Sunday, November 20, 2011

11 November 2011

In case you haven’t heard, I had a bunch of money stolen from my house. It was the money for the latrines I planned to build in Pagala. Not all of the money was stolen, but about a fourth of it was – 350,000FCFA, or the equivalent of about $700. However, in Togo, that could be a few years wages so it’s more like someone stealing tens of thousands of dollars in the US. Either way, it’s a really big deal here in Pagala.

There is a kid who used to work for me – bringing me water from the pump, doing my laundry, etc. – who admitted to stealing some of the money. But only 30,000FCFA. I think he took it all, but we have no way to tell. This is a kid who’s leg I bandaged when he had a cut and who I walked to school the first day. Needless to say, it’s been rough emotionally and mentally. You think going through an investigation in the US is hard, try doing it in a country where you don’t understand the system and don’t have a perfect grasp on the language.

After a week of investigating, the local police, the gendarms, brought the child, his mother, and I to Blitta (our prefectural capital) today to see the judge. I was a little nervous, so Djobo came over this morning before we went. I was so hungry and just about to make breakfast when he showed up at my door, so I just made enough for both of and we had our American breakfast together! An omelet with Laughing Cow cheese (doesn’t have to be refrigerated, oh yea!) and grits. He said he liked it but who knows? After that, the gendarms showed up to my house to say I was late. They jokingly gave me grief about being late, saying that I’m getting too used to being on African time and that it’s going to cause problems for me when I go back to the States.

Djobo brought me to Blitta on his moto which is a little old and overheated 5 times on the dusty, dirt road to Blitta. After waiting outside for 45 minutes, we were called into a small office to meet the judge. We explained our case, but basically got nowhere and the judge told the gendarms to continue their search in Pagala for the thief. Things are moving slowly, mais c’est Togo, non?

After the judge encounter, Djobo and I rode around on his moto greeting his friends and colleagues and then the Peace Corps volunteer in Blitta who Djobo knows well (and, of course, so do I). The volunteer told us about a woman who makes delicious bread right near his house, so Djobo and I set off in search of her. We found her house, but only her little girl was there. She told us that her mom went to the market already. So, off we went to the market. After asking around, we discovered the woman’s name, but she had not yet arrived at the market. It was like 1 oclock in the afternoon at this point, so Djobo and I went into a little cafeteria near the market to eat foufou with armadillo meat. It’s actually really delicious. After lunch and funny conversation, we found the bread lady and bought some bread before heading back to Pagala.

We took Djobo’s moto back, and when we were about 5K outside of Pagala, we stopped at his brother’s house and picked a bunch of grapefruits. Djobo took two and I have the rest. I’ve been really into making fresh juice lately and have discovered that 3 grapefruits make enough for one serving. It doesn’t get any fresher than picking them off the tree and hand squeezing juice the same day!

I’m really going to miss Togo one day.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

9 November 2011

This morning, I woke up to the sound of a goat “baahhhh-ing” continuously outside of my window. Another day in Togo as the sun streams warmly in through my open windows. I made a breakfast of yam hashbrowns and tea and suddenly felt inspired to write a blog.

Sunday, November 6, was a grand fete in Pagala called Tabaski. I started the day with a 20K bike ride home from a friend’s village. I left at 6am to avoid the heat, got home, showered and dressed in my Tabaski outfit – a ridiculous ruffled pagne complet with a gaudy veil that has Togo written all over it. As I was walking out of my house, I watched cars of people drive by packed full of adults and children singing. One car stopped and asked if I was going to the prayer and told me to hop in! We made the short drive to the village-wide prayer, people getting in or climbing on top of our old, bush taxi bus all the way there. I’d never seen so many people in one place – cars, vans, motorcycles, and too many people to count! I met my counterpart, Djobo, who was wearing a heavy, purple complet that belong to his grandfather, the chief of one of the largest prefectures in Togo, along with a checkered scarf and aviators. He looked like a cool dude. We separated into men and women and did a short prayer, as the sun was unbearably strong. Afterwards, I met back up with Djobo and we went to his house to party.

When we arrived, I greeted his two wives, who were thrilled to see me. I sat down and pretty much did nothing since they refused to let me help prepare the feast with them – probably for the best, as I’m useless in a Togolese kitchen. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Djobo’s next door neighbors running around wildly through their garden, the dad carrying a huge tree branch. I had no idea what was going on, but it seemed ok as they were all smiling and laughing. Then Djobo said, “Il faut arreter la poule,” or you must stop the chicken. At that moment, the terrified chicken busted out of the garden, running straight towards me! Well, I just couldn’t let him get away, so I jumped up from my seat and happily joined in the chase. We finally cornered him against a building and the tree branch swung out to pin him against the wall as one of kids grabbed him. We all cheered and they returned to their house to feast.

Since it was a big party and Djobo’s family was generously feeding me all day, I decided to bring gifts for everyone. For the kids, I brought a box of fortune cookies. They were a huge hit, but they didn’t really get the point. They just wanted the cookies and threw all of their fortunes on the ground. Oh well, they were all in English anyway. The box that they came in, however, became a coveted toy. The kids used it to fill with dirt and dump on other kids.

Soon, it was time for the slaughter of our meat for the day, a small goat. All of the kids gathered around as Djobo dug a small hole in the ground and laid the goat on its side, neck over the hole. In one sharp movement, he slit the goat’s throat and with a gurgling gasp the goat’s blood poured in spurts into the hole before he died seconds later. I could watch that, but I chose to abstain from watching the skinning and butchering of the goat I knew I’d have to eat that afternoon.

We ate. Fati and Djamila, Djobo’s wives, brought us fried sweet potatoes with fried chicken (slaughtered earlier that morning) and a spicy red sauce. It was so delicious and I was stuffed. Little did I know, that was merely an appetizer. When we finished, they brought us foufou, pounded yams, with sesame sauce and more fried chicken. I wasn’t even hungry, but I ate because it would be rude to refuse their hospitality. I fell into something of a food coma, and the family set up a place for me to nap under the mango tree. With a full belly, a slight breeze, and kids running around dumping sand on each other’s heads, I fell asleep thinking about the beauty of living in Africa.

After repose, or rest time, from 12-2:30pm, we all got up and Djobo made a special treat. He prepared something he called “pure tea.” It’s very strong tea, mixed with sugar, and drank like a shot of expresso. He said it helps with digestion. I think I had three or four of them, which explains why I couldn’t fall asleep that night. While he was preparing tea, Djobo also started up the generator and played music so that everyone from his house and the surrounding houses could come to dance. They dance the traditional dances, along with some not-so-traditional dancing, along with some funny dance moves. Soon after everyone, including the kids, had their shots of tea and danced, Djobo and I went next door where we are starting a new village savings group. The group chose the board, contributed money for all of the start-up materials, and chose an association name.

