Yesterday (April 27) was Togolese Independence Day. It was a big deal in Guerin-Kouka. Probably half the population, in various groups, paraded through the highschool soccer field while the other half, including me, Karen, her brother Steven, and his girlfriend, Jodie, watched. My favorite group was this kung-fu/karate outfit who demonstrated their skills to the delight of the onlookers. This one guy channeled his inner Jean-Claude Van Damme on another guy with a machete. A group of boys in uniform, complete with wooden rifles, stopped by Karen’s house that afternoon and demonstrated their marching/formation- I cant think of the word I’m looking for- stuff in her yard.
Karen’s brother and his girlfriend visited this past week. They are really cool. He works for a volunteer organization called CrossCultural Solutions that sounds a lot like Peace Corps only without a 2 year commitment. They biked out here to Nampoch for a day. It was really fun to get to show my village off a little bit.
I am sitting here munching on these peanut butter cracker sandwich things that I got from Letha. So good.
Last Friday I got back from a 2 week trip to Lomé and Pagala. Lomé was a lot of fun, despite all the work I had to do. One night Alisha and I went to this Lebanese restaurant, had a really good meal, and then smoked sheesha for awhile. I had Egypt flashbacks, but it was really relaxing.
In Pagala, at the Peace Corps complex, we had PDM/IST. This was a joint GEE/NRM conference with our homologues. The first part of the week, PDM (Project Design and Management- I think), focused on planning, budgeting, and executing a project. The second part of the week, IST, was more technical training. It was a tiring week, but it was really good to see everyone, especially the GEE people that I hadn’t seen since swear-in. The best thing about PDM/IST, though, was the fact that our homologues had an awesome time.
Its hard for many Togolese, especially those in rural villages, to travel a lot. PDM/IST was, for the homologues, essentially a paid, working vacation where they got a lot of good food and could hang out with their colleagues. Kodjo is an extrovert. He spent the past month talking about going down to Pagala and he enjoyed himself immensely when he got there. It was good watching him interact with all the other homologues.
I’ve been reading this magazine that Maria sent me, the Central Asia Institute’s “Journey of Hope,” about relief work in that region. One thing that really gets me, that I’ve had a hard time wrapping my mind around, is how much further money goes in relief and development work. Take this pump project that I’ve been trying to get going for example. The budget for that comes in at just under 10,000 USD. Ten grand will ensure that a community of about 500 people will have ready access to clean water for the foreseeable future. That means a decrease in infant mortality, an increase in over-all health and sanitation, and countless other benefits. For example, if the new pump gets built, we will have enough water to start a community perma-garden project. My host sisters will be able to study in the evenings instead of standing in line to get water from the current, dilapidated pump. All for the price of used car in the US.
I was reading that, in Pakistan, the Central Asia Institute gave out 250 USD to families whose houses had been wiped out in the flooding last years. This money enabled them to rebuild their lives. I think I once spent 250 dollars on a PlayStation 2. That seems really pointless now.
My host dad’s big sister (same father, same mother) died last week. Her burial was in her village, which is about a mile from Nampoch, but the funeral/wake was at my house.
I just spent a night in air conditioning. Heat rash free for 24 hours!
The post for this week is the same as last year. You can either send me a photograph you have taken this holy week describing what it is ( a "paso", a holiday place, something unusual,...)or you can comment any of the pictures which have been already published for this post.
Ooops! I almost forget, first of all you must send the photo and the description to my e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org ; hay un guión bajo entre la p y vallejo)and I will publish it as a post. I´m looking forward to your photos!!!!
Enjoy your holidays!
being in Lome has been nice. the Volunteer 'work center,' aka the Lounge, in the Bureau is always refreshingly cold. its good to hang out with other volunteers. I met several people for the first time. Volunteers from the north and south dont get to meet up a lot because of the distance.
we've eaten a lot of lebanese food here in Lome. mainly because humus is amazingly good. last night we got pizza at this fancy-ish restaurant. it was Really good, and almost like US pizza. the tahini sauce on the falafal sandwiches at this one place is amazing.
I am laying under a fan right now in a hotel that has wireless (sometimes) internet. its kind of crazy.
I feel almost anonymous here; people in lome are used to seeing foreigners so they usually leave you alone. although taxi drivers get kind of ticked when you try to pay them togolese prices and not foreigner prices. its refreshing to not always be on display as the token stranger.
there is a new CHAP/SED stage coming in soon. This means i wont be in 'the most recent' stage. it also means that one of my friends will be COSing (completion of service) soon and a new person will be replacing her. this is kind of sad. every 6 months or so about 25% of the Volunteers are rotated out and replaced.
just a shout-out to the new Congress. Thanks for cutting our budget 10%. the Entire Peace Corps budget for a year could pay for about a day in Iraq, so that 10% will save someone a "lot" of money
the trip down here was a broken A/C fan away from being hellish. I took a moto to Alisha's on saturday evening so that we could catch the "Lome Limo" the next morning in Kante. the Limo is a PC van that goes up and down the country twice a month and offers free rides to PCVs. we caught the Limo in Kante about 8 am. we got past Kara and into Centrale without any problems. Then, a little more than halfway down, the traffic stopped on the Route Nationale. we got out and checked it out. a tractor-trailer had jackknifed acrossed the road, blocking everything. a crowd of people was helping those few 4/4 vehicles get around the wreck through a step ditch. not an option for us. our driver eventually figured out a way around the wreck. dirt roads through the countryside. the roads were mostly terrible. im still bruised. the best part was this Chinese bridge (the chinese do a lot of road construction projects in Togo). After probably 2 hours of banging through the countryside we finally made it back to the Route.
