Saturday, June 26, 2010

This and That

Today is Saturday. We had a fun training session this morning with some of the kids from the Tsevie High School. We all brought our laptops and had a little introduction to computers session. These kids were extremely bright, but not one of them had been on a computer before. They caught on real fast. It was so much fun to show them. You can imagine showing a young adult how to work a computer for the first time. They were enthralled! We weren't online, but we started with the game solitaire and then showed them how to use the mouse, and introduced MS word and excel to them. I couldn't help but think about Alex (my grand-daughter) These kids were exactly her age, and they seemed like your typical teenager in every other way. They were very excited and happy to get to use our computers. We received some IT tools to download, so that we can have training sessions with the teenagers in our village when we get there.

I have Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday off. I'll be studying French, and also preparing for a five minute presentation I have to give next Thursday. The presentation will be given in French to our trainers and the other PCV's, and the subject matter is about what we expect to accomplish in Togo, and what we have planned for the first few months in our village.

Last night was the best night of sleep I've had since I've been here. It rained all night, and was a little cool. I even had to put a little sheet over me. It was like heaven! Usually it is very humid, and there is no breeze or air movement in my room.

bonne journee! (Have a good day!)

Friday, June 25, 2010

OK...The Food

I long for fritos, a really good cheeseburger, or a bar-b-cue beef sandwich from Oklahoma Joes, or cookies, and also something cold….really cold with lots of ice. Ice is non-existent here, and I’ve not had anything really cold. I also long for chocolate. Chocolate is very hard to find here. A bobo’s hamburger sounds as good as, or maybe better than a steak. I think about what you all might be having at the family reunion in July. I can deal with the heat. I can deal with poverty. I can deal with no plumbing, and very little electricity, but it is very, very difficult to deal with the food situation. I’m thinking when I get to my post and in my own house, that I will be able to come up with some very tasty concoctions of my own from what I have to work with. I hope so.

Liz had asked me to talk about the food. I’ve kind of put it off until now, because I really need to be respectful of every aspect of the Togo culture, and that includes the cuisine. The food is by far the hardest part of being in Togo, for me. For anyone who really knows me, you know that food is one of the highlights of my life. I LOVE GOOD FOOD!! I may not be the best cook in the world, but I believe that I’m quite the expert on good food, and the best places to eat in Kansas City, and I’m a downright officiado of the best burgers and bar-b-cue to be found in Kansas City. It doesn’t matter that I only eat half of everything. I think great food is one of the very real delights in life. I know that many of my friends and relatives share this trait with me. To me, great food could be as simple as a delicious salad, well cooked bacon and eggs or a fine fish stew . Good food is good food. It doesn’t have to be gourmet to be what I consider good. But I digress……

So….the food in Togo…... Well it really goes hand in hand with this primitive country. It is fish from the neighborhood rivers and streams, meat from the very chickens that live among them, and vegetables and fruit grown in and around their towns. All of the fruit and vegetables are about half the size of ours. Take a cabbage for instance. Togo cabbage is about the size of a baseball. Not a softball, but a baseball. Their tomatoes are a bit bigger than cherry tomatoes, but they are their regular tomatoes. I think the sun, dry climate and the clay dirt stunts the growth of their fruits and vegetables.

My host family makes a big effort preparing my meals. Kafuir cooks the majority of my meals, but Florass and Sayseel and Nay-la have all prepared special meals for me as well. They bring me my meal with pride on a little tray covered with a dish cloth. They set it on the table and they take the cloth off and watch for my reaction. They then dish it onto my plate. They like to give me enough food for three or four people. I always have to stop them. It’s funny, but some things are not lost in translation. They quickly picked up on the fact that I don’t eat very much, and that I always leave food on my plate. They started making fun of me early on about that. Sayseel or kafuir will be dishing up my dinner, and I’ll stop them, and they will laugh and mimick me and say “ohhhhhh un peu, un peu”….(just a little,) and they’ll laugh. It’s amusing to me that here in Africa I’m being made fun of for the exact same things I’m made fun of at home.

Although I have not been able to muster up an appreciation for the food here, I appreciate all the effort they go to, and the fact that they are trying to please me. Many times they will sit with me so that they can watch me enjoy it. They rarely eat with me, they just sit and watch me, and when my plate starts to get empty, they try to fill it up again. I haven’t really figured out when the rest of them have their meals. I never see them eating.

