28 January 2010

The mouse who wanted to be a student

The mouse who wanted to be a student
Once upon a time there lived a little gray mouse in a little red house owned by an old schoolmaster. She was very content in her warm little kitchen gathering all the crumbs she could eat. But one day she decided to explore. She ventured all the way to the classroom attached to the house. There she found the old schoolmaster teaching a group of students. She was astonished looking at all the little boys and girls bent over their desks. They were reading their lessons so carefully, their eyes never leaving the open page.
The little gray mouse went to see her grandmother to find ou more about this school. Her grandmother told her little human children learn to use symbols so they can learn more about things, people, and places far away. But they have to be very clever to learn so much.
The little gray mouse was very brave and daring. She said to herself, "These girls and boys who come to the school are not more clever than me! If I want to I could be a very good student."
The next morning as soon as the sun rose, the little gray mouse went to the classroom, her snout pointed high in the air, searching for knowledge. She looked at the shape of the letters on the blackboard and practiced saying the names for them she had heard from the children. After fifteen days, working at dawn and dusk when the humans were gone but there was just enough light to read by, the mouse had learned all the letters of the alphabet. And by the end of the year, the little animal read as well as you or me.
Perhaps better.

How the animals got their skeletons

How the animals got their skeletons

At the very beginning of the world, Mawu created all the animals without skeletons. Because they had no bones all the animals moved and looked like colorful blobs, crawling as best they could on the land. Seeing that animals needed bones, Mawu sent down a blacksmith to forge skeletons for all the animals. The name of the blacksmith was Atofe. Atofe looked carefully at each animal and built them skeletons of all shapes and sizes and uses so that each animal would be different and special. From the rising of the sun to the rising of the moon, the animals crowded on the path to the blacksmith's shop. Some even spent the night outside his house hoping to be the first to receive a skeleton the next morning.
Snake was one of the first to get a skeleton. As he slithered away, he met his friend on the path and asked him "Why aren't you in the line to get a skeleton at the blacksmith's shop. He won't be here forever you know!"
The friend replied "Don't worry about me. I will have my skeleton when the time is right. Maybe tomorrow. The blacksmith is my uncle, he will not forget me."
Several weeks passed and Lion, Giraffe, Elephant and Lizard walked away proud and strong with their new skeletons. Only a few animals were still waiting in front of the blacksmith shop.
But when Snake met his friend again, he saw that he still didn't have his skeleton. "My friend! Why don't you have your skeleton yet?" he asked.
"My friend, don't worry about me. I will have my skeleton when the time is right. Maybe tomorrow. The blacksmith is my uncle, he will not forget me."
A few weeks later, the blacksmith fell sick. His nephew, the Snake's friend, came to visit him but the blacksmith was too weak to lift his hammer and forge a skeleton. Soon after, the blacksmith died.
The Snake met his friend on the path again. "My friend, you don't have a skeleton!" he cried, surprised.
The friend was so ashamed his whole body turned pink and he fled to hide in the ground. It is from this day that the Snake's friend was called the Earthworm because he has no skeleton and lives hidden in the earth.
From this story, we learn that if you put it off until tomorrow, you may lose your chance.
Celui qui attend pour demain
Va le perdre en chemin

26 January 2010

Visite du chef

26 January 2010
I've just arrived at the chief's house for our expedition to Afedome - a small village that is part of the Mission Tové canton. We were supposed to leave at 7 am. This is impossible as it is 7 am and there is no car here. The chief isn't even dressed. As I arrived into the little private paillote in the inner courtyard of his house, I glimpsed him through the window - naked to the waist (possibly further, but thankfully that's all I could see). He saw me as well and grinned sheepishly.
We left at about 730, not bad considering they had to reinflate two of the four tires. A fact that made the chief both giggle and fume - he just bought the tires in Ghana last week!

We took a really tiny winding path out to this tiny village. The path would have been tiny and winding on my bike - in the car we just crushed everything for several feet on either side. I lost track of the turning early one, but I'll try to be more observant on the return trip.
We are not sitting at an itsy-bitsy primary school. There are only twelve students. It's just two paillotes. It looks like they have more bancs than pupils!

