Monday, August 30, 2010

Bush Taxi's and Moto's - Oh My!

There is always going to be a story ready to be told about bush taxis and motos. I can see that now. I have a story for every single time I’ve taken one so far. But this story will just be a general description of the state of the art of riding in or on a Bush Taxi or moto. We’ll save the happenings for another day.

I wait by the side of the road in Tcheckpo for a bush taxi to slow down and pick me up. Many will pass me by because they are already full and on their way. I can usually tell when they are going to pass me by, because I can spot heads and body parts hanging out the windows. That usually means they are full..when you actually see heads or arms or legs. I generally don’t have to wait more than thirty minutes. Before I get in the taxi, I pray to God, Allah, Buddha, Ron L. Hubbard, Jesus, Mary and Joseph, and all my dead relatives, and then I take a deep breath and make the sign of the cross, hoping that I’ve covered all my bases. I go through that same ritual when I get on the back of a moto.

In a bush taxi, I hope for a seat by a window, for oxygen supply and to help suppress the unusual odors you encounter. I also hope I don’t get a seat by any of the doors. There are no locks on the doors, and they really don’t seem to shut all that well. If I do happen to get a seat by the door, I try very hard not to be leaning against it. I maneuver one arm up on the seat in front of me, and hold on….just in case that door would open. I am alert at all times and take whatever precautions I can. Today was a banner day. I got to ride in the front seat, with just the driver and one other passenger. That was a first. I’ve always coveted the front seat, but had never been given that honor until today. I will spend the rest of my bush taxi riding days hoping for the front seat.

Bush Taxis are gutted vans. I can’t tell what make they used to be, but I noticed today I was in what used to be a KIA van…I’ve thought others looked like Toyota vans. It’s difficult to know because they’ve been altered so much. They are gutted and then fitted with two to three chair benches facing forward and one more narrow bench that faces the passengers. There are two employees for each bush taxi. The driver and the Bush Taxi Runner. The Bush Taxi Runner sits on the narrow bench that faces the customers. Usually there are customers sitting on that bench as well. I’ve been a passenger in a bush taxi that carried up to twenty-two people. This number included a couple small children. Impossible you say!! Oh contrare! I know there was also at least one rooster in this particular taxi. I did not see it, but I could hear it. Usually there are from twelve to fifteen people at least, and usually there is cargo. Huge sacks of grain, or furniture, or who knows what. The van is loaded down. Men, women and children all carrying a sack or two of something. It’s also amazing what they can carry on a moto. Huge sacks plus two or three people. When I bought my generator, I was on the back and my 50 pound generator balanced between my drivers knees for the forty minute trip.

There are informal bush taxi and moto stations in Lome and Tesvie. When leaving from Tesvie, one road goes towards Tcheckpo, Ahepe and Tagebow, and one road goes towards Lome. In the other towns, you just stand anywhere you want along the main road, and when a bush taxi approaches, you just wave. They will either wave at you as they pass by because they are already full, or they will stop and pick you up. When you walk by the informal station in Tesvie and Lome, several moto drivers and/or taxi runners will ask you where you are going, and if you need a moto or bush taxi. The moto’s cost more because they are faster and you don’t have to wait as long. You have to wait until the bush taxi is almost full before departing. They will usually depart with a little room left and pick up people who are waiting all along the way. I’ve never seen a bush taxi depart that isn’t almost filled to capacity.

There are little stands along the roads that sell liter bottles of gasoline mixed with a little oil. They use plastic funnels to put the gas in the tanks. There are no gas stations…none that I’ve seen anyway. These little stands are the gas stations. On a moto ride this weekend, the moto tire needed some air in it. The driver stopped at this little gas stand, and the gas stand operator pulled out a manual bicycle tire pump that they used to fill the moto tire up. Just pumped it by hand.

The Bush Taxi Runner sits in the seat that faces the customers. It is usually a young boy, maybe 14 to 16 years old. Once the taxi departs the Taxi Runners job is to hang his head out the window and solicit riders along the road, until the taxi is full. When they pick you up on the road the bush taxi just comes to a rolling stop if possible, and allows you just enough time jump in. The taxi has usually already started on its way while the taxi runner is hopping in and closing the sliding door of the moving vehicle. The taxi runner always carries a little purse. He is the money collector. He waits until about five minutes from you arrive to your destination and then requests the fare.

