20 December 2010
Kids and Cows
Ritual site overlooking city of Dapaong
A natural spring in a cliff in the middle of the dryest part of the country.
The reason for the seasoning?
"The corner office can wait, some corners of the world can't"
Thank you so much for having me over to see your village. I enjoyed visiting your market and indulging in ‘Starbucks’ à la villageoise. It’s rare to find another eldest child from a big family here, so it was fun to connect and chat about our siblings. Good luck in your first few months exploring the assets and needs of your village. I included info on village savings and loans, income-generating activities and funding applications on the USB key; I hope you’ll find them very useful.
Thank you for hosting me for a day in your village. I had a lot of fun wandering around the tchakpa stands and through the fields. Congratulations on taking such a strong interest in learning local language and integrating with an eye for finding really relevant work. I still haven’t tried ‘flea’ yet - maybe next time. I included some information on appropriate technology and income-generating activities that I hope will be useful. I look forward to working with you to plan workshops at the new maison.
Dear D and C,
Thank you ever so very much for taking me in for a few days as I journeyed in and around Dapaong. I love your house but even more your company and I hope that you will take advantage of my new digs any time you stop in Atakpame. I hope you have (well, had, by the time you receive this) a fantastic time in Germany. Thanks for your support as well through my Senegal ‘revelation’. It has now become a new jumping-off point and I’m getting excited about choosing a US city and forging ahead with a slightly changed destination but still the same stubborn drive to ‘save the world’ wherever I can.
Thank you so much for hosting me and taking me up to the caves. I can’t believe you hiked up that mountain twice in two days. You are going to be the fittest volunteer in country! I have to admit, I’m still thinking about that chilli too! I think I might make it for Christmas dinner. It was really yummy. Well, have a lovely December. Make sure to check out the resources I put on the USB key and put on any that you’ve inherited or created. I don’t mind duplicates, so throw on whatever you’ve got PS Just read your story for Perspectives. It was lovely. Please write more!
Thank you so much for hosting me in your beautiful little village. I enjoyed getting soaked gathering water, being serenaded by blind griots, gathering seeds and just chatting. I’m really excited about your village’s enthusiasm. I hope you have a great time making friends, planting trees and discovering your projects as they emerge naturally out of the contacts you have and will make. I hope you’ll find the resources I put on the USB key to be useful. Let me know if there’s anything I can send up.
Thank you so much for hosting me in your itsy bitsy village. I loved taking a walk around to see those beautiful gardens. What an exciting start for an NRM volunteer to already have people who know how to garden and make use of what little water there is available. I’m glad to see you’ve got a host family that’s ready to get things done for you - a porch in two days? Amazing. I’ve put a couple things on teaching English on the key I sent to Dapaong, but Joe is still at work on the full guide. Hopefully it can give you at least a couple of ideas. I hope you have a lovely Christmas and that the phone lines are nice and strong for you to keep in touch with everyone back home too!
Thank you so much for hosting me at your house. It was really interesting to be there on the day that they chose the new regent chef de canton. Good luck appreciating the benefits of having French translation available to you while navigating the pitfalls of being associated with the Kabye outsiders. I enjoyed chatting with you, I hope we didn’t offend your village too much by not wanting to hang out with all the dudes at the bar. Thanks so much for setting me up with a moto to get back to Mango. Have a great Christmas
06 December 2010
According to our standards as Togo volunteers, Accra Ghana is 'like America'
Not even close.
Dakar on the other hand...
So I wasn't too annoyed at the political swirlings currently underway in Cote d'Ivoire that threatened the possibility of return to Togo. I thought perhaps we would end up staying a few extra days in the country. I would almost certainly spend ridiculous amounts of cfa, but it's a sacrifice I'm willing to make for real ice cream and Indian food.
But the proposed flight change for Air Ivoire involved flying into Abidjan on Sunday. And then flying from Abidjan to Togo on Monday. Over 24 hours in the capital city of a country that's not doing very well at the moment.
Luckily, Peace Corps is brilliantly set up and placed for this kind of situation and my colleague and I were able to ask Peace Corps Senegal to coordinate with Peace Corps Togo. They found us a new flight home - through Bamako, Mali, not Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire. We have arrived safe and sound and with all of our baggage intact. Hoorah.
28 November 2010
I am sitting back on the computer in Lome.
I took a taxi to the airport this morning at 3.30am (paying more than
my night in the hotel, of course) and was greeted with a hand-written
note on the doors saying that my flight had been cancelled.
I had a connecting flight in Abidjian and the borders have been closed
because of the election. I spoke to someone who said that I will be
able to get onto the flight tomorrow morning, but I don't have a
guarantee. The Air Ivoire website is currently showing tomorrow's
flight as full.
Boo hoo hoo. I want my vacation!
27 November 2010
Here are some photos to enjoy.
A boy in charge of keeping an eye on the tchakpa (a fermented millet drink, this version is recipe from la region des Savannes, the northernmost region of Togo)
A traditional healer using herbs and massage to take care of people's injuries and broken bones.
Kittens and babies - cute the world over
21 November 2010
It is not because I have not been writing.
On the contrary, I've been writing 2000 words a day on every day there wasn't some other pressing need (ie a party)
I'm NaNoWriMo'ing and it's stressful and amazing.
my username is roseepine If anybody else is signed up and wants to be my buddy. I need to submit on the 27th because I fly to Senegal on the 28th!
04 November 2010
Wow. November already. I've been back in Togo for two weeks plus now, and it's been quite a roller coaster - I've only slept at home 4 nights! We had an amazing and very fruitful peer support network training in Lome. I led the training with the help of L, the other PCVL and I, a Peace Corps staff member. I was really grateful for the training I'd received at Victim Support Scotland and LGBT Youth. I felt really well prepared and that my experiences in Scotland were really useful and relevant. Who'd've guessed, right?
We're set up very informally - 7 peer supporters that were chosen based on a motivation essay they wrote and a couple recommendations from other volunteers about the candidate's ability to be a good supporter - a good example, nurturing, and commited to confidentiality. We talked about the stressors in PCVs lives, from work to home life to competition with other volunteers.