The kitchen is a little room off of the courtyard. The room is about the size of a large closet. They do their cooking over a tiny little stove with charcoals (not our kind of charcoal, but a big slab of charcoal) right outside the kitchen door. There are various kitchen utensils in this room. I had to learn what all the utensils were in French. Usually there are three or four women/girls scurrying around preparing any one meal. There’s no telling what you will eat when you are hungry enough. Most of my meals are 90% starch…either rice, potatoes, couscous, bread or spaghetti. They mix a tiny bit of vegetables in with the starch. Many times, I’ve just had fried potatoes, and tomato and onion sauce. There is one thing that I love, and that’s fried plantains. They are yummy. I think they have finally gotten the hint that I do not like any of the meat. I hope so, because I cannot eat it. For the first couple weeks, I would hide as much as I could in my napkin, take it back to my room, and the next day take it to the Tech house and throw it away. I felt awful about doing this, but it seemed better than trying to explain, and it seemed better than being rude. Going to the market (marche) the first time also pretty much convinced me to not eat any meat. At the marche there were many, many vendors with meat and fish. The meat, mostly chicken, and the fish were usually in nice neat displays, piled high, with tons and tons of flies swarming around. It was hard for me to even try the meat and fish after seeing how they process and sell it. When they have served me meat, I usually don’t know what it is, and second…it doesn’t taste like anything I’ve ever had before. And third, I am afraid of what it might be. My French teacher told me that the Togolese do eat dog and cat and rat!!! She said that those three items are usually on skewers. I’ve not been served anything on a skewer and I will no doubt never, ever eat anything served on a skewer.
Breakfast usually consists of bread and peanut butter (homemade very gritty peanut butter). They bring me a rather large thermos of hot lemon grass water for either tea or instant coffee. I usually also have a banana and or orange. Lunch and dinner are similar…usually pasta of some sort, a sauce, and fish or meat. Some of their sauces are very tasty, but nothing, that I just love. They fix a lot of sauces with tomatoes and onions and cabbage and they fix a lot of potatoes in a variety of ways. They fry everything in palm oil. There are some ethnic African dishes, such as foofoo, which they haven’t made yet. They say they are waiting for me to get used to other things, before they give me real African food. I wish I could say some of the food is really delicious, but so far it hasn’t been very exotic. I haven’t found any spices that are specifically African.

The following are some meals I’ve had:
• Fried fish, tomato and onion sauce, and some sort of bean mixture (curd, I think) that had been made into a paste. They mixed all of this together so that it ended up kind of being a fish stew. I was so, so hungry, that I ate it all, and I convinced myself that it was really very tasty.
• Couscous, with again, the tomato/onion sauce, a hard boiled egg and a some very hot green pepper paste that I could mix into my couscous if I so desired. I had a banana for desert.
• A spaghetti and beat salad with hard boiled egg and green beans.
• Fried potatoes in palm oil, with once again the tomato and onion sauce
• An avocado salad with hard boiled egg, tomatoes, onions and a mayonnaise dressing. It was tasty, but warm. It might have been delicious if it had been very cold. (I have had my eye on the two jars of mayonnaise sitting on the table since the day I came here, and the jars sit out in the heat at all times. I keep wondering how one keeps from getting poisoned eating that mayonnaise. Until my avocado salad I was not put to the test of surviving eating that mayo. I ate my salad, but I kept thinking….I’m going to get sick from this mayonnaise! I might even die from eating this mayonnaise! I didn’t. But, didn’t weren’t we all bludgeoned with what would happen if mayo was accidentally left out of the fridge?!?)

They give me a knife and fork and spoon to eat with, however, the few times I’ve observed them eating, I see that they just use their hands and shovel it in. I used my hands once when Kafuir ate with me, and she seemed to enjoy that I wasn’t using utensils.

I like and appreciate a lot of different ethnic foods. I liked a lot of foods and spices in VietNam and in Peru. I imagined that African food and spices would be something that I would like, but so far it’s been rather bland…..again, lots and lots and lots of starches at every meal.

