25 December 2009

Christmas in village

25 December 2009

Christmas in village
I actually spent Christmas Eve with volunteer friends, making lots of yummy foods – much of it put together thanks to generous packages from friends and family in the states. We had salad with eggs and bacon bits, sausage and cheese on bread appetizers, Christmas-tree shaped pasta with mushroom sauce, and three grilled pintades (guinea fowl) yum!

This morning I made what I consider to be my family’s traditional Christmas breakfast: baked green apple french toast. Yum. Basically, I just bought bread, cut it into 2” thick slices, laid it in a pan, then poured a mixture of egg and milk over it, put apple slices on top and liberally sprinkled cinnamon and brown sugar over the apples. Then I baked it until the egg was all cooked. We made a really scrumptious (fake) cream cheese icing to drizzle over it.
I’m trying to space out the presents I’ve received in the mail – so I just opened one from my Grandmother – a lovely little Nativity set.
I arrived back in village around noon, changed into my new Christmas complet that Da E made for me as a surprise. Then I stuffed my gifts into my bike bags like a sporty Santa and pedaled over to E’s house. I was dead tired after having stayed up late chatting, but it was a lovely low-key lunch – fufu with tomato sauce

and papaya for dessert. My contribution was the money to buy a chicken. I set up my new Nativity set on the corner of the table and put on my favorite Christmas album – the Mediaeval Baebes “Mistletoe and Wine.”
After the meal, I gave E and her two kids little gifts – pagne for E, crayons, a coloring book and a bracelet/toy car to S and E, respectively. Then I crashed – as the sky got dark, threatening rain, I pedaled home for a nice long full-stomach Christmas nap. I didn’t wake up until E stopped by with tonight’s meal – rice with spicy tomato sauce. Sweet! I don’t have to cook. I ate a couple of mouthfuls and then got dressed and headed across the street for the choral concert at the Baptist Church.
In addition to singing with the Chorale, I agreed to sing a last-minute solo. No one told me I’d be first on the program! So I put on my brave face, grabbed a good luck hug from a tiny child, and sang O Holy Night into the acoustically void cement and tin-roof church. It was fun and over quickly, and the women’s choir danced up the aisle with their opening song.

The women’s choir is a cute group – some young mothers but lots of tiny wrinkly, spunky old women. Among the volunteers we had an interesting conversation last night where we decided that older women in Togo must be in the happiest time of their lives. They’ve out-lived their pesky drunken husbands and they now have an army of children and grandchildren to do all the housework. So they’re free to do as they please. And it pleases lots of them to sing and dance with abandon and joy

17 December 2009

Holiday Correspondence Match

16 December 2009

Dear 7th grade history classes,
I’m not sure you’ll get this before Christmas, but you can be sure that I was thinking of you!
Christmas in Togo is about the opposite of what Christmas is “supposed” to be = it’s dry season, super hot (easily in the 90’s all night), there are tons of mangoes falling from the trees (I eat about 4 mangoes a day!), and no one’s singing Christmas carols – except for my English classes!
Last year I taught them Jingle Bells and Silent Night. It was fun, but not what one could call “pretty” – a cacophony of notes and mumbled words until the students reached a word they were sure of – like “Jingle” or “peace.” This year I got to help them really master the songs which is particularly fun for me as singing is probably my favorite thing to do.
Did I mention that I joined the choir of the church next door to me? It’s by turns really fun and tearing-my-hair-out frustrating. It’s bad enough not knowing the melodies or the words – but I don’t even know what the words mean! Have you ever tried memorizing a series of nonsense syllables? It’s really hard. For example:
tchi tre na yesu. nuseto akpe kaka fia ye fia ye mawu kplom
Trying saying that three times fast. Then put it to music! Yikes!
Anyway, my trials with choir in Ewe make me much more sympathetic to my English classes – they get much better at the songs in their last year of collège (3eme – which is approximately 9th/10th grade) It’s not because their voices are bertter, it’s just because they now have had 4 years learning English, so they’re much more likely to understand what they’re trying to sing.
Today was my last day of classes before the holiday (congé in French) so I had a little party with my students in 4eme and 3eme. I brought the big packet of beautiful Christmas cards that last year’s 7th graders sent me (I didn’t receive them until September, how crazy is that?!?!) I handed out the cards to the students and they took turns reading them out loud to each other. I had to explain some words like “awesome”, “sooooooo”, and “Hanukkah”. Then we sang Christmas songs and took pictures (which I’ve attached to this email).
My plans for Christmas this year involve staying close to my village. My friend in the big town near me is hosting a get-together on Christmas Eve (I’ve got lots of fun stocking stuffers to exchange thanks to the package my family just sent me). Then on Christmas itself, I’ll be back in village to have a big feast with my Togolese friends among the tailors and apprentices. Speaking of, my best friend in village, V, just passed her exam to become a couturière, that’s French for tailor. I’m so excited for her, she’s worked so hard!
For our meal on Christmas, I’m planning to buy a chicken for about 3000CFA (about 5 dollars) and we’ll all share together. V’s promised to make rice with red pepper sauce – it won’t be much like what you’ll be eating at home!
Have a Happy Hanukkah, Blessed Solstice, Merry Christmas, and an awesome New Year!,


Dear Rose...

15 December 2009

A selection of Christmas wishes I was sent last year... They didn’t arrive until September. (I got lots- these are the “most special” ones)

Merry Christmas. Wishing you the best of wishes! :)

I thank you for taking your time to telling us so far about your experience so far in Togo. I really hope you have a Merry Christmas and I wish you a HAPPY A NEW YEAR!!!

I know how hard it is to have Christmas away from home so I hope you try to make your Christmas the best it can be.

Hallo there! ... You are in Africa... that be cool. And nice. And wayy more than I would do to help out. (u.u.) Togo is so random though... randomness is rad. Very very rad. Wow... I’m getting off topic. And this is in sharpie, so I can’t erase it. Or scratch it out. ‘Cause that would look bad. Bot now I feel bad, ‘cause you probably dun get a lot of cards... and now it’s ruined. And for some odd reason we’re watching a movie in class. It’s fun. : D. It’s Mulan. And they’re singing! XD... and their bathing this chick. Ew. :1 Anyways... your still in Africa. And it’s still c ool. And nice. I be respecting you. O.o... Ughh. Sory for the internet faces. I IM/text a lot. Hahaha, sometimes I text my bestie in class. He’s sooo cool. And he be ignoring someone else. Makes meh feel special. Blah. Off-topic-ness. Anyways My hand hurts. Marry Christmas. <3

Thank you for answering our class’s questions!!!!! :) Life seems alot different in Togo! I don’t know how you survive! You inspire me soooooooo much!! I always say “If Rose can live in Togo, then I can do anything!” But I also think it would be cool to live with a whole bunch of native Africans! Well, I hope you have fun in Africa. Keep writing. Ttyl

Merry Christmas! I hope you are enjoying Togo! I understand how hard it is being away from home. I lived in Europe for 2 years in Portugal and Switzerland. It was very hard but it must be great to know you are doing a great thing

I know this isn’t the best card but I had little time and little supplies. But as what I made the card for is Christmas so... Merry Christmas! and A Happy New Year!

Hi. I just wanted to say Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
I know it is summer there but I could not think of anything [other than a snowman] to put in the middle [of the card]. ... My parents are originally form South Africa. They were both borne in Cape Town and all of my family lives in South Africa except for my cousins that live in [the states] and my cousin that lives in [the UK].
I love cats we have 4 at my house. All of the cats we own are rescue cats, their names are Bella, Buster, Nala and Ebony. Ebony is our most recent addition we found her on the street and took her, she is mostly black but has some white on her. All of are other cats we got from a lady that rescues cats. Nala was found in someone’s yard when she she about 4 days old. She is grey and white. Buster is my cat we do not really now his story but he is a pure white and long-haried. Bella was found with he brothers and sisters on the side of the street. they only took her to see if the mother cats were dead.

Merry Christmas
R – Radiant
O – OMG you are so nice
S – Sincer
E – Evan though your far away we love you

I hope you have a happy and safe Christmas I would love to visit Africa some day.

Merry Christmas! I hope you have a great holiday! May you still experience holiday cheer in Togo!

I hope you have a great Christmas. I know I will. Anyway Merry Christmas!

Happy Holiday, have a freezin’, pleasin’, holiday season

Merry Christmas! It is soooo amazing that you are in Africa! I hope you have a happy Christmas!

