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 :
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.
1 onion, chopped
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.