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Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year!


Fini – My Last Post

I’ve been extremely busy since I arrived home in the good ole U.S.A., six months now.   Huh?


I have been wanting to post an update, my very last post, with an ending that is all neatly tied up to answer any lingering questions people might still have.   I offer a final statement or explanation for all those people who asked, “Why?”   or “What was it like?  What did you learn?”  I would like some closure, whatever that means and…FINI for all those other people who could not care less about why or what it was like and do not wonder at all, what I learned.  As a good friend told me, “You’re not in Togo anymore, it’s time to move on.”  Thanks friend.



Coming home was a lot harder than I thought it would be.  It’s nothing I’ve been able to articulate well.  I wanted to act “normal.”  Breeze back into life in the United States with grace and without any drama.  I would be aware that there were huge waves of change happening all around me.  I often reminded myself to go with the flow.   I think a few people that rode those waves with me got real tired, real fast, and ended up thinking it was all just too damn much trouble, and then a few who I didn’t completely alienate with my far off stares or delayed responses decided to wait until I landed again.  I was reassured by them, that I would be ok.  Thanks to all those who waited!    Ohhhhh If I knew then, what I know now.


Beyond happy to be home, to see my friends and family.  I just wanted to sit and be quiet and be with them.  I didn’t want to talk much.  I wanted to listen, to observe, to find a comfortable place to just be for a little while.  I felt much like a robot.  “Just tell me where to go, and what to do…please.”    I really did develop a new found love and appreciation for America.   It felt good to be back, but so many huge adjustments.  In Africa I practically lived outside for two years.  When I got back it was really hard for me to be in small, confined spaces.  I would have anxiety attacks.   It was also very difficult for me to just stay put in one place.  When I first got home I just kept feeling like there was something I should be doing.   My life had been very uncomplicated for those two years.  Shouldn’t I be filling my pails of water? Or fixing my bike,  or going to my weekly meetings?   I wanted to feel productive, but had nothing to produce.


 I noticed abundance everywhere.  It wasn’t something that bothered me, but I noticed it and tried to put it in perspective.  Shiny cars.  It seemed everyone in America had a shiny, clean, new car.  I watched them whiz by with amazement, saying… “ohhhh that’s a pretty car.”  The roads and streets were like a dream.  Clean, everything was orderly.  The grocery stores and department stores felt surreal.  In grocery stores I would literally run my hand along the rail in the produce section as I walked the aisle, and I would feel sad.  All this beautiful food.  People in my village starving.  How do I equalize these crazy juxtapositions in my mind.  The best description I could come up with was I felt untethered.   Lost.  Scared.  That’s all I felt for weeks and weeks.  But I tried to be “normal.”



 I recognize now that I was indeed going through the stages of grief when I got home.  A friend pointed it out to me.  It helped to put a name to the things I was feeling.  "Look how much you have lost in such a short amount of time," she said.  "You cannot astrally project through this, you have to go through the stages, to get to the other side."  Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance.   I even still have a way to go.  I repeated to friends and relatives…”No I’m not different, I have NOT changed; I just haven’t readjusted yet.”  I really think that’s true.  I don’t believe that I fundamentally changed because of my Peace Corps experience.  I do see, for me, there is a process I went through; a bridge from there to here.  A bridge filled with pitfalls.   It felt familiar to me, to be on this bridge.  The uncertainty, the loneliness, the feeling of loss, the sadness, the cultural differences, hopeful expectations and fear that you will never get your life back.  These feelings flooded my mind, all in one fell swoop.  Why are these feelings familiar?  Because they are the same feelings I had when I arrived in Togo.   What made those feelings tolerable when I got to Togo was that I knew I would be returning to the people and places I love.  Re-entry was different.  It is highly unlikely that I will ever see my Togo friends again.  And that has made my transition harder.  Because I really grew to love them.  I grieved that I would never, ever see Mahsoblee, or Aloughba, or Honou again.   I grieved that I would not see the beautiful children of L'ecole No. 5 or hear them chant my name as I arrived at the school.  I grieved I would no longer hear my neighbor singing in her courtyard as she washed her clothes.   I grieved and missed my Sunday walk to church; my favorite time of the week. I grieved that I would never again see the neighborhood kids,  Regina, Gabriel, Leah, Fidel; all my little friends.   In addition I had to grieve losing my house for good, and a few dear friends I seemed to have lost along the way.  Friends who wondered where the Terry they once knew went.  Friends who had their own very real struggles and were working to survive in their own day to day living right here in America. 


