30 September 2008

jour ferie

30 September 2008

Today is the end of Ramadan and therefore a “jour ferie.” I really need to find out when the rest of them are so that I can plan my school schedule.
I’ve been working a lot on my lesson plan for the life skills class I’m teaching at the lycee. There’s just so much to cover. I’m having a hard time fitting it all in, especially with only 55 minute sessions. I really want to cover everything: role models to AIDS prevention to business skills to gardening. I’ve made 3 rough drafts for lesson plans up to December and I’m still adjusting to fit things in.
On Sunday afternoon I spoke with the people of a local church, I focused on telling them about the AVEC (Associations Villageoises d’Epargne et de Credit) program. There were 28 people at the meeting, the pastor served as my interpreter as Da E was in Lome. He took on the idea quite quickly – even changing the name from Associations Villageoises d’Epargne et de Credit to Associations Chretiennes d’Epargne et de Credit. Based on my limited experience, I think Mission Tove would benefit a lot from this program, but I want to make sure to do activities that suit the locally-defined needs.
Some people were more interested in forming a groupement to farm together than doing AVEC. I said I could definitely help with this as well especially with formulating a revelant action plan. A woman asked if I could teach how to conserve vegetables –particularly tomatoes and ademe. I promised to look into it. (Maybe I should think about sun-dried tomatoes? probably easier than canning. Plus... yummy!)

Yesterday I had my first Ewe lesson with the sister of my landlord. She’s been so nice and generous and already informally teaching me Ewe – even loaning me these amazing elementary school Ewe readers that must be decades old. So I decided to take her on as a teacher with pay. The hour was a good chance to practice pronunciation – we worked through 15 pages of one of the readers.
She was really nervous and seemed worried that I would get made if she wasn’t doing a “good job”. When I gave her the mille francs for the hour, she was overcome with emotion and told me she is a widow who still supports four children. I didn’t really know what to say, but I’m so glad that I decided to use her as a teacher. Now I need to find a French tutor.

I opened an account at the local IDH on Monday as well – it’s 2.500F to open, 5.000 for part sociale and fees of 50F per month just for having the account. It didn’t feel very safe to have a bunch of money hanging around in my house, so I’m glad to have put it somewhere secure yet accessible.

On Monday afternoon at the Syncoutat (syndicat des couturieres – trade association of tailors) meeting, I led the apprentices in a game where they divide into teams and try to make as long a line as possible using only what they have on them. They weren’t terribly creative, just linking hands and using fabric to hold between them. One boy is handicapped and initially participated, but then dropped out fairly quickly when I pushed the teams to stretch further. Another girl replaced him. I will have to be careful to do activities that he can participate in more often than the more physical ones. He can walk, but has a severe limp – no running games! :)
We decided to do an Income-Generating Activity formation next week. A project with turning black plastic bags into other things. So that means I need to actually find that fabled project and instructions, practice it and be ready to teach it by Monday. Yikes.

27 September 2008

back to high school

27 September 2008

Yesterday, I visited a bunch of important people, starting with the dispensaire. The current woman in charge has only been in post for about two weeks. I didn’t do a very good job explaining who I am and why I’m here, but I did mention I’m going to be working with lycéens on “La Vie Saine”. She was willing to see if we could present the HIV/AIDS section together. She recommended that I return with a date and a program and we can talk specifics. She said that she does do sensibilisations on malaria, hygiene, SIDA (although I doubt she’s started doing them here yet since she’s so new.)
After the dispensaire, I went to see the IDH (local microfinance Investir dans l’humaine I think are the initials). A large part of their business is tontine. They go around every weekday gathering the contributions. Many women choose to use their tontine savings to open up an account at the bank. It costs 7.500F to open an account – 5.000F is the part sociale and will be returned when the account is closed. If someone wants to get a loan, they need to have savings for 3 months without taking anything out. They can get up to 3 times the amount of their savings at 13.2% interest. In order to have a loan approved takes about 2 weeks – the application is sent to either Tsevie or Lome depending on the amount requested.
They do sensibilisations on the products they offer, but not in a general way on better business, etc. When someone takes out a loan, they obviously have an interest in making sure it gets paid back, so they follow up with the person and help them keep up with payments, etc.
They don’t work very much with farmers because farmers need loans that don’t require repayment for the first six months. Currently there is no facility for this kind of loan. People have a year to pay it back, but must begin repayments after one month.