What do you want to do when you first come back to America?

Have a Merry Christmas! When I went to Africa last Christmas we had an Acacia tree for our Christmas tree. It was so cool! Well, have a great Christmas

I hope you have an amazing Christmas! Thank you for writing us! We really enjoy hearing what your life is like... <3 always

10 December 2009

A reassurance

I haven't blogged in a while because I've been working and running around and seriously freaking out about the LSAT.
I put up what I wrote the day after the LSAT. Please don't take this blog entry as my typical mood here. I promise most of the time I'm quite happy and excited about my work and busy busy busy.

miss you all!
Hope you had a brilliant thanksgiving.

06 December 2009

LSAT stress

6 December 2009

Having a tough morning. I think I might be suffering from post-traumatic stress after taking the LSAT yesterday. I keep crying at everything – when I found out the supermarket wouldn’t open till 11, when I couldn’t find peanuet butter to buy, when I couldn’t figure out the best way to get to Togo. And now I’m sitting in the back of a taxi! Waiting for it to fill so we can head out. I’m shaking and sobbing into a handkerchief that I just bought because I left my new soft lovely one in the last taxi (that made me cry too) And I just got harassed for a full five minutes by a teenage boy who wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer and want to go to Togo “ensemble.”
Even the act of trying to find a place to show my backpack has me crying. This is disturbing.
As for the LSAT, I’m not supposed to say anything, so let the fact that two out of the five Americans taking the test with me have decided to cancel their test before receiving their scores speak for itself.
I’ve become rather pragmatic about it now that I’m back at home and night has fallen – if I did well, great, I’ve still got to figure out whether law is really what I want to do. If I didn’t do well, then I can leave that career possibility behind and move forward. Fewer options to choose from – one of the things I loved about being a vegetarian too.

12 November 2009

Correspondance Match 9 November 2009

Correspondence Match

November 9 2009
Questions and Answers

What is it like living without electricity?

Well, I have a very exciting answer for this one! I just got electricity! Kind of.
My landlord, who lives in the same “compound” or group of buildings as I do, has a generator. He uses it for lights and for watching important football (soccer) games on his television. He doesn’t turn it on every night because buying the gas to run the generator is pretty expensive, but he’ll do it at least once a week. In October, he had an electrician come over to look at his wiring and wanted to make sure that the wiring to my house was still working.
I have a connection to my landlord’s generator but I don’t use it because the wires all lead to nothing – no lights, not ever a working outlet to plug in and charge my phone. But now the wiring is fixed! So I paid the electrician to install a couple lights and one outlet. It doesn’t mean I can flip on the lightswitch any time I like – my electricity is entirely dependent on whether my landlord wants to turn on his generator. But oh! is it blissful to have those occasional evenings when I can read/study/write without squinting and walk around the house without a flashlight strapped to my forehead, constantly worrying about just how long my batteries are going to last.
Living without electricity is not as bad as I’d feared. It definitely takes some adjusting – I’ve changed my sleeping patterns to match the sun more (waking up around 5:30 and going to sleep by 10pm). I’ve also gotten pretty creative about candles – even making my own. (I’ve attached a recipe for making candles out of orange peels.)
And I am ridiculously dependent on my headlamp – a type of flashlight that fits around my forehead with an elastic band. It’s fantastic because it frees up my hands and because it’s on my head, it follows my eyes and therefore what I want to see perfectly.
Don’t get me wrong – there are still some nights where I’m trying to clean or cook or just read a book and I get so frustrated with the tiny pools of light from my kerosene lanterns that I want to pull my hair out and shout. But then I laugh at myself for getting so worked up over something small and have a cup of tea or practice guitar or do some other stress-reducing fun thing (that doesn’t require much light).

Do you know of the O’Ambassadors program in West Africa?

Nope – but I’ll google it next time I have internet.

Do you see any African animals?

Lots – but probably not the ones you’re thinking of. There aren’t really any big animals like elephants or giraffes in Togo – they tend to live further south in “safari country” like Tanzania or South Africa. Here, I live in the midst of lots of dogs, cats (wild bush cats mostly – they are a lot like pet cats in the states, but aren’t usually domesticated. My cat, Odysseus, was a bush cat. My neighbor bought him for me in the market one day for 1000CFA, about 2 dollars. He was so scared I was worried that he would never become used to living with humans. But I heaped lots of love on him and now he’s a totally devoted purring machine!), sheep, pigs, tons and tons of chickens, goats, guinea fowl (they’re kind of like turkeys but smaller and really ugly), I see the occasional really skinny horse or cow, lots of birds and lots and lots and tons and tons of bugs. Insects here haven’t yet learned the difference between inside and outside. They march around my shelves like they were fields of corn. It’s very annoying. They only thing that keeps them in check is the spiders. They can get reeeeeallly big. I like bringing Odysseus over to them so he can catch them. It’s like crunchy cat treats for him.
I’ve seen some monkeys and I went to a mini-zoo where I saw lots of different animals, but the biggest one was an ostrich. I’ve seen a couple different kinds of snakes, luckily mostly from a distance. The scariest one I’ve seen is a green mamba. It was a beautiful bright green that perfectly matches the greens of the grasses and the leaves of the mango trees. Apparently a bite from a green mamba is so deadly that a human can die in just 5 minutes! Good thing I saw it from about 10 yards away!

What is your favorite part of living in Africa?

It’s my favorite part and at the same time it can be really annoying.
I am a celebrity here. I feel like a rock star or a beauty queen sometimes. When I bike through town all the kids stop playing and run toward me shouting my name. Even adults will turn from their conversations to wave and call out to me. If someone is newly arrived in village, they’ll whisper “Who is that?” to their neighbor and receive an excited reply that I often overhear, “Oh, that’s is our Da Adzo. She lives here. She speaks Ewe very well.”
I will never be this cool in my life ever again.

But my celebrity status comes along with all the frustrations that movie stars toak about – lack of privacy, feeling like people only want to get to know me because I’m famous, feeling like I’m put on a pedestal, I can never really “fit in,” everyone constantly wanting to know what I’m doing, where I’m going, when I’m coming back. And the extra special African benefit of frequent and repeated marriage proposals.

I love being special. I love that when I say hello to kids their faces light up like I’ve just given them Christmas in July. I dislike being separate. I want to be part of the community, integrated, and I can’t be when I’m constantly treated as different. It’s a difficulty that Peace Corps volunteers all over the world face, even more than other humanitarian workers because our mission is not only development but also cultural exchange. I’m here not simply to do a job but also to learn about how local people live, work, play and teach about the corresponding American habits.
So I join the community as much as I can, I learn the local language and eat local foods and share my own language and food. I make friends and allies and recognize share morals and emphasize unifying values. But I set my own boundaries and I know that my community set boundaries too. I seek out and enjoy the friendship and support of other volunteers when some cultural misunderstanding gets to be too difficult or I’m just sick of being awakened by guinea fowl warbling outside my window.

Hmm. This answer got a bit long and philosophical.
Basically, I love the sense of community here and I love my special ‘rock star’ status. As long as I keep a sense of humor about it, it’s fun!

What do children in Togo learn in school and are they fluent in English?

Togo’s non-tribal specific language (national language) is French because Togo used to be a French colony. For a while it was a German colony- there are still some village elders who speak German. These days, students start learning French when they get to the upper levels of primary school. In middle school (called collège) and high school (called lycée) all classes are taught in French. All students start learning English in 6eme which roughly equates to 6th grade, but ages can very a lot, it’s not uncommon here for students to be held back for not passing their exams. The oldest 6eme student I know is 20! I think he had to stop going to school for a few years because his parents couldn’t afford the school fees (6000CFA or about 12 dollars). But now that he’s had time to work and save his own money, he thought education was important enough to go back, despite his age. I think that’s pretty cool.
The subjects for students in 6eme and 5eme (6th and 7th grade, respectively) are :
Physical Education
Physical Science
Life and Earth Science
Civic and Moral Education

I teach one hour of English each week to each class, to help them out because they don’t have an official teacher but they still need to pass the exams at the end of junior high in order to get into high school. It can be really tough teaching the 6eme because they’ve only just started learning French – so starting them on a second totally new language is daunting to say the least.

What religions are there in Togo?