And then….I wondered.  I wondered if the programs we built in Togo were sustainable.  I wondered if I had made a difference.


Little by little I rejoined this magnificent world of opportunity and optmism I now live in.  Little by little I have accepted my losses and focused on my new life.


Mahsoblee
I do have news. Good news!  Sister Modesta has emailed me two times.  She works at the hospital in Kouve.  She tells me that Mahsoblee has been to the hospital for her checkups and is doing well.  She thanks me for my support and offers God’s blessing.  Knowing that I have a pretty solid line of communication to Mahsoblee’s health eased my mind greatly. For the first few months I was so on edge, for many reasons, but I think what made me the most restless was not knowing if my plans to continue to help Mahsoblee would work. It did work, and it does work.


Father Apolo, the Catholic Priest in Tchekpo emails me at least once a month.  He sends his greetings and gives me little updates on Mahsoblee.  I took Mahsoblee and her gramma to meet him before I left.  He agreed to be part of the process that will keep her well.   Mahsoblee and her gramma go to him once a month and get money from him for the bush taxi and moto to get to the hospital.  It also gives him the opportunity to encourage both of them spiritually and emotionally. 


I did manage to set up a nice little chain of caretakers for Mahsoblee.  For those of you who helped  and followed her story; she is doing well.  In addition to Sister Modesto and Father Apolo, I also have been in contact with Honou Koffi and David.  They all have visited with Mahsoblee and her gramma.


When I left Tchekpo, during that final week; many friends and acquaintances came by my house to say goodbye and wish me well.  I sold most of my things, but there were a few nice things I gave away to favorite people.  They were grateful for the gift and they would ask me if there was anything they could do for me in return.   I asked them to please help take care of Mahsoblee.  Please stop in and visit with her gramma and make sure she has enough vegetables and eggs to eat.  Remind her to drink lots of water and to sleep under her mosquito net.  Hug her.  They all promised me they would  take care of her and not to worry.  So I picture that happening.   I picture the whole village watching over her.  I believe Mahsoblee will have people looking out for her for many years to come.   Mahsoblee’s sweet, sweet nature and her strong self confidence inspires people to want to help her.

For more about Mahsoblee - http://terrynichols.blogspot.com/2011/07/mahsoblee.html


What I miss
I miss Mahsoblee.  I think of her all the time.  I just plain miss her, miss that smile and the cute little look she always had on her face.  I miss her putting her hands on her hips in mock defiance, but most of all I miss her giggle.  I can conjure it up in my mind, and it will seem so real that it makes me smile. 


I think of my life in Africa every day.   My thoughts inevitably turn to…was I really there??  It’s hard to bring it all into focus.  I often find myself somewhere, a super huge grocery store, a museum, a beautiful park; and wonder what someone in my village would think of all of this.


I miss my friends a lot.   I miss the moto’s.  I even miss the heat.   I miss the beating drums and the roosters in the early morning.  Now I wake to the Chicago L rumbling by.  What a contrast.  Was I really there?  I miss the kids the most.  Just as I thought I would.  I integrate nicely into my new urban environment.  I am one of a million blurry faces to the pedestrians who pass me by.  Invisible.   No ones eyes light up when they see me coming, and no one shouts my name, or runs towards me with open arms. 



Jack and Cooper....nuff said

Oh wait!!!
Except for Dorothy and Alex and Jack and Cooper.  My three year old granddaughter Dorothy  smiles this coy, mischevious little smile and likes to play jokes on me every morning.  A few times when I went away for a couple days, upon return, she would say, “Oh Grammy, I missed you SO much!”  We have Girls Night 
The Irrepressible Alex!
Delightful Dorothy
whenever the rare occasion presents itself and her daddies go out for a movie or dinner.  GIRLS NIGHT!!!  Get out the nail polish; pump up the music, pop the corn!!!  GIRLS NIGHT!!!  Dorothy is on that bridge with me, and so are Alex and Jack and Cooper.  The other night I showed Dorothy some of my African videos of the children in my village. She was completely captivated.  I’m so happy to be home. 