In the afternoon of the 26th, I went to visit the proviseur of the lycée, We sat on the steps of the newly-built and still completely empty library with his wife, waiting for him to return from a meeting.
The library was built with donations from the French ambassador and an association of people from Mission Tové who now live in France. All of the donors will be coming to see the new building sometime next week – the date hasn’t been fixed, but I asked the proviseur to call me when it happens so I can be there as well – networking much? I think that filling the library with books could be a really good project – maybe an excuse to visit and enlist the nuns down the road?
The proviseur would like me to come in and teach agriculture, household management, and/or English. I told him those aren’t really my fields, but I can do health and relationships, throwing in some useful household management and income-generating activities (including gardening).
One of the significant problems at the lycée is students dropping out. 11 girls became pregnant last year and left school. Obviously, if they’re getting pregnant, they’re probably not using condoms and therefore they could be putting themselves at risk for STDs including HIV. There are also a significant number of students who drop out because they can’t pay the school fees (17 last year). If the kids can’t find the money to eat, how can they possibly find the money to go to school?
The proviseur worked with a PCV at another school a few years ago. Together they trained up peer educators to help teach health, do condom demonstrations and simply be a good resource for their peers. I’m very interested in doing this, but it would have to be done on Wednesday afternoons or Saturdays to accommodate school schedule and my general wariness about not being home by dark.
The hours of classes:
1 7.00-7.55
2 7.55 – 8.50
3 8.50 – 9.45
9.45 – 10.10 Recréation
4 10.10 – 11.05
5 11.05 – 12.00
12.00 – 15.00 Repos/Déjeuner
6/7 15.00 – 17.00

We looked at the schedule of classes for each year and suddenly started filling in the blanks with my ‘health’ classes. Yikes! I’m going to start teaching on 6 October.

For English, I will begin by shadowing current teachers and helping out with pronunciation. This could possibly evolve to more lesson-plan based teaching, but is more likely, in my opinion, to lead to tutoring individuals or small groups.

25 September 2008

100 weeks to go

25 September 2008

This morning, my landlord took pictures of me sweeping the compound. I guess it was particularly novel? It just made me feel slightly awkward. Not in a voyeuristic way – just like “oh look! a yovo doing African stuff!”
I went to the atelier this morning and helped do little tasks for a complet being made. It’s always more fun when Da E goes away; the apprentices are a lot more playful. Today when she went to the marché, I showed the apprentices pictures of my family. The apprentices really enjoyed the photos and particularly took a shine to my sister B; they said she needs to come meet them.
After repos I went to meet with the local Pastor about his groupement. He had just come back from seeing the Chef du Village about a bit of land he’d bought that someone else had started to use. We had a good talk – he wants me to encourage the women of the church to get organized to create a groupement to support each other.
I told him about PACA and that I’d like to approach them and ask them what they want and need, rather than simply telling them what to do. I’m going to do a little introduction on Sunday afternoon and arrange with those present to gather again (hopefully with more people) to start doing a few PACA exercises and get the women to start chatting and opening up to me.
The pastor told me that in his perception, money is scarce here between January and June, water is scarce October to March. He demonstrated this theory by pulling out the books on donations received by the church throughout the year.

After I saw the pastor, I sat down with the sister of my landlord. She expressed interest in my moringa seedling. We discussed a few different plants and herbs that are good for you. Tasi is very interested in growing mushrooms, so I told her I’d see what I can do about getting an NRM volunteer to do a session here on it. Then I asked if I could start a compost pile near my house, she was very willing.

I made a paper chain (like a Christmas countdown one) With one hundred links – to show how many weeks left in my service. I couldn’t find regular glue, so I used superglue to put them together. I made the strips out of scrap paper that I put various designs on. I’m excited to interact with it :) By which I mean ripping it apart! A nice visual of progress :)