The major religions are:
Islam, Christianity, and Animism
These are all divided up into lots of different groups and traditions. In my village there are lots of Christian churches:

Baptist, Assemblies of God, Catholic, Jesus Lives, Evangelical Presbyterian, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Born Again, Ministry of Faith, etc. etc.

There are a few Muslims in Mission Tové, but no mosques – there are many more Muslims in the north of Togo than the south.

Animism is a traditional religion based on the belief that there is divine life and power in the earth, trees, and animals, not just in people. Animists are often depicted as “evil” in the United States: thoughts of a Voodoo priest cursing people on a whim, etc. But generally the priests in animist religion are a lot like ministers, imams and other religious leaders in traditions that are more familiar to us: their role is to bring people closer to God or the gods. Generally this is done through honoring the gods through prayer, making sacrifices (offering up part of the harvest, sharing bread and wine).
There is a lot of superstition and belief in the power of curses here – it’s widespread and doesn’t seem to matter what religion a person subscribes to. All believe in “magic” and the power of evil sorcerers to curse others. Almost every death or accident is blamed on a sorcerer, whether directly or through the ill wishes of a the victim’s family or rivals. It’s a tough minefield to navigate especially when I’m trying to address things like HIV/AIDS transmission.
The belief in curses is accompanied by a belief that “true” Christians who really believe in Jesus can be cured of anything through the power of faith. Taken together, these two matching beliefs mean that some people believe that people get HIV because of sorcerer’s curses and that Jesus can heal them of the virus. If a person isn’t healed it’s because he or she is sinful and doesn’t have enough faith. This creates a lot of stigma against people living with HIV, even children who have gotten the virus through breast milk. It involves a lot of education and can be quite a challenge for volunteers.

What are your students’ names and what are they like?

As an English teacher, I work with about 240 students – each class has about 60 students in it! But I’m not a full-time English teacher, I also work with students in other ways... with a peer educators club where young people put together skits on health or life skills topics to get important messages out to their fellow schoolmates, and a business club where students learn techniques of good planning and management in business.
So I can’t give you all my students! names, there are just too many! Among the Ewe people, the ethnic group in my area, children are not only given one name, they also receive a name from the day of the week they are born.

Monday: Girl: Adzo Boy: Kodzo
Tuesday: Girl: Abla Boy: Komla
Wednesday: Girl: Aku Boy: Koku
Thursday: Girl: Yawa Boy: Yawo
Friday: Girl: Afi Boy: Kofi
Saturday: Girl: Ami Boy: Komi
Sunday: Girl: Esi or Kosiwa Boy: Kosi

How many of you know what day of the week you were born on? What is your new African name? My name is Adzo because I was born on Monday, my students call me Da Adzo, which means Sister Adzo. Some of the kids in town call my Adzovi, which means young Adzo (old Ado would be Adzoga).
So here’s your homework – figure out how many of each name are in your calls this year – and who is the oldest (____ga) and who is the youngest (____vi). For example, if Marcy, Patti, and Jane are all born on Wednesday, Jane is the oldest and Patti is the youngest, their names would be: Jane =Akuga, Marcy=Aku, Patti=Akuvi.
And let me know!

My students in general are really active. They are so excited to have an American working with them and they have lots of questions about what school in America is like.
They work hard in class, but they don’t do homework a lot. Most of them have very busy days, sometimes when they go home from school it’s just the beginning of their work day in the fields!

And here’s a recipe for you to try:

This sauce may have some bizarre ingredients but it’s really yummy.

Tomato-Peanut Sauce

1 onion, chopped
3T oil
1 or 2 handfuls of leaves (here we use ademe but you could probably use spinach)
1 cube of bouillon
2-3 T of peanut butter (natural, no sugar added is best)
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 C cubed meat (I’ve also used fried tofu, which is just as good and much easier to find here)
¾ C water
1 can tomato paste (about 1/4C)
A pinch of baking soda
Piment to taste

Sauté onion and garlic in oil until onion is translucent. Add meat and brown. Add tomato paste, water, leaves and baking soda. Cover and simmer 10-15 min, until leaved have wilted, stirring occasionally. Stir in peanut better and piment to taste. Serve over rice or cornbread.

22 October 2009

Day in the Life Part 1

5H00 Oops. Slept through my 5.30 alarm. Better get up.

6H00 Quick stop for rice and beans for breakfast on my 5k bike ride to school.

7H00 English class with the rowdy 6eme students.

8H00 Phew - One free hour this morning to collect my thoughts.

9H00 Recreation - Recess, time for the kids to eat some breakfast.

10H00 Four 3eme students who presented oral book reports today.

11H00 Just before noon, the rain started to fall.

12H00 A very brave student rescues my bike from the mud and rain.

13H00 The rain's stopped, but there's still a LOT of mud.

14H00 Tractors are all over the place right now, smoothing out the roads.

15H00 And then I fell into the latrine. Well, almost. Luckily I have vampire reflexes and managed to scramble up and away before I fell in entirely - left leg went in about thigh-deep into the hole. Thank goodness those things are dug deep!

15H00 My bike fell in sympathy

16H00 Teaching Feasibility Studies in our "Club d'Entreprise"

Day in the Life Part 2 I found my camera!!!! Joy commences. In celebration, have a "Day in the Life"

17H00 Goats in Togo!!!

18H00 Adorable children in the Market

19H00 Choir practice in the dark

20H00 My very own home-brewed wine!

21H00 Packing for the weekend

22H00 Practicing guitar

23H00 Painting my toenails

The Eye, the Ear, the Hand and the Foot

The Eye, the Ear, the Hand and the Foot

Contes from the Mango region

Once upon a time, the Eye, the Ear, the Hand and the Foot went out into the jungle. All of a sudden, the Ear heard a noise, the Eye saw an animal, the Foot took off after it and when they got close to the beast the Hand captured it, killed it and tied its legs together to carry it.
The Ear said “I’m the one who heard the noise, so the animal belongs to me”
The Foot protested “Why should it be for you, you might well have heard the noise, but you didn’t go chase it down, and so the animal belongs to me.”
And the Hand interjected in the debate :”It’s my right to have it because without me, you would never have had it; since I’m the one who killed it.”
The Foot, who was not in agreement, responded “So what if it was you who killed the animal, it wasn’t you who ran after it!”
Among them the quarrel exploded. It very nearly came to blows. They finished it by saying “let’s go back to village to figure out this business, the elders will see justice done!”
On the way, the Ear began to sing:

If the Ear hadn’t heard the noise
What would have happened?
Eye, would you have seen what happened?
If the Foot hadn’t run
Would the Hand have caught the beast?

He continued singing all the way to the chief’s house.
The tribunal took place, and the four plaintiffs recounted their story.
Suddenly, the mosquito, who was the speaker for the chief, stood up and announced the decision:
“The animal belongs to the Ear.”
The Foot, the Hand, the Eye all went away very disappointed. During the night, the mosquito came to the Ear’s house and repeated his judgment, hoping to receive a gift in thanks.
“The animal is yours!” he whispered.
When the Hand heard the voice, she chased it away saying “Go away with your drivel!”
Every time that the mosquito comes close to the Ear to claim his debt, the Hand chases him away.
It is from this time that humans began to chase away mosquitos with their hands.

21 October 2009

The Young Girl and Aia the Spirit

The Young Girl and Aia the Spirit

La jeune fille et Aia le genie

In our ancestral village, there was a forest full not only of animals, but also with strang murmuring winds and spirits of all kinds. Not far from this forest stood a huge Lokoti tree, a great spirit-tree that all the inhabitants worshipped. A poor blacksmith and his wife lived near this tree. Many many years rolled by and their hair began to take on the color of pure cotton white, before they had their first and only child, a girl called Liokin.
With the birth of their daughter, the parents seemed to take joy in life again. They became blessed with fortune. They prospered at every task they attempted. Liokin grew, beautiful as the most beautiful rose. Her beauty turned the heads of all the men and each one showered his gods with offerings in the hope one day taking Liokin as wife.
From all over, rich and poor, lords and peasants, all tumbled over themselves to admire her. She was not at all haughty, the little Liokin; she received each one who presented himself to her and advised each one to speak with her father about having her hand in marriage.
However, her father had among his friends, without knowing it, a Spirit-man who helped him with his work and brought him gifts. He convinced the father to give him Liokin’s hand in marriage, Liokin, according to custom had no say in the decision.
One night, Liokin, went out to fetch water, her jar on her head, when a young man from the neighboring village stopped her. He must have watched her and learned the time when she went to the well for water. He had lain in wait for her. He spoke to her of her beauty and offered his love. Liokin did not hide her regret, and told the young man of her upcoming marriage with a man who used her father’s smithing assistant and whose name is Aia. At his questions, Liokin described Aia quickly. The young man, who hunted, fished and traveled to market with all the young men of the village, was astonished to never have met this Aia.
Stories of spirits from the neighboring forest that would transform into young men to come and steal away the girls of the village were too widespread for Liokin to ignore the doubts about the identity of this mysterious fiancé that trembled in her heart. Her curiosity rose: she wanted to know where her fiancé was from, his family home.
A few days later, she told her father about her investigations and broke off her engagement with the Spirit immediately against her parents’ wishes.
Liokin’s marriage to the young man she met at the well enfuriated the spirits of the forest. The young man was hunted by Aia; the blacksmith cursed and disowned his daughter because he was in the clutches of the terrible spirit. The spirit wrecked the smithy and attracted all sorts of evils to harass the family.
But the father did not suffer for long. His son-in-law succeeded at defeating Aia, and thanks to that, he ended his days in peace.

