Thursday, June 25, 2009

Our Favorite Recipe

Ok, folks, I know the following recipe is not healthy - who knows how many preservatives, additives, and salts there are!  But we have little to work with - trust me - and I have spent countless hours trying to think of possible dinners.  However my repertoire is growing.  And this one is quite tasty and a comfort after a long day.  So here comes one of our new "old standbys."  If you visit, I'll make it for you!
Mexican Couscous with Chicken
(I am taking liberties with title, as you will soon see!)
1 cup water
1 cup dry couscous
1 small can of tomato paste
1 small can of condensed milk
1 can of chicken hot dogs, water drained
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 packet of Taco seasoning
1 large onion
2 habanero peppers
2 cloves of garlic
2 medium tomatoes, soaked first in bleach
Mrs. Dash "extra spicy" seasoning
1 wheel of VQR (non-refrigerated Laughing Cow cheese)
1. Boil the water in a pot and add the tomato paste and half a packet of Taco seasoning.  Bring back to a boil and add the couscous.  Stir.  Turn off the heat and cover.
2. Dice the onion, garlic, and peppers and place half in a saute pan.  Add half the oil and saute until tender.
3. Chop the hot dogs and add to the pan.  Saute.
4. Add Mrs. Dash to taste to the hot dog mixture and turn the burner down to low.
5.  Uncover the couscous and fluff with a fork.  Add to the hot dog mixture and stir.  Cover and keep on low heat.
6. Add the remaining onions, garlic, and peppers along with the other half of oil to the now-empty couscous pan.  Saute until tender.
7. Add the VQR and stir until melted.
8. Add the milk slowly, stirring constantly.
9. Add the other half of the taco seasoning.  Mix well and let thicken for 5 minutes over low heat. 
10. Pour cheese sauce over couscous and hot dogs.
11. Top with diced tomatoes and enjoy!

Some Changes

You guessed it!  We're back in Kara...doing the usual ;-)  However back in village, it's been quite unusual.  We moved houses (same village) last Saturday.  The transition went smoothly though had the hassles of any move - lots of packing and cleaning of the old house and cleaning and unpacking of the new house.  We have three rooms plus a latrine and shower area.  It's already decorated and organized, and I hope to post pictures next month.  I'm getting used to having constant people around, which you can guess has its pros and cons.  But it is exciting to be in the "center" of village and made going to market last Sunday fun and easy.  Asher is a bit confused, but there are many more dogs here for him to play with.  He did go to Beepo's today while we're in Kara!  Rachel is kind to dogsit.  Like many teenagers he's trying to exert independence but has overprotective parents.  He's the only dog in village not allowed to run free.  That may change soon, now that he is neutered.  He was neutered at our old house last week, and I found the whole experience to be a bit traumatizing.  I won't write details, but maybe Nathan will on his blog?!  Asher has forgiven us and is healing well, but I am newly thankful for vets in the US who don't let owners watch surgical procedures ;-)
I have four girls doing my Vacation Enterprise project.  They received $10 each last week.  Their first payment of $1.50 is due Sunday.  They are selling lots of diverse things including sugar, corn porridge, batteries, tomato paste cans, fried peanut sticks, and local beer.  I bought corn porridge from Adalene yesterday and it was quite good!  I am keeping my fingers crossed that all works out well - and their school fees for next year will be payed in ten weeks!
I am still working on the local cookbook and with our coming computer, will be able to pick up the pace.  Continue to stay tuned. 
In addition to our excitement that Brian and Miriah arrive in two weeks, my sister, Sarah, and her boyfriend, Brad, are coming in August.  We'll need a long rest in September.
Upcoming Activities:
1) Attending a teacher training in July with a local elementary school teacher.  We are going to learn how to encourage girls enthusiasm for science in the classroom.  The teacher is super excited and we may be working a lot together this next year.
2) Working as a camp counselor for a Peace Corps camp.  Each volunteer sends two boy students and two girl students for a week-long camp at PC's local retreat center.  In addition to fun and games, and lots of good food, there will be daily educational sessions - everything from HIV/AIDS prevention to good decision making to conflict management.  Joel is one of the Pessare boys attending.  He is beyond excited and if you ask him how many days until camp, he knows exactly.  This will be the first time he's left the Kara area and is excited to have electricity!  I'm a bit nervous for him as this is his first time away from home.  But past counselors and campers say it is an experience of a lifetime, and I am excited to be there to facilitate it! 
Happy 4th of July to everyone!  Nathan and I celebrate our 2nd wedding anniversary July 1.  We're off to Cocobeach for two nights to celebrate ;-)  Much love to all!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Goodbye Meg

