26 July 2008


21 July


I can't sleep so ya'll get a journal entry – one I've been meaning to
write for a while now, but hadn't gotten around to yet.
It's funny how Edinburgh has become the place I consider 'home'. My
parents' house in California will always be home in a family sense, but
Edinburgh is home for me, my friends, the start of my independence and
my career.
It rained today, huge rivers from the sky for nearly 3 hours (a pretty
normal occurrence in southern Togo between May and July) but there's an
extra element of cool wind here in Mission Tove that brought my
thoughts right to Eidnburgh.
One of my last days in Edinburgh I decided to climb Arthur's Seat
again. It was January so the weather was even more bleak than normal.
The rain started just as I was heading up the hill and by the time I
got to the top I was soaked by the rain pelting me horizontally on both
sides. I felt like I was in the ocean, with the crests of two waves
colliding on the top of a lone rock. It was fantastic. Just the way I
wanted my last Arthur's Seat visit to be – wet, slippery, dirty and
Feeling that wind yesterday throwing fat droplets at my face, filling
the gutters to overflowing and pounding on the tin roof obliterating
all other sound – well, it felt like Edinburgh.
Dude I miss you guys (all my buddies in Auld Reekie) so it's been
really fantastic to find two other volunteers who make me feel at home
There's a married couple here, L & I. They met at college while taking
ballroom dance lessons. I is a lawyer who specialises in environmental
law and L most recently worked for a State Park tourist bureau (or
something similar- must ask him again) They spend road trips reading
Harry Potter aloud to each other. L used to have long hair, he only cut
it because Peace Corps advised him to do so. He still has a nicely
trimmed moustache and goatee. I, for her part, loves dying her hair
wacky colors, although developed an antipathy for purple after ending
up with purple streaks down her face for a week after the last attempt.
Have you guessed yet why they remind me of Edinburgh?
Oh yes... and they are roleplayers.
Primarily of the D&D type, but I've already passed them my copy of Best
Friends by the illustrious Gregor and now we're just waiting to recruit
a couple more people to have us some good ol' gamin' fun. Yeehaw.

Book: I am so bored right now I'm reduced to reading PC protocol in the
hope it will put me to sleep
Music: mosquitos buzzing and crickets chirping

Happy Bastille Day!

14 July

Happy Bastille Day!

Yesterday I went to the 'Intronisation' of the new chief of the village
Apegame. Apegame is right next to Kumawu, just a bit closer to Mount

Chiefs here are selected from amongst the royal family. So it's a
hereditary role, but not specifically passed on from father to son.
When a chief dies here, his death is kept a secret for several months.
If anyone asks where the chief is, his relatives will say that he's
gone to Notsie (the ancestral village). They quietly bury the chief in
the family plot, officially announcing his death after three months.

It can take up to 3 years to put together the funeral ceremony for a
chief. The ceremonies will go on for days, 'tous les tam-tams du
village sortent', they create a big feast with a freshly killed cow,

Anyway, the previous chief of Apegame died a year and a half ago, I
assume they've already taken care of the funeral. Yesterday was the
coronation of the new chief, who just happened to be the grandfather of
a family that one of my stagemates is in.

My family got dressed in their nicest duds and we left the house around
9.30am. We walked through the village and stopped by many different
houses to visit family and friends. At the house of my host mom's
mother, we stopped in to see baby twins. They were absolutely adorable.
Then we went to the next room to look at the picture of my mom's mom.
It wasn't until this point that I realised that this house USED to be
my mom's mom's house, when she was still alive. She died several months
ago, which is too bad. I am the first volunteer to live with my family
who didn't meet the grandmother.

After that stop, we headed to the Place Publique. It's a beautiful
little area, well-shaded, with a big statue of a cross and two people
kneeling in prayer.

The ceremony itself didn't start until we'd already been sitting for an
hour (in the rather uncomfortable but seemingly universal plastic
chairs with numbers painted on the back). All the other local chiefs
showed up in their lovely toga-style pagne. Then four young women came
into the center of the gathering place and sang a song. One of the
women had a large basket on her head with a couple jars. The man in
front of me explained that the young women would traditionally have
walked to the village all the way from Lome, carrying the jars on their
heads. They are a reminder to the chief to keep in contact with the
voice of young people.

The new chief finally came in, following a procession of his eleven
children, baskets of pagne and other gifts stacked on their heads. He
was protected by a special parasol, with a bird on the top. Whoever was
holding the parasol kept it spinning and spinning above the chief's

After speakers chatted a bunch about the chiefs' education and work
experience, putting special emphasis on his education in English, the
'intronisateur' began the ceremonial bit. The Intronisateur is a role
passed down in the family of the founders of Apegame. They serve as a
kind of balance for the chief. If a person ever objects to a decision
that the chief made, they can bring the problem to the Intronisateur
and try to resolve the conflict.

Anyway, the Intronisateur plays a special role in the ceremony of a new
chief. He calls on God to bless the gold-woven sandals, the crown and
the specially designed and painted machete that are all symbols of
chiefhood. It was pretty neat. But a bit long, especially since it was
all done in Ewe, a language which I can only speak enough to introduce
myself. (I'm working on it!!!)

