30 October 2008

down day

30 October 2008

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

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

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

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

29 October 2008

triste et bizarre

29 October 2008

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

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

24 October 2008

AIDS Ride Chapter 7: in which Rose hits her limit

24 October 2008


in which Rose hits her limit

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

23 October 2008

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

23 October 2008


in which Rose sacrifices her pants to the cause

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

22 October 2008

AIDS Ride Chapter 5: in which people are very welcoming

22 October 2008

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



21 October 2008

AIDS Ride Chapter 4: In which Rose reaches new depths of disconcertedness

21 October 2008

Up at 6am again to get beans and gari with piment before heading out for a day of small village sensibilisations. The villages were too small to require 2 groups so we did a bunny-hopping tactic where one group started the village 10km away, and the other group (my group – Team AWESOME) continued straight on to the village 15km away. We met up again for lunch where I received a call from my program director to let me know that I am allowed to teach English at the Mission Tove CEG! I’m really excited about the prospect and I was rather worried and frustrated when he told me on Saturday that because I’m not specifically an education volunteer, I might not be allowed to do it.
After lunch, we split into two groups again, doing a bunny hop – my group took the longer section first, landing at a CEG where the teachers pressured us for t-shirts for all of them– A was very quick-witted and pointed out that we do have condoms for everyone, which was much more important because t-shirts don’t prevent AIDS, but condoms do. Togolese have an obsession with getting free t-shirts that I find bizarre and frustrating. We had t-shirts printed for all the AIDS ride participants and one t-shirt for each village or CEG where we gave a sensibilisation (destined for the proviseur or village chief). In every single place we stopped, people hassled us for t-shirts, I even got yelled at when I tired to explain we only had enough to give one to each chief. It’s not that people desperately need clothing or can’t afford it – you can get t-shirts at the marche for 25CFA. It’s more the association with a yovo organisation or something. I am the first to understand and sympathize with the desire to get free stuff, but the sheer violence of people’s demands for it is frightening.
The rain started falling as we finished our sensib at the CEG so we raced away to get to our final sensib of the day – both groups together. We arrived in Gape Central and were immediately surrounded by waves of children staring at us, coming forward tentatively to touch us or our bikes and then falling back at a look from one of us. M decided it would be really fun to scare the kids away so he started charging at them, inspiring screams and stampedes. But then the kids laughed and pressed even close (although warily giving M quite a respectable bubble of space).
We ended up giving our sensib to a bunch of rowdy primary school students – we cut it practically to a 1/3 of the normal activities (couldn’t do condom demonstrations for 8 year-olds even if they did have sufficient concentration skills) and got out of there ASAP. In the press of people, I accidentally hit a little boy over the head with my handlebars. I felt really bad, but I was unable to stop quickly enough and if I’d swerved any further I would have run over 3 kids on the other side of me. It was scary, but the child was more scared than hurt.
The dinner that night was a feast. Our host (the father of D’s landlord) got his generator going to light up a little outdoor gathering area (with a roof of rushes and benches along the perimeter). The women brought out a table creaking under the weight of bowls of rice, spaghetti, pate, with four different sauces. It was amazing, decadent and absolutely impossible to finish.
Of note: I shared my shower with an overly amorous praying mantis (think Buffy season 1). This thing was huge! It was at least as long as my middle finger and kept leaping at me as I tried to wash. There’s nothing quite so disconcerting as taking a bucket bath in an unfamiliar shower with a big bug determined to treat you like a trampoline. When it landed on me I was so startled that I dropped my headlamp and the batteries fell out, plunging me into new depths of disconcertedness – feeling around blindly in the dark for the pieces of my headlamp, hoping that the mantis wouldn’t choose to jump at me under cover of dark, knowing my poor over-worked heart just couldn’t take it and I would be forced to scream like a little girl.

