31 December 2008


31 December 2008

I never realized that getting my hair braided would hurt as much as getting a tattoo. No, seriously – try sitting on a tiny stool so low to the ground that your knees are level with your chest, exposing your butt bones to the wooden slab without cushion of either muscle or fabric, for four hours. Then add in three women pulling mercilessly on tiny pieces of hair all over your head – approximately 250 pieces of hair to be precise – for four hours. As some frosting and cherries, keep in mind that you can’t even distract yourself with conversation because none of these women speak either your first or second language. And don’t forget the aftereffects – 3 or 4 sleepless nights due to being unable to find a comfortable position for a headrest as every surface elicits tiny shoots of pain with any pressure. (And DO forget about trying to work on your yoga headstands – highly unrecommended.)
I think I’ll do it again at the end of this month. Why? Because it looks pretty.
I enjoy playing around with my hair. Ever since college I’ve changed my haircut, style or color at least every 2 months. In this much more conservative environment, I’ve decided to forego the color and search for someone who knows how to cut “yovo” hair is still ongoing. So it it can’t be cut or color – it’ll be style. I assume that eventually I will get used to having a prickly scalp and I’ve already felt the benefits of having my scalp open to the breezes – oh how much cooler it is! So it’s a give and take. I will continue experimenting with different styles to figure out what suits me best for both practicality and relative painlessness.

Current reading: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

29 December 2008

making a difference

29 December 2008

On my return to Lome after Christmas, I picked up my emails and found several nice and unexpected messages – including one from the man who was a volunteer in Mission Tove in the 60s. What a delightful surprise!

I’ve spent the past few days checking up on all my non-school related projects and friendships. I really do feel I have made a successful start on all the key aspects of my time here – work, integration and encouraging people back home to be interested in Togo/Africa.

My “cultural integration” post of a few weeks ago was a particularly frustrating incident, but it is not my normal experience nor my usual attitude. I considered taking the post down but I prefer to keep the story there and just continue telling you about all my positive adventures as well.

Chasing down the friends and acquaintances of the previous volunteer should be particularly enjoyable – apparently there’s a cistern here somewhere that has his name on it. I’m on a picture quest now – trying to document lasting impressions of the former volunteer (perhaps in the hope that I, too, will be making a sustainable difference).

28 December 2008

Freezing at 60degrees F

28 December 2008

When R called up the butcher at 10 am and the cow still had not yet been killed, we started to get a bit worried about our barbeque beef kebab Christmas Eve dinner. M successfully distracted us with homemade eggnog (real cream! brought in from the big city) and before I could start fretting, the meat was delivered and we got our hands dirty chopping and tenderizing and marinating. It was bitterly cold – about 60 degrees Fahrenheit and we were all dressed in layers. Under the noon sun out walking to fetch beers or new arrivals from the center of town we sweltered in short sleeves and light pants. But as soon as we hit the shade of the paillote in R’s compound, the strong Saharan breeze (called the Harmattan) ripped through our light clothing and sent us in search of pagnes to wrap around our shoulders.

The whole trip was a bizarre step outside of normal life in Togo. Four of us caught a bus up to Kara from Lome at 7am. An air-conditioned bus – where we each got our own seat – and they played Vin Diesel’s silly XXX in French. Wow. Normally travel in Togo means going to a taxi station around 7am, waiting for a car to arrive for about 30 minutes, waiting another 30-60 minutes for the car to fill up (filling up means at least 4 people in every seat that should hold 3), then trundling off creaking and spluttering, the driver occasionally stopping the car to perform typical maintenance like using his mouth to suck the fuel out of one part of the engine and spitting back into somewhere more useful. (!!!) The traditional entertainment is playing the ‘name that body odor’ game or avoiding the sharp beaks of the live chickens at your feet or in the lap of the woman with whom you are sharing a seat. I was inspired by rumors that one of the volunteers who just finished his service used to meditate in the back of bush taxis and I gave it a try one time. Nothing jerks you out of a zen-like calm faster than a nibble from a chicken on a sandal-clad foot, I’m telling you!

So, what with the on-time departure, amenities, and hip-room, our bus ride was amazing and made the trip seem like a real holiday. Being able to spend quality time with friends, eating good food and playing absurdly violent games of spoons was a fantastic way to spend Christmas.

I was so happy to have received my hand-knit-by-my-mother-when-i-was-a-tiny-child Christmas stocking in a parcel the day before heading north. My stocking wasn’t exactly “hung by the chimney with care” rather, it hung from the end of a very well-endowed wooden penis (for condom demonstrations) being used as a coathook, which epitomized the brilliant melange of festive and fou (French for crazy).

22 December 2008

I just received two amazing packages from the states - from my grandmother and my parents. Thank you so much!

18 December 2008


18 December 2008b

“You’re going to see something bizarre soon. Don’t get upset.”

I’d been forewarned already, but I still wasn’t interested in seeing the apprentice kneeling in front of me being hit with a paddle. She had already endured half an hour or more lecture from Da E and the other tailor officiating at the liberation ceremony. Her face had started to crumble and her voice had gotten shaky and weak. I just didn’t need to see any more of her punishment, thankyouverymuch.
A liberation ceremony is when an apprentice is released from her patron and declared finished with her apprenticeship. This was a special case – the apprentice had passed her test before her 3 years of work were up; she’d been discovered stealing from the workshop and she refused to return to finish her obligation to Da E. Generally, the mood was tense and punitive rather than joyful like it should be.
It is a normal part of the ceremony for the patron to deliver a couple of blows of the paddle to the apprentice – as a symbolic punishment for any frustration or bad behaviour over the past three years. It was very unusual for the officiating tailor to take the apprentice’s parents aside to fix an amount for recompense for stolen materials.
In the end, though, the idea is that all is now forgiven. After the punishment, the apprentice changed out of regular clothes into a piece of kente cloth – expensive traditionally woven cloth usually used for ceremonies like marriage – and received the tools of the trade: scissors, pins, and a tape measure. Then everyone partook of sodabi (local gin), beer, and soda before sharing a meal of pate and ademe sauce.
The ceremony finished, my friend V who has already performed 3 years of service and is only waiting to pass her test, started talking about how she wants her liberation party to be. She said that she has been in Mission Tove for nearly 4 years now and her mother hasn’t come to see her yet. Her father died several years ago, leaving V unable to continue with school because she couldn’t pay the fees. So she came to Tove to live with her uncle and learn couturiere skills from Da E. At her liberation she plans on inviting all of her family to come down – the party will be in a public place – perhaps at the church or the Centre Sociale. And her family will bring down lots and lots of sodabi.
I can’t wait for her party – it should be amazing and much more joyful than this one. Of course, once she’s liberated, she won’t live here anymore and I’ll miss her a lot.

Current Reading: Sabriel by Garth Nix

cultural integration

18 December 2008c

Frustrating day in the “cultural integration” sector.
This afternoon while I was doing yoga, a man stopped by. He was so self-assured and confident that I at first assumed we knew each other already and I simply didn’t recognize him. He walked into my house – odd behavior here for a man to enter the house of a single woman – gave me his phone number and then told me he’d come by and visit again. He offered to bring me a little generator so that I could have lights and watch television and have a fan. He really caught me off balance. I think I’d gotten into that meditative yogarrific state so I wasn’t prepared to face up against a charming man who seemed so confident he was hard to question. He even successfully got my phone number and I’m generally so careful about giving it out. When he left, he said that next time he came, he’d sleep at my house. At this point all the little suspicions that had started niggling finally broke through the yogarrific daze and I said strongly,
“No. You will not sleep here. I’m married and faithful to my husband.”

Of course, instead of backing off, he asked where my husband was and how many children I have. I told him we don’t have children yet and my husband is currently in Scotland. His reply? ...
“Well, then. We can give it a try.”
“What did you say?”
“We can give it a try then.”
I said, “No, I’m not interested and I’m NOT looking for a lover.”

Then I went inside and raged a bit. It feels like everyone here who approaches me pretending to offer friendship actually just wants money, a visa to America, or to sleep with me (if not all three at the same time). I hate it. Isn’t there any normal friendship out there that I can find? Is my skin color and my American citizenship such a huge obstacle that people only see me as some kind of specialty vending machine, not a person?