It is an interesting system. I think they have the business down to a science, as far as efficiency. It’s evident they have figured out it is a numbers game, as in most businesses. There is always a sense of urgency in the bush taxis and on the motos. Everything is done quickly. Tires are changed quickly, gas is put in the vehicles quickly, passengers are picked up and let out quickly. They know they have to have at least so many people on every trip, and they have to make so many trips per day to make a profit. The Taxi Runner is very important and needs to be aggressive for them to meet their numbers and their timeline. The Taxi Driver needs to drive very fast so that he can make a certain number of trips per day. Because of the rutted roads there are many flat and blown tires. The taxi driver and runner can change a tire in a matter of minutes. It’s very impressive.

The way Bush Taxis and motos dodge the ruts and holes is impressive. I think I’ve decided there is a rhythm and a real skill, and yes, I’d have to say even a gracefulness in how the better drivers of bush taxis and motos maneuver the roads. They will often swerve to the wrong side of the road to avert a rut. You think at times that they are defying gravity. They both honk their horns a lot…warning people to either get out of the way, or to the fact that they will be passing the vehicle in front of them. In both the bush taxi and as a passenger on the moto, I spend a lot of time with a grimaced wild eyed…ready to jump out of or off of…. look on my face. I’ve slashed the thin leather on the taxi seats, and I think I saw blood on the back of the shirt of the moto driver one day….from my fingernails!!

You meet some interesting people in a bush taxi. Many are curious about me, but a lot of people just ignore the fact that there is one white person in the van. There will be more stories about bush taxis and motos. There is a story to be told every time.

All About Tchekpo - My Home…..Until August 5, 2012.

I am now firmly planted in Tchekpo. This will be my home for the next two years. I find myself saying that phrase to myself a couple times a day. There is always an inflection of wonderment at the end of the sentence, when I say it. The last two weeks have challenged my physical and mental capacities to the fullest. This is a new post so I did not automatically inherit anything from a Peace Corps Volunteer who is on their way home. The house was completely empty. I had to furnish it from scratch. I was determined to make this a comfortable home. I succeeded. It’s comfortable and pleasing to the eye. My house, as I stated earlier is not at all representative of the village. My house is a palace compared to the rest of the village. I think the Chief and the Tcheckpo committee wanted me to be happy and comfortable. They want me to stay two years. I will post pictures of my house and my village soon.

The Landscape and Neighbors I live about ½ mile from the main road that goes through Tchekpo. From the main road to my house I walk or bike a winding, dusty, rutted road. I pass mud-hut compounds with thatched or tin roofs. I pass a lot of garbage/trash piles. Some have been burned very recently, some are very big areas. I pass lizards, and goats, and a lot of chickens and baby chicks. I usually pass five to ten people along the way. They are either walking somewhere, or selling something in front of their huts, or just sitting in front of their compounds greeting people. It was highly recommended in training that I take my time to and from the main road or whenever I am walking through the village to stop and talk with each person. I do. Well I don’t actually converse with them yet, but I do stop, and say the Ewe greetings…Whiz-unnnnn-lowwww, or Aw-fwaaaa, and cho-bee-do. I bow, hold my elbow with my hand and shake their hand.

Tchekpo is about thirty minutes east of Tesvie (where I was in training) and about an hour and a half from Lome, the capital. Lome is where Togo Peace Corps headquarters is located. To the East of Tcheckpo are three villages where other Peace Corps Volunteers are living…Ahepe is about 30 minutes east of Tcheckpo (Jeremy’s village) and Tagebow (Solomon's village) is thirty minutes beyond Ahepe. Tesvie, Tchekpo, Ahepe and Tagebow are all along the same main road and they are all about thirty minutes apart, depending on how fast the bush taxi or moto driver is. Then there is Zafi, which is off the main road. It’s a small village about nine miles from Tchekpo. Abby lives in Zafi. She was not in our training group. She has been here about nine months. I recently met Abby. She’s an interesting PCV. She rode her bike the nine miles to Tcheckpo to meet me and to give me an invitation to a three day conference she is hosting in Zafi for the MAP (Men as Partners) program. MAP is a new program that teaches village men how to be more involved in their families lives. I’ll be going to that conference with my homologue, who from this day forward will be known as Alougba. I’m also taking Two-Sain. Two-Sain is a neighbor. He is married and has two children. I met Two-Sain during post week.