Sidenote:
I don’t think I’ll ever have what we describe as “closure.”  My friends from Tchekpo are on my mind every day.   Every day.  Good thoughts.  Imagining the weather, imagining what they are probably doing at a specific time of day; wondering if they miss me. Thinking of Aloughba’s smile or Honous laugh.  Hoping they are all well; wishing I could speak to them, laugh with them, and connect.

My Colleagues
I have made little mention of my Peace Corps Colleagues throughout my posts.  From time to time I’ve talked about their programs and their dedication and how damned impressed I am with them. All of them, but especially the twenty-four I arrived with, lived and laughed with.  It was a big surprise and a huge blessing to be surrounded by this group.  I had my favorites….and you know who you are (smile) but I loved each and every one of them. Bright, brilliant stars.  I miss their fun and energy and uniqueness.  It was always quite fun hanging out with them.  On a few occasions since I’ve been home I’ve been able spend a day or evening with two or three from my group.  I wondered what that would be like, meeting up with them here in America, such a different environment. Would it feel the same?  Would it be awkward? It was wonderful, and for a little while during those visits I didn't feel lost.


What I learned
I learned, maybe what a lot of people already know.  We are all alike.  We all have the same hopes and dreams.  I’m convinced that the people of my village are happier, more content than we are here.  I told one or two of them that and they scoffed at me.  We are more comfortable, for sure, but they are more content.   We work so hard at being happy, and they just are.  Over-simplified?  Probably.

It was the most wonderful experience.  I cherish it.  My most sincere thanks to all of you.  You can’t imagine how connected I felt to home.  I experienced so many acts of kindness from my family and friends while I was in Togo.  Too many to mention, but I would be remiss to not spotlight honorable mentions:


Thank you:
Andrea/Mirinda, Emily/Mike, Eric/E.J. – for absolutely everything.  You are all amazing! I am one proud mama.

Jody, Mike and Hannah – for your generous donation to L’ecole No.5 and the children of Tchekpo

Nancy – for raising funds for Mahsoblee

Stephen and JoAnn – for my cache of Starbucks coffee

Kittie – for singlehandedly keeping me fed with her monthly care packages; and informed with her handwritten frequent letters.

Pam – for her consistent encouragement

Tom – for his love and affection

FINI

Thursday, July 5, 2012

"The Fix"



Have you ever seen the movie SoapDish with Sally Field and Kevin Kline?  It’s a silly, fun little movie.  There is one scene in it that I especially like and find hilarious.  I’ve thought of this scene a few times while I’ve been here in Tchekpo. Here is the scenario:   Sally Field is an ego driven, aging soap opera star who is being ousted out of her starring role by a pretty, much younger woman.  She’s desperate to hold onto her youth and the adulation of her fans as she feels them slipping through her grasp.  She’s a bit hysterical and tells her assistant that she needs her “fix.”  The assistant rolls her eyes, but knows exactly what they must do, as they have obviously gone through this routine from time to time.  Sally gets dressed to the nines.  The next scene they are at a huge mall.  The assistant strays away and acts like she all of a sudden sees and recognizes the star, screaming her name at full volume, then throngs of people turn and rush towards her, asking for her autograph shouting her name, telling her how much they love her.  That’s the “fix.”  Welllllll, I embarrassingly kind of identify with that scene.  After being in Tchekpo for two years I understand the need for that kind of “fix.”  It’s an amazing feeling.  I understand how celebrities get caught up in it, and even begin to need it.  Adulation!  It’s addicting!  It’s a rush! 