So enjoy the photos!

Learning Ewe en brousse

21 July 08

Learning Ewe en brousse

Learning Ewe will be even more necessary than I realised at first. Now
that I am in Mission Tove, I can see just how rural it is. Few poeple
seem to be educated enough to speak French. Certainly, the people in my
compound currently don't speak it. (Except the men)
I never thought cooking on a charcoal stove would be tough but I guess
I'm used to American-style pre-kerosene soaked, perfectly processed
charcoal briquettes. The charcoal here basically looks and feels like
burnt wood, crumbly and rough pieces.
Anyway, I need help getting my fire started – the locals have obliged
very nicely – it's really only that I need to get over my bruised pride
that I can't accomplish such a necessary daily task as start a fire.
Back to the anyway – because my neighbours don't speak French, my
communication with them has consisted of bringing my little square
stove over to them and looking pleadingly at them.
So I decided to take out my Ewe book and try to work on some useful
phrases like 'can you help me start my fire so I can boil some water
because I'm really really thirsty, please, k? thanks' I didn't find
anything that specific but I can say:
'Medekuku, medibe ma do dzo' which means roughly, 'excuse me/please, I
would like to light the fire'
I gave this phrase a try today at lunch and the maman seemed to
understand me. (It probably also helped that was also holding the stove
and looking pleadingly at her – yay for non-verbals) But she did say
the phrase back to me using the 'you' form instead of the 'I' form,
which makes me pretty sure I was intelligible. Huzzah.

current books: Le Chateau Maudit and The Book of Bao

Picture: check out me rockin' my (borrowed) pagne complet

25 July 2008



20 July
I arrived in Mission Tove yesterday morning- around 10.30. My latrine
is nasty, so I've decided to use it only when I absolutely have to (ie
number 2).
I was initially really worried about my bedroom – it's large, but there
aren't any poles for my mosquito net. Buy my fantastically resourceful
homologue helped me out with finding random nail holes in the cement
walls (and attaching one corner to a chair – a collapsible mosi net!)
It work really well and I've got a ton of room for sitting up in bed
and journaling, for example. It also really improved my mood after
first seeing and smelling the latrine. yuck.
There is no electricity here. Amazing how used to it I got in Agou. I
really had a hard time last night – with only an oil lamp to light my
room, I felt really claustrophobic and sad and I felt like I had to go
to sleep at 7. My headlamp batteries of course were nearly out. I
wanted to conserve the last little bits in case I needed to get up in
the middle of the night (to fix my collapsible mosi net or scare away a
spider or whatever).
So I lay in bed feeling out of control, lonely and blind and then I
had a dream which corresponded perfectly with all those anxieties.
(I'll recount the dream at the bottom of this entry in deference to
those who find reading about other people's dreams really boring).

Today in bullet points:
• woke and did some yoga
• had leftover couscous for breakfast
o nearly in tears trying to get the fire started, nice neighbor girl
helped – MUST learn more Ewe
• went to church with Da E (homologue)
o wore new mixed pagne skirt!
o Baptist church, lots of singing
o celebration of baby (whose twin had died) welcomed into church
o I received a blessing – the Pastor prayed that I would stay for an
additional 2 years after my assignment :)
• big multi-church gathering at public place
o note: good sound system – possibly use it another time? running on a
• went home halfway through the gathering because I was tired and I
needed to make lunch
• made a guideline for weeks 3&4 of yoga and did the sequence
• cleaned room, took bucket bath
o little girl came to my room and babbled at me in Ewe, it's a good
thing I learned how to say 'wash myself' in Ewe!
• bought some phone credit with Da E
• watched guys playing a game with nuts, didn't quite figure out the
point of it.
• made spaghetti with creamy red sauce yum yum
o Vache Qui Rit, condensed milk, tom paste and some water
o It tasted awesome, but my tummy's not too impressed right now – maybe
too much oil?
• called home, said hi to Ceci, asked her to call me back – I haven't
heard from the, so I guess they weren't successful oh well
• ...
• talked to mom :) went to sleep

the dream:
I am driving a car – the old blue Volvo station wagon from my childhood
– through the parking lot at the Thousand Oaks mall. It is dark, there
are some cars clustered in the parking lot, but I'm trying to avoid
people. I drive past the Macy's entrance that faces the 101 and notice
there is a fountain on the hillside just next to the entrance. But
there is no access to this pretty little spot – a fence blocks the way.
I continue on, heading out of parking lot. As I take a right to get
out, I cut off another car who was going through a stop sign. I speed
up, fearful of the driver behind me and drive right through a stop sign
to take a left onto Hillcrest.
I am on the 101 heading north. I suddenly notice just how dark it is
and I realise that I don't have my headlights on. It is pitch black
inside the car and I can't see the switch to turn them on. The interior
light on the rearview mirror isn't working, I frantically flick
everything and turn the windshield wipers on, spray the windshield, do
everything but get the lights on.
It is so dark that I have no idea where I am until I realise that I
must be on the Camarillo Grade based on the curve of the traffic. I've
missed my exit and I'm heading fast downhill with no lights. I consider
pulling over, but I'm afraid to change lanes and afraid of overshooting
the side of the freeway and plunging down the side of the cliff.
I decide to wait to pullover until I hit an exit – somewhere well-lit,
where I won't be so blind. When I see an exit, there are two police
cars getting onto the freeway at the same time. I am desperately afraid
of being pulled over for not having my lights on, but I'm also aware
how dangerous it is to not have lights.
I am scared and it is dark and I could get into trouble or get hurt
because of something that I desperately want to fix but can't because I
don't know how.