Tchekpo was described to me as a medium size village. The chief told me that under his jurisdiction there are 10,000 to 15,000 people in the Tchekpo and surrounding area (quartier) . There are over 500 kids attending the highschool, age 12 to 20. School starts September 10th. I’ve already made arrangements to teach English there. Fidel, my next door neighbor is the Assistant Director at the High School. He teaches German. He’s very nice and funny, and he’s going to tutor me in French. Fidel is enthusiastic about me teaching English. He is going to make the introductions and arrangements. We’ve decided to have an English Club as opposed to an English Class. That way only kids who are really interested will attend.

Tcheckpo has a marche (market). It seems each village has a different set market day. Tchekpo’s market day in on Mondays. Tesvie (which is huge) is on Friday. Tagebow’s market day is on Wednesday. They all sell a wide variety of items, from fabric to vegetables, and each one specializes in certain items. For example Tesvie is known for the great bread. Tchekpo and Tagebow sell bread, but they are not known for their bread. Tagebow is known for it’s tie die fabric and artisan works, and Tcheckpo is known for it’s fruit and vegetables. The market vendors are 90% women.

One of the things I am scheduled to do is to work with the Tchekpo Marche Groupement deFemme (Market Womens Association.) Their association has been in existence since 1996. They have 75 members. I had my first meeting with them last week. I feel that my French is pretty good, but for some reason no one understands one thing that I say?? And I can’t understand them?? They speak primarily the local language Ewe (ev-ay) or what the Chief and Fidel called “broken” French. At any rate communication is and will be a source of frustration for a while. I’m doing everything I can to circumvent the problems. I found a tutor (Fidel) and I also found a translator, or he found me……a sixteen year old boy from Ghana named Moses. Moses came to my house recently and said that he heard I was looking for a translator. He speaks beautiful English, French and Ewe, and he’s very eager to assist me. He’s a very, nice, smart boy. His eyes lit up when he saw pictures of Alex! We will undoubtedly run into issues with his availability once school starts, but I’m hoping we can work around his schedule. Bottom line is that I need a translator for meetings, which is somewhat frustrating since I’ve been taking French for nine months, but all of the PCV’s report the same issue, even the ones who spoke good French when they arrived. It’s just different kind of French, and all the villages primarily speak their local language.

Furnishing the House
Because this is a new post, and the house was empty it was necessary to be resourceful about getting it furnished and getting it furnished quickly. I bought most of my furniture and all of my kitchen equipment from two different PCV’s who are now back in the United States.

Danielle was a PCV in Lome. I met her at the regional meeting and she had pictures of everything she had for sale. I bought most of it. I bought a kitchen cabinet, that she said would be great, because it had steel mesh screen, which the rats couldn’t chew through. Uh huh. And I bought a bed frame from her, three bookcases and a coffee table. I also bought a dutch oven from Danielle which will be used as an oven for baking. Then I had to figure out how I was going to get all these things from Lome to Tcheckpo. Danielle told me that it was going to be a real hastle, and that I would annoy everyone, but once I got to post I would be really glad that I went to all the trouble it was going to take. She was right, on all three counts. It was a logistical nightmare. People were very annoyed with me, and I was SO glad that I bought these things from her and bribed and cojoled people into bringing them to Tcheckpo.

I also met Kristine at the regional meeting. She was a three year PCV. She was going home in August also. She told me she had a table and four chairs, and that I could buy all of her kitchen equipment. This was a real coup. All of the things Kristine sold me would have cost at least five times as much, had I bought it all at the market, one at a time. She had pails for water, (you need a lot of pails in Africa) silverware, collander, a non-stick skillet (which is more valuable than gold to PCV’s), plates, bowls; everything I would need for my kitchen. She even threw in a large can of roach repellent. Uh-huh. Again, I had to figure out a way to get her things from Tesvie to Tchekpo. I also had to work around her departure schedule, as she needed them until the week before she departed Togo.

