Sunday, December 16, 2012

Shea Butter Tubs

Shea butter (kare in Pulaar and karité in French) is an extremely popular product here in Senegal. people use it as a lip balm and a body moisturizer and they also cook with it. The struck me as odd but then I tried it, on rice, and it had lovely smooth texture and a warm, nutty taste. It's much better than the soapy, waxy flavor of the bright red-orange palm oil that's also so popular around here. 

Making shea butter is astoundingly hard work. (I've been taking photos of the process and one of these days I'll get around to posting them.) The shea nuts have to be gathered, dried, shelled, pounded, ground, soaked, strained, boiled, re-strained, melted down, and poured into containers. In our area the women's groups often get together to make and sell shea butter. Usually they just pour it into old water bottles or whatever containers happen to be on hand, and a half-liter goes for around 1,000 CFA, or about $2.00 USD. (If you go to L'Occitane and buy a tub of shea butter in the U.S. it will be crazy expensive in comparison, but a reliable source tells me you can get it on Amazon for a very reasonable price.)
Mariama and the Tubs
Awhile back my host mom Mariama went to a training, funded by an NGO, that went over best practices and hygienic processing and packaging methods. They made simple but nice little labels and brought white plastic tubs in liter and half-liter sizes. Mariama bought a big stack of tubs, filled them with shea butter, and is now selling them at a slight mark-up. At some point someone from the NGO will come back and buy up all the shea butter-filled tubs and bring them to Dakar to be sold for a higher price at the markets up there.  

Mariama and Adama and the Tubs
Mariama's really proud of the little white tubs and of how professional and clean they look all stacked up and told me to go get my camera to take a picture of the ones she'd filled so far. I bought a couple, a few other PCVs said they'd like to buy a few more, and before I knew it I had a small shipment of shea tubs to haul in to the Regional House. My host mom was super pleased, we were all impressed with how nicely the shea butter was packaged, and Mankaba, Mariama's youngest son, was just happy that we had the camera out and were taking pictures of things.
"Adama Adama Adama let me take a picture!"
(He took a bunch of photos but they pretty
much all looked like this.)

"Ok that's enough of that, Mankaba. Give it back."

I was glad to be able to show my support for Mariama (she is one of the hardest-working people I've ever met) and also happy to have a reason to stock up on shea butter, since winter (or what passes for it here) is upon us now and my lips were getting dry and chapped. Everybody wins. 

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