18 October 2009

The Old One has Left Us

18 October 2009

“The old one has left us”

“Our old woman has left us” she told me, the calluses of her right hand pushing against mine as she squeezed my hand in sympathy. I felt a tear land on my collarbone and looked up at her, my vision blurry.
“Don’t cry, don’t cry” she embraced me and brought me over to join the circle of plastic chairs holding an odd assortment of extended family and friends. I bypassed the chair offered to me to go sit beside Adjo, one of my landlord’s sisters who lives in the house across from me most of the year. I have a sudden memory of her baptism in the river Zio last year, just after New Year’s. Her eyes wide with barely controlled fear of the water. Now her eyes are lowed, she seems to have aged twenty years in the 24 hours I’ve been gone.
I want to hug her, but content myself with a single touch on the shoulder. My continued ignorance of cultural norms surprises me. I thought I was “bien-integree” (well integrated) but I have no idea what I’m supposed to do now.
On Thursday, as is my habit, I went into Lome to use the internet, computer, get my mail, etc. Then I spent the night in Tsevie with L and I enjoying their fabulous cooking – it was spaghetti with delicious marinara sauce and chunks of fried wagash (local cheese). I and I worked on some Spansh review. It is actually less absurd that it sounds to be working on Spanish while living in a Francophone country.
In the morning, I felt reluctant to exit this American oasis so I stuck around to watch Resident Evil before heading home at 10. I didn’t have any meetings until 15H00, so I wasn’t rushed. I chose to wait for a car to fill up rather than take a moto. This process is always unpredictable but aggravation is guaranteed. We sat waiting for one more passenger for a full hour. By the time I reached village, covered in dust because the two beautiful rains we had this week were immediately sucked up by the desperately parched earth, leaving the roads suffocatingly dusty. I was in an awful mood.
I saw the group of chairs gathered under the trees in my compound and the only thing I could think was: “I don’t want to talk to ANYONE right now” I said hello to my landlord and let myself into the house to set my heavy bags down, change into one of my cool, loose housedresses and open the windows. Then, reluctantly, I ventured outside to greet all the visitors, not looking forward to the inevitable “Oh you look so fat! How nice to have a white girl! Are you married?”
But instead, my landlord’s sister who lives in Lome took my hand, greeted me solemnly, and told me that Grandmama had left us.
Since I came back from California, Grandmama, “La vieille,” has been ill. I’ve rarely seen her, Tasi has been taking care of her inside the house. Family members started coming by more frequently to visit her. Occasionally I would hear her crying out in pain, at one point she tried to get up and walk but fell and hurt her foot.
But that’s the end, not the majority of the time I knew her. She used to sing all the time. Well, warble really. Her voice obviously used to be strong and clear but with age and effort had gotten distorted like an old record. I could hear what used to be there/what it should sound like, but there was no way to get back that clarity. She also sounded like an old record in her constant repetition. From 5am to 10pm, the same warbling tune with incomprehensible words. Occasionally visitors to my house would hear her singing and join in, their voices bringing out the tune and words to a recognizable cadence and tone.
We used to sing together too. Tasi taught me a call and answer song:

Me van e dogbe na mi loo
E xo gbe na wo
Leke mie fo afemeto
Oh! Mie fo nyuie na mi loo
Mie fo nyuie na mi loo
Mi fo nyuie !

Which basically means : I’ve come to greet you ! How are you and your family? We are all well, let’s celebrate!
There is also a dance that goes with the song which involves flapping your elbows in the air behind you and doing a shoulder roll/head turn thing that’s very similar to what we’d call in the states the ‘Chicken Dance’.
It’s brilliant.
I would come over to say hello int eh morning and she would blink “Oh! Da Yovo!” I’d do my best Ewe for her and her face would light up with pleasure, her rheumy eyes picking me out simply by the colour of my skin. She might be the only person who I’ve never been annoyed at for calling me Yovo.

15 October 2009

hello again

Been running around. Finally got to post a bunch of blogs from the beginning of October. Still have a couple hand-written not yet typed up.
Maybe next week.

07 October 2009

Traveling again

7 October 2009
Traveling again. My APCD (program director) came to visit me in village last week to check in and see how things are going mid-service. It was exciting to welcome him to the CEG Kovie. The last time he visited me, the CEG was still open-air mud-floor “buildings” with palm frond roofs and no walls. Now we’ve got these shiny tin roofs and tall concrete classrooms. Plus the teachers’ room – with my very own ‘locker’ – It’s a cute little wooden bureau with individual locking boxes – there’s even a slot cut into the top to facilitate passing letters, homework, etc.
I’m kind of ridiculously happy about this little symbol of permanence. It is just so nice to know that I don’t have to lug books and supplies back and forth on my bike every day. It’ll help with the lending library, too. The books will be secure but accessible there. Okay, I’m done rhapsodizing about my pretty wooden box now.
At my meeting with my APCD, I brought up the fact that I travel a fair amount for my work – due to two national projects. Happily he recognized the importance of the work I do and the necessity to be flexible about the “Out of Site Policy” where volunteers are supposed to be in their assigned site as much as possible. It’s not that I’ve abandoned Mission Tove – quite the opposite as you can tell from my earlier posts – but I find my national projects both more compelling and more relevant to the work I want to do after Peace Corps.
Which is why I was particularly happy to be able to present my Camp UNITE work to our Mid-Service Conference yesterday in Pagala. The conference was announced to the volunteers very late. It was a bit frustrating canceling projects, classes etc. But I’m glad I did. Because all four sectors were at the conference I heard about all the amazing projects volunteers are doing in all different subject areas from planting Moringa trees to weighing babies to developing mentoring centers for students. Plus it was an opportunity to meet and chat with the GEE and NRM volunteers that are posted far from me and I’ve never gotten to know before.
Also – in the evening we did a “talent show” – I put together a rewrite of the opening song from Beauty and the Beast with the help of a couple other volunteers. It was ridiculous, funny and awesome. And we ‘won’ the applause-o-meter too.

04 October 2009

What I’m up to this year with… Karren Waid

4 October 2009d

With the Karren Waid scholarship program, it seems that the organizers have been treading water for several years now. We’re supporting about 40 girls – almost half of them are in university this year. This is exciting and fantastic – and depletes the money we have very quickly. So we need to develop effective fundraising and the previous reliance on fundraising among the volunteer community is no longer viable – this is for two reasons: first of all, volunteers shouldn’t be doing fundraising at all, second – expecting volunteers to donate money from their limited resources is inappropriate.
Some motivated but ultimately too busy returned PCVs tried to start a foundation with 501c3 status in the states, but the process ground to a halt at the federal level. So we are starting over again – this means developing new administrative record-keeping, financial accountability and developing sustainable plans for staffing. It also involves funding a group of interested people in the states who have the motivation, time and energy necessary to create a foundation and serve on its board. This is an exciting turning point on an organizational level.
Exciting new ideas on project delivery as well. One of the biggest obstacles that organizers have faced every year is how to track down and contact the scholarship recipients in order to get their report cards and give them the scholarship money. Because many of these girls have been in the program for several years, there are not necessarily local peace corps volunteers in their village anymore. Every year they become harder to find. This also means that girls are missing out on having a mentor to encourage them, help with study skills, etc.
In order to address both concerns – we’re planning a revival of an old aspect to the program: Karren Waid regional conferences. We will gather the scholarship recipients in each region for a weekend program of sessions on study skills, future planning, and self-confidence. The conferences will be in late August/early September – meaning that girls can turn in their report cards and receive their scholarship money at the same time. (The timing of the conferences is yet another reason why I will probably extend my service.)

