You can call me on my cell phone at: 011 228 920 7328. (Be sure to use a calling card.)
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Here are my experiences from most recent to earliest::
I guess I kind of dropped off the face of the earth when I
came back to Togo, but I have lost all desire to go to internet cafes anymore.
I hope a simple pardon will do (it does here anyhow, always accompanied by the
cupping of the hands). Life here is just
so natural these days I can even think
of what to say. No longer do I look
twice at the bush taxis heaped with stuff.
Sometimes I don’t even know if I’m speaking English or French. For the past 8 weeks, I’ve been an assistant
trainer for the newbies going in and it’s really refreshing to watch them
discover all the things here that I’ve forgotten are strange to
Basically I heard through the grape vine that my homolog (my
local counterpart) split from village and that I better come home cause our pigs
were starving. So I went home and sure
enough, to make a long story short, the project needs to be reorganized
Well, I learned my lesson from that and have had all kinds of community involvement on the school construction, which was funded, by the way. Thank you very much!! We made some bricks and will be starting very soon. And on the up side, I have wonderful local partners who haven’t split and am doing literacy work with my main man Jerome. If I visit the man I have to free a full day because I know its going to involve eating at least three times, drinking tchook, and chatting.
Dang I got 8 minutes left. Oh yeah, I extended my service again until January. Yes, I am in denial about going home and can’t entirely wrap my head around it, but I do need to finish building this school and then I am coming home. I swear!
are evolving since they're still hiring another technical trainer.
It'll come together when we head to the training site in
two weeks and start really hashing out the training sessions. I
don't even have a job description yet but I can wing it. I'm a
peace corps volunteer after all! I would say my overall goal is
to make training fit the needs of the volunteer, and that include
helping the Togloese staff make their approach more American.
Even during this week of training I've seen how iI
will be able to get away on the weekends, and maybe more, but the trip
back to village takes at least 5 hours so don't know how often I will
go. I'm currently thinking that I'm going to extend my service
until January, so that I will have that time to finish up the school
project and literacy project.
Just got back from Benin yesterday. Good vacation.went to Quidah, major slaveport and up north to my friend's post, amoungst other things. Up north is different. People are more laid back, it even smells different, dry. Spent the week before that working on training materials in Lome.
Things are good here. I'm in Atakpame for a house meeting and to meet with the actors on the film. Lebene is directing it mostly. The volunteer filming it is a really talented cinematographer so I think he'll do a good job. We're filming next weekend, really last minute so were disorganized but I think it'll work out. If anything I've learned to be comfortable working off the cuff.
Our literacy formation should work out next week.then I'm taking a week long vacation in Benin to visit my fiend Glen. We were friends in DC. Really looking forward to seeing an old friend. Glen and I may plan a trip to Cameroon in May or early June.
eclipse was cool but kind of a dissappointment after all the hype
here.the Minister of Health told people to stay inside during the
eclipse, that even if you don't look at the sun, it'll hurt your
eyes. I think because they didn't trust people to not look at the
sun.they got me so scared I barely looked at it once it was in the
total phase. But I did have a glimpse.
Time is flying here and I have so much to talk about.
First of all, to all the contributers of the pig project, we now have 8 piglets! Finally! They are about a month and a half old and doing well. We have piglets Hamid, Jane, Pedro. Are there any other names I forgot? In about four months, they should be sold and we will have our first income, which mostly will have to be socked away for food.
Tomorrow at about 9:15 AM the southern half of Togo will experience a total eclipse. I'm psyched to see this, all set with my glasses and everything. The radio is really hyping it and scaring the pants off of everyone. People are preparing to spend the whole day in the houses. Worried that if they go out they'll burn their eyes out even after the eclipse is over. If only they could generate this much fear of AIDS.
I squeezed 50 or so maggots out from under the skin of my dog and her puppies
heard a interesting gris gris story the other day. I was in
the village Zitsou and not to far away from me, a man was sitting with
a strange looking hand. Apparently he was living and working in
the Ivory Coast. He got into an argument with a man and grabbed
him. The man told him Tu vas voir or you will see which is
basically a threat of gris gris. Sure enough two weeks later, the
hand he had grabbed the man with shrivelled up. Apparently,
he went to the hospital and they did a hand transplant (is that
really possible anywhere in the world?) and then told him to go to a
fetisher to get
Last week I had planned a week long literacy training of the trainers; with the Catholic parrish I work with. Nobody showed up except two people from my village. I've gotten good at just shrugging things off. Oh well, no one showed up. Later we met about it and rescheduled for next week, so hopefully, everyone will come. I'm looking forward to incorporating some ag stuff into it too. Cover cropping, improved cook stoves, nitrogen fixing trees, that sort of thing.
I come to you again for a pleq for money. I have been working
with my village for over a year on a school construction project.
They raised about $500 cash and I am really proud of them. That
is quite a bit of money for them! We need to raise about $3,600
more. My project is posted on the Peace Corps website. You
can get there by going to www.peacecorps.gov and clicking
is my blurb on why you should contribute: The primary school in
Akamé has been a leading force in the development of the
community and surrounding villages. The school serves approximately 150
children a year. Even though the population of the area is
predominantly illiterate farmers, the school has enabled community
members to educate their children, giving many of the earliest
graduates the opportunity to move on to higher levels of education.
However, the community has persistently been searching for a way to
build a permanent school building. The school currently meets in
temporary thatched shelters that are in constant need of upkeep. The
shelters do not protect students from the elements, and they are
susceptible to high winds and brush fires.
forward to the eclipse tommorrow.everyone here is really frigtened.
Worried they'll go blind if they go outside tomorrow. I am
starting my literacy project next week, even though there is no money.
I fronted some to buy the books. Looking forward to it.
A week long formation on
We had piglets again. We have nine total. Seven were born last week.and they seem very healthy. Now we just have to figure out how to sell them!
afraid I don't really have anything that exciting to report. I
guess after two years nothing seems new anymore. I'm hopeing to
film a movie about AIDS soon. It will be in local language and
will be hopefully spread around as a teaching tool. I've been
looking for a VCD forever in Ewe that i could play in village so
finally I just decided I'd have to make one. Lebene is working
on it with me and he's great.really enthusiatic and getting the job
Just a note to let you know that I reinstated in the Peace Corps and returned to Togo about a month ago to finish up my third year here. Yeah! Got back here just in time for Chrismas. I guess I made the trip home harder on myself then I should have, but that culture shock is a real doozy. I didn't realize it untill I got back here how accustomed I am to life here and how much Togo has become home (its where my heart is!)
mostly I have been visiting people and letting them know I am back and
figuring out where I am workwise. There are some new volunteers
in my area and its refreshing to see their enthusiasm and hear their
questions. As much as that time was stressful, it was full of
discovery. Its striking to see
End of '05
(Kerry, returned to the states on leave for few months to clear up a minor medical problem.)
Oh…I just spent two hours writing a lovely long email detailing all that I've been up to, feeling and thinking in the past few months, only to have it disappear in a flash to the netherworlds of lost emails. I think I might cry…
I don’t think I have the patience to rewrite it so I will give a synopsis. First of all, things are happening with the pig project. Our first litter is on its way in two weeks or so, so all those who get to name a piglet let me know because I have no way of knowing and send me the name you want! Will send an update when the big day comes!
My dad has been working on his own project for MC Tino, the winner of my antibush fire campaign. Check our www.mctino34.com. We just released his first cd on the market. My bro did all the design work and my dad financed and did all the printing and cd replication work. He’s the worlds best stateside PC volunteer!
I have been in village for the past few weeks getting back in touch with my work there, farming, and enjoying being settled. In August, I was away quite a bit with saying goodbye to departing volunteers and participating in Camp UNITE, a leadership camp for youth. My old friend Glen from DC who is PC volunteer in Benin visited my village and it was wonderful to compare our experiences, which aren’t that different really. For the next few months, I plan to be in village. I have a literacy project coming up for financing and I'm going ahead with the school building which will also need financing, my friends. Will be home for thanksgiving to Christmas, I'm really looking forward to that!
third year seemed to be getting off to a rocky start in that I'd been a
horrible curmudgeon, but thankfully, have since snapped out of
it. Sometimes the things that are most endearing here can also be
the cause of many frustrations. Must remember they are things I
will probably miss most. Like
Here is a quick update on my action packed life (its been a busy few months). First of all, thanks to all who made my trip home wonderful!! By the time I got back to Togo, I thought that I would never extend, but alas, when I got back to village and saw all my villagers and children, I knew extending was the right choice. Which brings me to my first piece of news, I have decided to stay an additional year in my village. It just didn’t feel right to leave right now. Maybe Ill be ready to go next year (end of September is my new close of service date.) Peace Corps sends me home for a month, which I will take from Thanksgiving to Christmas.