I write this particular story because it has been embarrassing to me how many people think that I’m doing something so brave, and selfless being here in Tchekpo, joining the Peace Corps at age 60.   I feel compelled to be honest about my time here.  Not only compelled, but I feel desperate for people to know the truth of the matter.   I’m not special.  I don’t want to be special. For one thing if one is annointed “special”  then you almost have to be good all the time.  It’s a lot of pressure.     It is possible that I am more selfish than the average person.  And yes, I can almost hear the eyes rolling from people who know me well.  Here in Togo I have had the full spectrum of moments of bliss and moments of despair.  It’s not easy, for sure, especially physically.  Please excuse the cliché that I receive much more than I give, but it’s true.  When I’m feeling blue, I always know what to do.  It usually means I’ve been holed up in my house for too long.  My fix….. I get dressed and take a walk through the village.  Once outside I’m greeted with the most generous expression of love by everyone I pass.  Often, often I’ll be walking down the path and wayyyyy in the distance I’ll see a small child, or even two or three children, as young as three.  The child has spotted me, the only white person in their sphere.  What I see is the child start running, running, running towards me with a big huge grin on their face.  Running, running, excited to see ME.  Often they will approach me with open arms and hug me tight.  What a rush.  I’m telling you.  Imagine walking out your door everyday and having people thrilled to see you, everyone you meet.  Adults and children alike shout my name and wave from a block away.  I go to the boutique where a crowd is patiently waiting to be served.  The workers see me and shout over the rest of the customers heads…Adowja, what do you want?  I don’t have to wait.  More times than not I am offered the coveted front seat in a bush taxi.  I make an effort not to take advantage of my celebrity status, but there are times that I just give into it (smile)


 Old men and old women greet me with big smiles.  One old man took my hands in his and then he held his hands up to the sky as if I was a gift from God.  I go to L’ecole No. 5, the primary school and the kids start chanting my name before I’m even in the school yard.  I visit their classrooms and they shout in unison, Bonjour Mama Adowja!  CaVa?   They surround me and touch me and look at me with wide eyed innocence and wonder.
I haven’t done enough to earn this kind of adulation.   It’s a warm, wonderful feeling.  I’ve asked various friends to just plant some kids outside my door when I get home, so that when I walk out they can be overjoyed to see me and chant my name.  Hmmmmmm….I’m gonna need my fix.












Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Tchekpo Assocation for People With Disabilities




The first meeting of the Assocation for People With Disabilities in Tchekpo Togo was held in early February in the community library.   I knew it was important.  I knew it was needed.  I didn’t know what to expect.  I had of course noticed people with disabilities around Tchekpo, but spread out, just seeing someone from time to time was deceptive.  At that first meeting I realized just how serious this issue was.  I never saw so many disabled persons in one place.  I arrived about ½ hour early.  Honou Koffi and Komi were already there arranging and tugging on tables and chairs to form sort of a circle.  Honou on his crutches, Komi limping with his one foot that is just completely turned upside down.  Honou smiled, and he looked very happy.  He’d been looking forward to this day for many months, probably years.  He said he didn’t need any help, so I just took a seat in the front of the room and waited for people to arrive….wondering how many people would come.  Hoping for Honou’s sake that it would be well attended.  He had traveled through the village for days to tell all the handicapped people he could find about the meeting.  


One by one they filtered in.  At least three of them literally crawled up the steps and in the door, wearing flip flops on their hands as well as on their feet.  One girl came in walking on her knees, leaving her wheelchair outside.  Just getting up the steep step and inside the library was a daunting challenge for most of them.  I could see a couple of them pondering how they were going to do it.  I'm quite certain strategizing how they are going to get somewhere is an hourly task for most of them.   Many arrived on crude, ill-fitting crutches.  They were missing a limb or just maneuvering a limb that no longer works.  One woman was carrying her twelve year old daughter.  I was told that last year this girl was normal, running around like any girl her age, and then all of a sudden she couldn’t stand, and now she can barely sit up.  She was so pretty; alert and smiling.  Her mother gently set her down on the floor and then walked around the room to greet everyone. Three or four arrived in Togo wheelchairs…tricycles which are powered by their arms not their legs.  Many of the women had babies on their backs, or breastfed during the meeting.  Nothing seems to stop them from trying to lead a normal life.  No one, not one person looked forlorn or depressed….just hopeful and happy.   Twenty-nine people with disabilities showed up at that first meeting.  Twenty-nine disabled people in the little village of Tchekpo.  I would soon learn there were many, many more.