24 September 2008

visits to the royal palace

24 September 2008

Today the Security Director for the Peace corps came for a site visit. He arrived around 11am. I was dressed in a complet, knowing we’d be going out to see the chef du village. We discussed the site for a while and I filled out a security evaluation. I told him the only security thing I worried about was the presence of the French man who had come here to be exorcised of his violent demon. He was never aggressive, but my chats with him convinced me of his considerable insanity. Truly, I think he belongs in an institution for schizophrenia. So I did my best to avoid him and he left yesterday morning so is no longer a problem.
After the little interview at the house, we went to the chief’s “Palais Royale”. The chief is rather ill, and was receiving therapeutic massage when we arrived, so we went away to see the gendarmerie first.
The gendarmerie is all the way in Kovié, almost on the road to Noafe. I’d been to visit with my school teacher homologue back in July. The Maréchal des Logis-Chef said that if I have an emergency at any time in the day or night, he will answer his phone and respond to it. He is very enthusiastic and seems quite young to me, although I have a very hard time estimating the ages of Togolese people. The Marechal and my director spent about half an hour regaling one another with bragging stories about shooting deer when they were 10 years old with big huge rifles. I expect I was meant to be impressed, but I’m not much of a hunter or a hunter-admirer. The stories were inspired by the presence of two rather ancient rifles nonchalantly propped up against the wall in the Marechal’s office.
After the gendarmeries, we returned to the Palais Royale to see the chef. he greeted us warmly and spoke a bit about his experience working as a police officer, getting his accountancy certification in Ghana, being chosen for chef in 1976. He estimated that there are about 20,000 people in Mission Tové. Most people are farmers, in recent years with the help of Chinese experts, the farmers have explored cultivating rice on the banks of the local river. Tove is one of the few places wet enough to support rice-growing.

the big city

24 September 2008

I went to Tsevie and Lome for my birthday weekend. Ooh! the big city... I have very quickly used up the money I received at the end of August, so I was looking forward to a rather meager weekend – I’d set aside 1000F per day (roughly equivalent to $2.50) for food. I had to set aside enough money for taxis back and forth to Mission Tove, some money to pay the menuisier for my garde-manger (which arrived this morning! see pic) and just enough to pay for food for two week sand then the approx 2 mille to get me to Lome and the bank to pick up more money once I’d been paid at the beginning of October.
In Tsevie, I arrived around 12pm at my friends’ house and then sat around for an hour or so working on various computer things – they have electricity – A bunch of local volunteers had shown up for birthday dinner – M, W and R. Plus one very special guest all the way from Soutouboua. L had started making cheese the night before so it could sit for a full 12 hours. He made an absolutely delicious baked ziti (well, he did everything but bake it) Wed had to save the “oven” for the fabulous coffee crumble cake that R made. ohmygoodness yum.

BBC Africa network Wise Words: It is only foolish cock that would think that the sun would not rise if it did not crow

Pictures are: the gorgeous necklace my mom sent to me for my birthday. me cooking by kerosene lamp on my new stove. my garde-mander (food pantry) that the local carpenter just delivered.

18 September 2008

Writer's cramp

18 September 2008

I haven’t had writer’s cramp in ages. I mean, a bit of tendonitis and aching wrists from typing, but that ache down the back of my right hand, particularly intense in the joints of my index fingers, and creating grooves in the fleshy pads of my fingers? It’s been years since I felt that.
I remember feeling that it was outdated and cruel that they made us do long essay exams by hand in college – so few of us were used to writing by hand, we were obviously in serious danger of being at a disadvantage due to simple fatigue.
But here I am now, straining my eyes writing in three or four different notebooks a night, by hand aching, my throat itching from kerosene smoke, my legs going numb from dangling over the edge of a chair which is approximately one inch too short to allow me to have proper posture. I have a book of song lyrics – listening to my mp3 player and writing down lyrics to songs I’d like to memorize so when I get back to the states I can make lots of money as a lounge singer. I have this ‘blog book’ that I’ve been neglecting a bit lately. I have a notebook for a Site Journal where I’m trying to talk about the village, my prospects for work, and the people with whom I’m living and working.
I’m also working on a bit of fiction – kind of a ‘fanfic’ piece based in the ‘Buffy universe’. We’ll see what comes of that, for the moment it’s a nice diversion, and I’m discovering my proclivity toward character development in lieu of plot (I try not to worry about the parallels to my own life)
I have another notebook where I’m trying to keep track of finances. I’m at a bit of a crunch right now as I had to spend a bunch to get set up – bed, mattress, stove, food, kerosene lamp, candles, etc. and I had to give an un-anticipated advance on my rent. The situation will all be sorted once my quarterly living expenses are deposited 1 October. In the meantime, all of my things are in vaguely arranged piles on the floor* and I’m counting up my change to make sure I can afford the taxi to Lome and the bank.