We returned back to the house where Fati and Djamila had prepared rice and pasta with goat and a spicy, oily dark red sauce. I still wasn’t hungry, but Djobo insisted I eat. He especially insisted that I eat lots of meat. Meat is a rare delicacy, so putting the image of the slaughter out of my mind, I ate, thankful for my warm, African family.

It was finally getting dark and I wanted to get home so that I could shower while there was still a little light outside. Well, Djobo had something else in mind. He walked with me to find a moto that could drive me home, but said we should at least get a drink first. So, we walked to the famous “Bar le Plasir” where the fete was going strong. I’ve never seen this bar so packed and there were even two white people! Djobo and I each got a beer, which is rare for him – he drinks only a couple of times per year. There was a DJ spinning African tunes and I saw some of the most incredible and creative dancing I’d ever witnessed. It was so much fun and on the way out, the white couple called me over. The woman pointed to herself and said “Espanol,” and I responded by pointing to myself and saying, “American.” She said, “Francais, petit, petit.” We laughed and they invited me to visit them in a nearby village where they run a marble extraction company. I said, “buenos tardes,” and they corrected me by saying, “buenos noches.” It’s been a long time since I’ve had Spanish, but I got this crazy notion in my head that I want to start studying it again.

Well, I’ve finished my morning tea and I need to start cleaning my house, certainly not a favorite pastime. I don’t know how, but every morning there are new spider webs everywhere – shower, latrine, kitchen, etc. Housework is never done. Merci beaucoup for all of your support from back home; I look forward to seeing you all in a few months! Au Revoir!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

30 October 2011

Happy Halloween!

We threw a Halloween party in Tchamba and welcomed new girls education and food security volunteers to our region at the same time. My boyfriend and I dressed as Fulani, an exotic-looking nomadic tribe. Our costumes were a big hit, although we didn't win the grand prize - a box of Ghiradelli brownie mix. We also held an epic dance off that the Togolese people enjoyed ... or at least found interesting.

Last week was In Service Training (IST) for the new health and business volunteers and I helped out, facilitating sessions on village savings groups, working with artisans, and organizing business training workshops. Other projects in Pagala are going well, although I'm struggling with my latrine project. Next week, I'm meeting with the Assistant Hygiene in Pagala, along with Djobo and the mason building the latrines. I'm hoping we can figure out a better plan of action moving forward.

EPAT, the business training, should be starting soon. It's taken on a completely different format than I'd envisioned, but I'm learning to be flexible. We often have to work around the harvest schedule since everyone, even people with office jobs, is a farmer.

Rainy season is on its way out and the Harmattan winds are on their in! Tabaski, a big Muslim holiday, is coming up along with the funeral for my village chief who passed away in November of last year. I once asked what they do with the bodies while they're waiting to save enough money for the funeral. Apparently, they often freeze them. I thought that was a joke, but, well, it's not!

Yesterday, several volunteers aand I traveled to Tchamba in a car. The car had five spots, but there were seven of us - the driver, two in the front seat, and four in the back seat. As we were loading up the car, the drivers were tying up three muttons to put in the trunk. When he saw me looking at them, he simply said, "le fete," referring of course to Tabaski. The Centrale region is the most Muslim region of Togo. Anyway, once we slowwwwly got moving (the car had a terrible accelerator and even worse brakes that may have worked better when the car was first made in the 80s), one of the muttons managed to get himself untied and walked around in the back of the car the whole time. One of the newer volunteer was completely freaking out, but I guess I've just gotten used to the way things are in Africa, because I saw nothing abnormal about the situation.

Every morning when I wake up, I think, "I'm going to America in February!" I can't wait to see all of you and I'm working on an itinerary planned by the hour. It's making me remember all of the fun things to do in the States! Unfortunately, we'll be flying out of Africa on the 6th, missing the 2012 Superbowl on the 5th. Man.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

28 September 2011

You wouldn’t believe the African sky. A blue clear sky to can change into an ominous gray raincloud in minutes. On clear nights, I watch shooting stars and gaze at the unbelievable clarity of the milky way. The sunsets light up the sky in salmon hues flecked with violet. But the thing I will never forget about the African sky is its vastness. Maybe it’s because there are no tall buildings to block in the sky, maybe it’s the flat terrain, but either way, the sky goes on forever. It’s always changing and always startlingly dramatic.

We finally got a workstation in Sokode! It’s a little office with a computer, internet, and (the best part) a printer! It will be a place I use often to work and charge my electronics.

This evening, another volunteer’s parents came to Atakpame and made us an amazing Indian dinner. It was a really nice and delicious treat for all of us.

All new volunteers have to shadow older volunteers in their first three months. My shadowee is coming to visit next week and I look forward it. I hope she learns a lot from the visit, although I’m nervous that she’ll be bored because I don’t have much planned for those days.

I decided to come visit America in February! I’m looking forward to being home for a couple of weeks, but I still have many months before that happens.

It’s funny how much can change in one year. People pass away, they get pregnant, they divorce, they get engaged, they move, they get dogs, they graduate, they get jobs, they get laid off, they get deployed. The world remains in the wake of hurricanes, earthquakes, military operations, economic downturns, presidential elections, revolutions, and royal weddings. Bands release new CDs, new movies come out, technology advances. And advances. It’s a strange feeling to see my life as I knew it going on when I’m so far removed from it.

As I write this, it’s about 2:30 in the morning. I plan on trying to leave Atakpame at 4:00 in order to get back to Pagala before a 6:30 meeting. I drank a Coca-Cola this evening and the caffeine is still powering me along! I try to do as much work as I can while I can use electricity, so I think I’m just going to power through until morning. Until la prochaine fois, bon nuit et au revoir!

PS - Here is the link I didn't put in the last post about Djobo going to Tanzania.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

12 September 2011

So I have big news: Djobo is going to Arusha, Tanzania for an international savings groups summit! He received a scholarship covering the $350 registration fee, his flight, housing, meals, etc. from the MasterCard Foundation of Canada. You can read more information about the summit HERE.

Other than that, projects are picking up and heating up! I have a big wad of cash sitting in my bedroom waiting to begin my latrine project, but have to wait until Djobo comes back from Tanzania to start.

I’m working on a project called Education des Patrons pour l’Amelioration de leur Travail (EPAT) because Togolese people love long, drawn out names with acronyms. I’ve talked about in previous posts, but it’s a six part series on basic business skills – SWOT analysis/feasibility study; strategic planning; marketing; accounting; financing options for business expansion; and technology. The artisans pay a small fee (about $1) to participate in all 6 classes. This helps me the cover cost of photocopies, transportation for teachers, certificates, and a celebration party. Certificates are a really important part of Togolese culture. Instead of resumes, they have a book full of all the certificates they received through completing specific work or trainings.

