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 fĂȘte. 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.