18 November 2008

Correspondence Match 18 Nov 2008

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

Dear students,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for your question!

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