Saturday, January 14, 2012

Forgot to post the link below!

Link to the Women's Conference:

14 January 2012

The school strikes are still going strong. Teachers are refusing to go to school until the government meets their demands. Their demand being to get paid fairly. Unfortunately, the corruption in this country is overwhelmingly prevalent, and many people think that the strike isn’t going to work.

In other Togo news, the price of gas in Nigeria went up and the Togolese black market gas vendors buy all of their gas from Benin, who buys from Nigeria. So, Togo gas went from being 500F (about $1) per liter to 1200F (about $2.50) per liter over the course of a week. Needless to say, there are gas shortages everywhere, the price to travel by moto has doubled, and travel prices by car are changing every day. It’s a crazy (and expensive) time to be in Togo!

A few days ago, I was reading the book The Zanzibar Chest about a Reuters correspondent in East Africa in the 1990s. It was really sad reading about the famine in Somalia and the genocide in Rwanda. I thought of my Togolese brothers and sisters and imagine how heart-wrenching it would be if disaster stuck here. Anyway, I couldn’t stay in my house and be sad all day so I went on a walk and ran a few errands. I walked over a friend’s house who is a wood sculptor. He lives across the “street” from the village chief who recently passed away, and I noticed people gathering at the chief’s old gazebo. The artist friend told me they were having a traditional dance to honor the chief – the women from the nearby village of AdelĂ© came to show their skills. We sat under the gazebo in the late afternoon and I watched the women dance like only Africans can. Some were dressed as men and I laughed as they imitated the men trying to dance with women and act cool. They brought out tons of locally brewed beer (tchouk) and gin (sodabe), and as the orange sun set over the distant mountains and the drums beat to an African rhythm and the women sang, danced, and kicked up dust, I thought that I could imagine no other life for myself than this.

It’s been tough to start a lot of projects in village knowing that I’ll be leaving for the whole month of February. Plus, I’ve been traveling to Sokode trying to deal with the Tribunal so that we can finally put to rest the investigation of the stolen money. I have to go again next week and I hope it will be the last time. I found a new house in Pagala. It’s next door to several families and I think I’ll feel much safer there than in my current isolated house. Peace Corps is coming up to look at the house next week and if everything goes well, I hope to move in when I get back from the US.

I’m really excited about the Women’s Conference coming up in March. We plan to give 20 women from the Centrale region a weekend that they’ll never forget. We’re putting them up in a nice hotel with hot showers and air conditioner, and doing things like yoga, meditation, aerobics, art, journaling, diversity activities, and other things that they’re going to think are totally off the wall! For most of the women, it will be their first time ever experiencing a nice hotel and fellowship with other women without the responsibilities of cooking, cleaning, and watching kids. I really think it’s going to change their lives. We’ll also we talking about self confidence, sex, menopause, financial independence, gardening, nutrition, etc. Check out the WWEC website HERE.

This morning on my way into Sokode on a moto, my moto driver stopped and asked me to get off the moto and walk a little bit. We were on a dirt path in the middle of nowhere. So I got off and he just drove away. I start walking. Fifteen minutes later, I finally see him and he’s with another moto driver. We said that I could take this guy since the original guy’s moto was broken. Togo! So, I hopped on this guy’s moto and we start trekking to Sokode when all of the sudden the moto driver started pointing at something and saying, “wow, look, look, look!” I saw two wild monkeys jump out of a tree and run across the road before jumping into the tree on the other side of the road. It’s the first time I’ve seen wild monkeys in Togo, although I’d heard that they exist. It was really cool.

Three more weeks until vacation!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

3 January 2012

The holidays always make it hard to find time to write. My holiday season this year was much more laid back than last year and probably much more laid back than any of you in the US! I spent Christmas in Pagala with my boyfriend and we spent New Year’s in Lome lounging at the beach and pool.

However, it wouldn’t be Togo without some little surprises and adventures along the way! After I decided to roast a duck for Christmas dinner, I set out the market to buy one. Knowing that no one would sell me a duck at a good price since I’m white, I gave Djobo money to buy one for me. All the ducks were too expensive, but at the last minute we found a duck for 3500F ($7). The duck was in pretty bad shape though. Apparently, he kept trying to fly away so his owner ripped out the feathers on his wings and he was bleeding everywhere. I carried him by his feet on a moto home, and I still have blood on my front door from the duck flapping his wings. The worst part of it all was that I had his blood all over me too! It was splattered all over my hands, feet, dress, face… I almost had a meltdown. But instead of melting down I just took a bucket bath, scrubbed my skin until it hurt, and changed clothes. I gave the duck some water and made a little pool for him to swim, although we seemed too traumatized to move. Needless to say, I wanted no part in killing this duck and briefly entertained the idea of keeping him as a pet.

