Saturday, July 24, 2010

U.S. Ambassador to Togo

The U.S. Ambassador to Togo met with our Peace Corps Volunteer Group on Wednesday. It was fascinating. She talked with our small group, very candidly for almost two hours about the history, future and politics of Togo. The picture she painted was dismal, and she doesn't hold out hope for progress in Togo. About the only progress is going to be the very small incremental changes that we are able to make as Peace Corps Volunteers. I can't go into detail about the politics on my blog, as we have been told that our blogs are closely monitored. So....I have no desire to be an American martyr in Togo. I will update this portion on Facebook or through emails when I get a chance.

She also explained how the Foreign Service works, and about her career in the Foreign Service. Many former PCV's major is International relations. They end up and in fact their destination is the Foreign Service. Hmmmmm. If I had it all to do over again, I'd really have been interested in this.

She invited us all to the embassy in Lome whenever we wanted to come, and said we could use her pool, and as long as we came in groups of twenty or less we could plan parties there, and also use their research and computer center. Ashley and I already have it on our calendar. Ashley is twenty-five and single, and hoping to hook-up with the marines who are on duty in Lome. I am just hoping to swim :-) and drink.

A side note...The Ambassador is a sixty year old woman who is retiring this year. She is very much looking forward to retiring to Santa Fe, New Mexico with her husband. One of the volunteers asked her if she was taking any favorite Togolese recipes with her. She said she was not taking one Togolese recipe. Enough said!!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Care Packages

Some of you have asked me about mailing regular mail and packages. I just heard this week that it is very expensive to mail even small packages? I don’t have all the details, but there are ways to send things much cheaper. If you check with the post office…..there is one smallish bulk mail box that is the cheapest. The U.S. Post office should be able to help you figure out how to send something in the least expensive way. As I get more information about this…I’ll let you know They do recommend that you put some religious symbols on packages and/or letters. This is to help assure that these packages do not get opened along the way. Apparently they will respect some religious symbols…like the star of David, or the cross?? Or write the words Que dieu te benisso (translates – God bless you) on the package in a couple places on the package….the corner or something…..and a cross. Mail to:

Terry Nichols, PCV
Corps de la Paix
B.P. 3194
Lomé, Togo
West Africa

I’m sorry I don’t have more or exact information on the cheapest way to send something. I really don’t need anything, letters and emails are just fine. However, if you want to send something I’ve been getting some good ideas from PCV’s who have been here for a while….here are some suggestions, but just use your imagination….anything on the grocery store shelf that might travel easily is going to be a real treat. I think it takes from 2 to 4 weeks for a package…..and they do stress that smaller rather than bigger packages are better to send.

For me:

• (small, individual) crystal lite packets….(I don’t like strawberry)
• Some mint tea bags.
• Knorr meals in packages might be nice to have….like chicken and rice,
or rice and broccoli, Spanish rice (anything that would make a meal)
• A jar of blackberry jelly would be nice
• A jar of peanut butter with peanuts
• shoestring potatoes/fritos
• And any kind of yummy cookie that you think would make it here would
nice or maybe packages of chex mix??? I liked the sweet packages of chexmix.
• Small velveeta cheese (can of whats that stuff you put in velveeta to make
con queso?? – I can’t think of it) (I can buy tortilla chips in Lome,
Cans of Hormel chili
• Heinz ketchup!!!
• Packets of salad dressing…or salad dressing
• Boxes of dried mashed potatoes
• Packets of tuna/packets of chicken (you know those packets???)
• I heard M&M’s travel well, but most of the other candy doesn’t??? Love M&M's m&m’s
• Spices….oregano, anise, garlic salt, taco seasoning….any kind of spices.
• I’d also like to plant an herb garden, so if anyone has herb seeds (and instructions??)

As far as things for the kids here…
• Crayolas
• Coloring books
• Easy books to read to help teach English (like little golden books???)
• Magic Markers
• Stickers
• Any little interesting toy you see that a child might like. They really don’t have toys here.
I’m only sending this because people have asked me in emails. I do not expect care packages.

Peace Corps Togo has established “The Lomé Limo” which runs up and down the country monthly, delivers mail, medical supplies, and sometimes volunteers or staff to central sites along the national road.

Post Visit - Tchekpo – June 10 to June 17 - Day 1 of 7

The trip to Tchekpo
I was picked up at my host families house at 5:30 in the morning. I had packed almost everything in my room including my mosquito net. I’d been advised that I should take with me as much as possible to the house I’ll be staying in for the week, and as of August 8th, the house I’ll be living in for two years. So I had two suitcases, my water filter, my mosquito net, a new petrol stove, pots and pans and food. Hopefully enough for a week. I was picked up in a van. My Togolese French instructor Aeisha, and my Togolese Ewe instructor , Kossi, were both in the van. We picked up two other PCV’s, and we would also pick up each of our homologues (community partner) at the local hotel. There was a total of nine people in the van including the driver. The homologues had just finished a two day meeting regarding what is expected of them, as our partners, during this first week, and over the next two years, and they reviewed what their expectations were. I met my homologue on Friday morning, the day before we left for our “post visit”. All the PCV’s and homologues met each other for the first time. My homologue was a rather stern, yet prideful looking, small framed woman. Her name is Alougba (Aw-loo-baw). She is fifty-six.