*This creates a really chaotic system of disorganization that frequently reduces me to fierce gutteral mutterings especially when compounded by the insufficient light from my sputtering candle and the sweat dripping off my nose. And then I take a deep breath and move on.

Current reading: Naked by David Sedaris

Wise words from the BBC Network Africa for 19 Sept: He who does not know that he does not know, does not know.

14 September 2008

food and stuff

14 September 2008

Today I went to a farewell celebration for the local pastor of the Assembly of God church. It was a lovely, long service. The evangelical churches in the village support each other a lot, and the church was half-filled by members of churches other than Assembly of God. Four different chorales performed, and there were five different processions to give gifts and money to the departing pastor and his family. It was all very lovely, and I always adore a good solid two hours of singing.
I made a really fantastic lunch/dinner today! My sprouts were beautifully sprouted, so I mixed them up with a can of tuna, some tomatoes, lightly cooked onions (the onions here are way too strong for me to eat raw), chick peas, and mayonnaise. It was really delicious with my tortillas from yesterday yum.
One of the frustrating time-consuming things about living without electricity is living without leftovers. I can make a dish last for lunch and dinner, but by the time the next day dawns, it’s already growing. And since there isn’t very much here that I can safely eat raw, I have to cook for every meal. This is amazingly much easier now that I have my gas bottle and stove (I will never again overlook the formidable blessing of a gas stove) But it’s still slightly inconvenient. I really need to find out more about the ‘street food’ scene here.
At the couturiere’s atelier, the apprentis have a mid-morning snack at 10am – one of the girls is sent out with money and empty covered dishes. She comes back and we all eat together. It’s a nice little break and fun to listen to the apprentis chat in Ewe while I desperately try to eat slimy sauce and pate with my fingers (P.S. could someone send me a travel-size antibacterial hand cleaner please?)
So I know there are vendors around, but I don’t know exactly where or what they sell. Exploration time!

Current reading: Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon

13 September 2008

I love the BBC

13 September 2008

I made tortillas today while listening to the football match between Manchester and somebody (two richest teams in the league?) It wouldn’t be my first choice for my listening pleasure, but sometimes it’s just inexplicably nice to listen to people speaking English.
I’ve become quite attached to my short wave radio. I listen to BBC World Service almost every morning while I get ready. It’s so nice to get the news and be able to understand more than just the general concepts. When I can occasionally get a show that does current event analysis, I get really excited. Once I’m finished with the book of fiction I’m currrently devouring, I’ve really got to get my hands on some non-fiction current events book. I really miss it.
Not that I read much of books of that genre while I was in Edinburgh – but I was so busy with my 2 (or 3) jobs that I hardly had any reading time at all (what with a full social schedule and a very chatty flatmate – I miss you, dude!)
In any case, its’ great to have the chance to use my leisure time to catch up on the type of books I spent my years at university working through. A couple of other volunteers and I are thinking about trying to work our way through the recommended list of books for foreign service applicants. Not sure I want to join the foreign service, but I’d love the reading, and there’s nothing bad about keeping options open.
I was relatively stationery today. There was a wedding in a nearby village. I thought my homologue was going to come by to pick me up to go with her, but she never did. So I spent several hours sitting in my nice complet, with a necklace and some mascara and everything but for nothing. Eventually I changed, did some sweeping and made tortillas – I’m going to make tuna and sprout wraps tomorrow yum yum!
I’ve started doing “work” in the village, which is great. I went to a meeting about rice farmers and was able to introduce myself, although I didn’t really participate any further than that. I learned a couple new words like engrais=fertilizer. Not the standard vocabulary I’d learned in French lessons.
In my downtime, in order to help establish a routine and get me out into the village every day I’ve gone ahead with the couturiere apprenticeship. I’ve been doing a lot of sewing exercises- various ways of hemming by hand, sewing buttonholes, etc. It’s tedious, but any new skill is until you have the basics down. So that’s been fun, mostly having the chance to hang out with the other apprentices and listen to them chat in Ewe. One of the girls speaks French well, so she’s kind of the intermediary. I’m going to start making more of an effort to speak Ewe and write down what I learn next week.
It is nice to be able to take it slow- knowing I’ve got two years here.
I love the BBC.

10 September 2008

work? but i thought i was a volunteer?

