Friday, September 17, 2010

16 Sept 2010

Hard to believe I’ve been here for over 3 months now. Sometimes, I feel like it flies, and sometimes I feel like each day is never going to end. So, a lot of you are probably wondering what exactly I do day to day. Right now, not a whole lot. In training, we learned about working with microfinance institutions, NGOs, individual entrepreneurs, and women’s groups. If you’ve ever read one post on this blog, you know how much I hate French and the language is definitely holding me back from working right now. I go to several meetings a week, but have no idea what’s going on usually. They’re mostly in local languages anyway. In order to keep from going crazy (or maybe I’ve already passed that point), I decided to take up sewing. Every morning, I go to a seamstress near my house and she teaches me sewing techniques by hand and on the foot-pedaled sewing machine. Yesterday, I spent 4 hours making one shirt for a girl’s school uniform and today I spent 3 hours working on a technique called something-that-I-forgot and sewed like half of one sleeve. I’m so slow. Everyday, Togolese people just like to come watch me and it makes me a little nervous.
Somedays I go to the market to buy food or candles. Somedays, to the post office. I have French class two days per week, and there is a guy who owns a bar who always wants me to come say hello and have a conversation even though I have no idea what he’s saying. Sometimes, I read or bake in my make-shift dutch oven. Basically, I’m saying I definitely haven’t started working yet. Oh well, they tell us we don’t have to work for the first 3 months anyway.
There is a girl from NC who’s going home next week so we threw her a little party at my house! I made Mexican – even homemade tortillas and tortilla chips. I never EVER would have used the word “resourceful” to describe myself until I came here to Togo. I even reuse empty cans (I’m making hanging candle holders for the porch).
At the end of Ramadan, all the Muslims in Togo had a big party. I joined my counterpart, Djobo, with his family to eat lots of foufou with peanut sauce and chicken (wow!). We watched really weird Togolese music videos that had a guy dancing with one leg. Then I danced with kids and let girls draw henna on my feet. It smeared though, so for days my feet just looked dirty. After that, I went to my French tutor’s house to party with his family and eat more spaghetti with beets and goat. I thought I was going to be sick by the end of the day!
Life’s pretty boring here in Togo, but, every now and then, really interesting. I’m homesick all the time. I miss you all more than you know! And I really miss air conditioner. It is so HOT today and every day. If you read this, call me! I’d love to hear from you. My number’s on facebook.
Everyday when I walk through village the kids chant “Chriiiiista, Chriiiiista, bye-bye-yo!” So, bye-bye-yo for now.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

31 August 2010

Been a while since I posted on this blog. Things have been very up and down for me. Sometimes, I love being here and sometimes I absolutely hate it. Interesting stories for you regardless:

Every morning, starting at 6:30am, kids start knocking on my door. It is so annoying and sometimes I just don’t want to get out of bed, but they will stand there and knock for an hour if I don’t. I roll out of bed and open my compound gate to a child babbling in French about getting water for me. It’s WAY too early for French.

The other day, a kid knocked on my door and showed me some watermelon asking if I wanted to buy it. Of course! I let it sit on my bench for a day and when a Togolese girl came over, I asked if she wanted to eat it together. I cut into it with my broken knives and lo and behold, the inside was yellow! I had no idea what to do with it because it clearly wasn’t a watermelon. Luckily, those resourceful Togolese people know what’s up so my friend sprung into action, cutting off the peel and slicing into pieces to cook while explaining to me that it was actually a papaya. We boiled it with some water and salt and it tasted a lot like butternut squash. YUM.

When one of the girls was getting water for me, I decided I really wanted to integrate into the community. I let her take the big cuvette and I took the smaller one and we trekked a good ½ km to the water pump. She filed mine up halfway, and, feeling ambitious, I told her to fill ‘er up! I stumbled under the weight all the way home, pouring sweat and spilling water all over myself. Pretty sure I have permanent neck damage, but that may just be from my terrible pillows.

I’m going to start learning to make my own clothes! I really love getting stuff made here and have a lot of free time on my hands, so I’m going to be kind of an apprentice to a seamstress near my house. Should be pretty interesting.

