Monday, December 1, 2008

Grain bank update

Narba in front of the grain bank building

Grain Bank Update: We got our training! The twelve women on the grain bank committee, plus myself, were trained in (almost) All Things Grain-Bank-Management-Esque. For the last three days of October, we sat on mats on the new cement floor of a vacant classroom and learned about our new jobs and responsibilities. It's been just a month since then, but it feels like forever...I'll try to recall more of it in detail, because it was a pretty big event, both for the village women and for me.

To start- I spent the better half of October in Hamdallaye, helping to ease the newest group of volunteers into life here. As soon as that ended I zoomed back to my village, because I only had a day to get things ready and-- most importantly-- remind all of the ladies that yes, indeed, we had two fancy city ladies coming to set us straight. Much of that week feels like a buzz of constant motion: Riding to Tajae to double check with the trainers, walking around to all parts of the village to confirm the days with people, buying food to feed everyone and finding people to help cook and carrying mats and chairs and water back and forth...and, most interesting of all, finding the women on the committee and trying to explain "10 o'clock in the morning". A funny, funny concept. No clocks, no watches. Some young guys have cell phones, but their grandmas (ie the ladies on the committee) do not keep track of hours. So, I tried a few approaches. There's a word for late-morning-ish (hantsi), and it's around then that girls are done hauling water, and there's also a big piece of metal that the headmaster bangs against another piece of metal to signify the 10am school break. So I tried dropping all of those clues, and crossed my fingers that the twelve women would make their way to the classroom by twelve. Hadiza and Gembi, our two trainers, were totally in tune with village time (THANK YOU), so they understood the delays...

Brief review of our training:
Day One: Hadiza and Gembi arrive at 10, village ladies (Salamu, Ana, Habsou, another Salamu, Mariama, Huri, Yashe, Aisha, and another Mariama) trickle in by 12. Just as expected- no worries. Hadiza is young, loud, intense, commanding, fierce almost, and does most of the talking. Gembi is quieter, doesn't demand our attention the same way, but is friendlier. We learn about the purpose of a Grain Bank (first: food in the village! second: make money! Not the other way around, which is what the ladies argue for a long time, to the delight and amusement of the trainers. But we figure it out eventually); we learn about the difference between the committee and the 'big group'-- the other 200 women who've invested in the project, and we learn that we really like it when Hadiza asks Samsiya (me) if she understands, because she usually doesn't, which makes everyone laugh. And then a village woman explains it to Samsiya, slowly, which she appreciates immensely.

Day Two: Hadiza and Gembi arrive at 10:15, village ladies make it by 11. Progress! We spend lots of time reviewing what we learned yesterday- trainers ask us over and over "what is the purpose of a grain bank???" Good. We learn how and where and when to buy grain, and how and when and where to sell it, and for how much. We learn when to give loans and how to get paid back. A long day, butts sore from sitting so much, but we're learning good stuff. Decide to (try to) meet earlier tomorrow. I am skeptical. But, let's try, right?

Day Three: Get this-- village women show up at 8:30, Hadiza and Gembi at 9am. Take that! Yeah, we rock. Sneaky village ladies accurately observe that "Samsiya's probaby tired of having to send little boys after us when we don't show up on time". True that, ladies. We go over every woman's specific responsibility-- we have two presidents, two secretaries (the only two literate women, and the only two under the age of 40), two sellers/buyers, one groundskeeper, two money storers, and three key holders. Trainers make us repeat back over and over what we each have to do-- awesome. I also have a job-- self-assigned, sort of. Train our two secretaries in record keeping, and keep a spare key. I also got assigned a few random tasks- help the presidents open a bank account (VERY VERY TABOO), get a small safe made with three different locks, and make identification cards for everybody.

So: It couldn't have been better. Really. I hadn't dared to hope for it to go as well as it did. Hadiza and Gembi were great- sharp and snappy, which is exactly what you need to be to impress a bunch of village ladies. Narba's daughter, Tchimo, made delicious food for us every day, which was carried to us on the heads of a line of little kids. We got to sit in the brand new classroom, because the headmaster was very generous. Most importantly, the women came, they participated, they asked questions and talked, and they seem like they got a lot out of it. And that is dreamy, so I am very pleased and proud. In the last few weeks, I've overheard them talking about what they learned and explaining things to other women. My faith in these women just continues to grow.


Merry said...

How Beautiful!! You must be feeling VERY smug about all that you have accomplished in such a short time. And what respect they have for you!!
I've been meaning to ask you about the village school. How big is it? How many teachers? Have you been asked to teach any English?
Good work, young lady!

Chrystal said...

I really enjoyed reading about the progress with the grain bank. It seems like everyone involved is learning a lot, which is always the goal, right? Also, Jessica telling little boys to run after older women is just funny.