24 August 2008

Only a month away!

20 August 2008

One month to my birthday. Woohoo!

Thought I'd make a post about wants and needs... care package options :)

I put up a list back on 22 June, so I'm reprising some of the stuff
here, but I've also already received a couple of things on my wish

Instant drink packets (preferably single-serving ones)

letters! (as always!)

Essential oils!!!!

Phase 10

In addition to packets of tea, I forgot to bring one of those lovely
little mesh ball loose-leaf tea strainers over with me, oops!

Yummy trail mix

CDs of music/dvds/pictures

Due to budget cuts we may no longer be getting Newsweek. Grr. If anyone wants to buy me a subscription to Time or the Economist or some other interesting newsy mag, I would be ridiculously appreciative.

Hair things
I've decided to grow out my hair while I'm here for various reasons. I may end up cutting it all off after two years and donating it, which
would be cool.
I do not have ANY hair ties with me. Please help!

Knitting stuff
Didn't bring my knitting needles with me. Why not? you ask (those of
you who have seen me knitting compulsively for months on end. Yeah, that's a good question. Just one of those things I forgot. I've seen
some yarn around, but if there's a cool bit of eyelash or something, I
always love the crazy stuff for knitting my kittens!

I brought a pair of tweezers. They have absolutely no grip whatsoever.

6-sided, 10-sided, 20-sided. Whatever. The prettier the better :)

Thumb drives
I really need some extra space for saving pictures and stuff. I'm very
quickly running out of space on my computer due to the inundation of
photos. (and my slight tendency to horde things) If you send me two
thumb drives, I'll send you one back full of pictures and interesting
tidbits :) Promise.

Blank CDs
I found some here but they are ridiculously expensive, so i'd love to
receive a couple of blank CDs every so often so that I can make hard
copies of all my fantastic photos. :)

Rechargeable batteries
I use a lot more AAAs than I'd expected. I really need a second set of them to charge while I use the other set. Preferably the kind that are
designed for powering electronic devices; they last much longer.

Cigarette lighter adapter
For my phone. My solar panel has a female car adapter plug, but I
don't have the male adapter to use with my phone. My phone is a Sony Ericsson W800i so something like this http://www.mobilefun.co.uk/product/8660.htm?referer=AFF_MOBILES-NOT_SET-MISCELLANEOUS-P-8660 would work although the three-in-one thing is a bit overkill.

***EDIT*** I've decided to look into buying a generator for power needs rather than asking for a solar panel*** This is an option that I would really really appreciate, but I hope
would be a joint gift from a bunch of people. Because I do not have electricity, I will need to go to another city in order to charge up my laptop. This means that I will only be able to use my laptop for about 5 hours in between visits to a power supply. I have a solar charger, but it is not strong enough to charge up my computer (it does fine for charging my rechargeable batteries). So as a big gift that would be very useful, I would love to get a second solar charger that has a higher capacity and a power pack to charge up and use on cloudy days.
The power pack would probably be heavy and prohibitively expensive to
mail over, so if anyone's visiting?...

This is one example of a set:

Or with individual components put together:


Or, the easiest one to ship is:

picture is of my host sister making a complet at home (this one's not
for me)

20 August 2008

tough day

1 August 2008b

I just discovered a bleach spill soaked through my laundry bag and
stripped big patches of colour out of my favourite skirt -> navy blue,
super-soft wraparound skirt with elephants on it. I'm so sad. I'm gonna cry myself to sleep now.
Man, it's been a tough day.

Pic is of a day stuck in the rain in a van on our field trip. We took
control of the leaks with the power of water's stickiness. :)

