28 November 2008

Correspondence Match 28 November 2008

Hi LR,

I am currently in Lome, I have come into the capital city so that I can celebrate Thanksgiving with other volunteers. Every year, the country director hosts a big party with traditional holiday treats including two turkeys imported from the states and cranberry sauce.
It's an amazing feast especially for the volunteers who haven't been home since arriving in country.

In response to the students questions:

My Typical Day

On a typical school day (Monday through Friday) I wake up at about 6am (dawn). Most of my neighbors wake up an hour before me and begin sweeping the paths around the houses, starting the fire for cooking breakfast, etc. The roosters start crowing about 5am and continually compete for who can be loudest and longest, and therefore prove their ability to be good fathers for chicks. It's amazing, but after 5 months in country I've become able to sleep through rooster calls.

I wake up and open up the shutters around my house so I can have enough light to see by. I usually warm up some water from my filter to make coffee (instant nescafe) or tea with sugar and powdered milk. I also put on a big pot of cistern water to boil. I let the big pot come to a rolling boil and stay there for one minute before turning the heat off.
The water then sits in the covered pot until it cools enough to pour into my filter. It usually takes about 8 hours for the water to cool enough to pour into the filter. I boil and filter all my water because if I do not it tends to taste like my tin roof. This is understandable since all the water is collected from the runoff from my roof.

How I cook:
My stove is a gas stove. I don't have an oven or anything like that; the gas bottle connects directly to the stove and when the gas runs out I have to lug the bottle to the capital city and search for several hours to get it refilled. There's currently a gas shortage in the country so it's often hard to find gas. When I first arrived at my post, I didn't have a gas bottle yet so I had to cook on a charcoal stove. It's kind of like using a grill, except that charcoal does not come in nice easy long-burning briquettes here. I had to fan the coals to get them hot enough to cook my dinner. It was very frustrating and took hours to cook and boil my water, I am very glad to have my gas stove now.

With my morning coffee or tea I tend to eat a piece of fruit - I have an orange tree outside my house - or some bread. I can only buy bread on market days, though (Wednesday and Saturday) and bread here doesn't have preservatives so it doesn't last much more than a day, so I don't have bread very often.

If I am quick enough, I have time to take a bucket shower. Then I hop on my bike to go to the complexe scolaire (college/lycee) where I will chat to the other professors about my programs, work on my french exercises and generally gather ideas and promote my own ideas. I use the other professors at the school to help develop my ideas for the area and work on my French.

There is a break at 9.45 for the whole school, I usually buy 100CFA (approximately 25 cents) of rice and beans and spicy sauce to eat. For the break, several women come to the school to sell snacks to the teachers and students. In addition to rice and beans, there are little fried cakes that usually have a bit of fish or tomato sauce in the center. I can also find a warm drink called "bouille". It's made out of the local starchy staple food, manioc, and is mixed with milk and sugar to make it tasty. All the professors meet together at a table either underneath the mango tree or in the new library building. Often the proviseur (principal) will use the time to have a quick meeting with all the teachers about school things.

I usually leave the school after the break and head to my homologue's house. "Homologue" is the term for the host country national that serves as my guide/liaison with my community. My homologue's name is Da E. She is a couturiere (dressmaker). She has a small dressmaking workshop at her home where she teaches three girls the trade. Normally apprentices have to pay for the training but my homologue offers the training for free to girls who come from poor families who don't have the money for the fees. I generally spend two hours at her house. We talk about my projects and the apprentices teach me how to use a foot-pedal sewing machine and how to replicate African fashions.

At noon, I bike home (it's about a 10minute bike ride). I do a little sweeping, gather water from the cistern, and gather leaves and kitchen waste to toss into my compost heap. Once the chores are done, I do about an hour of yoga. Yoga is really important to me - it helps keep my body in shape and is great for clearing my mind of the busy-ness of running about the village. I'm not always hungry at lunch, I find that the intense heat of midday wipes away my appetite, but I make sure to drink a lot of water and I'll often have some fresh papaya or banana if I can find them.

After yoga I usually take a quick bucket bath before heading out for afternoon activities. Some days I have a club in the afternoon at the high school, other days I go back to Da E's workshop. If I don't have anything in particular planned, I will stay at home to work on French exercises, clean the house, develop lesson plans for the various groups I'm working with, or just read for fun.

What I eat:
Sometimes I will go out and chat with my host family in the afternoon.
Often they will invite me to eat with them. They tend to eat one of two staple food: pate or fufu. Pate is made from cornflour, fufu from manioc or igname (two root vegetables that are grown and eaten all over West Africa). With the pate or fufu, they have sauces. There's a peanut-based sauce, a slimy sauce made out of 'gboma' which is a leafy vegetable kind of like spinach, and tomato-based sauces.

If I'm making dinner for myself, it's usually based around vegetables: tomato, onion, and a tiny little yellow version of eggplant. I'll either make a vegetable soup, a stir fry, an omelet, couscous or pasta.
On market days I can find fried tofu pieces called soja that are really yummy and go beautifully in a stir fry. I was a vegetarian for 5 years, but since arriving in Togo, I have started eating meat again because I worry about getting enough protein. Vegetarianism is also not very well understood here. When people invite you over to eat at their house, they will specifically make a meaty dish to honor their guest and often set aside the largest bits of meat for their guest. It is nearly impossible to refuse the meat without being rude. In general, though, I prefer not to eat meat. I get my protein by eating beans and lentils, eggs and milk and soja. I recently bought a chicken so that I can have a ready supply of eggs. (I've named her Arabella after a character in a book I just finished reading called Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell).

I make dinner around 5.30 and usually settle in for the night with my books afterward. On Tuesday and Saturday nights, though, I have choir practice at 7. But I don't have to go far for that - the choir practices on the steps of the church that's only about 20 yards from my house.

I tend to go to bed around 10pm, tucking my mosquito net in carefully around me so that I won't get bitten while I'm asleep.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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