Saturday, August 11, 2012

Post Peace Corps - First leg of West Africa trip

My village held an amazing going away ceremony for me. Probably two hundred people showed up. They bought me a beautiful outfit of the (expensive) traditional pagne to wear plus several other gifts. It was sad to leave; I broke a little during my speech, but overall it feels great to be done. I'm traveling West Africa for the next five weeks. My boyfriend and I are traveling through Ghana, Cote d'Ivoire, Guinea, Senegal, and Cape Verde. We're currently in Cote d'Ivoire. Ghana was amazing; much more developed than Togo and people speak English, so that's nice. We still have a hard time communicating, though, because it's often more like pigeon English. We stayed in Accra before heading on to Cape Coast, which is beautiful. We tasted local beer and liquor and had some unforgettable seafood. After that, off to Akwida Beach where we stayed at a beach resort. It was cold the whole time, but we got to do some great hiking through a few nearby fishing villages and play soccer with some local kids. At the next stop, Axim, we stayed in an awesome beach resort with hot water and a breathtaking view. Still cold, so we hiked over the rocky shore and drank cocktails on the deck. Paradise. Cote d'Ivoire. WAY more developed than Togo. Four lane highways (almost) pothole-free, skyscrapers, and a clean downtown area in Abidjan. However, the recent violence made Abidjan feel eerie and unwelcoming. All the street lights were busted, there were bars on all the windows, and even the Ivorians acted afraid of being mugged. I couldn't put my finger on it, but I didn't like it. We only stayed one day there before coming to Yamoussoukro, Cote d'Ivoire's capital. People here are wonderful, open, and helpful. We feel safe here, and people seem genuinely excited to have tourists! We toured the Basilique de Notre Dame de la Paix today and it was stunning. It felt weirdly out of place though - this magnificent Catholic basilica in the middle of West Africa. Keep you posted as we continue through...

Sunday, July 15, 2012

14 July 2012

Last night, I sat on my porch after dinner drinking hot citronella tea with green papaya – a welcome gift from my neighbors. The wind was blowing and lightning was lighting up the sky as an ominous thunderstorm rolled in. All of my basins and buckets were set out to catch water as it flowed off the roof. I was relieved I wouldn’t be pulling water up from the well the next day to replenish my water supply. As the rain started tapping the tin roof, I thought that I will really miss this life. I’ve been so busy trying to wrap up all of my projects, sell all of my stuff, take care of administrative stuff for Peace Corps, prepare for a 5 week trek around West Africa, not to mention say goodbye to everyone! I’m not sure when it’s going to hit me that my service is finished and my life in Togo is over. Maybe it will be when I leave village for the last time. Maybe it will be at my going away party. Maybe it will be today. With only 2 weeks left in Pagala, I’ve been able to reflect a lot on my Peace Corps service. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I’ve done it! I think I could probably do anything now. The Peace Corps marketing people put it best when they say, “It’s the hardest job you’ll ever love.” I will never, ever forget my experience here, the people that impacted my life, the obstacles I overcame, the determination I saw in people’s faces. I think the weirdest part for me is that my life is about to change dramatically, while my neighbors will still be living in the same house, still pulling up water every morning from the well, still doing laundry by hand, still living the exact same lives. Everyone’s lives will go on without me. And I’ll be living a life of luxury – throwing my clothes into the washing machine, cooking elaborate meals on a real stove, watching TV whenever I want. I will say that living without for two years better make me appreciate what I have in America. I was the one as COS conference who said I wasn’t at all nervous to go home. I knew I’d fall back into life easily. But the closer it gets, the more afraid I am of having a weird culture shock moment. Luckily, I know you guys won’t judge me for it! Another fear is that I’ll fall back into everything so easily, I’ll forget all about Togo, or at least forget the details. I’m definitely keeping myself busy up until I leave, and that helps. This week, I’m in a prefectural capital called Sotouboua working with two other volunteers to run a week-long camp-like experience called “Amenons Nos Filles Au Travail,” or Take Our Daughters to Work. We have 20 middle school girls coming from all over the Centrale region to learn about the importance of staying in school, planning for the future, etc. I help run the project last year and am looking forward to running it again this year. Last week, I was a counselor for Camp Joie (Camp Joy), a camp for handicapped Togolese children. It was incredible to see the girls go from being quiet and timid to being outgoing and confident. They were given a chance to share their stories, and their stories were so touching. These girls come from a culture where people encourage families to abandon or kill a handicapped child. Their stories were stories of pain but also of determination and perseverance and inspiration. BIG NEWS!!!!! I got an email from Peace Corps about an NGO called Africa’s Tomorrow that sponsors girls going to college in the US for 4 years. I had a girl from Pagala apply – she’s amazing. First in her class and still finds time to participate in extracurriculars, help her mother at the market, and work at the Pagala library. Anyway, SHE WON!!!!!!!!!!!! She is one of only 3 girls on the whole continent of Africa who won this scholarship. Now the real work begins. She has to take an English language exam, get her passport, a visa, and get into college. Africa’s Tomorrow works with a university called Berea College, so Alice is applying there. I been running around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to deal with all of the forms and essays and money. Anyway, you can help. Yes, you person reading this in America (or wherever). Africa’s Tomorrow will sponsor her tuition, school fees, books, housing, etc., but I need to help raise money to initial expenses like the English exam, passport, visa, plane flight, etc. To donate, or for more info click on any of the following links: To see the students and info on Africa’s Tomorrow: To donate to Alice: See the cause on facebook: Of course, all donations are tax deductible. Every little bit will help Alice get to college for fall 2013. She is such a deserving student and would never have this opportunity if it weren’t for your generous support. Thanks in advance for donating!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Getting ready TO GO