Last summer Honou Koffi and another young man, Komi, were lucky enough to attend the Togo Peace Corps first annual Camp Joie in Pagala for handicapped youth.   This camp was the brainchild of about four volunteers.  I’m in awe of what they accomplished.  Honou and Komi came back from camp with a new found self confidence.  They were glowing and happy and excited about what they had learned, and had a new, palpable hope for their future.  When he returned Honou spent a lot of time talking about Lyle, Stacie, Meredith, Martin and Nahid;  the Peace Corps Volunteers who founded the camp, worked the camp and set up the structure for it.  They obviously inspired Honou and Komi, and Honou would tell me funny stories about each one of them. 



Members performing a sketch on self-esteem
 If you’ve read my blog, you’ve read about Honou Koffi.  He’s my very favorite, number one person here in Tchekpo.  People use the word amazing too much, but I didn't know a better word to describe him.   I looked it up in the thesaurus, and sure enough it gave me a bundle of words that describe him.  Astonishing, astounding, remarkable, marvelous, incredible and on and on and on.  I’m his biggest fan. What he is to me, is an absolute wonderment of the human spirit.  To tell you the truth, I pretty much forget that Honou even has a handicap, even though it’s very obvious, since he’s on crutches, and to get around he pulls his legs behind him.  I just don't think of him as having a handicap or being disabled, because there doesn't seem to be anything that he can't do.  Get around he does….everywhere.  Nothing stops him.  And to top it off, he’s almost always smiling.  A real, sincere, optimistic smile.   Everytime I see him I think….how does he do it?  And how could I ever complain about anything again. 

The Indominatable Honou Koffi

For more on Honou Koffi see: http://terrynichols.blogspot.com/2010/12/hunon-koffi.html and http://terrynichols.blogspot.com/2012/02/champignons-and-champions.html




The Officers
When he returned from Camp Joie, Honou immediately began  talking about starting a club in Tchekpo for the people with disabilities.  Ohhhhh.  This was not on my agenda.  This was not in my plans.  This was nowhere on my radar screen, but of course I went along with him, told him it was a great idea, and that yes, I would help.  I’ve done a number of projects with Honou.  From the moment he mentioned starting an association for disabled people, I knew that he would do it.  He was always out there way ahead of me, pushing me to get to the next step.  On most projects and with most people here in Tchekpo  I’m the one doing the pushing, the cajoling, the begging, but not with Honou.  He comes by my house several days a week.  He helps me with three or four projects that do nothing to benefit him.  Each time he comes over,  the conversation inevitably turns to his next new idea about the club.  I give him incremental information…We need to do this, we need to do that….thinking I’m buying myself a little time, but lo and behold the next time he comes over, he has made arrangements to do this and that, or more often than not, already completed the task.  For example, I said we need to speak with the Chief, tell him our plans.  Next time Honou comes over, he tells me he met with Chief.  "Not only is the Chief very happy about this, he would like us to do this with the entire prefecture (county)!!"  Honou says with unabated excitement. 



The Chief has been very supportive of this particular project.  He should be.  There are so many people with disabilities here in Tchekpo.  It’s hard to say what the primary cause is.  Poor nutrition during pregnancy, polio, mishaps.  Most seem to be birth defects of some kind.  I know the Chief has several kids that live in his compound who have disabilities.  I’m not sure how they are related to him, or even if they are.  So the Chief has indeed taken a personal interest in what we are doing.  He has appointed a representative from his council who attends the meetings, and offers support.  We are trying very hard to do this professionally.  Set up a structure, so that we can get this registered by the Togo Government as an official association.  We elected officers and the secretary takes notes of each meeting.  We also hold an officers meeting once a month.



