Friday, December 25, 2009
Today is Christmas and I'm celebrating by spending time on the internet and sitting in AC. Could be seen as anti-climatic but I'm successfully going with the flow today and enjoyed my fermented corn paste with tomato sauce this morning. Nathan and I are going to a Muslim Lebanese restaurant for lunch. I'm hoping for falafal! And did I mention it is already 100 degrees?! I guess that's Christmas in Togo! Yay for the folks arriving tomorrow!
So this posting is about a walk I took last week. Yes, a walk. Every Tuesday, Nathan and I bike or take a motorcycle to Siou, a town 8k from Pessare. There is a market every Tuesday and we have Togolese friends there. We go, charge our phones (yes, there is electricity there!), and have cold Cokes. Well, last week, I decided to walk. Women from Pessare walk there and back every week to sell and buy goods. No one has a bike and a moto is $1.50 each way...I only make $8/day. Now, I know you are thinking...well, you are in Peace Corps and you are supposed to be doing what the locals do. But it is much harder than you think! Why walk in the hot sun when you can be there in 10 minutes on a moto?! Because they walk. So given my previous experience with Crop Walk (thanks Mom and Dad for making me do it every year!), I decided when in Rome, do as the Romans. (Again, harder than you think. Did I mention the corn paste I ate this morning?! You know that doesn't sound good. But I'm doing it!) So, I asked a friend, Alia, if I could walk with her. And she was more than pleased to have the company! I made a list of everything I needed the night before...hat, sunscreen, water bottle, eye drops (dusty season), ibuprofen, camera. I was pretty confident I could do it. I was just worried about the heat. (Markets here are in the afternoon...do not ask me why...I have no idea. Seems like a bad idea to me. Maybe because they have so many chores in the morning?) But Alia agreed to start walking at 9am...a bit early for her, but she knew I was concerned about the heat. It came easily be 100 degrees at 9am. So I got to our meeting tree at 9am and she was nowhere to be found. I decided to walk to her house and once there learned she had walked to my house. Around 10am, we finally met at the tree and started walking. I convinced myself to be calm, not worry about the heat, and start walking. It's not like I couldn't have called Nathan at any point and had a moto sent. But ultimately there was no need. I had a GREAT time! We talked, visited with children and other women walking (men don't usually go to market), and she stopped often for me to drink water. I offered them some of my water but they all refused. Maybe they are just built to stand the heat?! Anyway, an hour and a half later, we made it! And I was just sweaty and thirsty...not sick or hurt. Success, huh?! I am really glad I did it. Makes me appreciate all the hard work Togolese women do for their families. I am truly humbled. Ultimately, I walked to better understand their daily work...And I am thankful to have had the opportunity. I think there are more Crop Walks in my future!
(The crowd in front of me...I had to stop to get the picture, so I got a bit behind)
Asher posing with the almost finished map.
Thursday, December 24, 2009
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
These guinea fowl eggs were a gift from a friend. They are a bit smaller than a chicken's egg and I have found the yolks to be a brighter yellow. I love when we have eggs...So many more cooking options. I made fried rice the other night with scrambled eggs...yummy. This is fresh ginger from a neighbor's garden. I think the picture makes the garlic look like extra fingers on my hand ;-)
Thursday, November 26, 2009
We're back in Kara for the day…enjoying a hot Thanksgiving by the pool
;-) We came in this morning and are spending time on the internet
before heading to the pool and the restaurant for a cheeseburger.
Some of our friends are coming in this morning as well so we are
excited to spend the day with them.
We have been very busy in village with gardening and teaching. As for
the garden, we've had some problems with pests but Nathan is working
hard on natural pesticides (hot peppers and tobacco) and we hope to
have radishes in the next couple of weeks. Plus my cabbages are doing
well and they should be ready when our parents arrive in late
I have been busy teaching at the middle school as the English teacher
has been away for a week and a half at a training. It is exhausting
to teach four classes a day! I tried to incorporate lots of creative
activities and the students seemed to enjoy the change in pace. Plus,
I led a couple of PTA meetings at the village schools concerning why
it is important to send girls to school. At the last meeting, I had
75 parents come! A record…plus I think they really enjoyed it. There
was lots of discussion about why girls have more domestic chores than
boys and thus less time to study. We made a list of all the daily
chores and the girls totaled 9 to the boys 4. The parents decided
they are too old to change their ways but they would try and more
equally distribute the chores between their children. The chief asked
if he could come by the house and have Nathan teach him how to do
laundry! I laughed so hard…but invited him over! We'll see ;-)
We are headed to Tsevie next week for the last week of training with
the trainees. They swear-in next Thursday. And I have a new dress!