Judging from all the concerned emails I received, I would have to guess that there was zero coverage of the political unrest here. Things are back to normal but for a while it was bad here. Many lost their lives on all sides. It was often unclear who was doing what, and bandits probably took advantage of that. Everyone took an economic hit from the unrest, which can be detrimental to a household since most live on the edge of uncertainty. People are struggling right now as corn is very expensive and their corn reserves are slim because of the poor rains last year. That’s all I can say about that. How do I transition from that?
My dad came to visit which was great! He took a ton of photos and has posted them on the web. He did a great job at capturing life here so go to www.dbtecs.com/togovisit to see some recent photos and read about our travels around Togo. I also forgot to tell everyone that he has set up a website for me at www.dbtecs.com/kerryintogo .
I just returned from vacation in Mali. I traveled with Marielle overland through Burkina Faso to Dogon Country in Mali. It took three days of busing and bush taxiing to get there, but it was worth it. The Dogon people settled along a rocky escarpment in southern Mali which we trecked through, hiking from village to village from the valley into the cliifs and onto the plateau. It is magical! I have never visited a place so picturesque and culturally fascinating. The Dogon people built their villages in the cliff walls and on the rocky plateaus to escape conflicts with the nomadic Foulani. Their villages are organized to represent a woman’s body with the elders meeting place at the head, the head of the clans houses at the heart, the menstrual huts at the hands, etc. They bury their elders in the crevices of the cliffs above so that the ancestors can watch over the villages. This requires repelling off the cliffs with Baobaob fibre ropes. You can’t help but feel a spiritual presence walking through the eroded rocks and the clay village huts overlooking the sparsly vegetated but beautiful sahel when you know thousand of years of ancestors are watching over you. Some of the villages have moved into the valley. One village that was particularly striking is situated on rock just inches from the cliffs that drop off into the valley and is surrounded by rock formations and pillars.
Now, back in village, I discovered going on vacation is like in the states, in that I’m swamped with work. I’ve been receiving people non-stop since Friday and running around trying to get stuff done. No lie, I’ve been working until at least nine each night. We have a big away match this weekend and I have been tending to the authorities on that. I just discovered yesterday that the equivalent of maybe your county commissioner crossed with your governor needs to be notified if your going to play a soccer match away. They insulted me and my coach for being so late on it, but come on , can you imagine going to your governor to say your going to go play a soccer match?
The results of the hierarchical crap that I hate here. But alas, I play the game. You should hear what a formal letter sounds like here. Its the ultimate in ass kissing. “Dear his highest excellence, would you honor me to receive my request”--stuff like that.
The stork dropped three new puppies chez moi. Unfortunately, one is dearly departed. My demonstration chicken and rabbit house is almost done. “My” kids are all doing well. Boga succeeded on his exams and is going to CEG. My cat thinks he’s a dog. The household is doing well, except I’m sure someone’s gonna do my dog in since she’s taken to killing people’s animals and chasing people. I’m starting to think I might as well kill her myself and keep a puppy.
I am dirt poor now. I discovered I’ve been living like everyone treats me--a bottomless pit of wealth--which I found out the hard way, is not true. Gotta stop giving away my money. I’m operating under austerity measures so the regular “your white and rich”; comments are more irritating than normal.
I’ve got to get back to village. We have practice in preparation for this weekend’s match.
I finally typed up my extension letter, but I’m still holding on to it. I guess to see how I feel about it after I get back from the states. [As of 4/22/05 Kerry has decided to extend for another year.] I keep starting projects though, so that’s kind of indicative of which way I am leaning. I am building bunny cages and am going to start raising bunnies with some friends (that is to eat, so I suppose were not supposed to call them bunnies). We also started a goat rearing project with some of my village women which I’m going to try to integrate agroforestry into.
Plus, apparently I am now becoming a music producer since I am working on helping the winner of our song contest produce and promote his first album. Who knows, maybe well go on tour next year to talk about bush fires!
Hey and Notse is finally getting a pool! Its actually under construction at a fancy hotel (god knows why its in Notse!) which will drastically improve my quality of life if I ever have time to go to it.
We’ve got our music video out. Supposedly, it’s being aired now on 5 stations in Togo. Its actually pretty darned good, and a little funny sometimes. I’d even go so far as to say there are some really good shots. All during filming when we weren’t dying of laughing (if only we had the outtakes) Marielle and I kept looking at each other saying “we love our job!” I would have never thought Id be in Africa making music videos. Maybe someday, we’ll make it into the annual Togo hip hop awards.
Well, things are never dull here, as you may have or may not have heard (I’m not sure if Togo makes the news in the states) our president passed away this past Saturday night. When they announced it over the radio, my immediate reaction was “oh shit!”; while everyone else was cheering., but so far things are calm despite the fact the constitution was rewritten to put his son in
power. I have mixed impressions of what people are thinking. In village, its like nothing happened, except they’re a little stunned since its been 38 years since they’ve known anything but Mr. Eyedema. They say “what can we do?, that’s life” In village, people are angry but feel like they have no way to respond. There’s been some student protesting in Lome and rumoured work strikes. We haven’t gotten much news from the Peace Corps, so mostly we get info off the radio or by instant messaging rumors to each other with our cell phones. The latest news that was msgd to me is the president’s son agreed to elections. Lets pray for the Togolese that things remain peaceful. I fear more for their safety then my own. Were stuck in village for the time being with travel restrictions so I’ve managed to degrain all my corn and shell all my peanuts. maybe I’ll organize my papers next. Problem is, I have plenty of work to get done, and I feel like we might as well keep working in this time of uncertainty. We had planned to do our music video this weekend, but unfortunately, that’s on hold for now since Marielle is trapped in Gblenvie.
Which reminds me to tell you that we completed our cd at the end of January and have distributed it all over Togo, so hopefully, everyone is hearing it, although the latest news kinda takes precedence over bush fires. Still, were really excited to have it completed. The studio did a pretty good job, though there are a few cheesy moments (is that contra development, promoting bad
music?) still, they’re catchy and a good jingle is what we were looking for. I’m sending one over stateside so maybe we can get it up on the web so you can check it out.
Hey everyone, finally, it’s the holidays and I have a chance to relax with no guilt. This past weekend we had our final concert in Tsevie that was..um....ok.. Lets just say we faced numerous setbacks organizing it and we handled them as best as we could. Togo hip hop awards were organized the same night as our contest but we stuck to the date until three nights before when Eric MC said he couldn’t make it, so we switched it to Saturday night and even went ahead with it when they said power would be cut since we planned ahead for that with a generator. Problem is, we never know who to listen to and who not to listen to so when the um..."difficult" (I’m being nice) sound tech told us we only needed one generator and the generator guy said we needed two, we listened to the tech, and ended up having to cut all the lights so we could power the mics, at substandard quality.
Funny thing is, people said the concert was just fine, and I don’t think they’re just being nice. People are used to things not going that well here. Even Eric MC didn’t seem the least bit perturbed by the horrible sound quality or the fact that he was swarmed by kids when he did his last song. Half way through it, we just had him go home since they were so obnoxious. Now I’ve got bush fire songs in my head "protegeons les arbres" so O suppose it was sort of effective if I can’t get the message out of my head, maybe some others have got it stuck too.
Here are some lessons I learned: 1 listen to yourself when you have a hunch. Everyone has an opinion., 2 always test out your sound equipment with power source, 3 if there something you believe in, follow it. Do not be influenced by others.
Im just glad the concerts are over and we can move on to cd production. I’m even considering working more with music here trying to help out Notse artists, how I don’t know--maybe organizing more concerts (what am i, crazy?)
