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).

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