Picture is of the view from my room in Agou Koumawou pretty ain't it?

12 July 2008

a note about notes

12 July 2008

Guidelines for sending greetings, etc. to me:

Packages get through more easily and more quickly than letters.
Go figure. Maybe it's because they are more unusual, I'm not sure.
Packages will be opened when they come into the country – but a Peace
Corps rep is always there to witness it and makes sure that nothing is
taken out. There is always a charge to receive a package, but Peace
Corps has negotiated to make it really reasonable. I've left a
sufficient amount of money with the mail rep to take care of at least
10 packages, so that should last a while.

I have yet to receive any letters, although I know that some have been
sent. I'd suggest numbering letters you send to me and writing down the
date you sent them, so we can try to figure out together which ones are
missing and how long it takes to get them.

If you are sending postcards, put them in an envelope or else they may
well end up decorating a local post office wall.

Hmm, anything else?

My address will remain the same during my service. I'll be travelling
in to Lome to pick up my mail every so often (Guess it depends on
whether I have electricity or internet in my own village. If I need to
go into Lome for it, it's likely I'll be there more frequently)

About texts... I seem to be receiving texts from my lovely friends in
the UK over and over again. I'm pretty sure I'm not being charged for
receiving them, but I would suggest sending them from Skype or
something instead of from a normal phone - I haven't figured out the
problem (Togocell claims that it's not their network that's the issue)
Skype texts I receive once, although it's possible that it takes a
while for them to be sent/arrive.

Music: rather awful Ghanaian rap
Book: James Redfield – The Celestine Prophecy

also, have a pic of beauty from my mountain trip

all the small things

9 July 2008

It really is just the little things that get me down.

Leaving the Techhouse today I noticed three new flea bites. Then I got
on my bike and within two metres I'd torn a hole in my trousers because
I forgot to roll up my right leg and it got caught in the gear. Then,
because I only pulled it up haphasardly, it fell down again and my bike
fell into a big hole while I was trying to pull it back up.


I wish that the ride home from school had at least one downhill bit,
that would be really nice.

I got to ride on the back of a moto today in bike mechanics class :).
I will almost certainly have moto privileges at my post. This means
that I will be allowed to use moto taxis when necessary, although Peace
Corps prefers that we take bush taxis (vans). There is a stretch of
road between Mission Tove and Lome that is not very frequently served
by bush taxi, so it will be very useful to have that privilege.
Luckily, it's not a very long stretch of road, so I won't have to cling
desperately onto the luggage rack (girls aren't supposed to put their
arms around a moto driver, it's culturally inappropriate) for very

Ah. I feel better already having been able to vent.

Time to hydrate.

Music: Manu Chao – Me gusta
Book: Robert Jordan – Crown of Swords (my friend had a folder of zip
files of 'the 69 best fantasy/sci-fi authors' hellzyeah. talk about
comfort reading.)


8 July 2008


I thought I was headed into a yucky tropical disease complete with
tummy upset, mild fever, body aches, and mood swings. But it's just
that my cycle arrived a week early. Resume normality, with extra
self-care :)

And so, I continue with my daily routine...

Okay, I left off at 6:30 am on July 1.

I don't always take a morning shower – it depends on how busy the
family is, I don't strictly need it and I don't like to distract my
sister from taking care of her kids.

In either case, I prep myself for the day – packing my Camelbak
backpack with
my training necessities: cahier (notebook), my Oral Proficiency
Learning textbook for Ewe, and a pen
and other necessities: my Ridgeway bottle (like a Nalgene, but not) –
sometimes I'll dump half a tub of 'tea-on-the-go' type mix, I can get
filtered water at the techhouse –, the various medicines I might need
during the day (I always carry a couple pepto bismol tabs, some
ibuprofen, some hydrocortizone cream, insect repellent, and a couple
band-aids), my camera, some toilet paper just in case, my phone, my
rain jacket, and my watch (I don't wear it on my wrist because I get
heat rash – there's a handy little loop in the strap of my backpack
that works nicely)

I just severely overused parentheses. This may be a recurring fault.
(especially since I've been prone to it since I was 16)

I usually head to the Techhouse at 7am.
Me le ku keke yi suku (I am riding my bike to school – in Ewe)
We were given brilliant 7-speed mountain bikes for use in Togo. We've
received training on maintenance and emergency fixes, etc. I feel this
may be the most useful training I have yet received. I kind of can't
wait till I get my first flat tire. I'll know EXACTLY what to do. What
a feeling of power!

Classes start at 7.30, or at least they are scheduled to start then.
I usually have a chance to chat to people, finish any homework and
possibly open up my computer (if I brought it with me).

Our first class lasts until 9.30, then there's a half an hour break.
This gives people the chance to come to the Techhouse if their first
class was held elsewhere – a lot of the language groups are held in
individual host family houses.