We were on our way by 7AM, and we began our weeks journey to our new home. I tried to talk with Alougba on the way to Tchekpo. I tried to communicate my enthusiasm through my tone, and smile, and laugh. I spoke in my very best French, and had actually practiced a few phrases. Alougba stared straight ahead, and said to me, Je ne parle pas Anglais!!! I don’t speak English! I had to laugh at the situation, at the same time wanting to throttle my new found friend. I was not speaking English…I was speaking French. Every single time I tried to say something to her that day, she told me…I don’t speak English. I smiled, but inside I was doing the silent scream. I looked for ways to jump from the van, and run for my life, but there was no escape. As it turns out, Alougba speaks quite a bit of French, but primarily she speaks Ewe, and everyone in Tchekpo speaks Ewe. Most of them know quite a bit of French, but it is not at all the same French that I’ve been learning for the last eight months. Ok. Ok. Ok. Hmmmmm. Well let’s just see how this all works out.

My town, Tchekpo was the first town on our route, so I was the first to be dropped off. I’ve been wondering what the town would be like, and what my house would be like for a long time. Tchekpo is only about ½ hour from Tesvie, so we didn’t have far to go. When we got to Tchekpo we took a dirt road about ½ mile, and eventually came to my compound and my house. I have to say, I was delighted when I saw the house. It really looked… well, just charming. I mean it’s not Meryl Streeps house in Out of Africa, but it was really cute. My house is a palace compared to how the rest of Tchekpo housing. So when you see pictures of it, you need to know that it is not at all a representation of Tchekpo. The village, nor my house has electricity or running water.

Everyone got out of the van, and they brought all my things into the house. The inside of the house was really nice too. I thought..ok, ok, I can do this. The other PCV’s were talking about how cute the house was, but they were anxious to leave and go see their own places, so they quickly left. And all of a blatantly, surreal sudden moment, there I was in my little house with my little homologue, in a little village in Africa.

Alougba showed me around the house, and then she quickly had me lock it up. We started walking towards the village, down the same dirt road we had just driven up. I had no idea where we were going. By this time if I said anything…I said it in English, and Alougba was talking to me in Ewe. We both acted as if we were understanding each other. She’d say something in Ewe, and then she’d say…comprend?? And I’d say yes, and then I’d say something, and say comprend? And she would nod her head yes. I was able to catch a word here and there, and I did gather that we were on our way to see the chief, but other than that, she and I didn’t have a clue as to what each other was saying.

The Chief
I was surprised that I was going to meet the Chief so soon, but thought this was a good sign. Nothing like just jumping into the frying pan. Once we reached the main road, Alougba had wanted me to catch a moto with her, but I did not have my helmet (which by the way, they call a casket) with me. I told her I could not ride the moto without my casket. She seemed a little irritated by this, but she gave up, and waved a taxi over. The taxi….oh my god the taxi. I’m sure it’s the first of many horrific taxi’s I’ll be riding in. It was filthy, and I was pretty sure I’d get parasites just from sitting in it, but sit in it I did. Luckily we didn’t have far to go. We came to a large yet completely un-ostentatious and unassuming compound. Whenever I talk about compounds, it means it is a walled area with a gate/door, where one or more houses are located inside. This was the Chief of Techkpos compound. There was a porch area, one step up, around the inside circumference, and doors to rooms off of the porch. The square area in the middle of the compound (which is an open courtyard) had a rough and cracked concrete floor. As we walked into the square I could see a man and a woman sitting at a plastic table at the far end of the courtyard. There was absolutely nothing else in the courtyard. We walked over to the table and stood across from the man. The chief. I bowed to the chief, and smiled at the woman. The chief motioned for Alougba and I to sit down. The only thing on the dirty white plastic table was a crystal decanter and two shot glasses. The decanter was filled with what I assumed was whiskey. The Chief filled a shot glass and slid it towards me. Oh mannnnnnn. Ok….I can do this. I raised the shot glass in a cheer to the Chief, threw my head back and downed the shot. I was determined to not wince, thinking it might earn me a little respect. Drinking a shot of rot-gut whiskey at 10 in the morning with the Chief, his wife and Alougba my homologue (with sweat dripping down my face.) Uh-huhhhh.

I must have whinced a little in spite of my effort because the Chiefs wife laughed a little, but I do think the chief was duly impressed. He spoke very broken English, but we could communicate fairly well. He told me that he learned English in his village from a Peace Corps Volunteer in the 60’s. For that reason he would like me to consider teaching English at the local highschool. This is not something I have to do, but I think I will enjoy it, and I told him I would teach mornings, at least three days a week. The very first thing out of the Chiefs mouth was, “I want to build a new school. I want you to get money from the United States for this. I know this is possible, and I know you can do this.” Hmmmmmm. Well that is not part of my mission, but I smiled and nodded my head. Uh oh!!! He then proceeded to tell me a bit about himself. The Chief had only been Chief for about a year. It seemed that he took the position very seriously. He previously worked for the National TV station in communications (even though Togo is called a democracy, it is more of a dictatorship, and the TV station communications would more than likely be carefully controlled by the government – also I would guess that less than 5% of the people in Togo have access or have even ever seen a TV, so I imagine the Chief of Tchekpo is a somewhat important political figure in general in Togo.) He had only been named Chief in the past year. His great grand-father had been Chief of Tchekpo. The Chiefs wife kept her eyes on me at all times, and appeared to be thoughtfully studying me. The Chief said his wife wanted to know why I wasn’t married. This wasn’t easy to answer in broken French, but I think I pulled it off fairly well. I said, I went one way and my husband went another way. They interpreted that literally and differently than I meant, but they seemed to accept my explanation. They talked about my response with each other and nodded an understanding of my response to each other. We then talked about my children and their children. He asked what other places I had traveled to. They seemed impressed when I went through that list. At one point a friend of the Chiefs stopped by. The Chief told me this man was a very good friend of his, and it was apparent they were quite fond of each other. He was an older man and came with a very young, shy girl. He was introduced to me, and the chief told me that this man was the press secretary to the Prime Minister of Togo. The man and his girl both drank a shot of whiskey. The Chief and the man laughed a bit together and then the man and his girl promptly left.