20 October 2008

AIDS Ride Chapter 3: In which Rose nearly collapses from heatstroke

20 October 2008

Wake just before six. Didn’t sleep very well – the mats on the floor are almost thick enough to be comfortable, but they don’t have quite enough give to accommodate my curves, especially not if I want to sleep on my side. Plus they are noisy! Everytime someone shifts, the mats rustle like a mound of plastic bags.
Today we have two sensibilisations in town, then two more 17 km away, two after lunch in Kouve and a final one in the town closest to Zafi on the paved road.
We’ve broken into two groups, my group (Team AWESOME) has taken charge of the CEG sensibilisations while the other will be doing sensibs in the marche/community simultaneously.
The first sensib goes well enough considering how little preparation we’d done. We had one person in our group who did AIDS ride last year, she was our default leader and ended up taking on a rather large part of the presentation. She was only reluctant in that she didn’t want to take over the whole things – she wanted everyone to have a significant portion of presentation. But it’s tough to divvy up responsibilities when we didn’t really have a clue what we were doing.
After the first sensib, we all felt much more confident and immediately felt capable of splitting up the explanations more effectively, making sure to give talking time to our homologues. Our homologues were initially rather self-effacing but it’s so important to actively demonstrate to people that our sensibs are not “white man’s rules” for “uncivilized Africa”, but rather an integration of cultural understanding and essential health education.
The 17 km to the second village were pretty tough, especially because th road was torn up and muddy. All the guys wanted to race each other to be at the front, but only two people knew where we were going so there was this push and pull to be first but not pass the guys who knew the way. Everyone was following each other far too closely, making the bumpy muddy bits unnecessarily dangerous. Lots of quick braking, squeaks of sliding tires and cursing.
As bad as that was, though, the ride back was worse. We were supposed to be doing a loop to get back to Zafi at the end of the day. But rains had ruined one of the roads to the point that our chase car wouldn’t be able to follow (which is pretty impressive considering the super-sturdy four-wheel drive Land Cruiser with a snorkel to keep the engine going even underwater seemed pretty much capable of anything to me.) so we had to get to our third village, Kouve, by taking the same 17 km road back.
We left the second village at 11.30, just when teh sun had hit its peak. This initial rush of flying down the first hill quickly gave way to fear as hill after hill confronted us. The best way for me to get up a hill is to get some good momentum going adn then power up. I’m much better at those kinds of sprints than the slow endurance favored by others.
The problem with my preferred method is that it is impossible to build up momentum in the valleys between hills because the valleys are pitted with holes, mud and sand traps. I had to focus much more on careful steering than on developing speed.
I could feel my entire body turning red from the exertion of climbing hills under a noonday African sun. I got goosebumps on my arms and a chill ran down my spine. I shouted out to my closest group members that I would need to stop at the next patch of shade.
I looked ahead to gauge how long I’d need to keep going before I hit the shade. My heart sank – we’d just come on to a flat section of road with absolutely no trees bordering it. All I could hope for was that around the next corner, I would find somewhere to shield me from the sun’s beating.
I’d felt this way before – at an amusement park in California int eh middle of summer. Hours of walking on black tarmac, standing in lines, jostling for space, I started to get goosebumps despite the heat and felt faint. At the park, I sand down into a chair, help my hands over my head to allow my torso to cool off and sucked on ice cubes. I stayed seated until the black spots in my vision cleared and my goosebumps went away.
I knew I couldn’t let myself get so weak that I collapsed while biking. I had to find some shade and rest before I started seeing spots. Just stopping wouldn’t be enough – the sun was so hot that even without the exertion of biking, I would still be in danger of fainting.
Finally – a patch of shade just big enough for me and my bike. I pulled up and stopped, I stretched, drank my (peach iced tea-flavored) water and accepted a banana from A (our group member who did AIDS ride last year and therefore was always well-prepared for our excursions).
I knew I couldn’t keep biking up the hill, but I decided to walk my bike until I reached the crest and could coast down the other side. I tried to bike up the other side again, but reached the point where I was picking out bushes and trees on the side of the road and telling myself “just make it to that tree- just past that big rock, ithinkican, ithinkican.” I picked a bit of shade about 20 metres in front of me and practically tumbled off my bike when I reached it. I took a seat on a large tree root and concentrated on cooling down.
By this time, the second group of cyclists had caught up and passed me. I heard the chase car pulling up, the driver got out and invited me to take a seat in the car for the final couple kilometres. I could hear the hum of the air conditioning. There was already one cyclist in the car who’d surrendered to the sun and hill. I could have joined her and made it up the hill in comfort and refreshment.
Instead I stubbornly refused, girded my loins, reapplied sunscreen, and headed back out with my bike. I finished those darn hills and met up with the group, who very obligingly cheered me on.
We rested and had a delicious rice and soja lunch in that village before doing a sensib for one of the CEGs. At 4pm when we finished we realised that we had to be 8km away to do a sensib at 4.30pm, so we powered out of Kovie, racing over bone-jarringly bad roads to get to an NGO called La Conscience (www.laconscience.org) that works with young people – providing training in various trades and general life skills.
While we waited to get set up, the apprentices started playing drums, singing and dancing, so W and I joined in. It was a new dance that I’d never encountered before – lots of kicking and foot stamping, but judging by the whoops and cheers from the watchers, I seem to have mastered it relatively well.
By the time we finished, it had gotten dark. We still had about 6km on a bad road to get home, only 3 people had lights on their bikes (4 including me, but my batteries gave up the ghost about 30sec into the ride). So the chase car followed us, high beams cutting through the darkness, illuminating the yovo circus brilliantly.
According to the car’s reading, we did 60 kilometres that day.