10am - Often, we have our Technical sessions as the second session of
the morning. This means we will start with one of the stageaires giving
a presentation on some form of business skill that they are already
familiar with through their experience outside of the Peace Corps.
We've had presentations on Linux and the merits of open source
software; how to open and register a business; and how to
fundraise/write grant applications. Pretty interesting stuff, but it
primarily is interesting to me because I get the chance to have a
glimpse of what people were up to prior to Peace Corps. Lots of

After the individual presentations, we cover various aspects of
business development a la Togolaise. We either have a current
volunteer, a guest speaker, or our tech trainer lead the session. These
sessions vary widely as to how boring or interesting they are. I've
been forced to pay good attention because I've been called on
frequently to translate guest speakers presentations in French into
English for the stageaires who are new to French. My tech trainer
passes me notes that say "Il faut bien suivre cette partie pour
traduire." (Rough translation: pay close attention to this part so you
can translate)
There's a guy stageaire who speaks French fluently (his schooling was
all in French) but he's very good at avoiding eye contact with the tech
trainer when he's looking around for someone to translate, so it's
mostly up to me :)

12pm – Second session ends, time to bike home for lunch. Biking home is
uphill. It's not terribly steep, but it wears on me when I'm feeling
tired, hungry or a bit ill. Especially when I'm wearing a skirt and I
have to be careful to keep my skirt down while peddling. On contrast,
the ride to the Techhouse is absolutely blissful.

Okay, I've got you through the first half, I'm going to leave the rest
for another time.

nighty night

05 July 2008

Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit

1 July 2008

Wow. It's July already. That's pretty crazy.

My legs are so sore from Sunday's hike. I'm fine as long as I keep
moving, but after 2 hours of sitting still during a lecture or language
class, when I get up I limp a bit.

I guess 8 hours of climbing up and down a mountain will do that.
Funnily enough, it's just my quads and my calves that feel the burn ...

ha! the power just went out. I am now typing by kerosene lamp, how
oddly macintosh-quaint, (to skew the phrase microsoft-rustic coined by
my favorite fanfic author Melissa Good).

I thought it might be a good blog idea to describe my daily routine
here during training:

5am - the roosters began crowing, which coincides nicely with my
bladder starting to talk to me
5.20 – my first alarm goes off, I groan, roll over and shut it off
5.25 – my second alarm goes off, I groan, roll over and shut it off and
then try to keep my eyes open
5.30 – my third alarm goes off. This alarm is my cell phone, and it's
on the table across the room. I fumble around with my mosquito net,
trying desperately to go under and not through it, and stumble across
the room to turn it off. Today's stumble was particularly stumbly due
to the relaxed state of my overused quads and calves. Ouch.
This is the time when I get to make a decision about whether to get up
and get on with it or hit the snoozer. I have three alarms because I
like being able to check the time if I wake up in the night, so I keep
my watch in my bed with me. The watch alarm does not have a snooze
button. The mobile phone snooze is 9 minutes long.

Anyone else ever tried to live with a 9 minute snooze?

It doesn't work very well for me. It's just long enough for me to
really fall back asleep. Normally I rely on snoozes to gradually wake
me up with every 5 or 6 minute interval between alarms. 9 minutes?
Sheesh. By that time, I'm back on the beaches of Thailand eating soya
ice cream while watching tropical fish swim by in the air. (Mefloquine
dreams have been pretty good to me). I'm in no mood to drag myself out
of bed to brave the latrine.

Right, so if I choose to snooze, then I snooze and get up around 6. If
I choose to go for it, I hit up the latrine (have t.p. will travel) and
then come back to my room for a little bit of yoga. I sweep my floor
first – it's amazing how much dirt accumulates in one day! – and then
set up my 'yoga mix' to play on random and get on with the first 15
minutes or so of the primary series.
6.00am If I'm yoga-ing, I'll be finishing up with some calisthenics and
then savasana just about now.
6.15am I wrap myself in a pagne and throw on a t-shirt to go have some
petit dejeuner (breakfast). This generally consists of freeze-dried
coffee with powdered milk and sometimes powdered chocolate, 5 pieces of
bread with peanut butter, and a banana. It's yummy, but it's not great
at getting me through the 6 hours before my next meal.

6.30am This is a good time for my first bucket shower of the day. I
head out to the lovely shower stall, clean myself, my face, my teeth,
and my underwear.

This is the time to clean my sous-vetements (underwear). Because
underwear is seen as so private and embarrassing, it can't be washed or
hung to dry with other clothing. Most Togolese women will wash their
underwear when they take their shower. I've been trying to do it too.
It seems to make sense. Except that I've gotten behind because I
haven't been able to wash undies every shower due to time constraints
or because I've got a full line in my room already, etc. I'm sure I'll
catch up at some point.

my sister just carried my bucket out to the shower... I'm off to get
clean. I'll have to finish my daily routine another day!

Music: Vas – At Siva's Feet
Book: Staying Healthy In Togo (the SHIT book) Peace Corps Togo Health
Picture: A and I hoofing it up Pic d'Agou (L in back right)

Follow every rainbow, till you find your dream

29 June

Spoke to my parents today! Huzzah!