Meetings are held twice a month on Saturday mornings.  The meetings are inspirational and pertinent to their needs and desires.  We have an average of twenty people show up for each meeting; however the Chief really wants us to expand our current reach.  Each meeting there is a topic of interest that is discussed, and then the members will perform a little sketch about the topic.  Some of the topics we’ve covered have been about self-confidence, health and hygiene, family life.  They collect dues (whatever the person is able to pay), sing songs and pray.  We now have a “wish list” that they go over at each meeting.  The wish list includes things they’d like to see the association do, as in having a demonstration of income generating activities, or talking to the churches about helping them raise funds.  We’ve had several speakers come from the bigger villages.  One man came from Tesvie and talked to them about the benefits of being an official registered association as opposed to just a club.



Meredith
The most appreciated speaker so far, was Meredith.  Honou was just about beside himself when he heard she was coming.  Meredith was one of the principal Peace Corps Volunteers who started Camp Joie.  She traveled many hours by bush taxi, just so she could see Honou and come to the meeting.  I do think that it was very rewarding for her to see what she and Camp Joie inspired here in Tchekpo.  I could tell she was pleased and surprised.  There is of course another camp this summer.  She asked Honou to come and be a counselor.  Meredith delivered a very inspiring animated speech.  She told them how excited she was and how proud she was that this was the first village Assocation for People With Disabilities in Togo.  She’s just a little wisp of a young woman, but she had a powerful message.  Du Courage!!!  You can do this!!!


http://campjoie.wordpress.com/


Sidenote:  If you’ve read any of my blog, you understand at depth that “nothing is easy in Togo.”  Certainly the heat and the terrain, not to mention the poverty and hunger are all daily challenges.  It’s hard living and yet all of these people I have met with disabilities get around and go about their life, as if they are no worse off than anyone else.   Amazing!



Saturday, April 28, 2012

Building Communities, Bridging Continents

Peace Corps/Togo Third Annual Non Governmental Organization (NGO) workshop was held  in the village of Sokede in Togo’s Centrale Region on April 12-14.  The theme for the Conference was Building Communities, Bridging Continents.


Martin, SeauSo, Tamara
This three day NGO workshop was sponsored and funded by the International Rotary Club.  Peace Corps Volunteers Tamara Mack and Martin Stirlicchi were the coordinators  this year.  The first annual conference was for NGO’s in the Maritime Region, second year was for NGO’s in the Plateau Region and this year was held in Sokede in the Centrale Region of Togo.  It’s an ambitious project in itself, with many Togo challenges.  Over twenty-five people attended from ten NGO’s.   Five sessions were covered over 2-1/2 days under the themes of project planning, strategic planning, human resource management, non-profit marketing, and IT.  This was a great opportunity for us to work with Togo organizations in various stages of professionalism, but all doing good work.


For the second year in a row, I agreed to give a presentation for the NGO Conference.  Last year I partnered with Dillon Tindell, giving a presentation and leading a workshop on how to evaluate and measure success of an NGO project or program.  This year  I partnered with Beau Lore.  Our presentation and workshop was on Strategic Planning for an NGO, program or project.  All presentations and facilitations were given in French.  The entire weekend was Francais!   Mmmhmm.



Me and Beau
Beau lives way up North but traveled to Maritime (about a six hour bush taxi ride) twice to meet with me and stay with me for a couple days to prepare our presentation.  In addition he and I spent many hours practicing our presentation once we met in Sokede, working at least forty hours in preparation.  It’s always more work than you think it’s going to be. Most strategic planning for non-profits is easily a three to four day session.  We had to condense our presentation of that material into three hours total.  We had great direction and reference material from Tamara and Martin, and Beau and I were well matched partners.  Kind of a right brain, left brain partnership.  We took it all very seriously, but had a LOT of laughs.


The conference itself was held at a large Catholic church complex on the outskirts of Sokede.  We had one large conference room and a projector to show our powerpoints.  When you think of a conference complex, of course you will think of a nice American conference Room with comfortable chairs and amenities.  This was a slab of grey cement with wooden tables and chairs.  No amenities. 


