Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The latest 6/30/2010

Two stagiares (trainees) have already left for the US. They were two really amazing volunteers, and I hope they both return. The first was “med-evac”ed due to a broken leg while playing soccer a couple of days ago, and the second left just today because his father passed away.

I remember looking at someone’s blog and seeing a picture of their training class (aka their “stage”) and the caption was “half of these people are already gone.” I remember thinking that Peace Corps must be really tough, but I am quickly learning that there are about 2.5 million reason people leave, and, most of time, it is out of their control.

My French is progressing. SLOWLY. I am able to have very basic conversations about my day even though my grammar needs lots of work. I can buy things at the marché (market) and possibly give directions. MELLO and fam, thank you so much for the French dictionary! I use it every single day and like it better than the one Peace Corps gave us for training.

I GOT MY SITE! I will be spending two years in a village called Pagala. I’ll be working with village savings and loans groups (VSLs) and youth – the two main things I wanted to do. Pagala is the site for in-service training (IST) and the site for the two main camps Peace Corps runs for youth each year. So I will constantly be around other PCVs. I get to visit my site in 2 weeks. I’ve talked to a couple of girls near me and they seem great. They are throwing me a party for post visit! One of them text me today (yes, we all text each other here!) and I am getting her cat for my house when she leaves! Sorry Koukla. I’m excited to have a little companion, but equally (or maybe more) excited that it will take care of creepy-crawly things in my house.

Our stage is planning on having a 4th of July celebration this weekend! We’re going to make lots of American food (ie. Guacamole and hot dogs), watch movies, drink beer, and maybe even set some stuff on fire. We are sleeping outside at our tech house and probably going to just use mosquito coils instead of trying to hang mosquito nets everywhere.

One of my friends mentioned to my host family that I like to cook, and they have been dying to try an American meal! We are pretty limited on ingredients here, but based on what we have here, I put together the following menu: bruschetta, spaghetti with homemade sauce, green beans, and mashed potatoes. There is so much fresh fruit so many, many potential desserts. There is always fresh mango, pineapple, banana, coconut, etc. It will be interesting to try cooking for the first time over these charcoal stoves with only 2 pots going at any given time. I’ll be sure to let you all know how it turns out.

I miss all of you back home!! So sorry for the infrequent updates. The last two times I went to the internet café, the network was down. It’s really annoying because it’s about a 30 minute walk from my house in the hot, hot heat! Call my cell anytime. I keep it off during class, so a good time to call is 12-2pm or after 5pm Togo time (so 8-10am or after 1pm east coast time). Mom has the number and will be happy to pass it along. I think if you call my cell from skype, it is only $.32/minute or something. Anyway, I’m thinking about you all and hope to hear from you soon!

Things You Should Know About Togo 6/23/10

Typical Day:

Wake up at 6am. Ok, ok 6:20. Get a bucket bath and eat breakfast. My friend, Elise, comes by at 7:10 and we walk to class. We have class from 7:30-12:30 and then walk home for lunch. It is traditional in Togo for the whole family to come home for lunch. Our classes are usually language, bike, or a “tech” session where we learn about enterprise development in Togo. From 2:30-4:30 more class (usually language). After that, we are free. Some days we go to the local bar for a cold beer (YES COLD!), some days we play Frisbee or soccer, and on Mondays and Fridays we can go to the market. The world cup is on, as you know, and watching it here in Africa is really exciting. People are so into it. When an African teams scores, you hear people cheering all over the city! My family has satellite TV so we have an incredibly clear picture of the games. When I get home around 6, I eat my dinner, take a bath, do lots of French homework, and go to bed! Pretty standard.

The Sights: the vegetation is lush; there are coconut trees, avocado trees, mango trees, etc. The ground is a red clay-like sand that makes my feet perpetually dirty. On my way to class, I walk down dusty roads (unless it rains; then the roads are muddy and flooded) with houses on either side with people selling bread or fish or just hanging out. It’s true – the women carry lots of stuff on their heads. I want to learn to do it as soon as possible. Our training house (the “tech house” or “salle tech”) is a compound fenced in with a giant stone wall and there is a guard there 24 hrs a day. Sometimes in class I get distracted by the colorful lizards running around because our classes are all outdoors in circular huts with straw roofs. There is a flush toilet in our tech house! I use it every chance I get. I have to be careful to watch for motos on my way to class. That seems to be the main mode of transportation here. No worries – if you are in their way, they will scare you to death by blowing their horn at you. People pee everywhere. I pretty much see people peeing in their front yards everyday on my way to class. I think it’s funny!