10 September 2008

Yesterday was my first real day of “work.” I went to a meeting with the “encadreur”. I think he is basically a government-appointed liaison to the groupements.
The meeting was basically a sales pitch from an NGO called EDT (Entreprise de territoires et developpement) They work with rice and soja farmers to help them get fertilizer, herbicides, and a market for their products. In order to set up shop in an area, though, they need at least 80 local people signed up to work with them.
It sounds like a good deal to me – EDT provides some training and agricultural aids, sets them up with a processor, and buys a contracted amount of the product from them. The current system is that farmers get an advance from [someone, the government possibly?]. but then they have to pay it right back in rice. This means they can’t stock up and store the rice to sell it out of season for higher prices. They are forced to sell it at the lowest price.
With EDT, farmers would seek out their own initial financing (something I could possibly help with) and they can work out the terms for their loans separately.
The meeting was supposed to start at 9 – in a big compound on the road between Mission Tové and Kovié. Farmers didn’t start showing up until 10.30, many of them saying they hadn’t been pre-informed about the meeting.
The meeting started at 11. It was held entirely in Ewe. Luckily, one of the men with the NGO was French, so another NGO employee gave him a running translation that I was able to share.
The issues farmers brought up:
1. help with the mud (flooding)
2. lack of motorized equipment
3. having debts to pay off
4. the low offering price EDT made

Solutions offered:
1. Suggestions like moving the fields slightly further away from the river bank. Also not how lucky M Tové is to have the huge amount of water that it does.
2. There are some tractor-things here that the government has provided, but farmers need to pay to rent them and pay for the fuel.
3. EDT doesn’t necessarily take all of the field’s crop – can use part of field to only pay off an already existing debt.
4. EDT guarantees it will buy at 150F/kilo. I have no idea how this measures up to the market, but the fact that it’s a guaranteed, contracted sale is very good.
The meeting was long and exhausting, but it was really nice to feel like I’ve gotten started on my work (even if it’s all observing without contributing yet)

05 September 2008

Think long term

29 August 2008b

Think long-term

‘What are you doing?’
‘I’m planting a haycorn, Pooh, so that it can grow up into an oak-tree, and have lots of haycorns just outside the front door instead of having to walk miles and miles, do you see, Pooh?’

from Positively Pooh: A book for Expotitions and New Adventures

Two years is a long time, but it’s not long-term, not really. One of the common themes of conversation among even the stagiares, those of us who were still in the first few months of training is ‘what are you doing after...?’
A current volunteer in my region chatted to me a bit about the ‘future’ conversations phenomenon. She told me that she realized that in order to make it through the two years in Peace Corps, a volunteer has to have a selfish reason for being here (in addition to the altruistic ‘help people’ and ‘change the world’ sentiments we all carry with us). Two years is a long time to separate yourself from your support network and move into a world where time crawls by and visible change almost certainly will not happen during your service. You will see obstacles all around you and not be able to tangibly realize the results of your efforts.
Two years is a long time to be purely altruistic.
So, for me. Career advancement is a big ‘selfish’ reason. I had two fantastic jobs in Edinburgh working for amazing organizations. But I had very little change of moving up in the tiny world of non-profit Edinburgh. I looked around for international non-governmental organizations and found that almost universally, every job I was interested in required two years of experience in a developing country. I was otherwise perfectly qualified, but missing that key locational and experiential aspect of my résumé.
I’d though about going into the Peace Corps ever since high school – I’m pretty sure I described a career path of college -> Peace Corps -> politics in a couple of my college application essays. This was the perfect timing: my visa expiring in the UK, necessitating a move to somewhere else and a desire to continue moving around the world living in different countries.
Coming into the Peace Corps and doing my best to improve the lives of the people I live with here is perfectly fitted into my career path. Of course, I have no clear idea at the moment of where that path will lead after the two years. But I’ve started making branching list of options:

Option 1
Stay in Togo
3rd year as PCV in Mission Tové
3rd year as PCV with PSI or other project
Get a job with an NGO here
Option 2
Stay in PC
Stay in Togo (see Opt 1 A&B)
Go to another country
in Africa?
another French-speaking country elsewhere?
Option 3
Move back to States
Move to CA find job
Move to DC find job
with Peace Corps?
with govt?
with NGO?
Go back to University
Get MBA in International Business Management
Get MA in Foreign Affairs
Go crazy and try for a law degree
Option 4
Move to Europe
Find a job at EU in Brussels
Find a job in Scotland
Find a job in France/Belgium/Luxembourg?
Option 5
Move to another developing country
Find a job with UN
Find a job with an NGO

etc. etc. etc.