This meeting is being conducted entirely in Ewe. Occasionally Togbui (the Chief) explains a bit to me in French. He's very disappointed at the number of people who have shown up.
Apparently each quartier has created a village. The Chief wanted to bring me ot the village from his quartier - a bit of admitted nepotism.
The kids seem kinda shell-shocked. They aren't tittering or getting excited about seeing a yovo in the way I've gotten used to. I took a couple photos and then shook each of their hands to try to entice them into reacting. It was fun. Now they're smiling a little.
The breeze is cool, the sky a familiar Edinburgh gray, which is slightly confusing in contrast to the red earth and bright green farmland. The gray skiy of Edinburgh seemed a natural extension of its stone buildings and black tarred streets. The brightest spots of colour were the Lothian buses in fire-engine red. I wonder if the gray skies here will burn off into a hot day or actually deliver their promise of cooling, life-giving rain. Probably the former, but I'm still hoping.

24 January 2010

Le premier pas

24 January 2010
One of the men that I've been helping over the past year is currently preparing to be married. Koffi is a Baptist pastor. His father died when he was a toddler and his family didn't value education so he left school before getting to high school. Somehow, though, he continued studying and learning and speaks very good French and reads and writes English pretty well. I have been helping him to correspond with a couple in the states that have chosen to support him with his work with his church, especially with the poor and orphaned children. It's an interesting position to be in; I don't really feel it is my purpose or desire to fundraise for local churches, but I really like Koffi and I know he uses the money well.
Most recently, they received some money and Koffi decided to forego the holiday party (complete with a rented sound system and generator) to instead pay the remaining school fees of the children in his church, many of whom had just been suspended for not paying their annual fee of 3,500 CFA (about 8 dollars).
Anyway, he's a good guy with priorities I agree with, so it's particularly exciting for me that I'll be here for his wedding! The marriage isn't arrange, but there are still lots of family customs to observe. Koffi and Akou have already agreed they would like to marry. Now Koffi needs to send a couple highly-respected family members to the house of Akou's family to introduce him and the idea of marriage. If the family is welcoming to these guests, Koffi himself will go to visit, bringing along three bottles: one soft drink, one bottle of gin, and one bottle of sodabe (local gin distilled from palm wine). The parents will see Koffi, then leave him waiting alone outside the house while they seek out the daughter, Akou, to ask her if they should accept the bottles (and thereby accept the proposal). At this point, we hope everything will go according to plan - Koffi and Akou have already spoken to each other and should want the same thing. IF successful, Koffi will then wait around for another while, waiting for the parents to put together the list for the "dote" or dowry.
The contents of a dowry are very different depending on the family. It is interesting, though, that it's the groom that provides the dowry, no? Most dowries will include more bottles of alcohol, several outfits for the wife - pieces of cloth with matching headscarves, shoes and jewelry-, and a sum of money. It'll be interesting to see what Koffi will have to provide!
The groom has to gather the dowry and return to hand it over before further wedding plans can go ahead.
I'm going with him to visit the family, lending foreigner prestige and my digital camera to record the event! I'm looking forward to an adventure.

21 January 2010

Correspondance Match 14 January 2010

Dear classes,
14 January 2010

I received all your beautiful Christmas cards last week. Thank you so much! It's so exciting to get mail from the U.S.
I celebrated New Year in Togo's capital city, Lome, with a couple of volunteer friends. We went to restaurant where we can get steak, a very rare treat. It was a fun and low-key way to ring out the 'noughts'. This year will be my 10 year reunion for La Reina! Yikes! Is this a big year for any of you? An important birthday or anniversary?
I'm so excited to hear about your puppet shows on African stories. Here are a couple useful phrases in Ewe, just for fun.
E fo a? (Eh fohwa?) How are you?
E, me fo (Ay meh foh) I'm fine
Me lo wo (Me low woh) I love you
Yo (Yohhh) Ok
Akpe kaka (Ackbeh kah kah) Thank you very much

That's fun the hear about another alumn in West Africa - we're pretty well-represented in Peace Corps. It's all the good community service, independence and idealism we got from our education. There is a volunteer in Togo now who transferred from Mauritania, I wonder if they know each other. I'm not sure if I've mentioned it before, but I'm hoping to extend my service and stay for a third year in Togo to focus more on Camp UNITE and the Karren Waid Scholarship program (We've started fundraising for Camp UNITE this year already - if any of the students' parents are interested in contributing, they can do so through the UNITE Foundation at http://unitefoundation.org/UNITE_Foundation/Home.html.)

And now on to the questions. Toys.