And to think I used to brag to people about how great I was about updating my blog! I’m only one month away from finishing my service! Since last posting, here’s a quick rundown: Safari in Benin: AWESOME! Saw lots of birds, antelope, buffalo, elephants, and even hyenas! Close of Service Conference: Made it to the end, so Peace Corps got us a nice hotel for a couple of nights and we talked about readjusting back to life in America, how to find jobs, etc. It was nice, but the best part was getting to hang out with all the awesome people from my training class. We came in as 28 and we’re leaving as 25. A pretty great success rate for PC Togo. Couch surfing: Hosted a girl in my village for 3 weeks who was a volunteer in Madagascar. We had fun drinking tchouk and palm wine, hanging out with village friends, and learning French. While she was here, I did a Men As Partners (MAP) training with 20 men from Pagala and all the awesome volunteers in my cluster. It was amazing to see the men’s attitudes change after only 3 days! They shared that they felt more ready to communicate with their wives, help around the house, and help raise their children. Highly successful project and a great way to end my service and my couch surfer’s visit! Regional MAP Training: In addition to the Pagala MAP, I did another MAP conference in Sokodé for husbands of the women from the Women’s Conference in March. The men weren’t quite as awesome as the women. They were pretty “villageois” and didn’t really like what we were telling them about treating women fairly. But overall, I think they really enjoyed the conference and got a lot out of it. Petit à petit. Camp Joie: A camp for handicapped children in Togo funded by you, friends and family from home. My boyfriend’s the national coordinator (and co-founder!). We had a training of trainers, and camp starts this week. Today in fact. But I’m stuck in Lomé with malaria. Malaria: Well, I got it. I lost 5 pounds in a week. I’ve been in the PC Medical Unit for 5 days, and can finally go home tomorrow. Malaria is miserable. To all PCVs reading this – just take your prophylaxis! Random ending note: Drivers in Togo put such weird bumper stickers on their cars. Example – Golden Child. It’s a little white baby in a diaper crawling, and under it, it says Golden Child. Why? Example 2 – STOP. Don’t Kiss Me. What does that even mean?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