The Chief proceeded to ask me more questions about my Peace Corps mission in Togo. He said that he would be in close touch and that he would probably talk to me every day. I discovered during the meeting that Alougba (my homologue) was the Chiefs sister. They had the same mother. They all laughed that I was taken by surprise with that information. Finally after a couple hours the meeting ended. The Chief asked if I was tired, and I said, yes, I was a little tired. At that point he called a boy over and said something to him in Ewe. Then the boy carried a mattress and two chairs out of one of the rooms in the compound. This was to be my only furniture for the week. We all walked out of the compound, they tied the mattress and two chairs to the waiting dirty taxi, and we proceeded to drive back to my house.
I would see and meet with the Chief again, later in the week in a more formal setting. Alougba left me on my own to rest, and she walked down the road out of sight. I was now completely alone in my house with my mattress and two chairs.

Tchekpo Compounds – The village
Several hours later, after I had rested, Alougba showed up at my door, and she was ready to go again. She took me on what would be one of many tours of the village. We wandered a maze of dirt roads, in and out of compounds, meeting and greeting people all along the way. Compounds in Tchekpo are quite different than compounds in Tesvie. This is a poor farming village. Most of the houses are made of mud bricks and have either thatched or tin roofs. There is almost always someone, or usually a group of three or more women sitting around a hot wood or coal fired caldron cooking a big pot of something. They are still compounds, but not compounds surrounded by stone walls (like mine in Tchekpo, or like most of the compounds in Tesvie), more like compounds that are a little group or nest of mud huts. I think one would liken these groups of residences to a “block” in the united states. It seems that extended families live in the “nests”. For example, my homologue. She has a little one room hut that is connected to several other huts. She does not have a door that she can close, but she has a curtain hanging over the doorway. She lives in this cluster with two adult nieces and the nieces children. Each person has his/her own little hut. Their huts are about the size of a small bedroom. They keep their few possessions inside these huts, but most of the living is done outside in the courtyard. We wandered through at least a dozen compounds (neighborhoods) that afternoon and I met a lot of people. They were all very happy to meet me, and they smiled and laughed. I learned a couple phrases of Ewe, so that when I was introduced, I would say…awwwwfois, which means nice to meet you, and doe-bee-joe which means how are you. They were thrilled to hear me attempt their language. Many people would stop dead in their tracks at the sight of me, a white person walking around in their neighborhood. The children would just stare in wonderment at me. Some would cry, and some who were brave enough would come up and touch my skin. I was told they touched my skin because they thought the white skin would/might rub off.

The end of day one in Tchekpo
We returned to my house after a very busy day. Alougba told me she would return early in the morning (Sunday – day 2 in Tchekpo) for another day of introductions, sight-seeing and meetings. Alougba smiled at me for the first time, and patted me on my arm. I appreciated this small act of kindness. I gave her a little hug and said goodbye to her. Even though I was very hungry, I was really too tired to fix myself dinner, and it had gotten dark all of a sudden. The only light was from my flashlight. I sat on my porch, looked at the stars and listened to the silence, and I felt extremely lonely in this place where nothing and no one was familiar. For the first time since I’ve been here, I wondered how in the world I was going to make it for two years. I tried to recall exactly why I had come in the first place. I thought about my children and my grandchildren and my friends, and my house and my patio, and then I thought about how good a cheeseburger and a diet coke with ice would be. I went inside, crawled under my mosquito net onto my dirty mattress that was on the floor, and plugged my ipod in my ears listening to James Taylor Steamroller Mother-fuckin blues (what can I say??.) My last thought of this very long day was about Alex. I thought about her smile, and her laugh, and her beauty and I thought about how much I enjoyed spending time with her and how very much I miss her. As I drifted off to sleep I hoped that some day she would know that part of the reason I am here is because of her, and I wondered if my reasoning was sound. I love you Alex!

To be continued: Day 2 in Tchekpo (It gets better :-)

People and Places

Names and places to Remember:  The following is a list of places and of names of people you will more than likely hear about on a regular basis.

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

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

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.

Ahepe - Closest village to Tchekpo to the East.  About 20 minutes bush taxi ride.  Jeremy's village

Taglibo - Next village past Ahepe...about an hour east of Tchekpo.  Solomons Village

Pagala - Pagala is located in the Centrale Region.  Peace Corps has a large conference Center there.  We have Peace Corps conferences and Childrens Camps there.  It is in a wooded area, with many buildings, and the capacity to sleep about fifty people.

