Tuesday, April 24, 2012
24 April 2012 It has been such a long time since I updated my blog! Sorry friends. I got back to Togo at the end of February and it’s been a whirlwind ever since. Coming back to Togo after being in the US was an extremely difficult adjustment for me. I did not come back ready to hit the ground running, but rather came back in a state of disbelief that I actually got myself back on the plane to West Africa. It took a while, but I’m happy to say I’m well adjusted and very happy to be back in Togo. I’m looking forward to finishing up my service and coming home in August. Now highlights of my time in Togo since I’ve been back: Women’s Wellness and Empowerment Conference (WWEC) in Sokodé. As a co-regional coordinator along with two other awesome girls, I got to watch one of the most memorable projects of my service unfold. We brought 18 women from the central region to a 3-day intensive training focusing on improving self esteem, physical and mental health, financial independence, and food security. The hotel, Hotel Central, is an extremely nice (by Togo standards) hotel where the women were treated to hot showers, air conditioners, and TV. Most of the women didn’t even know how to turn on the TV, much less change the channels and volume! It was truly the experience of a lifetime for these 18 wonderful women. We had delicious meals and the women bragged about getting fat. (This is a good thing in Togo!) Despite small problems, like women bringing their kids and complaining that they wanted their normal village meal of corn mush, the conference was a huge success! Things that stand out to me: Doing yoga each morning on the tennis court. A “beauty night” where we set up stations for the women to get facials, manicures, and pedicures. The candlelight ceremony the last night when the women spoke about their experiences throughout WWEC. One woman cried, another said that she never know black people and white people could live together and eat together at the same table, and every one said they couldn’t wait to get back to village and share everything they learned with the other women “chez elle.” Seeing the women leave, singing, laughing, hugging; it was obvious that there was a tangible difference in their lives. It was more than just the sessions we presented. We touched their lives because we formed a community, a bond of sisterhood. All of the women from Pagala came back ready to work! They already taught their Mother’s Club about stress and how to cope with it. That’s the first in a series they want to do on self-confidence, women’s rights, and others. Two of the women work with an afterschool girls club where they want to introduce yoga. But it’s not just the work I see. I see their faces light up when we see each other in village. They give me hugs and I feel like, not only have they changed, but they have changed me. I moved into a new house. I am SO much happier! I feel much safer in the new house. I’m in a compound with several families. Lots of kids and even more mangoes! There’s a giant mango tree in the yard with hundreds of mangoes ripening in warm sun. However, I learned that I can’t eat them because I have an allergic reaction to them! My face broke out in a rash, luckily it wasn’t too obvious and it healed quickly. Anyway, I totally love my neighbors and I’m a lot closer to everything I need in village. I now have 13 Village Saving and Loans Associations (VSLAs)! We have over 250 people in the groups saving each week and taking loans monthly. We expect to save over 15 million CFA combined this year, which is $30,000. Not bad for a bunch of villagers in Africa, huh? Tomorrow, I’m heading to Benin with my boyfriend to go on a safari! We’re so excited to finally get to see some wild animals in Africa. Two weeks from today is my official completion of service (COS) conference. It’s going to be held at a nice beach resort near Lome. Our administration’s way of saying thank you for two long years of service in Togo. After that, I plan on officially “COS-ing” at the end of July. It’s only 3 months away!