I hope to post again to the blog as well as add video and pictures.
So check back in then! Hope all is well with everyone! XO
An example list of chores (I'm sure there are others!):
Pull water from the well (2x/day)
Wash dishes (3x/day)
Wash clothes (3x/week)
Buy goods at market (1x/week)
Sell goods at market (1x/week)
Harvest crops (daily if needed during the school year)
Take care of the younger children (daily)
Sell animals at market (1x/week)
Take animals to pasture (1x/day)
Feed chickens (2x/day)
Plant crops (during the summer…not the school year)
Thursday, November 5, 2009
I'm still in Lome and decided to check in with you all! All is going well here. I am exhausted and again, I can't say this enough, who knew it would be so hard to format a newsletter?! I need a good nights sleep! Here's the intro letter to our newsletter...
Welcome to our first issue of Perspectives. First of all, thanks to all who submitted an article. We have a lot of great things for you to read and enjoy. We would like to continue to improve Perspectives and better define its purpose. In addition to sharing gender-related projects, we hope to create a forum for dialogue about our experiences. We also want to provide a creative outlet. Be looking for the specific focus of our next issue through EMS (our mail system). However, in this issue you will find the following viewpoints:
· Work (projects volunteers are working on, such as a computer camp in this issue)
· Committee (update from the gender and development committee)
· Food (recipes! 3 Indian ones this time)
· Staff (an interview with a staff member...the Security Officer in this issue)
· Celestial (star charts!)
· Emotional and Creative (everything from poems to reflections to drawings)
We hope you enjoy. We welcome feedback and of course future submissions!
As you can see, we are having lots of fun with the articles. Tomorrow it's off to the printer (ie the copy machine in the PC office where double-sided copies must be fed manually...yuck). Hope all the volunteers enjoy reading it. And hope you have a good night...Sleep well! I'm off to bed!
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
I hope this post finds everyone well! I am in Lome for the week working on a GEE newsletter. I arrived yesterday and will be here until Saturday. I'm enjoying the AC though the work is much harder than I thought...who knew Publisher could be so difficult?! But we are pushing on and hope to be done by Friday! Keep your fingers crossed!
On Saturday, I'll meet Nathan in Kara where we'll spend the night. All of the new volunteers who are posted in the Kara region will be there for the evening. We plan on eating lots of guinea fowl, fried yams, and local salad. And maybe a beer ;-) It should be a fun evening!
I am busy at post conducting PTA meetings (APE - Association de Parents des Eleves) in order to better inform them about the GEE program. The teacher who went with me to the science training this summer is helping me lead them and translate everything into Kabiye. So far the parents have been very interested and receptive. I probably should have done this when I first arrived at post, but, hey, better late than never, right? Plus I have a woman make local beer for everyone afterwards...you've gotta get parents to the meeting somehow! hehe Think they could try this at your local school? Better attendance?!
I am also doing a Peer Educator Training. I have forty girls and boys at the middle school who are doing the training. I am the trainer, along with the four students who went to Camp UNITE this summer. We have four afternoon sessions, in which the students will learn about HIV/AIDS, self confidence, good communication, and gender equity. We're going to sing and play games as well. Plus they will all receive school supplies upon completion. We are one week in and will have another session this next Wednesday. So far I think they are enjoying it!
And of course, as you can see from the pictures, below I am staying busy cooking and gardening. Be sure to check out all the pics! I'm sorry I can't write more...Publisher is calling! Until the next time, take care. Miss and love!
Chocolate fudge for our friend Winah's 2nd birthday!
Spaghetti with garlic bread and homemade ricotta cheese.
All the girls by the well!
Nathan watering my cabbage - yep, I have a small section in the garden.