19 October 2008

AIDS Ride Chapter 2 : in which there is a lot of water under the bridge

19 October 2008

Omelettes and pancakes in the morning made by the ever-industrious and generous L & I. Yum yum. I definitely eat best when I’m at their house. They are so good at finding fresh ingredients and spending time prepping and cooking each meal.
R & K (her homologue) and I set off around 8.30am. The sun is already baking hot to the point that I reapply sunscreen at 9am onto my bare shoulders and toes. We’ve got about 25 km to go to get to F’s village Tchekpo. I still haven’t made it out to see him in village so I’m looking forward to checking out his situation. The road is paved so it’s a breeze coming downhill and not too difficult getting up the other side. It’s amazing how much easier it is to bike on paved road than the dirt, rock, sand and mud that I’m used to in village.
The reason I chose to bike is because there is no easy way to take a taxi – two of the bridges on the way to Tchekpo are impassable by cars because parts of the bridges have collapsed. Motos can still pass, but they aren’t particularly useful for transporting bikes. So we went along à velo, endured joking demands for payment to cross the bridge (taxi drivers have to pay a small fee, but pedestrians, cyclists and taxi passengers shouldn’t have to pay anything to the self-appointed trolls of the bridge). R commented that the last time she passed this way the roiling overflowing river below us was a tiny trickle, barely feeding the barren landscape enough water to support weeds.
Just before Tchekpo is a huge hill that quickly defeated R and I – we walked our bikes up to the top before remounting to search out F’s house. Sometimes the hills win and that’s OK. We found some food and chilled out at his place letting the hottest part of the day pass us by.
We head out again for the final 15-20 km or so to get to Zafi. We arrive well before the carfull of people from Lome so I get to shower, change, eat some popcorn and rest. The volunteer in this village, N, just happens to be from South Bend, so we have a little chat about the midwest, learning French, trying to develop projects, and tailgating.
When everyone else arrives, we spend some time organizing bikes and bags – one of the volunteers who joins us is COS-ing (finishing his service and heading back to the states) in a few weeks. He brought his whole stash of Skippy Super Crunchy peanut butter and drink mixes to share – what a treasure!
Man, I miss peanut butter. I just can’t find it in village. I asked a friend about it and she said that you need electricity to crush the peanuts – I’m sure that it could be done by hand, but I guess the effort isn’t worth the relatively small output and demand.
I had a lot of fun with drink mixes too – all sorts of neat flavors like green tea with mandarin, strawberry-banana, peach iced tea. Yum yum. It was great to have the sugar along with the hydration. Helps my body hold on to the water better.
We finished up the day with dinner at N’s homologues house – rice and macaroni with piment sauce. Rice and macaroni together? something I would never have mixed before but now seems to be a frequent meal choice.
We didin’t actually get around to talking about what we’ll be doing for our sensibilisation until well after dinner. We were all so tired that it was a really tough conversation (esp. since we had to hold it in French as we are working with local homologues and we have lots of different levels of French)