24 April 2012

24 April 2012 It has been such a long time since I updated my blog! Sorry friends. I got back to Togo at the end of February and it’s been a whirlwind ever since. Coming back to Togo after being in the US was an extremely difficult adjustment for me. I did not come back ready to hit the ground running, but rather came back in a state of disbelief that I actually got myself back on the plane to West Africa. It took a while, but I’m happy to say I’m well adjusted and very happy to be back in Togo. I’m looking forward to finishing up my service and coming home in August. Now highlights of my time in Togo since I’ve been back: Women’s Wellness and Empowerment Conference (WWEC) in Sokodé. As a co-regional coordinator along with two other awesome girls, I got to watch one of the most memorable projects of my service unfold. We brought 18 women from the central region to a 3-day intensive training focusing on improving self esteem, physical and mental health, financial independence, and food security. The hotel, Hotel Central, is an extremely nice (by Togo standards) hotel where the women were treated to hot showers, air conditioners, and TV. Most of the women didn’t even know how to turn on the TV, much less change the channels and volume! It was truly the experience of a lifetime for these 18 wonderful women. We had delicious meals and the women bragged about getting fat. (This is a good thing in Togo!) Despite small problems, like women bringing their kids and complaining that they wanted their normal village meal of corn mush, the conference was a huge success! Things that stand out to me: Doing yoga each morning on the tennis court. A “beauty night” where we set up stations for the women to get facials, manicures, and pedicures. The candlelight ceremony the last night when the women spoke about their experiences throughout WWEC. One woman cried, another said that she never know black people and white people could live together and eat together at the same table, and every one said they couldn’t wait to get back to village and share everything they learned with the other women “chez elle.” Seeing the women leave, singing, laughing, hugging; it was obvious that there was a tangible difference in their lives. It was more than just the sessions we presented. We touched their lives because we formed a community, a bond of sisterhood. All of the women from Pagala came back ready to work! They already taught their Mother’s Club about stress and how to cope with it. That’s the first in a series they want to do on self-confidence, women’s rights, and others. Two of the women work with an afterschool girls club where they want to introduce yoga. But it’s not just the work I see. I see their faces light up when we see each other in village. They give me hugs and I feel like, not only have they changed, but they have changed me. I moved into a new house. I am SO much happier! I feel much safer in the new house. I’m in a compound with several families. Lots of kids and even more mangoes! There’s a giant mango tree in the yard with hundreds of mangoes ripening in warm sun. However, I learned that I can’t eat them because I have an allergic reaction to them! My face broke out in a rash, luckily it wasn’t too obvious and it healed quickly. Anyway, I totally love my neighbors and I’m a lot closer to everything I need in village. I now have 13 Village Saving and Loans Associations (VSLAs)! We have over 250 people in the groups saving each week and taking loans monthly. We expect to save over 15 million CFA combined this year, which is $30,000. Not bad for a bunch of villagers in Africa, huh? Tomorrow, I’m heading to Benin with my boyfriend to go on a safari! We’re so excited to finally get to see some wild animals in Africa. Two weeks from today is my official completion of service (COS) conference. It’s going to be held at a nice beach resort near Lome. Our administration’s way of saying thank you for two long years of service in Togo. After that, I plan on officially “COS-ing” at the end of July. It’s only 3 months away!

Friday, February 10, 2012

A few minor changes...

I landed in Dulles Airport in Washington DC on Wednesday, after over 24 hours of traveling and heard the greatest words: "Welcome back to the United States."

A few things I've noticed:
1. It's so clean! There is no trash anywhere and there are trashcans everywhere.
2. There are so many cars.
3. Everyone speaks English! It's a beautiful thing.
4. There is SO much water in the toilet bowl.
5. They clean your room and give you fresh, soft towels every day in hotels. I'm in heaven.
6. People love to talk about the GOP race.
7. Everyone is in a hurry.
8. Food is everywhere.
9. Washington DC is itching for springtime while I'm enjoying a lovely break from the heat.
10. Everything is electronic. Yesterday, a girl at GAP asked if I wanted by receipt emailed to me or printed. Seriously?