My Post - Tchekpo, Togo

Hurray! Yesterday we all got our designated posts. It was a fun day for all of us. In about six weeks we will be heading out to our designated villages and begin our two years of service. I don’t know yet, whether or not to be happy about the location I received, but I've talked with a few PCV's and administrative, and they assure me that this will be a very good and interesting location. I will get a more in depth summary of it tomorrow when I have a one on one interview with the Director.

This is what I know so far. Tcheckpo is about 60 miles from Lome, and about 40 miles from Benin. I have three or four volunteers on all sides of me, and their villages are within 40 miles of mine. Tchekpo does not have electricity or plumbing. I can live without plumbing, but electricity is really nice. I think I'll be able to purchase a small generator big enough to charge my equipment, and I can use battery or kerosene lamps. Electricity is out half the time in Togo this isn't as big a deal as it seems. I've learned that you just become very resourceful. I'm not sure if there is a cyper cafe, but if not, I am very close to a town that does have I'm thinking at least once a week I'll be able to get on the internet. I will have full access to my phone.

Tchekpo is a medium to big sized village and is located on a river. Because of it’s location it is a fertile area for farming and it has a rather large farming community. They produce a lot of vegetables, egg plant and fruit. Tchekpo also has a palm oil manufacturing plant. The Chief, who happens to be the Chief that I met a few weeks ago, believes there is much potential for Tchekpo, but that the businesses and the people of the village, have no structure. According to the chief everything is too informal, and he believes there is a potential for “these small unstructured businesses to be bigger profit making businesses.”

My first task will be to set up my house, get to know the people and then do a needs assessment of the business structure in Tchekpo and of the community in general. There are some women’s self-help organizations in Tchekpo, whatever that means. And there are some formal youth groups and apprentice programs available. There has not been a peace corps volunteer in Tchekpo for a couple years.

I’m excited to finally know where my village is. It seems to me that is a pretty good location and that it has enough resources that I might be able to help with some business and community organizing. I’ll be really happy when training is over, and I can start to do the work that I signed up for.

They give us more than enough money to set up our houses and purchase furniture etc. My counter-part in Tchepko will help me find a good place to live. It will be so great to have my own little house.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


The following is a listing of some of the places I have gone (or which are important) in my life in Togo with some very random background and context.

Lome - Capital of Togo. I will be traveling to Lome at least once a month. The Peace Corps Headquarters are located in Lome.

Tchekpo – Tchekpo is “my village”. This is a medium sized village where I will be living and working for the two years I’m here. It is located about forty miles from Lome, and is in the Maritime Region of Togo, which is the more tropical region.

Tech House – The Tech House is the training compound in Tesvie. It is about four blocks from where I live with my host family. I walk to the Tech House several times a day for training activities.

Tesvie – Tesvie, is a town about forty miles from Lome. It is our training site, and it is where I live with my host family for the nine weeks of training.


The following is a listing of some of the people I have met (or who are important) in my life in Togo with some very random background and context.

Adjowa – That’s my new African name. This name was given to me by the most respected elder in Tchekpo, and it has to do with the fact that I was born on a Sunday. The villagers love it that I have already been given an African name, and they all call me by this name already.

Alougba and the gang making something called gari.
Alougba – My Homologue.  Alougba is a 56 year old woman from Tchekpo.

Ashley – Peace Corps Volunteer I’m closest to. Her village is called Mission Tove, and is located about fifty miles from me. Ashley and I plan on going to Lome for R&R at least once a month, and we plan on traveling to Ghana and up north to see Dillon.

Chief Canton - Enough said! (Chief of Tchekpo)

Clee-mawn - Safuir's husband and member of my host family. He is a doctor and scientist and studied at John Hopkins in Baltimore. His specialty is lung tumor research. He sees patients here in Tesvie on his front porch while waiting for his visa to return to the U.S. to do a residency in Knoxville, Tenn.

Coo-lee and Renee - Thirteen year old boys who live with my host family.

Dillon – Our funny PCV friend who will be living in the furthest North village of Togo.

Flor-aus – Kafuir's mother and member of my host family is 67 and looks darn good for her age.

Homologue – Homologue is the title of our partner in the village/community. Each Peace Corps volunteer has at least one Homologue in their village. This person(s) will be primary contact in the village and often be their interpreter. A good/effective Homologue is needed to be successful and effective in your village. This person or people should be your best friend(s) over the next two years, and make sure that you have everything you need to accomplish goals.

