residence and meet/greet her. Here is a little pic from the meeting:
There I am in the front row with several Peace Corps Mali volunteers...
I have had such an amazing time on my trip to Mali...meeting new people, conquering crazy infections, and shaking hands with the president's wife (even if I don't necessarily agree with most...actually all...of his policies). Well...I am off tomorrow...14 hours back home...FUN TIMES!