We slept in dorm like rooms with bunk beds, three to four people
Lunch/Dinner/Desert
to a room.  I shared a room with Ryan, Tamara and Martin.  Showers and bathrooms were shared by all; participants and presenters.  It was rough, but everything was clean.  We were served our meals, snacks and drinks throughout the two and half days.  All of the food was Togolese;  either rice or foofoo with sauces and banana’s for desert.  Popcorn was served as a snack.  For breakfast we had bread and coffee. 


Tamara and Martin were great coordinators.   Not only were they well prepared and organized, they also provided amusing entertainment; skits, dancing, telling jokes in the evenings so that the presenters and participants could get to know each other.


Though this was a lot of hard work, I enjoyed it, and I certainly enjoyed the outcome.  The Togolese NGO participants were alert and eager to learn. They were also very pleasant, friendly and fun to be around.   It was a lot of information and fairly complex content for them to take in, but they hung in there.


Our Workshop
 After our presentation on Strategic Planning Beau and I facilitated a workshop to demonstrate one small part of strategic planning.  We had the participants break into groups from their own association.  There were three or four people per association.  Their task was to pose the goal of their association into a positive statement; to define what the immediate objectives were to reach that goal, and finally to determine what the key results would be if they were successful in meeting their overall goal  Then one or two of the associations presented their findings in front of the entire group.  They did a great job.  It was gratifying to see them examine their goals and what they needed to do.  Walking around the room and listening to them discuss their NGO’s in analytical terms was very rewarding, and made all the effort Beau and I had put into it well worthwhile.


These NGO’s provide Togolese with much needed assistance in health, education, advocacy, development and so much more.   I’m quite sure that each person who attended this conference left  with information and tools which will make themselves and their NGO’s more professional and more effective.    I was really  happy to be a part of it.



The Complex Grounds, right outside our dorm and
the conference room
Sidenote:  Fighting the elements of Togo is always part of the package and part of the challenge.  It was hot and humid.  So hot, we were dripping sweat throughout the weekend.  The bunk beds were hard.  There were huge spiders, and most of the showers didn't work.  For each of the presenters it was easily a six hour bush taxi ride both ways.  What makes it all not only bearable, but so rewarding is the comraderie between the Peace Corps Volunteers and the earnest desire for change in Togo from the participants.  My thanks to the International Rotary Club for funding; to Tamara and Martin for their leadership and endless hours of preparation; and especially to Beau, my right brain pal. 


We did it Beau!!  Du Courage!!!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Babies


Since I’ve been here I’ve been amazed at how many babies there just are.  I'm also amazed how quiet and still they are.  They are always in their mothers papoose from the time they are born until about age 2 or 3.  If twins, the mother carries one in front and one in back.   Babies are either in the papoose or breastfeeding.  These papooses look terribly uncomfortable to me, but the babies appear very peaceful and content.   Are they?   I talked to some people along the way about why the babies are so quiet.  Here….it's rare that you hear a baby cry, and they are usually sleeping or just quietly looking around.  One Health Peace Corps Volunteer gave me her opinion.  She said she thought that an awful lot of them are sick, and that’s why they are so quiet and sleeping all the time.  She also told me she had heard that they give babies Sodebe (the local liquor).  I wonder?  They are wrapped up like cozy cocoons for the first two years.  They remind me of baby kangaroos, with just their little heads popping up, looking all around.  My favorite scene is to see a woman approaching me and I can see two tiny feet sticking out in front.  I see that all the time….two little feet at a woman’s waist.  You would have no idea walking towards a woman that she is carrying a baby, except for the feet.



I wonder and worry everytime I see a woman strapping the baby on her back….or readjusting it, as they often do throughout the day.  They untie the pagne they have wrapped around their waist…hoist the baby to their back…pull the pagne under her little bottom, and tie a knot in the front.  Architecturally once the pagne is tied, she’s secure….but getting the baby in place always makes me cringe.  No one else has any worries about it.   I don’t know how that baby keeps from falling off.  Especially with the little girls who carry babies around.  All the time!  I’ve seen some of the tiniest little girls, carrying a baby in a papoose; probably a sister, or a neighbor.   They have the process down pat…it’s like innate.