we stopped at the Atkapame (sp?) transit house for a bit, then finally got into Lome about 7pm. I cant really describe the ride in a packed van that is bumping and swerving through togolese roads. especially at night. talking about this is making me car sick
the good thing about the trip was that we had A/C and that we didnt have an additional 5 people packed in like a bush taxi would have.
so i started a girls soccer team from the local CEG-- think junior high and the first couple grades of highschool. the importance of this project takes awhile to unpack because of how its related to girls' education and empowerment-- one of Peace Corps general goals. but, as my homologue for this project explained to the CEG classes, togolese women do all the same stuff that men do, and often with a baby on their backs. especially in nampoch, women and girls work constantly while men spend a lot of time (in the agricultural off-season anyway) hanging out under the neem/mango trees.
anyway, I was really excited when I walked out to the practice field and saw about 20 girls playing soccer, many for the first time I think. they missed the ball with a lot of kicks, but their learning curve is really sharp, i think because soccer is such a part of life for guys here. it was such a weird, happy, excited feeling to be able to get people involved in something they hadnt been able to do before
gotta get some grants written, more on this later
I was trying to cook dinner last night when I felt something run over my foot. Nigarmi, who was sitting close by yowling like he always does when I cook, jumped on the thing. From the legs disappearing in his mouth, I deduced that it was a spider whose size was directly proportional to its stupidity.
About 4 am though, I had to pull Nigarmi out of the eves of one of the buildings in the compound, after he stopped growling, because Gross (pronounced ‘grO’), the dog, chased him up there.
Nigarmi is getting bigger. He can jump up on the wall around my compound now, hence how he got up in the eves, and he can climb up on my paillote. He’s been trying to catch a lizard, but he hasn’t mastered the art of running straight up walls like they can. Last week I was dozing on my lit picot cum couch when I heard peeping. I looked under my lit picot to discover that Nigarmi had brought me a chick. I had to take it back. He wasn’t happy.
I would like to reiterate that it is hot. Even Togolese say so. I am in Guerin-Kouka right now using my friend Karen’s house and electricity. She has a fan. It is heavenly.
The other day I went out to another village close to Nampoch with a friend of mine. We stopped by this one house to saluate some of his friends/relatives. The mother asked if I happened to know of any medicines that could help her 8-ish year old son. He obviously had some kind of mental issue. With my friend translating Konkumba into French I figured out that the kid had had a brain aneurysm. I explained what that was, and drew a picture his mother. My diagnosis met with universal approval and I instantly got a reputation in that village as someone who is medically inclined. Anyway, as I sat there, I realized that the kid has little to no hope. His parents, or even his village, have nowhere near the resources needed to take him to a brain doctor, or to pay for an operation, if surgery like that is even possible in Togo. The kid went from being normal one day to being messed up for the rest of his life the next. Its something that’s hard for me to wrap my mind around. Be glad you live someplace where you can go to an Emergency Room and get patched up.
The rest of my visit to that village, Kpamboea, was better. I went to someone else’s house and got to talk about soja, stockage, and women’s groupements. And everyone gave me guinea fowl eggs. That’s never happened before.
I got a short-wave radio a couple weeks ago so that I could listen to BBC. I think I got it just in time to hear about how an international coalition is blowing up Libya. Anyway, as I sat there flipping through the 9 bands of shortwave for the first time, the whistle of dead airwaves launched me into this weird isolated, existential moment where, even though I was in my courtyard surrounded by people, I felt alone in the world. It was a weird moment. But I really like my new radio even though its hard to get good reception even with 9 bands of shortwave.
The best 8 mille I’ve spent in Togo yet was on a soccer ball in Kara a couple of weeks ago. Comparatively speaking, this is somewhat expensive—I can get more food than I can eat on the street for 2 hundred CFA for example. It seemed like a good ball, but I was skeptical. Quality control is a luxury and a privilege.
I should point out that “soccer” doesn’t exist here. Its football.
Anyway, I brought the ball home and, the next evening, I brought it out while my 2 little host brothers and a bunch of their friends/relatives were hanging out in the courtyard. My oldest host brother is N’Telabi. He is about 13-ish. His eyes got about as big as the soccer ball. I handed it to them after explaining that it was mine and that they had to bring it back when they were done playing with it, and I instantly became the most popular white guy in village.
I realized that I fulfilled two goals at once—I got ‘in’ with the kids and I quenched my desire to watch competitive sports.
The reason why I got a soccer ball for the kids was because I was tired of watching them play soccer with cans, balls of rags, or ripped up rubber balls. Really anything here works as a toy. My second host brother, Adjay, likes to chase around an old moto tire. Old bicycle hubs nailed to sticks seem popular, as does about any manner of junk or trash that no longer has any other use.
I got more actual toys for Christmas when I was 8 than kids in Nampoch get in their lifetimes.
Granted, this dearth of toys engenders some useful trends. N’Telabi, for example, has a reputation in the cartier for resurrecting cheap flashlights. I gave him mine when I was tired of beating on it to make it work, and I see it floating around the compound now.
Back to soccer. A couple of days later, I think it was on a Sunday, the kids went out to this soccer pitch by the pump to play a full-on game with the ball. At about 2 pm. In the sun. I came to watch them and I was soaked in sweat just walking out there. The defense on my end hung out with me under the trees when they weren’t doing anything though. Most of the kids played barefoot. Some of them wore plastic bags, others a sock or two or flip flops. N’Telabi had this pair of boots, another guy had a pair of sneakers. I took pictures. Hopefully I can post them.