What I’m up to this year with… Camp UNITE

4 October 2009c

On Friday I finally turned in the Final Report for Camp UNITE to the U.S. Embassy. I prepared the required two-page analysis of our objectives and our results and then I started having fun. I played around with photos and formatting and create a 14-page document complete with highlighted “personal profiles” of interesting counselors, graphic depictions of the participants regional distribution, and lots of pictures of kids having fun.
I’m proud of it, but I know I could do it even better, especially if I use Publisher rather than Word. There’s always next year –
I am an organizer again this year, along with E. Our third partner, J, will be finishing her service in just a few months – she’s hiking up Kilimanjaro before heading home – I might have to follow in her footsteps when it comes time for my Close of Service (COS) Speaking of that, it’s looking very likely that I will be extending my service in Togo, for at least a few months if not the whole year. I want to be here for all of camp and the follow-up/reporting – which would take me at least to October … but that’s a reflection for later in the year I think.
There are exciting things in the works for Camp UNITE. The three NGOs that have partnered with Peace Corps over the past eight years in administering the camp have created a consortium – an officially recognized alliance that enables better information and resource sharing. The Consortium is called CONGECS – (roughly translated as Consortium of NGOs for education, culture, and health). Their primary goal is the administration and development of Camp UNITE – this includes not only the camp itself but also follow-up activities.
One of the most exciting things about this consortium is that they are willing to invest in it – their time and resources and money – in the anticipation of securing funding later. This in unusual and so important. Many people and organizations here are unwilling to do anything until they’ve received outside funding. This means they are often stuck with no progress – they can’t do anything because they don’t have funds, they can’t get any funds because they don’t have any working programs.
CONGECS has been moving quickly establishing Articles of Incorporation, objectives, membership criteria. It’s fantastic to actually be involved in some ‘NGO development’! The opportunity to facilitate the transfer of UNTIE administration to CONGECS is the main reason why I would consider extending my service.

What I’m doing this year with … the apprentices

4 October 2009b

After a slow start, my crocheted plastic bag thing is working!
All of the apprentices now know how to crochet They are producing beautiful table “doilies” in multiple colors of yarn, cute hats for babies, and even some socks. Then wonder of wonders, about a month ago an apprentice approached me shyly with a couple items in hand. She placed them in my hands and I nearly cried – two cute little change purses crocheted out of plastic bag yarn! With zippers and everything. They are adorable and really exciting. It hasn’t really caught on with the other apprentices, but it’s exciting to see the possibilities.
I need to get a clearer plan about what to do with the apprentices now – perhaps help them market their pretty rainbow-colored doilies? Set up a little stand at the marche? Figure out a fair price… and get people interested.
Working with apprentices is tough because of the language barrier. Only two female apprentices speak French – out of about 40! So I need a counterpart, but it’s been difficult to find someone reliable.
I’ve started working w/ N on her English – her husband lives in the states and she’d like to join him taken the initiative to really engage her yet. I would prefer to do a joint meeting – N, V, and Da E- to create a plan together but I haven’t yet found a good time to get them all around a table. Maybe having written this down and “published” it for all to see might move me to action.
With Da E, I am helping her write a proposal to Rotary to get a small couturiere workshop built at her house. Our progress has been stopped by the search for land title verification. Tracking down an official map of her house/lands is ridiculously difficult. But before doing any particular “improvements” on the land, obviously we need to prove her ownership of it.

What I’m Doing this year with … the Peer Educators

4 October 2009

Yesterday we finally celebrated my birthday in village – things kept being delayed because of Da E’s German friend’s visit. I invited the two students that I sent to Camp UNITE, intending to work with them a bit before we got started partying. They showed up at my house well before I was ready. In fact, I was naked, dripping wet and had a mouth full of toothpaste. So I bubbled out “Wait! I’m showering” and hurriedly put myself together, brought them a couple of chairs to sit on my porch and a couple of books to keep them occupied.
Then I scurried around packing my party bag. I spent about 4 hours the night before making banana bread – M can attest to how long baking takes here. Eventurally we set out for Da E’s house. She was out at the marche when we arrived so the students and I got to work without her.
This year I want to combine students from CEG Kovie and Lycee Mission tove into one big group of peer educators. Last year, small numbers always limited what we could do so I’d prefer to have “too many” than “too little.” Another big change this year is that I’d like the students to take a more active role planning and delivering the sessions. The group should still be able to meet and work even if I have to travel. E and D (the two UNITE kids) were very inspired by Camp and feel strongly that they should share their new knowledge with their peers. It was so cool to see their faces light up as we made a list of topics to cover and they flipped through their workbook from camp.
One of my peer educators from last year isn’t in school this year because she’s pregnant. I disagree with the policy, but pretty much as soon as a girl gets pregnant, she drops out of school. I can only hope that she’l come back next year. But it encourages me to focus even more on avoiding unwanted pregnancies in the peer educator’s group. There’s a delicate line to tread between explaining the difficulties pregnancy can cause and the fact that getting pregnant doesn’t have to mean the end of school, life, opportunities.
The club will be meeting on Friday afternoons this year – Wednesdays will be for business club at CEG Kovie. Last year football/soccer games were a big conflict on Wed afternoons. Fridays are more tricky for me, but since most teacers don’t want to teach on Fri afternoon, there are very few classes and I should be able to have good attendance.
I hope that this year I’ll be able to get a couple guest speakers in to talk to the group – especially the local nurse, maybe a university student, etc. It’s good to give the students a chance to explore their options for the future.

02 October 2009

What I'm up to this year... at CEG Kovie

It's been a year since I got to village. Amazing. I'm mid-service and I finally feel like I really have a handle on what I can do, where to get my resources, who are the best local coworkers, etc.
This year I'm teaching English again but only one day per week. Last year I was so adamant that I only wanted my English classes to be considered a "club" for fun. And they were fun, except that because most of the activites I was doing were games and song, I frequently lost control of the classroom and had a hard time settling them down.
This was frustrating and counter-productive as well as disruptive to the other classes.
This year, I am going to offer a more structured lesson plan style of teaching, with fun activities too but I would love to actually help the students succeed in their tests. I'm steering clear of rowdy things like the Hokey Pokey in favor of reading fun stories and doing relevant American vocabulary stuff. It's already going well.
I've also started a Business Club at the same CEG - which, by the way, isa ll gorgeous cement buidling and new desks now - as compared to the palm frond roofs, mud floors and precarious termite-infested desks of last year. Thanks to the National Lottery!
So the Business Club - I've noticed that kids often have a hard time finding money to pay their school fees, so they hang around in the classrooms learning as much as they can up until the last day when fees are due and the Director finally kicks them off campus. I would like to help them find a way to develop their own knowledge in little income-generating activities. Today we played the Marketing Mix game - We talked about the four elements of marketing : product, price, distribution, and promotion.
Then we started this fun little game from a fantastic resource book called Marketing Strategy, part of a series of workbooks for teaching "appropriate business skills for third world women" put out by OEF International. It was fun but chaotic - more than eighty students showed up for the club! I also didn't anticipate that these kids have never played a board game before so tehy didn't quite get the concept of moving along "squares" on the board. Quite a learning experience for me too!

Fun fact:
Just received a bunch of Christmas cards from my Correspondence Match kids in California. Woo hoo! Christmas in September :)

(P.S. My camera is lost, so there probably won't be many more pictures for y'all on my blog. Boo.)

20 September 2009

Bumper cars in Lome

Birthday treat!

Things you don’t see every day... but I do # 4-7

4. Women with baby feet growing out of their hips

5. Lizards with orange and yellow tipped tails

6. Vans with loads twice as big as the van

7. Monkey stow-aways

Voyage-ing in Togo

18 September 2009

Well, I will call the moto guy, just as soon as I figure out how to get my bag out from under the goat on the roof.