I'd done some research on PC and PCVs experience of stress. Some study that rated stress levels classified entering the Peace Corps as 2 times as stressful as the death of your spouse, and 9 times as stressful as getting pregnant.
Seeing those kinds of comparisons is somehow comforting. It certainly makes me feel better about my bungee jumping mood swings and near narcolepsy.
18 October 2010
The transition has been pretty smooth, I guess I was ready to come back. I'm excited about the activities and responsibilities of this year. I'd better be, since I'm jumping in with both feet immediately - I arrived on Thursday evening, I had two nights at home in Atakpame and now I'm back in the capital city of Lome for a week:
VAC (volunteer advisory council)on Tuesday
Coordinating and facilitating a Peer Support Network training on Wed and Thurs
Finally, on Friday, my fellow PCVL (Peace Corps Volunteer Leader) and I will be having a half-day of PCVL training
Well, my to-do list is getting boring. So I'll just try to keep you all updated as I have my adventures. Hopefully now that I have electricity I'll be more accessible!
04 October 2010
Gee I thought California was cold, dontcha know. But it don't got nothing on Minnesota!
I'm wearing three layers of borrowed clothing just to walk to the car!
Grandma and I went out to a beautiful pumpkin patch where we got to sample spicy squash soup, pick out a few grotesquely gorgeous gourds and... I got a pumpkin!
1. What is Togo like?
That’s a tough question. Imagine trying to sum up what the United States is like in just a couple sentences. Granted, Togo is only about as big as Delaware, but the huge ethnic diversity – at least 35 distinct local languages! – and the regions with very different climates, the Oceanside Maritime region, lush and mountainous Plateau region, dry Central region that has the largest wild preserve, surprisingly developed Kara region, to the arid and dusty Savannah region. Togo is a developing country, which means that there’s still a lot of work to be done creating the infrastructure that can support and encourage local businesses and non-profits, especially those existing in rural areas, far from the resources of the big cities. The economy is largely based on agriculture, although the biggest export is phosphorous from the mines. Most families have their own small farm where they grow food for themselves; and perhaps enough extra to sell so that they can buy things like powdered milk, sugar or cloth (pagne) with which to make clothes. That’s another cool thing about Togo – a lot of the clothes people wear are tailor-made by local seamstresses.
Because most people work all day in the fields the diet is very starchy. They have to get a lot of energy (calories) from their food without spending a lot of money. The most common food is pâte – basically corn flour mixed with hot water until it forms a thick paste that can be shaped into balls. A sauce based on tomato, hot peppers, and sometimes edible leaves (kind of like spinach) will accompany it. It’s not particularly tasty to my palate, but it is very filling. Togolese people are very generous – especially with their food. If you ever see someone eating, the first thing they will say to you is “hello! Come and eat with me!” Even if they don’t know you, hospitality and welcome are always very warm.
2. When is the best time to join? After high school? College?
The Peace Corps generally requires that applicants have a bachelor’s degree (4-year college degree). The exception is when an applicant has a significant amount of work experience. So your best bet is to graduate from high school and head to a good college, choosing a major that you really like and that possibly has something to do with development work, like pre-med, political science, African studies, social work, communications, French, agriculture, women’s studies, engineering, etc. etc. As you can tell – the specific major you choose doesn’t matter all that much!
3. How long is the application process and what do they look for in someone who wants to volunteer in Africa?
The application process can be really long. Many of us joke that the wait itself helps to weed out applicants who aren’t committed or don’t have the patience to see it through. Patience becomes a very very important virtue once you are in a developing country and trying to work! The application requires a lot of initial information: an essay/motivation statement (why do you want to be in the Peace Corps), your work experience, college transcript, an essay on your experience of diversity or cultural exchange. Plus three recommendations. The ideal for the recommendations is to send in one from an academic supervisor (a college professor who really knows you well), one from a work supervisor (a boss who you did really good work for), and one volunteer work supervisor (someone you volunteered with who can talk about your commitment to service). They really want to see applicants who have already shown commitment to doing volunteer work – particularly in the area in which you want to work in the Peace Corps. For example, if you want to work in community health in Africa, you could get involved as a hospital volunteer or a volunteer at a retirement home. If you want to do youth development, you could volunteer as a youth group leader at your local teen center. If you know you to work in Africa, every single project in Africa has an HIV/AIDS prevention component, so it’s a great idea to already look into the causes and effects of HIV and perhaps volunteer at a relevant center. Also, Peace Corps loves if you already have language ability. For Africa, that could be French, Portuguese, Arabic, or African languages like Swahili.
4. Is it hard to be away from your family for two years? Do you get to visit them while you are still in the program?
Yes, it’s hard to be away from family. I moved away from home when I went to college in 2000 and haven’t lived in California since. So I was used to only seeing my immediate family for short once or twice a year visits. As a PCV, I chose to save up my vacation days (we get 2 vacation days per month) so that I could go to California for June 2009 – it was really important to me to be there to celebrate my brother’s graduation from high school, my sister’s graduation from college, and my sister’s promotion from 8th grade. Some volunteers’ families come over to visit them in country – or they meet at a mid-point in Europe or another “vacation spot” instead of making family come out to tiny African villages without amenities. Peace Corps doesn’t pay for volunteer’s plane tickets to visit home, so you have to save up for that yourself. The exception is for volunteers who extend their service. For example, I did the normal two years of service and then I chose to stay for a third year to take on new responsibilities as a Volunteer Leader. Because I signed up for another full 12 months of service, the Peace Corps requires that I take one month of home leave. They paid for my plane ticket to my ‘home of residence’ – California. It was great to have this break, I feel re-motivated to get back to work!