Kids here don't really have toys like in the U.S. They play sports and hand-clapping games when they get to about school-age. I've seen some kids with little dolls. They also use old bicycle wheels for hoops - and push them with sticks, trying to keep them upright and rolling as long as possible. I give them used tuna and tomato paste cans to the kids next door and they make little car-like pull-toys out of them. The way their faces light up when I hand them a piece of what I'd consider trash really brings the idea of reusing and recycling home. I'll try to take some photos of kids with their toys and send them to you.

I will put together a couple pictures of Odysseus - he's so big now compared to what a tiny kitten he was! He's the fattest cat in the village - not had to do since all the other cats live only on a scavenger diet of mice and whatever leftovers humans throw to them. My cat gets cat food. What a luxury!

Swine flu. There have been some cases of bird flu here, but no swine flu yet. You are right to be woried, though, the health system in Togo is not up to handling a big number of swine flu cases, keep most Togolese do not have enough money to pay to go to hospital and therefore tend to buy "Miracle Tonics" or expired medicine available at the local market without even seeing a doctor to be diagnosed.
There are a couple other factors that would also make swine flu a big threat in Togo.
Malaria. Mosquitos in Togo carry the deadliest kind of malaria - it weakens the body and symptoms are pretty close to swine flu, so people night mis-diagnose themselves and not get the right medication.
HIV. The official percentage of people in Togo is around 6%, but I'm sure the actual percentage is higher. I personally know and work with three people who have revealed to me that they are HIV positive. Luckily all of these men earn enough money to buy and take medication so they are still quite healthy. But HIV destroys the immune system, making seropositive people extremely vulnerable to other diseases - even a simple cold can turn deadly in someone with a defunct immune system. Swine flu would be devastating.

Hmm that last response was a little bit sad and worrying so let me leave you with a fun and nice story.
I took care of my friends' cat Mignon (it means cute in French) while they were in the U.S. for Christmas. They live in Tsevie, which is about 20km from my village. I decided to bike over to feed the cat. I've biked a couple times before - it's a dirt road and mostly uphill on the way there, but it only takes me just over an hour. I packed my bags the night before and got up early to leave the house by 630, so I wouldn't get caught in the sun.
What I didn't count on was the mist - it's so humid here that when the sun goes down and the temperature drops - a low-lying fog settles heavily over the village. It was a pea-soup fog that morning - I could only see a few meters in front of me. Soon I was drenched with dew. It was nice and cool, but I think it actually weighed my bags down so biking was harder!
I turned a corner, waving to a couple kids getting water from the river when all of a sudden, a herd of cows swam out of the fog in front of me. I let out an involuntary yelp and quickly squeezed to the side of the road, trying not to run over ladies with heavy bowls of water on their heads. I moved quickly - those cows had big sharp horns and regardless of how big and placid their eyes looked and their peaceful grass-munching, I still have a hard time feeling easy around something that much bigger than me! Unfortunately I didn't get any pictures (I try not to bring my expensive gadgets on bike rides - just in case).

09 January 2010

Goloto the Spider and the Princess

Goloto the Spider and the Princess
Goloto l’Araignee et la Princesse
Yivi Golotoe kple Fiavi la