I also finished a graduate school application for Clark University's International Development, Community and Environment program, which was a relief. I agonized over the statement forever, but it finally came together, and now I might actually have something to do when I get back to the states, though I’m starting to consider a third year.
Back on the home front, I got myself a new fence that no one can see through. Finally some privacy. If only I had known how wonderful it is, I would have done it ages ago. I felt momentarily guilty for fencing everyone out, but then i noticed how much more serene I was. I can’t change the fact that I spent 27 years not being an American in an African village.
Have I mentioned the ant invasions, by the way? It’s been a while now, but one night I went out to pee. I’m walking along with my flashlight and suddenly I just feel like something is not right. Then I look closely and I’m standing in an ant swarm covering my yard. These suckers are viscious. The warriers of the colony have huge chompers and will just grab on and not let go, and they don’t die easilyeither. We took care of them with some cotton pesticides that at the time I didn’t really mind (just wanted to get rid of them since they were definitely heading for my house) but I felt kind of lightheaded around the house for the rest of the week.
Not much on my horizon until the New Year--now.just lots of eating and drinking I spose (damn, after i lost all that Togo weight....) Well, I did promise my friend I’d pick some cotton with him. I’m working on another pinata for the kids this christmas and then its off to the mountains for new years, for some swimming and hiking.
Oh yeah, I’m bringing home a new kitten I got in Marielles village (I’m still in Tsevie, heading home shortly). It’s a little tabby. I was thinking I would name it “mi do condom”, which is "wear a condom" in ewe. Since everyone always says my dogs name when they see me, maybe they’d start saying my cats name and then next time they were gonna get some they'd remember. I think its a good idea.or maybe "protect the trees".
Anyhow, I’m starving so I’m going to go get some fufu. Happy holidays and Happy New Year. My resolution is to play my fiddle again. Peace in the new year
Draft of grad school app by Kerry, 12/04, to Clark University, Worcester, MA:
The audience goes wild as our winning student rapper sings with Eric MC (a popular Togolese hip hop artist). I am thrilled to see hundreds of people dancing to songs about the detriments of bush fires. I am so proud that I have gotten this far with a project in a foreign land. A fellow Peace Corps volunteer and I, partnering with local NGO's and local radio, have touched over 10,000 students with classroom talks about bush fires and reforestation, encouraged student participation with a song writing contest, broadcast for weeks advertisements about the competition and concerts, saw student artist participation of over 100 groups, and ultimately, hosted successful, well attended concerts, reaching over 2,000 audience members. People are talking about the project, inspired by their youths' performances, and by the talent they didn't know exists in their communities. After we enter the studios with our winning student artists and produce their songs on compact disk, our media campaign against bush fires will commence just in time for the dry season, and we will reach countless numbers all across Togo.
Yet, despite our project's success, questions linger that nag me about the value of this project. When the excitement passes, I wonder, what do I really know about the fire ecology of Togo's heavily degraded forests? Sure, we learned in training that bush fires are nothing but detrimental to the environment, and I don't doubt that the annual ritual of burning is degrading cropland and what is left of Togo's forests. But what would happen if our media campaign was actually effective, and everyone stopped burning tomorrow? Would the forests regenerate into a less impacted, more biodiverse "natural" state? Would farmers have higher outputs due to increased soil fertility, and therefore, be able to bring their sick children into the neighborhood clinic? Or, would we see unexpected negative effects? Would recuperating wildlife populations become a nuisance to villagers, who would in turn be reluctant to participate in other environmental protection efforts? Would the bush become stacked with fuel just waiting for a spark to ignite into an out of control fire, rampaging through villages, which could have been prevented by annual burns?
Not having the time or resources to explore the answers to these questions, all I can do is banish them from my thoughts in order to avoid being paralyzed into inaction, and continue with my work. Yet, that’s particularly the line of thinking that has caused so many well intentioned projects to turn into environmental nightmares.
During my time as a Peace Corps volunteer, Togo has taught me more than I ever thought possible, and I have witnessed my skills from my previous work experiences in action. However, it has also opened up numerous questions regarding the complexities of development. A desire to seek out the answers is a driving force to my application to the International Development, Community and Environment Graduate Program.
The "real world" applied environmental science experience of my previous work has given me the focus to dedicate myself to gaining the acedemic background I need for advancing myself professionally. I have a range of experiences that reflect my interests in environmental science. I have worked on research projects in the field, as a crew leader on a family farm, as a watershed protection grants manager, and as a wildlife biologist. All these experiences will provide useful in my research. I have worked in situations with limited resources, I understand how organizations function, have built partnerships and have good communication and interpersonal skills, have experience with project management, and I have grant writing experience, and understand funding processes.
I seek to fold these experiences into an interdisciplinary graduate school degree. I am intrigued by IDCE's program because I believe all environmental problems require crossing cultural divides, even when working locally within the States. Mediating between and understanding the needs of stakeholders is necessary in order to find sustainable solutions to environmental issues. IDCE's dedication to the local community is a very important component of the program as well to me. That can only serve as immediate opportunities to immediately apply my research in the field.
My research interests lie in watershed and wetland management, specifically pertaining to farmers and landholders. I began working in this area in my Peace Corps experience, where I worked with farmers in a cross cultural situation. Farmers in particular interest me because I myself aspire to farm, and because it is fundamentally necessary for our survival. We can't just stop farming. Farmers have a direct connection to their land, impacting it but dependent on maintaining the productivity of their soils. Not to mention, they are some of the most industrious people I have ever met, and have qualities I respect. Working to incorporate these groups of people into watershed and wetland protection is my ideal path of research. I want to continue my pursuit to understand the science behind watershed management in an interdisciplinary environment alongside motivated students and accomplished mentors.
With the combination of my experience and the academic background I am seeking at IDCE, I am confident I will reach my goals of being more effective in working to improve the environment locally and internationally. My eventual goal is to work with farmers in an extension or mediator situation, for example, helping them to use best management practices that would preserve their soils and reduce environmental impacts, or follow land usage regimes that would improve water quality.
November 29, 2004
Hello and happy Thanksgiving! I celebrated with other volunteers in Badou, a picturesque town in the mountains. It was beautiful and cool and it rained at least three times. A nice change from Akame where the rains have completely stopped and it’s just hot. The next day we went to the waterfall in Akloa, a small village, and hiked in the lush forests. We swam and it is the first time I have been really cold in Togo. The winds that come off the waterfall were strong and the water was cold. Oh yeah, and we ate a lot. We managed to have the usual thanksgiving spread. We even got a turkey and tried to cook it by wrapping it up in tinfoil and burying it with coals, which
evidently works, except that it rained.
I didn’t know if Id be going to Badou because all week I have been sick. It started the day of our concert and by the following day I had a fever. Now is the time everyone gets sick with the change of seasons and the winds from Niger bringing God knows what (I hear they’re high in fecal matter). Funny how the seasons here kind of match with the seasons in the states. Like, right now everyone is getting sick with flu like stuff. And the African snows are starting (that is, ash falls from the sky from all the burning) and everything looks dead and wintery because its been burned in April. Things come back to life with the rains and we harvest in September, and the leaves start to fall off the trees when it starts to get dry again.
Anyhow, rewind to where I mentioned the concert. So, this past weekend we had our semi final concert in Notse and it went really, really well! I was amazed! All week, I was running around feeling like my radio partners were flaking out on me not doing what they said they would, but when we got down to the day of the concert it all came together. Eric MC showed up (at 7 am for a 8 pm show!) and was great, the sound was excellent, the door was well managed, and even the kinks worked out (like we had to rewire the cultural center). Not to mention, the kids performed amazingly well. I was so impressed by them. As for attendance, the room was packed, standing room only, and it’s a big room. There had to be at least 800 people there. A total success, I was so pleased. I’ll be interested to see how it goes in Tsevie, since it’s a little more cosmo there and I think it’ll be more of a challenging crowd. As for the message getting through, I have no idea, though talking to some students one said “I didn’t know we had talent like that in Notse, we can really developwith that.”
With that out of the way, things will calm down a little though I still have a lot to do for Tsevie, and my other projects as well. Right now I am trying to write a graduate school personal statement and hoping some sort of brilliance will come to me. Still don’t know if graduate school or farm school is better for me, but I want to have all doors open when I leave here.
