I hope this post finds everyone well. I continue to miss you all!
Post visit went really well. I took great notes in my journal all week, so I'll relate some of them here.
Like my mom posted earlier, our house is a compound of five huts. It is gorgeous, clean, and has tons of space! It was built originally by the Germans in 2001 but has been updated in the last two months for our arrival. It has been completed cleaned, has new doors and new locks, and a new toilet. It is a latrine but we have a toilet seat. Since it's our own private toilet, we'll keep it clean! The bathing area has no roof. While it is chilly to bathe at night, it is beautiful to see all the stars. There is absolutely NO light pollution. (There is no electricity!) We have an extra hut just for you all to come and visit and have your own room! I'm already planning the décor ;-)
The best way to describe the house is to say that it is like an American retreat center. It is an agricultural center financially supported by the French, German, and Chinese. The director, Pierre, is Nathan's counterpart/homologue. He has technical trainings at the center; a kind of capacity building for Togolese farmers. There are dorms and meeting spaces and is isolated from the rest of the village. They do many kinds of agricultural practices – raise bees, raise rabbits, plow with cows, grow various trees, etc. People come, stay, and learn. Nathan will be assisting with these trainings, hopefully offering extra support and resources. Pierre created a website in 2004 but there is no internet, so it's never been updated. Or all the chickens were recently killed due to the Avian flu. So while Pierre knows what he's doing, he is always open to extra support (ie help him work on the website in the regional capital at in internet café or introduce better sanitary practices for the chickens). Pierre did not graduate college but is super motivated and passionate. He is from the village and finds it his calling to help his ethnic group, Kabye (the language I am learning), learn better agricultural practices. The mission statement is basically to better the health of the villagers and thus better the village.
So one of the dorm areas has now become our home. Pierre also lives at the center, with a house of the same floor plan. Pierre's wife is named Rachel and they have five children – Reine, Kevine, Maggie, Arnold, and Joel. They are all super sweet but a little scared of Nathan and I – who are these white people now living with us?!!! I know they'll warm up to me ;-)
We ate dinner with Pierre's family every night and it was my first time eating with my hands. It is much different than my host family at the training site. At the training site, the families are trained to transition us slowly – here at village, "Welcome to the real Togo!" The first night the adults all ate out of the same bowl with our right hand. I think I did pretty well! The children sat on the floor around us using flashlights to do their homework. They ate after we were done – different bowl, and there was plenty of food. Not a lot of meat, maybe two small bites per person, but lots of sauce, greens, and rice/couscous/corn.
The village is very excited for us to be here and gave us a party – "fete" – yesterday. There was much dancing, drumming, and drinking alcohol. As Nathan says, the Christians make up for all the non-drinking Muslims in Africa. Our village is Christian though it seems most of the families are polygamous. I will do more research upon my return! All I know is that I drank the local alcohol "tchouk" – sans fermentation- everyday. I laughed the first day when they offered me the "real" stuff at 7am in the morning. I seriously thought it was a joke, realized I offended them, and am now relegated to the non-alcoholic drink. It is made from millet and tastes a bit like apple cider and is very sweet. Back to the fete – they gave us our local names. Nathan and I are twins now – yes, twins, because we were born into the village at the same time. Thus, we are twins. This does not translate to an American understanding of twins. So my name is "girl twin" and Nathan is "boy twin." In this ethnic group, all the twins have the same name. So I am Naca (like the a's in papa) and Nathan is Toy – whatever, I think! Haha I'm still figuring out how they pronounce it. But I will definitely use that name in village and will hopefully help with my integration!
We also went to visit the middle school and met the three teachers. There are five elementary schools in our area, one middle school, and no high schools. The students must travel approximately 10 miles to the closest high school. If I had to walk 20 miles every day to school, I might quit too L There was a parent/teacher meeting and many parents came. Nathan and I were introduced to everyone and I felt honored that they all came to meet us. Of course they served tchouk – that might be why they came as well!
Nathan did laundry twice while we were there. It was nice to do our own laundry. We wash it in buckets with powder soap. You rub the clothing against itself to wash it. In the training site, my host mother helps me and sets the day and time. I look forward to coming up with my own schedule at post!
The closest neighbor to our house is a five minute bike ride. I biked a lot this week. I think I did pretty well – Nathan got frustrated with me some, especially because I am still rather slow – due to a lack confidence – and have the desire to walk more than ride. Plus, it is hard to pedal on dirt and rocks – at least in my opinion! But it is one of my goals to become a more confident and fit bike rider. I biked five miles one day – felt like a far distance to me!! I will keep you updated!
We are going to get a dog, in fact one might be waiting for us upon our arrival back at post in December. We are somewhat isolated and would feel safer with one. When one of us is away, the other will sleep with Pierre's family. I've never had a dog, but am excited. We want a male and will get him vaccinated. We are going to buy a food and water bowl, as well as a flea collar. I'm beginning to think of names!
The cows are also still in the picture. A bit pricier than we first thought - $300 for a female, age 3, ready to work. But it is one of Nathan's goals! I'll keep you updated!
The weather continues to be hot, but the cold season is arriving. Still not exactly sure what "cold" means but the nights are starting to cool off nicely. The hot season comes in March. Again, not sure what "hot" means, but I'm sure I'll let you know that as well!
Yay Obama! We listened to the election on our shortwave radio on the BBC channel. Everyone here is very excited – and can't believe a black man like them is now president of America! We are very excited! Send me news clippings – and I need pics of all the inauguration dresses ;-)
Ok, so no pictures today. I will try again soon! I have taken lots! Many of you requested them and I promise I am trying. Thanks for your patience!
Thanks for all the letters and mail. I cried today when reading all the emails. I really appreciate it all. Please continue to send me updates. I promise after December, my updates will become more frequent. Love and miss!