I’m hoping to start a Women’s Health Club in Pagala. The idea started when I volunteer told me about her idea to teach village women about nutrition and give them cooking classes/recipes on cooking 6 fully balanced meals. From there, I want to teach them about sexual health, importance of an active lifestyle (we’ll do running/pilates together), hygiene, gender equality, volunteerism, malaria, importance of going to the hospital NOT a traditional healer, diarrhea, and options in the fields like natural pesticides and composting.

Organization is underway for the 2012 Centrale Region Women’s Wellness and Empowerment Conference! It was done last year by an amazing team of PCVs in the Plateaux Region and they are expanding it to be nationwide this year. Two other girls and I are organizing it for our region and can’t wait to get the conference underway. It will be March 15-18 in Sokode. The subjects we definitely want to touch on include family planning, budgeting, nutrition, etc. More information to come!

As always, continuing the work with my Village Savings and Loans groups. I currently have 7 groups and just met with 2-4 possible new groups! I’m also going to pick up my work with the microfinance, URCLEC, because I haven’t been there much lately. School is starting back October 3, and along with that comes Peer Educators, English Club, and possibly a couple of new girls’ clubs.

As I said, staying busy! Just got back from Ghana with my boyfriend. We had an amazing time eating all kinds of food we haven’t had in a year! We ate Thai, Chinese, Italian, Sushi, Indian, and even KFC fried chicken. We discovered a cool little bar right on the ocean, got dressed up for happy hour cocktails, and went to the mall. It felt like real life.

I’ll leave you with a Togo story: It’s been pretty chilly lately since it’s rainy season, so I like to heat up shower before my bucket showers. I hadn’t washed my hair in a couple of days so I filled up my bucket to the brim in preparation for a long, warm “shower.” Earlier that day, I had bombed my latrine with insecticide because of this awful cockroach problem I’d been dealing with. As I dipped my hair into my bucket I hear the cat outside the shower door getting a little frisky. I figured he was just playing with a lizard as usual. He wasn’t. He was batting around a huge, flying cockroach who scurried right into my shower to escape John Galt’s killer claws. I flipped out a little, pulled myself together, ran out of the shower naked, grabbed my broom and repeatedly slammed it down on the cockroach until I was sure it was dead. I swept it away and continued my peaceful shower. I’ve come so far!

Friday, August 26, 2011

26 August 2011

Take Our Daughters to Work Week was a success for the most part. My favorite moments included: the girls seeing computers for the first time and playing games to learn to use the mouse and keyboard. The girls visiting the hospital and my 2 girls from Pagala telling me that they want to become doctors. My session on feasibility studies and AGRs which I did by myself in French! Playing games and singing songs with the girls. Listening to a song the girls made up for us on the last day – it brought tears to my eyes.

Unfortunately, I’ve been fighting a cold for two weeks now. I think it’s finally starting to go away. This week, the week after Take Our Daughters to Work, I have been too lethargic to do a whole lot. I’ve read two awesome books though – Empire Falls and A Thousand Splendid Suns.

Next week is our Mid-Service Conference in Pagala and after that, I’m heading down to Atakpame for a few days and then to Accra, Ghana with Lyle to celebrate making it a year in Togo! I’m really looking forward to a break before starting my big latrine project, closing out the Take Our Daughters to Work project, and starting the 6-six business skills series. Volunteers always say their second year is better and infinitely more productive that their first, and I’m already finding that to be true.

Friday, August 12, 2011

11 August 2011

I realized that I don’t have a ton of continuity between my blog posts. To update you on all the things I already talked about:
Post Visit party was awesome, lots of delicious food and dancing at Plasir’s, Pagala’s famous bar. The soccer tournament went well, I actually played … and then couldn’t move for two days afterwards because I was so sore. The volunteer team lost in the first round 4-8, but that’s better than last year’s volunteer team who lost 1-8. Pagala’s Togolese team won the tournament and the “grand prix” of 10,000 francs! That’s about $25. Everything else I mentioned from earlier posts went well, even though halfway through pommade de neem, I was convinced it was going to be a huge failure. It wasn’t.

Next week is Take Our Daughters to Work week in my region. Two other girls and I are organizing it along with three incredible Togolese counterparts. It’s for girls aged 13-15 to come to a big city (Sotoboua), meet successful Togolese women, learn general lifeskills, and gain encouragement to stay in school. I’m getting really excited about it!

Next week is also camp Joie, the camp for handicapped children, in Pagala. I’m really bummed I won’t be here. I read some of the letters the kids wrote, and they sound awesome. I hope the camp will really change their lives.

The library the volunteer before me built is having major cashflow issues. I’m trying to figure out what to do about this without just giving them a bunch of money. Unfortunately, giving them money (or rather, stuff like a photocopy machine and solar panel) is seeming like the only viable/sustainable option right now.

My next big project idea is a six-week business skills series for artisans in my canton (like seamstresses, carpenters, mechanics, masons, and hairdressers). I plan to do questionnaires beforehand and individual follow-up after the series. I also want it to be completely self-funded (this is the most exciting part to me!). We’ll see if people go for it or not. People don’t like to pay for things like this and they’re used to an NGO culture who pays them to go to things like this. On vera!

I can’t believe I’m finally down to less than a year. It’s still a really long time, but one of my best volunteer friends and I realized that if we have one thing per month to look forward to, then that’s only 12 more things. Totally doable.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