All PCV’s received 230 mill for move in expenses, plus their August stipend, which is 130 CFA…so total of 360 mill to basically buy everything I needed to set up house. It’s a good amount of money, but I had a lot to buy. I needed to buy a mattress, two pillows, ten cushions for my couch and two chairs and a gas stove and gas tank. Those items alone cost 150 mill. Myself and two other PCV’s talked one of the trainers into going to Lome with us one day before we left for village, He scurried us around Lome to the best buys on mattresses and cushions and fabric. He was great! We got great prices and great quality because of him. I now have a bed, that’s not on the floor, and doesn’t sink in the middle and two pillows. When I get into bed and close my eyes, it’s so comfortable, I can almost imagine that I’m in the U.S.
Kristine and Danielle gave me an excellent price for the things I bought from them. Practically gave me the stuff really. I was able to get everything I needed and even had a little money left over to have a couch and two chairs made by the local menusier (carpenter) in Tesvie. The couch and two chairs cost 34 mill. (Now I have 50 mill left!) It was nice to get something new, and have it made. They have a pretty standard pattern for couch and chairs in Togo. They pretty much all look alike, with very little variations, but I got to be creative when I bought the fabric for the cushions in Lome. The seamstress brought the slipcovers today, and I just love them!

Moving Day
I still had a lot of finagling to do to get all the stuff to Tcheckpo from Lome and from Tesvie, but with a little help from Blandine (our training manager) and the Peace Corps driver I had befriended, I was able to do it. However on moving day, the formitures (PCV trainers), Blandine and the driver were, how do I say this….were incredulous at all the stuff that I had amassed, and that I had to get loaded onto one van to Tcheckpo. I was the last person to leave, and we were all laughing so hard. The van was practically dragging on the ground. Blandine is a hoot anyway. She kept saying that my stuff was so nice that she was going to buy it all when I leave in two years. She just kept shaking her head and laughing, and saying that over and over. She suggested I give the driver a little extra money, because he had no idea that he was going to be moving so many things. I did, and he was happy.

The day I moved all my stuff here, I spent the entire day setting things up, and arranging the furniture, just like I’d do back in the states. I put the bed together by myself. It has four posters to hold the mosquito net, and the frame is really heavy. Kristine had included a hammer and steel nails in the bounty I bought from her, so I was well equipped to put everything together. However I was literally dripping sweat the entire day. It was hard work. The first thing I did was take out my photos of family and friends, and made a photo collage to hang on my wall. Really, that’s the very first thing I did. I didn’t have any company that first day, and I was relieved. I just wanted to spend the day by myself, settling in. Villagers and neighbors and teenagers and children paraded in the rest of the week and every time they came in, I took them to my photo collage and explained who everyone was. They loved it, and it was a really nice way to introduce myself, my family and where I come from. Part of this whole experience is to help people in other parts of the world understand Americans. Hmmmmmm. I’m not sure that I’m going to be the best example of that, but my family and friends are, and now theres a lot of people in Tcheckpo who almost feel like they know you, and really, really want to meet you.

The villagers are pretty in awe of my house in general. It’s so unlike the way they live. They do their living in their courtyards. I do my living in my house. I was prepared to live in a hut with a thatched roof, but I’m very grateful that I have my little house. It is very nice…yes indeed, but I feel compelled to tell you that I do not have electricity or running water, and I still have to take bucket showers, and use an out-house….so the house is somewhat of a façade. I said earlier, I did splurge, as did most of the PCV’s in my group and bought a two burner table top gas stove and gas tank, so that makes cooking a lot easier, than on a petrol or coal stove. However doing the dishes, is quite an endeavor. Having enough water on hand is something one always has to be thinking in advance about. I have a water filter which I have to clean and scrub every two weeks. In addition, I have to boil water for it every other day. I usually get at least three pails of water a day from the well. The well is outside my compound, about a half block away. Two-Sain, my neighbor told me I needed to get a much bigger barrel for water storage. He said that many times they will run out of water for days at a time, and that I will want to have some stored. I need water for dishes, for my water filter, to wash my clothes, for my bucket shower, and to pour into the bucket flush toilet. So it ain’t all easy street! I have lured a little ten year old girl to carry it from the well back to the house for me. She won’t take any money, but I give her a cookie or a little trinket of some kind. She just hoists that pail on her head and brings it in for me. Her name is Leah,… not to think I’m abusing some child labor laws…. All the kids join in the carrying of water and all the other things that need to be transported for their families, every single day. There is usually a stream of women and children with pails on their heads at the well at any given time of day. Thank God for Leah, that’s all I have to say. I carried it by myself the first couple times, and it nearly broke my back. The villagers at the well would laugh that I’d carry it (more like drag it) instead of putting it on my head. However one thing on my list of things to master while I’m here will be to learn how to carry things on my head…at least once.