Friday, October 30, 2009
By Bob Shacochis
Adapted for my blog ;-)
When are you going to get out of school?
And I don't mean finish the degree, get a job, a life. I mean turn
your life upside down, expose it, raw, to the muddle. "Put out," as
the New Testament (Luke 5:4) would have it, "into deep water." A
headline in the New York Times on gardening delivers the same marching
orders: IF A PLANT'S ROOTS ARE TOO TIGHT, REPOT. Go amongst strangers
in strange lands. Learn to say clearly in an unpronounceable
language, "Please, I very much need a toilet. A doctor. Change for a
500,000 note. I very much need a friend."
If you want to know a man, the proverb goes, travel with him. If you
want to know yourself, travel alone. If you want to know your own
home, your own country, go make a home in another country (not Canada,
England, or most of Western Europe). Stop at a crossroads where the
light is surreal, nothing is familiar, the air smells like a nameless
spice, and the vibes are just plain alien, and stay long enough to
truly be there. Become an expat, a victim of self-inflicted exile for
a year or two.
Sink into an otherness that reflects a reverse image of yourself,
wherein lies your identity or lack of one. Teach English in Japan,
aquaculture in the South Pacific, accounting in Brazil. Join the
Peace Corps, work in the oil fields of Saudi Arabia, set up a fishing
camp on the beach of Uruguay, become a foreign correspondent, study
architecture in Istanbul.
And here's the point: Amid the fun, the risk, the discomfort, the
seduction in a fog of miscommunication, the servants and thieves, the
food, the disease, your new friends and enemies, the grand dance
between romance and disillusionment, you'll find out a few things you
thought you knew but didn't.
You'll learn to engage the world, not fear it, or at least not to be
paralyzed by your fear of it. You'll find out to your surprise, how
American you are – 100 percent, and you can never be anything but –
and that is worth knowing. You'll discover that going native is
self-deluding, a type of perversion. Whatever gender or race you are,
you'll find out how much you are eternally hated and conditionally
loved and thoroughly envied, based on the evidence of your passport.
You'll find out what you need to know to be an honest citizen of your
own country, patriotic or not, partisan or nonpartisan, active or
passive. And you'll understand in your survivor's heart that it's
best not to worry too much about making the world better. Worry about
not making it worse.
Sunday, October 4, 2009
Here is the elementary boys team captain along with the girls captain. Don't they look excited? hehe
Nathan and I are in Lome after finishing a week at the training site in Tsevie (a town in the southern part of Togo about an hour north of Lome). It is a different site than where we trained last year with the main difference being that it is large, with a long busy street full of motos and vendors. I think I would be overwhelmed as a new trainee by the size, but as I told them, enjoy the electricity and plentiful ice cream while you can! Village life awaits!
There are 20 new GEE volunteers and it was great to meet them all. This week we discussed teaching English in schools – something I know a little about ;-) Nathan was with 14 new NRM volunteers and they discussed gardening – something I’m learning a little about! As for training, we visited two schools and had several information/teaching sessions on the realities of schools in Togo and the problems that face schools. Everyone was really attentive and seemed excited about GEE. It was exciting to be around fresh enthusiasm! I am excited to see them again when they come to our village in late November. Nathan and I are hosting them for a day during their three-day field trip. They’ll get to see everything we’re doing. Plus I know they village will be pleased to host them. Stay tuned.
As for back in village, Nathan and I have started composting and began our “urban” garden. “Urban” in this case means in a dirt patch outside our front door and not out in the fields. I am planting two moringa saplings, hot peppers, carrots, dill, and parsley. Plus, later this month I am beginning my big garden. I had definitely romantized how easy gardening would be, but am busy reading the book How to Grow More Vegetables and am learning how much work awaits me. I have to actually build soil mounds? And measure spacing between seeds? Draw water from a well? Water the plants evenly with a heavy metal watering can? And water twice a day?! Yikes. But I’m sticking with it. And I plan to plant cantaloupe, watermelon, yellow squash, and cucumbers. Maybe our parents will get to taste some when they come in December?