29 August

29 August 2008

It’s 10:45am and I just got back from my first bike ride in Mission Tové. As soon as I closed the front door on my return, the heavens opened. Seriously. I can barely see across the compound, the rain is so heavy. I was very lucky to just miss it. It’s rained every day since I arrived. My host father* said that the rain is a ‘bon augure’ a good omen. Local saying goes: “the rain comes with a visitor to bid them a hearty welcome” ( roughly translated French, of course). My guess is that visitors are very very frequently warmly welcomed. Although, my homologue did say that they hadn’t had rain for at least a week before I arrived.
I am very lucky I didn’t get caught in the rain, it was delicate enough managing the mud beneath my tires from the morning’s rain. I am going to try to take a ½ hour bike ride every day to get in shape for AIDS ride in October. 15 volunteers from each region of Togo get together and bike around the region stopping in lots of little villages to do “sensibilisations” (trainings) on HIV/AIDS prevention. We bike about 30 – 40 km a day. This won’t be so bad in Maritime region as we’re mostly flat, but I’m sure that the further north regions must have a really tough time.
The coordinators try to target villages where we don’t already have a PCV. Often these villages have never had a real information session on HIV/AIDS so there’s a lot of stigma to overcome as well as simple ignorance of safer sex practices. So I’m really looking forward to it, but I’ve got to get myself physically ready for it.

Current reading: Path of Daggers by Robert Jordan (yes, I’m reading a lot of books simultaneously)

*M G – owns the compound where I stayed during my visit week. He worked with the previous volunteer here (10-15 years ago) and is a retired high school English professor who spent some time in Edinburgh. He’s awesome.

Chez Rose Part Deux

28 August 2008

Chez Rose Part Deux

I left you all on quite a cliffhanger with my previous blog about my living situation (see 26/8 Chez Rose). On our first day in Lomé, right after the administrative meeting, my Ewé classmate M came up to me to tell me to “go find [our APCD (Assistant Peace Corps Country Director)] I only know this much: your house wasn’t ready so they’re putting you in a different one”
What! My brain reeled. In the midst of trying to find my way to my bank account, pick up my supplies from the med unit, and get back to the hotel for dinner – I also had to search my way through the PC compound trying to find my APCD.
I got lost, the bus to the bank left without me, but I did get my med supplies and some dinner.
Long story short – they didn’t finish the work on the original house. Color me unsurprised.
Instead I have a quite lovely and finished house right next to one of the many churches in the village. When we arrived (in a rather roundabout fashion due to the bridge being out between Tsevié and Mission Tové) they were still cleaning and putting on fresh paint. The house is now a marvelous shade of bright robin’s egg blue with just a hint of green. If I had a 64 box of crayons I could tell you the exact shade, but for now that will have to suffice.
I have an indoor shower area (tiled bit with a drain where I can splash away with my bucket), indoor toilet (bucket flush), a main room, large bedroom, kitchen, and spare room! Sweet! Plus a lovely little roofed terrace out front. The house has also already been wired to use a generator. There are light fixtures in every room. I’m not sure whether the generator is still there, but it would be lovely to be able to charge up my electronics when I need it. There is, however, a certain amount of pride I take in being able to say that I live without electricity or running water. And if I have to go to Tsevié or Lomé to charge my appliances, that will encourage me to get out biking more often.
So, my house is unexpectedly awesome and I’m getting settled in. It’s rather hard to unpack when there aren’t shelves, drawers or hangers to store those unpacked goods. But I’ll be visiting my local menuisier (carpenter) ASAP to get some furniture going. (And get some wood and materials to build some things myself!)

Current reading: The Ultimate French Review and Practice by David M. Stillman, Ronni L. Gordon

I swear...

27 August 2008

I Swear...