Tchekpo. It’s starting to feel likehome.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Reliving my Youth! – Seven days after returning from Tcheckpo.

We were all looking forward to this weekend. Two weeks prior, we were at our Post sites from Monday through Saturday. That Saturday afternoon, we all traveled some distance to our regional meetings, using various modes of transportation. The trip home would normally take about three hours, but we got stopped about half way home because a large truck had caught fire and they wouldn’t allow anyone to pass. So the three hour trip turned into a six hour trip. We arrived back in Tesvie around 7pm, had dinner with our host family, and we visited with our host family about their previous week and about our week at Post. I fell into bed and got up at 4:30AM on Monday morning, heading to class at 7am. So…what I’m trying to say here is that from Saturday July 10th until Saturday July 23; a full two weeks, we have not had one minute of unscheduled time. As soon as we returned from post we had a full week of training and language classes, and we even had a thirty minute presentation in French to give on Thursday. My brain and my body were exhausted. SO…we were all looking forward to this Saturday at noon. Because at that moment we were free for the next thirty six (or so) hours to do whatever we wanted to do. All week long I had been looking forward to Saturday at noon. I didn’t have one plan, or one thing scheduled to do. I was just going to wing it. First thing I did was cancel my usual lunch at my host family’s house. I decided, instead to buy some street food and go to the cyber café. There I spent a luxurious two hours on emails, my blog and facebook. I also had the added treat of running into Tom on Facebook chat. We hadn’t planned it, so it was really fun that we both happened to be there at the same time. We were just able to sit there and chat and be silly for about an hour. Tom always appears at just the right time, and this time was no exception. I really needed to talk and laugh with someone. It was like medicine. But all good things must end, as did our chat. He had places to go and so did I. We reluctantly both said goodbye for the time being.

When I was ending my chat with Tom, Ashley texted me and told me that a group of PCV’s were meeting at the Mercy of God Bar…..mmmhmmm…..yes Mercy of God Bar. The Mercy of God Bar is laid out kind of like a mix between a Togolese compound and a Greek ruin??? Can you picture that?? Anyway there are religious blurbs written on the walls, and there are several religious statues…one life-size statue of Jesus holding a red light bulb. I walked down to Mercy of God and could see my friends sitting at the far end of the courtyard. We were the only ones there. There was loud music blaring. Lorena, christa, Elise, Ashley, myself and Carrie all sat around the table. They drank beer, and I had my usual orange Fanta. It was great conversation, and very relaxing, and I was still glowing from my impromptu facebook chat with Tom, so I was in a great mood. We talked about the Peace Corps….Lorena and Carrie have been here for a year, so they acted as the veterans, calming our fears, and assuring us that our two years would go by very quickly. They also told a couple stories that would give us pause, and scare the daylights out of us. After several rounds of beer (and Fanta), we decided to walk back to the Tech House. The CHAT volunteers had decided to spend the weekend in Tesvie, like they did over July 4th, so everyone was just kind of wandering around town doing their own thing, enjoying the leisure time and the nice weather. Ashley and I had some tentative plans to go to a funeral, which is really a huge, huge party with music and hundreds of people. Lorena (the volunteer with one year under her belt) explained that this is “funeral season” in Togo. Apparently they postpone the funerals of people who have died until this time of year when people have a little more money from their crops, and the weather is better. It was explained to us that really, funerals are the biggest event in Togo….bigger than weddings or births. Funerals are THE MAIN EVENT. Ashley and I were very curious and her host father knew the person this particular funeral was for, and he said he’d take us. Ashley said that her host family had been cooking for days, and that a dozen women had been at her host house getting ready for the funeral. Plans change as quickly as they are made in Togo. Somehow all of the people disappeared from Ashley’s house. Apparently they had all migrated to another part of town, so we decided to just meet up with everyone else at the Tech House. We would have to catch a funeral on another day. So here we were all again…The CHAP group of twelve and the SED group of twelve all gathering at the Tech House. I have no desire to relive my youth, so I often just stick around for a little while and let them get on with the partying, but “the kids” had other plans for me. They insisted I stick around because Lorena, the veteran had insisted we all walk down to the bar on the other side of town. We sat around the tech house until around 9pm. They were drinking a variety of alcoholic beverages…boxes of wine, rum in plastic pouches, sodabe, the local liquor, and beer. Music was blarin, everyone was laughing, and it was difficult not to get caught up in their youthful frivolity. Sooooo maybe I could relive my youth, just for one night!! It didn’t take that much coaxing to get me to go along on the walk to the bar. It was now dark, and off the twenty-four of us went walking, and stumbling down the rugged roads through the empty, trash filled (marche) market. It was quite a happy, festive, drunken group. We arrived at the bar, and there were at least a hundred Togolese milling about outside when we arrived. Togolese are always happy to see the Yovo’s (white people). They rushed us to the front of the line to a small window where we paid our cover charge (yes a cover charge) to get in, and we were just as quickly escorted into the walled off courtyard which was their version of a bar and dance hall.