However, Christmas dinner needed to be made and if I can’t kill an animal for its meat, I probably shouldn’t be eating meat at all. Being here has made me amazed at our complete disconnect between a living animal and eating meat in the US. Meat is in a clean, pretty package, while the animal is some abstract concept we sometimes feel guilty about. Anyway, I called Djobo and he did the deed (killed the duck), plucked his feathers, and cleaned out the organs. We gave him the head, feet, and organs because they eat all of that here. I felt a little guilty admitting to Djobo that we weren’t going to eat that part since nothing goes to waste here. We dressed the duck, rigged up a makeshift oven, and roasted it for 3 ½ hours, adding a deliciously spicy honey-orange glaze near the end. For all the trauma the duck caused me, he still ended up being the perfect centerpiece at our Christmas dinner.

Fast forward to Lome, where we ate cheeseburgers for breakfast, lay by the US Ambassador’s pool, and drank wine from a bottle (not a box!). The night before New Year’s Eve, we hadn’t slept at all due to the infestation of mosquitoes in our hotel room. So, when it was time to ring in the New Year, we were both already asleep. The next morning when we woke up, we decided to do our own little countdown for California’s New Year, which was 8AM in Togo.

January is promising to be a busy month, which is great considering I’m looking forward to my visit home in February. I have lots of new projects starting and lots of old projects continuing. I miss you all and can’t wait to see you in a little over a month!

9 December 2011

What a day! I woke up in Pagala, went to a Village Savings and Loans meeting, and on a whim, decided to come to my regional capital, Sokode, for the day to get some computer work done and buy vegetables and supplies for income generating activities I’m doing with women in my village.

I’ve been super paranoid about traveling lately because there have been several bad accidents along the grande route. The bus of the Togolese soccer team flipped and exploded, killing 6 people. I also witnessed the wreckage of a mangled car that several friends of mine had been in the day before it crashed. I saw a car sitting in the middle of the road completely engulfed in the biggest fire I’ve ever seen. The roads are terrible, the cars are old and unsafe, and the drivers swerve all over the road avoiding potholes and passing overloaded semis. So, on my to Sokode, my driver thinks he can pass two trucks moving slowly down the road. He starts to pass and the second semi decides to pass the first one. (Our national road in a two-lane highway riddled with giant potholes; it isn’t even paved in some parts.) My driver sees the semi coming, but his brakes are so bad we just weren’t slowing down fast enough. Luckily, the brakes kicked in and our tires squealed as we narrowly missed an accident.

When we got to Sokode, my boyfriend and I put our bags down in the Peace Corps workstation (a little room inside an NGO building) and left to go run errands in the city. He hopped on motos and asked them to take us up to the bank which smack dab in the center of Sokode. As we’re getting closer, I notice that traffic is really backed up. There is one 18-wheeler after the other completely stopped in the middle of the road. Our motos are flying past the trucks and I start seeing burning piles of something here and there. I look ahead to see what looked like a war zone – burning tires and smoke everywhere, a giant crowd of people, the road straight ahead blocked off. As our motos approached, we were swarmed with people yelling at us to get off the motos. I tried to pay my moto driver and some man grabbed my hand, trying to pry the money from the fingers while everyone is yelling at me and pushing me. They’re telling me to just not pay and get out; they led me to the sidewalk where I met up with my boyfriend whom I’d lost in the crowd. They keep urging us to leave but we were trying to get to the bank. As we walk toward the bank, we see that it’s closed … along with every other store along the street. We walked a safe distance away and watched as the protesters lit more tires on fire and blocked traffic on all sides with rocks and burning logs. We asked a fellow bystander what was going on and they said the students were protesting.

This deserves a little bit of background. School in Togo normally starts in September, but this year, it didn’t start until October and university didn’t start until mid-November. Why? The teachers were on strike. They aren’t getting paid. The government is withholding money from the schools and they have no supplies. At the high school in my village, they were turning students away because classes were already too full. My English teacher told me that instead of having three seconde classes of 90 students each, they combined it into two classes of 135 each so that they only have to pay him to teach two classes, not three. As you can imagine, teaching to a class of 135 students is nearly impossible. There is not even money to buy chalk. After school started, the union brought their demand to the government and gave them a certain period of time in which to respond. They didn’t respond and so this past week, the teachers all throughout Togo went on strike again for two days. Now the students are getting involved. They pay an expensive fee to attend school and their teachers aren’t showing up. The students have decided to show the government that their behavior is unacceptable my creating mayhem in regional capitals throughout the country.