Jeremy – PCV lives in Ahepe which is 30 minutes away my home in Tchekpo and does health work.

Kafuir (pronounced – Ka-free) - She is thirty-four and the matriarch of my host family's compound. She’s very nice to me, but at the same time I instinctively know not to mess with her….she’s kind of a no-nonsense woman. Kafuir is 34.

Matthew – Is Togolese and he is the health clinic nurse in Tchekpo. Matthew is so enthusiastic about me being here. He told me he wants he and I and the Chief and Alougba to do work together and do great things! He made a point of expressing that he does not want me to be sad while I’m here.

Moses and Alougba.
Moses – My 16 year-old translator.

Nay-la and Ack-bennie - Fourteen year old girls who live with my host family.

Say-seel - Kafuir’s sister and member of my host family is 26. Say-seel is very strikingly beautiful and has a son named Mo-dess.

Solomon – Peace Corps volunteer in Tagebow which is 60 minutes away.  He does I.T. work.
Jeremy and Solomon, my two closest PCV neighbors
at our swearing in ceremony.

Twosain – My new friend and new Homologue (Twosain lives around the corner from me in Tchekpo – he took me to a catholic church on Sunday.) Twosain is married to Celestine, and has two children. Twosain and I hit it off. He is going to tutor me in Ewe (the local language) and I am going to tutor him in English.

Monday, June 21, 2010

"The Big Kahuna" Our Post Assignment

There are twelve (12) SED (Small Enterprise Development) volunteers, and there are twelve (12) posts to be filled by new volunteers. Yesterday the Togo Peace Corps Director reviewed with us the nuances and needs for each vacant post. In addition he described and explained the weather and location of each post. Following his presentation he began to have interviews with the 12 SED volunteers so that he and his team could begin to assign us to what will be our home for the next two years. Our interviews included what our own particular needs were. Did we want a small village, or a large village? Did we need electricity? Did we want to do long distance biking? What areas of development were we most interested in. Tuesday we will all receive our Post information. The following week we will each go stay at our post for a week. We will be staying with either the current volunteer, or a representative from the village. Each village has a “homologue,” a Togolese partner in the village who will help us settle in and meet the people in the community we need to meet. After our weeks stay at our post, we will return to Tesvie to complete our nine weeks training. At the end of nine weeks we will be sworn into service and go to our new homes/posts, set up our house, and begin to settle in.
Getting your Post, is the big Kahuna in Togo Peace Corps. It’s what we’ve all been waiting for since the day we applied. I’m so excited to know where I’ll be assigned. During my interview I stated that I had a preference to work on and with NGO’s, and on and for anything that might/will empower Women in Togo. That could have to do with women having their own businesses, or women in politics, or helping women overcome the many obstacles they face in Togo. Peace Corps has done a compreshensive needs assessment for each Post. Once we are assigned we will get an in-depth summary of what is going on in our particular village.

Peace Corps Training

We will be in training for approximately nine weeks total. Training is very intense. We start at 7:30 in the morning, have a two hour break in the afternoon and have classes or some sort of training until 6pm. We usually have a couple hours of “home” work to do, after that, I pretty much fall into bed and fast asleep.
The training is excellent. It is the best training I’ve had anywhere. We are taught primarily by Togolese. Our trainers are highly educated. Many of our trainers graduated from Universities in the United States. They are experts in their various fields, in addition to being experts on Togo. They use a method called PACA, Participatory Analysis for Community Action. This method is the Peace Corps capacity-building approach to development. Training focuses on empowering local people to be their own decision makers and develop the skills to carry out those decisions and improve their lives. The focus of volunteers work is on strengthening the capacity of men, women, girls and boys to actively participate in their own development. Our trainers use the same approach in our own training.
We have been in training for a full three weeks now. We have four to five hours a day of language. To date we’ve had in depth training on our own health, Togo History and Administrative Structure, Togo Economy, Togo politics, How to ride our bike, How to maintain our bike. Visit to the local Togo Market, Visit to a business trade show in Lome, Working with individual entrepreneurs and cultural integration in Togo.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Political Protocol in Togo

