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.)