All of this is in addition to Nathan’s gardening plans with village school girls…but I’ll let him keep you updated on that! I’ll tell him to put something on his blog soon ;-)
The other update for me is that Togolese schools are back in session. I attended several times two weeks ago (before training) to help organize students into classrooms and go over textbook and notebook requirements. I am not teaching my own class this year due to being out of village several times this fall for training in Tsevie. Plus I would like to concentrate more on doing “girls” related activities. That being said, I’m sure I’ll be a substitute teacher often enough and plan on doing group review sessions before big tests.
After two nights in Lome we are going to the PC retreat/training center in Pagala (mid-country). We’ll be there for three days for mid-service training. We are to come with one accomplishment and one challenge we’ve had to share with the group. I am secretly hoping they’ll throw us a big party for making it a year! ;-)
Thanks to my father’s encouragement, I now have a list of what I’ve learned and accomplished this past year…thanks Dad for the motivation!
To ride a motorcycle
To confidently ride my bike
To eat with my hands (politely)
To cook new meals using mostly ingredients from scratch
To teach in a formal school setting
To be ok without the internet (you really won’t die!)
Made new friends – Togolese and American
Having a dog (and loving it!)
To work in and with a new culture
To spend 24/7 with my husband (and yes, loving it!)
To appreciate cold drinks and AC
Gained lots of time to read, think, and dream
To live without running water and electricity (again, you won’t die)
To appreciate my friends and family back home!
Check out the pictures I've already posted...more to come! Tonight we’re planning on trying a new Chinese restaurant by the PC office…I’m hoping they’ll be something tasty on the menu I recognize. As always, thanks for all your love and support. Hugs to everyone!
Saturday, October 3, 2009
Monday, September 14, 2009
A view of the road and the green fields around it; the soccer fied that the children use; a view of a group of boys relaxing on a rock before they saw me and got up to dance; women carrying tchouk, the millet beer, on their heads to the weekly market; the classroom in which Sister teaches; people getting ready for the market
- While it was nice to have convenience stores and restaurants in Lome, Brad and I, like other visitors, found village life to be much more enjoyable. We went near the end of the rainy season, and the whole countryside was lush and green, with mountains rising in the distance and palm trees dotting the agricultural landscape. People are more traditional in their dress and behaviors in the village, and while we felt quite out of place with our pale skin and lack of French skills, villagers were extremely gracious and welcoming to us. Not only were we allowed to attend a wedding and reception, but we were also invited to two homes to eat meals and were greeted by multiple friends just stopping by the house to meet us. Brad and I also just enjoyed the slowness of life in Passare. While the roosters ensured that we awoke by 6, there was no hurry to go anywhere, and we spent lots of time enjoying Sister's cooking, Nathan's stories, reading, napping, and taking walks. Soon after the sun set, so did we.
- It was clear to Brad and me that the villagers appreciate Nathan and Sister just as much as they enjoy the villagers. The girls in the village just glowed whenever Sister described their micro-enterprise projects or mentioned that they were her students at the middle school. The men couldn't get enough of Nathan's jokes and clearly enjoyed spending time with him as he sat in the tchouk-drinking circles with them. It made Brad's and my visit much more enjoyable knowing that even though we were awkward Americans, Sister and Nathan were our hosts and therefore people in the village were happy to meet us. It's a truly different way of life, and they've really made Passare their home.
- The most exciting story to tell about our trip is the journey we took with Sister back to Lome. We each rode on the back of a different motorcycle for about 30 minutes before we got to the town where we would board a bush taxi to Lome. The taxi was a 15-passenger van, and we began by waiting for the driver and assistant to tie everyone's luggage onto the the top of the van. Brad got to sit in the passenger seat because of his height, while Sister and I sat next to each other in one of the backseats. We were continuously entertained by the mother and 1-year-old who sat beside me, the mother nursing her daughter about every 15 minutes (for 10 hours). Oh, and there was the live chicken they had brought with them who sat at our feet in a bag. Originally, there were about 15 of us in the van. However, within the first hour or so of travelling down the road, we accumulated literally 15 more people. Sister showed me how to grip onto the seat infront of me so she wouldn't be pushed off the seat, and she was responsible for buying our food whenever we stopped on the side of the road and purchased snacks from women through our window (we'd just pass things up to Brad at the front). Negatives: the body odor that sat infront of your nose every time the van stopped and having to sit for 10 hours. Positives that redeemed the trip: the wind blowing right on us from the window, the humor of the little girl sitting halfway in my lap and throwing her snacks at us, and the quality bonding time that I got to spend with my sister =) .