5. What do you plan to do when you are finished volunteering?
I want to keep working in international human rights, specifically looking at gender and sexuality issues. I’ve been really inspired by my work with young people during my service in the Peace Corps and before (I was a sexual health/mental health youth worker in Scotland before joining the Peace Corps). I am currently looking at going back to graduate school, perhaps for law or public policy, with the goal that I could use the knowledge from these programs to work for the United Nations or the US State Department or a non-profit international organization like Women for Women International or Human Rights Watch.
6. What kind of security do you get? Aren’t you scared of getting AIDS or another disease?
First of all, HIV, the virus that leads to AIDS, is not like a cold – I can’t get it by shaking hands with someone or because someone sneezed near me. HIV is entirely preventable, except perhaps for babies born to HIV-positive mothers, but even then the risk of can be minimized through careful pre-natal care provide by doctors who know the woman’s HIV status. In fact, Washington DC has a higher percentage of people infected with HIV than Togo. That said, HIV prevention, is a huge part of the work I do for a very good reason. Practices that have become normal in American society, like sterilizing a razor between customers at a barbers’, getting pre-natal care for pregnant women, and using a condom, are still out of the norm in Togo. So a lot of the work I do is just repetition, encouraging people to do thing I would consider common sense.
The illness that I worry about more is malaria. Untreated, malaria can be fatal – attacks your liver and kidneys and can leave you unable to process toxins out of your body. Malaria is carried by mosquitos. Peace Corps has a fantastic medical service team that is provided for free to volunteers. Part of the service is anti-malaria pills (called malaria prophylaxis). These pills are so important, in fact, that volunteers who don’t take them get kicked out of the Peace Corps and sent home.
The other illnesses I worry about are pretty common for any travel or work in developing countries: digestive troubles. You will have them; it is inevitable. But in order to help minimize them, Peace Corps Medical does several trainings during the initial three months about proper water preparation, malnutrition and cooking. And when you get sick, they provide your prescriptions, and even a bed at the medical unit if it’s serious enough. Some conditions might require specialists – for example dental surgery or a broken bone – for these Peace Corps will pay for you to get to a facility to receive appropriate care – that could be Senegal, South Africa, or even Washington D.C. They take really really good care of us. In fact, I think it’s the best and most holistic health care I will ever get and it’s free!
7. What kind of things do you do? (Are you a teacher/doctor/etc)
Peace Corps is different in every country but I would guess that most volunteers would agree with me when I say that you don’t walk into a job in the Peace Corps, you create one. Most people think Peace Corps volunteer = English teacher. In Togo, we have four programs that volunteers fit into, and none of them are English teaching. The four programs are: Natural Resources Management/Food Security, Community Health and Family Planning, Girls’ Education and Empowerment, and Small Enterprise Development. The program I’m part of is Small Enterprise Development. Specifically, I’m in a sub-program of NGO Development (NGO = non-governmental organization, or non-profit). I’ve been doing a lot of different activities, the first (and most important) being a participatory needs assessment of the village where I lived. What this means is I talked to a lot of people – I gathered groups of women, student, rice farmers, churchgoers, or teachers and asked them about their village and their work, the cycle of planting crops and the rains. We discussed what’s working and what could/should be improved. Once I had a good idea of what already existed in the village, then I was ready to start projects. I always have several things going on at the same time and over time as I gained experience and knowledge in my village and in Togo in general, my projects became more sophisticated.
· I developed a small group of women leaders to present workshops on business skills and health life skills (communication, nutrition and HIV prevention) to apprentice seamstresses. While I was working with seamstresses I got the chance to practice sewing on a foot-pedal powered machine!
· I started a group of health peer educators at the local junior high/high school. We put together skits about HIV/AIDS prevention, the importance of staying in school, facing up to sexual harassment, etc. and then performed the skits for the whole school.
· I supported a small group working to create a mushroom growing cooperative.
· I taught English to 4 classes of 50-60 junior high students. We learned songs and stories and I focused on cultural exchange – introducing American traditions and holidays – as well as adding to the correspondence exchange with junior high girls.
· I created a business club at the junior high 5 km from my house. We worked on the set of skills you have to develop to know whether a business idea could work. We also worked on some small income-generating activities (like making soap and lotion to sell).
· I organized a camp for Togolese young people from all over the country. I was on a team of Peace Corps volunteers and Togolese professionals. We recruited community leaders to be counselors at the camp, arranged transportation and food for everyone and raised 25000 dollars to run the camp in 2009 and 30000 to run the camp in 2010. I’m particularly proud of helping to coordinate the team of organizers to form a more coherent collaboration among the Togolese non-profits so that they could take on more leadership roles in running the camp.
· I administered a scholarship for girls who are chosen based on both need and merit. The system for approving scholars and sending them their scholarship money needed a lot of reworking. I’m really proud of creating and hosting a national conference for the scholarship girls so that we could better ensure the scholars are getting support both academically and emotionally, ‘cause it can be really tough for girls in school in Togo. About 12 of the scholars this year are going to be in university! Amazing.
· I worked with several other volunteers to create a (huge) document for Peace Corps volunteers who want to work with non-profit organizations or associations in Togo. The resources for this type of work are kind of out-of-date and not specific to working in Africa, much less Togo.
· Seeing the need for better management training for local non-profits, my friend and I put together a workshop for small non-profits. This meant not only teaching the lessons, but also putting together a 100-page document in French! about typical management issues. It was a lot of work but so worthwhile that I am planning to replicate the workshop in another city this year.
8. What is your apartment/room/house like? Do you have access to electricity?
When we first arrived, I lived in a single small room in a house with a family. But once I moved to my village, I was in a house by myself. I lucked out and had a pretty cute house – with a living, bedroom, kitchen and an indoor toilet! The house is made out of cement blocks and has a tin roof. The floor is simply concrete as well. I have lots of windows, which helps with air flow. There’s no glass in the windows – just mosquito screen, iron “burglar” bars, and wooden shutters I can close and lock. The house can get really hot and I didn’t have electricity or running water, so no fans or cooling showers. And even though I had a toilet, I still had to “flush” by pouring in a bucket of water. I get my water from a rain-collecting cistern that’s right next to my house. I kept a large (huge) plastic bucket inside my living room so I only had to go out and fetch water from the cistern once or twice a week. There are a couple shops that have generators so I can charge my phone for a few hundred francs CFA. Most of the time, my electricity access is when I got into a larger city nearby where I can find places to charge my batteries and use the internet.