It was really nice just to have a normal chat with them and update them
on where I'm at and where I'm going. I'm really hoping to make it to
the internet sometime this week to do the same for all the rest of you.

Today I climbed to the top of the highest mountain in Togo.

Luckily, it's not particularly high, so it only took us 4 hours to get
to the hours. Four rather grueling hours, I might add, but still only
4. It was quite a monster of a hike. I left the house at 6am and didn't
get back until 3pm.

We are particularly lucky that our free day is Sunday because that
means that we were able to witness/hear the amazing church services
going on in each of the three tiny villages we passed through.
Somewhere in between the second and third village, while we were
climbing up nearly vertical steps, we turned a corner around the
mountain and suddenly were inundated with drumbeats and joyful singing.
We peered through the foliage in vain for a glimpse of the jubilant

I'm exceedingly tired right now, so I'm heading to sleep. I may
eventually tell you more about our mountainous adventurous.


Music: April March – Mon Petit Ami
Book: Starhawk – The Earth Path

Prepare for the fight... I’ll be right by your side on into the night

27 June 08

I've started re-reading the 'A Few Minor Adjustments' book the Peace
Corps sent out to me before I left for Togo. It talks about culture
shock and the various adjustments volunteers have to go through. I'm
actually very impressed by the author's ability to talk generally but
pointedly about an experience that will be so different depending on
location and program. It feels really relevant to my own experience,
even though it's not about the specifically 'African' experience.

I'd like to quote a few paragraphs from it that I think are really
interesting, useful/relevant, and funny :) Just to be totally clear,
although I am quoting from a book published by the Peace Corps, the
contents of this blog and the opinions contained within are solely my
own - not the opinions of the Peace Corps or the US government.

"In a sense, culture shock is both a reaction to novelty and a defense
against it."

Sometimes when I'm climbing on my bike to pedal up the hill from the
school to my house, I have to remind myself: "hey self, you're in
Africa. Yup, it's hot. Yup, the kids yell 'yovo' at you. And yup, those
dudes in the middle of the bike lane are just going to stare at you and
not get out of your way. Now get home and speak French and muddle up a
bit of Ewe and then take a nap to give your brain a rest and it'll all
be easier when you wake up."

"It helps to be realistic. You've taken on a lot. It' s only normal to
be thrown, to feel a bit ill at ease, under the weather, out of sorts,
scared, disappointed in yourself, and generally doubtful. Remember:
This isn't just one more new experience; it's a whole new world. And
whole new worlds, as a rule, take some getting used to."

I've been aware from the start that I will have hard times. I'm
prepared with all sorts of coping mechanisms. One of my most important
things is music: my yoga/meditation mix on my new tiny speakers that
run on rechargeable batteries that can be recharged with my solar
panel. I've covered my bases. If I end up in a village somewhere that
has no sun or batteries, I will be upset, but otherwise I think I'm
pretty prepped to give myself some therapeutic alone time when I'm
feeling down.
One thing that will doubtless besiege me at some point is my own
self-confidence. I have a hard enough time maintaining equilibrium when
everything is easy, I imagine that the wants, lacks and language gaps
will increase my self-doubt. I will do my best to be easy on myself.
Take baby steps, but keep moving along the path. Keeping a journal of
language/culture learning is one way I'm going to try to keep myself
aware of progress that won't always be readily visible.

"Have faith: In time, you will get used to the weather, make your peace
with the food, learn your way around the community, get better in the
language, start shedding amenities with reckless abandon, and create
new routines."

Shedding amenities with reckless abandon – I love it.
Bucket baths, triple-processing my water, having to carefully package
my sanitary waste so it can be burned without embarrassing the men who
take care of the burning, using a broom with no handle, etc.

"The other type of PST (Pre-Service Training) is community-based. Here
trainees typically live in clusters in one or more villages or
neighborhoods and come together with others in their cluster for
language, cross-cultural, and some technical training. In this latter
training method, the whole training group – all the clusters combined –
will also gather periodically, usually once a week, for certain

Slightly more boring bit, but it describes the training I'm currently
doing. We all live in houses in the community and take all our meals
with our family. Then we gather once a day for language classes, based
on level – some groups meet at the compounds of various families. We
usually gather 3 times a week for technical talks where current
volunteers come and give talks about the various tasks that they
perform, we have guest speakers from various professions, and current
stagiaires give a presentation on some business skill with which we
already have some experience.
The CHAP (Community Health and AIDS Prevention) volunteers are in the
next village over. We all get together a few times a week to have
health, security, and cross-cultural sessions.

"Most PSTs are tightly scheduled; there's a lot to cover and not much
time. This means spectacularly full days, partially filled evenings,
and preempted Saturday morning. You are told when to eat and where to
be. ... All in all, it's not a bad bargain: you give up handy little
personal freedoms and turn control of your life over to total strangers
and get some very good training to in return. Being adult humans, you
quite understand this state of affairs, you readily accept it, and you
smilingly acquiesce...
...And, if you're at all normal, you resent it."