Sunday, September 6, 2009
1) Oprah - Sept 2009
Talks about a new book, "Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide" by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn who stress that "the key to economic progress in the world lies in unleashing women's potential." They offer two things to do to make a difference in women's lives: Support a women's business ("producing income she can use to feed her children and send them to school") and Keep a girl in school ("a girl who gets an education will have fewer children, earn more money, and be able to help her younger siblings"). We're working on both of those here...Not to toot our own horn, trust me I have many days where I don't feel like we do much, but it is nice to receive affirmation and support to keep doing projects here. So thanks for all your encouragement from back home!
2) National Geographic Adventure, Aug-Sept 2009
They have an article entitled "Grid Crashes: America's power supply is primed for an end of days blackout." Found it really funny, because in case any of you missed the memo, our village is OFF the grid already. But lucky for us, and you'll be glad to know, we are succesfully following the "How to Survive" guide...Check it out:
1 - Map the location of water sources (Got it - stream behind house, river 1/4 mile down the dirt path, 3 water pumps within a mile)
2 - Set buckets out to collect rainwater (Got it - 4 out at all times...though Nathan uses it to do laundry and wash dishes!)
3 - Boil or use bleach to treat water (Got it - Covered that the first day in Country and luckily we can filter as well!)
4 - Stock cheap canned goods (Got it - beans, peas, beans, and beans)
5 - Keep cash on hand (hmm...credit cards? what are those?!)
6 - Keep candles and batteries (Got it - but they forgot matches!)
7 - When dire, catch small animals to eat as a good source of protein (Got it - BUSHRAT!)
So I know you all are glad we're surviving. If the grid does crash in the US, call us! We got you covered! XOXO
We're back in Kara and on our way to Tsevie, the new training site for
volunteers. Nathan and I will be there for a week attending a
training on how to train the new volunteers. We're excited to do
something different for a week, but I already miss Asher ;-) He's at
Rachel's for the week. It's been rainy rainy here. I've included a
story I wrote last week. While this story is unique it is a good
glimpse of travel here. This morning, we drove through 50 cows (with
large horns!) on motorcycles. While I enjoy motorcycles and do find
them a great chance to watch the landscape and enjoy the beauty of
Togo, there are other times that I am on the motorcycle and wonder
"Where am I? What am I doing here?!!" You will understand better
after reading this....Enjoy!
Two days after Sarah and Brad departed in August, I left Lome for
village. All was going smoothly and according to plan, and I arrived
late afternoon in Niamtougou. If I have not mentioned it before (or
you forgot!), Niamtougou is a small town located on the national
"highway," about 20k from village. It is where Nathan and I pick up
our weekly mail. I got off the taxi in Niamtougou and began to look
for a motorcycle (we call them "motos") to take me to Pessare. This
should have been easy except the sky was grey and rain was on its way.
As much as I have tried over the last months to predict Togolese
weather, it is often impossible. Weather changes quickly and if you
plan for rain, it inevitably is hot and sunny. The opposite is true
when you plan for warm, clear days. Still, I was anxious to get back
to Nathan and Asher, so asked around for someone to drive me. There
are no cars and even if there was one, it wouldn't make it down the
road during rainy season. The first two drivers, or zeds, refused.
They were too nervous about the weather. In my mind, I was thinking,
"Come on, let's go quickly; we may get there before the rain comes!"