Current reading: The Pelican Brief by John Grisham

Another list

18 December 2008a

It’s that time again – stuff I’d like to get from overseas:

deodorant/anti-perspirant (the strong stuff)
I can get these things in country, but they’re expensive and hard to find

Lush conditioner bar – I think it’s called jungle something or other. It’s fantastic and I can use it for shaving my legs, too, which is great.

AAA rechargeable batteries

Hard candies – peppermints, butterscotch, jolly ranchers, etc.

Drink stuff
• fruity – Crystal Light seems to be the most flavourful that I’ve found so far (maybe to make up for the fake sugar they use)
• Hot chocolate mix :) M sent me some over the summer and they were such nice treats!
• Tea – any tea bags, I can find some tea here, but I miss the huge variety of tea I used to enjoy back home. If you want to send whole leaf tea, go ahead and pop in a tea strainer thing too.

• energy bars – Luna bars, especially
• Dried fruit – stuff I can’t get here like apricots would be amazing, I’m working on a plan to make my own dryer so when the mango tree outside my window starts getting plentiful I can dry the fruit and have it all year round!
• oatcakes – och. how I miss the wee crunchy biddies
• whole wheat digestives (maybe with dark chocolate?)
• Extra mature cheddar cheese
o ok. don’t actually send this, but LIGHT do I miss it!

Letters – I haven’t been very good at writing back, sorry. But I’m keeping a blog soooo much more consistently than ever before. That’s pretty good right?

Biosnacky sprout seeds – I have a sprouting jar, but I’m about to run out of the little packets of sprout seeds. It’s such a nice thing to have, especially now it’s hot season and there is very little water and all the veggies in the marche are looking pretty wrinkly. They don’t have to be ‘biosnacky’ brand, any seeds specifically for sprouting will do.


P.S. Still haven’t received 3 packages sent from the UK. I’m assuming/hoping that the delay was due to the elections in Ghana and they will be coming through soon. Cross your fingers for me!

17 December 2008

Notre Dame des Sept Douleurs

17 December

Surrounded by sweating hordes of people sweeping me along up the hill, I considered carefully before attempting what could be a very dangerous manoeuvre: pausing to take a picture. An opportunity presented itself: two cars parked in the middles of the road, ten inches separating the bumpers. I would come to the space in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 step—woosh—I slipped between the cars and the small space I’d occupied in the mob was quickly swallowed. I took advantage of the space to clear my nostrils a bit, falsely assuming that it was everyone else who smelled slightly rancid and not me. But no, I blended in perfectly. A 5km bike ride midday in a nice complet and 30 minutes shuffling along a dirty, muddy, overcrowded path can make anyone smell native.
I aimed carefully at the vendor on the side of the churning river of people. I focused on his wares – wacky plastic Jesus figurines, glow-in-the-dark crosses, pastel pink-cheeked cartoonish images of Mary, etc. – and *click* successfully got a beautifully fuzzy picture of someone’s sweaty backside. Hmm. Maybe standing between the crowd and the subject of my photo wasn’t such a good idea. I contented myself with a couple snaps of the flow working against gravity, struggling up the muddy hill on their yearly pilgrimage to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows.
Every year, on the first weekend of December, thousands of Catholics come to Kovie, the town right next to Mission Tove – it’s close enough to be considered part of my work area. Teachers discussing it at the lycee told stories about seeing apparitions of the Virgin in the sky. (Unfortunately this story lost both credibility and coherence being recounted by a rather drunk Monsieur M.) Normally this festival is considered the beginning of Harmattan in Mission Tove. Harmattan is the wind that come down from the Sahara, carrying huge dustclouds along with it. The dust is so intense that the temperature drops into the 60s (very cold by local standards).
This year, though, we have not yet seen huge dustclouds or a drop in temperature – in fact it’s been oppressively sunny and hot, making me fearful about the “real” hot season that’s supposed to come in January. On 5 December, the Friday before my trip up the hill with the pilgrims, the skies opened and poured down rain for 10 hours. All the roads were churned up, every car or moto leaving deep tire treads in the earth.
Did I mention the thousands of pilgrims to the shrine the weekend of 5 December? The roads were a mess. Especially the road leading from Kovie up to the shrine. When one runs a finger across the path of a line of ants, they seem to lose their way, swarming around the lost trail, confused by the strange smells and oils left by the finger. They slow down and spread out, wandering but usually are able to take up the trail again eventually and resume their energetic business.
At the lowest point between the two hills the swarm of pilgrims was thwarted by the strange and goopy finger of God (aka a rain-flooded stream). With careful steps, helping hands, and great patience everyone eventually got across after much milling about like the aforementioned ants). Even those in cars and on motos, although they were much cursed by pedestrians. We crossed, we climbed, we reached the summit and then we camped. Well, I didn’t camp, but everyone else did. There was an amazing diversity of set-up: fully-equipped tents will small generators for charging the laptops warming the laps of young men in suits, families sleeping around a cooler full of soda and brochette sandwiches on a few pagnes laid out on plastic mats, some families even constructed mini-houses out of palm fronds to keep them away from the sun.
When I reached the top, someone was calling out the rosary over a loudspeaker – first in Ewe, then in French. It was interesting to hear prayers that I know so well being spoken in other languages. I could feel the same insistent rhythms but couldn’t join in even if I’d wanted to.
It was rather alienating actually; being in the presence of something so familier and yet so different. I have voluntarily distanced myself from Catholicism, but it’s still a very potent part of my heritage and my self-understanding. 10 year of Catholic school certainly encourages that. I ended up feeling rather overwhelmed and lonely and left after only about an hour on top of the hill. I hung around the vendors a bit, bought a few souvenirs and chatted to the women and children, showing off my small Ewe knowledge. I felt a bit better outside and recovered my sense of self and community as I re-entered Mission Tove where kids and adults alike yell excitedly when they see me – ‘Da Adzo Da Adzo!’
I will never be perfectly integrated here, but I have a role and a job in this community. And it’s hard not to feel happy when I’m greeted with such squeals of delight.

15 December 2008


15 December 2008

You go, sister!

The word for “to learn” is srõ
so, if I want to say I’m learning Éwé, I say:
me le éwé srõ

The word for teacher is nusrõla
broken down: nu = thing, srõ = learn/teacher, la = one who...
So teacher is : the one who teaches things

The word for spouse is srõ because in marriage, the spouses teach each other all the things about men and women

“yo” basically means “ok”
It is the response to everything:

woezoloo (welcome) .... yo!
avakaba (come back soon) .... yo
babaloo (sorry about that) ... yo
nezo (bon appetit) ... yo

My name is Éwé is Da Adzo – because I was born on a Monday (dzodagbe). Every child gets a weekday name. For children born on Mondays girls are called Adzo and boys are called Kodzo. (The former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was born on a Friday – Fidagbe – girls are called Afi and boys are called Kofi)
Dzo is also a verb meaning to go/to leave
a dzo can be the conjugated subject and verb: you go (a is the subject for second person singular)

Da means sister. It’s kind of an honorific along the lines of Miss or Madam

So, my name Da Adzo can roughly be translated as: You go, sister!!!

11 December 2008

how do you explain 'sleigh' to people who've never seen snow

11 December 2008

The AIDS sensibilisation at the lycee was supposed to happen on 1 December – International AIDS Awareness Day. It was pushed back due to the week of composition – kind of a mid-term exam – it’s administered regionally; all the students in the region take the same test at the same time. I offered to do the sensi the Friday before the test week, but the proviseur told me to leave it until the Monday after mid-terms, 8 December. No problem. Imagine my surprise when on Saturday, 6 December, at my chorale rehearsal, one of the girls in the peer educator group I’ve been forming told me that Monday is a Jour Ferie – a holiday due to a Muslim Holy Day. I showed up early to school on Tuesday and asked the Proviseur how he didn’t know about the holiday? Grr. So we moved the sensibilisation again – to this Friday. It WILL happen. No matter what. Come rain or shine (I might back down if it miraculously snows).
{Speaking of snow – it’s very difficult to explain what a sleigh is to people have never even seen a picture of snow.}
I’ve started teaching conversational English classes at the CEG Kovie. The CEG is new – a state-created school that doesn’t actually have any buildings yet. They only moved out of their temporary lodging at the Catholic primary school this week. They now have three little thatch-roofed “classrooms”: packed-dirt floors, thatch roof supported by thick branches buried into the floor. The design of the roofing makes a lovely little microclimate that keeps the classrooms several degrees cooler than the surrounding area, and the roofs are so severely slanted that I imagine any rain will slip right off and away from the room’s occupants without problem. There are enough wooden benches that only a few students have to be three to a bench.
I’m starting my English classes with easy stuff – introducing myself and getting the students to do so, talking a little bit about where I come from and why I’m here in Togo. After the introductions, I’ve been teaching them Christmas songs – Jingle Bells and Silent Night. They seem to already know the melodies at least a bit, which helps. I almost sang myself raw today, though – two hours of teaching songs was surprisingly hard on my voice. I guess I need to work on some vocal exercises to keep up my endurance :)
I’ve decided to head to Lome tomorrow to do internet, but more importantly, to get to the bank. I’ve got to get some money – and start being more careful about how I spend it!
Last time I was in Lome, I was standing on a street corner waiting for some friends with a bag of watermelons between my feet when a man came up, chatted to me, and upon learning my name was Rose, promptly bought me a pretty pink rose. It was bizarre but not creepy, which is nice – he didn’t pressure me to give him my number or anything. Huzzah.