Last Thursday I officially became a volunteer! Woot! Well, actually the official signing a piece of cardstock paper was on Wednesday afternoon in the midst of a rather dull administrative meeting. But the proper ceremonial bit complete with fancy dress and the US Ambassador to Togo was Thursday afternoon.
I wore a green and white striped complet (picture below hopefully) that my host sister made for me out of a pagne that my host family gave to me as a cadeau (gift). I was chosen to give the “long” speech in Ewe. Each newly-made volunteer went up to the microphone to introduce him or herself in the local language of the area to which s/he is going. Out of each regional language, one volunteer was chosen to give a slightly longer speech (a little bit more than just “my name is... I’m from... I’m going to.. to work on...)
I was (willingly) selected to give the speech for Ewe. When the day came to start working on it with my teacher, though, I had a bit of a panic. It had been a big weekend with little sleep and lots of traveling so I was just plain tuckered out, body and spirit. The prospect of giving a speech in a language that I’d only been learning for 3 months in front of a crowd of 200+ people including diplomats, ambassadors and my host family freaked me out.
It was not an issue of public speaking. As those of you who know me know well, I am very comfortable speaking in front of groups. Speaking, singing, dancing etc. I’m a performer and I love the energy that I receive after a well-delivered performance of any kind. The issue with this speech was precisely that I know my own standards and capabilities and I felt I fell far short in my grasp of Ewe and ability to mold it into a passable speech.
It took a bit of an emotional morning for me with the help of my classmate M and our teacher to put together something I was happy to use. In the end, we put together a 3 minute simple speech which talked about the diversity of the volunteers and our hopes to integrate into the community, particularly by learning the local languages. I expressed the importance of learning local languages and living with local communities in order to discover both questions and answers, problems and solutions together, rather than coming in with ready-made solutions.

And it worked.
I practiced over and over again with the recording my teacher made for me to help get all the subtle lifts and lows of the vowels.
It felt like learning a new song – I not only had to learn the words, but also the melody of their pronunciation.
I have a video of the speech, but I’m not sure when I’ll be able to get it somewhere accessible to most of you – probably not until I return to Lomé for my birthday – so keep your eyes out for that!

P.S. Happy birthday Bridgette!

Current reading: A Perfect Spy by John le Carré

Chez Rose

26 August 2008b

Chez Rose

I am at my house in Mission Tové. I’ve never blogged about my housing situation here before. When I came for my post visit, I stayed in a house with a family because my house wasn’t finished yet. I assumed “finished” meant they hadn’t yet put up the netting in the windows, they needed to fix the paint job, change the locks on the doors, etc.
I asked the father of the host family to show me the house on my last day in village. That was an awfully depressing way to end my visit.
People will often take severeal years to build a house here. Sometimes these houses are like having a savings account- whenever you’ve got a little extra money you put it into the account and after several years, you’ll have something worthwhile.
It is rare here for the average Togolese person to have a bank account. This is not despite what many people think, because no-one earns enough to set something aside (although there are certainly many who do not). One reasons is lack of access to a place to securely save money. This problem is being tackled by the growth of microfinance institutions across the country (the one in Mission Tové is IDH). There is not yet enough confidence in the microfinances. Nearly everyone has a story about a family member or friend who put their money into a collective account, etc. and lost it all when the manager skipped town. Confidence building can only happen over time and with the build-up on individual successes passed on by word-of-mouth.
The other reason people do not start bank accounts or do any saving is because of family pressures. If one family member is financially successful he (or more rarely, she) is expected to help support the rest of the extended family. This support ranges from taking in a cousin’s child and paying her school fees and providing room and board to supplying the capital for a business venture, to paying for an exceedingly lavish funeral or marriage ceremony, etc. Rather than helping to even out the rich and the poor and bringing everyone to a more equal footing, unfortunately this system only seems to have succeeded in keeping everyone poor. It prevents people from being able to put aside money to save (which could then be used for emergencies or big projects) because they are expected to pay not only for ceremonies but also to support the daily lives of their (huge) extended family.
But I’ve gone pretty far off my original topic – building houses is often a good savings method. One does the work where there’s a little extra money and that means the family can’t demand it and a new investment has been started.
Therefore, as I’ve traveled through Togo, I’ve frequently seen houses that are only four walls with holes where the roof, the windows and the door should/will be. Often the walls have been up so long with no further work that I can see opportunistic trees growing up through where the roof will be.

This is what my house looked like when I saw it on the last day of my post visit.

Except- it looked like they had just pulled up all the trees (the ground was churned up) and plopped a roof on top.

So when they said not “finished” yet what they actually meant was there were no windows, no doors, no plaster on the walls, no floor. With only four weeks to go before I was to move into the house, I cried.

Current Reading: Turbulence by Jia Pingwa (translated from the Chinese by Howard Goldblatt)

Recycling Africa-Style

26 August 2008

Recycling Africa-style

I use my trash (toilet paper, cardboard boxes, plastic wrappers) to start the charcoal for my cooking.