The sovereign of the watsi kingdom had a daughter, a daughter who was very beautiful but also very haughty. Seda was her name. Despite her fragile health (she vomited up even the smallest morsel that landed in her stomach, so she ate nothing that wasn’t made of either honey or bread), this princess saw herself as too dazzling to tend the cookfire of any ordinary household so she turned her nose up at all the rich men who came around to speak to her of love and marriage. But, you know it well, many proud women have fallen because of their bad choices.
In the lands of the king lived a spider-man called Goloto. The tales of the beauty of this girl echoed all the way out to him, and he waited with great anticipation for an opportunity to meet her and trick her into marrying him with a clever trap.
One night, Goloto the Spider was on the roof of his hut, covering it with new straw, when he saw Seda. She was on her way to her aunt’s house just a few streets away. Goloto the Spider quickly jumped off the roof, ran to get in front of her, splashing honey on all the grasses along the path. He left the empty gourd nestled in a little bush and hid himself nearby.
When she arrived at the path, Seda the Princess was surrounded by the scent of honey and thought she’d been transported to the heavenly kingdom of bees. She stopped, took a deep breath of the perfumed air, then set about licking the delicious leaves all around the path. In her joy, she thought the leaves smiled and beckoned to her. She made her way up the path until she reached the empty gourd. She noticed a few droplets of honey still on the bottom and reached out her hand to pick it up. She had barely touched it when Goloto the Spier bounded out, grabbed her and began clamoring to have his honey back.
The princess bowed her head in confusion, tears stained her white flowered dress. She begged Goloto the Spider and promised to exchange the honey she’d eaten for her jewelry, but Goloto the Spider refused all her proposals.
“Since you do not have my honey to give back to me,” he said to the princess, “the only thing to do is to marry me, to prevent me from going throughout the kingdom crying out that the king’s Beauty stole my honey.”
Now, as you know, being a thief is a very serious offense. But it was even more serious in the princess’s kingdom. If she were accused of theft, she would be beaten and then banished forever, sent far away from her beloved father and forced to live on her own.
So, hearing the words of Goloto the Spider, Seda through herself into the arms of Goloto the Spider and became his wife. The two new lovers then walked arm in arm to the doors of the palace where Seda went to her knees before the man and begged him not to accompany her further. Goloto the Spider said nothing.
He waited in front of the house for hours, but the princess didn’t come back. Unable to wait any longer, because soon the sun would set, he went in to find her in the palace.
“Ooh!” she said with disdain on seeing him, “I told you to wait for me on the doorstep, no? I will come see you! Why are you here?”
“Do you want to be quiet?” grumbled Goloto the Spider angrily, “or perhaps, do you want me to go shout your crime from the rooftops?”
Seda was quiet. She already knew just what the Spider was capable of.
This skinny tyrant became all chubby during the three months spent in the palace, under the princess’ bed, where he hid every time a servant came to attend to his companion. Seda’s pride waned like a crescent moon while her belly waxed to fullness. Once Seda’s pregnancy was obvious, Goloto the Spider disappeared from the palace.
The king had the great gong rung, demanding the father of the Seda’s baby to present himself, but no one came forward. The princess herself, ashamed of her proud beauty now sullied by Goloto the Spider, was always in tears and now only opened her mouth to eat her bread and honey.
Finally, she gave birth to a boy. They announced the news to all of the village but still the father did not come forward. The child grew to three years of age. The king, still obsessed with knowing the father of the child, gathered all of his subjects and ordered his grandson to tour the assembly to show him his father.
Could you guess that, in that huge crowd, the child would go nestle up between the legs of Goloto the Spider? A thunder of applause mixed with cries of shock and horror spread through the huge crowd for a long time. And the king left the boy in the care of his father that night, reminding his subjects of the old Mina proverb:
“No matter where or how far away a prince lives, he always belongs to the king.”
But young girls’ should heed the lesson that if they’re too picky they could end up with Goloto the Spider for a mate.

08 January 2010


8 January 2010

The dry season has just begun. We won’t start getting rain until April, maybe a few showers in early March.
My cistern has one foot of muddy, buggy water left in it.
This is not good.
So what are my options?

1. My landlord will let me use his cistern. He’s stopped selling water from it because he’s also worried about the water lasting through the dry season.

2. After his cistern, our next option is the pump. There is one pump in M. T. (a town of approximately 20,000 people) and it is frequently “out of order.” I put the quotes because most villagers believe that the Chief deliberately has the pump sabotaged in his desire to get villagers to continually pay him for repairs. I don’t know the validity of this belief.

3. After the pump, there is the river. The generous river that gives rice to the village. The river is already a source of water for most of K. When I bike by on my way to Tsevie, I see children bring huge bowls of water on their heads to their homes, women washing clothes, even young men washing their motos in the river Zio.
I’m pretty sure that my bout of amoebiasis is due to eating at a fufu bar in K. In the process of making fufu, one has to add water to help keep the mortar wet so the fufu doesn’t stick too much as it’s being pounded. The water definitely wasn’t treated and almost certainly came from the river. It was very silly for me to eat fufu from the bar in the first place, but it also simply confirms my fears about the dirtiness of the river water.

In the States or the UK, in the majority of places, certainly everywhere I’ve lived, I didn’t think about the water. It came out of a tap and I drank, cooked, washed myself and my clothes and flushed my toilet with it.
Water here is a process, a fairly laborious process – and that’s with a cistern right outside my house.

First I get water from my cistern. I usually get four buckets in one go, perhaps every third day. I bring them inside to fill my big bucket.

I like to let the water settle for at least an hour or two before using it – so that most of the heavier muddy particles will go to the bottom. If I’m going to drink it, I put two bowlfuls into a large pot, bring it to a rolling boil, let it boil for a full minutes, then leave it to cool for about 12 hours.

Finally I pour it into my filter and collect it in large 1.5 liter water bottles. Over a few weeks, the filter candles get dirty and filtering get slower, so I clean the whole contraption.