The third zed finally agreed and we left. I had on my rain jacket and
helmet (the zed had on just a t-shirt and baseball cap) and was
wearing my backpack. I had a large plastic bag with dog food for
Asher, sitting on the moto in front of the driver. Not five minutes
into the drive, it started raining. We persevered but quickly the
rain descended harder. I asked the zed if he wanted to stop, but he
said no, we were already wet, so we should just continue. The
difficulty soon proved not to be the rain, but that the ground was
already saturated and the dirt road quickly became, literally, a
river. We kept moving and at one point entered a deep gully (it was
impossible at times to tell how deep the water was) and the moto
stopped. I jumped off and waded to the side. The zed pushed the moto
out of the gully and discovered water had entered the exhaust pipe
(and maybe the engine? I think the motor flooded, but my French
vocabulary does not extend to auto parts so I couldn't have an
intellectual conversation with the zed about the problem.) At this
point sheets of rain were descending and there were only palm trees to
stand under. It goes without saying that I was completely soaked! (I
would have taken a picture, but that would have been stupid…wet
camera?!) I was taking deep breaths, saying prayers, and trying to
problem-solve rationally. The zed kept saying the moto would start
again soon but I knew better. I took off my helmet (my head soaked
now) and searched for my phone to call Nathan. He answered and
cheerfully asked where I was. I answered in a panicked,
hyperventilating voice, "I'm standing in the middles of a field, in
the pouring rain, beside a broken-down moto." (He later told me he
thought I said I was dying…hmm…not exactly…but…) Nathan immediately
said he's send another zed, but I was concerned the zed wouldn't be
able to make it. Nathan said no worries; he would call one and call
me back. In the meantime, I had seen a broken down car a ¼ mile back
and decided to walk towards it so I could get out of the rain. I told
the zed I was leaving, who looked at me like I was crazy. I grabbed
the dog food and started off. Within a moment, I was wading through
water pass my calves. I continued to take deep breaths and say
prayers. I arrived at the car and the man inside quickly let me in.
I apologized that I was wet but that was probably quite obvious and
beside the point. He was out of gas and was waiting on a zed to bring
him more. We introduced ourselves and I couldn't help but laugh; to
me the situation was unbelievable. He looked at me like I was crazy
(the second man of the day), but started laughing as well. Nathan
called back, said our zed-friend, Julian, was on his way and gave me a
pep talk: "This happens all the time to volunteers…Just think how
strong you are…Stay positive…You're almost home." In my mind, I was
thinking "Ok great. I'm stuck here all night. Or how long would it
take to walk 12k? Would I get home before dark? Or maybe I can sleep
in the car. Or maybe I can find a hut nearby and ask in my
non-existent Losso (the local language in the nearby village Konfaga)
to sleep on the floor. Maybe I can give them my bananas and guavas in
exchange?! Ok breathe in…breathe out." The original zed now arrived
at the car and has abandoned the moto. After about 20 minutes, Julian
arrived, from another direction, having attempted to avoid the most
washed out parts of the road. The rain has now slowed, and I paid the
original zed and thanked him for trying. I hopped on the back of
Julian's moto and off we went (albeit slowly). Night was quickly
falling and I was hoping we'd reach the house before dark. No such
luck. We went about 10k successfully, but arrived at a bridge that
had been overtaken by water. Julian and I decided I should hop off
and walk across while he waded the moto across. After a couple of
minutes, success! I hopped back on…only to jump off again a minute
later. The sandy road in front of us had disappeared, large rocks
were protruding, and huge potholes have been left. Not to mention the
fast flow of water all around us. I hop off again and start walking
all while Julian yelled at me "Go slowly! Slowly!" And then, I lost
my flip-flop. It started floating down the road, and I again started
laughing. Could this get any crazier? And did I mention that my
flip-flop is black rubber and it was dark outside? But Julian
actually jumped off the moto and went after it. And found it…and I'm
still laughing. We continued on like this for another ½ mile until
Julian decided it is safe for me to get back on. With his faint
headlight we continued the rest of the way to the house. Nathan was
on the "road" (now you know why it needs to be in quotes!) looking for
us. We gave Julian big hugs, thanked him a thousand times, paid him
extra, and encouraged him to get home safely. I collapsed on the
floor of the house. Nathan pasta sauce cooking and was boiling water
for a hot bucket bath. I can't say I ever completely relaxed that
night, but I was grateful to be home. I am not sure what I would have
done differently but I am thankful for a calm and clear-thinking
husband and our friend Julian who came to help and got me home safely.
Sometimes I think I learn more about myself in experiences like these
than in the "work" I am here to complete. But maybe an overall lesson
for life in Africa is that life is seldom easy, but it's possible to
see the positive (laughing!) and come out stronger on the other side.
Or as the Togolese often say "Today is today."