I have recently moved as part of my new role – I’m in a regional capital now and I have a city house – including electricity and running water! It is amazing how quickly I got used to these new amenities.
9. What about the violence/crime?
Safety and security is a primary concern for the Peace Corps. If they judge that a country is too unstable to be safe; the Peace Corps will pull out volunteers (or not send them). Togo is a relatively safe country and there is a designated Safety and Security Officer who does his best to keep us up-to-date with threats to security. It can be difficult because communications are not as fast as they are in the United States with Twitter, Facebook, even news media, but they develop systems early on in training to ensure that volunteers know where to turn if a safety problem happens. My primary concern about crime in Togo is theft. So I take precautions – like locking my house whenever I leave – even though I trust my neighbors because I feel there is no need to give them the temptation to explore what American goods I might have. There were recently some protests that involved some violence because of elections and gas prices, but no volunteers were caught up in them.
10. When did you know that you wanted to join the Peace Corps?
I’ve thought about the Peace Corps since I was in high school, like you. And I met some amazing returned Peace Corps volunteers who were doing Masters’ in Peace Studies at Notre Dame. So I looked into the possibility several times, but I put it off after college because I received a Rotary International Ambassadorial Scholarship to go abroad to do a Masters’ degree. I went to the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. I loved Scotland and decided to stay for a few years, taking advantage of a work visa program for overseas students who graduate from a Scottish university. Once my two years were nearing the end, though, I started looking at the Peace Corps again. At the same time, I was looking at jobs with international non-profits and almost all of them require a minimum of two years experience working in a developing country. Peace Corps seemed to be a perfect fit: not only would I be pursuing the dream that I’d hoped for since high school, but I’d also be getting career experience that would enable me to work internationally for the rest of my life!
23 September 2010
I went to a law school fair at GW on Monday. It is kind of silly how ill-equipped I am, at least clothing-wise, for the United States. I wore what are probably my nicest top and skirt and felt very very scruffy. It doesn't help that my feet are now shaped to only fit into chacos. I tried to wear my favorite pair of comfy 2-inch heels. They sliced up my achilles AND my in-step! yikes. I will need an entire wardrobe rehaul before trying to reintegrate here. Somehow I'm getting the feeling that the 'readjustment allowance' just isn't going to cut it. Especially since I've already received (and spent) one-third of it.
I was really surprised by how old I felt on Monday. Every law school recruiter I talked to asked me when I had graduated from Notre Dame (as opposed to when WILL i graduate). There's an upside to the 'older' as well: I felt like I actually knew what I was doing walking around the fair. I had good questions and was able to build rapport with the recruiters much better than the sophomores walking around asking everyone "What can I do NOW so I can guarantee getting into your school?"
I wonder if I'll qualify for the Older and Wiser Law Students group (OWLS) when I finally get back to school.
I am currently adventuring on the East Coast of the United States. I've been visiting family and friends and law schools. My most exciting stop so far has been to a Trader Joe's in the middle of Washington D.C. I had no idea TJ's was in town until I saw a girl carrying two of their distinctive brown paper bags on the metro. I watched enviously as she flouted the rule against eating on the trains and enjoyed some stuffed grape leaves. The first thing I did after arriving at my aunt and uncle's home (after a metro ride to the end of the line and a 40 minutes driving with two missed signed and subsequent u-turns) was look up the location of Trader Joe's in DC.
So exciting to discover my favorite California shp on the other side of the country. I wandered around the shop for ages before finally selecting some chips and salsa. I headed up to the checkout line, which was surprisingly quick considering how long it was! When I reached the cashier, a thirty-something black man called Gregory, he asked me, "Where did you get your shirt?"
I replied, "Togo." We had a short moment of surprised silence and then began chatting.
He's from Kpalime and I explained where I live and a little of what I do.
As I headed out to meet some former PCVs for dinner, I couldn't help but smile at the joys of chance encounters.
12 September 2010
26 July 2010
I thought it would be a good idea to put up a little wish list so that I don’t receive well-intentioned but contextually useless things like bath bubbles, sweaters, and socks.
I’ll try to put up a link to example items through amazon or something similar.
o Ipod, headphones
o External hard drive
o Digital camera
o External cd/dvd reader (for my little cd-incapable netbook)
o Tea! Any kind, but flavored green and black teas are my favorite
o Eggnog Tea – amazing
o Seeds for sprouting
o Seeds for an herb garden
o A hair cut and color
o Book for career search
o Maybe some pre-reading books from law school lists (I’ll look these up later)
01 July 2010
How would I introduce myself?
This differs entirely based on context, so I will imagine how I would introduce myself to a classroom to whom I’m presenting my Peace Corps service.
Hi! My name is Rose. I am a Peace Corps volunteer in Togo West Africa. I graduated form this school back in 2000 and all three of my sisters also went here – in fact, one of them is currently in 10th grade! I grew up here in California but I went away to college in Indiana at the University of Notre Dame. While I was there I studied abroad in France for a year and liked Europe so much that I went to Scotland to do my graduate studies in International Politics. I’ve been working in Togo as a pCV for 2 years already, some of the projects that inspire me the most are…
If I were presenting myself to a Rotary Club…
Hello, my name is Rose. I was a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar to the University of Edinburgh from 2004-2005. I loved the culture so much that I stayed there to work for two years after achieving my Masters in International and European Politics. When finally my time was up in Scotland, I decided I wanted to continue learning and living internationally, promoting development and understanding so I joined the Peace Corps and that’s what I’m here to talk to you about…
As a new member of a book club…
Hi! I’m Rose, I grew up the oldest of five kids in southern California but I’ve lived in the Midwest, Europe, and most recently in Africa. My favorite types of books to read are books on spirituality, and my favorite fiction is adventure fantasy. My favorite authors are Paulo Coelho, Starhawk, Robert Jordan, and Ursula K LeGuin.