10 December 2008

Les Moucherons

10 December 2008

Today was the beginning of football season at the Complexe Scolaire Mission Tove. It was the “moucherons” today – 6emeA versus 6emeB and 5emeA versus 5emeB. “Moucherons” basically means “fleas”. It’s a cute nickname for the youngest classes in the school. 6eme roughly translates to American 6th grade and 5eme to 7th grade. The actual ages of the students varies a lot more than in the U.S. – from the itsy bitsy 11 year old that all the teachers tease for his size (except me, of course – I’m not up the teasing, yelling at, or corporal punishment that the teachers rely on to keep order). There is one 20 year old in 6eme. He’s recently married – I think it’s really cool that he’s decided to come back in and try to get his formal education. There’s no Togolese GED, so he’s got to go all the way through Billy Madison-style (although without the joy of quick promotion.).
Because of this age disparity, the football team members are generally much larger than the average 6eme or 5eme student. Some of them are pretty tall and muscular for 6th graders. And REALLY good football players (football as in what Americans call soccer).
I’ve never actually played soccer on a team – I was a linesperson for AYSO one year, but I’ve only ever kicked a ball around in very informal settings. So I really have no idea of the rules, much less an understanding of the worldwide obsession with the sport. And obsession it is. Football is everywhere. The majority of my notebooks have football players on the covers – I have to look really hard to find non-football themed notebooks (the one I use to write up my blog has a gorgeous sea turtle on it which makes me think of Crush from Finding Nemo and keeps me “chilled out.”
Anyway. Football here looks pretty much like AYSO. Adults on the sidelines cursing out the referee for ‘bad calls’. Girls on the sidelines screaming out cheers and dancing, paying much more attention to their own shouts than the actual game. If you look a little closer though, you can see clouds of dust bursting up from the field around the players, slipping and sliding on uneven terrain. But why are they slipping so easily? possibly because only two of the players have shoes on. They are running around on a huge field (that we continuously had to shoo chickens off of) where the “grass” (shrub-like green stuff) has been trimmed by 12 year olds with dull machetes. The grass is patchy with dirt – especially after last week’s heavy rain that eroded much of the loose soil away. Two boys wore shoes. About 5 others wore mismatched socks. The lucky ones even had two pairs. I even saw a boy with only one sock on (and a huge hole through the heel).
It was an amazing game.

04 December 2008

C Match 4 December 2008

Dear LR;

In looking over the last email and questions, I realized that I didn't answer the question about chores very completely.

Sometimes I forgot how very different simple chores are here. Every morning I wake to the sound of roosters crowing and my host family sweeping the compound (the land around the 3 small houses that are all part of the household). They sweep away the leaves that have fallen during the night, the various bits of trash, and chicken droppings. I joined them a couple times for sweeping, but 5.30am is very early and I've become used to having a little bit extra sleep.
During repos (the extended lunch hour that usually goes from about 12 – 2.30), though, I go around collecting the piles of leaves to add them to my compost pile. One of my most frustrating things here is the lack of trash collection – people throw candy wrappers, plastic bags and packaging wherever they've finished using it. It gets swept up in the morning and left on the side of the road as if people expect them to decompose along with the leaves! I have to sort through the piles of leaves before adding them to the compost. I'm working on a craft project that will use these pieces of litter. Hopefully this will not only provide a source of income by selling the crafts, but also provide an incentive for not littering.
In order to get rid of my own trash, I have to burn it. I do my best to set aside the things that I can recycle and of course I set aside the kitchen waste for my compost, but the rest has to be burnt so that it won't take over the house or spread germs.

Laundry is washed by hand and dried on clotheslines in the sun. I realized quickly that I'm not very good at hand-washing so I hired a local girl to wash my clothes. She is 13, named S, and is an orphan. She moved in with her aunt here in Mission Tove last year because the village she was from doesn't have a junior high and she really wanted to continue at school. The money I give to her is going toward her school fees and a new outfit for her baptism in the spring. Every Friday I bring my dirty clothes to her to wash and dry at her house. She brings them back by Monday. (I wash my own undergarments, though, because it's considered very rude to have someone else wash them for you. I have a clothesline hanging above my shower area to let my things dry in a private place. My main clothesline is in front of my house, so anything I hang out there will be seen by everyone passing by.)
Washing dishes is also by hand. Because I don't have running water, I use a 3-bucket method: one bucket with water and soap, a second bucket with rinse water and a third bucket with holes for drainage for drying. I get the water for washing from my cistern. I've attached a photo that shows my set-up for getting water:my cistern, which luckily is just next to my little house
the black bucket for carrying water inside (it's also my shower bucket)
the little metal bucket for fetching water out of the cistern (the rope is almost not long enough, the water level is so low already!)

the cloth frame I put together to help filter out the bugs and leaves before bringing the water in the house where I will boil it and filter it before drinking it.
I put my waste water from washing clothes and dishes into a bucket that I keep next to my toilet for flushing. No running water means no handy flush lever. I have to pour water down to empty the bowl.
You can do this in California – it saves a lot of water in drought season! Just set a bucket under your showerhead to catch the cold water while you wait for it to warm up. Then use the bucket to flush your toilet or water your plants (If you use it to water plants, try not to get any soap in it!)
One of my favorite authors wrote: “Abundance in a system comes not just from how much energy or resources flow in, but how many times that energy and those resources recirculate before flowing out.” In Mission Tove, where water is scarce, I am doing my best to make that water recirculate so I can create abundance rather than being a drain on resources.
Cleaning the house is also a fairly new experience. Lizards, spiders, and ants don’t seem to recognize any difference between indoors and outdoors. This means that I am constantly battling insects, webs, and droppings. My floor is just cement, so I simply sweep every room every day (or as often as I have the energy and time for it). Brooms here don’t have handles, so they can be a bit tough on the back. Sometimes I hire a couple local kids to come help me clean. It’s a big, sweaty job to do it alone. It’s nice to have the company and I always give them kool-aid, candy and some money for their help.
Well, that’s a pretty good summary of my chores. For the question about what I eat: here are a couple recipes for Togolese food that you can make from ingredients you can find in California.


“Dirty Rice”

2 cups rice, washed (I use locally grown rice, and I have to be really careful to pick out any small stones when I wash it. It’s no fun biting down on one!)
3 cups water
1 medium tomato, chopped
1 medium onion, diced
2-3 large cloves of garlic, crushed and minced
1 or more hot peppers, cleaned and minced (we use dried red peppers here)
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 Tbsp ground cumin
Salt and black pepper to taste

Wash the rice well, add water, salt, tomato, onion, garlic, minced pepper, and oil. Bring to a boil uncovered over high heat. Stir once. Reduce heat and simmer, covered with a tight lid for 15 minutes or until rice is done. Remove from heat. Fluff with fork. Cover and allow to steam an additional 5 minutes. Add plenty of cumin and black pepper.

Pâte Rouge

1 small onion, chopped
1 cube of bouillon
1 small can tomato paste (70 grams)
1 ¼ Cups corn flour
1 green pepper, chopped
½ tsp piment powder
1 ½ Cups water

In a saucepan, sauté onions, green pepper in a little oil until tender. Stir in piment, bouillon and tomato paste. Cook together before adding water. Bring to a boil. Stir in corn flour and mix vigorously to get rid of lumps. Scoop balls of pâte into small plastic bowls or small tupperware containers and allow it to cool for a bit. Invert onto a plate to serve. (perhaps with the pepper sauce below...?)