Kpalime - Is located about an hour south of Lome.  It is the artisan center of Togo.  Ashley lives in Kpalime.

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.

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.

Alougba – My Homologue – ( Alougba is a 56 year old woman from Tchekpo)

Toussaint #1 – My new friend and new Homologue (Toussaint lives around the corner from me in Tchekpo) Toussaint is married to Celestine, and has two children.  Toussaint is a teacher at the private catholic primary school in Kove about 30 miles from Tchekpo.  Toussaint is the President of the M.A.P. Committee in Tchekpo.  He is also very involved in the Catholic Church.

The Chief Canton - Enough said! (Chief of Tchekpo)

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.

Solomon – Peace Corps volunteer in Tagibow (nearest town to mine)

Ashley – Peace Corps Volunteer I’m closest to. Her village is called Mission Tove, and is located about fifty miles from me. Ashley had an opportunity to move to Kpalime.  Kpalime is a much bigger village and fit much better with the things she wanted to do and accomplish while in Togo.

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

Mr. Hognon - Director of L'ecole No. 5, the primary school that has become our pet project.

David - My French tutor, and teacher of English at the Tchekpo lycee (high school).  David also helps me with a number of projects.

Georgette - Georgette is from Tchekpo.  She is a tailor.  She has become a good friend, and helps with a lot of projects.  She is an active member of the M.A.P. committee.

Mahsoblee - Mahsoblee is my little six year old neighbor.  She has been sick with Sickle Cell Anemia.  We raised funds in the U.S. to help her.

Leah - Is my thirteen year old neighbor.  Leah gets my water, does my laundry and helps me with a long list of daily chores.

Gabriel - Gabriel is a twelve year old neighbor.  He is an altar boy at the Catholic Church.  He comes by my house pretty much daily to visit.

Tamara - Tamara is a Peace Corps Volunteer.  She lives and works in Tesvie. 

Alex - The Director of the S.E.D. (Small Business Development) Peace Corps Program.  My boss!  He is from Togo, but attended college at American University in Washington D.C.

Blandine - The Director of training for all Togo Peace Corps Volunteers. 

Host Family (The following all lived in or near the family compound I lived in during training)

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 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.

Say-seel (Kafuir’s sister) is 26. Say-seel is very strikingly beautiful and has a son named Mo-dess.

Flor-aus is Kafuirs mother. Flor-aus is 67, and looks darn good for her age.

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

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

Blog Disclaimer

Even if I had the time and the talent, I don’t have the patience to be a “good” writer…. The truth is, for now, I have to do these blogs in a hurry, so I don’t have time to go back and edit them. I hope they are clear and that they give you somewhat of a good idea or vision of what life is like in Peace Corps Togo. I also hope that I am forgiven for my numerous grammatical errors, or for anything that is not clear or doesn’t make sense.

Once I start making regular trips to Lome and can utilize the Peace Corps faster computer connections I should be able to upload pictures on a semi-regular basis.

If you have any questions, or suggestions for the blog…please let me know.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

A Busy Day

Yesterday was a busy day. We had a health and nutrition class. We received our “walk-around” money. We had our mid-training evaluations of our language skills…AND a cooking class facilitated by two peace corps volunteers who are going home in a few weeks.

Let me start with the nutrition class vs. the cooking class. For the nutrition class the nurse practitioner brought a variety of Togolese food that we would find at the market. She held it up, described it, told us the nutritional value, and how it is typically cooked. That was our first exercise of the day. After that class, I was really kind of discouraged. All the food she showed us, was completely foreign with the exception of the egg plant and ochre, both of which could fit in the palm of my hand. It’s not the first time I’ve wondered how I will survive in Africa because of the food. I mean…nothing is familiar except for bread.

After the nutrition class we all received what is called our “walk-around” money. This is extra money that we receive before going to our post visit, so that we can buy the things we need to have while we are there. For example I bought a small one burner kerosene stove, and some food items….rice, cous cous, tomato paste, a couple plates, a couple cups…etc. I still need to go back to the marche and get a couple items. We also opened our Togo bank accounts today. As I understand it….they will be depositing our monthly stipend into these banks, and we will have access to them through an ATM card?? I’m sure it will eventually become clear how all this works. For now…I just take their word for it, and have faith that I’ll receive enough money to live on and to set up my house. We get more “walk-around” money when we go to Lome for our swearing in on August 5th. At that time we will need to purchase a lot of things…like a bed frame, a bed, a table, a lot of miscellaneous things anyone would need to buy when settling into a new house. The logistics of all this Togo Peace Corps stuff is mind-boggling. You gotta hand it to Togo Peace Corps to be able to do all this, and their ability get everyone where they are supposed to be and with what they are supposed to have.

After we received our walk-around money and signed all the necessary papers for our bank account, we had our cooking class. The cooking class was optional, given by the Tesvie PCV's who are leaving. There were only four of us who attended. I'm so glad I did though. I can see that if I'm inventive, I can plan some really good meals. We made the African version of pizza, egg-drop soup, egg salad, and spaghetti with sauce. It was all good, easy, and do-able. I WILL SURVIVE! Next week when we get back from post they are going to do one more cooking class on baking. They use a dutch oven to do their baking, and we are going to make a pineapple upside down cake. mmmmmmmmmm.