Hope you are all well
November 8, 2004
This is the true shock and awe folks. I made the mistake of watching the elections at the embassy and have regretted it ever since. Now I’m scared to go back to the states. I feel so strongly about the results, can I ever fit back in there? Am i really American? My mom reminded me that if everyone had voted it probably wouldn’t be this way, but the fact is still a heck of a lot of people did vote for him. Marielle and I even tried to do some grisgris to help out JK (no nothing to harm ol GW cause that would be illegal), but everyone we asked refused to point us in the direction for a charlaton. Most people i talk to think Americans are nuts, but when I complain they say "don’t worry , its only 4 years. it’l go quickly." and then i feel spoiled cause we do have sort of fair elections and its not like he’s president for life.
I’m currently procrastinating. I have mucho to do for this freaking hip hop concert, but it seems to be falling apart somewhat, I don’t much feel like doing anything, which is counter productive. Our star of the show, a Mr. Eric MC, is MIA, and considering he laughed at us when we told him how much we could pay him, I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if he remained disappeared. Today is the last day of song submissions. They’re pretty amusing.like, feux de brousse is whack, yo! don’t do them. not too creative, but then what did I expect; I asked ‘em to write about bush fires. It’l be amusing none the less, but maybe we should have picked a better topic. after all, I know nothing about the fire ecology of togo. Maybe it was meant to burn here repeatedly, every year (but I doubt it). Oh development, why are you so complex? do you exist?
My puppies are driving me nuts. I’m practically beggin’ people to take them away. I’ve given them all away but their new owners don’t restrain them so they’re still at my house. I’m going to threaten to ship ‘em off soon. Walking out of my house is next to imposssible becuase of the puppy frenzy that encircles your feet the minute you set foot in the yard.
I harvested all my peanuts yesterday and set out some soy to dry. Soy is remarkably easy to grow. Is it like that in the states? If so, I’m going into organic soy when I get back. I’l be like that guy in Bowling for Columbine. Think I’m gonna take some to the neighborhood grinder and boil up some soy milk tonight. Fresh soy milk is a lot more tasty then the stuff in the box, but then that might have something to do with how they load it up with sugar and boil it with lemongrass. I planted some sugar cane in my garden the other day, and I’m kinda excited to see how that works. I get a kick out of all the things that grow here. Well, I better get the show on the road. and don’t forget bush fires are whack!
October 9, 2004
Hello! So much news, I don’t know where to start!
First of all, my dog had puppies. six piebald (one black the rest brown) little bundles. They’re almost a month old, and are walking well, waggin their tails, and are eating solid foods. I have never had puppies before, so it is a real treat to watch them grow. Meanwhile, my village thinks its hilarious the amount of attention I give my dog. Now, everyone loves puppies, there’s no cultural divide there. But once they grow up a little bit, there fully worthy of a kicking around. When Cleo gave birth they all said to me “weneeta” (spelled phonetically) which I’m pretty sure they only use for human babies and they always ask me about how my children are (meaning the dog).
I also had an interesting experience helping a couple students out to get into a technical school. Me and the director of the school had a talk. Mind you, it did not include the exchange of anything. I had some ethical concerns about it, but I didn’t pay him off or anything, I just said I backed the students, and I thought they would do well at his school and it worked. And anyway, this is how things work here, except that maybe if I wasn’t a yovo, Id have to have paid him. They would have been at a disadvantage if I hadn’t gone, since they are strong serious students, and would have been looked over if they didn’t have that sort of support. And hey, wait a
minute, it goes on in the states...our fearless leader comes to mind. I have to admit, I kinda got a kick out of the whole thing.
In terms of work, our hip-hop project is well underway and I’ve been pretty darned busy with it. I visited 5 schools last week to talk about the evils of bush fires and promote our contest with a team of five people (Marielle, the foresters in Notse, the Director of an NGO, and the radio station people.) I just met with Eric MC yesterday, a popular artist here, and we worked out a contract for our concerts. This week is the same and then I am off to Tsevie to help Marielle out with her talks. I have also been writing publicity for the radio, saluting everyone and their brother (good politics), organizing the school talks, and I am starting to work on organizing the concert. We are going to try to get it televised.
Also, Marielle has become a Togolese soap opera star! She started playing parts on a really popular soap opera and everyone knows here. So the last one she did on bush fires, and were hoping to get the soap opera people to make us some anti bush fire music videos that will be televised as well.
My farm is going well. I harvested all my corn. I got a fairly good harvest considering the rains did not rain much and the soil is awful. I’ll be interested to see if all the soil enriching stuff I have been doing will improve my yields. Now its bean and cotton season. I won’t be doing cotton,
but I have got beans and soy in, as well as macuna, a climbing cover crop that is supposed to be really good for the soil. Id also like to try my hands at organic cotton growing but I don’t know the first thing about it, and well, cotton is still a horrible crop, organic or not.
Other work, were getting started on the pigs, though I haven’t been around which make that a little difficult. But now that I have withdrawn money from the bank we can start purchasing construction supplies this week. Also, we’ve been exploring the possibility of building a school in my village, and I’ve contemplated doing another Peace Corps Partnership Project for that, but
I don’t know if I’ve tapped all my resources for that. To top it off, I have really started thinking about life after Peace Corps and I am really torn between extending my service and going home. I’ve gone ahead and applied to a farm apprenticeship program which would start next fall. I feel like I should be getting on with things and I have had this experience and its time to move on, and who wants to turn 30 in Togo? But on the other hand, I feel like these are some of the best days of my life, so why call it quits now, and I will still have plenty of work. There are always projects. Plus, I don’t think I’ll have time to see as much of Africa as I would like too. We’ll see how the hip hop project goes…if it works, I might stay, but if its a total disaster…well, we’ll see.
I am in Lomé to get some work done an also, tomorrow Togo is playing Mali (football that is) and I’m going to see the match with some friends. Should be a lot of fun and the whole city is gearing up. Today, while I was at the taxi station, a flatbed truck pulled up with a band and a guy painted in green and yellow paint (like super togoman or something) the promoting the match. Of course he makes a beeline straight to me and makes a spectacle of me. I should have told him to give me some tickets. I am looking forward to the match.
Hope all is well.
September 7, 2004
Hey yall! First and foremost, thanks to you for your support of my pig project. It is now fully funded, and we’ll be starting work soon. Funny, many of the contributers I don’t actually know. Ah, the power of the internet!
August was a fun month. My mom and stepdad came through for a visit and we had a great time. I got out of Togo for a week when I picked them up from the airport in Ghana and we traveled around there for a bit. Wow! What a difference between Togo and Ghana! Amazing. Accra has things like paved roads and highways (but I have to admit, I kinda like the nonexistance of
highways here in Togo). We even had dim sum. Also, the people are noticeably more soft spoken and less in your face. But, that might have been because we were somewhat sheltered since we were staying in hotels and rented a car flat out. Hit the beach and visited a forest reserve with a canopy walkway, which was funded by USAID. It was neat to be in the trees though you don’t really see a whole lot but birds.
I threw myself a birthday party in village and it went pretty well, despite the rain. Fortunately, it dried up around 9:00 and the dj I hired played all night long. I forgot about the 100 litres of tchook I had bought for my village however, and we spent the past three days polishing that off. Its not exactly hard to get rid of tchook or food, or anything really, in village. My birthday also coincided with the big annual festival for the Notse area, Abobazon. The festival celebrates the Ewe people, who came from Notse originally and then spread through out West Africa. Apparently, when they were in Notse, the king built around the town to keep people from
fleeing because he wasn’t the kindest ruler. The women rallied and started throwing their wash water on one place on the wall until it wore a whole in the wall. When the people fled they walked out backwards so when it was discovered they had fled, the king thought there were intruders since the footsteps pointed into the city. That’s the story I was told anyhow.
Evidently, there’s a lot of ceremonial voodoo stuff that goes on a the wall, but your not allowed to see that. The actual fete is at the cultural center and involves speeches and the local traditional dances. In village, they eat and drink and dance, though everyone said this year there was no money and so the fete was not good. Plus, evidently my friend’s brother went a little crazy, started speaking in tongues and went running off into the bush that night, so people ended up praying and crying for him. They went to the fetisher and he said that his brothers wife had done voodoo on him because he was a hard worker. Pretty bizarre, now I’m not saying I believe in voodoo, but what the heck was that?