--From a text I sent a few days ago

On my way from Sokode to Atakpame this week, I fell victim to the ridiculous hilarity which always ensues in countries with one paved road and lots of bridges. A bridge approximately the length of my prone body has broken to bits due the the river rising, etc.
So cars, taxis, bush taxis, 14-wheelers, semis, fuel trucks... are all diverted onto a little barely-two-lane dirt road. Very scenic. If by scene you mean an unchanging vista of semi-trucks lined up on the side of the road waiting for nightfall when they can pass because passenger vehicles (thankfully) generally get ot go first. We lurch along the road for a while, admiring the view of course. Stops and starts are common, so I wasn't too alarmed by our pause until the driver told us to get out and walk.
We were 8 km from the diversion off the Route Nationale and a good 10 km to the nearest town. It was at this point that I realized I really should have filled my water bottle before leaving. We trudged over the torn-up road, a couple of women laughing and saying things like “Look, we are the same, white and black both have to walk.” I responded cheerily with some egalitarian sweet nothings and reached to hold a little kid's hand.
Awww... until the kid screamed at discovering the white girl was holding his hand. Oh well. Our little journey took us in sight of the problem: a truck fallen over blocking half the road. A couple men were unpacking the truck in a very orderly way – workers or free-loaders, I have no idea.
A few cars got past the truck and I ran back to our taxi just in time to swing in and ride around the obstacle. You know how on a good rollercoaster there's always this huge seemingly insurmountable ascent where your neck starts to hurt from holding your head up and then a scary but very short teaser descent that leads into a nice little lull and then you turn a corner and are plummeted 30 yards straight down?
That was how my stomach felt when we rounded the fallen truck and saw the real problem – a huge truck loaded with wood fallen to the right, a second truck loaded with ignames fallen to the left with no room through the middle and muddy impassable guck on both sides.
Hmm. This is gonna take a while. So I dialed my Karren Waid girls' scholarship coordinators... and nothing. I had absolutely no reception, no food, no water, and no chance of getting out of there in less than three hours. It was almost noon, the hottest part of the day. I was no longer very cheery. I stomped back to the taxi, looking for a moto and my bags. Every moto I saw was occupied – smarter, more savvy travelers than myself, and my bag was nowhere to be found. I heard a bleating from the roof and looked up in dismay. My bag must have been sandwiched between the huge bags of charcoal and the goat on the roof. With my chaffeur and his assistant being good citizens off helping to direct traffic and clear the road, there would be no chance of a quick getaway by moto.
So I resigned myself to my fate and decided to go watch the fun. It was like a circus: a soldier/engineer as the master of ceremonies, the endless stream of ignames falling out of the truck like a bevy of clowns, the shouting, gesticulating truck drivers jockeying for position like dancing bears, and of course the elegant gymnastics of the hunt for escaped chickens. Finally the strongman made his appearance: a huge tractor to push the trucks out of the way. And we escaped.
I missed my meeting, but I learned an important lesson in humiliation by being defeated by a goat.

10 September 2009

Things you don’t see every day... but I do # 1-3

Things you don’t see every day... but I do # 1-3

People cleaning out their ears with car keys

Girls hiking up their skirts to pee in the ditch on the side of the road

Baby goats

05 September 2009

My Birthday’s coming up!

My Birthday’s coming up!
If you’re going to send me a gift, you probably already have, so this note is late but for future reference...

I have figured out where to get pretty much everything I want and need (and how to easily do without stuff), so the only stuff would be luxuries:

Lush solid shampoos (any flavour)
Lush solid conditioner – the last chunk that S sent me (thank you again!) has garnered so many exclamations of “You smell soooo good!” that I need to get more :)
And, as always... can never have too many rechargeable AAA batteries

or gifts/fun stuff to give to kids in village or at Camp UNITE:
coloring books
cool yarn


04 September 2009

On crossing borders

On crossing borders

Yesterday, I smuggled an empty gas bottle over the border so I could exchange it for a full one. Well, technically I didn’t do the smuggling, I paid someone to do it. As L put it: “When you know a guy who know a guy who can get you what you need in under 24 hours.. you are definitely bien intégrée.” Although I didn’t cross the border myself, I did have to dodge semi-trucks and zemijohns (moto taxis) across a four-lane busy stretch of the Route Nationale, carrying my gas bottle to et it to my “contact.” I felt pretty cool. Even more than cool, I felt relieved. Huzzah I can cook again!
Because it’s the petite dry season, there isn’t a lot of coal or wood available for cookfires so more people are using up gas, but businesses here aren’t terribly good at predicting market fluctuations – even in the face of decades of experience that August will always have higher demand. I boiled my water with coal for 3 days trying to find someone who could replace my tank. As an aside, let me just say that smoked turkey, smoky cheddar, etc. are all lovely, Smoked oatmeal on the other hand is just nasty. The taste of my smoky boiled water for three days finally drove me to the above-described smuggling.
Although I personally didn’t carry the bottle over the Western border to Ghana, I did cross the Eastern border recently. On the 22nd, just after the swear-in of the new CHAP and SED training group, I headed over to Grand PoPo in Benin under orders from A, a CHAPer who just finished her service. It was H, A, N, A, N, A and myself of course. (Hmm that list is incomprehensible in initials.) Grand PoPo was gorgeous and so relaxed. It was exactly what I needed after 3 weeks of camp and a stressful week in Lomé doing scholarship administration, saying goodbyes and hellos. We lay on the beach, played in the sometimes frighteningly strong waves and drank alcoholic beverages out of coconuts in a clean little hotel filled not only with reggae music but also with murals of Rastafarian greats and their philosophies.
It was blissful and put me on good footing for getting back into the village groove.

03 September 2009


In the last week of camp the trainers themselves staged an insurrection, a very polite one, well, perhaps an intervention. We’d cancelled the traditional parade into the village because of all the changes in schedule due to the visit of the Ambassador, the Secretary of State for Youth, and the acting Country Director of Peace Corps. With all these exciting muckety-mucks around, I will admit I lost some perspective from the participants’ side.
To make this more comprehensible for my readers who have not been to Camp UNITE, let me explain the context: The main point of Camp UNITE is to form Togolese youth from diverse backgrounds into peer educators in their communities. To do this, we spend the week not only on typical peer education topics like HIV/AIDS prevention, but also address key personal development topics like the changes involved in adolescence and puberty, how to communicate effectively, rather than passively or aggressively, and self-confidence.
In between session, the participants work on team-building and problem-solving through challenge activities. They discuss tough topics like harassment and child trafficking in small groups and prepare traditional dances with the other participants in their cabins.
The normal schedule for Friday of camp includes a parade into town, everyone dressed in Camp t-shirts – this year sporting a fabulous cartoon banana with strategies for success inscribed on each jaunty peel.
We sing, dance, and invite the village back to the centre to watch a few “life skills” topic skits and learn about what we do at camp.
As the trainers who approached us in a small but determined group put it: The parade is a source of pride and fun for the girls, getting them excited about the skits and overcoming their shyness. It’s a unifying event – moving beyond the small groups of cabins or colors and raising our voices together.
And we’d cut it out. Oops.
In our defense, our original logic was based on the possibility that our guests would be leaving by 4pm and we weren’t sure how equipped the Minister and the Ambassador would be for a hike out to the village in the hot sun.
The trainers’ intervention was well-timed, well-intentioned, and absolutely correct. We had an “executive meeting” of the organizers and changed everything up. Every well-laid plan gets tossed in the air as soon as the clock starts anyway.
We sent the girl students out for the parade right after lunch while the guests were still eating. So I got to schmooze while my co-organizers sweated and strained their vocal cords – not a bad deal!
The compromise was fabulous. The students came back from the parade just as we were finishing lunch, so they greeted us with songs and cheers. Then they worked on their final challenge activities before passing to the big ceremony with skits and dances by the participants and lots speeches by the guests.
It was a perfect blend because we split the organizing team – half handling the participants and counselors, the other half handling the guests. So we all knew where and when we were respectively supposed to be and we didn’t have to fret about the other team.
The participants were surprisingly unfazed by the special guests; even the girls who were interviewed by the television station were pretty calm about it all. Having guests didn’t shake their confidence or their enthusiasm, but when the Minister said, “Each and every one of you is important and can do great things.” during her speech, several girls began crying, overwhelmed. It’s not every day that a 16 year old Togolese girl from a small village gets told that she’s important, especially not from a fantastic female role model like the Minister.
It was no wonder that Pagala almost flooded for a second time at the outpouring of tears when the girls left Saturday morning.