Pepper Sauce

6 large tomatoes, chopped
Salt to taste
Hot dried peppers to taste (or piment powder)
1 large onion, chopped

Boil tomatoes and onions in a little water until soft, adding salt and piment to taste. If you have a grinding bowl (mortar and pestle): transfer the mixture to the grinding bowl and grind until the consistency is smooth.

03 December 2008

3 December 2008

3 December 2008

I just finished a VIH/SIDA workshop with the girls club at the lycee in Tsevie. I arrived a bit late, but we still had lots of time and a really good class. I was worried that there would be too many participants for me to give out condoms to each – but it was relatively small (22 girls). They were already pretty well-educated about VIH prevention, etc. so we went through the activities and questions very quickly.
That gave me lots of time for the condom demonstration and the follow-up questions. I felt really successful and even my French felt really clear. Huzzah!
It's L's birthday, so we had a good little celebration – just a few sodas at the little buvette and then L made a yummy dinner just in time for I to return from working in Lome. After hours of good conversation – exes, law school, good books, religion, etc. L introduced me to Samurai Jack (a Cartoon Network series). Specifically the Scotsman episodes. I'm not sure I can do justice to the fabulousness of them.
Highly recommended.

01 December 2008

1 December 2008

1 December 2008

Argh. My bike is shot. By which I mean there's a hole in the inner tube right next to the air input –in such a way that it's impossible to patch – I will have to actually replace the tube. Luckily, the "bike man" from Peace Corps is coming on his semi-annual bike check this weekend. So he should be able to fix/replace everything. The list is getting long, mostly due to my tumble during AIDS ride:
both mudflaps have fallen off (a necessity for the muddy paths)
my bell was crushed so I can't alert people to get out of my way when I crashed my right handle got pushed out of place
my bike seat slides down as I ride, making my knees ache if I don't adjust it often enough

Anyway, what this means is for this week I have to walk everywhere. This means chub rub. My thighs rubbing together cause a friction rash that really hurts. It's a major reason why I didn't wear skirts much before coming here. I've successfully avoided it since arriving at post mostly by cycling most of the time, but just a few 10-minute walks has brought it all painfully back. Grr. This is not productive and bad for the ol' self-esteem and positive mood necessary for being effective in village.

I'm finding that I am much more moody than normal here. I cry really easily and not just at 'that time of the month'. I wonder if it might be related to taking Larium as malaria prophylaxis. I've heard it can often affect mood. I imagine it's also because I'm far away from home and a bit frustrated about feeling obligated to lie to people every single day, whether it's about small things like "yes, I'll buy you a present while I'm in Lome" or big things like "actually, I'm married, so I'm not interested in having you 'drop by' so we can 'relax' together".

I've been having trouble sleeping lately – to the point that I took a Benadryl last night to try to help me. I still didn't fall asleep until 1am, and I had to get up at 5. Made me rather cranky today despite my best intentions.

Today is the Journee Mondiale du SIDA – I went to the chief's house to be introduced to all the notables and watch my homologue give a sensibilisation on the importance of registering births, deaths and marriage. She is a parajuriste which seems to be someone who actively encourages local populations to find out about their rights especially pertaining to women's rights and family law. There's an element of health education, too. I learned all this from skimming through the parajurist handbook.

Current reading: Homeland by R.A. Salvatore

30 November 2008

Official Stuff

30 November 2008

Official Stuff

I've had a really busy two weeks.

Two big "meetings" – the first was for the program Junior Achievement – an organisation based in the states that's currently being introduced in Togo. The meeting was to look over a program for developing enterprise skills in high school students. We're adapting the manual to work in the Togolese context. It was really interesting and inspired me to do a trial program next year (it has to start at the beginning of a school year in order to have enough time to do the whole project).

I made a couple good contacts in the business sector in Togo – plus the West African director of JA who is from Mali. He invited me to visit (my trip to Timbuktu next year!)

Last week on Monday and Tuesday, I was at a meeting of the Project Advisory Committee. There were seven SED volunteers and 8 Togolese counterparts (both present and former) to talk about the SED program, why it's important for Togo, what volunteers are here to do and how we can encourage improvement and effectiveness by encouraging constant and regular reporting and collaboration. It was an odd sweet n sour mix of bland and interesting. Some of the sessions went on forever and seemed largely pointless, other sessions really helped me come to grips with my purpose and generate great ideas for facilitating cooperation among volunteers and homologues around the country. I left feeling like I could really influence things and do great stuff.

I got back to Mission Tove just in time to go to choir. Instead of singing, we also did "official stuff": we elected a new set of officers. The pastor's on a big renewal kick and getting strict about attendance at groups, including the chorale. I learned that people who arrive late are supposed to pay 25F and if you miss a meeting you have to pay 50F.

My friend V was elected "policier" which means she gets to reprimand people with bad attendance, or if they aren't paying attention to the director, etc.

Current reading: Testament by John Grisham

28 November 2008

Correspondence Match 28 November 2008

Hi LR,

I am currently in Lome, I have come into the capital city so that I can celebrate Thanksgiving with other volunteers. Every year, the country director hosts a big party with traditional holiday treats including two turkeys imported from the states and cranberry sauce.
It's an amazing feast especially for the volunteers who haven't been home since arriving in country.

In response to the students questions:

My Typical Day

On a typical school day (Monday through Friday) I wake up at about 6am (dawn). Most of my neighbors wake up an hour before me and begin sweeping the paths around the houses, starting the fire for cooking breakfast, etc. The roosters start crowing about 5am and continually compete for who can be loudest and longest, and therefore prove their ability to be good fathers for chicks. It's amazing, but after 5 months in country I've become able to sleep through rooster calls.

I wake up and open up the shutters around my house so I can have enough light to see by. I usually warm up some water from my filter to make coffee (instant nescafe) or tea with sugar and powdered milk. I also put on a big pot of cistern water to boil. I let the big pot come to a rolling boil and stay there for one minute before turning the heat off.
The water then sits in the covered pot until it cools enough to pour into my filter. It usually takes about 8 hours for the water to cool enough to pour into the filter. I boil and filter all my water because if I do not it tends to taste like my tin roof. This is understandable since all the water is collected from the runoff from my roof.

How I cook:
My stove is a gas stove. I don't have an oven or anything like that; the gas bottle connects directly to the stove and when the gas runs out I have to lug the bottle to the capital city and search for several hours to get it refilled. There's currently a gas shortage in the country so it's often hard to find gas. When I first arrived at my post, I didn't have a gas bottle yet so I had to cook on a charcoal stove. It's kind of like using a grill, except that charcoal does not come in nice easy long-burning briquettes here. I had to fan the coals to get them hot enough to cook my dinner. It was very frustrating and took hours to cook and boil my water, I am very glad to have my gas stove now.

With my morning coffee or tea I tend to eat a piece of fruit - I have an orange tree outside my house - or some bread. I can only buy bread on market days, though (Wednesday and Saturday) and bread here doesn't have preservatives so it doesn't last much more than a day, so I don't have bread very often.

If I am quick enough, I have time to take a bucket shower. Then I hop on my bike to go to the complexe scolaire (college/lycee) where I will chat to the other professors about my programs, work on my french exercises and generally gather ideas and promote my own ideas. I use the other professors at the school to help develop my ideas for the area and work on my French.

There is a break at 9.45 for the whole school, I usually buy 100CFA (approximately 25 cents) of rice and beans and spicy sauce to eat. For the break, several women come to the school to sell snacks to the teachers and students. In addition to rice and beans, there are little fried cakes that usually have a bit of fish or tomato sauce in the center. I can also find a warm drink called "bouille". It's made out of the local starchy staple food, manioc, and is mixed with milk and sugar to make it tasty. All the professors meet together at a table either underneath the mango tree or in the new library building. Often the proviseur (principal) will use the time to have a quick meeting with all the teachers about school things.

I usually leave the school after the break and head to my homologue's house. "Homologue" is the term for the host country national that serves as my guide/liaison with my community. My homologue's name is Da E. She is a couturiere (dressmaker). She has a small dressmaking workshop at her home where she teaches three girls the trade. Normally apprentices have to pay for the training but my homologue offers the training for free to girls who come from poor families who don't have the money for the fees. I generally spend two hours at her house. We talk about my projects and the apprentices teach me how to use a foot-pedal sewing machine and how to replicate African fashions.