18 October 2008


20 October 2008


Saturday: left for Tsevie. I ended up waiting for an hour before a car (taxi) arrived so I could go with my bike to Agoe. My brand new shorts, made as a copy of my fabulous Thai farmer’s trousers that I love, rip halfway through the journey. Big hole right in the crotch. Not going back to that tailor! I get dropped off in front of Leader Price, which is on the intersection of the road to Mission Tove and the National Route (that goes through Tsevie). Leader Price is a ‘yovo store’ – it carries items like Snickers, cheese, tea, etc. for the ex-pat community, at ridiculously inflated prices of course.

I pick up mint tea and kitty litter for my friends in Tsevie who’ve found that sand is really difficult to collect when rain is falling torrentially everyday. Besides, kitty litter smells better when soiled than sand from the street.
I get hit on by the store manager and am forced to make a vague promise to email him (he gave me his card – who has business cards in Togo, really?!?!) Then I successfully dart across the busy National Route to grab a taxi to Tsevie, my bike is thrown haphazardly onto the roof of the van and I stumble in to squeeze as the fifth person in a row designed to seat three.
It’s only noon when I arrive and L and I are in the process of making bean burritos for lunch. I help roll out tortillas and cut up avocados while we chat about everything and nothing and what are we doing after PC (the most popular subject of volunteer conversations BY FAR) After lunch I and I make up a couple characters for a silly swashbuckling piratical adventure role-play.
L & I are planning to make a big soy teriyaki meal for all of us for dinner, including R and her homologue, who will be spending the night in Tsevie before heading out to Tabligbo for AIDS ride the next day.
When R and homologue show up the atmosphere gets a bit awkward – they have already eaten so the huge amount of food L & I bought and made is going to go to waste and we halfheartedly try to converse in French but R’s homologue is not particularly conversational. I tries to get them to choose where they will be sleeping and they want to be as little fuss as possible so they let her choose. Which only serves to frustrate and confuse I who just wants to be a welcoming host and feels lost when people won’t accept her generosity.
I spend considerable time being rather neurotic and debating how to get to Tabligbo – bike with R and homologue, get a taxi by myself, or go down to Lome to get a taxi with others. Weighing on this decision is my dreadful tendency to overpack. I have both bike bags nearly full, plus my camelbak backpack. Compared to R – who only have one bike bag full. Deciding that traveling in company is better than alone, I decide to bike with R and homologue and spend some time frantically overanalyzing the content of my bags:
“hmm... well I guess I only need 2 ibuprofen per day, so I can take out 4 pills...”
as if a couple pills would really make a difference.
I wish I’d gone ahead and brought everything I’d originally packed – things like a second sheet of pagne would’ve come in handy.

07 October 2008

What do I mean by ‘overthrow the patriarchy’?

In a comment from months ago (apologies, I don’t often have access to the website to see comments) my uncle asked me what I meant by ‘overthrow the patriarchy’ in my personal blurb. I took a little time the other day to reflect on the question and came up with this:

I mean that things have to change.
For far too long, society has been run by people who have all the power and the money. Even in America, where we have a functioning democracy, people starve to death, die of exposure, die of cancers because of the pollutants in our air, water, the food we eat.
“The patriarchy” is a very simplistic way for me to say “the current system that is run primarily by white men with too much money and that makes it hard for young people, women, people of color and the poor to express themselves, improve their situation and influence policy.”
I believe that this system is unjust and requires a complete overhaul socially, legislatively, and spiritually. That’s what I mean by ‘overthrow the patriarchy.’


