Poverty And Banks Without Money.

On my short walk to the bakery for fresh baguettes this morning, I had a lot to think about.  The air has had a thick gray cast for the last week. The dust from the Sahara is falling on us during Harmatan. Looking up the street, one sees the foggy haze over everything, as the early morning sun tries to peek through for the day. We gladly accept the dust, because it brings the cooler nights that we look forward to this time of year in Mali.

As I walk, I wonder how on earth they can make a foot-long French baguette for 75 cfa (20 cents). I know the price is regulated by the government because of poverty, and I am certain the price is subsidized, but I am unaware of the mechanism how.  Probably the sacks of flour are sold to bakeries at a cheaper rate.

I was thinking about how a Canadian fishing boy, accustomed to snow, cold, and working on water, ends up in Mali? The country that claims the hottest inhabited city on earth, sees half the country in the Sahara desert, with an incredible nine months of drought?

I was also thinking about how my life would change without banking, since the banks are running out of money in Sikasso right now.  Have you ever considered what would happen if banks simply had no money to give to us? What would we do? We take the economic system we have for granted. We have no idea how fragile our economic, transport, and food security system is. If it collapsed, (war, natural disaster, terrorism, fuel shortage, economic or bank collapse) within days we would be in a fight for survival. Especially in winter. Japan and the Philippines know all about it.

World food production is not the issue (We produce more than enough food for humanity), transporting food to where it needs to be, in a crisis, is always the issue. You can have all the money in the world, but if the bank or fuel supply stops, transportation stops. The shelves are empty. Take everything out  of our cupboard and local stores, read the labels, and note things NOT locally made, say within 100 miles. What would we have left to eat?

Banks were running low on money here in Sikasso, and have been for days. It began a few days before Christmas.  A double header of sorts; end of the month payday, combined with Christmas (not so much) and  New Year (everyone) celebrations.  Every bank is surrounded by hundreds of motos, the automatic teller machines have waiting lines, or no one at all since the machines have been empty for four days now. I tried three automatic tellers a few days ago, and they were acting so weird that I was afraid the system was taking money out of our MOPD account, though nothing  was coming out of the instant tellers. So I flagged the bank trips, and  noted the date to the Man of Peace Development accountant. Just received an email back, and it looks like several machines showed a withdrawal from machines that never actually did a thing for me, other than spit my card back out after putting in my pin and the amount of the withdrawal. No receipt, no money counting sounds, nothing.  Sigh…… it will be months for them to get that worked out, if they can at all. Glad that is not my job.

In Zimbabwe, banks ran out of cash for Christmas. Riot police were sent out to keep people calm.  Imagine tens of thousands of people not able to make the trip to their village family to celebrate  Christmas and the New Year celebrations.

The local Sikasso market is swelling with shoppers splurging for the New Year celebration meals, and some packaged products are rapidly disappearing from the market. Live Chickens are being sold all over the place, people are walking the streets with them. Beef will be sold by the tons in the market today (Dec31) and tomorrow morning, for the new year. It is not safe to drive the motorcycle today; in the 300 meters between my house and the street light (We have one in the city) I nearly got hit three times, and I was driving slow.

In two weeks, all will be back to normal again.

Yesterday, the music/video cubicle across the street woke my wife up at 6:30 am (I was up at 4:30). The guy must have gotten new speakers or something and wanted to try them out. He was  BLASTING music at that hour, and this was unusual.

However, that is the only thing I do not like about our location. I sometimes have to shut the office window when I am working because he is playing movies , or simply some hideously bad music that grates on your nerves.  (Read-  Malian Desert Guitar Rhythms Versus Street Disco in Sikasso)

I was in the bush doing some follow up work, and the first drought season sprouts are appearing in the parched Malian soil on 80% less water. Gravity feed drip irrigation is amazing, and economical (just as long as you remain at gravity feed size – resist the urge to set up pumps to make a big flashy setup). It is wonderful to see vegetables sprouting on little water in drought conditions. Drip irrigation saves much time and work too. 

We introduced total ground cover to the drip irrigation gardening concept this year. This protects the healthy microbes from the sun and revitalizes the soil quickly. In one community garden we put ground cover on half of the garden. The women see the difference already. The beans they planted a little over a week ago have sprouted, and the plants on the side with the ground cover are  1/3 larger than the uncovered side. You guessed it, they are placing ground cover over the rest of the garden over the next few days. I will return to do that inspection by the weekend. 

Lynn and I had to go to the market to purchase more irrigation buckets and a huge 200 L barrel for making the organic compost tea (simple, effective, free fertilizer). Lynn prepared the irrigation kits, and I drilled the buckets. We have to have another fifteen drip kits ready for Friday, as we have a new village coming online. We already delivered the supplies for twelve new families forming a third community garden in an existing village project. By Saturday, we should have in a whopping thirty six drip irrigated gardens set up, touching about 350 people total.

The good news is that the ladies we trained last year are doing the training for the third group in their own village , and the women  in new village too. We are simply observing the setup and training. We always have things we have to gently tweak , but the women are doing great.

I have some news on my Motorcycle papers. If you recall;  I’ve Had A Fake Registration Card For Three Years: More On The Motorcycle License Plate Issues. I told you here that,  Proper Legal Registration Is In The Works. And that I got off the hook with my fake papers here, Malian Motorcycle Papers Saga Continues – My First Police Stop Inspection.  Anyway, I was driving by Mr Ballo’s sales shop and he waved me down. He needed yet again a copy of my original motorcycle papers from 2011, and he said there only remains a “little bit” to do. My legitimate registration papers are almost complete. I cannot tell you how relieved this will make me feel.

Also, a follow up with Abou:  Scoundrels And Crooks Robbing The Poor In Mali – Bank Thieves . Abou was able to retrieve all his payment receipts from the agriculture project he is part of. He took them to the new bank manager to prove his payments were made. The manager called the former bank manager to ask what happened. He acknowledged that the payments were made, but Abou’s files were, “Done by hand and not yet registered in the computer”. What, after three years? Why did the tellers not say a word to affirm his honesty?  I think we both know what they were trying to do. I was skeptical that Abou would get this bank problem resolved to easily… It could have been disastrous for him.  I am so happy for him, and relieved he is not going to prison. I certainly did not want to have to visit him there.

Wonder if the bank manager will ever be chastised for poor (shady) procedures?

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