At noon, I bike home (it's about a 10minute bike ride). I do a little sweeping, gather water from the cistern, and gather leaves and kitchen waste to toss into my compost heap. Once the chores are done, I do about an hour of yoga. Yoga is really important to me - it helps keep my body in shape and is great for clearing my mind of the busy-ness of running about the village. I'm not always hungry at lunch, I find that the intense heat of midday wipes away my appetite, but I make sure to drink a lot of water and I'll often have some fresh papaya or banana if I can find them.

After yoga I usually take a quick bucket bath before heading out for afternoon activities. Some days I have a club in the afternoon at the high school, other days I go back to Da E's workshop. If I don't have anything in particular planned, I will stay at home to work on French exercises, clean the house, develop lesson plans for the various groups I'm working with, or just read for fun.

What I eat:
Sometimes I will go out and chat with my host family in the afternoon.
Often they will invite me to eat with them. They tend to eat one of two staple food: pate or fufu. Pate is made from cornflour, fufu from manioc or igname (two root vegetables that are grown and eaten all over West Africa). With the pate or fufu, they have sauces. There's a peanut-based sauce, a slimy sauce made out of 'gboma' which is a leafy vegetable kind of like spinach, and tomato-based sauces.

If I'm making dinner for myself, it's usually based around vegetables: tomato, onion, and a tiny little yellow version of eggplant. I'll either make a vegetable soup, a stir fry, an omelet, couscous or pasta.
On market days I can find fried tofu pieces called soja that are really yummy and go beautifully in a stir fry. I was a vegetarian for 5 years, but since arriving in Togo, I have started eating meat again because I worry about getting enough protein. Vegetarianism is also not very well understood here. When people invite you over to eat at their house, they will specifically make a meaty dish to honor their guest and often set aside the largest bits of meat for their guest. It is nearly impossible to refuse the meat without being rude. In general, though, I prefer not to eat meat. I get my protein by eating beans and lentils, eggs and milk and soja. I recently bought a chicken so that I can have a ready supply of eggs. (I've named her Arabella after a character in a book I just finished reading called Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell).

I make dinner around 5.30 and usually settle in for the night with my books afterward. On Tuesday and Saturday nights, though, I have choir practice at 7. But I don't have to go far for that - the choir practices on the steps of the church that's only about 20 yards from my house.

I tend to go to bed around 10pm, tucking my mosquito net in carefully around me so that I won't get bitten while I'm asleep.

Happy Thanksgiving!

25 November 2008

22 November 2008

22 November 2008

I'm at the wedding of a fellow professor – M. Z (I think that's his
name – it was very embarrassing showing up here and being asked which couple I had come to see – I stumbled out a bit of "Z...Z...? he's a professor of science at the lycee in Mission Tove?" big smile please believe me. But who's going to turn away a yovo who wants to come to a wedding. No one. Especially not an exceptionally pretty yovo wearing a Togolese complet.)
The church the wedding was held at is Deeper Life (Vie Profonde). It originally started as a non-denominational Christian prayer group but has become a successful small church in its own right. There are branches in several cities around West Africa. The premise is that he man who founded it was frustrated with "Sunday Christians" and called them to live a deeper life – their faither calling them to lives of morality, social justice and evangelisation not just weekly celebrations.
Anyway, they keep things quite simple – no photos during the ceremony for one thing - . It's 9.30, the ceremony was supposed to start at 9.
Only one other professor is here so far – the German teacher. He and the groom had a long conversation about Deeper Life on Wednesday when I asked for direction how to get to the church. Apparently the German professor, who is a pastor for the Evangelical church, was part of the prayer group in university. Deeper Life is particularly interested in attracting intellectuals to their teachings. Pastors for the church must have at least their Bacc (Baccaleaureate- rather difficult test at the end of high school). All the church teachings are in English because they were developed in Nigeria and therefore pastors need a good level of English.
I had a small adventure getting here, but it was actually easier than I'd feared. Nobody thought I'd be able to make it without taking a moto
– but I did fine. I took a taxi from Tove to a toyota dealership in Lome, then walked up to a crossroads and spent a little while trying to hail a cab. I had to "louer" which means pay for the whole taxi rather than share the fare with others that the driver picks up along the way. This means it was almost as expensive as the hour-long trip from Tove
to Lome, but it was easy and I feel like I know a new part of Lome (a little bit) now!
As soon as I arrived, I made some friends. I walked up to a couple women who were in the street and asked it they were here for the wedding, they said they were and then we all giggled a bunch over my attempts to speak Ewe. I went with them to get some beans and rice yumyum. Really good red oil/piment mix.
After ridiculous deliberations, I've decided to go to a birthday party in Vogan after the wedding, then go straight from Vogan to Tsevie for I's birthday and a training on developing the SED program on Monday and Tuesday. This means that I've got a stupidly huge bag with me – mostly because I wanted to bring my laptop. Being without electricity in village means that anytime I leave village to spend the night somewhere with electricity, I have a hard time keeping myself from bringing my laptop along. The additional space and weight to take the laptop with me is a bit silly, but it will be good to be able to type up emails and sort out photos, get everything ready for the next time I have internet.
The whole wedding service was performed in French and translated into Ewe. This was great for me as I could actually follow the whole thing (as compared to Sunday services in village where I often sit for an hour or two just letting incomprehensible words flow over me). But the drawback to interpretation is the delary. The speakers really didn'tlike losing their flow in French so they kept interrupting the interpreter, who started shooting frustrated glances at the speaker. It made me giggle.
The chorale was quite good – they had two electric keyboards, two standing microphones and one handheld microphone!!! The handheld was for one woman who sings solos. She unfortunately didn't have any idea how to handle a mic and continuously moved it around, magnifying the sounds of the mic brushing against her complet and causing those awful screeching noises that come from a mic getting too close to a speaker.
The keyboardist frequently punctuated various moments in the presentation of the couples with synthetic drums and cymbals.

14 November 2008

14 November 2008

Interesting morning at the atelier, which – in case I haven't explicitly defined it before – is Da E's couturiere workshop. The old couple who live just behind Da E had visitors from Lome arrive. They told the woman her younger brother had died. She began to wail in mourning, but by the time Da E had run over to see what had happened, they realized that someone had stolen the woman's goat.
A death and a goat-theft. Lots of wailing. Who would steal a goat from a little old lady? Her husband was sitting near the goat, but he's nearly blind (and almost always blind drunk). It appears that the thief came up to the old man, chatted for a bit with him, calmly untied the goat and led it away when he left. It's almost unthinkable here. People let their goats roam everywhere, eating whatever the can find and somehow each family recognizes their specific goats and no one touches someone else's livestock. If you were going to steal a goat, why not take the one wandering around the road instead of the one tethered to the house of an elderly couple?

Current reading: The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K LeGuin

24 November 2008

15 November 2008

Here M is having a snack before getting ready to plant manioc. When I say 'getting ready' I mean she's cracking jokes and making all the rest of
us have fits of giggles.

15 November 2008


Here a couple great pictures of the three lovely apprentices at the couturiere workshop that my homologue runs.

Sometimes they do work in the fields at the end of the day.

14 November 2008 Making Mushrooms

14 November

Making mushrooms

This is a highly illustrated post.

1. Growing mushrooms starts with compost. Mixing the ingredients – the
waste bits from rice, corn, grasses, manioc. Plus some chalk to help
keep the mix from being too acidic.

2. The mixed compost goes into a huge vat to be warmed to help the compost start decomposing quickly.

3. After sitting well-covered for a day or two, the compost is packed tightly into black plastic bags, with a layer of mushroom spores laid in carefully.

4. Yummy spores.

5. Mushroom bags (all the ones in the foreground were prepared by me!! I hope I did it right)

6. Our two AIDER agents, in the doorway of the little house set aside for mushroom growing.

18 November 2008

Correspondence Match 18 Nov 2008

I have started a correspondence match with a 7th grade history class at my high school alma mater (wow, I graduated 8 1/2 years ago ... that's aaaages) I've decided to share my responses here on the blog (with some editing for anonymity of persons other than myself). Enjoy!

Dear students,

Thousand Oaks is very different from Mission Tove; electricity and running water are just a few of those differences! Because Togo is almost directly on the equator, we don't have much of a change in the times of sunrise and sunset like I was used to in Thousand Oaks. I can pretty much count on the sun rising and setting at 6am and 6pm respectively. This means that I have to make sure to do all my household chores between these hours as it's really frustrating to try to clean my room or cook dinner with only candles to light my way.
(I've attached a photo of me cooking by kerosene lamp).