J’ai faire la connassiance du Chef Canton au-bata-maund. (I met the Chief of the area of Abatamand, which includes twenty-seven villages) This was a training exercise as well as honoring and paying tribute to the Chief of the villages we are living in. The training exercise taught us what the protocol might be like when we go to our own villages, and how we should introduce ourselves to the chief of our village. It will be important for us to get the support of the Chief of whatever village our “post” is in. Just as in American communities, there is a political structure and protocol that needs to be honored if we are to accomplish our goals. Chief Canton seemed to be a kind, wise man. He oversees the governance of these twenty-seven villages. All twenty-four of the Peace Corps volunteers and about twelve of our trainers went to his compound for a formal meeting. You cannot or do not speak directly to the Chief. You speak to him through his secretaire who is sitting right next to the Chief. The Chief welcomed us and gave a little speech. He said he was very happy we were there, because it is one world now. He wanted to know how we’d been treated so far, and he wanted to be sure to let him know if we ran into any problems. He has been governing this territory for twenty-six years. He was a doctor prior to being Chief. I’m not sure how he was elected, but was told that usually a Chief is a Chief until death.

How I Spend My Day

Every morning I’m up by 5:30am. I awaken to the sounds of roosters crowing right outside my window. I take a bucket bath, eat breakfast, which usually consists of bread and peanut butter or cheese, sometimes an egg, and a banana or an orange. Class is from 7:30am to noon. We break for lunch, I walk home (take another bucket bath), rest for awhile, and then walk back to the tech house. We start class again at 2:30 and go until at least 5:30. My favorite part of the day is walking to and from class. The people are so friendly…all of them. The walk is probably about four city blocks. Some of the children have begun to watch for me. They start yelling at me, and run towards me with open arms when they see me coming down the block. Some of the braver ones run up and hug my knees. I’ve taught some of them to high-five/low-five and knuckle punch. They caught onto it very fast, and laugh, and laugh when we go through our greeting. Seems like there’s a few more children waiting for me, along the way, every day. During these walks I realize and notice how, poor and desolate everything is in Tsevie. The roads are red dirt clay. Trash is burned in a pile in front of the compounds. The smell of burning rubbish permeates the air. There are roosters, and baby chickens, and goats roaming about, all along the way, and everywhere you go. Women and men are walking down the road balancing a variety of items on their head. (More about the landscape of Togo later)
When I return home for the evening, I take another bucket bath, eat dinner, visit with the family and do my homework. I am usually quite ready to go to sleep by 8:30.

The Family and the Family Compound

My “host-mother” took me to my room. There was a bed, that looked a lot more comfortable than the bed in the hotel, and a table with a tablecloth on it, and a chair. My room is painted a bright aqua. I did luck out and get electricity, with one light bulb in the room, and one wall socket where I can recharge all my equipment. One window, no fan, that combined with the mosquito net that would block most breezes equal one very hot room, but I’ve already become accustomed to the heat. I simply take at least three bucket baths a day. I showed them a few of my family pictures, just so they’d know a little about me, and then they left me on my own. I was glad to be left on my own, having been around groups of people, day and night for the previous seven days.
The family compounds are usually a group of building/rooms that are surrounded by stucco walls. There is a courtyard, and there is a kitchen room, and a main living room and porch off of the courtyard. The whole thing, including the courtyard is about the same square footage as your average house…just laid out differently. Courtyard instead of front and back yard. They spend the majority of their time in the courtyard, sitting, cooking, working. Several goats and roosters roam around and appear to be permanent fixtures. I’m still not sure who all the people are that come and go out of our compound.
I’ve worked hard at trying to learn all their names and figure out how and if they are related:
• Kafuir (pronounced – Ka-free) She is thirty-four and the matriarch of this family compound. She’s very nice to me, but at the same time I instinctively know not to mess with her….she’s kind of a no-nonsense woman. Kafuir is 34.
• Clee-mawn is Safuirs husband. He seems to be a very nice, gentle man. He speaks pretty good English, and said that he has worked in Houston and Baltimore?? He and I have had a few discussions about the politics and economy of Togo. Clee-mawn is very bright, and wants more for his children and for Togo.