Yeah, it's frustrating feeling like I'm a child again. I can't even
clear my plate from the table at home without someone telling me to
leave it. I haven't actually had to wrest my plate out of someone's
would-be-helpful-hands yet, like one other stagiaire, but it's come

How to cope:

"If you can identify the two or three things bothering you at a given
stage, then you have a better chance of coping with them.... Just
pinning down what's the matter can be something of a relief; at least
now you know it isn't all those other things it might have been. To
that end, here is a list of some of the things that usually affect

"No mail from home
Tick. No phone calls either. And still no internet availability for me.

"The weather
Tick. It's rainy season. This frustration is further compounded by the
fact that most Togolese refuse to go outside in the rain. My family
tried to stop me going to training when it was raining until I showed
them I was wearing a fabulously waterproof jacket and a hat.
Worse though, is the laundry situation. All laundry is done by hand and
hung up to dry in the sun. Except for underwear. Underwear has to be
done by hand in secret, well, privately anyway. Then it can't be hung
up outside because that would be embarrassing. It has to be hung in the
room. A humid climate in the midst of the rainy season does not do very
well drying laundry hung inside a room with a tiny window and door
(which must be shut tightly whenever it rains or else the rain will
come through the screens and get everywhere.
Basically, I am having a ridiculously difficult time getting my
underwear to dry without a mildew scent. gross. I've developed a system
now where I hang it outside discreetly in my shower cubicle thing when
I'm home for lunch and a nap. That way it can get some sun and if it
starts raining I can bring it inside quickly. It's an improvement, but
it's frustrating enough that I'm starting to look forward to the hot

The Lovemakers – Prepare for the Fight

wide open welcoming hearts against the pink sky, blackberry tangos

22 June 2008

I just heard from my friend in Wales tonight, which was really lovely.

I'm a bit worried that my texts to people in Scotland didn't go through
as I've received so few back, but I suppose that it could be that
people don't really love me boo hoo hoo.
(I'm betting on Togocell being generally a rubbish mobile service

I've compiled a list of things that people could send me in care
packages that would be really lovely and really light and easy to send:

Instant drink packets
Kool-aid, Crystal Light, that sort of thing. In order to make the
water safe to drink, I have to boil it and then filter it or filter it
and then add bleach. Either way, the water ends up tasting pretty bland
and unappetising. I brought over a good amount of generic Target-brand
sugar-free drink mix stuff, but I'm pretty sure I'm going to make my
way through it really quickly. Also... I brought little tubs of the
stuff and have since realised that the majority of my water will be
drunk from plastic water bottles that have tiny little throats, so the
single-serving packets would be much better than the tubs.

a cafetiere
A french press coffee-maker. Most of the coffee available here is the
granule Nescafe kind. Yuck. There is, however, a burgeoning coffee
industry and a PCV is working with one collective that is currently in
the process of trying to start exporting its freshly picked/roasted
coffee beans. This means that I will soon have access to lovely fresh
coffee, but no way to enjoy it. I would love if someone could send me a
wee cafetiere – it doesn't have to be full-size, just enough for a cup
or two. I suggest you put dibs on this item so that I don't end up
getting five of them.

I would love to get letters! I will try to send out another email with
my mailing address again. The mail is all process in Lome and then sent
out, so I am pretty sure that the mailing address I currently have is
the mailing address I will have for my whole time here in Togo.

face wash
Not currently a pressing need, but I have it on good authority that
it's nearly impossible to get good sensitive-skin face wash here, so if
someone wants to keep an eye out for something semi-nice and send it
over for my birthday or the holidays or whatever that would be lovely
(Lush, hint hint) Bars of body soap would be cool too, I'm getting
through it pretty quickly with the two showers a day.

small candle holders
Over the past week, there have been power cuts around 6pm nearly every
night. My family has an abundant supply of candle stubs. In order to
set up a candle, my host sister finds an old jar lid, drips a bit of
wax into it and then sticks the candle into the wax to hold it up. It
works pretty well, especially when the candle stub is particularly
stubby. However, I would love to give them a couple simple, nice candle
holders. Something small, preferably with a depth of no more than ¾
inch, maybe with a little point in the center of the candle stand to
help stick the candle upright.? Dunno, I'm keeping an eye out but if
anyone sees something in a charity shop for 50pence that looks perfect
– that would be awesome.

Essential oils!!!!
At the last minute, I didn't bring my oils. I regret that decision
now. It would be really nice to have some oils, especially some
lavender and some citrus. There are a couple nice blends like 'energy'
or 'clarity' that would be great to have. I could really use a couple
that make good perfumes too. I cannot get away from smelling like sweat
right now, but it would be nice to sweeten it up a little bit with some
rose oil or the like.

Phase 10
The card game. I cannot believe I left this at home. I have no idea
where it is, which means that I couldn't have packed it away because I
would have noticed it. Grrr. At least I have my fabulous 'historical
Scottish figures' deck of cards.

It seems pretty easy to get black tea here, but I would love to get
some packets of herbal, green, etc. Just a nice little extra, you know.
Another wee thing to make the water more palatable.