One of these days I will write one article about all of the juxtapositions in Togo. Who would have thought there would be a bar with a cover charge. Not only that, they had karaoke, and a stage, and some of the best hip/hop dancing I’ve seen. The funny thing is that girls/women are looked down upon if they show up at a bar, (not the yovo’s) so it was 98% men. All the men were dancing together…quite close, and quite provocatively. Juxtaposition. Homosexuality is completely taboo here, and yet the men are very intimate and demonstrative with each other. They dance together, and they often hold hands walking down the street. It was so much fun, and so fascinating to be there. Dillon and I pulled up a chair, and just watched and laughed as everyone danced and partied. One Togolese man who was dressed in a long white coat, black slacks, a bright yellow neck tie and a hat came up to me several times and asked me to dance. “Oh mama” he said, “you must dance!!!” I turned him down three or four times, but after a beer, I thought…what the heck, so I danced, and I danced, and I danced. The “kids” loved that I was dancing and they formed a circle around me and clapped their hands. I am a bit embarrassed to be reporting some of this. I will be sixty in two weeks for godsakes! I do realize that I must have certainly looked ridiculous, but I didn’t care. It had been a hell of long two months, and this seemed like the perfect celebration of all of our hard work, not to mention what we were about to embark on….All leaving each other in a few days to go our separate ways to our individual villages. The Togolese man said..”Ohhhh mammmma, You dance like an African woman.” Woohoooooo! He also offered me something to smoke. Whatever it was smelled somewhat familiar, but I declined. I have not lost all of my good sense. At one point there was a dance train of at least fifty people going around all the tables. Togolese and Yovo’s all dancing together having a great time. Then it was time for the stage show where they had some great Karaoke, and the hip hop dancing on the stage. There were several sets of both singing and dancing. Again…all men. It all emulates the hip hop scenario in the U.S. The guys all have big, low riding pants on and big shirts, and baseball hats worn a little sideways, with the bill of the hat flat as a pancake. I could have sworn I was at a T.I. or Little Wayne concert. The dancing was as good as anything I’ve seen on any stage, and you had to wonder when and where, and how these guys practiced, but they were in perfect sync, and it was all quite impressive. Words could not possibly do this evening justice. So….one night of reliving my youth. Oy veh! I did only have one beer the entire night. I was high from the sights, the smells, the music and the camaraderie of my fellow PCV’s.

The evening eventually came to an end. We all left the bar at the same time. All twenty-four of us, louder and a bit more jovial than when we had arrived. I had texted (another juxtaposition) my host family on the way to the bar and told them I would not be home, and that I would be sleeping at the Tech House. I knew it would be too late, and I didn’t want them to have to wait up for me, so I decided to stay at the Tech house with the rest of PCV’s. Though I REALLY did not want to. They all had hammocks, or had claimed their sleeping spot early in the evening. I thought I would be sleeping on the bare ground, or cement, or on the floor of the Tech House. I convinced Solomon and Mark to walk me home to see if perhaps my host family was still up. I was holding out hope that I could crawl into my nice little bed, but the compound was all locked up, so the three of us trudged back to the Tech House compound. Mark and Solomon were good company, and kept me laughing the entire way. There are two bedrooms in the Tech House. Lorena, the veteran PCV was staying in one, and Damien another veteran PCV was staying in the other one. They had both come from their own villages and helped with training for this week. Lucky for me…Lorena let three of us who did not have a place to sleep (Ashley, Lizzie and myself, sleep in her room. Four of us in two twin beds, but we were under a mosquito net, and we weren’t on the floor. It was as if I’d found out that I would be staying at a 5-star hotel. I was so relieved. I had one more week of intense studying ahead of me, and losing an entire night of sleep would certainly obstruct my capacity to learn anything.