2 August 2011

Typical Day in Togo … Take Today for Example

6am : The sun is shining in my windows. I want to sleep but the sun is too bright and I really have to go pee (even though I hate my latrine, especially first thing in the morning).
7am: Finally out of bed, making breakfast – an egg sandwich with spreadable cheese (Laughing Cow) , mayonnaise, and some spices. If this sounds gross, move to Togo. You’ll be surprised how your tastes change.
7:30am: eating breakfast, while working on a SPA (Small Project Assistance) proposal for “Amenons Nos Filles au Travail” (or Take Our Daughters to Work).
8:00am: doing dishes and cleaning up the house to leave for the day. Also, making a list of things to do. Leave for my seamstress’ shop, take a back road with my bike and get covered in mud from the knees down on my way there. On the way, a woman calls out to me from her house to come wash my feet and shoes at her house.
8:30am: arrive at my first “to do” of the day, my seamstress. I pay her a little bit of money each month to teach me how to sew. She isn’t there and neither are her apprentices, her shop is closed. I call her and she says she is in her field and she’ll be there tomorrow. I explain that I’m too busy to work with her this month, but hope to continue next month.
8:45am: Arrive at the one place to photocopy things in Pagala and they’re closed. There are two phone numbers on the sign. I try both and both neither work. I vow to make these photocopies tomorrow. Receive a call from my boss letting me know that a new volunteer will be shadowing me in the next few months.
9:00am: look for the president of a women’s farming group. I received some moringa seeds she wanted and wanted to set a meeting with her group to figure out the next step. I asked around her neighborhood and no one knew where she lived. Sigh, another set-back.
9:15: Go to ICAT, the agriculture leader in Pagala, to meet with a guy about a workshop on STIs and HIV/AIDS that he wants to do in our canton. He gave me a really inflated budget (typical Togolese) so we discussed how we can cut off about 2/3 of it.
10:30: pretty tired, return to my house to chill and talk to Lyle on the phone for a bit. Feed the dog (I’m dog-sitting or another volunteer) and start soaking beans for my dinner later that night.
11:30: Go to the Pagala training center where Camp Scientifilles (girls science camp) is going on and watch them discuss Ecology and watched a biogas demonstration where a volunteer showed how to make gas from pig manure.
12:30: eat lunch at the center with other volunteers, then go get a drink at a bar across the street before sessions start again.
3:00: go to a Village Savings and Loan group. No one is there so I walk to a local beer stand and find the members drinking there. I remind them that the meeting started 10 minutes ago, but they convince me to have a drink first.
3:30: a little tipsy, we restart our Savings and Loan group from the year before. We had just finished in June. They changed the pay-in to be more than the year before so everyone is saving a little more now. Before I left, they gave me a tshirt and headscarf they made for the club and we planned on having a little party around the 15th of August. Buy “l’huile rouge” or red oil, a locally made oil, from the club president to have with my beans tonight.
4:30: Stop by the shop of a handicapped tailor to let him know that three of the kids he nominated were selected for Camp Joie (or Camp Joy, a new camp for the outcast handicapped youth of Togo). I gave him letters to give to the kids and met a guy who gave me a Kabye name, Sika.
4:45: stopped by the post office to send two letters and received two letters from America!
5:00: stopped at a woman’s house to buy bread for tomorrow’s breakfast; she makes it fresh everyday, but I can only buy a little bit at a time because with no preservatives, it goes bad in 2-3 days.
5:15: return home, put my bike inside and walk to my neighbor’s house. She sells tchouk, the locally brewed beer, every Tuesday. She was out of fermented, so I drank the sugary non-fermented, tchouk. While drinking, I read my letters from America and had a conversation with some guy about sewing and selling clothes in America and corn-based ethanol to power cars. He was shocked that we would use corn for anything other than eating.
5:45: finally home for the day. Start boiling water for my bucket shower and start boiling my beans for dinner. Watch the nightly descent of the bats from the neighbor’s roof into the dusk. Take my shower. I may not have every mentioned how much spider webs are a part of my daily life. They are everywhere and I run into them daily. It’s annoying, but I don’t freak out anymore.
6:45: smell something burning and realize that it’s my beans. I manage to salvage the beans that aren’t touching the pot and add some gari (dried and ground cassava) and red oil with fried onions for dinner. Save half of the beans for a meal tomorrow.
7:00: receive a message from one of the science camp organizers asking if I can bring sewing needles over. I’m already in my pajamas, but call up a moto driver I know to come to my house and bring her the needles.
7:40: writing this blog post while a bug continuously flied into my computer screen. I must have flicked it away 10 times by now but it keeps coming back. Reflect on the days events and thank my lucky stars that no matter how many times I tell people I’m fasting with them for Ramadan, I don’t actually have to. Although, I am making a point to only eat in my house for the next month and not eat in public.
7:45: if this bug comes one more time, I’m going to freak out. Going to read and go to bed!

PS - Friday makes my one year anniversary at post!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

12 July 2011

Well, things are heating up! Not literally, the weather is actually cooling off because of raining season. But work is getting busy.

July 4th went well, but we didn’t play games. Unless you count Settlers of Catan.

Now preparing for things ahead. This week: met with a groupment to discuss growing moringa. A groupment is a group, usually comprised of women, who combine their money to buy land, crops, fertilizer, etc; grow and work together in the fields; and split the profits. Moringa is a hardy tree originally from India which Peace Corps pushes as a great alternative to multi-vitamins. The leaves are full of vitamins and, when dried and ground into a powder, can be added to food to save the lives of malnourished children and add a much-needed vitamin boost to the typical Togolese diet. The groupment and I are going to start teaching Pagala about the benefits of moringa and they are going to plant a few trees to try out. Next year, if all goes well, they want to plant a whole field of moringa and sell the leaves and the powder in the market.

My apprentice club is going well. We went from 7 girls too shy to talk to about 50 apprentices from all trades who are lively and motivated. We’ve talked about everything from their apprentice exam to condoms to marketing. I look forward to going every week and they have come so far already!

My club des meres (Mother’s Club) and I are going to be making pommade de neem on Thursday morning and preparing for our first Nettoyage du Village. Pommade de neem is a lotion people can use to prevent mosquito bites which is really important right now during rainy season and malaria season. Nettoyage du Village is going to be a village clean-up every Sunday after the Saturday market. Pagala’s market is the 5th largest market in Togo (not bad for a little village without electricity, huh?) and after the people come, they leave behind a huge mess! The club des meres and I are going out to the market, armed with brooms to clean the market and burn the trash. This is also in preparation for our big celebration the next day – African Women’s Day!

Friday is Pagala cluster’s traditional welcome party to welcome our newest cluster member – Lauren! Saturday is our regional post visit party and I spent the morning planning our somewhat American menu.

Sunday is a soccer tournament to promote clean water. The volunteers have a team and we’re playing against a team from Pagala, Waragni, and Tchere-bou. We’ll be bringing in the other village teams in bush taxis and motos, serving them lunch, and promoting water purification, hand-washing, and using pump water instead of river water. After a big party, it will be interesting to see how the volunteer team fairs, ha.

I’ll try to keep updating on the reg. Only 13 more months!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

2 July 2011

2 July 2011

So I’m sorry that I’ve fallen off the face of the Earth. Actually, I was in Switzerland which is a much more connected place than Togo, but was too busy eating cheese and drinking fabulous wine to post on my Peace Corps blog.

So training went well. On June 3rd, I welcomed 23 clean, bright-eyed Americans to the Lome Airport. They were so excited to be here and full of questions! Me and two other trainers hung out with the new trainees for a few days in Lome and taught them about how to filter our water, the importance of taking malaria medicine, and how to use a latrine. I then went up to Tsevie with them where they met their host families and began the first leg of their service in Togo – training. They definitely started freaking out after the first couple nights and the training manager took me aside to say, “go get them drinks and talk it out!” Everyone is still here and I think they’re getting the hang of things.