Yummy trail mix
One of the other volunteers had this brilliant mix that was nuts and
white chocolate and cranberries. Yum yum. So if any of you Americans
sees a yummy looking bag of trail mix that you think I might like, go
ahead and sent it on over :)

Soy/protein powder
I am successfully surviving as a vegetarian here. Go me. This means
that I have to be particularly careful to get my protein. It hasn't
been too hard so far, but a volunteer who has nearly completed her two
years recommended that I get someone to send over protein powder
things. I'm not exactly sure what this is or how to use it, so if y'all
wanna send over some instructions with it, that would be cool.

CDs of music/dvds/pictures
I've got my laptop and a solar charger for it, I would love to get
updates on the latest music and movies, the fabulous and scandalous
parties (and weddings!!!!) that I'm missing, etc. I imagine that my web
access will be very limited, so please send me the photos, don't expect
that I'll be able to see them online.

Coloring book(s)
I'm giving my host family children a set of crayons, but I didn't
bring a coloring book. (I would also like to have a coloring book for
myself because in a fit of selfishness I've decided that I'm keeping
the glitter crayons)

I ran out of the stuff I bought at the airport and I realised it's a
kind of fun treat that I enjoy, it's light and easily sendable. I tried
this wacky flavor at Philadelphia airport called 'Mint Mojito'. It was
actually pretty awesome. So feel free to send me the weird stuff :)

Apparently, we get Newsweek sent to us every week, which is pretty
exciting. I would love to occasionally get a silly or interesting
magazine or cut-out article (feel free to read the magazine first and
then send it on – I'm going to be so far behind anyway, what's another

I'll be using this for wiping the sweat off my face, so nothing too
fancy. If it's big enough, I could use it for holding back hair too
which would be great. Although, I think I'm going to be shaving my head
as soon as I can find some clippers and keeping it really really short
while I'm here.

Current media:
Music: Blue Planet, Donna Lewis – Beauty & Wonder
Book: The Earth Path by Starhawk

Takes a stiff upper lip just to hold up my face

26 June

I tried to get to the cyber cafe at lunch today. But it's not open
during the lunch hour. Grr. This means that I will have to hoof it up
there after a session next week, unless it is perhaps open on Sunday.

The cafe is up a big hill, which would be nothing in Edinburgh, but
it's amazing how much more difficult it is to mount a hill when the
weather is hot and humid. In Edinburgh, there was always the motivation
to walk briskly up and down hills just to get the blood back into my
toes. It felt good to warm up and take layers off as I made my daily
journeys between the gym and work.

There are only so many layers one can take off.

So instead of de-layering, I have to practice yoga techniques like
using my breathing to slow down my heartrate (and thereby lower my
internal body temperature). This is good and kind of interesting. It's
not that hot right now anyway, so best to master the techniques during
the cool rainy season so that I'm prepared for the hot season coming

We received the overview of the site assignments today. I am so excited
to look over my notes again and start thinking about where I want to
be. The posts are spread out all over the country, but there are quite
a few of them in the furthest south Region de Maritime. I think I am
particularly drawn to the further south posts. I have already begun
learning Ewe, which is the local language in most of the villages in
the south (and is commonly spoken in Ghana as well, which will come in
handy with visitors. hint hint)

I would ideally like to be in a place with electricity and cell phone
coverage, but I came prepared to get along without such amenities. What
matters most is what work I want to do. There are fantastic
opportunities all around the country and every volunteer I've spoken to
says that basically the location does not matter – it's the volunteer
and her motivation that matters. I will find microfinance institutions,
groupements (small cooperatives), lycees (high schools), and
entrepreneurs (small business owners) in every location.

I am particularly inspired by a post called Mission Tove which is only
15 kilometers from Lome where the focus is particularly on young
people. There is a lycee that has a particular problem with teenage
pregnancy and drop-outs, there is a center for training young women in
business skills, a seamstresses' trade association, and a huge rice
producing population that badly needs access to loans and financial
management training.

Another post in Tabligbo where the volunteer works particularly with a
batik-making non-profit organisation, helping to develop their
financial management and work on export possibilities (maybe
coordinating with an info-tech volunteer to develop a website shop).
There is also a lycee where Junior Achievement programs would be very

Both of those posts are in the Maritime region, close to Lome, which is
a mixed blessing. It would be great for hosting visitors, but I might
be too reliant on the big city?

There is a brilliant post up at the furthest north point of Togo where
there is an opportunity to do some great work with really motivated
young people who do their own income-generating activities to pay their
school fees. It's by the border of Burkina Faso. There's a fantastic
marche on the border where one can find all sorts of goods really
inexpensively. It's fairly isolated, but there's a really good bus
service all the way up and down the country.

I'm going to have to take some time this evening, read over my
descriptions and then give my brain a chance to sleep on it. The
frustrating/exciting thing is that I actually have no real choice about
where I end up. I can state my preferences, but it is up to the program
director to place all the volunteers according to skills and needs.
Yikes! I could end up anywhere!

Current media influences:
Music: The Archive Soundtrack ;) Ani DiFranco - Wish I May
Book: The Earth Path by Starhawk

Stick it in the fridge, stick it in the fridge

20 June 2008

Had a lovely night last night. I went out to the local bar, Le
Prestige, and had a huge bottle of local brew called Flag. It's not
bad, as long as it's super cold (There's the rub, eh? In 90 degrees
and100% humidity it's hard to keep a huge bottle cold in one's own
sweaty little palm.) A group of stagiaires have been hanging out there
every night for an hour (8pm to 9pm – which is pretty much everyone's
curfew here in the village)

They call it the 'Yovo support group'.

