Friday, November 26, 2010

26 November 2010

Happy Thanksgiving! 44 volunteers came together for Thanksgiving in a village called Agengre. They were like 10 turkeys, cranberry sauce, stuffing, gravy, stuffed tomatoes, apple pies, pumpkin pies, brownies, and more! Plus, local drinks: sodabi, tchouk, local beer, and water sachets. It was delicious, and we all ate so much we felt sick until it turned into a dance party. This morning, we woek up and ate all the leftovers – yum!
It’s been a really fun couple of weeks! For my birthday, I had a little party/going away party for another volunteer. We made greek food, homemade pitas, hummus, cucumber sauce, and even canned chicken! Whoa. Then on my actual birthday, I just spent it with another volunteer and we had velveeta cheese day. The silly things that make my days in Togo. A couple days later, I went down to Lome to see the new volunteers swear in. The hotel I stayed in was SO nice, running water with HOT SHOWERS! No air conditioner, but I was not complaining. The swear-in ceremony was at the ambassador’s house which is absolutely lovely. I ate hamburgers, eggrolls, and more American food. I just realized this entire blogpost is about food.
After Lome, I spent some time in another volunteer’s village. There was a big vaccination campaign going on so we spent two days filling out forms and giving kids vaccinations. It was so much fun and I want to start doing that in my village. All vaccinations in Togo are free, I think they’re provided by Unicef.
Next week is PDM/IST (Product Design Management/In Service Training) in Pagala. Our homologues come with us which means it will all be in French. Ugh. The week after that, the health volunteers will be in Pagala for their PDM/IST, so I’ll get to hang out with them too! For Christmas, we plan on heading up to the Northern part of Togo to stay in hotels in a city called Kara. Then for New Years, a few of us plan on ringing in the New Year in Accra, Ghana. Busy few months, but not with work. After the holidays, I definitely plan to buckle down to get some work done.

11 November 2010

It's only 4 days from my birthday and it is hotter than ever! The past two nights, the heat's been so bad I couldn't sleep. I'm in the process of organizing a soccer tournament for World Aids Day here in Pagala which is actually why I'm on the internet right now. I have to send a request to a big company called PSI for tshirts, condoms, banners, etc. World Aids Day is Dec. 1, but our tournament will be the following Saturday, the 4th. Then my cluster is planning to so Christmas caroling on the 5th. Lots to look forward to!

For Thankgiving, many of us are getting together to go another volunteer's house. We'll be having all the traditional foods - even going to kill a turkey! This will be my first Thankgiving away from my family.

Remember the van on Little Miss Sunshine? Broken horn, had to get a running start, etc.? That's what all the taxis are like here. It's pretty funny. Sometimes the doors won't slide closed, sometimes they break down, sometimes they have to roll backwards to start. Oh Togo. I heard that Togo is listed as one of the Peace Corps "hardship" countries, meaning it's one of the hardest countries for volunteers to live in. Lucky me! I also recently read that "they" say that joining the Peace Corps is twice as stressful as the death of a spouse. I don't know if I believe that, but it certainly isn't easy! I went all the way up to Sotoboua (1.5 hrs each way) to use the internet 2 days ago and it wasn't even working. I was so bummed because I wasted so much money to get there (3600 CFA, or $7).

My homologue, Djobo, came over the other day for lunch. We made fried plantains with spaghetti and tomato sauce. It was delicious! He's a great cook, which is rare in Togo where women do ALL the cooking, cleaning, etc. This past weekend, we did a three-day formation called Mens as Partners (Hommes Comme Partenaires) and Djobo was one of the teachers. He's so progressive. The day after the formation, the Chef du Canton (chief of several surrounding villages) came to the hospital to get an HIV test! He said he was really inspired by everything we talked about at the formation. While Djobo and I were cooking (ok, he cooked, I watched) we kept saying "hommes comme partenaires!" We had a great time eating and discussing our ideas for work in the upcoming months.

