As mentioned in an earlier post, I held a formation at my site on June 28 (see photos here) as a follow-up to our tech exchange/soap-making training in Kita.  The nine women who ventured out to Kita in mid-June served as the leaders of the formation in my village and were able to pass along quite a lot of information to the other women in attendance.

But, as with many things here, the formation did not go perfectly, and proved to be a really frustrating experience.

The rain is wonderful for the crops, not good for formations

The day before the training took place, I had intended to do preparatory errands, meet with the “Kita 9” and ensure that everything was in place for a successful formation.

Unfortunately, The “Kita 9” didn’t come to the planning meeting on time and were very anxious to leave and get back to market day shopping, selling and socializing.  After the meeting, I joined several of the women on a shopping spree to buy all of the materials needed for the formation, but our outing was cut short by the rain.  Without cars, proper stores and paved roads, rain can truly draw a day in market to a complete halt.

This led to a long list of errands to be run in advance of the formation starting at 9 am the next day.

Just because you are supposed to start at 9, doesn’t mean you will

As with nearly all of my meetings and formations in Mali, the start time of the formation wasn’t respected by the women.  Certainly, this disregard for the timing of events can’t be easily fixed – women have chores to do and they can’t do other things until they are finished; women have cell phones, but the batteries are often not charged, clocks not set, or the owner of the phone is innumerate; things come up.  Although there is laundry list of excuses for tardiness, I find it hard to believe that someone could think that at 11:30 am it is actually before 9 am.  Disrespect for time is a constant frustration for me here, and something that must change for Mali to become developed. That might seem extreme, but I believe it’s true – the developed countries of the world didn’t get that way with everyone coming to meetings 3 hours late!

We ended up starting the formation at nearly 11 am, and people joined the group throughout the day.  This was not the strong start I had hoped for.

Literacy can save time, curb frustration

None of the women that attended the formation in Kita are functionally literate, so I was tasked with writing notes and jogging the memories of the ladies.  For the most part, this was an effective – not perfect – temporary solution, until the women didn’t trust the soap-making process I recorded.

After nearly 40 minutes of back and forth, and calling the president of the shea association in Kita, we ended up making shea butter soap in the exact way that I had written it.  I’m not sure the cause of the disagreement, but I do know that if just one other women had the ability to write down the recipe, we would have saved 40 minutes and prevented a lot of frustration.

Even if you start late, you are expected to end on time

When the original formation ending time arrived (4 pm), the soap had not yet dried properly and wasn’t ready for cutting, but that didn’t stop the anxious women from cutting it anyway.  Despite my attempt to explain that it would make more sense for one person to take the soap and cut it after it was fully dry, they haphazardly started cutting the semi-soft soap, leaving imprints of their fingers, creating oddly shaped bars and molding the very soft soap into balls that are less valuable at market.

In the end, one person was tasked with taking all of the materials and soap with her until the next meeting.  I was perhaps the only person that saw absurdity of this situation.

Despite all of the frustrations, the women did learn something

Although my journal entry from June 28, 2011 will always be a reminder of the incredible frustrations of Peace Corps service, it will also remind me of the day of my first formation in village, which was a learning experience for both me and the women in the association. I had a valuable learning experience in formation planning and execution in a Malian context that will hopefully help my next formation go more smoothly.  Nearly 50 members of “Si Teriw” association learned about sound business principles, marketing and soap-making.

As they say, there is always a silver lining.