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I leave my house for work and get called over by two village women awaiting their chance to do business with the chief. The first smiles...

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Achaar Project

Wednesday morning dawned warm and sunny, like so many days this summer in Lesotho. By ten, when I left for town, the sun was sweltering as I hid beneath my umbrella despite the stiff breeze threatening to take it from me. 

'M'e 'Matukelo holds MCCC's starter funds with great
enthusiasm as we prepare to buy our initial supplies!
After running a few errands and getting lunch with two fellow PCVs, it was time and I was nervous as all get out. I left my friends and walked down to one of the shops. 

Despite my anxiety, I smiled brightly at the seven women from MCCC that were already gathered. They had found a shady spot to congregate and were awaiting their peers, me, and our training. 

In only a few months I had learned about and organized this training opportunity for us. My contact, a doctor from South Africa, was nice enough to donate the training to us as MCCC would be raising money to help orphans and vulnerable children. 

'M'e' Malira teaches MCCC how to prepare and sell the achaar.
As the remaining women arrived, I checked with the shop owner, breathing a sigh of relief when I learned the trainer was already present although not all the necessary supplies had arrived yet. He assured me they were en route. 

Soon everyone arrived and our trainer, 'M'e 'Malira (Mah-deer-ah), said we could start without the remaining supplies.

The one-hour training turned into three. As we wound down, the women of MCCC all expressed their excitement for the project. We bought the supplies with the starter funds they had pooled and made plans to meet on Monday to make our first batch of achaar. 

Bo-'M'e are some of the best students I know!

'M'e 'Malira and 'M'e Jane explain the details of purchasing
the supplies needed. 

The women cut the pickled
mango into smaller pieces.
Monday, the women and I gathered to get started making our achaar; excited to be able to start selling in time for the Festive Season.

What seemed like it would be simple and quick during our training took significantly more time than I imagined. This is partially because we discussed every single step as if we had not been in the training together less than a week ago. Another contributing factor would be that older women have a lifetime of developing strong opinions, which we had to discuss heavily before making any decisions. Should we add garlic to all of the achaar or only to some? How small does the pickled mango need to be cut? What will our pricing for our product be?

This last one created conversation for over twenty four hours! On Monday, we called it a day after five, having not stopped to eat lunch-just have a snack of bread and juice after four. The last hour was spent in heated debate about pricing, during which time I was reminded of just how important the business skills training I am trying to schedule will be to our financial success as an organization. Many of the women were more concerned with making sure impoverished members of the community could afford our product than covering the costs of making the achaar. Finally, we tabled the discussion as we needed to reconvene the next day with more oil and more containers to finish packaging.

Mmmh, spices!
On Tuesday morning, six of us met at my supervisor’s home before going to the community building. We determined the number of containers needed and sent one of the women to town for the necessary supplies. The rest of us gathered at the hall, where we sat and chatted…and waited…and waited. This marked one of two times I have seen Basotho exhibit any outward signs of impatience when waiting. Most people would not have noticed it at all, but having worked with them for a year and a half, I could tell their loud interest in every passing vehicle, interest which grew in volume as time passed, was not simply a desire to know who was going by but if ‘M’e Matukelo had returned from town yet.

Finally, as we were beginning to give up on finishing that day, around half past four, the containers and oil arrived. We quickly cleaned them and packaged the remaining achaar.

Then, we again broached the topic of pricing. This time, I came armed with numbers and a marker for our easel. I managed, in Sesotho with minimal help from my counterpart, to explain the prices I would like to see and what that would yield as a profit. We then discussed the pricing of each of the four container sizes we had and what our bottom line would be. In the end, we settled somewhere in the middle between the prices my contact recommended and the prices the women originally wanted.

Here is our finished product, ready for sale.
Unfamiliar with papa? Check out this blog.
It took a bit longer for everyone to write down the number of containers each of the four participating villages was taking and how much money they were responsible for. Finally, at half past 6, we wished each other a Merry Christmas and headed home as the sun sank below the hills to our west.
The villagers I spoke with on my way home all asked about buying the achaar. They were disappointed to learn that only the women are selling so I did not have any to share with them. In my village at least, I suspect the 29 containers the women are selling will disappear before the weekend.

It is still too early to know how viable our market will be, especially after the Festive Season concludes, however, the anxiety I felt last week as I prepared for our training was clearly unnecessary, which is a great relief! 

1 comment:

Michelle Chang said...

Hey Beth. You have a great blog here! My name is Michelle, and I was one of the PC Blog It Home contest winners a couple years ago. I’d like to invite you to a six-week Blog Challenge I'm hosting to help PCVs “level up” their Third Goal blogs in the New Year. This is “phase one" for an online project I’m working on with the aim of helping bloggers to promote cross-cultural understanding. I'd be honored if you would visit my new site: http://BloggingAbroad.org, watch the video (or read the transcript if loading videos is a challenge), and sign up to join the adventure in blogging. Take care and happy blogging! Michelle