I feel really weird not having a phone. I'm also still on Togo time, so I keep waking up at 3 o'clock in the morning ready to start my day. I love this country!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Forgot to post the link below!

Link to the Women's Conference:

14 January 2012

The school strikes are still going strong. Teachers are refusing to go to school until the government meets their demands. Their demand being to get paid fairly. Unfortunately, the corruption in this country is overwhelmingly prevalent, and many people think that the strike isn’t going to work.

In other Togo news, the price of gas in Nigeria went up and the Togolese black market gas vendors buy all of their gas from Benin, who buys from Nigeria. So, Togo gas went from being 500F (about $1) per liter to 1200F (about $2.50) per liter over the course of a week. Needless to say, there are gas shortages everywhere, the price to travel by moto has doubled, and travel prices by car are changing every day. It’s a crazy (and expensive) time to be in Togo!

A few days ago, I was reading the book The Zanzibar Chest about a Reuters correspondent in East Africa in the 1990s. It was really sad reading about the famine in Somalia and the genocide in Rwanda. I thought of my Togolese brothers and sisters and imagine how heart-wrenching it would be if disaster stuck here. Anyway, I couldn’t stay in my house and be sad all day so I went on a walk and ran a few errands. I walked over a friend’s house who is a wood sculptor. He lives across the “street” from the village chief who recently passed away, and I noticed people gathering at the chief’s old gazebo. The artist friend told me they were having a traditional dance to honor the chief – the women from the nearby village of Adelé came to show their skills. We sat under the gazebo in the late afternoon and I watched the women dance like only Africans can. Some were dressed as men and I laughed as they imitated the men trying to dance with women and act cool. They brought out tons of locally brewed beer (tchouk) and gin (sodabe), and as the orange sun set over the distant mountains and the drums beat to an African rhythm and the women sang, danced, and kicked up dust, I thought that I could imagine no other life for myself than this.

It’s been tough to start a lot of projects in village knowing that I’ll be leaving for the whole month of February. Plus, I’ve been traveling to Sokode trying to deal with the Tribunal so that we can finally put to rest the investigation of the stolen money. I have to go again next week and I hope it will be the last time. I found a new house in Pagala. It’s next door to several families and I think I’ll feel much safer there than in my current isolated house. Peace Corps is coming up to look at the house next week and if everything goes well, I hope to move in when I get back from the US.

I’m really excited about the Women’s Conference coming up in March. We plan to give 20 women from the Centrale region a weekend that they’ll never forget. We’re putting them up in a nice hotel with hot showers and air conditioner, and doing things like yoga, meditation, aerobics, art, journaling, diversity activities, and other things that they’re going to think are totally off the wall! For most of the women, it will be their first time ever experiencing a nice hotel and fellowship with other women without the responsibilities of cooking, cleaning, and watching kids. I really think it’s going to change their lives. We’ll also we talking about self confidence, sex, menopause, financial independence, gardening, nutrition, etc. Check out the WWEC website HERE.

This morning on my way into Sokode on a moto, my moto driver stopped and asked me to get off the moto and walk a little bit. We were on a dirt path in the middle of nowhere. So I got off and he just drove away. I start walking. Fifteen minutes later, I finally see him and he’s with another moto driver. We said that I could take this guy since the original guy’s moto was broken. Togo! So, I hopped on this guy’s moto and we start trekking to Sokode when all of the sudden the moto driver started pointing at something and saying, “wow, look, look, look!” I saw two wild monkeys jump out of a tree and run across the road before jumping into the tree on the other side of the road. It’s the first time I’ve seen wild monkeys in Togo, although I’d heard that they exist. It was really cool.

Three more weeks until vacation!