So I wrote these up as a part of an exercise on cultural exchange . The second half of the exercise is to note how a local person introduces herself. In my experience, they don’t. That’s not entirely true. People introduce themselves as the brother of…, the wife of…, or the cousin of the brother of the wife of…. Or by their profession, their role in society. I still giggle sometimes as I look over my phone book. Last year when I had some shelves painted, I thought the painter did a good job and wanted to take his number so I could contact him again if needed. He willingly gave it, but then I asked for his name so I could enter it in the phone and he said “painter.” I looked at him, to check if he was joking –but no. So I have an entry for painter, moto driver 1 and 2, and catechist in my phone – people who I contact or at least come across frequently but whose names are a complete unknown to me.
30 June 2010
A tough moment.
Yesterday I loaned another 5 mille to a high school kid who already (still) owes me 56.000 for the digital camera I had timefortea bring over. I really didn’t want to do it (loan the 5 mille). I felt so yucky about it that I was grumpy to the point of tears for several hours. Of course my aching leg contributed to that malaise as well.
My relationship with money has gotten even more precarious living here where people simply assume that I am rich because of my skin color. This strikes me as wholly unfair while at the same time devastatingly truthful. For most of my life I have been significantly less ‘well-off’ than most of my schoolmates. I’ve worked since I was a pre-teen and I take a lot of pride in being able to support myself with jobs that are bigger in social value than salary. But when it comes down to it, I know I’m making sacrifices. I could be earning a lot of money but I chose to be poor – if earning less than $3000 a year isn’t poor, I don’t know what is – and work in a difficult environment.
So when the little kid who lives at the top of the hill yells out my name as I’m puffing past him on my bike, I turn and say hello cheerfully. But when he follows up my greeting with a “donne-moi cent francs [give me 100 francs]”, I explode. Literally. I guess it’d been a tough day in Tsevie surrounded my mostly strangers and I was looking forward to my village, my own little “Cheers” where everybody knows my name. My anger was over the top. I slammed on the brakes, tires skidding on the sandy road, and demanded, “What did you just say?!”
I yelled out “I will never greet you again if you ask me for money”
“Donne-moi cent francs yovo”
I reigned in my boiling temper and instead of jumping off the bike to practice some of the corporal punishment that my teacher colleagues are always recommending, I remounted and rode off, muttering to myself.
The sheer force of my anger surprised me. I think it was partly based on shock- this is my village, people jknow me, I’ve greeted this kid many times before – where did he get the message that I’m a vending machine? I didn’t see it coming.
I know that a Togolese person would have reacted totally differently. Perhaps she would have handed over the money; if not, she would have made a little joke – “Oh, maybe tomorrow” the red cloud of anger would never have occurred to her.
We looked at average salaries in Togo the other day when I was with the new group of trainees, to help describe the economic state of the country. As a PCV I earn just a little more than a high school professor and just a little less than a state-paid doctor. Both of these professionals support families – not just their own but their whole extended family. With success comes responsibility, a successful family member is expected to take in the children of poor relatives, pay for their schooling, he is expected to take on the lion’s share of paying for family expenses like funerals, weddings, and hospital bills. A typical high school prof’s salary is 100.000, is not sufficient for all these responsibilities, so most teachers in villages have farms, own small shops, and/or offer tutoring to supplement their income. The majority of the population of course, are not professors. Based on GNP, the average amount of money an adult in Togo earns is 20.000F CFA per month. If 100.000 is not sufficient – have can 20.000 even be survivable?
So yes, I’m rich. I have disposable income. But the real reason why I’m rich is because I have an education, training, American citizenship. I can go somewhere else and succeed. A wealth of opportunity.
12 June 2010
Letter to my family
I’m sitting in my little house, enjoying the cleanliness so much I don’t want to move and disturb it (I had two kids come over yesterday to help me clean). The Country Director and my Program Director came by my house yesterday to interview me for the volunteer leader position. I received confirmation this morning that I’ve got the “job” and I’ll be moving to Atakpamé – a beautiful hilly city in the Plateau region. I don’t know exactly where I’ll be living but there is a house a previous volunteer lived in that is situated on a hill overlooking the city, has floors covered in colorful tile and a succulent lime tree just outside the kitchen window. I’ve got my sights set on that lovely place.
But in the meantime, I’m at home for about another month and a half, in Mission Tové. Fare from the easy-going leavetaking I’d anticipated, I will be running around finishing up a few projects and taking care of a new one – I was just granted the money for a water and sanitation project for which we’ll be building a rainwater-collecting cistern at the junior high where I teach English and have my business club. It’s going to be stressful, but I’m happy to be leaving a physical mark on the community, especially in a way that addresses such a pressing need.
We’re combining the cistern-building with a series of presentations on the importance of washing your hands (with soap) before meals and after using the WC. I’m going to train my business club members to be peer educators so that they will have some investment in the hand-washing element of the project and will hopefully take on some follow-up, making sure the system is used and maintained properly. As part of the workshop, each class will make about 20 liters of liquid soap which should get them through a significant amount of the school year. I’m hoping the combination of better access to clean water and developing hand-washing habits will make a huge improvement on the health of students and thereby their academic (and life) achievements. No small goals here.
It loomed in front of us, the gasoline truck, sprawled across the highway like a great beast, life pouring from its torn belly. The smallest spark would have cause a fire to blow the asphalt off the road. Horror filled me as I watched tiny children soaked in gasoline running home with jugs of the stuff on their heads; rushing back to fill another container. Men, women, taxi drivers, moto drivers, clothes soaked in gasoline, reached out to take their fill of the precious liquid seeping from the downed truck. The cab of the truck had fully separated from the cylinder; the driver looked unharmed but shaky as he paced on the side of the road, speaking into his cell phone. His apprentice driver was seated on the ground, head cradled in his hands, rocking slightly, still devastated by the shock of such an accident.