The Orphan

The Orphan
Conte de Kabye

Once upon a time there was a little boy in a little village who was more than a little sad. He had just lost his parents. His hair had grown while he was in mourning and his mother was not around to shave his head for him. Because he was an orphan he had no money and he could not find someone willing to cut his hair for free. Although he was poor, he was very clever, so he wandered through the village looking for something he could use to trade for a haircut. He arrived at the market and wandered around until he came to the place where the women sat all day selling salt. He stared at the ground and was scuffing his feet in the dirt when suddenly he noticed a small white shiny stone. He picked it up and discovered it was a single grain of salt that a buyer had forgotten in his haste. He picked it up carefully and found a stone to crush it into a fine powder. He gathered the powder and sprinkled it over his hair but he needed water to rub it in. The orphan was so poor that he didn’t even have enough money to own a calabash cup to drink from; so he asked a passer-by to give him a few drops of water. He wet down his hair and spread the salt dust over it.
Then he went to find Malo the Hairdresser and, telling her his story, he begged her to cut his hair. Malo pitied him and accepted. The orphan asked her to carefully place his cut hair to one side. Malo went to work and soon after the orphan’s hair was neatly shaved. The orphan stood and said to Malo:
“Tell me, Malo, do you want to taste my hair? Everyone tells me that it has a special taste.”
“I’ll try it”
Malo tasted the hair of the orphan and, greedily ate all of it.
“Ah! It was so good!” she said.
When the orphan was about to leave, Malo asked him to pay her for the haircut. The orphan and thought that Malo had accepted to do the haircut for free and was not happy. He angrily demanded that Malo give back his hair. She obviously couldn’t give back the hair so after a long discussion she gave him some shea oil in exchange.
The orphan took the oil, left the village and went to the shore of a lake nearby so he could perform his religious purification. While he was washing himself, the lake’s waters rose and lifted up the bottle of oil, tipping its contents out upon the waves. When the orphan emerged from the water, he was devastated that he had lost his fortune and sang a lament:
Lake, give me my oil!
This oil is from far far away,
It comes from Malo the Hairdresser
Malo the Hairdresser ate my hair
The oil was payment, not a gift
My hair is from far far away
My hair was given to me as my inheritance
From my father and my mother

And the lake, pitying the distress of the orphan, since it could not give back the oil that had spilled and spread itself in tiny droplets all over the surface of the water, gave him the gift of a huge fish.
The orphan thanked the lake and continued on his path. He arrived in a forest at the edge of the wild jungle, and there he found a piece of wood burning with fiery embers. Since he was starving, he tossed the fish in the flames to cook it, but the flame was too hot and burned the fish up. The orphan cried at his misfortune and asked the fire to give back his fish, singing:
Fire, give me my fish!
That fish is from far far away
It comes from the lake
Who exchanged it
For the oil of Malo the Hairdresser
Malo the Hairdresser ate my hair
The oil was payment, not a gift
My hair is from far far away
My hair was given to me as my inheritance
From my father and my mother

Touched by the desperation of the orphan, the piece of wood gave him some charcoal. He thanked the fire and continued on his path.
He soon arrived at a blacksmith’s shop. The blacksmith asked him what he was carrying. The orphan held out the charcoal and the blacksmith took it, adding it to his fire so he could continue his work. The orphan got upset and sang:
Blacksmith, give me my charcoal!
My charcoal wasn’t a gift
It comes from the fire
Who exchanged it for my fish
My fish wasn’t a gift
That fish was from far far away
It comes from the lake
Who took my oil
The oil was from far far away
It was from Malo the Hairdresser
Malo the Hairdresser ate my hair
The oil was payment, not a gift
My hair is from far far away
My hair was given to me as my inheritance
From my father and my mother

The blacksmith, ashamed of having profited from the poor goods of an orphan, gave him in exchange the gift of a newly forged hoe. The orphan thanked the blacksmith and continued on his path.
He soon arrived in a country where all the farmers were using pieces of broken plates and bowls to dig and plow their fields. He addressed the farmers:
“What miracle do you hope to accomplish here? Why are you farming the earth with broken bits instead of metal hoes?”
“But we don’t have any of those, we don’t even know what they are!” responded the farmers.
“Well then, if you want it, take mine.” The orphan said to them.
So they put to use the orphan’s hoe and by using it, they increased their harvest and had much less difficultly working in the fields. As a gift they offered to the orphan a bundle of millet. He thanked the farmers and continued on his path.
Next he arrived in a country that was suffering from famine. In passing along side a river, he came across a woman seated on the bank with her children, trying to coax them into eating the wet sand.
“Tell me, Woman, don’t you want to give millet porridge to your children?”
“I would very much like to, but I don’t have any millet to prepare porridge. I have nothing to feed them.” She responded.
The orphan offered her the bundle of millet and went off to find a place in this country to settle.
A few days later, he returned to the woman’s house and asked to collect his debt. Because the woman was poor and had nothing, she could not give back the millet; therefore she gave in exchange the only thing she had left: one of her children. The orphan took the child, thanked the woman and left.
He chose some land in the country and had the child build him a hut, the child became thus the first slave. And he lived in the hut with his slave.
This is how, in the beginning, we used to exchange people for food.

And here's an alternative ending for those of you who thought that was a little weird:
The orphan married the woman’s daughter and together they built a hut and worked the land and raised many children.
This is how even poor orphans can succeed if they are clever and resourceful.

25 August 2009


25 August 2009

During the apprentice camps, which I missed due to California vacation, there was a genuine ethnic conflict situation complete with murders, mass arrests, and protests. * Apparently that was just the beginning of the excitement for Camp UNITE at Pagala.
A very different kind of uprising happened during the boy students camp: the river. The camp site is surrounded on two sides by water – one the major river Anie which flows all the way south to the ocean, the other a smaller stream that feeds into the Anie in a corner just behind the cafeteria/dining room area.
Last year, the rains in Togo were so heavy that the Route Nationale had to be diverted because of broken bridges in three different places. There is still a diversion just north of Tsevie, where cars take an old single lane railroad bridge instead of the original wide bridge. Progress on rebuilding the bridges has been remarkably fast for Togo, this is due to huge investments of both money and labor from China. It’s hard for me to understand the constant racism against people of Chinese descent (or any other Asian descent as all of the Asian American Peace Corps volunteers can attest) considering the amount of good that I’ve seen being produced due to Chinese investments. Flooding last year caused so many people to lose their homes that school started nearly a month late because school buildings were being used to house the flood victims. Because the floods were so surprisingly, catastrophically bad last year, I assumed that they were abnormal and this years’ rainy season would be milder.
But August in Pagala is anything but mild. It rained nearly every day to the extent that we were unable to practice some of the outdoor challenges and games with the camp counselors and just had to explain them with words and hope for sunny days during the actual camps.
On Tuesday afternoon we were all gathered in the big rectangular gazebo known as JFK, so named in honor of John F Kennedy who originally put forward the idea of a US Peace Corps, to follow a session on Gender Equity. Halfway through the session, the rain was falling so hard that even the fabulously dynamic S could no longer shout over the deafening beat on the tin roof. We stopped the session and sang, danced and stomped our response to the rain –
“Le Camp UNITE ne perira pas
Le Camp UNITE dura toujours
(Camp UNITE will never perish/die
Camp UNITE will be forever)
But that was only the beginning. The rain fell hard all evening and all day Wednesday too. The river surrounding us started to rise and the counselors were asked to keep the students from going near it. Finally Thursday dawned bright and sunny – the rain had moved north, sticking to the mountain we could see on the horizon shaded in dark grey.
Grateful for the sunshine, we went about our day until I walked back to my building to grab a book or use the loo or something I don’t remember and I realized that the pool was full. The pool next to the cafeteria has always been empty – a source of amusement for volunteers, especially when a hapless goat gets caught at the bottom and bleats until he is rescued. Who filled it? And why? I started toward the kitchen to talk to the Chief chef of Pagala and noticed my habitual path no longer existed – the river had risen all the way to the pool. The tiny stream that had merrily babbled along behind camp was swollen and bloated with the weeks’ rain and the great Anie River was still being flooded with fresh rains coming down from the mountains.
At their intersection, the flow had been slowed and the river backed up all the way onto the property – cutting off access first to the dining room, then the additional housing for female counselors who weren’t sleeping in the cabins with the boys, and finally the cafeteria itself.
I feel obliged to mention that the fact that this was a boys camp made the situation all the more dangerous. As my co-organizer E put it so succinctly, “boys are stupid.”
They have a tendency to rush right up to dangerous things and then cajole and are each other to get closer and closer until PLOP, SWISH YAHOOOOO! the boy is swept down into the river never to be seen again.
Luckily my vivid waking nightmare did not come true. But not without considerable effort on our part – recruiting the counselors, the guards and even the cooks to be babysitters and make sure the boys didn’t go exploring.
I have to admit that I was tempted to go check it out myself. It was pretty amazing to see and I was almost disappointed when I woke up the next morning to find that the water had receded again and everything was back to normal.