Yovo is the local word for white person. Whenever I pass a group of
children, they always call out to me in a sing-song voice 'Yovo yovo
bonsoir, yovo yovo bonsoir' over and over. It's kind of annoying, but
only because of the cultural lens that I've come here with. In the US,
we wouldn't refer to someone by the color of their skin, much less call
out to them with that categorization. It's rude and even 'racist' to do

It's not the same here.
For one thing, Yovo doesn't exactly mean white person, despite that
being the literal translation. Kids will call African-American Peace
Corps Volunteers 'Yovo' as well. So, in practice, it means foreigners.
People who are not African in culture, language, behavior, etc.

Being called 'yovo' really makes some people angry. It only bothers me
when the person saying it is standing right in my way staring at me
while I'm trying to make it to class or home for lunch. Or even worse,
standing in the middle of the bike lane staring at me while I
desperately try to slow down so that I don't get bowled over by the
loudly hooting truck about to pass me. You know, it's circumstantial.
Otherwise, it's kind of cute having lots of children yell for my
attention and bouncing frantically while they wave and chant at me.

Anyway, getting off-topic of the 'yovo support group'.

It's a fun little group comprised mostly of the trainees on either side
of the French spectrum – those who don't speak any French at all and
those who are (or nearly are) fluent. We hang out and speak English and
chat and vent about our families back in the States and here in Agou.
We drink coke or beer or tonic water – anything that's cold and wet.
The bar has a couple slot machines that I've never seen anyone play and
a loud sound system that was blasting Macy Grey all night last night.


G-Love and Special Sauce – Cold Beverages

15 June 2006

15 Juin 2008

I am unwell.

It was expected. But it's still pretty awful.

Nothing to be worried about – just the normal 'you're living in a new
climate, eating new foods, being beseiged by many stressful things at
the same time' kind of belly trouble.

It meant I passed up a trip to Kpalime yesterday, though, which is
disappointing because I was really looking forward to getting to an
internet cafe where I would be able to actually post the past few days
of blogging, send off some emails, and otherwise be in contact with the

It also means that my host family is feeling really really guilty. It's
hard enough that at each meal they continually tell me to 'mange'
'mange beaucoup' and 'prend' (eat, eat a lot and take). Now I have to
tell them that I can't eat at all. They look so disappointed that I try
to eat a little bit at each meal, but then I get sick again. bah. So
I've been hanging out in my room a lot today. I want to go sit outside,
but I'm not for several reasons: 1) I don't want to show off my
computer – I only use it when I'm sure that no one can see it. I just
don't want to be ostentatious. 2) I want to be somewhat 'productive' so
I don't feel like such a slug and it's hard to do French exercises
while my adorable host children are crawling all over and singing to
me. 3) At lunch, I told my host sister that I really need to do laundry
and she insisted that I was not to do any laundry because I am ill. She
told me to get my laundry and she would do it. I could only protest a
bit because I really wasn't feeling up to doing laundry but I
desperately need clean clothes. So I don't want to go outside and
lounge in the shade while she labors over my trousers, ya know?

Perhaps after this post I'll go outside and do some reading in the
shade. It's frustrating how little breeze I get in my room. I kind of
want to buy a wall thermometer so I can figure out just how hot it is,
but maybe that's not a fantastic idea. Might just be overwhelming.

Truly, the heat has been okay. I am constantly hot, the other day the
amount of sweat pouring down my legs made me wonder if I'd lost control
of my bladder, but I have not yet felt like I needed to peel my skin
off just to get cool. So that's good right? There have certainly been
times in California where I felt like that.

Also, I have not been bitten very much by the mosquitos. I seem to have
a bunch of flea bites – my family has two cats, they called both of
them 'le chat' until I named them 'Nuage' and 'Etoile' last night – but
I've avoided the mozis. And the flea bites are nothing like when I went
to Thailand. Gosh, what a nightmare that was!

A couple of days before going to Thailand, I suddenly found a bunch of
bites all over my arm. They were insanely itchy and made me really
paranoid, jumping at every possibly itchy spot on my body. I went to
see the doctor the day before the flight and she could not identify
them either, but she gave me a prescription for a cream that's intended
to fight little insects that people sometimes find in the
below-the-belt region because she couldn't think of anything else to
give me.
When I arrived in Thailand, the bites tripled in size and itchiness.
They were gross. So we went over to the local private hospital where
our hostess worked and a doctor there saw me and immediately identified
them as simple run-of-the-mill flea bites. I'd had an allergic reaction
to them which was intensified by the heat and the humidity, but that's
all. He gave me some hydrocortisone cream and some anti-allergy meds
and they were gone within a few days.

Luckily for me, the Peace Corps gave me a fantastic meds kits that
includes both of those items so I've been able to treat the flea bites
quickly and easily. They're gone within a day or two now. Awesome.

Okay, so this entry was brought to you by yucky belly and fleas. It
only gets better from here. :)