The last part of the day was our mid-training evaluation on our language, health and bicycle maintenance skills. It was all done quite professionally, as is everything they do here. I had an interview with three of the trainers and they went through each skill, and critiqued me on how I was doing. They all seem to have very fun, playful senses of humor. I always enjoy meeting with them. They played a little joke on me when I first sat down. My language trainer looked very serious, and told me that I was remaining at the same level I started in. I completely believed her, and really panicked...then they all laughed and told me the good news. I’m doing well!! I went up two levels in language. I still have a lot of work to do with French, but they were very encouraging and complimentary. My host family is taking me out for a beer tonight after dinner to celebrate my language critique. They are part of this whole thing….working with me in the evening on language, and the technical presentation I had to give….so my success is their success, and my failure would be their failure as well. They completely understood evaluation day, and were waiting for me when I got home to find out how I had done.

Oh...and I got two more last rabies shot, and a hep B shot. I still have three more vacinations to get.

Today…back to the get last minute items for my post trip, tonight…celebrate!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Tribute to Technology and the people who made mine work!

"The Boss"
This weekend, I unwrapped the box that my solar battery charger came in. I had not needed it yet, so I’ve had the box sitting on my table. One new technology after another has rested on my table waiting for me to figure out how to use it. One by one, I’ve mastered every one. The solar battery charger is my last technological challenge for now. Since I am going to my post (Tchekpo) for an entire week on Saturday, and there is no electricity, I decided I better test this solar charger out….so that I might at least be able to charge my telephone. Without my solar charger, I would not have any communication with the world outside of Tchekpo, a small village in Western Africa.

My fellow PCV’s have been interested and even in awe of some the technology and equipment that I brought with me. Oh, they all have nice computers and ipods, but they don’t have the stuff that I have. I think their estimation of me went up a notch when they saw some of my “stuff.”
I have:
• A Computer
• An Ipod that also plays videos and shows photographs
• Uploaded two seasons of 30 Rock and Community and two seasons of Dexter
• 1800 uploaded songs
• A short wave radio
• A digital camera
• A solar battery charger
• An electrical adaptor
• Small down pillow…(I also consider this high-tech)

The week before I left for Africa, my kids and their spouses, and my grand-daughter (Alex) would gather every day at Emilys, and set me up to be technologically advanced in Africa. It was so cool, how they did it…..and again “it takes a village” came to my mind while I watched them help me prepare. They sat around Emily’s dining room table with four computers, and they were ordering me stuff, and transferring stuff to my ipod, and showing (or trying to show me) how to do things, once I got here. They even packaged everything in zip lock bags and labeled the bags. Eric emphasized many times…that I must listen to what they were telling me. He would take his two fingers, point to his eyes, and then point to my eyes….”FOCUS MOM!!!” I knew it would all come in handy, but I was kind of in a daze those last few days. I did have doubts, and I know they did too, that I would ever be able to operate half the stuff they were trying to hook me up with.

I’ve been able to operate EVERYTHING!! I was able to tune into BBC the night the United States played Ghana in the World Cup, which was pretty cool to listen to here in Africa. Last night the electricity was out all over town, and my host family had company…several children and Kafuirs sister were here. I brought out my computer, which I had previously charged, and we looked at the photos I had taken of them on my big computer screen. The children and the adults gathered around, and loved this. Everything was completely dark except for my computer screen. I then remembered I had pictures of the Obama Innauguration, and we looked at those. They all love Obama here, and they were mesmerized with the pictures of the inauguration and of Washington D.C. Cleemawn told me it was emotional. Thanks to technology I was able to do this……and now I’ve mastered the solar battery charger. I’ve already been able to charge my phone and my ipod on it. It was a breeze! I will now have communication with the outside world at all times.

I dedicate my blog to: E.J., Eric, Emily, Mike, Alex, Andrea and Mirinda. It was heart warming and inspiring, the way you all pitched in to help me prepare for Africa. I’d be absolutely lost without this technology and without the help you gave me with pre-planning. I’m quite proud of the fact that younger volunteers have come to me for help on technological issues. Seriously, even the guy that is here for I.T. came to me the other day for help. How cool is that! Thank you, thank you thank you.

To Moto or Not To Moto

We had another session on bicycle maintenance. Today we learned how to change our bicycle brake pads, and how to grease the brake lines. Mmmmhmmm. We did. Paul (Togolese) is the instructor, and lucky for me he used my bike to demonstrate. I will more than likely never have to change my brake pads again for as long as I’m here, since my bike was used in the demonstration. I really like the bike maintenance classes. First of all Paul instructs in French only so that makes it funny and challenging at the same time, and second, I have found it very rewarding to learn how to change a tire, patch a tire, and change and grease the gears. I like maintaining it better than I like riding it. Go figure??!!?? It’s a Tech bike(brand name) with twenty-one gears for god sakes. It might as well be an automobile, technologically speaking. Most of the volunteers that I’ve met ride their bikes 20 to 30 miles weekly on a regular basis. I will not be doing that, but I will be riding it within my village, and I might ride it to nearby villages.

