Monday, September 14, 2009

Sarah's Pictures

Sarah's Pictures

Sarah's Pictures

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

Sarah's Pictures

A couple pictures from Pierre and Rachel's wedding... notice the decorated church and the colorfully dressed women... here's a look from a child at the wedding that summarizes the way most children looked at us, as if to say, "Should I be curious or just scared?"

Sarah's Pictures

Brad and Sarah's Trip to Togo!

Hello All!
    I'm sorry that it's taken me this long to post about Brad's and my trip to Togo last month!  School started back a few weeks ago so I'm finally getting back into a routine here in DC.  Brad and I had an amazing trip to see Sister and Nathan last month, and it's definitely one that we'll never forget.  We left DC August 11 and arrived back in that States on the 21st, our trips to and from each taking about 24 hours.  We flew from Baltimore to NY to Casablanca, Morocco to Lome, Togo, and the reverse back again.  So our first cultural experience was in Morocco, where we hung out for 10 hours in an airport that seemed to be in the middle of a desert.  It was interesting just to see how many men and women were wearing turbans and veils and how odd we looked in our t-shirts and uncovered heads (although I did change into a long skirt in NY).
    As soon as we arrived in Lome around midnight, our Togolese experience began in its own unique way.  While we were filling out our entry forms, a nice young man volunteered to help me, which I didn't realize would cost us $5 afterwards.  Then, as we were waiting in line to have our passports checked, I was surprised to see how many people were allowed to cut in line, one man actually handing the guard cash while we were standing at the counter.  And then when our luggage was being checked, they discovered our 15 soccer balls that we had brought with us, thanks to lots of generous donations.  One man said that he would like to have one to play with, and Brad and I were so tired and surprised that we let him have one.  Finally, we got to see Nathan and Sister, who laughed at our naivety and told us that our new phrase would now be "No."
    We stayed in a small, relatively bare hotel in Lome for a couple nights and got to visit the Peace Corps bureau and meet several volunteers there.  We then boarded a greyhound kind of bus early one morning, in which the four of us sat on the back row, me next to a woman who got good use out of the little plastic bags she had brought along.  We stopped a couple times on the way, but were very pleased to finally leave the bus about 10 hours later.  A taxi driver who is friends with Sister and Nathan was already waiting for us when we got off the bus, and he drove us the remaining 30 minutes or so to Passare, the village in which they live.  After getting out of the car and walking while the taxi struggled over the deep ridges of the mud road and then continuing on in the car, we finally arrived in Passare and were instantly aware of the beauty that everyone's been talking about.
     We met the family who lives in the buildings that form a courtyard with Nathan and Sister's house and then collapsed in our temporary home.  Sister and Nathan have done a really wonderful job at making their house a lovely home.  They've acquired colorful, comfortable cots and pillows for their bedroom and living room area and seem to have a good bit of storage space in chests, baskets, and shelves.  They have a little gas stove that they've enjoyed with a big gas tank beside it and a big jug on the floor where they keep their well water.  There's also an open-air area attached to the house for bathing and a little latrine beside that.  One of Sister's students gets paid to bring them a few big buckets of water every day, which is used for surprisingly refreshing sponge baths and washing clothes.
     So, to save you a bit of reading and repetition, here are just a few more notes on our trip:
  • 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 =) .
Basically, Brad and I had a wonderful trip to Togo!  It was definitely a learning experience, as we met different kinds of people, places, and ways of life.  It's so easy to get wrapped up with life here in the Washington, thinking about where to eat next, which movies to rent, who to e-mail and what to get done by the end of the day.  I'm thankful that we were able to be reminded that we're small people in a big world.  I'm even more thankful that Nathan and Sister, who are faced every day with their experiences both here and there, let us see a little bit of what their life is like in Togo!  I know they have many more stories to come... =)

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Magazine Articles

I recently read Oprah and National Geographic magazines and two articles jumped out at me...Thought I'd share them with you!

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 ( 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

Travel Story - #2

Hi All!
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."