One of the rooms in my house has a window that gets good afternoon sunshine, even right up until 6pm. I usually choose to settle in this room for reading and studying after I've returned from meetings or groups during the day. When I find myself starting to squint to read, I put the book down and set up a few candles on my various tables.
Usually I will cook dinner in the last half hour of sunlight - it's too dark to read by, but I can cut vegetables and stir pots without too much difficulty. Once the sun has fully sunk beneath the horizon, I go outside with my hand-crank flashlight (a flashlight that doesn't require batteries - just a frequent cranking motion) and close the wooden shutters for most of my windows. I have to leave a couple open to get enough air flowing to sleep peacefully. Even at 9pm, when I usually go to bed, I am often wearing a light nightgown and still sweating in the constant warmth.

Between sunset and bedtime, I usually light four candles and work on various craft projects while listening to news programs on my short-wave radio (BBC News World Service has become my best English-speaking friend). Most people here do not have candle holders, they will simply dribble a little bit of wax onto the surface where they are placing the candle to help make it stick. I've learned to improvise candle holders so that they are more portable. I have an old ketchup bottle, several tuna fish cans, and a big can filled with sand as my candle holders. I'm still experimenting with making hanging candle lamps - in my first attempt, the candle melted the string that was holding up the can! Luckily I caught it before it fell, but I'm being much more careful now.

One of the interesting things about living without electricity in Togo is that it can be much less frustrating than living with electricity.
This is because the electricity lines are pretty unreliable, so one can get really used to having electricity and suddenly when the lines are cut, your world tumbles into darkness and your mood goes with it.

As far as running water goes... I really do miss that. I collect my rain from a cistern that's just outside my house. The water in the cistern comes from the rains (I have a drainpipe runoff that goes directly into the cistern). This means, though, that in the dry season - from November to April - it will almost never rain and the cistern will quickly empty. Once the cistern is empty I will have to hire young men and women from the village to walk the mile to the river to collect water for me. The huge jugs will be carefully filled and then lifted to be carried back to my house on their heads!

Not having easy access to running water has made me really careful about my water use. I use the runoff from my bucket baths (fill a bucket with water and use a large cup to pour the water over yourself to get clean) to flush my toilet and water my plants.

Well, that was a long answer, I hope you found it interesting.

Thanks for your question!

Election Day

4 November 2008

It’s election day. I’m at the lycee, but will be heading straight to Lome afterward, with the hope of getting some internet time and then finding a location for watching the election. If all else fails, the BBC World Service will be providing live coverage, so I’ve got my radio with me.
I walked to school this morning – since I plan on going straight to Lome, I didn’t see the point in taking my bike back and forth. The walk takes about 20 minutes – it’s an interesting change to take the time to say hello to everyone rather than speeding by on my bike. I really wish a teacher had stopped by with his moto. I have my helmet with me and it would have been really nice to not have to walk through the wet sand.
I started doing my yoga routine again on Sunday after two weeks off due to AIDS ride and ensuing need for healing – SO nice to get back into it, although my neck and my belly muscles are sore from lack of use – my headstands are getting better – I’m still using a wall but I’m no longer scared of trying – that’s a big step!.

17 November 2008

17 November 2008

I bought a chicken!!!

I'm going to call her Arabella and feed her lovely worms and corn and she will give me yummy eggs.

Current reading: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clark

12 November 2008

exciting new projects!

12 November 2008

I’m feeling pretty accomplished this week, which is great. I biked to and from Tsevie this weekend, had a successful meeting with the apprenties – where they remembered the story from the previous meeting perfectly!! I was so happy – an interesting and hilarious meeting with peer educators – we were working on skits for the ABCs of HIV prevention. Some of the students really got into their roles! :) – I’ve been adding to my compost heap everyday (I decided to do it little by little rather than devoting several hours to it at once) and my headstand in yoga is getting easier everyday.
The most exciting thing, though, is getting involved with a newly-conceived NGO calling itself AIDER (Action Investir Dans l’Entrepreneuriat Rurale – Action Invest in Rural Enterprise) who have decided to use Mission Tove for their pilot project raising mushrooms, developing compost as an alternative to artificial fertilizers and producing potatoes. I’m really looking forward to getting this started all over Mission Tove – currently they are working with a single women’s groupement, but they plan to branch out once they have some success and get other groupements and the schools involved. This is a project worthy of writing home about (and possibly asking for Peace Corps Partnership funding).

Current reading; Dissolution by Richard Lee Byars

12 November 2008c

Tuesday: Went to school, gave English teacher some sheets of paper to make a list of students who want to join an English club – I think one on Tuesday afternoon for 6eme and 4eme and one on Friday afternoon for other classes. That way I can reach more students, as I'm hoping to use English club as a place to explore some Life Skills and business skills too.
Went to the home where they are constructing the buildings to grow mushrooms.
Really exciting!
New ONG called AIDER (Action Investir dans l'Entrepreneuriat Rural) is doing a pilot project in Mission Tove to grow mushrooms -> and then use the compost from the mushrooms to grow other vegetables, like potatoes! They're starting with a single groupement to try to get people interested and excited about it.
(This could be a good project to look into PC Partnership funding – to build the houses to grow mushrooms?)

Wednesday: Went to school, reminded 1eres about peer educator meeting, had brief conversations with other profs and worked on my vocab list from the book in French I'm currently reading. I really need to start putting the lists in the bathroom where I'll work on them.
Went back to mushroom project, but nothing much was happening till the afternoon. Went to atelier, played with an adorable baby called Cherita, agreed to teach how to gift wrap on Friday and showed the beginning of my knitting project (knitting strips of plastic bags to form bigger things).

At 15H I had the peer educators group at the lycee. It started 15 mins late because I was waiting for more people to show up. In the end, I had 8 eleves. We did jeu de l'epidemie (a game where we explore how quickly HIV can spread in a community), some True or False questions and then worked on the skits for the ABC's prevention - Abstinence, Bonne Fidelite, Condom, and Depistage (getting tested). The eleves had a lot of fun acting out the skits – we did each skit 4 times in total, with different people in different parts.
I promised we would do condom demonstrations next time, I might also have them do the skits with gender roles reversed – could be interesting to see how they do.
We spent considerable time talking about how an HIV-positive mother can pass the virus to her baby, etc. It got pretty technical, going into the fact that tests measure presence of antibodies rather than the actual virus and therefore all babies born to HIV+ mothers appear to have the virus themselves simply because they have the mother's antibodies. It might be worth doing a couple activities to seriously address the scientific specifics of VIH – not for a general sensibilisation – but to help the mature peer educators better understand in-depth questions.
Stopped by the marche on my way home, grabbed bread, biscuits, tomatoes, a mug with a lid. The soja vendors still hadn't arrived when I was ready to leave, so no soja for me today. I've heard that beans are going to become scarce once we hit the dry season, so I'm going to try to stock up. Important to keep protein levels up.

12 November 2008b

12 November 2008

Saturday: Made gari with two apprentice friends then biked to Tsevie for post visit party. It took about an hour and a half. The road goes from the carrefour in Kovie (before the marche). The road goes past all the rice fields – they were very pretty, but I didn't take a picture with my digital camera because I didn't want to make myself any more a target for theft than I already was. To get across the bridge that fell apart it costs 500CFA. Half the bridge fell – and it's a huge bridge.
They put big logs across it to get people across and there are several men who hang out collecting the fee and bringing peoples' bikes and motos across.
The way to Tsevie is quite direct – the path comes out at Davie and I had to take a left and go up the National Route for about 10 minutes before getting to L and I's house.

Sunday: Headed back home at about 4. I should have left earlier – it was cool, but I was always either biking straight into the setting sun or in a shadow dark enough to make me worried about the condition of the road I couldn't see. In general the road's quite bad, sandy and rocky, but what can you do? It's Togo!