There is one tiny problem with the papooses…aside from the fact that we have no idea how many babies do perilously slip out.  The other problem is that almost all of the children are bow-legged.  Just as bow-legged as the most bow-legged cowboy you can think of.  Well of course they are.  From the day they were born, their legs have been stretched to fit around their mothers waist.  So there’s all these little kids running around as bow-legged as can be.  But alas!!!  I’ve also purposely observed that the vast majority of the teens and adults are not bow-legged, so somewhere along the line that problem must work itself out.


I’ve often thought of Hillary Clintons book, It Takes a Village.   I understand how that concept works here.  Everyone seems to take care of everyone else, young and old.   Old women will take a fussy baby away from a mother with ease, and strap the baby on her own back.   I know that mothers breasts and  milk is shared easily and often.  They think nothing of offering their breast to another woman’s child. 



I rarely hear a baby cry.   And there’s a lot of babies!!  All these babies…so many… too many, but that’s another story.  This story is just about the phenomena of the quiet babies.














Tuesday, March 20, 2012

On the Brighter Side...

Mahsoblee and her Gramma, waiting to be seen at the clinic.
Always connected.

I haven’t had any updates on Mahsoblee lately.  She’s been very gradually getting better and better.  I’ve almost not wanted to say anything.  Superstition I think.  Cautious.  When she comes over, I always touch her forehead to see if she's warm, and I try to take a peek at her tummy, and always look at her eyes for signs of yellow, for potential liver problems.  The whites of her eyes have been noticeably yellow since we started this process…..and NOW they are clear.  They are white!!  I think it’s a big accomplishment.  To me, it means that her liver is healing.  Even her tummy is less distended.  It’s now less distended than most the kids around here.  Could this medicine and regime of medical care be working??  I can hardly believe it! 

Mahsoblee comes over every day.  More often than not her BFF Regina is by her side.  They come by early evening when the sun is just going down, but it's still light enough to see.  We sit on the front porch where there is usually a little breeze.  They just act silly most of the time.  Teasing me, and running around.  They always ask to do bubbles, and when we do, five or ten more children show up out of nowhere.  I’ve taught MB and Regina to count to ten in English.  They want to recite it each time they visit.  I can’t help but marvel that Mahsoblee, today, appears to be healthy and happy.  Going to school, playing with the other kids, often the leader.  She’s sumpthin else.


Check out her pose
Today we went to Kouve for her monthly check up, and to refill  her medication.  When I was in Lome last week I bought her two little sundresses.  Other than the Christmas dress I bought her (which is already too small) She has only two raggedy dresses that she wears every day.  She doesn’t seem to mind, always showing up at my door with a kind of radiant self confidence.  However….she’s a girl, and most girls have a gene that makes them love to look glamorous, and feel glamorous, at least once in awhile.   Culturally I’ve seen that around the world.  Mahsoblee is no different.  This morning she showed up in one of her new sundresses.  It was the first time she’d worn it.  She had a smile a mile wide, and her eyes were full of fun.  I told her I wanted to take her photo, which she always loves.  And I swear to goodness, Mahsoblee assumed this pose all on her own.  Ha…that girl knows  that she is sumpthin else!!





Mahsoblee takes charge!
She also carried a little pink furry purse.  We keep all of her records in that purse, and Mahsoblee is the one who carries them and gives them to the woman in admitting at the Kouve Hospital.  She takes responsibility for her health and treatment.  We had great news today.  As I suspected, she is doing better than ever.  The doctor said, at this time the only medicine she needs to take is iron for her blood, and he noted how clear her eyes were.

Kim is a Peace Corps Volunteer who lives in Kouve.  She has come to visit Mahsoblee in the hospital and she’s also helped me out from time to time.   She has gotten to know Mahsoblee.  I called her when we reached the hospital and told her we were there.  She rode her bike over.  Mahsoblee saw her in the distance and ran out to greet her. They were happy to see each other. Kim went in the doctors office with us, and got to hear the good news.  I thought that was nice, that she was there.  It was a sweet moment.  We were all happy.  Ama, Mahsoblee, me and Kim.

For more on Mahsoblee visit: http://terrynichols.blogspot.com/2011/07/mahsoblee.html