Hope you all are well!
July 27, 2004
hey everyone, i just had to write and share my exciting news that i learned how to cook mice yesterday.it kind of reminded me of high school biology slicing through its belly and looking at all the organs popping out.yeh, I was grossed out, but maybe I can move one step closer to my ideal that if your going to eat meat you should be able to deal with killing it, gutting it and cleaning it, though the killing it part, I don't know if I'll ever get there. well, just in case anyone gets a hankering for mouse, or you city folks, you’ve got all that plump free rat meat running around...all you gotta do is put the rodent in the fire to burn off its fur, scrape it off with a knife, then slice its belly and take out the intestines, and its ready for roasting! scewer it, put it over the fire, and then put it in your sauce of choice, head and all.
funny, I heard from an old colleague and friend that the residential goose problem of DC still hasn't made any progress becuase everyone is afraid to do something, and meanwhile those ol geese grow fat on yummy marsh restoration plants, and I just have to laugh because that could never be a problem here! All that slow moving free meat!
Lately, I’ve been sitting around feeling bad for myself since I’ve got amoebas and the treatment isn’t much better than the affliction. The minute you get caught in self pity is dangerous, then all your self perceived short comings comes through, like how much I’m not accomplishing here, how I cant speak Ewe etc.
(Un)fortunately, almost as quickly as it comes, I have an interaction with someone that makes me see how fortunate I trully am. In this case, I spent yesterday at my friends farm watching him (I tried to work, but that didn’t last long) build raised beds with a hoe that requires spending the day bent over. As usual there’s a whole lot of banter in Ewe that I never understand. Come to find out after we got back to village, he tells me near tears that his alcoholic father was laying into him, saying he’s a lazy good for nothing after he’s been working his butt off on his farm all day, while his father was off slinging shots of sodabe. Instantly, my life is pretty charmed. Its pretty horrible that someone else’s misfortune makes me see the light.
Later on, I was looking at an old magazine from high school and a photo of the boys soccer team caught my eye. Do they know how lucky they are that each one of them has a pair of cleats, that they probably throw out after a year or so? Anyhow, thanks to you all who are rallying and who have made contributions or spread the word for my piggy project. I had a look ,and there’s still a
thousand dollars left, so lets keep rallying! Just yesterday, I was talking to someone about how the school has impacted the village. There are only 4 or 5 literate adults in the village, but since the school has been established, there are now a bunch of Akame's youngsters who are now in lycee and CEG.
July 21, 2004
Well, I’m down in Lome for my mid-service medical checkup an you know what that means..(yes, pap smears and shots..)but also I've been in Togo for a whole year! Sometimes I think back and say gee, I've really come a long way and the other times I think, I haven't done anything! still no walls on the latrines in my village, haven’t even eaten dog meat! but I sort of speak French now, and am pretty good at carrying stuff on my head, so that’s not bad.
I come to you now with a plea. I've just posted a project on the web that I am looking for unding for. I am working with my villages school to start a pig rearing project to help pay the teachers salaries. My village relies heavily on cotton farming for income and since cotton prices have dropped, and farmers aren’t even being paid by the government cotton company SOTOCO, village income has been reduced. The primary school in my village is community run and therefore, the teachers salaries are paid by the villagers and not the state, and since the farmers aren’t getting paid, neither are the teachers. This means class time gets used up in the fields where the children work to earn money for the teachers and not in the classrooms. The quality of education has been drastically affected by the lack of teachers salaries. Therefore, this project will establish a pig rearing project that will provide an ongoing source of income to the school. I am looking for a little less then $1,500. These funds will be used to pay for the purchase of sows, construct the animal housing, purchase veterinary supplies, and purchase feed supplements. The community is also supplying a significant contribution through construction supplies and manual labor.
All donated funds are tax deductible and can be pledged to the project through the Peace Corps Partnership Program website. This project would be a great project for your workplace, church, or another group to take on, or you can sponsor it individually. The nice thing about the Peace Corps Partnership Program is I am in the community and will be working with farmers to
implement the project and will also do follow up, therefore you know your pledge will be well managed. So check it out! You can go to the peace corps website here http://www.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=resources.donors.contribnow and scroll down to Togo and select "Pig Rearing project to benefit a local school" if you'd like to donate. If you don’t want to donate, but know of someone who might be interested, please spread the word! If you donate over 500 dollars, we will name a sow after you. Over 100, and we will name a piglet with your name. If you or your organization can raise the total cost of the project, we will name the building after you. How’s that for incentive?
Please email me if you have any questions.
March 31, 2004
Hello everyone ! well, i’m long overdue for an update. I have been busy writing proposals for funding. My friend Marielle and I have been planning a big media and workshop campaign against bush fires. Togo is pretty much forest less and this is partly due to the rampant bush fires. Bush fires are set for a variety of reasons predominately for chasing animals out of the bush to hunt and fires that were started to clear fields spread uncontrolled. Anyhow, with this project were going to do workshops in the schools, have a song writing contest with the students, hold concerts, produce the final song and distribute it to radio stations with some PSAs. The logic behind the project is we gotta get people thinking about the environment and how did that happen in the states? Partly through media campaigns.
Ok, so you think with all the work we’ve been doing to write this proposal we are asking for a couple of tens of thousands of dollars, but no, a measly 2000 $.petty cash in the grant world. Now funny story about this project and how our yovoness sometimes works for us here. So Marielle and I decide we want to work with this popular togolese hip hop artist “Eric MC”, so we walk into a radio station and next thing we know, were talking to the manager of some artists, and before we know it, were down in Lome talking to Eric MC himself, and he’s agreeing to work with us on this project. Now I know he wants us to work our connections to the states for him, and really, Id love to cause i think he’s awsome and his music is interesting (hip hop gone full circle, with west African local language and cultural influence) and how great would it be for him to come to the states and work with people there. It could really help him develop his style. So if anyone’s got connections…i’m gonna at least interview him and try to get his story published in the states in something, because i think its interesting.
Were going down to Lome next week to defend our proposal and please god, i hope we get the funding, because that was just too much work to have the project not work now.to my enviro peeps out there, i’m looking for good materials and activities to use in my school workshops so if you have any info on enviro ed activities for forest ecology, importance of trees, etc. please send it my way, and maybe put some chocolates in the box with it too SVP. Its gonna be a stressful couple of months if the project goes through!
Also speaking of projects, i’m about to submit two animal rearing projects into the peace corps partnership program. this program allows people in the states to donate money to projects were working on.you can see it on the web at www.peacecorps.gov and go to donate now. anyhow, one project is a pig rearing project which will benefit the community school in Akame. The teachers haven’t been paid in four years because my village has not been paid by the govt for the cotton they are growing, so were going to try to establish a sustainable source of income for the teachers, through pigs, which are pretty lucrative here. The second project is a goat and sheep raising project which is working with some of my local farmers (3 men, 3 women) to help them find alternatives to cotton farming, which just all around sucks for the farmers here (labor intensive and horrible return) If you’ve got a church group looking for some good projects or are wanting to contribute or maybe can rally your office (hint hint DOH folks), please consider these projects, and let me know if you are interested. Each project is probably going to be a little less then 1000 $, tax deductible and all that. The good thing about this is all money donated goes directly into
implementation and i will do try my hardest to use the funds as effectively as possible.
Im also working with a Catholic priest to start a tree nursery for his parish, which encompasses 20 villages. I just got the funding approved and just yesterday got a bunch of NFT tree seeds donated. Were starting work tomorrow on it. He claims people will listen to me when i try to convince them to plant and protect these trees cause when its the church preaching environmentalism, its the word of god.
And my work with the soccer team continues. Hey they played their first match a couple of weeks ago on international womens day.it was a mini tournament and they won the first match. The final they lost, but that was to be expected since they were playing against the team i play for (i didnt play that day). In the end, they won 11000 CFA which is quite a bit of money for them.