As far as work, I’ve basically told everyone now that I want to wait until my French improves before I start trying to teach them anything. Everyone is really understanding and the “club de meres” or Mother’s Club (something to do with the red cross) brought me about 100 bananas and oranges as a cadeau (gift). I spent a day giving them away because I’m only one person and everything would have gone bad!

I was in the marche in Sokode, my regional capital, buying a pineapple when this old guy tapped me on the shoulder and started talking in local language. I turned back around to continue my pineapple buying and the next thing I know, the guy slapped my shoulder as hard as he could and then ran away!! It hurt so bad and scared me and I immediately starting crying. Needless to say, this drew a huge crowd in the marche of women (who had picked up their baseball bats and were yelling they were going to beat him) and children. Luckily, I was with Lyle, who speaks French much better than me, and he explained that I was going to be ok and did not need to go to the hospital.

I’m so sorry for the rare posts, but it’s really difficult to get to the internet here. Really, everything you take for granted is more difficult here – running water, electricity, dishwashers, washing machines, owning a car, calling friends, checking facebook, googling things, going out to eat, grabbing a cup of coffee, etc. Like I mentioned, things are up and down here. I’ve contemplated coming home day after day, but know I can come home anytime so I’m getting through one day at a time.

I’m a real Peace Corps Volunteer! 7 Aug 2010

Well, I took my oath and yesterday, I arrived at my post to begin my two years of service. The swear-in ceremony was great! It was held at our country director’s house which is a big, beautiful house in Lome. Our host families all came, and we all gave speeches in our local language. My family had a dress made for the me to wear at the ceremony. I guess they coordinated with another family near me because my friend, Elise, and I had exactly the same dress! Twins.

I’m living in temporary housing right now because the volunteer in Pagala isn’t leaving until the 16th. It kind of sucks, but I am excited to move into my house and make it my own! My first day at post was spent as follows:

6: Wake up

6:30: Get out of bed

6:45: Make a list of things to do for the day

7:00: A little girl came to my house to get me water and do my laundry

7:30: Breakfast (a piece of bread with nutella and 2 bananas)

8:00: Called my homologue to tell him I’m in Pagala and in desperate need of a French tutor! He came over around the same time my laundry was finished, so he helped me hang my laundry and said he’d help me find tutor.

9:00 Chill/Sudoku

10:00 Went for a walk

11:00 Met a girl on my walk and she brought me over the meet her family and drink tchouk, a local drink.

12:00 Ate lunch (tomato sandwich) and put pictures on my computer. Maybe one of these days, I can post them online.

1:20 NOW. I need to go to the market, but am waiting on some other volunteers to get here. So I’m probably going to study French on my porch. They say the first 3 months at post are the hardest. I hope so. I’m bored!

July 31 2010

Remember in Matilda when Bruce Bogtrotter had to eat that huge chocolate cake in front of the whole school? That is how I feel every single day when my family puts food in front of me, except no one erupts into cheers when I’m finished. My mom is a great cook, but good lord, the portions rival that of the Cheesecake Factory and I’m pretty sure I’ve gained 10 lbs.

We are nearing the end of stage and next week, on August 5th, we officially swear-in. So, I officially begin my two years of service that day. I can’t believe I’ve already been in Togo for almost two months.

Togo Transportation 14 July 2010

Well, I made it through my post visit and didn’t starve to death – mostly thanks to the fact that there was camp going on in Pagala. I’m not gonna lie, I bummed a few meals off of Peace Corps and they were amazing. Better than my meals I made for myself since I was in temporary housing and had no kitchen. One night I ate some bread with nutella and sprinkled peanuts on top.

I’m back with my host family now and it is great to be back! I get three meals a day and have a real bed, not a mattress on a concrete floor. The transportation in Togo is rather interesting. Since the police don’t really enforce the laws (it’s commonly known that they take bribes), taxi drivers just pile as many people as they can into taxis. I was in a 15 passenger van and at one point counted 29 people in it! Plus lots of clucking because there were chickens tied up under the seats. My row alone had a man and wife, two of their kids, Ben (another PCV), me, and another lady. It was a tough ride, but apparently I should get used to it. Our other option for transportation is motos. Most countries don’t allow their PCVs to take motos, but I’m really glad Togo does. They even give us these sweet, spaceship-like helmets!

