Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Serious Town Meeting

I had my third wat/san committee meeting today. It was definitely the most substantial, but at the same time I also found it to be full of oddities. On paper an American would think the first and second meeting to be highly productive and meaningful (and they were, somewhat). But in a Malian village context, meeting number three has been the real "fish head in the bowl of peanut sauce" so to speak. Here's what I mean:

Meeting 1: About 50 people show up including the village chief, the council of elders, the imam, several men and women from each section of the village, and even a few folks from another community down the road. We talked about what the new committee would do and discussed the need for a list of names of people from every "quartier" to serve officially on the committee. Pretty nice right? Big turnout. Made some progress for a first meeting... on paper.

Meeting 2: About 1/4 of the people named to serve on the committee show up. Not a big deal as I understand it is farming time and people have work to do. A bunch of others show up though. We discuss changing out meeting venue to a different location to help facilitate future training sessions. We also go over how to treat drinking water with bleach and get a little distracted about pump problems, which was a topic scheduled for the following week.

Meeting 3: By far the lowest turnout of all the meetings. Maybe 15 people total. We were at out new venue, an adult training center build by the regional agriculture extension agency, which is hardly ever used. It's a one room school house complete with a chalk board and desks! And no one bothered to tell me about this virtually unused resource until about two weeks ago!

When I arrived to set up for the meeting I find that a team of laborers was using the building as their sleeping quarters while they were building a kindergarten & playground next door.

Aside: I'm a bit flabbergasted. I live in a village in the po-dunk middle of nowhere. The main form of transportation is ox cart. Several dozen kids a year die from easily preventable diseases such as diarrhea. Milk is a luxury. There is no running water or electricity. Despite the presence of a school most residents can't read... yet some NGO has decided that what the village really needs is a playground. Seriously?

We gently moved the workers things to the side and clean the place up for the meeting. We wait for about 30 minutes for everyone to show up. Then, suddenly my counterpart gets up and actually starts leading the meeting. Usually when it comes to this sort of thing he wants me, the guy who no one can understand, to lead. But no, he takes charge and we actually got things accomplished, albeit nothing I had scheduled for the day. The meeting went something like this:

"Alright. It's our third meeting. We're having trouble getting people to show up, we haven't picked officers or assigned committee jobs to anyone yet and we're not going to get anywhere if we keep having meetings and just wait for the day when everyone finally decides to show up."

"So. Who's gonna be president? How about you Bakoray? Everyone okay with Bakoray being president?" (Quiet mumbling) (Sure.) "Okay. Bakoray is president. Now who's gonna be vice president. They'll be in charge if Bakoray can't be here... and it has to be a woman. Anyone opposed to Mbai being VP?" (Quiet mumbling) (Sure) "Okay. Mbai is VP."

And so it went.
Secretary - person who writes things down
Treasurers - people who count the money
Town Criers - the person who makes talk
Auditors/Fee Collectors - people who test the treasurers
Pump Monitors - people who guard the pumps

When it came time to pick the pump monitors we first put forth names and then someone suggested that these people should be folks that actually use the pumps regularly. So then we went back and edited our list.Then we talked about what the monitors would do to protect the pumps. Things to look out for included:
-Kids trying to see how hard they can slam the pump lever
-People washing clothes or dishes at the pump (Don't wash your dirty laundry in public they cried)
- People bathing at the pumps (Again, keep your dirt at home people!)

(And yes, I see all of these often)

At this point the meeting had gone for an hour and a half and it was about lunch time. We dismissed for the week with the homework assignment of getting those who were absent to show up next time. I say meeting number 3 was the best because we actually got something meaningful accomplished. It was led by a local in a local context, and done in a way that everyone understood what their job was.

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