• Say-seel (Kafuir’s sister) is 26. Say-seel is here a lot, but I think she actually lives across the road in another compound. Say-seel is spunky and has a fun, playful sense of humor. She sometimes cooks my meals, and she likes to sit with me when I eat. Say-seel is very strikingly beautiful and has a son named Mo-dess. I have not seen or met Mo-dess’s father. All of the children are sweet and quiet and very, very hard workers, with the exception of Mo-dess.
• Mo-dess is precociously self-confident for a four year old. He is the youngest of the children who are around, and seems to be everyones pet. He’s funny and ornery like his mother Say-seel. It’s fun to watch Mo-dess and Say-seel interact.
• Flor-aus is Kafuirs mother. Flor-aus is 67, and looks darn good for her age. Flor-aus lives across the way as well. Flor-aus is very, very fun. She speaks a language called Ewe (pronounced Evy) Flor-aus was delighted that I went to the trouble of learning a few phrases of Ewe, just for her.
• Nay-la and Ack-bennie both fourteen year old girls. I still haven’t figured out, exactly how they are related, but they do most of the labor around this family compound. They seem to enjoy it. They start early in the morning. You can hear them sweeping the courtyard area around 4:30am, and they help with the cooking and cleaning. Nay-la is my favorite. She is so serious for a fourteen year old, and tall, and I think maybe I’ve adopted her so that I will not miss my granddaughter Alex so quite so much. A water well is right outside my room, and when it’s time for a shower I get water from the well and take it to the shower room. Nay-la always appears out of nowhere and insists on getting my water. I had to do laundry for the first time on Sunday. Nay-la helped me do it all. I should say Nay-la did it all. I sat with her, the entire time she washed my clothes, but she would not let me help. There is a technique to washing your clothes by hand, and Nay-la didn’t seem to think I had that technique down. It took us a couple hours to do a weeks worth of laundry. I went to the town market yesterday, and was surprised to see Nay-la there selling peanuts as a vendor.
• Coo-lee and Renee are thirteen year old boys. They don’t live here, but are here most of the time I’m here, and do some of the work around the compound. Coo-lee is tall and thin and handsome and always has a smile on his face. Renee is short and very shy. Both the boys are very, very nice. Coo-lee showed me how to use the flashlight on my phone.

There are quite a few more individuals who come in and out of the family compound. I haven’t learned all their names, but they are all happy to see me, and shout “que dieu te benisso” (God bless you) whenever they see me. I think most are extended relatives of some sort. There is a very, very, very old man who lives in a tiny room in the compound. I’ve asked who he is, but haven’t been given a clear answer. He stays in his room all day and all night. Every now and then he sits in his doorway.

Nay-la, Ack-bennie, Coo-lee and Renee all seem to have a lot of curiosity about me. The longer I’m here the less shy they become. I told them last night that they needed to help me with my French, and Clee-mawn encouraged them to help me. I brought construction paper and crayola markers and stickers, and I’ve brought them out once or twice. All of the kids thought the paper and markers and stickers were cool, and spent hours drawing. They presented me with a few pictures, and as I passed by the old mans room I noticed one of their pictures hanging up on his wall. Nay-la drew the flag of Togo, and she drew a picture of Togo. Some of the art was interesting. Coloring kept Mo-dess occupied for a LONG time. He would bring me what he’d done every few minutes. A little thing like construction paper and markers is a great luxury here for children.

Meeting Our Host Families

Our home and the PCV training site is in Tsevie, which is about sixty miles from Lome. It rained…..poured in fact, almost all day, the day we left Lome. We were all instructed to wear our best outfits and shoes to meet the families we would be spending the next nine weeks with. When we arrived in Tsevie, we drove into the PCV “Tech House” compound. The PCV Tech House is several buildings behind stucco walls. There is also a large gazebo with a thatched roof. It was still raining when we arrived. We made our way from the vans to the gazebo. Waiting for our arrival in the gazebo were twenty-four representatives from twenty-four families sitting in thinly cushioned chairs. We sat in chairs facing them. The twenty-four of us all sitting down, facing the twenty-four families, then they started the introductions. I was the first one called. They called my name, and then they called the name of my family. It was a woman and her sister. Everyone applauded, and we greeted each other in the middle of the room, and then I went over to their side and sat with them. Finis…..I was now officially a member of a Togolese family. This introduction was done twenty-four more times, until all of us were sitting with our new families…laughing, giggling, and trying to communicate the best we could. The families seemed genuinely happy and excited to have us there. Many of them have done this before…hosted a PCV for nine to twelve weeks. The director of the PCV Tech Center said a few words, and then they had their version of a welcoming buffet. They passed around plates of food…it was kind of like the Togolese version of dim sum. After the food, we all left and went home with our new families.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Week One

