Friday, September 22, 2006

If only I knew how to kill a chicken...

September 16, 2006 (I've been out of the office and internet-less for a while!)

Last week I went out into the field to visit our programs in the municipality of Cubal. Several of the villages in the municipality wrote micro-project proposals and received small amounts of money to fund their grants. The projects range from cattle (bulls, cows, goats) production and livestock raising, grain mills, school construction, and other community enhancing activities. Each community formed a Community Development Group and performed assessments (PRAs, for you SIPA/EPD people!) to determine which project the community needed the most. These micro-projects are part of our peace and reconstruction program- there was heavy fighting in and around Cubal and several of the displaced people are (or are in the process) of returning to their villages. These assessments were important because they were done not along political lines but through other grouping- by age, gender, profession, etc.

Anyway… several of the communities choose to buy grain mills as their community development project. Grains- manioc (yucca), corn and sorghum- form the base of Angolan food. They are finely ground down and used in making pastes, porridges, and other foods. In many small villages, women spend up to four days grounding out these flours by hand- it is back-breaking work, usually done on top of large rocks or in large mortar and pestles. Most families use up to 20 kilos a week- you can just imagine how strong these women are. In some fazendas (large farms) there will be a mill available for a fee of about 10 Kuanzas (US$0.01) per kilo, but they are far away from most villages and not worth the time to go out there. So as a solution, some of the communities have opted to buy generator-powered mills to free up time for the women- to dedicate to other chores, of course! (How thoughtful!)

The communities predict that the mills will bring money to dedicate to other projects- helping the elders of the community, buying cattle, etc. However, this is the first economic enterprise in many of these places, and much institutional knowledge was completely destroyed in the war. In other words, they really have no idea how to run a business. So when I sat down with all the projects when I first arrive, this project in particular was glad to see that I had experience working with microenterprises in Honduras. Although I didn’t bring any training materials with me, thanks to the glory of the internet and my memories of charlas up in the Opalaca Mountains, I cobbled together a basic accounting and business planning training to give to the three community organizers we hired to oversee these projects.

I needed to go out to one of the comunas (villages) that would be receiving a mill and speak to the people running it so I could get a better idea of what it was that they needed. From the Cubal office, we headed to Catapi, village of about 15 families. The “road” up there was terrible; I use the term “road” loosely, because it’s more like a wide footpath. Thank goodness for 4-wheel drive! We arrived at the village and it was clear that I was quite the attraction. Everyone in the village came over to sit with us under the tree (except the kids, who were in school; although the teacher came over too, so who knows who was supervising them). My coworkers introduced me in Umbumdu, the traditional language of the region, and one by one the people in the comuna introduced themselved to me, starting, of course, with the soba, the traditional, elected leader/person of honor (in the picture, the man in the green suit jacket). When my coworker said I was American everyone went, “ahhh!” and started to clap. The soba personally thanked me for all the hard work the U.S. government did to end the civil war in Angola and for all the help and money the government had given to Angola in its reconstruction efforts.

I asked my questions- I won’t bore you with the details, but basically they haven’t planned too much but are enthusiastic and have thought out *most* of what they should have, so I think they will be okay. If they can do the basic accounting, it will be a big challenge, but a good first step. I asked to see the structure they were building to house the mill. They were hard at work, and I asked to take a picture. Immediately everyone ran to be in the photo- I ended up taking around 4 because more and more people were running to be it. At the end, they once again applauded. There was a little girl, around a year and a half, who was absolutely terrified of her (in the picture, the baby is with her mother in the red-striped shirt). I would look at her and she would cry, as her mother shook me hand (with her tied to her back), the baby swat at me. I thought it was a curious baby swat so I took her hand and smiled, and she started screaming bloody murder. I am very scary. As we were leaving, the soba tried to give me a live hen as a sign of thanks- I had to decline it, if nothing else only because I don’t know how to slaughter it. I wowed them with my “twapandulo” the one word in Umbundu I know (“thank you”). It was a great visit- helpful, exciting and full of new experiences.

The training went well- they said it was good and that it would help the communities. That’s all I can hope for. In all, the site visit was great, and made me feel professionally USEFUL, which is something I haven’t felt in a while!


Scottish Missy said...

Check your e-mail for lots of recipes!

sir_chancelot said...

If you think Angola is culture shock, try Canada! Ha, ha! I am here visiting Colette, my friend who I met in Japan (you remember?), and then going to Ottawa for a conference. Colette says Hi. I will email you later. I have a great lentil soup recipe.

Ana Luisa said...

Wow Leslie! That was quite an experience! And thanks for sending your fotos, what beautiful views of the ocean :)