The Sounds: People here sweep all the time. With the constant rain plus the constant heat drying everything out, there is dirt everywhere! It’s so weird because people sweep the dirt in front of their houses. It actually does make it look better because they sweep the trash away. There is the constant swish-swish of brooms. When I wake up, I usually hear gospel music and roosters. The roosters start at about 4am, but I am great at sleeping through that (and my alarm, whoops!). My family has a dog, and sometimes other dogs will howl in the distance and our dog answers VERY loudly. I hear goats bleating and kids crying all the time. It’s hard to tell the difference between the two! Of course I hear yovo like 2.5 million times per day. Fan milk guys are a welcome sound. They ride around on bikes and honk a horn. They sell fan milk, a frozen treat that is like soft serve ice cream. It’s amazing on a hot day! The mills are peppered throughout Tsevie and the sound of grinding corn into corn flour can be heard outside of them. The corn flour is used for several traditional Togolese dishes like pâte (basically water and flour with a sauce). The tok-tok of wood hitting wood as people pound yams for fufu is also a common sound.

The Smells: Well, the deodorant isn’t great, and it’s like 90 degrees here everyday, so use your imagination. I also smell animals often, like chickens and goats, not freshly washed inside-dogs. La marché (the market) smells horrible. People sell fish on every corner and it may be the most disgusting thing I have ever seen/smelled. They are black from being smoked (to preserve them without refrigeration), but are always covered in flies and half rotted. They smell so gross. I can’t even walk though the food section of the market because the smell makes me nauseous. The beef is just as gross. I’m considering becoming a vegetarian once I’m at my post. There are good smells too! I come home to my family cooking lunch and it smells fantastic. Many women sell pastries and the smell of fried dough lingers in the air.

The Tastes: My diet is basically all starch. For breakfast, I usually have either porridge (like grits with sugar), tapioca, or bread with nutella or cheese. I also have a cup of hot tea when I actually wake up on time. For lunch, I could have rice with beans and a red sauce; spaghetti with tomatoes, onion, and a boiled egg; “salad” which is carrots, beets, yams, a boiled egg, a cut-up hot dog, all mixed with mayonnaise; or a traditional meal. For dinner same thing or avocados, fried plantains, “colico” – a local dish of fried yams (like French fries), or white beans with red sauce (a personal favorite). My only saving grace is that I get fresh fruit with every meal – fresh mango, pineapple, or bananas. Yum! They asked me last night to cook an American meal for them. If you have suggestions, let me know! I’m limited in ingredients, but was thinking of eggplant parmesan or French toast. All of the vegetables are mini here! Probably lack of water and genetic engineering.

The Touch: Holy cow, it is so hot. I am almost always hot except when I pour cold water over myself in the shower.

Je suis fatiguee - 6/16/10

… means I am tired. I usually go to bed around 8 or 9 here after my final bucket bath of the day. It is HOT and I think the heat zaps all of my energy. I take 2-3 showers each day – and by shower I mean bucket bath because we don’t have running water. I live with a family named the Gakpetos who literally wait on me hand and foot. They won’t let me lift a finger to help! Three meals each day. I think they have two people who live here and help who aren’t actually part of the family. My host father works in microfinance and speaks a little English which is really awesome sometimes. Learning French is hard! Petit a petit is what they keep saying to me, and it’s true.

The Gakpeto’s house is very beautiful and I love living here even though we mostly sit around in awkward silence since I can’t communicate yet. My father speaks great French and the mother also speaks French. French is everyone’s second language in Togo but the one most commonly spoken – esp. in big cities. There are over 40 local languages in Togo!! The big one spoken in the South is called ewe (pronounce ev-vay). I know akpe means thank you. The kids at my house speak mostly ewe although the oldest is learning French in school now.

On my walk to and from training each day I hear the “yovo song.” It goes:

Yovo, yovo


Yovo, yovo

Ca va tres bien, MERCI!

Yovo means white person, but really they call everyone who works with Peace Corps “yovo,” even the Togolese teachers. Sometimes it’s funny and cute, sometimes it’s really annoying, sometimes it makes me laugh, and sometimes it makes me sad.

So far:

The good: Togolese nights are beautiful. Quiet, serene, like a warm summer evening. The people are incredible – so hospitable and gracious. Very clean – they, like me, shower all throughout the day! You kind of have to with this heat and no air conditioner. Boy do I miss AC. Bucket baths are awesome for cooling you down in the middle of the day. Last good thing, the other volunteers are so much fun to be around!

The bad: There is trash everywhere on the streets + hot weather + constant rain + dirt road = smelly, muddy mess. Ok, so I love bucket baths, but not a fan of latrines. I avoid mine at all costs. For those of you not familiar – a latrine is a hole where you go to the bathroom. And yes, there are bugs in it.

No big bug run-ins yet (knock on wood) except a giant cricket that got in my room and flew right at my face. You all know I freaked out and screamed before hiding under my mosquito net, petrified that it would find a way in. I think I killed it. …I hope.