Today we also had some training on the “Moto” (motorcycle) We were all fitted for and will receive motorcycle helmets. In fact riding on a Moto without a helmet is grounds for immediate dismissal from the Peace Corps. Riding on the back of a Moto (cab) will be a very frequent mode of transportation for us/me. Riding a motorcycle was the number one thing I forbade my kids from ever doing, although I know they all did it. I hate motorcycles…but I won’t have any alternatives to this mode of transportation. From what I understand, I will need to take a Moto from Tchekpbo to Tesvie, and then in Tesvie catch a bush taxi…no way around it, unless I want to bike the thirty or so miles to Tesvie. A bush taxi is a van, and they stuff them full of up to 12 to 15 (hot, sweaty and stinky) people before they take off for a variety of destinations. I’ll probably take be taking a moto at least once a week, and a bush taxi, a couple times a month.

S o today, I strapped my Moto helmet on, jumped on the back of Pauls (our instructors) Moto and went for a ride. Women cannot hold on or hang on to the person who is driving. That fact is actually part of the training. If we try to hold onto the driver he will think we are flirting (for godsakes) So the only thing you have to hold onto is literally the seat you are sitting on….(or the seat of your pants). We also can’t hold on to the driver as we are getting on the Moto, for the same reasons. I was scared to just have the trial lesson with Paul, BUT I DID IT!!!! And I have photos to prove it. Paul drove very carefully and my fears subsided quite a bit, but I still wish I never had to do it again. Bush Taxi Drivers and Moto Drivers are notoriously reckless. I have to be careful just walking in their paths. I have been told, though, that the people in my village will care about me enough to find a “safe,” reliable moto driver for me, and I will be able to use him on a regular basis.

So….I’m thinking of all the different exotic ways that one could be injured in Africa…. Malaria, snakes, wild animals, mayonnaise…it sounds as if the Moto and the bush taxi is at the top of the list. Doan worrie….I’ll be careful!

Being 60 in Togo!

The group of Peace Corps Volunteers I’m with are really quite fun, and bright. They are all really nice to me. Which may sound silly to say…I mean why wouldn’t they be nice to me? Being sixty, I am not entirely “one of the gang” per se…but they include me in everything, and I don’t detect any patronizing attitudes. I do think I find them looking at me sometimes…and wonder what they are thinking. Maybe they are thinking…if she can do it, I can sure as hell do it. Or maybe they are thinking…my God how old is that woman??!!?? Who knows what they are thinking. As nice and fun as they all are, other than three or four who are in their early thirties, the majority of them are in there very early twenties. I enjoy them all, but I do feel a void. I very much miss having someone my age to talk and laugh English. The Peace Corps nurse-practioner, Paula, is American and she is close to my age. She has promised to spend time with me once I move to Tchekpo (my post) I’m not that far from where she and her husband reside… Lome. Also, the Togolese training manager, Blandene is close to my age, and she said she will be visiting me a lot. I think they both know that I need some comraderie with someone my age. Blandene and Paula are both very cool and quite funny, so I’m looking forward to spending time with both of them, once I get settled in.

I’m also looking forward to spending time with the other volunteers. At the 4th of July party I met a half dozen volunteers who live in villages in my region (Mari-time) They have all been here for a year and have a year to go. They told me they get together often, and they gave me a lot of tips on how to get around the region, and promised that we all visit each other on a somewhat regular basis. There are a few volunteers in my group that I’ve anointed… favorites. They will be posted in various places around Togo..not at all near me, but I’ve promised to make trips to visit them. Dillon is one of my very favorites. He is twenty-five and from Texas. He is hilarious and has a dead-pan sense of humor. His post is as far north as you can go in Togo. He will be twelve hours away via bush taxi. It’s supposed to be a fascinating region though with some beautiful caves, and it’s right on the Ghana border. So…I’ll be visiting Dillon at some point, and he’ll show me the caves and we’ll take a side-trip to Ghana…where I here they have a McDonalds!!!! And movie theatres!!! Oh yes..I’ll be visiting Dillon.

July 4th

I’ve always had kind of mixed feelings about the 4th of July. It was one of my favorite holidays as a child, but it became hard to replicate the fun and excitement as an adult. Eventually we built a tradition (if not a very loose tradition) with my family, and that tradition of course centered more around food than fireworks. I would spend July 3rd frying chicken, making two different kinds of potato salad (my moms and Mrs. DeBackers), Andrea would make her famous cookies, and I would bake home-made pie. Home-made, from scratch, Lemon Meringue Pie was the highlight of the feast (for me anyway.) The last few years we would meet at Emily and Mikes house early in the day and spend the day sitting around their pool eating and swimming. My kids and the grandkids would each go to the fireworks display of their choice in the early evening. The tradition began to take some form, and we all started to look forward to July 4th. This year the kids are going to spend the day at their Aunt Eileens with their father and his family. They are looking forward to it. I’ll miss them, and be thinking about them throughout the weekend.

I’m in Togo this 4th of July, and I’ll be in Togo for the next two 4ths of July. Yikes! Could that really be possible? This year our Peace Corps Volunteers group organized two days of activities.