I also recently played a match with my notse team against Lome and we got our asses kicked 4-0. Those Lome women were phenomenal. Afterwards they made a big deal out of me wanting to take my pictures with them (and its not like i’m our star player at all) pretty embarrassing when all you want to do is commiserate with your team on your horrible loss.
The other day some of village kids found some of the craziest looking alien creatures ever. They were about the size of a big mouse, and looked like a cross between a lemur, monkey, bat, gecko and alien. It had giant alien eyes with these bat like ears and they held on to eacho ther like monkeys and had little suction like toes like a ghecko.didnt think a picture would come out so i didn’t take one, but maybe i should have. never seen anything like it.
Ok so its friggin hot here now.makes working hard to do which i think makes my life here very manic.i work very hard for a week and then crash in village exhausted for several days. The heat has got me daydreaming about a trip home to the states.travelling around the east coast during the fall sounds absolutely luxurious.plus, i don’t want to miss the election, since everytime i get an absentee ballot it seems to arrive after the vote, and good god, were gonna need all the help we
can get to get that man out of office.on va voir (we will see)
According to my villagers, My little dog, Akamenu, or Cleome (she has two names since she is African) was bit by a dog with rabies, but i dont know how true that is.so far she hasn’t gone rabid, and they say it can take up to two weeks and were almost there, so i’m hoping were in the clear. She had just reached the three month point (when they’re old enough to vacciante) and i had an appointment that week to vaccinate her, which we went ahead and did. Shes getting really big and is really loyal.when im around she sits under me, or on my feet, and growls at anyone who trys to mess with her or me. The villagers treat her well to, everyone feeds her and she’s always going into everyones house. The kids are really into her and take care of her when i’m gone.
Anyway, even though it is “repose” time, i’m going to embark on some more proposal writing.
February 13, 2004
Finally, I can put my interest in music to use! My friend Marielle and I are getting together a media campaign project against bush fires, probably the leading hindrance of forest regeneration here in Togo. Were taking a three pronged approach. First, we will be doing workshops to talk about bush fires in all the Notse and Tsevie lycees and CEGs (roughly the Togolese equivalent
of high schools and middle schools). This will also promote our anti bush fire song writing contest. Kids can send us their entries and after preselection, we are going to have a concert with some togolese hip hop artists to choose the winner. We will then produce the song with a togolese artist and distribute a media package to as many radio stations as we can afford. We are already talking to the manager of several artists who is interested, and talking to our communities to drum up interest. I am also looking at funding sources, which is why I’m writing to you. One possible funding possibility is to use money from our friends and families in the
states, so Id like to get an idea if anyone would be interested in funding this, or if you have any other resource ideas (or maybe some connections to some US artists..a guest star maybe?? theyd eat that up here.) Let me know if youre at all interested!
January 28, 2004
well everyone, I survived a root canal here in little ol Togo.After a couple of weeks of undeniable tooth pain, I dragged my butt into the health unit and begged them (unsuccessfully) to send me to the states when I found out I was doomed to a root canal. And would you believe it? I actually had the most pain free pleasant dental experience ever here in Lome. So if anyone’s looking
for a good dentist, I can refer you to one.
I just returned from a two week training on project management and technical issues with my homologue. He’s all revved up to get working and we got some good ideas. I discovered that the reason they don’t use the latrines that the previous volunteer had built in village is because they never built walls around them, and apparently they’re waiting for her to help them out with that
(!?!) but its not like they need any money at this point because they can construct walls from either the palms or mud bricks, so were gonna start work on that when I get back.
my big news is I got a adorable little 1 and half month old puppy. She’s black and white and remains nameless at this point. I’ve only been able to spend three days with her but she already follows me around. She’s really lazy. When I took her to the garden and she kep laying in the freshly dug cool dirt at my feet making work un peu dificile.
my other exciting news is I am now playing for the Notse womens soccer team. There is a new womens league in Togo so I guess Ill be getting around the country playing the other teams. Maybe even all the way to Dapong. Im really looking forward to befriending these women. Though I am probably the oldest, they are the only women I’ve met so far who are around my age, speak french, and don’t have children so they can do frivolous things like play football. It keeps tripping me up that people keep referring to us as a girls team, and my MHC training says women. I’m not sure when a fille becomes a femme here.
oh, did I mention that I ate mouse sauce the other day. Not too bad but a little crunchy since you eat the bones and all. It was a little hairy so I had to close my eyes for some of it. I am finding myself more and more at home here in Togo. I don't find traveling around, even in Lome, as exhausting as I used too and actually find it fun nowadays. I also discovered the social joys of the Notse market. Last weekend I ran into my neighbor and we went to a choock stand together.
Chook is basically a home made beer (that tastes nothing like beer). It’s made from fermented millet and kind of has a vinegary taste. Definitely an acquired taste. And now that I don’t find the craziness of the market stressful, I’m discovering all the fun things you can buy, like beeds and dead yovo clothes (used clothes called that becuase they say youd have to be dead to give away clothes that are still good).
Speaking of things to buy, I just passed a shop that sells ivory. Its full of tusks and animals and jewelry carved from tusks. I was horrified. That’s a lot of dead elephants.
ok Im off to the swimming pool.yeh, life is hard here.much love
January 6, 2004
Hey everyone! Much love to you in the new year. I’ve toasted many a sodabe shot to my peeps in the states and for peace in the world in the new year. Now did I mention that they really know how to throw down and party here? New years is not just celebrated on new years eve, the fete ended this past sunday, 4 days after the new year started. So, needless to say, I now know what its like to be perpetually drunk for four days in a row. I was sporting the African garb with some serious shoulder pads for the new year. Feting new years requires eating at least 5 times a day so you all have got nothing on me in terms of holiday weight. Every night, we fired up the generator and danced all night long. Now, don’t worry though cause the fete is over now and I’m back to my (mostly) puritanical ways. oh btw, i ate some kind of squirelly creature from the bush the other day. it was really good, very tender.
My new thing with the villagers is challenges. This past weekend I won deux cent franc from two of my villagers. I bet with my soccer coach that no one would be at the soccer field at 5 am after a night of feting and I was the only one that showed, but I felt bad taking his money so I just made him buy me lunch yesterday. Then I had a cake bake off with another one of my villagers and I won with a pineapple upside down cake. personally, I think his cake was better but I wasn’t the judge.
Now its just back to work, too bad the fetes over. I’ve got someone coming out to do animal vaccinations this week so I actually have to get back to village asap today so this is going to be a short one. Next week i’m off to a two week pc training which honestly, i’m not really looking forward to since I want to get started on my projects here. Also , I really hate switching between worlds. Coming back from the med unit was so hard! (and btw, my foot is better after a dosing of cipro)
This past weekend we ended the fete with our first soccer match! We got our butts kicked by the petit garcons of our village. I tried to tell the girls that the boys have been playing since they could walk but they were pretty discouraged I think. I even played for the girls, but I wasn’t about to play the whole field for them. Still, their skills are really coming along and earlier that day, we had a really good practice. My friend josh sent us four more soccer balls (thanks josh!) and now Lebane’s brother is coming to work out with us so our practices are productive and efficient. It really makes me happy to see how well its going, and to see how everyone comes out from the village to coach the girls and root them along. All their mommas were out watching the match even. Lebane and I are working on starting a team in Notse now and I also want to start a league for the Notse area.
Anyway, so long for now. Peace and love in the new year,
December 28, 2003
well, I read the other day that Bush is campaigning on the theme that "the world is more peaceful since his election", and all I can say is thank god I’m not in the states right now with all this economic upturn, code orange double speak. Ya'll better hope he loses the election or I may never come back. My village has already promised me some land to farm, and the offer is starting to look pretty good I have to admit.
Ive stopped paying attention. Dont even listen to BBC anymore, just read the Nations I get in the mail. I only heard about Husseins "capture" from a ladie at the photo place when I was getting pictures for my Visa to Ghana. Mind you, everyone I’ve talked to here is really happy for America over that one.
umm, ok so this was supposed to be an email with holiday wishes, so Ill refrain from the my political disdain.Merry Christmas and happy new year!! I hope you all had wonderful holidays!I sure did have a merry Christmas with my villagers. Christmas started with dancing on xmas eve.