In my search for a craft to teach the apprentices, I have also satisfied my own recycling desires.

I am in the process of making a rag rug made out of candy wrappers and used plastic bags. I'm really excited about it.
My only option for trash disposal here is to burn it. I'm not too crazy about the effects on the environment or my own respiratory system from burning plastics, so this is a cool way to deal with all that.

This is just a teaser post (with some beginning photos). I'll write up a more complete post later with instructions for those of you who want to give it a try.

03 October 2008

ups and downs

3 October 2008

I’m pretty down today. Some days are just heavier. Missing friends, family, dating, dark chocolate, cheddar cheese and roasted root vegetables with rosemary – all the small things stirred up with the big things to make it slightly unbearable.
I’ve been very clumsy all day. I’ve learned over the years that the more accident-prone I am, the more I need to sit down and take care of whatever’s occupying my mind so much that I’m forgetting to protect my body. It’s a physical symptom of mental cloudiness.
I found out yesterday while in Lome that one of the people I felt I bonded with during stage decided to leave the Peace Corps and actually left the country earlier this week. It’s not a huge surprise – she’d talked about it before. She’s always been one of the pragmatic out of our stage. She came into the Peace Corps to make a difference, so if she felt she wasn’t getting anywhere, she intended to go back to the states and get on with making a difference there. She also has a lot more to go back to than me (at least all in one place, I mean): a house, car, relationship, career.
So, I’m not surprised at her choice, I’m just selfishly sad because I didn’t get to say goodbye. It’s kind of gut-wrenching to have anyone leave, really. We’re all in this together and I’d like to all come through it together.
At this point I don’t think that anything short of a family emergency or a debilitating illness would make me leave early. But I am also open to leaving early if I feel it’s right for me – a job that can’t wait, or if I feel that despite lots of effort, I will not find success in my local projects.
Currently, though, I’m finding huge amounts of work to do and I’m getting excited about all my activities – from teaching at the high school to starting village savings and loan groups to learning how to sew à l’Africaine.
But there are days like today, when I’m tripping over my own feet, finding dead spider corpses and mouse poo everywhere and missing my family in an aching-solar plexus way. And it’s tough.
So I’ll have a wee spot of whisky with hot water, lemon and honey before I go to bed to help me sleep through the vigil at the church next door (drums and megaphones from 1am to 4am) and hopefully wake up tomorrow feeling renewed and ready to tackle sweeping the whole house, thinking up a craft to teach at the apprentice meeting on Monday and creating a lesson plan in French (and mentally preparing myself for the face that although French is our common language, many students do not yet speak it).

Music: Mercy by Morag Hannah (been listening to her stuff a lot lately – I miss our late night jam sessions doing covers of Britney and Alanis.)