Hi All!
I find myself in Lome for two days to say goodbye to my best friend in Togo, Meg.  Sadly, Meg is very sick with malaria and has been medically seperated from the Peace Corps.  She is flying out tonight and will return to her family in Chicago.  I am super sad because she is such an enthusiastic volunteer and such a supportive friend.  We have so many good memories together!  I have been crying but am trying to stay positive for her.  She is very tired and sick and needs to go home.  I also know her mother is anxiously awaiting her!  I helped her pack up her house yesterday which was very sad.  All the villagers were confused and crying.  It is not much closure for anyone.  Last night I stayed with her in the PC medical unit and today will help her do last minute things around Lome (close her bank account, do an exit interview, etc.).  Tonight we'll go to the airport and tomorrow I'll head back to village.  I hope everyone is doing well in America!  Meg, have some pizza for me!  Much love!

Monday, June 15, 2009

More Pictures....

Find more pictures from Brandon's trip here...

Friday, June 5, 2009

Visiting Ann and Nathan

Hi Everyone.  This is Brandon.  I just returned from visiting Ann and Nathan.  I promised Ann that I'd post to report on my experience and perhaps to give you a fresh perspective since Ann has been in Togo for a while now and is no longer surprised by so many of the things that surprised me. 


All in all, I had a fantastic trip.   It was so special to see Ann and Nathan in their new home and to experience a little taste of what their life is like in Africa.  Before I arrived, I didn't really know what to expect, per se, save for the fact that I had read Ann's blog and was terrified of death by cobra or scorpion during my visit.  Luckily, no such event came to pass.  Indeed, I never even saw either one.


While we're on the topic of unpleasant critters, I'd also read on Ann's blog about the time she ate termites. I feared that this might be on the docket for me seeing as Ann still complains about the soba noodles that she ate when she visited me in Japan.  Luckily, though, Ann was not so cruel as to force termites on me and – in fact – I really enjoyed the food.  There doesn't seem to be a wide variety of food in Pessare (Ann's village) and it doesn't seem to be overly nourishing, so I can see that cooking/eating could become tiresome/dull.  But, for me, the visitor, it was great.  It was made even better by the fact that we had dinner with three different families during my visit.  The families displayed so much hospitality and kindness.  To think that they took the time and money to have us over when they all have large families of their own to feed and care for.  It meant so much.  I've included a photo of Ann's student making fufu (mushed yams) for us.


Ann and I also had wachee (rice and beans) and porridge made my some ladies who serve their food at the village middle school.  The best wachee I had in country was in Ann's village (made by Arriette).  Here's a photo of me with the wachee/porridge ladies.  I also included a photo of Ann and Arriette.  I was forever amazed by the size and weight of the loads that the villagers could carry on their heads.  Small children could carry loads that I couldn't even manage in my arms.  And, that's not to mention that I can't even balance a book on my head!


By far the most overwhelming and unexpected part of the trip was the heat. I grew up in the South and figured I knew a little something about hot places.  But North Carolina heat has nothing on Togo heat, even on the hottest days in August.  I got off the chilly Air France plane and felt as though I'd been hit by a tidal wave of hot, humid air.  Whew!  Luckily, Ann showed me the ropes…stay in the shade, bathe often, nap in the afternoon…and so I got along just fine.  I suppose if you're there for long enough, your body must adjust.  For me, the visitor, it was HOT!!! 


Well, I don't want to write a novel, so I'll wrap it up.  Ann and Nathan have a beautiful house (hut compound).  They seem to be surrounded by a welcoming and loving community.  Their village, Pessare, is really beautiful.  On the moto ride from Niamtougou to village the scenery was breathtaking and it was made even better by the Togolese children who waved and smiled as we passed by.  Indeed, the moto ride reminded me of why people fall in love with Africa.  The rural part, the part that surrounds Ann on all sides, that is what will stick with me. 


Thanks Ann and Nathan for being wonderful hosts!

