Echidna Media Organization project S.N.A.L. (emo_snal) wrote,
Echidna Media Organization project S.N.A.L.

In the Field -- Part II

July 7th, Monday - Day Six: We finally had a new generator, so even though we were going out into the field I left my computer and phones plugged in and left the generator running, to be turned off by others when everything was charged. Once we'd gotten that sorted out we accompanied the president of the national beekeeping federation an hour south to his home village. There the beehives were kept in a veritable jungle, which was fun. I've always had an affinity for jungles, possibly because the very earliest thing in life I can remember is being in the jungles of Brazil.

   I noticed something along the way. One of the beekeepers in San Pirii has a green "SMHS CHEER" jacket. Another had a shirt ostensibly advertising a 5k in Scantron, Pennsylvania, but being as it also had among the list of causes "celebrity rabies" I suspect it may have something to do with the show The Office. This fellow at a shop along the way had a shirt emblazoned with "Alabama State Youth Beef EXPO 2009" ... another had a shirt for some American church, and odds are the guy was Muslim. Clearly the Salvation Army or someone is exporting thrift store shirts here, which is all well and good, fantastic really, but it results in people in Africa randomly looking like hipsters!

   I also got my first inkling this day that the country's previous dalliance with socialism may have left lasting impressions. People were talking about the beekeeping federation itself as the entrepreneurial unit. "Strengthening the co-ops" to solve all their problems. That's all well and good, but the individual beekeepers are the ones trying to earn a profit here, they're the only self-motivated unit. The Federation and cooperatives must be able to support them, and the Federation should buy and sell honey to that end, but I think its a backwards idea to think the whole thing will maintain momentum from the top down.
   I showed them pictures of the very good honey processing plant in Ethiopia, saying, "this is in Ethiopia, Ethiopia is not rich, there's no reason you can't do that here" and the President responded that "well they have very organized coops there!"

   Returning home I found that because I had left my computer on, it had charged up to 100% and then charged down all the way to 0%. So I had lost what charge I'd started the day with.

   This should have been in last week's update perhaps because it applies to every day, but here it is: they had put me in a house with a "western style toilet" -- but without running water it won't self-refill. You really learn to appreciate how much water it takes to flush a toilet when you have to fill the bowl by hand each time.

July 8th, Tuesday - Day Seven: When they told me there was another village they wanted to visit that was 3 kilometers away by forest path or 30 km around by road, I eagerly noted that I'd like to walk there. A parade of us beekeepers trooped in single file through the beautiful forest, among tall ferns and past cute huts. Most of the beekeepers carried some kind of load atop their head, from bee suits to boots and gloves. Two motorcycles took the roundabout way to meet up with us, and Bara was on one of those. I felt bad for the beekeepers doing all this walking and apparently not even allowed to drink water during the day during ramadan.
   Arrived in the village of Sala. Of course by then it was time to pray. Then we headed out to the beehives. Here many were placed directly on the ground, which is undesirable (bees don't like it and its easier for pests to get in). We split into two groups and also made more of an effort than usual to make sure than new people were actually going through the hives, not the same people over and over again (its hard for me to monitor this because (a) at first I'm overhwlemed by all the new faces and mostly (b) everyone looks the same in a bee suit!). When the groups reconvened some women from the other group who had been kind of the the periphery on previous days proudly announced they had worked the bees without gloves. Excellent.

   After this someone announced there was a traditional hive nearby ready to harvest and would I like to see them harvest it? Which I of course said I would so we tromped a few hundred yards to where it was. This was the wicker basket style hive, located low in a small tree. They smoked the bajeezes out of it and then started tearing it open. It clearly had been going for awhile, had old brood and old hatched out swarm cells. They tossed the brood into the bushes, collected the honey, and then put a topbar hive in its place in hopes all the displaced bees would occupy it.

   Then we returned to the village and it was time to pray again. And someone had made me a big salad for lunch (which mostly consists of things visitors such as myself aren't supposed to eat, since all the fruits and vegetables are washed in local water), and placed it for me, along with a big cup of water from their bore hole, in a bare dark room in a house.

   Then it was time to return. Bara insisted I ride the moto on the way back and I went along with it to see a different set of scenery. It consisted of kind of quiet sleepy backroads with more villages and open space.

   We'd been vaguely following the World Cup in the afternoons via radio, and this day there was the much anticipated Brazil - Germany game. Bara announced that someone in our village had a tv and would be hooking up a generator tonight to watch the game, and of course everyone was invited. So after evening prayers we ventured down to the house in question, where just about every young person in the village was crowded on the floors and couches. They made room for us on one of the couches and little Mamadou de Boba soon found me and occupied the arm of my couch, though by the end of the game he was asleep there.
   We were apparently getting the game via some Congolese station and during the breaks when they went to their "news room" it looked super campy -- bad lighting, announcer clearly reading off of index cards in his hand, no visual effects whatsoever.
   The game itself was somewhat painful to watch as a Brazilian.. Brazil got utterly trounced, Germany made it look easy. I guess some of Brazil's key players were out with injuries?

July 9th, Wednesday - Day Eight: Suddenly its almost over! How did the end sneak up on me? Training was interrupted this day by rain so heavy that inside the building we couldn't hear eachother speak and had to wait for it to die down a little.
   We finally had a dependable generator (on day eight!). This is what happens in Africa when you run a generator:

   But I was finally able to do some slideshow-assisted presentations.