My stomach writhed and my heart thundered as we slowly passed between the gushing cylinder and the truck cab. One rock kicked off by our wheels, one piece of glass magnifying the equatorial sun, and we would all die… very painfully. My palpable fear was a strange counterpart to the sheer joy in the faces of the women rushing toward the truck with the big bowls usually used for collecting water. Shiny, happy people. Shiny with the slick shimmer of gasoline. The bright smiles on the kids’ faces made me shiver with visions of horror. But to this tiny, lucky village, this accident may prove to be their main source of income for the next six months. One liter of gasoline sells for 500-600FCFA. Each jug I saw carried away contains about 20 liters. One jug is enough money to travel from the ocean in Lome to the northern border with Burkina Faso. Is this the silver lining?
Automobile accidents are common here – we like to joke that when cars die in Europe, they’re sent to Ghana to rot; when they are finished in Ghana, they arrive in Togo. And the roads are bad, especially during and right after rainy season. An aspect that I’d never really picked up on until recently is the state of the tires. At Camp UNITE this year, we started a new “challenge” – a team-building physical/strategy game – that involves three tires per team. So we sent out one of the organizers to buy some used tires. He came back with 6 tires that were completely bare. Every single one was as smooth as a baby’s bottom. Who had these things on their car long enough to end up in such a state?! I’ve started looking at tires more often now. I noticed that on trucks, if a tire is really worn down, they won’t stop using it – just put it somewhere in the middle, so I guess at least it’s not responsible for steering? Yikes.
06 June 2010
I've tried and tried to get the video of this musical uploaded but it's a little too big for blogspot (127 meg) and I can't get a good enough connection to upload to youtube :(
Narrator: In the summer of 2007, Rose Lindgren applied for the Peace Corps. Let’s listen in on her interview, shall we?
Nikhil: I can show you the world
Shining, shimmering, splendid
Tell me truly now when did
You last let your heart decide
I can open your eyes
Take you country by country
It’s the toughest job that you’ll ever love I promise you
A whole new world
Escape from parents, books and jobs
No one to tell you no
Or where to go
Or say you’re only dreaming
Rose: A whole new world
A dazzling place I’ve never known
When I’m a volunteer
It’s crystal clear
That I will save the whole wide world with you
Narrator: Rose received her assignment a mere 12 months later… she was heading for a tiny little country called Togo.
Rose: From the day I arrived in this country
And blinking stepped into the sun
Taylor: There’s more to see than can ever be seen
Heather: More to do than can ever be done
Rose: There’s far too much to take in here
We’re following the yovo, the yovo, the yovo
We’re following the yovo, wherever she may go
Narrator: The first step is stage…
Whitney: Let’s get down to business to defeat poverty
Dig your hands right in there and get dirty
You’re the prissiest bunch I’ve ever seen
Stagaires, I’ll make volunteers out of you
Narrator: Rose was posted in a small village…
Rose: Little town, it’s a Peace Corps village
Every day like the one before
Little town full of Ewe people waking up to say
All: Bonjour, bonsoir, bonjour yovo bonsoir
Good morning yovo
Good morning Madame
Where are you off to?
Don’t forget to bring me some bread!
Look there she goes that girl is so peculiar
I wonder if she’s feeling well (diarrhea?)
With a dreamy far-off look
And her nose stuck in a book (and it’s not the Bible!)
What a puzzle to the rest of us this yovo
There must be more than this villageoise life!
Now it’s no wonder that her name means “whitey”
Her looks have got no parallel
But behind that fair façade
I’m afraid she’s rather odd
Very different from the rest of us this yovo!
Just watch I’m going to make her my wife
Narrator: Daily marriage proposals started to get Rose down, luckily she had some good friends who taught her an important phrase:
Heather: Du courage what a wonderful phrase
Du courage ain’t no passing craze
It means no worries for the rest of your days
It’s our problem-free philosophy – du courage!
Taylor: Here! Have some pate with fish sauce – and drink this, it’ll help with the digestion.
Les poisons, les poisons, hee hee hee ha ha ha
With the coupe-coupe I hack them in two
I pull out what’s inside and I serve it up fried
Jesu, I love little fishies, don’t you!
Narrator: Rose woke up the next morning with a hangover, giardia and covered in heat rash. She started to wish she could go home and have air-conditioning, pizza and cold beer.
Rose: I really miss America
Nikhil: How can you say that? Everything you need it right here!
Rose: Maybe he's right, maybe there is something the matter with me. I just don't see how a world that makes such wonderful things could be bad.
I wanna be where the Americans are
I wanna see, wanna see 'em dancing... not like that!
Walking around on those what do you call em? Streets
Riding a bike you don’t get too far
Cars are required for shopping, road trips
Cruising along down a
What’s that word again… street!
Up where they drive
Up where they date
Up where they worry about being late
Wanderin’ free wish I could be
Part of that world
What would I give if I could live out of this mudhut
What would I pay to spend a day down at the mall
Betcha out there they wouldn’t stare
Bet they won’t care that I’m not married
Bright young women
Sick of swimming
In my own sweat
And ready to know what the Internet knows
Google my questions and get some answers
What’s a real job and what will I…
What’s the word?
When’s it my turn
Wouldn’t I dare, dare to explore that world over there
Out of Togo
When can I go
Be part of that world
12 May 2010
Last week I had my close of service (COS) conference. Basically, all the kids who arrived with me (that are still in country) get together at a super posh hotel and talk about what the heck we’re doing with our lives now that we’re just a few months away from leaving. It’s a fun three days, but also pretty useful. There was a great panel on job possibilities – three former Peace Corps volunteers and one embassy worker with other international experience. It really made me think harder about taking the foreign service exam. And then the presentation on our non-competitive eligibility for federal government jobs made me want to look up federal openings (basically, as returned Peace Corps volunteers we get a year of ‘inside hire’ status where we can be hired for positions before they are opened up to the public).
So where am I going next?