Monday: Went to school – teachers spent most of the morning adjusting the emploi de temps so they could have the days off "journee pedagogique" that they each wanted.
Worked on filling up my compost heap – water from shower, dead leaves from everywhere – I collect in a big plastic bucket and then pour them into the hole. It's going to take me a while to fill up the hole, so I've decided to go little by little, but try to add at least one bucketful every day.
Thought it was going to rain, but it didn't so had a meeting with Syncoutat (if it's raining, the meeting doesn't happen, as the meeting place is outside). Very glad to see how well they remembered and understood the first half of the Aminata story – from Feasibility Study book for Third World Women. Really need to go through and fix the translation. It could be stated much more simply, I found myself changing the words as I went along to help with comprehension.
Next week I'll work with the patrons- I figured a needs assessment/action plan from PACA, but I'd also like to take a look at the exercises in the Marketing book.
Saw the ICAT agent at the marche, he invited me to see his groupement de femmes learning how to grow mushrooms Tuesday morning.

05 November 2008

Vigil for Obama

5 November 2008


At the Agoe-siye gare again, waiting for a taxi to fill up. I am dead tired. I have been awake since 6am yesterday. I spent the night at the American Embassy in Lome watching the election results come in.
The embassy invited about 270 people to come watch – they set up a big projection screen for CNN in a large well-lit room. A side room – the library – had a smaller screen showing a French news version of the results. There were about 10 PC volunteers at the embassy, the rest of the two rooms were full of embassy personnel and local allies.
The American embassy in Togo is quite new. The US has designed a standard embassy layout - to ensure safety and security and make it easier for foreign service workers to transition from one country to another without the added inconvenience of having to learn their way through a new bureaucratic maze of offices every time.
The former embassy was located on a busy street corner near the middle of the city – it was a ridiculous place for a US embassy, even in a friendly country. Every time a car stalled outside the walls the marines had to activate high security tactics to remove the bomb threat. Because of the decrepit state of most Togolese cars, this unfortunate situation happened all too frequently. When the standard design came out the embassy in Togo was a top priority for the refit.
The new building is very ... functional. I don’t think it’s ugly, just boxy and obviously very institutional. The inside decor (and over-exuberant air-conditioning) reminded me so strongly of DeBartolo Hall at Notre Dame that my overnight vigil for Obama felt a lot like pulling all-nighters as an undergrad, desperate to put together an essay before the 9am deadline.
Watching the election results with a room full of Togolese people was fascinating. At first we, the volunteers, felt rather inhibited – we didn’t want to shout out our support for our candidate in the midst of a group of professionals. On our way in, two cardboard cutouts of McCain and Obama greeted us and the embassy staff invited non-Americans to fill out their ballot for the choice (out of the two largest parties) of which candidate. When the results came back 77 to 1 in Obama’s favor, our cheering inhibitions were quickly quashed, in fact, we were often out-cheered throughout the night. Encouraged in our enthusiasm by fresh hot coffee, biscotti (and a little red wine for those who chose to tipple) we soon became jubilant as states were declared for Obama.
Occasionally the 0% reporting or leads of 739 votes made me rather wary of CNN’s projections but as state after state blinked up blue, I had to just have faith in the necessarily unfathomably complicated mathematical formula used by the projecting team.
As time started to tick down, we took turns rushing to the restroom, sleeping on each other’s shoulders and getting coffee refills.
Occasionally we muted the chatter of the commentators: to hear a statement from the new Ambassador, to sing happy birthday to a 17-year-old daughter of an embassy employee, or to take advantage of snacks being passed around.
Suddenly controversial states started going blue – Philadelphia... Virginia...Ohio...The clock counting down to the close of the west coast polls didn’t even finish before Washington, Oregon, Hawaii and California were painted blue and Obama was declared winner with double the electoral votes of McCain.
It seemed so sudden, I kept watching the bottom of the screen for votes coming in... Florida went blue and I knew it was true.
So I cried. My shoulders shook slightly as my red-with-fatigue eyes began to leak warm salty tears of joy.
Everyone in the room stood and cheered, clapping and congratulations drowning out the television blaring from all three rooms. We did it! America elected a leader for change!
The first African-American president. And I witnessed it from Africa, celebrating the amazing victory with an embassy full of Togolese supporters.
John McCain’s concession speech was inspiring. I have always admired him and although I am glad he did not win the election, I hope he will remain strong and vibrant in the Senate.

04 November 2008

AIDS Ride Chapter 8: in which Rose has to push past the limits of sanity

25 October 2008


We all woke up by 6 out of habit and got out of the house on our way home within 2 hours. Still suffering from Friday’s despair, lack of sleep and a growing need to restore my energy by being alone, I was cranky, stumbley, and uncoordinated.
Six people heading in to Lome rented a taxi together, I was hoping to hop in, but realized it would be easier just to get my own taxi to Nouafe because I knew there was a road between Kovie and Nouafe and since Saturday is Kovie’s marche day, I should be able to get a taxi fairly quickly.
I was dropped off in Nouafe in front of a completely empty taxi station. A couple “helpful” boys told me that there are only taxis to Kovie on Thursdays.
So I cried.
And then I put on my helmet, swung my leg over my bike and pedaled down the road to home.
15-17 km later, I collapsed on my front porch, undressed, washed and slept for the entire day.

02 November 2008

laughing cow

2 November 2008

Went to a Halloween party in Lome last night with a bunch of Americans. Very fun. I dressed as “La Vache Qui Rit” = wearing the complet that my apprentie pals finished while I was on AIDS ride. I made a snout and some horns out of toilet paper rolls and earrings out of VQR cartons and an udder out of a blown-up latex glove. Super classy. We arrived at the party just a wee bit early – the harsh normal lights were still on, the hostess was still putting on her costume and the punch wasn’t even set out yet.
It did give me a chance to have a chat with C (an intern at PLAN) and C? who works for PSI specifically targeting informal prostitution – primarily working with young women (even girls as young as 10). The project is very holistic – social counseling, education, etc. In fact it’s too holistic to fit under PSI’s health-restricted agenda so it’s currently being made independent. I would love to find out more about what she does (and how I could get involved).
I very unsuccessfully tried to make conversation with some of the Marines who work at the embassy – they were totally uninterested in chatting with me, perhaps I intimidated them with my challenge to their ‘beach boy’ costumes. All I did was ask for a song!
I got to know a couple of the current PCVs from before my stage better, chatting about what we’re doing after Peace Corps (what else, right?)
On a related note, I spent several hours today looking up MBA programs as a possible post-PC choice. I’m particularly interested in The New School in New York City, Yale University and UC Berkeley. All of their programs look like they would fit really well into a career track of NGO development/management and I’d be learning specfic practical skills. I have a lot of other options to look into, but it’s nice to feel that I’ve taken a gander at the MBA route and found it interesting. The difficulty with any ambition to go back to school is finances – how to pay for school, living expenses, and loans from my ND education?
So finding a job has to be my first priority, but I’m still going to study up for my GMAT, GRE and LSAT.

I am writing this while sitting at the taxi stand in Agoe waiting for my taxi to Mission Tove to fill up. I could take a moto – I have my helmet with me – but the last experience was so hair-raisingly unpleasant that I’m quite reluctant to try again. It’s only 2pm so I’m not in danger of getting stranded in the dark. I figured as long as I keep myself occupied and not idle, then it’s not wasted time – so blogging a bit is my occupation. I don’t really have enough money to be zipping about on motos anyway. They cost about double what a place in a taxi does.

30 October 2008

down day

30 October 2008

I am very irritable recently. I tried to take a little time out to figure out why and it’s not hard to understand:

I have a cold
My house is both disorganized AND dirty (usually just let it hit the former before a massive clean)
One of my injuries from AIDS ride is infected; the other ones alternately burn and itch
There is mud everywhere
Almost all my clothes are moldy

So I spent a while cleaning today and already my head feels clearer. Yay.
I am feeling a lot more productive lately, which is nice. I’m looking forward to Halloween, too. yay

Pictures: I made an ingenious candle holder. All hail my ingenuity.

29 October 2008

triste et bizarre

29 October 2008

On Thursday night, M, one of the teachers from the school who lives in the house behind me stopped by my house reeking of alcohol. He drinks pretty regularly, but that doesn’t make his drop-ins any more palatable. I stayed behind my locked screen door to say hello and encouraged him to go home and sleep. He made kissey faces at me and wanted me to do the same for him but I refused and insisted he go home.
When I mentioned the incident to my homologue, Da E, she told me that at some point in the late 80s/early 90s during a time of violent political unrest, M’s wife was shot by a stray bullet when she went outside to hang up laundry. He’s taken the bottle as life partner ever since.