After my week of training, it was off to Switzerland with my boyfriend and his family. We stayed in a beautiful chalet in a village called Leysin. We had a view of the Alps and the city and were a two minute walk from a bakery, so we had fresh breads and pastries every morning! We also ate a lot of traditional Swiss meals such as raclette and fondu. We visited lots of friends and lots of friends visited us! We also hiked around Leysin, explored Gruyere, and swam in Lake Geneva. Overall, a perfect, and much needed, vacation.

Welcome back to Togo where taxi drivers try to overcharge you and people yell “yovo” when you walk by. Did I miss this? Not really. It’s been a tough adjustment back, but luckily, I have several projects going on so I’m keeping busy.

We stayed in Lome for a day to help us adjust back and then went to Atakpame for a couple of days to see other volunteers. A few times, I almost had breakdowns.
Example 1 – went to a “nice” restaurant for brunch for a volunteer’s birthday. We were so excited to get pizza and the waiter tells us there’s no ham. Ok, no big deal, cheese pizza is great too! Oh wait, there’s no cheese? There’s no beef? What do you have? Rice, spaghetti, and cous cous. Breakdown number one.
Example 2 – make it back to Pagala and have a girl do all of my laundry. She hangs it all on the line and leaves. A few hours later ... CRASH!! The entire clothing line fell down and all of my wet, clean clothes went right into the dirt. Breakdown number two.

I’m keeping Cousteau, my boyfriend’s dog, for a few weeks and he’s so much fun! I miss having a dog, so I’m looking into getting another volunteer’s dog when he finishes his service in November/December.

Upcoming events:
July 4th, duh! Always the hostess, I just couldn’t let July 4th pass without at least a little party. So we’re grilling out hot dogs with the traditional sides of pasta salad, potato salad, etc. And for dessert, brownies and s’mores! We’re also going to do some American games, so I’ll take pictures.

July 16th – post visit party. The new volunteers are visiting their posts for a week, so we throw them a little party every year to welcome them to the region. The Centralers voted that Pagala was hosting this year, so we’re going all out. Roasting a pig in the ground and having a good ol’ Southern barbeque.

July 24th – training, again. I’ll be heading back to Tsevie to spend another week with the trainees before they swear-in and become real volunteers!

One of the only things that made coming back to Togo bearable was having packages and letters waiting for me at the post office. Thanks you guys, I could never make it here without you!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Camp Joie

Wanted to also put in a plug for an amazing project some volunteers from my training group are doing! They're trying to raise money from back home for a camp for handicapped Togolese children. Check it out here:

6 May 2011

Wow, it has been an eventful couple of weeks and you are about to get the highlights!

I’m going to be a trainer for the new volunteers coming in June. I have a week-long training in mid-May and then the new people fly into Lome on June 3. I really wanted to be a trainer so I’m super excited! I’m hoping that seeing all these fresh new faces will help to remind me how far I’ve come.

I went shopping in the marche for a duck to kill for Easter. I picked out a nice female, they tied up her feet and wings, and I put her in a bag for my 40-minute moto trek to my boyfriend’s village. When I got her home (and named her Little Lady), I felt bad about her feet and wings being tied up so we freed her to roam around an empty room. A few hours later, I went to check on her and she had escaped! After a 30-minute search, she was found wandering around village. We brought her back home and tied her to a log so she couldn’t run away again – maybe she knew her fate. Anyway, ducks are pretty cute and we didn’t have to heart to kill her ourselves, so we gave Little Lady to a friend to kill, defeather, and cook for us. We provided sides of expired canned French-style green beans and tomatoes stuffed with rice. They brought over pate rouge and “duck.” However, the “duck” tasted an awful lot like chicken, and though I can’t prove it, I think Little Lady’s still out there waddling around somewhere.

My boyfriend’s dog came home with an interesting treasure one morning. A baby goat’s head. Apparently, someone had eaten this goat but didn’t through the head far enough into the bush. The dog was so proud of his treasure, but everyone else was so grossed out, including me. I thought, “this is my life.”

There’s been a big vaccination campaign going on throughout Togo and one of my friends, a health volunteer, texted me to say she just had to “vaccinate” a voodoo doll.

Coming home from the marche in my boyfriend’s village (I spent a week there to recover from being sick), we stopped by the dispensary to greet everyone he works with. There was a giant bush rat being smoked over a fire and everyone was so proud of it. Just to say I have, I tasted it. It was actually kid of good, but it’s probably just because I’ve been in Togo for so long.

I met these missionaries in Sokode and after a wonderful lunch of roast beef, veggies, and real bread, we watched the 2011 Superbowl! Only a few months late, but I was excited anyway. Not for long because I suddenly felt achy, feverish, and overheated. Yes, I contracted le palu, or as we in America say, malaria. I started medicine immediately and felt better within an hour only to be waken in the middle of the night with a fever and chills under two blankets. I was back to normal in just a few days.

Camps will be starting in Pagala in a couple of weeks so that means electricity at the Peace Corps center all summer! It’s going to be great and I hope very productive. Also, there will be plenty of volunteers to hang out with when that village loneliness starts to creep in.

May 1st is the biggest party in Togo it seems! It’s their Labor Day and my village went all out. We had a parade, complete with moto drivers doing tricks, people singing & dancing, and inspiring speeches (about us getting electricity, yes!). After that, all the important people in village, chiefs, presidents, me?, etc. got a free drink of our choice and congratulated the party planning committee on a job well done. In the afternoon, the festivities continued with two hilarious soccer matches and a HUGE village-wide picnic. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen and I had such a blast.

The next 36 days (days left until VACATION!) are going to be really, really busy, but I’ll try to update when I can. I still miss you all terribly, but find that I’m adjusting to this crazy life here just fine. Being busy really helps. That’s not to say I don’t spend every day pining for a flushing toilet (I do), but I think I’ll make it to end. Thanks for all the letters, packages, emails, and phone calls!! I love knowing I’m not forgotten over in this remote corner of the Earth.

PS – You know the Chinese people left and took my electricity with them, but I heard a rumor that Americans are moving in next-door. I don’t believe it, of course, but anything’s possible in Togo.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

21 April 2011

Hi friends and family!

Togo is starting to be a big bummer and I’m really homesick, but I’m keeping my chin up and looking forward to a vacation in Switzerland in June!

