Saturday, July 14, 2007

Mission Accomplished!

Hello all! WOW, what a whirlwind couple of weeks this has been! My 4th of July was a blast! My friends Leslie, Julia, and Kelly came to celebrate the holiday in my village, which made it all the more festive. I had a grill constructed in my backyard, and was able to get ground beef, beef ribs, and a pintard (which is pretty much just like a chicken). We barbecued, made potato salad, mashed potatos, salad, and chocolate cake...YUMMY!! It was really nice to have people over, to entertain, and just have some girl talk. It gets a little lonely out it is nice to share the experience at times.

Now...for the shea butter...oh my goodness! It all started in Mali with my first introduction to shea butter, and ended with a visit from Mike's Aunt, Margie, who is looking at possibly importing bulk shea butter to the United States. We toured for an entire week around Burkina looking at and talking to various producers and shea butter experts. I have learned so much about this beautiful product, watched countless women work together to produce it, and talked with numerous experts on the benefits and the difficulties. There were so many times as we traveled around throughout the region that I just wanted to give a hug to each and every woman that was there. I felt a pride, a pride about the women, a pride about their work, that I had never felt before. It was truly amazing to see these women work together for a common aim, and to have the opportunity to be in control of their financial and professional lives. I don't even know how to accurately describe it, except to say that it was simply beautiful...I hope to have some photos from the trip posted soon so that you can see a little bit of what we saw.

One of the best parts about this trip happened on the second to last day of our travels. My goal all along had been to convince one of the shea butter producers to link up with my village so that my village could supply butter to their group. A quick background...the way shea works here is that women create cooperatives (co-ops) that are all trained in doing the work one universal way. However, because women are so spread out in the African bush, they have to do the work in their individual villages, and then have the main co-op group buy and transport it away. There are hundreds of shea butter producer groups in Burkina Faso, but only a small number of advanced producers. These producers go out into the villages searching for women's groups to link up with to expand their capacity. They then train the women in their techniques, and then guarantee that they will buy their butter. After all of my work, and all of my calls, and all of my conversations, I was able to secure just that for my village...and I couldn't be happier. A trader in Bobo-Dioulasso, my regional capital, agreed to entirely fund a one week training in my village for 25 women on the proper harvesting and processing techniques of shea nuts and shea butter, and at the end of the formation she will sign a contract with my women to buy all of their produced shea butter. Not only that, but another volunteer--Leslie--was with me at the meetings and she secured a fully-funded training for her village as well (thanks to the generosity of Margie--Mike's Aunt--at Alnor Oils). It is a pretty amazing feeling when things just start falling together, and I am quickly learning that if you do good work, and practice patience, things will work out in the end...and it is a pretty satisfying feeling. I look forward to posting pictures in a few weeks of the formation.

Most of the shea process is done by hand, and can take up to three days to complete. There is something magical about watching them produce the butter...the rythmic beating of their hands as they clean and mix the butter with water. Truly truly amazing! Here are a few pics that I happen to have from our little tour of Burkina:

Here a woman is cleaning the shea puree before boiling and attaining the final butter.

Here the women are mixing the shea liquid with water to attain what you saw in the first picture, which is a fluffy, almost mousse-like, consistency.

After they mix it, it ends up looking like this..doesn't it look like cake batter or chocolate mousse...yummy!

Here is a picture of a shea tree you can tell, I had a wonderful week, got to spend some quality time with Mike's Aunt, met some wonderful people, got a training for my village, and so much more. It is the first week that I have felt "productive" (by American standards). Usually, productive is cleaning my house and drinking tea with a neighbor... On top of all this craziness, my girl's camp starts on Thursday, and as usual my procrastinating self has left all to the last minute. But, as I am quickly learning...things will just fall into place.

Alright...well, it is a tad late and I have to be on a bus in the morning back to my village, so I am going to head to beddy bye. Hope everyone is well...Stay close!

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