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!