I use the plastic bag from my mattress as a table cloth (and a shelter from the rain for my bike)

A (very indulgent) faux-frappuchino can is now my used matches receptacle.

An old bleach bottle holds my kerosene.

I have a bracelet made out of frayed clothesline.

I keep my lentils, flour, gari (manioc flour) and chick peas in leftover 1.5 liter water bottles.

My dishwashing, handwashing, showering waste water is used to flush my toilet.

All of the water for my house comes from the cistern which is filled via the rain gutters.

My empty cans of vegetables and powdered milk serve various functions: candle holders, ash collectors (for adding to my compost), soap dishes, toothbrush holder.

Current Reading: How to Grow More Vegetables*
*than you ever thought possible on less land than you can imagine
by John Jeavons

16 August

16 August 2008

Happy Birthday Mom!

I woke up from my nap suddenly, thinking I was on the beach and the tide was coming in, about to turn my relaxing nap into a soggy sandy mess. But, of course, I am not on the beach. Even awake though, I could still hear the waves crashing, coming closer and closer. Then I realized that I was hearing the rain pouring down on the tin roof next door, although it hadn’t yet reached our compound. Quickly, the winds roared and pushed the cloud over to fill my room with the deafening roar of a hard rain on a tin roof.

Here’s a quote from The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver:

(p. 235 in my copy)
I wish the people back home reading magazine stories about dancing cannibals could see something as ordinary as Anatole’s clean white shirt and kind eyes, or Mama Mwanza with her children. If the word “Congo” makes people thinking of that big-lipped cannibal man in the cartoon, why they’re just wrong about everything here from top to bottom. But how could you ever set them right? Since the day we arrived, Mother has nagged us to write letters home to our classmates at Bethlehem High, and not one of us has done it yet. We’re still wondering, Where do you start? “This morning, I got up...” I’d begin, but no, “This morning, I pulled back the mosquito netting that’s tucked in tight around our beds because mosquitos here give you malaria, a disease that runs in your blood which nearly everyone has anyway but they don’t go to the doctor for it because there are worse things like sleeping sickness or the kakakaka or that someone has put a kibáazu on them, and anyway there’s really no doctor nor money to pay one, so people just hope for the good luck of getting old because then they’ll be treasured and meanwhile they go on with their business because they have children they love and songs to sing while they work, and...”
And you wouldn’t get as far as breakfast before running out of paper. You’d have to explain the words, and then the words for the words.


14 August


Yesterday I saw a chicken become roadkill. There was an awful pop and then a quiet time while the truck passed by. Then five different people ran out into the road to claim the chicken. It was gross, but so macabre that I could only giggle uncomfortably at the scene that unfolded. The shouting and carcass-claiming of the villagers for whom the eggs of the chicken would probably be much more valuable than its body
The traffic has been ridiculously heavy ever since the bridge on the National Route collapsed. The National Route goes straight up the country and is the main artery for commercial traffic. Somewhere between Tsevie and Notse, a bridge has been washed out or collapsed- the details have so far evaded me. It’s been a particularly long rainy season. Floods have been devastating especially through the North. A few people in Soutouboua died in the flooding. It’s been an interesting lesson in news delivery in Togo. My host family doesn’t have a TV, so I haven’t personally experienced televised news. But accounts from other volunteers show that because video-cameras and film teams are so expensive, the only news that makes it onto TV is news sponsored by NGOs (or the government) that have enough money to hire a film crew. These news spots are basically publicity for the NGOs. This is not to say that the NGOs aren’t doing good work – just that there is no secondary/impartial news reporting – they just can’t afford it.
News on the radio is much more accessible to me. The main problem there is language. I have a much harder time following a disembodied voice than interacting with people. It’s something I can work on, I guess. One frustrating thing is that the “news” is usually just finishing when I sit down for a meal (my family keeps the radio in the room where I eat). Instead of news, I get to hear “la page nécrologique” – the obituaries. They present obituaries three times a day (breakfast, lunch and dinner). It’s monotonous. Every family uses the same phrases: Chief ... and his family from ... with family in ..., Etats-Unis, France, etc. (they always emphasize the relatives who have left Togo – I have to imagine whether or not they are still in contact) would like to express the très sad news that our chère Madame... has died. She was called back to God on... The family will have the funeral on... the church ceremony will be at... the interment...
And under it all, a dolorous song plays, in about a 30-second loop.