Marielle and i had eaten in Notse with other volunteers (and imbibed quite a bit)so that we passed out when we got home, only to be awoken around 11 by my friends who insisted that i come out and dance. two sodabe shots later i was cutting up the sand, until 5 am mass. My friend Ibraham woke me up at 7 with breakfast. After carrying water, Marielle and I spent the morning cooking and then ate with the men of the village (why the men, i dunno). i told them i wanted to eat with the women but they insisted.) then the catholic priest i know came by for our Christmas dinner (all american style, stuffing, mashed ptoatoes, a chicken i watched being killed (i couldnt do it! i tried but i couldn’t)...a girl from the soccer team slit its throat and then i plucked the feathers) We visited people all day and people visited and brought food, and as i suspected, we drank a lot of sodabe.i made gingerbread xmas cookies which they loved, and then we smashed a pinata that i made, which was a total spectacle.the whole village showed up and I had a blast with the kids and thank god no one got hurt cuase i was worried. free candy could be the scene of a small riot.more sodabe shots and an apple pie later, there was singing, drumming and dancing next door. hen they fired up the generator for another night of juju music dancing. i ate bush rat too by the way, and it was really good. definitely a great bonding moment with my village.i cant wait for the new years fete! one of the ladies in my village is getting my african gear together for the fete (everyone wears new clothes for new years)which was really sweet of her. so now, guess where i’m not? i was supposed to go to ghana yesterday but it turns out i’ve got some foot wound infection so instead i’m at the med unit. I’m kinda bumned but finding it really relaxing, its peaceful there and i’ve watched about a billion movies.plus they cook for me. i figure i’ll go to ghana in January instead before my visa runs out. My foot is really starting to look better, so I just hope they let me out in time for new years.
Other news, i was on the radio last sunday, interviewed and then talked about american xmas traditions.doing the show with an english lycee teacher, though its funny becuase a lot of the time he doesn’t understand me (ok so granted even people in the states don’t understand what the heck i say, but i swear i was talking really slow and annunciating..) i’m looking at producing a show on environmental issues and ag issues.using local people who know what they’re talking about and can talk about it in Ewe (neither of which I can do) but getting them on the air, maybe i can syndicate it and distribute to other stations. I want to do a media campaign also, like psas or adds against bush fires. I’m pretty excited about that right now.i think it would be an effective way to at least get people thinking about these issues.
My efforts to hang out more with women is going well. I met a women from up north and she dyed my hands and feet with a crushed leaf called (i have no idea of how its spelled so Ill just write it as pronounced) lolly, which is what married muslim women do. Turns your skin orange and wards off the men. Also, since my cistern has dried up, I’m carrying water now, which is women’s work, and social as well. I also just had a tofu formation request from a women in my village, so Im really excited to get back and work with her.
My love to you all in the new year!
November 30, 2003
Hello everyone and happy thanksgiving! I am so thankful to have you all as friends supporting me in my time here. I spent the past week riding around southern togo on my bike speaking about AIDS to schools and villages along the way. Tomorrow is worlds AIDS day, so wear your condemns everyone, don’t forget the ABC's of SIDA. A for Abstinance, B for bonne fidelite, C for condemns. Don't know if anyone else payed attention but,whew! its drilled into my head. The week went pretty well and we were generally well received though some there was definitely some resentment regarding how AIDS got to Africa and skepticism regarding the reliability of condemns (some believe condemns sold to Africans are contaminated with AIDS or are less reliable).
We had a belated thanksgiving dinner friday night at our country director's house, which was really, really good considering we've eaten beans and rice for breakfast lunch and dinner for rhe past week. Ate with the Ambassador to togo whos a pretty cool guy. He rode the last day of the AIDS ride with us, and we were on TV becuase of it.
I am in Lome now and heading back home to village today. its going to be weird to resettle in to village life having been gone for a week and having even slept in air conditioning two nights in a row. (it’s dry season now folks and evidently that means its going to get really hot!) Still, I feel like I’m starting to get used to life in village. I might be making some friends even. The week before the AIDS ride, I spend a week learning to make baskets from palm fronds. Mind you, they can make a billion things from this particular tree. Its amazing! Palm wine, sauce, brooms, oil, baskets...I imagine when I get back we'll be into cotton harvesting, which has got to be better then harvesting beans which are so low to the ground you spend the whole day folded over.
oh yeah, I got bit by a snake everyone and I didn't die! It was in my house and I stepped on it. It barely hurt and I had an unnecessary stay in the hospital for it. I’m still working on pineapples, and am going to start some tree nurserys soon I hope.
November 5, 2003
I’m happy to say that every day my repertoire of coup coup skills grows. I went out to make charbon (charcoal) the other day with one of my soccer girls. The first step of the process being collecting wood and cutting up trees with..the coup coup. So i’m hacking away at my arm size branch and before I’m even half way through with it, the girl has chopped through her log which is at least four times bigger then mine, which she then proceeds to pick up and put on her head. Then we hauled all the logs and piled ‘em up. I was retired from the process after that but from what I gather they light the logs on fire and then cover them up with dirt and brush to smoulder. Then they sell the charcoal which is what most people cook on if they aren’t collecting firewood.
So I thought I’d talk a little about what I’ve learned about farming so far here. First the implements. There are four major farming implements my village farmers use here that I’ve seen so far 1. the coup coup of course, 2. the ho for hoeing and digging 3. a big hoe for making rows, 4. the basin. Also the pagna, which may be more of an accessory, but necessary for harvesting corn or padding your head when your carrying stuff on it.
The coup coup as I previously described is a machete and useful for all sorts of things as I’ve already talked about including clearing fields, digging holes, etc. The hoes have handles about the length of my arm, so all work, hoeing and building rows (most things are grown on rows here, ignammes, a big thigh sized root, are grown in mounds) is done stooped over. The blade of the ho is a big kinda squared off circle about the size of a big mans hand attached to the end of the handle with a spike. Next person who comes to visit me must bring an American hoe. I haven't quite figured out why they continue to stoop over when its so much easier to hoe standing up, except out of tradition. The basin is useful for all sorts of everything, kinda the togolese equivalent to the wheel barrow, or flat bed truck. They carry things out to the fields (pate and sauce for lunch, tools, water etc.) in the basin, and carry their harvests back (corn, manioc, beans wood,dirt, etc.)
An amazing amount of work goes into harvesting a basin load of corn, which leads me to wonder about how eliminating American farm subsidies would really help third world country farmers compete, because American farming is just on a whole technological level above African village farming, where everything is done by hand. I went to sell some corn with a villager the other day and a basin full was worth 1000 CFA (about a buck seventy five). A basin full of corn is probably about a 20 meter row of corn. To produce the corn, you begin by clearing the field and making rows, planting the seed. The corn is weeded and fertilized several times, and when ready to harvest, picked by hand. the corn is beaten in burlap sacks to make most of the corn come off the cob and the rest is removed by hand. No combines here. All the work is done by hand.
Regarding packages, if I haven't already thanked you profusely for a package you've sent, I havn't received it (really, Ive reformed from my lackedasical days of thank you letter writing). But i just heard that there are several waiting for me at my mail pick up point dating back to September, so don't lose hope! Things just don't always move that quickly here.
My other exciting news is a girl on my soccer team is teaching me how to cook Togolese food. In my last lesson I made okra and little fish sauce and pate (the corn flour based mush kinda like cream of wheat that they eat with sauces). It was actually pretty tasty, but then its an acquired taste, so I spose thats a good sign that I’m getting used to life here. Don’t mind eating little fish heads anymore, even though they’re looking at me.
I'm in Lome today but heading back to village. My big news is I’ve spent the last 3 days homesick free! I feel like something clicked and I moved off the Plateaux of adjustment to another level. Anyhow, that’s it for now. Thanks for all the correspondence! Hope you are all doing well.
September 1, 2003
As of three days ago, I am officially a Peace Corps Volunteer. I am now in the capitol city Lome for a couple of days. The swearing in ceremony was on Thursday at our country director's house. We each had to give a small speech in our local language, which evidently was a big hit. Generally any attempt at speaking the local language by yovos (in my case, Ewe, but out of my group of 9 trainees, we speak about 5 different local languages) is enthusiastically received, since generally, most non-Africans who come here don't ever attempt it. Im going to try hard to learn in it in my first few months at post, which by the way is Akame, a very tiny village just north of Notse on the route nationale.