Living in Togo isn't so easy, but I want to tell you want Togo isn't. Maybe blast some misconceptions you may have. The people aren't starving and walking around with big bellies and covered in flies. Although a lot of times kids do walk around totally naked or wearing only a shirt. For the most part, people have enough food to eat and almost of the kids attend school (it costs money to go to school in togo). People don't drink their water from muddy puddles. PLAN, a big NGO, has put pumps in all over Togo, and several in Pagala alone. People get their water in big metal cuvettes and transport it on their heads to their houses. It's not clean by any stretch of the imagination (I have to filter and bleach it), but it's certainly clean enough for them. People are into being on time. Almost everyone has a cell phone now, so they always have the time. That's not to say I've had several meetings start exactly on time, but I've had very few that started more than an hour late.

So, this is my life. Want to give a shout-out to all the awesome people who've called, sent letters, sent packages, sent birthday presents, etc. You are all so amazing and make life here in West Africa just a little bit easier. I miss you!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

1 Nov 2010

I'm terrible about updating my blog. Since I don't have electricity, I don't use my computer very often. People keep saying electricity's coming to my village, but I doubt it will be anytime soon.
Sometimes I feel like I like inside of a moving photograph. I saw pictures of Africa for so long before finally coming here, and I'm always amazed that I'm actually living in the world from which those pictures came. For example, the other day I was riding my bike to the post office and I saw an old woman. She was bent over from old age and her brightly colored clothes gently swayed in the breeze while she hobbled along with her walking stick. She had the face of a woman who had lived a hard life but overcome so much. It was almost breath- taking how beautiful she was. I have moments like that so often where I just think, "This is my life. I'm really in the Peace Corps."
So things have gotten much better for me here. I'm getting used to the lonliness and the lack of amenties. I've started a garden in my compound (everything always dies except 3 tomato plants, but I'm going to keep trying), starting to paint, learning to sew, got a kitten named John Galt, and a puppy named Jacques. Work wise, I've done a few formations with various groups on hand washing, feasibility studies, time management, and income generating activities. I have lots of ideas and my French, although still terrible, is good enough for me to be able to start on things. I'm really hoping to be able to work with entreprenuers, apprentices, and microfinance organizations over the next two years.
This past week, all of the volunteers were in Pagala because we have the Peace Corps training center here. We had a week of training and really good food (by Togo standards). It was so much fun to see everyone and we had a big Halloween party the finaly night. I was a witch, but some of the other costumes were more creative and funny! We had a box of wine, a cop who's lost everything, and a fanmilk (that's like the closest thing we have to ice cream in Togo). The Togolese people probably thought we'd gone mad.
This weekend, I'm helping run a formation for MAP (Men As Partners) where 30 men are going to come from surrounding villages to learn about gender equality, domestic abuse, sexual health, etc. The weekend after that is my birthday so people from my cluster are going to come celebrate with me in Pagala and I'm going to attempt Greek food! Then I'm going down to Lome, Togo's capital, to see new volunteers be sworn-in. I won't be the newest anymore! That's pretty exciting.
I'm getting to know my village and the people in it more and more. My homologue, Djobo, is so amazing and works so hard. There are so many people in my village that are loving and welcoming. I can find almost everything I need in my village so I don't have a reason to leave very often, which is why I'm almost never on the internet. The only real reason I have to leave is to go to the bank once a month. Pagala is such a beautiful village, surrounded my mountains and so green. Papayas, oranges, grapefruits, limes, bananas, mangoes, avocadoes, and more grow freely. One of these days, you'll see pictures. I'm so inspired by the people here. There are so many students and adults who love their villages and love Africa and really believe we can make a difference in the lives of Africans. For example, I work with the English club at the high school where they open and close their meetings with a hymn called "We Will Overcome." It made me emotional the first time I heard them sing it. I also work with a club called Peer Educators who exist soley to teach the community about better health practices and basic issues such as child trafficing, income generating activities, and teenage pregnancy. They are so passionate about what they do and I can see them all going on to be very successful.
Two years still seems like a really long time to be here, but taking it one day at a time and one week at a time seems to be working pretty well. I made it through my first 3 months at post, making a total of 5 months in Togo! Only 21 months to go...
I'll try to update more often. Thanks to everyone who's called me and written emails, letters, and facebook messages. I love knowing you're thinking about me and I miss you all so much!