The next morning I awoke, as usual, early, and to the sounds of those damn roosters. Everyone else seems to be able to sleep through that. I got up, and was able to take a quick shower, and headed home, but first I had to navigate over at least six sleeping bodies stretched out and sleeping on the hallway floor. That could have been me!

I think I detected disapproval from my host family when I arrived home, as they were very quiet and didn’t ask me anything about the evening. I had to laugh to myself, that I felt like a teenager being scolded by my parents for staying out all night.

It was a great night. It’s not such a bad thing……reliving your youth….just for one night (smile).

Saturday - Day Seven of Post Week

That Saturday afternoon, we all traveled some distance to our regional meetings, using various modes of transportation. That trip took three hours. During those three hours I caught a bush taxi to Tagebow. Bree and Joe live in Tagebow. They are Peace Corps Volunteers who have been here 2 years will be leaving in August. Solomon will be replacing them. Tagebow is 30 minutes east of Tchekpo (my village).
I packed up my things at my new house. Left most of it there for my return, and walked from my house to the main road with my homologue and with the man who manages my house. They helped me haul my suitcase down the rutted dirt road to the main road. I stood by the main road of Tcheckpo with my suitcase for thirty to forty-five minutes until a van filled with people finally stopped and picked me up. Once I reached Tagebow, I unloaded my suitcase and tried to follow my next directions, which was to talk with someone in French and tell them to give me and my suitcase a ride to the white peoples house. Tagebow is not a small village, but there is only one white couple in the village, and I was told that would be direction enough. That’s all the driver needed to hear, however there are scammers everywhere in the world. I was spotted as an easy mark as soon as I got out of the van in Tagibow. A Togolese man approached me very kindly and asked if he could help. I told him that I and my suitcase needed a ride to the white people’s house. He motioned for me to stay where I was, and he would find someone to drive me. He returned in a matter of minutes with an eager driver, and he loaded my suitcase in the van. I will learn something new every day. This day I learned not to get into a bush taxi BEFORE negotiating the price. I only had about six city blocks to go, but I needed a ride because of my heavy suitcase, and because I didn’t know where to go. In the van the driver told me it was going to cost 3mill, which is more than twice as much as it should cost. I was really low on money, and needed enough to get home the next day. I talked him into lowering it a little, but I really didn’t have any negotiating power at this point. We arrived at the house, and I spent the afternoon, just relaxing with the PCV’s, Bree and her husband Joe, and Solomon. Solomon really lucked out. His house is fully furnished, has electricity, running water and a refrigerator….and he calls himself a Peace Corps Volunteer!

In the late afternoon Bree and I walked into town and tried to negotiate a ride to the regional meeting at a PCV’s house 40km away. I was in awe of Bree’s French and negotiating skills. It was great training for the future. She didn’t budge, but in the end, even though she had talked them down (disquiter) several dollars, Joe still thought it was way too expensive, so we decided to take motos, which costs a lot less. This would be my first experience on a moto, that wasn’t a training exercise. There were four of us leaving from Bree and Joe’s house, so four motos came to pick us up. I told Bree how scared I was, and she chose one of the drivers for me, thinking he looked safest. She also told him I was afraid and that he needed to go slow. “aller lentamente” she said. Go slowly. HA!

I have to admit it was very fun. Fun like a roller coaster is fun, or fun like Russian rollette might be fun. Death defying. That’s what it was. These are dirt, rutted roads, and they drive like a bat out of hell. It was crazy! I did arrive intact, but I do think that I was pretty wild-eyed when I got off that moto. I paid the driver and told him he did a good job. He really did. I mean…how many people could drive that fast over a dirt rutted road and not lose their passenger.