A little talk about village life:
Projects overall are going well. The latrine project is a huge pain and I’m apply for over $5,000 to do the project. We are currently working on our 5th budget! I’ve been encouraged that this the hardest part of the project, so once we get the final budget and the money, I hope it will be smooth sailing.
I have 4 Village Savings and Loan Groups going strong and it’s one of my favorite things to do with women here. I have one closing in June and they’ve already told me they want to start again when it ends. (The groups run for one year; at the end of that year, the women get their money back with interest, like a mini-bank.)
I have a club with apprentices and we are currently in the middle of a four-part series on marketing. I’ve decided to make apprentices a priority in my service because they are often considered the “lesser” people of society, not having finished school. Their bosses also treat them terribly (not always, but often).
I’m planning a soccer tournament in July with another volunteer. It will include a team of volunteers and homologues, and team of Togolese students from Pagala, Waragni, and Tchare-baou (surrounding villages). The theme is going to be clean water and food sanitation.
Also planning “Take Your Daughters to Work” week with two other volunteers where we will bring middle school girls from all over our region to spend a week learning self-confidence, talking to powerful women of Togo, and being encouraged to continue to pursue their education.
On Saturday, I have the first meeting to start planning a regional women’s conference to teach women of Togo health and wellness practices, financial literacy, and general empowerment. I’m really excited about it.
I’ve started volunteering with a microfinance institution called URCLEC (Union Renovee des Caisses Locales d’Epargne et de Credit) two days a week working in their credit and tontine departments.
Easter is coming up, so no one’s doing much lately besides preparing for the fête. The 1st of May is also a huge party in village so that’s contributing to the general lack of work. Seamstresses are slammed, though, because everyone wants party clothes made for the 1st of May. It’s their labor day.

So that’s a general update on work, now some entertaining things about Togo:
If you haven’t spent time on a farm, you may not realize how much goats sound like kids. It’s a fun game to try to guess whether the sounds I’m hearing outside my compound are coming from goats or children.
When Kotokoli people greet eachother, they all squat all the way to the ground and say (in Kotokoli, obviously): welcome, ok, good morning, ok, and your activites?, going well, and the work?, going well, thank you, ok, yes, yes, ok, ok, yes, ok… this can continue for about a minute and I love to watch it. And I can participate now because I speak enough Kotokoli to greet and answer the question “where are you going?”
My neighbor came over the invite over for lunch of pate rouge and duck (one Togolese meal I actually love!). While I was there they asked me to serve the pate. I started serving with a spoon and the guy commented that I was using my left hand. I apologized and explained I’m left handed and I forgot that is a cultural taboo here. He said that it was ok, being left handed is pretty. When I started eating, he made a typical Togolese sound of exclamation (like a high-pitched oh?, or ah!) and said “she really is left handed!” Everyone thinks it’s so funny that I’m left-handed. They also proceeded to demand why I shave my legs and tell me that I must get pregnant before I leave Togo because I’m already 24 and soon I’ll be too old to have babies.

You definitely have to have a sense of humor to survive here and it’s nice that there are other Americans who understand the hilarity of our lives. I’m afraid you will all think I’m strange when I get back to the US because I’ll be going on about how beautiful grocery stores are and how I haven’t had broccoli in two years and how “awesome” a building is because it has electricity.

For Easter, I’m going to my boyfriend’s village to celebrate. (This is a little ironic because his entire village is Muslim and doesn’t celebrate Easter.) The women he works with most in village, though, isn’t Muslim and we’re going to make duck and whatever side we can create with the limited ingredients here.

I’m continuing to work with my seamstress and am currently working on a very Togolese complet for myself (a long skirt and matching skirt). It will be one of those things I leave here when I’m packing for home. You know, good for Togo, weird in America.

8 April 2011

A good friend of mine in America brought to my attention that I haven't updated in a while. Sorry!

So, I'm sitting in the office in Lome filing my taxes. Don't you love filing your taxes? I just finished my VRF (volunteer reporting file). It's something congress makes us do a couple of times a year to make sure we're not just being bums over here. Rest assured though, I just received an email letting us know that if the federal government shuts down, it's still business as usual over here in Togo.

So for my boyfriend's birthday, we jumped off the side of a mountain! We paraglided down to a runway owned by an American hospital who never uses it. It was sweet and I'll try to get some pictures on facebook. We went with another couple, but the wind wasn't very strong so they didn't get to go. That was a bummer. It was also a bummer the day before when we got all the way up to the village and it started pouring down! We took motos to another village and stayed the night in a monastery! It was really quiet and very lovely. (We paraglided the next day.)

The day after paragliding, the four of us made the long trek to a beautiful big city in the middle of nowhere called Badou. We stayed the night there and took motos to a neighboring village to hike about 45 minutes to the waterfall. It was stunning. We swam and took lot of pictures and exhausted ourselves! Then we made burritos for dinner with flank steak and rice and beans and avocados and salsa. Mmmmm.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

15 March 2011

I just spent half of a day travelling about 50 kilometers. To say it was terrible, doesn’t begin to describe the feelings I had toward Togo today. I decided to take a car from Pagala instead of a moto, to save money (300CFA or about $.60), and plus I was with another volunteer so it’s easier to take a car. A driver said he was leaving in 30 minutes; he promised. After the 30 minutes, I found the driver, smoking a cigarette, and ask him if we were leaving. He said we’re waiting on one guy at his house and he’s coming soon. An hour later, after a terrifying episode with a mouse running at me and the driver picking it up by the tail and throwing it down on concrete to kill it, we decided to just take motos. About this time the driver comes running out telling everyone to get in the car, we leaving. We pack in. Four people in each row made for three and five in my row, counting a little girl. Start driving, SLOWLY. The driver keeps stopping along the dirt road to ask people where they’re going before telling them no and continuing on. I don’t know why he’s doing this because the only way we’re fitting another person in this car is in the trunk. About 1 km outside of Blitta, the entire car breaks down. Everyone gets out looking for shade to sit under while we wait for them to fix the car. We’re right in the middle of hot season, so shade is crucial. It starts looking like this car isn’t going to be repaired anytime soon and people are starting to leave as motos drive by. Another car finally comes and says they’ll take us to Tchebebe, and we can take a car from there to Sotoboua (final destination!). We arrive in Tchebebe, but the guy doesn’t let us out on the road like he said he would. He drives us back into the market area where we sat for another 30 minutes because he’s changed his mind and decided to go all the way to Sotoboua. Of course he couldn’t leave without finding more people for the car. I was sitting on like an inch of seat with my leg in such a weird position, it fell asleep and wouldn’t wake up! We finally get to Sotoboua 5 hours after we left my house and the driver tries to overcharge. We gave him what he deserved and left with him yelling at us. Just another day in Togo.

Speaking of just another day, I realized all of the things I thought were so strange when I arrived seem so commonplace now. Example, a woman got onto a bush taxi carrying her baby in one arm and a chicken in the other. The chicken kept freaking out and flapping its wings trying to get out. She started getting flustered and a guy behind her said “bring the chicken,” so she gave it to him and he just stuffed it under the seat. We didn’t hear much out of the chicken after that.

