Friday, January 30, 2009


Hi Everyone!

I find myself in Kara once again.  I hope everyone is well.  I am here for Club Espoir – a club that meets once per month for children affected by AIDS.  The children have AIDS or their parents do.  The children come for four hours on a Saturday morning and it is a chance for them to relax and have a good time.  We feed them twice and they see a doctor one-on-one.  Plus there are lots of games!  This is my first time participating and it is tomorrow morning.  I'm looking forward to it!  I'll have to let you know how it goes.


Nathan is staying in village since he was so recently in Lome.  He is going to work in the garden and keep busy with Asher.  Asher is doing well and getting bigger by the day.  He no longer cries when we leave him and he is responding to his name.  He loves to go to Pierre's house and play with his brother, Beepo.  They love to dig in the dirt and chase the chickens.  We're bathing him every other day.  He sleeps in the house with us – he shivers every night because it gets so cold (70 degrees) – in the dirty laundry basket.  Nathan takes him for a walk every night around 5pm around the fields.  I have become efficient in buying smoked fish heads and cutting out the spine before giving them to Asher – it's his favorite treat!  He also eats boiled eggs, foufou with spicy sauce, tofu, and popcorn.  He refuses oatmeal and peanuts.  Little by little we're figuring the food out – and hoping he'll become less picky.  We do feel like parents now – maybe this is good practice?!  Nathan is the disciplinarian and I am the spoiler - something we probably need to negotiate on before having kids! Nathan is already upset that Asher doesn't run to him first!  Hopefully they'll get some good quality bonding time this weekend!


English teaching has been going well.  I am still figuring out what they know and what I just assume they know.  The other day I drew a map of Africa on flip chart and took it to class.  I asked a boy to come up and point to Togo – he couldn't!  No, even with the country drawn and labeled, he had no idea where it was in Africa.  There are no maps at the school, so I guess I shouldn't be so surprised.  There is a Peace Corps project called World Maps in which volunteers can paint maps on the side of school buildings.  It costs about $100 for all the paint and supplies.  We have a handbook complete with how to chart it out on a wall.  You may be hearing more about this later – sounds like something we definitely need to do!  Maybe this summer after the rains?!


I did a special lesson on Obama the day of the election in English class.  The children loved it!

I took lots of pictures and maps of the US and Africa (Kenya!).  We talked about slavery and the Civil Rights Movement and how important it is that African Americans have equal rights with white Americans.  I showed them a picture of Obama's grandmother in Kenya out in the fields wearing clothes their grandmother wears.  They really identified with the story.  They sat in awe and were truly inspired.  It was an amazing class.  They were not thinking of what Obama can do for them – not at all.  They were thinking – Wow, I can dream big too!  One of their kids could one day be the President of the US!


Girls club is moving slowly.  It was cancelled for two weeks because of a school-wide soccer tournament.  This past week no one came.  It was started by the last volunteer and has fizzled a bit.  I am taking a respite from it and meeting next week with the club officers.  We are going to talk about a good day, a good hour, and what exactly they'd be interested in learning (health, small commerce, gender equity, family life, self confidence, etc.).  I want to start again – fresh and strong! 


While Nathan was in Lome, I went to a village festival called Habiye.  It is an initiation of men into traditional manhood.  Pierre's sons are not participating, because the Catholic church condones it.  The boys paint themselves entirely with mud and dance around the village with drums.  They also eat raw (and sometime live) snakes and frogs.  They rake machetes across their bodies and walk with bowls of fire on their heads.  I'm sure the initiation involves more about the Kabiye culture – I just don't know what.  It was on top of a nearby mountain and the scenery was beautiful – it was worth going just for that!  No pictures because Nathan had the camera in Lome.  But we'll be sure to go again next year – Nathan is sorry he missed it.


Random Thought:

I recently read the book "Mango Elephants in the Sun" by Susana Herrera.  She was a Peace Corps volunteer in Cameroon in the 1990s.  She has a conversation with her village about life in America – both the positives and the negatives.  She told them about washing machines, grocery stores, and hot showers, along with drug abuse, domestic violence, and homelessness.  There is no concept of homelessness in Cameroon or Togo.  Everyone lives with someone, as families are so connected and large.  People often call someone their "sister" or "brother" when there is no blood connection.  People take care of people.  The villagers were astounded when Susana told them about homelessness in America.  Here are two quotes:

"I think your country shouldn't kill chickens for people until the homeless have a home."

"And no one should have a machine that washes dishes until everyone has a place to sleep."

It obviously stood out to me because of my previous work in Boston.  I know the issues are complicated but the moral of the story for me is that in some ways people here are much richer than Americans!


Nathan is currently working on:

  • planting a garden by an old well that includes tomatoes, onions, and hot peppers
  • planting 1000 trees by the end of February
  • building a solar dryer for excess fruit
  • building improved cook stoves for village women (less wood, quicker cooking time)
  • working with rabbits - 2 are to have babies this weekend!
  • making his wife "village margaritas" – he is trying to keep me sane ;-)

I have still been biking and can feel the muscles in my legs everyday.  They are tired today!  I taught school this morning and on my way back to the house, before leaving for Kara, I was so excited just thinking – Yay, no biking tomorrow!  I'm enjoying the brief respite.  I went to the "grocery store" earlier and had a cold coke.  I'm off for an ice cream soon!  Much love to everyone!!  I will try to get to emails! xo

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