Day of Travel

It was 4:45AM, 85 degrees, and my alarm was going off.  Unfortunately the electricity had yet to turn on, so I crawled from under my mosquito net with my headlamp shining.  I rushed to shower (cold), brush my teeth (with bottled water), and dress (not forgetting bug spray and my daily vitamin) and was out the door at 5:15AM.  The sun was up.  I was on my way to the bus station to catch a bus from Lome to Kara.  However it was a holiday, so there were very few cars on the road.  I walked 30 minutes, sweating, with my two bags, before I found a taxi.  After a twenty minute ride and $4 later, I was there.  I checked my one larger backpack and waited patiently beside the bus.  Togolese usually travel in 15-person passenger vans, but if you can afford it ($9), the once daily "Greyhound" bus is preferable.  You have to buy your ticket a day in advance and be there an hour early or they may re-sell your spot.  There is AC (more like air circulation than any coolness), and it is clean. 
7AM arrived, and I hopped on the board, sitting in my assigned to a mother with a 2-year old.  He behaved at first, and I was patient and understanding when he accidentally kicked me and threw his half-eaten banana in my lap.  The ride is 7 hours and has two stops.  Between the stops they blare loud, West African rap music and put a VHS in so we can watch French sitcoms.  I try and read and listen to my iPod. 
The first stop (after 3 hours...hope you haven't had to go to the bathroom) is for food.  We have 10 minutes to buy dried, smoked fish and big loves of sugar bread.  Women carry baskets of the food on their heads and you bargain for a fair price.  Luckily, there is also ice cream!  A man rides a sing-speed beach cruiser with a cooler attached to the front.  He sells small .25 cent plastic packages of vanilla and chocolate ice cream.  It's made in Ghana, completely safe to eat, and delicious!  By the way, if you need to go to the bathroom, you can squat right there and go.  A few minutes later, we're off again.  The child next to me wants my ice cream and has a tantrum.  After 10 minutes of screaming, a cookie calms him down. 
Our next stop is 2 hours later.  This time it's on the side of a forested road there's no food.  Everyone quickly jumps off and runs into the woods to do their business.  I haven't been drinking much water, exactly because of this, but opt to take advantage of the stop.  I will spare you details, but you quickly lose all sense of privacy. 
We continue on our way, hot, cramped, and ready to be in Kara.  About 45 miles from Kara there is a large mountain with one long winding road.  It is currently being paved.  It is almost impossible to pass other cars, but that doesn't stop drivers from trying.  As we inch along I see a man ahead in the middle of the road waving his arms, presumably telling us to stop.  But there is nowhere to go, as we are on a steep, narrow incline.  We move along and see a tractor-trailer broken down in the middle of the road.  We decide to pass.  Given the situation, it is not surprising, but still scary, that we read-end the truck and come face-to-face with a van.  The driver turns the wheel abruptly and we find ourselves halfway in a shallow ditch, leaning up against the mountain.  Everyone immediately stands and rushes off the slanted bus.  I am taking deep breaths and ignoring the tears that want to come.  We stand in a patch of shade under a tree and watch the driver attempt to salvage the situation.  He slowly reverses down the mountain, with the smashed bumper, until he is back on the road and in control.  He pulls up beside us and we all get in.  Not once does he apologize or explain and not once does anyone yell or complain.  I have a feeling this is more common than I first thought.  I call Nathan, take more deep breaths, and count the minutes until we are safely in Kara.
We do arrive safe and sound, and I collect my baggage.  I am off to the taxi stand, during mid-afternoon sun and nap-time, to find a car to our mail point, Niamtougou.  Luckily, this time, I only have to wait 45 minutes for a car to fill up.  Drivers will not leave until they have at least 6 passengers in a 4-door sedan.  Today I find myself in the backseat with three other women and four children.  Three men are in the front, including the driver.  I have paid $1.25 for the ride.  There are no windows and the front windshield is severely cracked.  There are also no side-view or rear-view mirrosrs.  The speedometer and the gas gauge do not work.  This car has not passed inspection in the US for the last twenty years.  After a push from two men to get us moving we quickly drive the twenty miles.  We arrive uneventfully and I again grab my bag and head off for the third and final stage of my trip.
I walk to the motorcycle stand and find a familiar face.  We have three men who are our preferred moto drivers.  I find our friend, Rasta, the only man I've seen in Togo with dreads.  I ask him to take me to Pessare, pay my $4 and off we go.  It is twelve miles and takes thirty min.  I wear my helmt and ignore the broken gauges and mirrors.  The road is sandy and rocky and a moto is the only vehicle available to make the trip at a moment's notice.  (Don't worry, Mom, we can rent a car to make the trip when you come - no motos!)  Moto rides are one of my favorite things in Togo.  There is uninterrupted silence and the landscape is beautiful.  It is when I think, "Wow, I am in Africa!" 
I get home exhausted and dirty.  But luckily Nathan an Asher are there to greet me with hugs and kisses.  I take a cold bucket shower, drink luke-warm water, and think, yep, this is Africa!