Sunday, I went to a savings and loan meeting at 6am and afterwards my homologue invited me to go to two baptisms with him. We just showed up to these people’s houses uninvited and not only were welcomed, but mentioned in the prayer, given spoons with our food (most people use hands), and allowed to sit with the important people in a chair (most people sit on the ground). At the 2nd baptism, they asked us to pray for the child right there on the spot. Talk about nerve wracking! In the middle of all these people speaking local language, going through the usual tradition, someone wants me to say something in terrible French. Naturally, I make the other volunteer I’m with say something, and everyone loves it and claps, and afterwards the father thanks us. Then he let us watch while he killed a mutton for the feast. Being an American in Togo is like being a celebrity. Everyone knows you, everyone reveres you, everyone goes out of their way to please you.

Another funny thing they do in Togo is what the volunteers affectionately called saluer-ing, or greeting. Since they speak French like they speak their local language, saluer-ing is a long process. While it differs by ethnic group (for example, the Kotokoli women squat all the way to the ground to saluer eachother), they all say pretty much the same thing. Good morning/afternoon, how’s it going? And your home? And the family? And the children? And your activities? And the work? And the fatigue? And your courage? Etc. People sometimes call just to saluer. It’s a really endearing thing about Togo.

So, I have this weird obsession with a nomadic tribe that “lives” in Pagala. I put lives in quotations because they really don’t live anywhere, they’re nomads. Anyway, they’re called Fulani and they are awesome. They dress so cool. The men look like they just stepped out of 1977 and the women look like exotic gypsies. They’re all wealthy because they herd cows for a living. One cow can sell for well over 150,000 CFA (over $300!). They also sell milk (obviously unpasteurized) and this cheese called wagash. They have their own language. I really want to do some kind of health formation with them, but don’t have a great person to work with as the Fulani are often discriminated against in a way similar to African Americans were in the US in the 1960s.

Work’s good, life’s good (besides to obvious travel issues today). Miss everyone back home and thanks for all that you do for me while I’m here. I appreciate every letter, call, email, facebook message, and care package that I get! You guys keep me going and I love hearing your thinking about me because I’m always thinking about you. Wishing you all safe, easy, chicken-free travels today!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


2 March 2011

It’s been almost 9 months in Togo, and I’m 7 months into my service. I’m currently in transit from Burkina back to my village, so I’m sitting in the Peace Corps transit house in Dapaong. Now I’ve officially stayed at least one night in every regional capital of Togo. How exciting.

The film festival was really cool! There were so many foreigners there and it was awesome to just sit in a café and listen to all of the different languages. We saw 5 films while we were there, and they were really hit or miss. One of them was the worst movies I’d ever seen in my life and others I really enjoyed. There was one Haitian film I liked, set in Paris, about love but definitely not a love story. It followed the lives of thee women, a teacher who messes around with her student, a woman who is fed up with love and decides to invite the first guy she sees to move into her apartment, and a girl who is confused about life and religion when she starts seeing religious signs. Really well done – well filmed and well written. A few of the movies were hard to follow because they were in another language with French subtitles. Trying to follow fast, French subtitles is not so easy!

Ouagadougou is a little more developed than Lome and definitely has more culture. Several of the films were shown at the “Institut Francais,” a little art gallery, library, and French café. The first night, we walked around the art gallery to see the works of Patrick Singh. I thought he was incredibly talented and you should google some of his work – especially if you want to really understand the faces of West Africa. After the gallery, we drank expresso in the little French café and ate a ham and gruyere sandwich. It was like heaven.

Now it’s back to the grindstone in Pagala for a few weeks. We’re celebrating my boyfriend’s birthday in mid-March, so are going to visit another volunteer who lives near the famous waterfall of Togo. The greatest thing about being here so far has been all of the opportunities to travel. It’s an exotic life I live here in West Africa!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

20 February 2011

Well, I had electricity longer than any other Pagala volunteer has ever had electricity. It was only for a month; yesterday, the Chinese engineers packed up a giant truck for Sokode and left an empty house in Pagala. With them, they took the electricity that they’d so generously loaned to me. People say that Pagala is getting electricity, but I don’t actually believe it, and even if we do, I’ve been told it’s not coming to my neighborhood. Oh well, at least now I’ve earned back to right to brag about living 2 years without electricity or running water.

Also this week, I had 50.000CFA stolen out of my purse in the volunteer lounge in Lome (about $100USD) and I ran out of gas for my gas stove. Things were going all too well for all too long. Thanks, Togo!

In other (better) news, projects are starting and I have lot of ideas for other projects to start. Biggest project right now is building 20 latrines in Pagala, but we’re working on getting the price down from the original 15.000.000 CFA estimate to about 3.000.000 CFA. We’ve had to revise the plan a little bit, but we’re sticking with it, people are excited and motivated, and people are doing their parts to get the project up and running. I also have a group of apprentices that Djobo and I are teaching each week about gender equality, HIV/AIDS, drugs and alcohol, French, and business skills. Pretty broad range. So far, it’s not going very well. Having trouble motivating the kids to get excited and/or speak up about anything. One problem for sure is language. Most of the time, when kids become apprentices, they’ve dropped out of school early having only finished elementary/middle school. This means they haven’t had a lot of time to study French and most speak only in local language to each other. Djobo is there, luckily, and he speaks 5 languages which helps. But we’re still having trouble with them. We’re doing to do ice breakers and more interactive activities, so I hope that helps. Keep you posted!

I ended up getting a new seamstress to work with. My old one was just not working out. She wasn’t a good teacher, she always wanted money, and I felt she constantly took advantage of me. My new one is great! She understands that I’m just doing it for fun. I got a sewing machine at my house so she lets me take work home, and I go to her place one day per week. She also talks me through how to measure people and how their measurements line up to cutting the fabric and sewing it together. I can’t do anything complicated yet, but hopefully one day!

Next week, I’m heading up to Burkina Faso with my boyfriend and several other volunteers. Fespaco, the biggest West African film festival, is going on from February 25 to March 5. We’re really excited because it only happens in Burkina Faso every 2 years! The visa we got is a 60 day visa good for 5 different countries in West Africa – Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo, and Benin. We’re going to try to make a trip at the beginning of April to Benin, so we will have seen all of the countries surrounding Togo. I think I’ll be ready for a real vacation (OUTSIDE of Africa) after that.