*Although the situation was intense, the organizers and formateurs were brilliant and everyone in camp was totally safe and practically oblivious to the sounds of war drums and gunshots just beyond the tree line.

17 August 2009

Return to internet land

I'm back from three weeks at camp. It was amazing. I will have to sit down and really try to write it up sometime soon. In the mean time, have a couple posts from my first days back in Togo. They are all backdated, so if you are getting my blog on a feed, you might have to click through to my actual blog to read them.


26 July 2009

26 July 2009

26 July 2009

I’m back at Pagala! It’s the lead up to three weeks of camp for students. On Wednesday the counselors for camp will be arriving to receive their orientation and training for camp. And then on Monday starts boy students camp. I’m so excited to actually be present at the camps with the young people, since I missed the last one when I was in California.
Last night we had the post-post visit party for the new trainees in the Maritime region. That means that it’s been one year since I first saw Mission Tove/1 I’m glad that my first impression of Tove didn’t hold true- I ended up in a much more comfortable situation than I had first anticipated.
On Saturday morning we went to the “zoo” in Lomé. Viola some photos

21 July 2009

The Joys of Being Back

21 July 2009

The Joys of Being Back

The lovely humidity, that makes my skin so perfectly moisturized

seeing my awesome volunteer friends that I missed so much

sleeping in my own bed

having my kitten lounge on my chest, purring so deeply I can feel the vibrations in my sternum

having little kids’ faces light up when I was and smile at them (there’s something to be said for being so obviously different - a certain celebrity/monster status)

receiving happy shouts of greeting as I walk down the street

my landlord’s sister bringing me a plate of food just when I was contemplating gathering the energy to go searching for ingredients

the satisfaction of seeing my cat take on a spider as big as my hand – and winning!
the peace and quiet and solitude

having a new ipod where i can choose the track I listen to!

remembering French and Ewe and making myself understood

20 July 2009

Wow Toto, I think I’m not in America anymore

20 July 2009

A woman’s voice crackled over the loudspeaker, informing the airport that the flight from Paris to Lomé will be delayed, but will board as soon as possible. Immediately people began to line up. I use the word “line” very loosely. This “line” was about four people wide, very few of the people in it had any respect for placement within the line, and half of the people were sitting in nearby chairs, but became very disgruntled if one tried to move beyond them to the seemingly empty spot in line. When I found a place, and began to listen to my ipod and calm down from the crash and clatter of the airport, the man to my side started shuffling around, bumping into my book several times and knocking over my bag once. Without acknowledging or apologizing for stepping on my personal space. I admit I grew rather indignant until I remembered that personal space is an American thing. Got to let it go for another year.


The surging crowd around the baggage claim at itsy-bitsy Lomé airport far exceeded any roiling ridiculous mob I’d witnessed at the huge Los Angeles international. Luckily, I only had two bags, and both showed up! (Miracle of miracles) I headed toward the exit, only to join a new “line” to put my bags through the scanner before exiting. Now, this could be overly cynical or possibly unobservant of me, but I didn’t see anyone actually watching the monitor for the x-ray machine. The conveyor belt was working, but I can’t help but wonder if they only stopped me because I’m obviously not local. So they stopped me, I approached the man at my bag and he asked me what was inside without opening it. I told him “ a few gifts and candy for my friends in village.”
He said, “Do you have a gift for me?”
“Um, I could give you some candy?”
“No, no a cadeau (gift)” and rubbed his fingers together in the universal sign for money.
“I’m a Peace Corps volunteer, I don’t have much money.”
“Alright then, we’ll open the bag.”
Perhaps I should have looked up the rules but I assumed I would be able to bring some packets of oatmeal and spices in for personal use. A woman approached, pointed meaningfully at her ‘Phyto-biologist” badge and told me I wasn’t allowed to bring that into the country without papers.”
“No one told me that! “ I protested, as salt water began accumulating in my eyes.
She gave me a LOOK, then turned around and walked away, leaving me with the man. I sheepishly asked, “If I give you a cadeau, can I just go?”
He shrugged, which I took to be affirmative, so I offered him a crisp 1 mille bill (the crisper, the better – I’ve had people reuse money that was too dirty) and then I packed up the bag again and headed out to do battle with the taxi drivers.
1 mille – what’s that? about 2 dollars? a.k.a. 1/3 of my daily salary. But it let me get out without hassle. I weighed up my conflicting emotions, - relief to get out, frustration at being forced to bribe someone – and then I remembered all the other bribes I’ve had to pay here.
Guess I’m not in America anymore, Toto.


Friday afternoon I quickly repacked my bags so I would only take 2 small bags with me, leaving the two monstrosities at the Peace Corps bureau. I had to get up to the training site and then back to my village, so I wanted to be pretty light on my feet. My friend I and I took a taxi over to the stand for shared taxis at Dekon. As we pulled up, our driver identified a driver going to Tsevie and pulled up next to him to facilitate our transfer from one to the next. The Tsevie driver picked up my backpack and started toward his car, when all of a sudden, a third driver snatched my other bag and started running away with it. I quickly glared at both drivers deciding whom to chase – the third driver earned my wrath and I charged after him, grabbed hold of a strap and started tugging and yelling in an incomprehensible melange of English and French. I recovered the bag, after covering nearly half a block, and then walked back, bristling with adrenaline and anger. I reached the originally chosen Tsevie car and the manager of the taxi stand reassured me saying, “He just wanted you to go in his car”
“Will, stealing my bag and running away with it is not a good way to get my business!”
Only in Togo does someone steal your bag in order to convince you to buy something from him. I mean, really!!

19 July 2009

19 July 2009

19 July 2009

I am back in Togo. I’ve spent the past twenty-four hours sleeping and cleaning my house. The kids who took care of my cat also swept and cleaned my living room, which was really nice. Although I’m slightly confused about how they could have missed the spider webbing wrapped around the picture rail. By the time I finished gathering all those webs, my broom resembled a gray and dusty version of a stick of cotton candy. Ew.
My bedroom and kitchen were even worse- I kept those rooms locked separately; not because I don’t trust my cat-sitters, just because I believe in avoiding temptation. Being locked away for five weeks, even from the cat, meant that vermin and mold had a brilliant opportunity to go forth and multiply. Ew. I’m still mid-battle.
Almost none of my clothes are wearable – with the advent of the rainy season, my clothes have become active moisture-holders and mold-growers. My next step is to buy lots of sopa and bring a bundle of laundry over to my “laundry girl.” Overall, despite the little things, coming back has not been as hard as I’d feared.
Getting onto the plane in California and then again in Paris was difficult, but I didn’t cry myself to sleep on arrival like I’d expected. It helped that I was able to immerse myself in volunteer life before going back to village. I went to the training site for new volunteers – I was supposed to have been training them this week – to say hello and hand out Starburst. Then I spent the night at L & I’s and just chilled out with a silly movie (Dorkness Rising) and some wine.

07 July 2009

What I've been doing with my time

Being in limbo means that I haven't wanted to set up seeing friends on the chance that I might be flying out... also, being a peace corps volunteer I have absolutely no spending money. Any little bits that I had, I squandered on ridiculous things like buying sewing kits and cool yarn as gifts for my apprentice friends in village.

So, I've been spending my time reading and studying and researching about law schools.

I have a strong academic record and my practice lsat scores are good, so I think this is the list of schools to which I will be applying. If any reader has particular insight, please comment or email me!

I'm looking to do public interest work, therefore strong financial aid for such pursuits is very important to me. I may consider adding an MA or an MBA in Non-profit management to the law degree, so having the possible dual degree programs is also important.

New York University
UC Berkeley
University of Chicago
University of Pennsylvania

Any universities that I've left out that you think I'm crazy for skipping over?

also... have a picture of me anticipating how i'll feel in my first 1L class