Well, on the first day of the conference I submitted my formal application to be a third year Volunteer Leader. Yup, that means staying in Togo for another year. So all of you who thought about visiting but never got around to it… here’s your chance. I’m signed up to be here until Aug/Sept 2011.
I’m sure you’re all just dying to read my letter of interest for the position, but unfortunately I got kinda long-winded… four pages. Ridonkulous.
So I’ll skip around, here are some excerpts:
“When I grow up, I want to be a Peace Corps volunteer,” declared the girl with bright eyes, “just like Da Adzo Rose.”
“Thank you, Delali.” I replied. I smiled back at her and continued leading an exercise combining English and goal-setting with the class of 3eme students at CEG Kovié. Delali was one of the students with whom I made a special connection. She’d seen and experienced the benefits of working with Peace Corps volunteers; not just myself but also volunteers from all over the country during Camp UNITE 2009. Her admiration and respect for our work gave her the aspiration to become a Peace Corps volunteer. It is these special connections and relationships that I want to help first and second year volunteers to foster; these moments of inspiration and joy that lead me to apply to become a Volunteer Leader.
My Peace Corps Service
My experience in Edinburgh, motivated me during my Peace Corps service to pursue projects, both in my village and nationally, that focused on empowering young people. In Mission Tové worked with both students and apprentices, using lessons from the Life Skills book as well as teaching good business practices. Last November, after over a year working with my group of peer educators, I encouraged them to develop their own plan for celebrating World AIDS day. I facilitated the discussion, using brainstorm charts and priority mapping, but the ideas and the work were all theirs. They decided to plan a big event for all the students in the two villages of Mission Tové and Kovié. Instead of simply planning and presenting their own sensibilisation, the group chose to invite the two other junior high schools to write and perform their own skits, based on the theme “Youth facing up to HIV/AIDS.” The day was a fantastic success, proven to me by the fact that I didn’t do anything more than move chairs and take pictures; the students took care of everything. They’ve already started planning next year’s event.
I came into Togo as an NGO Development volunteer, a subset of the Small Enterprise Development program, but I hadn’t yet found an NGO to work with in my village so I was thrilled to take on a leadership role in two national projects: Camp UNITE and the Karren Waid Scholarship Program. These two projects will be the focus of my community level volunteer assignment. The non-governmental organization PAHCS located in Amlamé manages both projects. PAHCS has been the NGO contact for Karren Waid since its inception. We have now reached a point where volunteers should be assisting the program rather than running it. I intend to implement a capacity-building administrative process, developing a three-year strategic plan for growth and expansion of the scholarship program. This capacity-building will include lessons on how to maintain databases, setting up the physical workspace, developing filing systems, planning and managing a scholar conference, and holding fundraising events. I will also be the point person for the nascent Karren Waid Foundation currently in the first steps of applying for 501c3 status in the United States. I will coordinate with them on good communication of goals and objectives both on the US and Togolese side.
For the Camp UNITE part of my third year, I will focus on assisting CONGECS, the consortium of three Togolese NGOs running camp, to have their collaboration made official. Much of my role will also be developing a consistent reporting on camp. This will include photos, videos, and testimonials during camp that will serve not only for archive, but also for promoting the camp to our funders, especially the Unite Foundation. A major challenge that Camp UNITE has faced is the lack of follow-up on the young people who have been through the week of formation. I will work in tandem with the consortium to develop a reporting system that helps us to not only keep track of camp alums but also support them with resources, whether that means sending them new information or getting them in contact with a local PCV or other camp alums.
I believe that I would be an excellent Volunteer Leader. I have a strong commitment to the goals of Peace Corps. I am a very talented manager and trainer. I am motivated and creative and willing to put in the time and effort necessary to have real achievements in a complicated environment. I realize that if selected as a Volunteer Leader, I will essentially be creating the position and establishing standards that may be in place for years to come. The process will take a significant amount of time and lots of good and honest communication. I anticipate that there may be frustrations, but I look forward to the challenge.
Thank you for considering my application,
You’d totally give me the job; you know it.
I have not yet had my interview, but I feel confident from informal chats with my program director and the Country Director that my application will be accepted. I’m pretty excited. Especially for the chance to move to a new city and do regional site development.
I hope to move to a city in the region of Plateau. It’s a lovely little city and really close to the village where my NGO collaborator is located (within two hours’ biking distance). I will have electricity and hopefully an internet connection… amazing!
I’m sad that I won’t be bringing little Ody along with me to keep me company. It’s heartbreaking to sit in my house and notice all the little evidence of a cat but not have him sitting in my lap purring or knocking things over. I’ve got to think of some appropriate way to mark his grave or something, a little closure. With all the running around, I haven’t taken the time to grieve. My first pet that was really mine
02 May 2010
The last post I submitted was an article that I wrote for the magazine 'Farm to Market' produced by the business and natural resources programs of Peace Corps volunteers in Togo. It was in French.
I've been writing a lot in French recently. In order to fill out my blog a bit I'm going to post up the three articles on NGO development I recently wrote for the workshop that my friend I and I just held in Tsevie. I hope that these articles might be useful for people working in West Africa with NGOs. Just make sure to credit me and link back to my blog.
In other news, my cat Odysseus died last night. I don't know why. When I arrived home from a day of celebrations for International Worker's Day, I found him curled up in his litter tray, too weak to even stand. I searched him for injuries or wounds and didn't find anything. I held him and made him comfortable, then I called my counterpart and asked her to contact her uncle the veterinarian. About an hour later, Ody stopped breathing and died quietly in my lap.
My counterpart came over with her children, who have been my cat-sitters for the past year and a half. They woke my landlord and the local pastor and together we dug a hole by lantern-light and buried Ody in the field behind the house with the waning moon shining brightly above us. The pastor explained that often animals will take the unhappiness or curse directed at their human/owner and thus sacrifice themselves. He said a prayer that I would accept this sacrifice gratefully and stop crying (Togolese people believe that crying makes a person weak and they are always very worried for me when I cry.)