Another teacher at the lycee is getting married on 22 Nov (and I’m invited! sweet!) T (a third teacher and the catechist for the French language “Ecole de Dimanche” Sunday School at my nearby church) made a couple jokes about the teacher marrying another man. The teacher said “I am marrying a woman but... she has a beard and has to shave.” Generally Togolese people have very little body or facial hair – so it’s particularly bizarre for a woman to have enough of a “beard” to require shaving. But in my short time here, I’ve already seen two or three woman who have chest hair – curly black hairs that reach above the collar of their shirt.

24 October 2008

AIDS Ride Chapter 7: in which Rose hits her limit

24 October 2008


in which Rose hits her limit

Friday was the day I despaired.
Going from R’s village out to the Kpalime road was only 19km, but it was all uphill. Occasionally the road would level out, but we almost never had a downward slope. I would push myself up a hill, keeping my eye on the crest – knowing that if I made it there, beyond the crest would be easier.
But every time I made it to the top of a hill, I could already see another upward slope only a few dozen meters ahead. I despaired. I cried. The tears closed up my throat, making it harder to breathe, making it harder to get up the hill, increasing my desperation.
The roads were full of loose sand making my wheels unsteady and leaving my sore wrists with the task of keeping me from falling with nimble steering.
Every bump and rock I hit trying to stay out of the sand set a jolt to my wounded forearm, occasionally making me gasp with the shock. For what is essentially a large, shallow scrape, rather a simple injury, it sure has been inexplicably painful.
By the time I made it to Keve I had descended into an awful mood – frustrated with myself and the fact that I couldn’t power up the hills, I began responding to people calling me yovo with my worst sarcasm: “Yes, I’m white, how clever are ! Well don, you can see skin color! Wow.”
It of course, really didn’t help when a lady on the back of a moto yelled “Tu es en retard, tu es trop en retard” at me. I may have tossed off a few expletives in response.
Knowing I was spiraling a bit, I tried to calm myself down and drink some water and laugh at my explosions. But really, the lack of good sleep all week, the injuries, the heat and the exertion was all just getting to me and there wasn’t much I could do short of going home and sleeping in a bed and taking a whole bunch of alone time.
So I bought a fanmilk (kind of a soft-serve frozen yogurt sold from ice boxes on bicycles) and gathered up the last of my sanity and enthusiasm to get me through the rest of the day.
We had a successful, although ridiculously over-crowded sensibilisation at the CEG in Keve before heading uphill to Assahoun to grab an egg sandwich and a beer. My group had hoped to get out of doing the final sensibilisation but B, the training director, showed up to observe so we all trooped along sweaty, dirty and (some of us) bleeding to try to inspire 800 kids to follow the ABCs of HIV/AIDS prevention. Then we were free to collapse into our beers and beef teriyaki prepared by M before tumbling onto our mats at 9pm for our last collective sleep.

23 October 2008

AIDS Ride Chapter 6: in which Rose sacrifices her pants to the cause

23 October 2008


in which Rose sacrifices her pants to the cause

Wednesday was the first fall – A fell on a ridge, loose gravel giving way beneath her bike that she shouldn’t get past because she didn’t have enough momentum. Nothing bad- although gravel does tear skin terribly. We were particularly concerned because she fractured her wrist about a month ago, so we were worried her weak wrist could give way again. She escaped that danger, subconsciously taking the fall on elbow and knee rather than wrist.
Thursday we were bunny-hopping again, my group taking the short hop first. On the way to our second sensibilisation, I took a fall. It wasn’t a particularly rough road, I wasn’t going particularly fast. In fact it was probably the sheer ordinariness of the path that allowed my defenses to drop out sufficiently to let me slip and fall. Somehow I took the fall on the right side of my bike, but the left side of my body. It’s amazing how absolutely blank my mind is about the actual fall. I can only make educated guesses based on my injuries.
I must have fallen over the handlebars of my bike because I ripped the crotch out of my pants and I hope a fabulous pattern of bruises on my left hip and right inner thigh that seem to indicate if I was a boy I might be missing some essential bits.
Based on the size of the cuts and scrapes, we decided to wait by the side of the road for the car to arrive with supplies from the medical kit. A stayed with me and C biked back to the 2nd group who had the chase car with them to call him to tend to me. After cleaning, ointmenting and bandaging, I put on a new pair of pants and biked on to the next sensibilisations.
The rain started falling as we left that presentation and my bruises were starting to feel stiff, but we only had to make it a few kilometers and we’d be able to settle in for the rest of the day. The rain had left the road completely full of mud. Even our fabulous mountain bikes couldn’t find a grip on the road – the best route up was directly through the water running down the hill – either side of the little stream was far too thick in mud to allow passage.
About ¾ of the way up the hill the boy in front of me suddenly lost his seat. Truly – the seat of his bike snapped off underneath him and he looked back surprised and pulled off holding the seat in his hands.
I couldn’t help giggling as I pulled past him, knowing that the car was just a bit behind and if I stopped now I’d never get up that hill. At the peak we found R’s village, tucked away and tiny, with a group of neighbours graciously offering to shelter our bikes from the rain for the night.
We ate ablo with tomato and soja sauce and I cleaned my wounds again (Not too easy to discreetly clean your inner thigh in the middle of the road).
Our afternoon sensibs were in a village 1 km up the road. The village is right at water level, so almost every path was pure mud. We decided that walking would be easier than biking – a decision we learned was taken a bit quickly as the flip-flop wearers discovered they were covering themselves with mud splatters with every step.
My group did the community sensibilisation just to the side of the “station” where people can pick up a moto driver to get to nearby villages. The activities were cut short and all required translation into Ewe. It soon became clear that many of the audience members had been drinking since early in the morning and were now much more interested in slinging insults at each other and getting free condoms from us than in listening to what we had to say.
When we reached the end and the handing out of condoms, we were mobbed. I yelled at several people to stop tugging at me and everyone ended up running away, leaving the distributing to our homologues, who could much more effectively calm the crowd with fluent French and Ewe. Even they gave up, though, and in an amazing act that I wish I’d captured on camera, threw the remaining condoms into the air and ran away from the pressing crowds.
It was scary and we almost left immediately to seek the safety of P’s house. But we decided to brave it out until the other group finished, taking refuge and refreshment at a chouk stand.
We carefully tiptoed our way home, through the mud in the rapidly growing darkness and settled in for our last night before our last day of biking and sensibilisation.

22 October 2008

AIDS Ride Chapter 5: in which people are very welcoming

22 October 2008

We had to do some back tracking for our sensibilisations on Wednesday. My group did the long stretch first – heading to a tiny village to do a sensib first at the CEG and then for the chief and notables of the village. Halfway through the presentation, a chicken started squawking and three men jumped up with sticks and coupe-coupes. I was surprised that they would kill a chicken just for interrupting us ... a homologue explained that a snake had just snatched the chick. The men thrashed around in the bush for a bit then skewered the snake on a stick and started bringing it toward us so we could see. The chief (who was adorably toothless) ordered them to leave it; the yovos could check it out after the presentation.
To begin, we did an odd ceremony where the chiefs and three notables came over to where we were seated in front of the gathering, they walked down the line of our group, shaking hands. Then they went and sat down on their benches and we walked over to them to shaking their hands and repeat the greeting. Bizarre. At the end, a few men brought out drums and grabbed our hands to invite us into the dance. When we begged off after a while, saying we had to go, they brought us over to the chief’s house where they’d made a delicious lunch for us (ablo, chicken and sauce) and served us bottles of soda (obviously not cold, the electricity doesn’t get this far out en brousse.)
Thus stuffed, we quickly snapped some shots of the rudely interrupting snake and slowly took the final 9km to D’s village where we would spend the night. We had a good amount of time to hang out and cool off (and use the latrine) before the afternoon sensibs.
D likes to keep busy at site so when he doesn’t have a project going on with villagers, he plays around with projects in his house. For example: abstract paintings on the wall, an hourglass made out of plastic water bottles, sand and duct tape that measures out approximately 15 seconds (depending on how big the chunks of sand are). His crowning achievement, however, is a large pot set up to boil water using a magnifying glass. Despite hours of patient observation, he has yet to achieve boiling temperature.
Our evening community sensib didn’t really work – too little light, too much noise. But the gathering did serve as a brilliant place for the village chief to present a speech encouraging each volunteer to adopt a local village as a “twin” with a city back home to aid in development and understanding. It was a lovely little speech and he made copies for each volunteer to take with them.