13 August 2008


10 August 2008b

I have just returned to Agou from a 3-day field trip to visit some volunteers working in the northern part of Togo. The most inspiring visit was to a shea butter cooperative just outside of Sokodé. It's an amazingly well-run organization that has ties to Olympia, Washington.
They have two explicit community-benefit goals: to promote and support women's economic success and fight against deforestation.
Making shea butter is a traditional skill handed down over generations of women. Many families will use beurre de karité (shea butter) specifically to massage into the body of newborn babies. It is also used as a cooking butter, mixed with antiseptics to treat minor skin wounds and overall as a thick but not greasy lotion – essential during the months of Harmattan when the winds from the Sahara blow down into Togo and cover every bit of space with inches of dust.
The cooperative is very careful to continue this tradition of butter-making. They go out to small villages surrounding Sokodé to buy the nuts directly from the women and children who gathered them by hand. This not only provides women with income but also encourages villagers to see the benefits of selling the nuts of the tree instead of cutting down the tree to use as fuel for fire.
The nuts are brought to a small compound built with mostly local materials, in traditional architectural styles that ensure the nuts are protected from the elements. There is one storage room built in such a way that it remains cool enough to store finished shea butter even during the hot season. The only machine they have is the grinder. Most of the work is done by hand, allowing the organization to employ about 80 women who sit in groups working on each stage of production, singing and dancing whenever they have the opportunity.
All the butter produced by this cooperative is sent to Olympia, Washington (this also helps not to flood the market and put smaller entrepreneurs out of business) to be processed into all-natural soaps and shampoos that have recently been taken up for distribution through Whole Foods Market. The brand name is Alaffia.
The profits from sales are invested back into the community. The current big project is to help local children be able to access junior high (collège) and high school (lycée). In many small villages, there are no collèges or lycées. Students have to travel several kilomètres to get to school if they want to continue their studies. This is not easy, especially for girls who do the large majority of household chores as well. Being away from home for the extra hour or two for the walk is too long, but the price is too high to take a taxi.
Alaffia arranged a bike donation drive in the States. The donations are currently in transit to Togo where they will be distributed to school children to help overcome the distance of travel. Alaffia is Fair Trade certified http://www.alaffia.com/, but there are always hoops to jump through so they haven't gotten it as yet.
It was really awesome to see such a successful organization. My hopes are rising and I'm getting more and more excited to get to post and start working.!

Pic is of vendors in Atakpame, trying to convince us to buy bread, bananas and bean dumplings (spicy beignets). yum yum


10 August 2008

Nuage just had her kittens! There are three of them. They were born on Thursday (the day I left for the field trip). They are all in good health and really adorable, white with black spots. I'd better start thinking up names. yay.
It's nice being back in Agou. I've spent most of the day sitting in my room reading, writing letters, and working on my speech for the swearing-in ceremony. Every so often I get up and do some small calisthenics to keep my limbs limber. I did the full sequence of my yoga poses this morning (I haven't been good at keeping them up this week) I'm going to go ahead and repeat last week's session this week and not advance to the new sequence. I figure I can get away with missing a maximum of 2 days per week – no more than that or I'm really set back.
I'm working my way through the recommended sequences in Iyengar's book Light on Yoga for those of you who are interested in seeing my yogic development. It's an awesome book and I would recommend it to everyone who practices yoga from beginner to advanced.

Music: All is Full of Love by Bjork

Pic is of Nuage and her three kittens. After my Maman took the kittens out of their birthing place for the photo, Nuage got really annoyed and moved the kittens. We didn't find them again for a couple of days.

un echec

1 August 2008

Un Echec

Tonight I tried to make my family an "American" meal. I decided to make burritos – just a bean mix with guacamole. The real tough part I figured would be making tortillas.
I was still hovering over the beans 2 hours after I'd befun the meal.
Oops – timed that one poorly. I'd only made 4 tortillas, the guacamole had been sitting long enough to no longer taste fresh. It was, all in all, a failure.
I hate failing.
In junior high, my best friend and I wrote a skit for a speech competition called "The B". My friend played a girl who thought getting a D grade was 'delightful' and her mom was so proud of her C grades they got posted on the fridge. I played a girl who just received a B on a test and I'm ready to basically cry a river because of it.
The skit wasn't too far from the truth for me. I've always been the toughest on myself. A B was not the best I could so therefore it was a failure (I would like to note that barely surviving Calculus II for Engineers my first semester at Notre Dame really helped me appreciate the glorious sense of C+ achievement (no, i'm not talking about
programming here) – woot woot I didn't fail huzzah!!
But the point today is my failed dinner. So, here are the things I could have done in order Not to fail:
1) Make the tortillas in advance I could've made these suckers during lunch – that lovely hour-long rest period would've been perfect. It's not hard to do (although I could really use a better surface for rolling out the dough) it just takes time.
2) Soak the beans overnight I used red beans. They really need pre-soaking or 2 hours of cooking.
The best thing would've been to track down some lentils, but that's probably a task for a big city, no my small village.
3) Don't add the avocado until the last minute.
Get those tomatoes and onions marinating in lime juice, but don't add
the avocados until it's nearly ready to serve.
4) Put the taco seasoning in the beans not the guac
At this point, I was desperate. I figured the beans were not going to be ready to eat before midnight, so I might as well put all the best ingredients together. But cumin in guacamole is NOT a good choice in my book. It totally drowned out the sweetness of the avocados and the tartness of the lime leaving us with a cumin-scented mush.