As always, thanks to everyone for following my blog, keeping in touch, sending goodies, etc. It’s almost been 9 months in Togo! Only 17 months left on March 5.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

28 Jan 2011

I’ve been meaning to post for a while now. So much is happening! First, the Chinese engineers that live next door to me couldn’t understand how I lived with no electricity so they sent a wire from their house to mine! Now I have a light bulb in my bedroom and a place to charge my phone and computer. Big time game changer.
A couple of weeks ago, I had a meeting with the village chief and the chiefs of each quartier (kind of like neighborhoods within a village) to discuss the latrine project and cultural center. They were really excited. I was so nervous; not only was I giving a presentation to the most important people in my village, but I had to give it in French! It all was translated into Kotikoli, one of the local languages, by my homologue, Djobo. Pagala has 10 quartiers, and I’ve decided to build 20 latrines, so that makes 2 per quartier. The chiefs of each quartier are going to choose 5 possible places for the latrines. From there, we will teach the families how to use the latrine, sanitation rules, etc. We are requiring the families to come to 100% of the formations we do in order to be eligible for a latrine. If they can’t be motivated enough to do that, they probably won’t be motivated enough to use and maintain their new latrine. We are in the process of choosing someone to build the latrines, so once we choose and finalize the budget, we can apply for funding. It going to be a pretty big project and we still have so much work to do!

When we discussed the cultural center, I started getting a little frustrated. Djobo and I showed them the plan we’d made, and all they wanted was more. Someone said it needed to be bigger, another said it needed a library (the volunteer in Pagala before me already started a library), and another still said if I didn’t do everything they wanted, they could always find an NGO to come finish it. It made me mad! Here I am giving them all of this for almost nothing (I say almost because the community has to contribute 25%) and they just want more. It made me wonder if the presence of aid in Africa has done more harm than good. Maybe if NGO and volunteers weren’t here, they would be motivated to do things on their own rather than waiting around for some other country to give it to them. Maybe they would be more progressive and innovative. It made me wonder why I’m doing all these projects. Is it for the community or is it so that I can leave feeling good about myself?

So right now, I’m sitting in an air conditioned room in the Peace Corps Medical Unit. I had to come back yesterday because I woke up with an itchy rash on my neck, face, arms, stomach, and back. They wanted me to come to Lome so they could look at it. I was supposed to see the doctor yesterday afternoon, but transportation is so unreliable here, I didn’t get here until 6:30pm! I had to wait an hour for my first car out of Pagala to fill up (when I say fill up, I mean two people in the passenger’s seat, five in the back seat), then I got to Langabou to catch a bush taxi to Lome. I was pretty excited because I found one immediately and it was really full meaning they driver wouldn’t stop every 5 seconds to pick someone up. My hopes of getting to the med unit on time were dashed almost immediately, though, because we drove about 10 feet before stopping again and everyone got out of the car. I saw why soon enough, one of the back tires flat and hissing air. Awesome. So we waiting there for a while and stopped about 600 more times on the way down. Overall, the trip took about 8 hours to go less than 200km. I’m supposed to see the doctor this morning. I’m sure it isn’t bad, so I’m hoping I’ll get to go back up to Pagala today or tomorrow.

Life in Africa is, well, life in Africa. Slow-paced, worry-free attitudes, and lot of problems. Sometimes incredibly rewarding, other times frustrating, other times depressing, but it always is. Eight months down, eighteen to go!

Monday, January 10, 2011

5 January 2011

6 Jan 2010
I think I’m falling in love with Africa. As much as I complain, and as much as I say I hate it, I’m starting to really like it here. Don’t get me wrong, I still miss my blackberry and Target and refrigerators, but there is something simple and endearing about life in Africa. I came back to my village after vacation and actually felt like I was home. Home with some interesting changes …
Change #1: They’ve been building a new compound right next to me. I was excited for two reasons: to have new neighbors and the houses were wired for electricity! I thought electricity must be coming soon to Pagala. Well it did. But only to that compound. I walk outside one morning and what do I see but 7 Chinese men and their monkey. It’s absurd but true. They have a giant generator that powers their compound night and day. They let me charge my computer for free, gave me a Coke, and drove me home once in their air conditioned CAR! So what are they doing here? 5 of them are recently graduated engineers who couldn’t find jobs (I guess Togo seemed like a better alternative than unemployment), 1 is their translator who speaks French with a Chinese accent, and 1 is their cook. Oh yes, they brought along a cook to make them real Chinese food. I’d say I hit the jackpot. They’re here for 5 months and one told me he’s already ready to go home. They’ve got a long way to go.
Change #2: I was startled awake around 3am to an unfamiliar sound. It sounded like a freight train rushing past my window. I jumped out of ned to see what was going on but it was dark and I didn’t have my contacts in. Putting it out of my mind, I eventually fell back asleep. The next night, I heard the sound again and opened my compound door to see an actual train flying by on the track that run next to my house. It’s pretty well known that Togo has railroad tracks, but it’s also well known that they let them get rundown and overgrown to the point that they were impossible to use. Apparently, they’re now doing test-runs to start freight trains again. Pretty exciting! I just hope they don’t do all the train runs at 3 o’clock in the morning.
Change #3: Jacques, my puppy, is having a lot of problems. I got him when he was just under a month old and took care of him and loved him. He loves me, but he has a seriously problem with males. I think maybe a male beat him when he was a little puppy and now he just freaks out when a man comes near him. To combat this problem, I let a male volunteer take him for a few weeks to take care of him and hopefully show him that there’s no reason to be afraid. It isn’t going well. Jacques tried to escape from the compound and got stuck in the fence. He ended up with a gash in his head and a really bad twisted leg. He can’t put any weight on it. And he still freaks out when males are near! It makes me so mad the way Togolese people treat dogs. They hit them, throw rocks at them, yell at them; it’s no wonder my dog is terrified. I might have to give him away, but stay posted.
Change #4: I have internet at my house!
Christmas and New Years were pretty good! I spent Christmas in Kara and the other volunteers and I did a white elephant exchange and the presents were so funny! One person got a live chicken! We named him Samuel and he was delicious. Spent Christmas day laying by a hotel pool and then going out for a very nice dinner; I got filet mignon! Ghana for the New Year was AMAZING. They have a mall that reminded me of America and our hotel had air conditioner and hot water! To ring in the actual New Year, we went to a nearby hotel on the beach where they were having live music. Unfortunately, with all the traffic, it took nearly 4 hours to get back to our hotel on New Year’s Eve and we didn’t make it to the party until 11:45! I was pretty sick, so ended up staying out for about 30 minutes before coming home and falling asleep. Overall, though, fantastic vacation! Ate Chinese food, Indian food, American food, etc. I felt like I gained back all the weight I’ve lost since being here!
Work wise, I’m trying to get started on several things. Pagala really needs latrines, so I’ll probably build some of those. I’m also going to start English tutoring, a business club for apprentices, and maybe some other stuff like that. The project I’m most excited about, and I want it to be my biggest project, is a cultural center! We’ll see how all of there things play out over the next few months, and, as always, I’ll keep you informed. Happy 2011!