My house in Pagala is a quaint little house with a bedroom, living room, and kitchen. I live in my own compound that is surrounded by giant concrete walls with glass at the top. The village is in a valley, which causes the heat to linger in the hot season making it difficult to sleep (I’m told). But it makes the scenery absolutely beautiful as the village is surrounded by mountains. If you did google Pagala, you probably noticed that there are two. My village is Pagala-Gare (meaning station in French) because it was once a center for the railroad that ran through Togo. Like most enterprises in Togo, it was not maintained and did not last. The tracks all over the country are overgrown with brush and abandoned. The once-bustling railway station in Pagala is a big, old ghost house now.

Pagala is like a giant center for transplants – kind of like Charlotte, Chicago, or NYC. People from all over Togo live in Pagala, making it really diverse – for example, I attended four meetings on Thursday in in three different languages – French, kotokoli, and losso. Cabiet and Ewe are also commonly spoken in Pagala. Since I can’t learn all these languages, much of my work will be done through a translator. My homologue speaks five languages so he is a really great resource for me!

Post Visit July 7 2010

Updates from previous posts: cooked spaghetti for my family and it turned out delicious! I don’t remember if I mentioned that people eat with their hands here, but they do. NOT with the left hand; it’s really culturally unacceptable to do anything with your left hand here, including touching food and handing people money. Anyway, the kids were so funny with the dinner. They ate it Togolese-style! So they mixed together the spaghetti with tomato sauce, green beans, and garlic mashed potatoes into one big ball and ate it with their hands. I took pictures, so will try to post them at some point.

So I’m at my post right now and laying down in my temporary room because the current PCV is still here and living in her/my house. I have been sick on and off the past couple of days and it’s really tough to stay positive mentally when you are physically ailing. I haven’t been able to eat much and can’t really keep anything in my stomach that I do eat. It sucks so bad because I have lots of things to do and lots of people to meet in my new village, but just don’t feel good enough to be out and about.

Pagala is pretty big and post visit has been good so far. The first night was really hard because it was my first night alone in Togo and I had to kill two big spiders in my room. It was also my first night without electricity so that wasn’t so easy either! The next day I woke up feeling a little better about life and had a nice morning to myself. In the afternoon, I was to a VSL (village savings & loans) meeting with Emily, the current PCV in Pagala. It was really interesting and exciting. That night other PCVs from my “cluster” came to Pagala. A cluster is the group of people in or around an area in Togo, kind of like the ‘greater Pagala region.’ We all ate street food and watched the final World Cup match in this movie-theatre like room where someone had a generator to show the game. It was 100 CFA to watch, which is $.20 in American $. Life is cheap in Africa … yesterday I bought 3 bananas for 50CFA, or $.10. I think the street food is what made me sick even though it was just rice and beans.

The next day I met the chef de canton (chef of the canton, which is like a cluster of villages). He was super nice, but it was a little awkward since my French is so pathetic. Then my homologue (counterpart), Djobo, and I walk around the village and met lots of people. We visited the ICAT, an agricultural organization, and the high school. When I got back, I was really exhausted physically and mentally even though it was only 9:30AM! I slept for a few hours before finally feeling well enough to get up and meet Emily out at this bar called Plasir’s. We discussed all of the projects she has done here, and she has done so much!! From VSLs, to youth, to health classes, to starting a library. We met a few more people and saw the post office, hospital, and library. I started feeling really sick again so came back to my room to rest. Had my first breakdown in Togo. My emotions have been fluctuating a lot in correlation to my sickness. I was just feeling so awful and have had to use my mosquito-infested latrine every time I get sick. Being sick in Togo is the worst because it is so hot and there is literally no relief from the heat.

As of now, I am feeling much better. Emily is leaving for the rest of the week so I’ll be on my own for the next few days. Luckily, Emily has done a great job introducing me to people so I feel like I will be ok. I made myself a little menu for the week and a little schedule so I hope this is the last I will see of my sickness so I can actually get some stuff done. Friday, I’m heading to Atakpame for “post visit party” and Sunday will be going back to Tsevie for 3 weeks to finish up training. Miss you guys still!

June 30 2010

30 June 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 cafĂ©, 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!