Our group of twenty-four is split into two groups. There are twelve (12) SED (Small Enterprize Development) volunteers and (12) twelve CHAT (community Health) volunteers. The 12 SED volunteers live with families in Tesvie. I’m a SED volunteer. The 12 CHAT volunteers live in a town five miles away called Abatamund. At least once a week we all get together for some sort of group training…sometimes in Tesvie, and sometimes in Abatamund. We have Peace Corps Vans and a driver that totes us from one place to another, for our joint training sessions. I like it when we go to Abatamund for training because I get to enjoy about fifteen minutes in the air-conditioned van. I think it’s been determined that the SED volunteers living conditions are quite a bit better than the CHAT volunteers. Abatamund is a little bit more rural than Tesvie, and the families they are staying with are a bit more poor. For that reason it was decided to plan the 4th of July activities in Tesvie….the bigger, more urban and sophisticated of the two villages (smile).

The CHAT volunteers decided to come to Tsevie on Saturday afternoon, and spend the night at the Tech House, camping out in the gazebo where most of our training is held. We also arranged for a local bar to feed all 24 of us dinner which of course was either spaghetti or cous cous. CHAT volunteers arrived in Tesvie around 2pm. Many of them spent the afternoon at the cyber café. They don’t have an opportunity to go to the cyber cafe often since there isn’t one in Abatamund. Most of the volunteers spent the day just hanging out in the gazebo and visiting with each other. We really don’t have much time to just hang out. We have a full schedule 6-1/2 days a week. So it was nice to just relax. We had one volunteer playing the ukele, one playing a guitar, and one playing the drums, off and on all day. Some brought food/snacks. There were won-ton chips, and breaded, fried, plaintain morsels, and popcorn…etc. Ashley who is in my language group is a yoga instructor in her spare time in the States. She has been having weekly yoga classes. Some of us participated in that on Saturday afternoon. I spent a lot of time visiting with Charity and Lizzie (CHAT) volunteers, hearing the latest gossip about all the “newly committed couples,” and worry about a couple volunteers who seem “on the edge”. Around 5 we all walked down to the Albatross (restaurant/bar) they drank quite a bit of beer, and got louder and happier as the night wore on. I always get an Orange Fanta. (To me…warm Orange Fanta is infinitely better than warm beer.) We played a variety of games. I played Spades with Danny, Tony and Beau. Then we had dinner and we stayed at the Albatross until about 9pm. We all walked together back to the Tech House by the light of the moon and the stars. All but a few volunteers had decided to spend the night at the Tech House. Some of them had hammocks they hung from the trees and the rest found a place to sleep on the couches we sit on during our class time. I didn’t spend the night at the Tech House. Tony and Beau walked me home, and then returned to the Tech House. I was happy to be home, take my bucket bath and happy to sleep in my own bed.

Sunday…Each SED volunteer brought CHAT volunteer home for lunch. Danny came to lunch with me. He’s a young man who has previously been volunteering in Guatemala for three years, and now has signed up for one year here in Africa. This weekend gave us an opportunity to learn a little bit more about everyone.

We all met up again at the Tech Hosue around 2 Sundy, to go to a 4th of July party at the Tesvie Peace Corps Volunteers house. The Tesvie Peace Corps Volunteers are a married couple who have been here two years already. They are going home in August. It was pretty amazing that they could pull off this great party here in Tesvie. We had macaroni salad that had some cucumber in it, and barbecue beans with hot dogs…bread, and for dessert some no-bake chocolate brownies. It all really tasted good. There were over a hundred people at the party. A lot of PCV’s, old and new, Togolese, and there was also a French Coalition that is here in Togo, doing humanitarian work.

This fourth of July weekend was really quite nice. I thought it would be difficult and I thought maybe I would be sad, but it turned out to be a very enjoyable weekend. Not to say I didn’t miss my family and my friends back home. I did. I love the few family traditions that my little nuclear family has, but it’s also not a bad thing to try new things. Especially if you know that eventually you will be able to take up your traditions again someday in the near future. I hope my kids and my grandkids had a wonderful weekend.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Awwwwwww Music!!

Ok…here is a good reason for being here. I was sitting in the courtyard last night with all of the family, as they cooked dinner, and visited with each other. I was studying French, and also listening to Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Waters, on my ipod. Ka-fuir had just returned from a shopping trip in Lome’, and she was showing me what she had purchased. She had bought a bottle of skin cream, some fabric and some oranges for me. It was a pleasant evening. There was a breeze, and everyone seemed happy and in a good mood.

I’ve been warned many times, to not let anyone know I have a computer or an ipod or anything that might be tempting for someone to steal….but little, by little I have brought out all the wonders of technology to my host family. First the computer. Showing them the pictures I took of them on my wide-screen computer, just blew them away.

I was really enjoying listening to Bridge Over Trouble Waters. It’s such a pretty song. I asked Ka-fuir if she wanted to hear what I was listening too. She put my ear plugs in, and laughed, and hummed and swayed back and forth to the music. She then gave one of her ear plugs to Modess…the little four year old, and they both had this look that’s hard to describe. I guess wonderment and joy is the best way to describe it. I then let everyone…one by one listen. I can hardly express what it was like to see them hear this song on my ipod. First Ka-fuir, then the teenage girls, Nell-a and Ack-bennie, and then even Ka-fuirs mother reluctantly listened. By the end of the song everyone was dancing and humming, and the looks on their faces was pure joy.

So, I guess being the person who gets to introduce the wonders of technology for the very first time to adults seems like a real gift to me. They don’t have a television and Ka-fuir told me that she nor Say-seel have ever seen a movie. Next up: I’m going to play a movie on my computer for them. Any suggestions on what I should show them. I’d like to get a French Film so they can fully understand it.