Those 4 details would've made the whole things so much better. In addition, I really should've asked my host family whether they had the ingredients I needed as I spent a lot of money on stuff that my family already had, like limes, beans, oil, etc.
Next time I'm going for something really simple and hard to mess up like tuna pasta (although all the tuna I've found here is packed in sunflower oil, which really isn't my first choice).

Pic is of a bunch of my friends on the walk back to the techhouse after a lunchtime trip to the buvette

Mission Tove

23 July 2008

Mission Tove is a small village. Today we walked around to every quartier to visit each chief – it took about an hour and a half, and that includes sitting down and chatting a bit with two chiefs (all the others were away working in the fields.)
There's a tabou here – people do not work in the fields on the 6th day. What I mean is, tomorrow, Thursday is a 'forbidden' day – a day of rest. Next Tuesday will be the next day of rest. Presumably the ancestors here used a six-day week – so the day of rest roughly corresponds with the Christian Sunday/Jewish Sabbath on a seven-day rotation.
It inspires me to find out the creation myth in the region – maybe the local god is so efficient that she only needed five days for creation
(so the sixth was for rest) Will have to ask about that. :)
Anyway – because no one will be in the fields tomorrow, almost the whole village was out working this morning. My homologue Da E and I will head out to do the tour again tomorrow and try to catch the other chiefs.
I was lucky enough to be assigned two homologues rather than the usual one. A homologue is a volunteer's in-country counterpart. They take responsibility for helping the volunteer settle into their village, encourage the locals to interact with the etrangere and often provide a focus for volunteer's work. During the week of post visit (now) the homologue takes the volunteer around the village to meet all the important people like the chefs des quartier, the gendarmerie, various heads of the community groupements, trade associations and/or churches.
So that is what I've been up to this week. I arrived in Mission Tove on Saturday afternoon, bought some essentials like candles (no electricity here – despite being 15K from Lome) and tomatoes and onions for dinner. My days have been spent mostly hanging out along, which is kinda nice. I need the reflective time for yoga and journalling especially after the intense frustration of trying to cook balancing a charcoal pot on a ledge. Argh. I can't wait to actually be in my own house.
Oh yes – I'm not currently in the house where I will be living for the next two years. They only found a suitable location last week, so they are currently in the process of putting bars on the windows, whitewashing, cleaning and putting in mosquito screens. Instead I've got a room in a large compound with several families. I look forward to getting to know the family of the man who owns the house – they all seem really lovely and they al speak good French, even the kids (which is notable here, where most kids I've talked to seem to only know Ewe) I've been crash-coursing in Ewe too, of course. I think my Ewe skills
are going to skyrocket as soon as I get here permanently – they will have to! It must be so hard for the volunteers who barely speak French (much less the local language!) Yuck. I hope they're all doing okay.
Having good French is really useful, but having Ewe would be fantastically useful.
Da (which basically means sister and is used to prefix most female's names as a sort of politeness). Da E and I went to the marche today – which is a night marche, very unique I'd imagine. It is tiny. There were three veggies available – tomatoes, eggplants (white tiny things) and onions – oh and some spinach-like stuff called gboma. This worries me a bit. I'm definitely going to have to get a garden and an extensive collection of canned veg going.
I bought a new pagne! It is really pretty – bright green and blue with some gold thrown in, I'm not sure what I'm going to do with it yet. One of my fellow volunteers was wearing a very pretty complet the other day, maybe I'll try to get a version of that. I really need to get some trousers made – for bike riding. Just can't ride a bike in a long skirt. and short skirts are too prone to flying up and exposing my blindingly white thighs. I already have to fight the children off when they see my calves, I can't imagine trying to evade the gaggle of children that would gather to gawk at my upper legs. Ha!

music: Dante's Prayer – Loreena McKennitt
Book: Where There is No Whopper: A Peace Corps Togo Guide to Fine
Cuisine (brilliant!!! I'm totally taking this thing home with me it's

Picture is of me in the pagne complet I had made out of the pagne I
bought in Mission Tove. L (of I and L) is showing off his new complet
too- dragons!! awesome