Arrived in Lome, Togo a week ago Saturday, June 5, 2010. There are twenty-four of us…new Peace Corps Volunteers (PCV’s). We all met in Washington D.C. for one day of orientation. We then all took the same flight to Togo, via an eight hour layover in Paris. Everything is well planned and coordinated. It is a multi-faceted entre in to this new world. Trainers and planners have done an excellent job in facilitating that the twenty-four of us have ample opportunities to bond and to learn all that we need to learn in a short amount of time. It is obvious that every step of this introduction to Togo as a Peace Corps Volunteer has been well thought out.
Week One – June 5 through June 9
We landed in Togo around 8pm on June 5th. We were met by the PC Director of the Country and a few other staff members. Our luggage was quickly loaded onto buses and we were driven to our “hotel”. There was a tasty Togolese meal waiting for us at the hotel. The Director made a few welcoming remarks, and we were left on our own to settle in. I shared a room with Christine on the third floor, and managed to “lug” all my luggage up the three flights of stairs. There were two beds in each room. The beds had very thin mattresses and mosquito nets. The ‘hotel’ was rough to say the least. Our first night was a good stepping stone into a life without luxuries such as ice, warm water, plumbing and absent of anything American. We awaken to the roosters crowing, and it seems that will be our alarm clocks from this day forward. It is the rainy season in Togo. The ceiling in my bedroom leaked each time it rained, and you could see mold growing almost everywhere. This was to be our home for the next four days, as we processed through the Peace Corps system in Togo. The next several days in Togo were all about how to stay alive in Africa. Our workbook with the acronym (SHIT) Staying Healthy in Togo, covered malaria, African diseases, and how to filter our water, and care for our very own water filter system. We also received a couple vaccinations a day, and began to take two different kinds of malaria prevention medication. We had training on how to take a bucket bath and how to wash our dishes and our clothes, and the day we left for the training site we received our very own bath bucket and got to pick out a panga (pon-ya) which is wrap around fabric you wear after your shower. The malaria training session was quite effective. I’m quite sure all twenty-four of us will be vigilant about staying on our medication and making sure our mosquito nets are secure.
We did have free time in the evening, and everyone got to know each other. We stayed up and played cards and drank warm beer. I have found nothing really cold in Togo since I arrived. It’s a fun, smart, serious yet light-hearted group and even the trainers have said that it seems like an exceptionally good group of new PCV’s. The second night we met at a local bar, and many of the current PCV’s and those PCV’s soon departing met us there and introduced themselves and welcomed us. It was a fun party, but the Director had said the new PCV’s needed to be home by 10, so we left the old PCV’s and went back to the hotel. The third night we went to dinner at the PC Country Directors home. The Assistant U.S. Ambassador to Togo attended this dinner. She sat at my table, right next to me. The dinner was delicious and the conversation was fascinating.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Going tomorrow

My going away party....How did I get so lucky?
Ummmmm. It appears I will be leaving early tomorrow morning for Togo, West Africa! I'll meet up with however many other volunteers are starting their service in Togo at the same time I am, in Washington DC, for one day. We will leave for Togo on Friday afternoon. We'll have a layover in Paris (see Kittie you were right, I am going to Paris!) and then on to Togo.

When we land in Togo...the Peace Corps staff (about 7 staff members) will meet us at the airport and we will immediately go somewhere for a 3-1/2 day retreat. We will primarily be speaking in French from that day forward. After that it sounds like they have 'Plenty' planned for next many weeks. I'll probably find out where I'll be permanently within three weeks. That will be interesting.

I've just not let myself think about the fact that I won't have easy access to the people I love. We'll figure out a way to communicate. At the very, very least I will have access to a computer twice a month. I think I might have daily email access for the first few weeks??

KCI to Washington DC tomorrow morning 7:40. Au revoir!