The movie will be great, but I don’t think anything will top the looks on their faces as they listened to Bridge Over Trouble Waters on my ipod. That one moment makes it all worth while.

Tchekpo - Post Visit – July 10th to July 17th

Important Dates:
July 10th to July 17th – Post Visit in Tchekpo
August 5th – Swearing in as a Peace Corps Volunteer (Lome’)
August 7th – Move to Tchekpo

A week from Saturday on July 10th, we each pack up our things and go to our assigned post to stay for one week. We will see our house, and meet our ‘homologue’ (village counterpart) and determine what we need to do to set up our house when we move there permanently on August 7th.. At the very least….there will be a mattress on the floor of my house for me to sleep on. Since my post has not had a Peace Corps Volunteer for over a year, I will have to buy everything new. I just bought a kerosene stove to take with me on the post visit. Even though my homologue will be taking care of many of our needs during the week visit, we will each be responsible for most of our own meals that week.

Many/most of the volunteers will be replacing a volunteer who is headed home. They will be able to purchase most of the furniture and equipment the current volunteer has. I will be starting from scratch, but I’m not sure that is a negative. Several people have told me they have seen the house in Tchekpo (my village) and that it is very nice. That’s all I know about it for now. I do know I don’t have electricity or water. But I’ve already been using my drinking water filter for the past four weeks, and I’m quite used to no plumbing. I hope two things: That I can get a little generator so that I can easily keep my electronics charged, and that an Internet Café is within walking or bike-riding distance, so that I can keep in touch with family and friends through email and this blog.

An Peace Corps Volunteer (Damien) has been here in Tsevie all this week to help with training. He and his wife are both volunteers, and came to Togo together. They live up in the furthest northern part of Togo, and he said that the average temperature in his village is 120 degrees. He’s given me some great ideas on things to do in my village regarding organic gardening. He is coming to my host house for lunch tomorrow, and then he and I will walk to the market (marche). He’s going to help me figure out what basics I will need to survive a week at my new post, and then he will give me some advice on what I might need when I begin living there in early August. He’s been a terrific resource, and I’m looking forward to traveling up North to visit him and his wife.

Post Visit week I will be meeting several people in the community of Tchekpo, kind of get a lay of the land, and begin to make lists of things that I’ll need for my house when I move in permanently in August. I think just being on my own for a week and figuring out how and what to eat will be a challenge in itself. I am both excited and apprehensive about going to my village to see where and how I’ll be living for the next two years. I’m also looking forward to meeting my homologue (village counterpart) A good and invested village counterpart makes a huge difference in what you can accomplish. This person should end up being your best friend the next two years.

Les Courtouriere

On Monday as part of our language and cultural training our instructors took us on a field trip to the local les coutourieres (seamstress) Our instructors have emphasized once we get “to our village” we will need to dress professionally when we go out to meet with people. Our Togolese instructors set a very good example every day on how to dress, and how to act professionally. They are always dressed in very nice African print, Togolese clothes. We can wear the typical PCV attire around our house, and when we go into Lome’ or on in-country trips, but when we are going to meet anyone for business reasons they encourage us to wear professional Togolese clothes. So…as part of our training, we went to the seamstress, and found out all about the styles, how much clothes cost, how long it would take to have them made. Part of the training was to discuss and ask questions about all of this with the coutouriere in French. When we returned from the field trip we were quizzed on our findings, and whether or not we were prepared to go and order one or two African ponya’s for ourselves.

You can find tailors (male) and coutourieres (females) throughout the village(s). This is a well respected profession in Togo. We went on this particular field trip in groups of two or three volunteers, each with one Togolese instructor. Going to the couturiere was also very culturally informational. After we met with the seamstress, and she explained styles and prices, we went next door to a room that had eight to ten young girls, all stationed at very, very, very old sewing machines, or they were hand stitching. They all had nice crisp blue blouses on and dark skirts. It was explained to us that they were apprentices, and that they would apprentice for three years, and then either open their own shop or go to a bigger city like Lome and work for someone. This is a good example of a woman owned business with apprenticeships, that has all of the elements Peace Corps Togo is trying to implement. In some villages we will help a small business like this make more of a profit by teaching the entrepreneur bookkeeping skills or showing them how they might get funding to start an apprenticeship program for local youths. However the courtouriere I visited already had a thriving business and apprenticeship program. She was well established, and very self confident about her business.

Many of the volunteers have already had outfits made, and it is practically required that we get a special Togolese outfit made for our swearing-in on August 5th. I’ve enjoyed seeing the clothes that both the men and women Togolese instructors and professional business people wear. Often the men instructors will wear a full African outfit, long shirt and pants both made of the same fabric with bright colors and African prints, and then often they will wear western slacks and just an African print/tailored shirt. The women usually wear two piece African print outfits; skirts that are usually mid-calf in length, and tops in the same fabric, in a wide variety of styles. This weekend, or early next week I’m going to go to the couturiere and have a couple outfits made. It will be challenging for me to find an African fabric and style that I like. Just like so many new things that I am experiencing, a new way of dressing is a cultural adjustment. There is a little part of me that rebels against losing or temporarily giving up my western identity by becoming more and more part of the new culture that I’m living in. Everyday my life gets more and more immersed into the African culture.