Saturday, May 22, 2010


So the cashew training happened, and since nobody in America has any idea what a cashew looks like, I’ve decided to take this opportunity for a little show and tell. Apologies, but my witty prose will be largely absent from this post.


It turns out that the delicious cashew nut that we know in America comes attached to a delicious fruit, which has a sweet, but mildly astringent taste. These fruits only last a couple days after they’re removed from the tree, which is why you can’t buy them in your local supermarket. The fruits pictured below are already beginning to go bad…


In our training, we learned how to press the juice from cashew fruits with the medieval-looking gizmo below. Once pressed, the juice can be boiled to a syrup, which if bottled correctly, can preserve for up to a year…


The nuts come attached to the top of the fruit, and are encased in an impossibly hard, mildly toxic shell. That’s why Malians, who have been living in close proximity to cashews for at least a century, aren’t familiar with the delicious nut that we have come to love in America. (Note: it didn’t occur to me until too late to take a picture of the fruit and the nut while attached – if you’re really interested, click here)…


To release that toxic business and soften the shell for cracking, the nuts are steamed in the contraption below. For those who are thinking this cooking setup is rather Flintstones-esque, you’re right. Almost all village-Malian kitchens look like this…


Cool the nuts and dry them in the sun, and then it’s time to get cracking. For the sake of a free shoutout, the gentleman pictured in the picture here is the president of the cooperative that brought this whole thing together, and a dear friend. He deserves credit for the making of cashews in Narena – and frankly a lot more than that (see previous post where I talk about him introducing the cucumber). Also - the white guy featured below is yours truly…


Some other steps follow – there’s a ‘skin’ inside the shell that has to be removed, and then the cashews are roasted, salted, packaged, etc. All of which leads to the beautiful sight featured below – roasted, salted, packaged cashews, ready for sale. I should note that within only a couple days of the training, all our cashews were sold-out. That puts money in peoples’ pockets, bodes well for the future of the project, and makes me a very happy business-development volunteer…


And here are the people who did it…

sheep update...

So it’s time to fess up – I didn’t want to tell you, but you're all grown-ups, so here goes… my sheep died.

We had bought her from someone who lives on the other side of town. Since her family is there, she would run off to spend her days with them, and we would go to pick her up in the evenings. After awhile, she started coming back on her own, and it never really bothered me that she didn’t want to hang out with me during the day. Besides, I have work to do, and there’s only so much entertainment to be gained from a sheep.

But her family lived on the other side of the street, and one day about six weeks ago as she was crossing to come home in the afternoon, she was hit by a moto. She made it home, but died that night, leaving us to care for her one-month old lamb.

Yes it was sad – especially to see her hurting in the last hours, and to hear the baby cry for a number of days with unmistakable emotion. She had become a part of the family, and shall be missed.


Not to minimize the loss, but some humorous moments followed.

A day after she died, it became clear that we were going to have to do something to keep the baby fed. At one month, he was not even close to weaning.

And so that morning I walked out of my house and into my family’s courtyard to the sound of a sheep screaming bloody murder. Host mom had ahold of its neck, host sister its back legs. They both looked at me with an embarrassed smile – like I had caught them, hands in the cookie jar. It took me a minute to figure out that they were not so much torturing this sheep as feeding the lamb.

So every day, we set millet chaff out for any four-legged passersby – of which there is no shortage in Narena. The cows, goats, and man-sheeps were quickly chased away. The woman-sheeps were allowed to stay for a moment, then cornered, then pinned.

Anyone who has ever kept animals can tell you that chasing them is potentially frustrating, but undeniably fun. The whole family got in on the act – partly because our lamb needed it, but mostly because it was hilarious to try to track down these passing sheep, grab and pin them so that the baby could eat. And success came quickly; with the whole family in on the act, the baby ate numerous times daily, and grew at a surprising rate.

We tried not to tell too many people – after all, this is not far removed from stealing. But after awhile it became impossible to hide what we were doing. Unfortunately, word also got out among the village sheep, and they stopped coming around.

But as luck would have it, by then the neighborhood kids had witnessed the thrill of feeding our orphaned lamb, and became more than willing participants – thus multiplying our forces, and increasing our coverage area tenfold.

We would sit around drinking tea, and occasionally an out-of-breath four year old would run into our courtyard, addressing my host-mom, “Sayon, we got one!” At which point Sayon would jump up, hurriedly grab the lamb, and run over to wherever the kids had pinned some poor, unsuspecting passerby.

The lamb, named Senidia, has mostly moved on to big-sheep food and powdered milk, and occasionally people-food and sheep’s-milk when he gets lucky. He now follows my host-mom to the morning market to buy vegetables, and is the darling of the neighborhood.

He is doing just fine, but it took a village.