When we arrived in the town of the regional meeting, we walked a few blocks to Cerille’s house. Cerille is a one year PCV. There were old and new PCV’s there. All the ones who are living in my region (Tchekpo). There are five different groups of PCV’s in Togo. There’s CHAP which is health and aids prevention, and SED (me) Small business and NGO development, and GEE – girls empowerment and NRM,which is for farming and horticulture and I.T.(computers), which is Solomon. So it was really nice meeting the old and the new volunteers and learning how we all interact. One thing was made perfectly clear then, and often, and that is that once we get to post we can do anything we want. They do a lot of cross program work, so I can work on health and aids prevention and I can work on programs for the empowerment of girls, or even farming and horticulture. If there’s one thing I like, it’s being told, that I can do anything I want, so my imagination was peaked and my expectations soared to learn about all the things they were doing, and all the things that I could do once I get to post.

I will go into those things in much more detail once I get to post. Cerille (host of the regional meeting) was amazing. There were about twenty of us altogether, and we all spent the night. She fixed a dinner that was the best food I’d had in two months. Spaghetti with zucchinis and tomatoe sauce, a delicious salad (first salad I’d had in two months) AND brownies, and even two cakes. In addition she had little bite size snickers for us. I was in food heaven. We all were. They even had cold beer, and they even had ICE. First time I’ve seen ice since I’ve been here as well. Ashley is in my region, so we had a lot of fun. I didn’t drink alcohol, nor did I dance, but the rest of them did, and it was just fun to experience and observe.

The next morning Cerille fixed a big breakfast of eggs, and hashbrowns and fruit, and we had our official regional meeting. There is a regional PCV director, and he went through all the programs, and possibilities. It’s all taking shape. Why I’m here, what I will be doing. These PCV’s are special, and they work really hard, and really care about what they are doing. I’m very impressed, and enthusiastic.

We all left around 10am, and this time a van picked us up right at Cerilles door. It took us many hours to get home. After seven days at my post in Tchekpo and then the Regional meeting, I was ready to be back with my host family, and to be fed, and to have a bed with sheets, and to hear all the stories of all the other PCV’s about their week at their post.


I am an official Peace Corps Volunteer! The Swearing In ceremony was quite impressive, and emotional for all of us. I will give you a full report and post pictures soon. It will take me a few weeks to update my blog about the swearing in ceremony, and the weekend in Lome, and my new house and first few weeks in Tcheckpo. Everything takes a long time here. You spend so much time just surviving, cooking your meals, doing your laundry, walking everywhere, but I will soon get into a rhythm and pattern and hope to start posting on a regular basis.

For the swearing in ceremony my host family had this "complait" (outfit) made for me
In the meantime, I finished a couple old posts I had been working on, which I will post today. I'll probably publish a couple posts a week until I get current (sorry they are so old, but I thought the old ones might be worth posting anyway, just to keep things in some sort of sequence??) The two that follow this one are from the last two weeks in July.

For now...and for the first few weeks, I'm setting up my house, and meeting people in the village. While I'm setting up house I am also working on my first project which is to create a map of Tchekpo. with the help of my community partner, I am forming a committee of villagers who are helping me with this. This project will introduce me to the community, and introduce the community to me. There are 10,000 to 15,000 people in the village (Tchekpo.) There is a clinic, and the Chiefs House, and ethnic neighborhoods, for example the Voodoo neighborhood is on the outer edge of the village. There is a police station, and the market and tailors and couteaires, and carpenters and grade schools, and a high school, etc. This projet will help me know where everything is, and how things work in Tchekpo and it will give the people of Tchekpo a view of Tchekpo they've never had.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Swearing In

I know I've not posted anything in a while. I will catch up and start posting on a more regular basis soon. The last three weeks have been jamm packed with language and technical courses. When I'm not in class, I'm studying. Ok...I've had a few hours of R&R...but not many!!

Today (Monday) was our last language test and our last class

Tuesday - We start packing all the rest of our things

Wednesday - We finish packing and leave our host families and Tesvie for Lome

Thursday - We will be shopping for things for our new homes on Wednesday and Thursday afternoon. Thursday night we will be sworn in as official Peace Corps Volunteers

Friday - We leave for our new homes (posts) Tchekpo!!

I had a dress made for the swearing in. We all did. It's an all-out African "Complait"! Oh-la-la!!! We have each prepared a short speech in the local language...mmmmhmmmm. The swearing in is always televised, and they tell us that our local villages will be gathered around a TV set somewhere watching. I don't know how that will happen in my village since it doesn't have electricity???

I'm excited, and so happy I am at the end of training. It will take me a while to get settled in, but I'll start posting soon..... STAY TUNED!!!

Love to all!