   In the afternoon I went out around the village with Mamadou de Boba and another lad who appeared around 9 or 10 maybe. We set out excavating a termite mound again, this time having an easier time since the dirt was soft from the rain ... but a local woman came and appeared to be harshly criticizing our activities in the local language so we beat a retreat.
   The older boy led us to a place by the river where there was a bare muddy slope and of course you could take a bucket of water and pour it at the top and watch as it flows down in various channels -- what young boy isn't amused by that?? And very interestingly when you pour water in the right place at the top there seem to be small underground tunnels from which the water spouts out lower down the slope. Neat!
   So this was fun and we did this for awhile, I tried not to get too muddy but at once point I slipped on the muddy slope and fell down. Upon returning to the house I was staying in I was slightly mortified to find the beekeeping federation president and his wife, apparently on a sort of formal visit, sitting inside with Bara, all dressed nice and here I am coming in all muddy. So I don't think I quite got off on the right foot with the presidents wife. She almost got in the car without shaking my hand and say goodbye, but then again they frequently neglect to introduce their wives or daughters here so it could have just been that she didn't anticipate being accorded a goodbye. Things were compounded further when she made a dinner for me/us that night but the memo that I don't eat fish didn't get to her until this fish was well under production.

   That night we once again all got together at the house with the TV to watch the Netherlands-Argentina game. I don't remember the score but most of the room seemed to be rooting for Argentina. I was rooting for Netherlands since Argentina is a big rival to Brazil, so once again my team lost.

   Later that night while Bara and I stood looking at the moon and commenting on whether or not it was full tonight or tomorrow, I realized that I'd been a lot more aware of the phase of the moon lately. Ask me on any given day in California what phase the moon is at and I probably couldn't tell you, but without electricity and sitting outside late every evening, one is very acutely aware of its progress.
   Additionally of course Bara would often remark on it as an indicator of how far along Ramadan was, since it goes from one moonless night to another and the full moon marked the middle.

July 10th, Thursday - Day Nine: Second-to-last day on site. We made candles, which, we were very successful with using both a papaya stalk and a piece of metal pipe as a mold (I didn't think the latter would work, I still don't know how they got the formed candle out), though unfortunately the string they selected for wick was plasticky and would just melt away immediately without holding a flame. (Interesting fact: solid wax doesn't burn. Only vaporized wax does. The way a candle works is that the heat from the wick is constantly vaporizing wax which then gets sucked up the wick to burn.)
   I don't really have business development presentation prepared but Bara remembered all the buzzwords from previous business development volunteers so he gave them a business presentation. From what I was overhearing though I was a bit concerned he was telling the small beekeepers to due market assements and business plans, which is all well and good for a big enterprise but the villager with three hives just isn't going to do it. It gave me some good ideas about how to do some business development stuff on future projects perhaps, though it wasn't until the last five minutes of this project that I really grasped the problem..

July 11th, Friday - Day Ten: Last day on site. We were going to make an aloe lotion this day, and I had explained everything involved to Bara and wasn't expecting any shenanigans... but next thing I know he has them well in the process of making soap. I knew he was enamored of this soap making idea, he'd brought it up a number of times on the previous two days, and I had always said yes but it involves many ingrediants and most importantly has to compete against easily available cheap soap, so I really don't think they'd be able to sell it. I guess this is where the market assessment does come in, and next time I think I'll have my group of beekeepers add up the costs of making soap and decide for themselves if it would be a viable product as an exercise. Meanwhile even though people had brought aloe vera leaves and Bara had been extolling at length their medicinal value, we never got around to making this simple three ingrediant product which would probably sell.

   As I mentioned, it was only in literally the last five minutes that the depths of their business planning problems became apparent. We were going over my recommendations, and one of the major ones as mentioned was that FAPI, the federation, should buy up honey from the individual beekeepers and sell it on the bulk market for the higher international prices. To this the president aid "no we need to strengthen the coops," to which I was like "wait what? what does that even mean??" and he said that they can't do it because all the beekeepers currently sell their honey individually. So I very very quickly went through how they should contact food packaging and processing companies and see how much honey they'd buy and at what rate, and with these numbers write a business plan, and with this get a loan from a bank to buy the honey from the beekeepers and possibly improve their facilities for processing it, and then they'll be able to buy honey from the beekeepers at a higher rate then they're currently selling it so of course they'll sell it to the Federation. "Strengthening the coops" is all well and good but has pretty much nothing to do with this. It seemed to me "strengthening the coops" was being used like some magical metaphysical cure-all which would somehow solve all the problems and once they were sufficiently strong the honey would all just start moving of its own volition. But this was like a five minute crash course so next time I'm definitely going to make sure to walk them through this process at a pace more likely to be absorbed.

   Anyway after we hurried through the things we needed to do his day, there were some vigorous rounds of photo taking and then after they prayed and I ate lunch, we were off! The Winrock landcruiser had come up that morning, so Bara and I piled in and were off. The End!

   The two day journey back to Conakry and my subsequent adventures in the land of the plague ebola will have to wait for another entry Hint: I get sick! O:

Tags: agdev, guinea, guinea 2014, travelogues, travels

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