If the water is for washing – myself, my dishes, or my clothes, I pour it through a pagne to catch the biggest particles.

I use about three bowlfuls (or 10 liters) for a shower – four if I’m washing my hair. I usually take two showers a day. I stand in a basin and use a big dipper to pour water over my head to lather up and rinse.

After my “shower” I pour the water from the basin into the bucket next to my toilet. I use this bucket to flush my toilet as there’s (obviously) no running water. To wash my hands I use a little cup that I poked holes into, fill the cup and let it run out, on my hands. Run-off hand-washing water also goes into the toilet bucket.

I have no dishwasher except my own two hands. I use one bucket for washing, one for rinsing, and a third bucket as a strainer – it’s a fruit basket-type thing, so has little holes for draining.

The wash water goes right into my compost heap, as long as I haven’t used a harsh soap. The rinse water I either reuse as wash water or add to my toilet bucket.
I estimate that I use between 30 and 50 liters of water a day, including the 3-4 liters a day that I drink. That sounds like a lot, but it’s only 7 – 13 gallons

Average (American) use according to enotes: 123 gallons (466 liters) http://www.enotes.com/science-fact-finder/energy/how-much-water-does-an-average-person-use-each-day

According to http://ga.water.usgs.gov/edu/qahome.html#HDR3; about 80-100

I thought I was water-conscious before in drought-prone southern California. Hardly!

06 January 2010

6 January 2010

6 January 2010

I am home sick from school today which is probably for the best. Yesterday I felt like a cranky 10-year-old “But I don’ wanna go back to school!” I’ve been having tummy troubles since before Christmas. I was on a course of antibiotics but it seems that the little bugs survived and are still hanging around. (I had dysentery - like real-life Oregon Trail!)
So what are my recent updates?
I got my LSAT score and I’m not happy with it, so I’m considering taking it again, but I really don’t want to take it in Africa again. The month leading up to the test was probably my second-most stressfull month in Togo (after my first month arriving here). So I went into the test having cried four times in the previous 48 hours. Not ideal circumstances.
It also encourages me to look more carefully at whether I really want to be a lawyer. Whether I could do the amazing world-changing stuff I want to do without a JD.
I’m going to work my way through What Color is Your Parachute by Richard N. Bolles Again, really putting in a lot of effort to do the research and figure out my dream job. Should be fun.
The plan to extend my time in Togo is still looking like a good option. I’m really looking forward to being able to leave behind the daily obligations of village work to focus intensely on my national projects. Right now I feel I’m pulled in five directions at once and no one I work with is satisfied with the amount of time I can dedicate to their specific project. My academic life was similar, I was taking a huge course load and I was involved in leadership positions in three different clubs as well as holding a 15 hour/week job and acting in theatrical productions. My work quality and grades didn’t suffer, but I don’t feel that I developed strong personal relationships with my professors, which is a lack I feel particularly keenly now that I’m considering going back to university.
My national projects are going well. Camp UNITE has been a great learning experience for NGO development. We made a mistake that I’m sure many new NGO’s make - starting out with a team that’s simply too big. This is especially a problem as a core part of our sustainability initiative means that we want to adequately compensate the coordinating team for their time and effort in planning and administering the camps. With a 6-member team (plus the 4 Peace Corps volunteers who don’t get ‘compensation’) even a small amount starts to get huge. At our last meeting we decided to have less frequent meetings and do more work individually and in small groups. I’m on the submitting grant proposals and writing follow-up reports team, which I like. It make me feel good to be a representative of Camp UNITE to external agences. The initial proposal was written up by a Togolese team member, but this week I need to revise it and present it to the American Embassy with Monsieur A, the President of the Camp UNITE-administering consortium of NGOs.
Monsieur A’s NGO PAHCS is also the NGO taking over administration of the Karren Waid Scholarship Program. This is a neat bit for my national projects and means that I have a perfect contact for setting up a third-year move to a different site - to be closer to PAHCS. Of course, I will have to be careful not to step on the toes of the new volunteer currently assigned to PAHCS, which is why I hope to live in the closest big town rather than in the same village. We had a very exciting development in the Karren Waid scholarship program. One of Karren’s relatives who we’d been trying and failing to contact recently found my blog through an internet search and has agreed to join the board of directors for the US-based foundation that will support and raise funds for the scholarships in country. Not having direct support and contact with the Waid family was worrying me so I am very happy that we have been able to establish this relationship.