I'm very sad to have lost Ody, but I am glad that I was there to be with him; it would have been much worse if he had been, for example, stolen and eaten like my chicken was. It's pretty sad putting away all the little food and collars that my mom sent to me, knowing that he won't need them.
26 April 2010
La grande foule de filles et garçons vêtu du même pagne dansent et chantent avec une joie de vie qui attirent tout le monde. On voit une longue ligne de filles dansant dans un cercle; on dirait que chaque complet est plus beau que l’un qui l'avançait. C’ est la saison correcte, mais ce n’est pas une funéraille. C’est la fête des apprentis de couture. Une journée de danse, chanson, nourriture, et boisson. Les apprentis se prêtent depuis des mois pour cette grande fête : ils cherchent le modèle le plus joli, le plus unique, et passent beaucoup de temps à faire leur habit spécial. Dans ce grand nombre de gens, on ne peut pas trouver un modèle jumelé. Chacun et une s’habille complètement différemment, mais dans le même pagne. Cette créativité et joie dans leur métier indique une félicité unique aux apprentis.
La fête des apprentis de couture se fait le 10 février de chaque année. Les syndicats de couture se réunissent pour fêter la fin de la saison de fête. Décembre et janvier sont des mois si plein d’occasion que les couturiers et tailleurs n’arrivent pas à fêter eux-mêmes. Mais tout le monde a besoin de s'étendre un peu, boire un peu, et danser avec ses amis. Alors, ils ont prit le 10 février comme un jour ferié spécial à eux.
Cette année, le Syncoutat, un des plusieurs syndicats des couturiers et tailleurs, avait leur congrès national. Trouvant que le congrès et les élection des representants a crée un peu de mal-aise chez les membres, le Syncoutat a décidé de faire une très grande fête avec les bureaux des plusieurs préfectures.
Centaines des apprentis se sont réunis pour célébrer ensemble. Ce partage de joie et expérience est une des raisons pour commencer un bureau de syndicat chez vous. Les syndicats sont une ressource très intéressants aux artisans.
Attirer un bureau de syndicat chez vous ce n’est pas un grand travail, mais il faut de la persistance. En 2006, Da Essi AWUITOR, maitresse couturière s’est décidé qu’elle voulait que ces apprenties passent un examen pour la fin de l’apprentissage pour avoir des certificats. Mais il n’y avait pas de bureau de syndicat chez elle, à Mission Tové. Alors, elle est allée à Tsévié au niveau préfectorale pour parler avec le directeur des affaires sociales. Elle a trouvé que c’était un peu difficile d’attirer un grand syndicat à un petit village. Le Syntacto a donné deux choix à AWUITOR : soit elle amènerait les filles avec leur machines à coudre à Tsévié où un patron local les présenterait à l’examen (la signature de ce patron local figurerait sur les certificats, au lieu de la signature d’AWUITOR), soit elle pourrait faire amener les surveillants à Mission Tové, les loger, les donner à manger, et les payer 5000 chacun par jour pour trois jours.
AWUITOR ne pouvait pas accepter ni l’un ni l’autre de ces deux choix. Elle est allée encore voir le directeur des affaires sociales pour savoir comment elle peut faire. Il y avait un deuxième syndicat des tailleurs à Tsévié : le Syncoutat. Le Président du Syncoutat écoutait le problème d’ AWUITOR et s’est décidé de l’aider. Il viendrait lui-même surveiller l’examen à Mission Tové, s’il pouvait être logé; avec une condition: après l’examen soit AWUITOR doit se joindre au Syncoutat à Tsévié, soit elle doit créer un bureau du Syncoutat local. Notant les frais de déplacement, AWUITOR a choisi d’installer un bureau local. Elle se promenait un peu partout dans le village pour parler avec les autres couturières et tailleurs qui s’intéressaient un peu à ce qu’elle disait, mais ne voulait pas mettre aucun force derrière leurs intérêts.
Pour l’examen pour le certificat, un apprenti passe une journée en faisant un complet d’une modèle indiquée par les surveillants. Sa facon de travailler est observé pendant la journée et à la fin, le surveillant fait la correction du complet pour assurer la qualité du travail. Arrivé le jour de l’examen à Mission Tove seulement un tailleur était venu pour regarder ce qui se passait. Mais le Président du Syncoutat de Tsévié, étant très intelligent, a fait entré trois patrons pour lui aider à faire la correction des travaux que les apprentis ont fait. Il a dit qu’il ne pouvait pas amener les habits jusqu'à Tsévié pour la correction, il devait le faire le meme jour. Mais il ne ferait pas la correction seul parce qu’il ne voulait pas que les autres patrons croient qu’il a fait préférence pour AWUITOR. Les trois patrons les plus connus et respectés étaient appelés pour l’aider. Le fait de voir et participer dans le procesus de l’examen a encouragé beaucoup l’intéret des patrons envers l’installation d’un bureau chez eux. C'etait un succès des deux cotés.
Le jour de la fête de la libération de ses trois apprenties était le même jour de l’installation du bureau.
Les patrons ont constaté plusieurs bénéfices d'être membre d’un syndicat. D’abord il y a la fraternité; ils sont ensembles pour se soutenir et pour s'aider avec les problèmes communs. Deuxième il y a un système de discipline et d’inscription pour les apprentis. Avec les contrats signés, les patrons ont plus de puissance légale sur les apprentis qui volent ou qui veulent échapper de leurs obligations. Troisième, les apprentis gagnent un certificat connu partout au Togo pour bien montrer qu’ils ont fait la formation en couture et qu’ils ont réussi. La possibilité de ce certificat attire beaucoup d'apprentis vers un maitre qui fait parti d'un syndicat.
Si vous voulez installer un bureau du syndicat chez vous, allez aux affaires socials et les demander une liste des syndicats dans votre métier qui sont installé dans la préfecture. Meme si vous n’avez pas de certificat vous-meme, vous pouvez vous joindre à un syndicat pour le bénéfice de vos apprentis.