Book: The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett

02 October 2008

moto terror

2 October 2008

I just finished the moto ride from the depths of yuckiness. Wow. For a first experience riding a moto, all I can say is it’d better get better from here. Gar. I’m still so shaken and sore that my handwriting is really messed up, it’s almost too bad that you can’t see it – maybe I’ll look into putting this into a crazy font to help y’all visualize.
I have to say, I never imagined that my yoga moves would come in so handy in a life-saving way. So, the story: went to Lome today to buy some stuff, use the internet and charge my batteries.
I brought my helmet with me this time so that I would be able to take a moto from Agoe to Mission Tove. Last time I had to wait around for 40 minutes for a taxi to get filled up before it would head out to Tove. Because of the wait, it was full dark by the time I reached Tove and the car refused to take me up the little road to my house so I had to walk up the muddy path, with only my headlamp to light the way, a heavy backpack, computer bag, and a large sack of groceries and clothing balanced on my head.
Unsurprisingly, I fell.
Surprisingly, I only fell once.
I got pretty muddy, but the young man who lives in the house right next to where I fell helped me get up and find a better route and I reached home without too much incident (I actually felt rather proud and cool for being all Togolese with my bag on my head. *woot*)
Overall, the experience was not something I wanted to repeat, so I planned to take a moto instead, so I wouldn’t have to wait around. Plus, I have more sway over a moto driver as his sole customer and can make him take me all the way to my house. Seemed like a good, well-thought-out idea.
But then, I left Lome later than I’d intended. And I hopped on a moto that was pretty old, with not much of a passenger seat. The driver, an older man, was sweet and seemed aware of my nervousness. It started out fine, if slightly uncomfortable. Because I had a large heavy backpack on, I had to keep my stomach and hip flexors tight to stay on the bike. I couldn’t lean forward very far because my helmet was already bonking the poor driver on the head with every bump we went over.
The trouble didn’t really begin until the sun set. That’s when we hit the sand. I’ve experienced the sand on my bike – if I’m not careful to keep to the very center of the well-worn traffic line, the loose sand causes my wheels to slip around uncontrolled.
Well, motos share a lot of the same characteristics of bikes: only two, relatively small, wheels, small center of gravity, etc. Therefore the sand treats motos in much the same way. It was incredibly frightening. I focused on breathing slowly and deeply, keeping my core muscles tight, and planning how to jump off the bike in such a way that my legs stay free of the falling contraption. I chanted a little mantra:
tuck and roll
tuck and roll
don’t use your hands
to break your fall
I became very grateful to have the stupidly heavy bag on my back – it would protect my spine as effectively as a tortoise shell. (Speaking of tortoises – I just read Small Gods by Terry Pratchett – the man is a genius. I’m so happy to have his books in our little volunteer library.)
Because of the sand (and probably my nervousness) we went very slowly on the approximately 20 kilometers to Mission Tove. We went so slowly I began to wonder whether we were on the right road – it felt like I should have reached home already. The burning in my hip joints and across my lower belly was reaching a peak. I nearly asked to stop and have a little stretch, but based on the “trop loin (too far)” grumbles coming from my driver, who apparently had no idea how far Tove was when he took the fare, I feared being left by the side of the road. At one point, he actually gestured at another moto driver in such a way I thought he might be trying to hand me over.
It took us forty minutes to reach my house, forty burning, frightening minutes. My legs almost collapsed beneath me when I stepped off the bike. I apologized to the grumbly driver, paid him far too much, and hobbled to my little house.

IDH - just pics so far

2 October 2008

Yesterday I went out with a bunch of IDH employees to do a sensibilisations on the tontine service available. A tontine basically functions as a way for people to learn how to save. The fees and setup would seem bizarre to most Americans, as we tend to think banks should pay us for saving money with them rather than the other way around. (Based on the current ridiculousness that I’m hearing from the BBC, banks in the states pay us so that we don't look too hard at the shady things they’re doing with our money).
A tontine works like this:
1. A marché mama buys a booklet for 500CFA. The booklet has 12 pages with 31 days on each page.
2. The bank representative writes down where the mama sets up her stall
3. She decides how much money she’s going to save every day (let’s say 100CFA).
4. A bank rep stops by the stand every day to pick up the amount, writes it in the mama’s booklet. The mama can choose to put in a week’s worth at a time or pay in each day.
5. At the end of each month, the mama has set aside 100CFA times 31 days (31 days in every month, even if the month has only 30 days).
6. The bank takes one day’s amount in fees – to pay the collectors to go around the village everyday. (so that’s 100CFA per month)
7. If the mama succeeds in saving every day for three months, she becomes eligible to get a loan. This doesn’t happen very often because most marché mamas have rather unstable incomes – based on how many people are hungry for fufu that day, you know?

The sensibilisation was bizarre and interesting. Four carloads of IDH people showed up in the village; complete with megaphones that play a midi-file type version of “My Heart Will Go On”. They shouted and honked through the village and routinely piled out of the cars like a group of clowns, heading to chat with individual fufu sellers.
I had a good time just chatting with the kids who inevitably pop out of windows and doorways whenever they see me. I didn’t personally do any selling of tontine subscriptions, but I’m sure my presence not only as a white person but also as someone the villagers recognized, helped the promotion significantly.

just pics... maybe add words later today