Lome is friggin crazy after being in my tiny little village in the mountains. Were a couple blocks from the beach (which would be a whole lot more exciting if it wasn’t the local bathroom) and have mostly been trying to finish the shopping we need for post. I actually ate an eclair yesterday (which BTW was really good) and then promptly swore off the yovo offerings of the city, because its just too weird indulging in them. I spent 2000 CFA on a friggin pastry. My host family doesn’t even make that in a day probably, and after all, I am in Africa, so I might as well get used to not eating cheese (I was vegan once..why is it so difficult?). It’s also a little uncomfortable how I sense boundaries around the european establishments for Africans. I get the impression that the Lebanese traders mostly keep to themselves, and there’s a serious class and race divide. I seriously doubt Africans would be welcome in the cafe I was in or any of the yovo restuarants, nor could most Africans afford to eat there either (I’m not sure if they would want to if they could though.) Dunno if I can live up to that challenge though.
I did go shopping in the Yovo grocery store and laid down a fat wad of money...but I really do need soy sauce and balsamic vinegar...Yesterday we went running on the beach with oh..Id say almost everyone who lives in Lome. Sunday mornings everyone goes down to the beach for formation running. There’s a whole lot of singing and drumming. Its kind of like a jogging parade. Along the way I passed people playing soccer and volleyball, doing calisthenics, and I passed about 400 people doing Yoga. Its quite a site because there are just so many people recreating in so many ways. Gotta get this started in the states.
Speaking of running, my fellow volunteer friend Marielle and I befriended a couple of guys from village who we ran with each day. One day a very unlucky bush rat crossed our bath and with one swift kick without even thinking about it, Komi sent the thing soaring 30 feet . A couple of guys coming towards took off after the rat and found it in the bushes, and thanked us profusely for their dinner.
I’m currently trying to navigate this friendship and figure out if its actually possible to be just friends with these guys or not. I made the mistake of telling Koukoo that Id go to the beach with him, which then i later realized had some implications and had to rescind the offer. doh. only three days into being a volunteer and I’ve already made a major faux pas. Some volunteers recommend just befriending women to avoid these hassles, but then others seem to be able to maintain friendships with guys. Still, its really friggin hard explaining in French that you "just want to be friends".
BTW, the country code number that i sent out with my cell phone number was wrong. The real number is 011-228-920-7328. this thing may turn out to be more of a headache than its worth since not a single international call has gone through yet, and international calls were the primary reason I got the damned thing to begin with. Still give it a try. If you ever get through, I can receive international calls for free (though you will be shelling out the dough for sure.check the internet for calling card deals)
Now that I’m done with training and am off to village, I will have beacoup free time to respond to peoples emails and letters so keep ‘em coming. It’l be interesting transitioning from being busy all the time with training to have a completely unstructured time. what we do in village is completely determined by us. its a bit daunting, considering most volunteers spend their first year figuring out what they’re going to work on.
When i visited post, I was approached by a girl who wants to have a soccer team, so perhaps Ill have some work coaching when I get there. Otherwise, I just intend on hanging out with the farmers in the field and maybe inviting the women over to make tofu and improved cookstoves. We have been trained in improved ag techniques, and presumably in time, I’ll figure out how to transmit that info. Maybe Ill watch some birds too and I intend on having a huge garden! Some people have asked about what things they can send me. here is a list:
seeds for my garden (especially spices) varieties that grow in the southern zones of the states should work here
sauce packets (who knew mac and cheese would be so appetising)
chocolate and other goodies
spray in hair conditioner (yes, i’m serious. but maybe ill just cut it all off anyhow) for food, Id put it in zip lock bags before sending it because its so humid here, flavors tend to meld and everything gets here a little wet. my address again is
Corps de la Paix
Thats it for now! Keep in touch! Plan your visit!
July 4, 2003
Hello everyone ! These computers do some strange things. So bear with me if this email is odd. i’m stilll figuring out where things are on french keyboards and i cant seem to make the caps go away !
Anyhow, today we have the day off for the fourth, and finally have some time off to sit down and write an email (to those who have written me, i will eventually get back to you, i swear) we are kept busy with training mondays through aturdays 730 until 430. We have french lessons each day and either technical or cross cultural lessons. I have really grown to hate thursdays because we come to kpalime to have joint training session with spd people on health and safety, and inevitably we talk about all the bad things that can happen to you--creeping eruption, taxi cab scams, schisto..plus we get our shots. still, the training is good, and my french is coming along slowly. We also have been working in the garden and talking to farmers which is really interesting. I learned about land ownership the other day. Land is passed down but now there is a major land squeeze all the land around tomegbe is owned and has been divided over generations. Land is no longer rotated for cultivation because people just don’t have enough land to let it lay fallow.
Today i am in kpalime, a larger town staying at a friends house for the night. The small business development trainees are stationed here and were meeting up in a bit for a july 4th party. we’re going to attempt to cook up some american food, which at this point, we are all desperately craving, badly (really, i think i was craving a bologna sandwich the other day..thats bad...) Last night, we actually went to a suisse restuarant, the only non african option here, and we were just about in heaven.who knew ham and cheese could be so good ? And its not like my host family doesn’t cook well for me. I’m fotunate to have a host mom who makes a vegetable sauce every meal (that doesnt have the nasty dryed fish that other stagierres are unfortunatly plagued by) its just that every meal is pretty much the same thing, a sauce and a starch. send twix soon !
All us natural resource management stagieres (nrm) are training north of here about a half hour in a town called tomegbe .tomegbe is in the mountains and is beautiful. Tropical. its a village of 10,000.pretty small, no electricity, no running water.i carried water from the pump the other day on my head. The villagers always get a kick out of the yovos carrying water. I live in a compound with a family. its hard to tell who actually lives there. definatly my host mom adjio, and her daughter aku. There are three kids around too. Akus daughter, jennifer, and adjios son’s daughter oreli, qnd a boy rachide, who i’m not really sure of his relation. There aren’t really any men around and the other day i asked where they are. They are all working in lome and from what i understand. Jennifers dad is a nurse or doctors; her mom married another man.its fairly easy for a woman to leave her husband but she has to leave his kids with him. i’m not exactly sure of adjios opnion on this(my french isnt good enough to get into that) it seems the village is fairly well off since the men are all off working. i really like my family and the kids are great, they love to hang out with you and even if you can’t figure out something to say you can always just play with them. plus, its always good to get a hug from them when you have had a hard day, or are homesick.
Last sunday there was a soccer tournament in our village which was really fun to watch. they are really good and the games are intense. our village won one game and lost one to a neighboring village. it seams like the whole village was there watching. that night there was drumming and we danced with the villagers. i believe the drumming was for a funeral that started on friday and lasted until sunday.
We had our interviews for site placement wednesday and i have a strong suspicion that i will be placed in the region centrale, in the sticks! It’s village that has encrtoached on a park and ill be working with farmers to try to reduce their effects on the park. They said ill be an hour bike ride to the nearest phone !
So that’s it for now ! Please keep in touch !
June 20, 2003
I arrived in Lome yesterday evening where we were greeted by humidity and the country director after a very long flight. It is overwhelming here, and I really can't believe we arrived just last night. Today we spent the day touring the offices and getting bikes, and getting shots (sore arms...) and talking to a lot of old volunteers. We were also invited to the country director's house for a reception with the American Ambassador this evening.
Lome pretty much reminds me of Mexico so far...same sorts of buildings, smells, and bumpy roads. We live scheduled lives for the next three months during training until we head off to our villages. We are here in Lome until Monday when we depart for our training villages. natural Resource Management people go to Tomegbe, where we will be moving in with our host families. Everyone says tomegbe is beautiful, and one volunteer compares it to the Appalacian mountains. It is also cooler there, which is good, because it is hot and humid here (and they say this is the cooler season...)
I am feeling pretty good..they are taking good care of us. I have waves of homesickness but mostly everything is so new and exciting that its very distracting. I really do appreciate not being at work I must say...I am loving that! right now it feels like were on vacation, even though everything is exhausting.