Back to the action. Here come the police. They are slowly driving a police truck filled with police armed with rifles. There are also several armed police walking behind the police car as they prepare for their first attack. I jumped as the first shot rang out. I watched shells flying through the air landing in the crowds and busting opened with tear gas. The crowd quickly dispersed, but as soon as the tear gas blew away, they were back and this time armed with rocks and sticks. As the police approached again, the students attacked the car with their rudimentary weapons. The police fled, only to recalculate their attack from a different position. This time, the police trucks came in from two directions, again firing tear gas into the crowds. Bystanders, including us, were turning away from the action, trying to get away from the burning in our eyes and throats as the gas blew our direction. Women were encouraging the protesters, dancing in the streets, some women were running with their babies’ eyes covered in attempt to protect them. After a couple more rounds of rock throwing versus tear gas, the protestors finally called it a day and my boyfriend and I walked to a nearby cafeteria to get a cold Coke and discuss the day’s events.

This protest is just getting started and I’m very interested to see how the government responds if the strikes and riots continue into January. I can only imagine them getting worse; I just hope I don’t get stuck in the middle of the chaos next time.

26 November 2011

Still nothing turning up in the case of the missing money from my latrine project. I’ve started noticing that a lot of volunteers have things and money stolen from their homes, and I’ve learned to be more careful. We are just walking targets it seems.

For my birthday, I travelled down to a girlfriend’s house in the Plateaux region. Another volunteer was running a training for the local agents santĂ© communitaire (ASCs). We followed the training, ate lots of beans and gari (my favorite Togolese meal), and drank lots of boxed wine. The next day, my boyfriend came down to surprise me! I was so shocked because the village I was in was six hours away from his house! He brought me a camera as a gift, since mine was broken and then stolen. Finally, I can take some pictures! We had a delicious Mexican dinner with nacho cheese dip from America. The next morning, we all hopped in a car to go down to Lome. My boyfriend left because he had work in village.

In Lome, I was teaching a session on marketing at the 2nd Annual Artist Trade Show. One of the organizers found us all housing with ex-pats. I stayed with a guy who is in charge of giving American visas to Togolese people. His house was so nice! I took a long, hot shower and slept on a soft mattress in the air conditioner. After that, it was back to Togo where all of the artisans were late to the trade show and my morning marketing session got pushed back to the afternoon.

Education des Patrons pour l’Amelioration de leur Travail (EPAT) ended up being a two-day training that I taught myself in French (gulp!). I really enjoyed myself, and I think the artisans got a lot out of it. We played games to learn accounting and analyzed realistic scenarios to learn how to do a SWOT analysis. Since Togolese people love to sing and dance, we sang, danced, and clapped our way through our business skills training. At the end of it all, everyone got a cold juice, a chicken brochette, and a certificate of participation. I took some great pictures with my new camera!

For Thanksgiving, several of us got together, killed some turkeys, brought instant stuffing from America and feasted! We stayed at a cool hotel and enjoyed each other’s company. It’s rare that that many volunteers are gathered together in one place, so it made it really special. This was my second Thanksgiving in Africa. Next year, I can’t wait to spend the holiday season with my real family!

December 1 is World AIDS Day and I held an event with my Peer Educators groups. There are 60 kids in the group, and they were split into teams of 6. The idea was to have an “information fair,” where people in the market could pass by each stand learning what HIV/AIDS is, how to prevent it, what to do if you contract it, etc. However, everyone was about an hour late, the materials I requested for the project didn’t come through, and I left in a tearful fit, telling them to call me if anyone bothered to show up. I came back after I had a Fanta and calmed down, determined to make it work. Everyone has projects in their service that don’t go as planned, or fail, and this was mine. Each group ended up presenting their themes to a mostly drunk crowd and giving out a few condoms. I was really glad when it was over.

The past few days have been spent in village, chilling out after my two big events. I’ve been on a cooking and cleaning spree. Djobo and I cleaned my house from top to bottom, getting rid of the ever-present spider webs, wiping down everything in sight with multipurpose cleaner, and bleaching the concrete floors. After that, I started cooking and just couldn’t stop. I pickled okra, canned tomatoes, made ricotta, and attempted yogurt (it turned into sour milk). I made homemade granola, stewed okra and tomatoes, made banana jam, and baked about 20 English muffins.

There are days when I feel I’m going to burst with the love I have for Togo and for my work. There are days that I want to kill the little kids who yell “yovo, yovo” at me. But every single day is an adventure, and that’s exactly how I want my life to be.