a couple random thoughts

i like mayonnaise. this is weird for me. i hate it in the states. but now, one of my favorite things to eat here is a an egg sammie. this consists of 2 fried eggs with peppers, tomatoes, and onions, depending on the place, and put in a long loaf with mayonnaise. so good

Alisha found me a teapot. this, plus the egg carrier that I got from Maggie, will change my life.

you should google 'camel spiders.'

i prefer to call them "*blank*ing, crazy, mutant, alien spiders from hell" but thats just me

This is a post that may or may not make sense . . .

The past week has been exhausting. I’ve been helping out with this pump project a lot. The plus side is that I’ve seen a lot of Dankpen/west Kara and its freaking beautiful. I originally thought it was flat here, but some of the roads come up on these ridges where you can see for kilometers across these broad valleys. There are random green “mountains” everywhere whose relative bulk to the landscape makes them look like fetish homes. You look across the landscape and the distant fields look like lawns that are heavily dotted with trees. Occasionally smoke from charcoal makers smudges the green with touches of gray. Storm cells slog over the horizon in the late afternoon like wandering giants supremely disdain of us mere mortals below.

We put in a new pump in this village that is close to the border so we took a break to swim in the river between Togo and Ghana. The current is pretty fast so no one, probably, got schisto (google it).

On the minus side, I feel like I got hit by a truck. Like I think I said before, its hard installing a pump piece by piece, especially when a lot of the work consists of holding on to many meters of galvanized pipe. Part of the problem is that a lot of the pumps are in these circular enclosures that are about 7-ish meters in diameter and have a shoulder-high (to me) wall around them. Since they are usually in the full sun, and full of villagers watching/helping, it gets really hot in them. One day I got sun-sickness and had to check out for awhile.

Things were going well otherwise with the project until 2 nights ago. Myself, Adam, Matt, Kadar, Adam’s homologue Gbandi, and the mechanic, Mr Daré went to this one village near Kouka in the late afternoon to get it done quickly so we had less to do the next day. It was the evening of marché so everyone was drunk. By the time we were done, we were pretty fed up with the place. The main condition for a new pump is that the village has to come up with 25% of the total cost. All the villages up until then had been good about paying their share. But this village hadn’t collected the money yet. So we went back the next morning, and they still didn’t have it together, so Adam told them that they had until the evening, or we would come take the pump. Evening rolled around, after a frustrating day of more non-payment from other villages, and we went back. No money. So me, Adam, Kadar, and Kadar’s little brother, Ganeou, went and took the pump handle. It really sucked because there were about 10 women and girls standing around watching us as we cut off their water supply.

The way these funded projects work is that the PCVs are responsible for the funds. If villages don’t pay for their share of the labor/materials then the PCVs have to cover the deficit out of pocket. Another village for example, didn’t pay yesterday when we installed the pump in the morning, but we went back that evening and they were out under a tree with a table full of money. One guy explained to me that they’d just had a funeral that they had to pay for. Once villages have the pump, they have no incentive to pay, especially if the chief is less than responsible. The first village actually just brought the rest of the money this morning, so they got their pump handle back. Thankfully though, most villages have been great to work with. One village paid in part with a sack full of 10 and 25 CFA pieces, which showed that everyone in the village had been chipping in to help pay for the pump. People, especially the women, are really thankful to have a new pump, and it is gratifying to help them, but, unfortunately, human nature is not culturally specific.

Today I went au ville here in Kouka to buy some supplies. I bought a new flashlight because I left my other one at Alisha’s. I’ve been amazed since I’ve gotten here about how ubiquitous LED lights are here. This is due, I think in part, to the fact that the only batteries that you can get here are really cheap Chinese ones. I think they actually have a core of charcoal. But yeah, LEDs are bright, last a long time, and put out a nice light. Its weird to look out over a dark landscape and night and see random LED lights off in the bush.

As much fun as its been hanging out/working with other Volunteers for the past couple of weeks, I am looking forward to getting back to village and sleeping for a couple of days.

I just read in my newest Volunteer newsletter that PC-Togo has a special relationship with Togolese customs; so, if you send me anything, you should put Corps de la Paix in the address somewhere. (hint hint).

I just realized how out of touch I am with the rest of the world right now. I have no idea whats going on, especially in the US. Is the latest good movie that important to know about? I don’t know.

I’ve been gone so much lately that Nigarmi is developing separation anxiety. Every time I do something with my backpack he attacks it.

One of the beauties of PC service is that you do things you never thought you would do. Like, I never thought that I would be becoming a semi-expert on hand pumps. Yet, here I am.

Soft drinks taste better here. A. I don’t get a lot of sugar. B. they are made with actual sugar and not high fructose corn syrup. I say this because this post is fueled by exhaustion, lingering frustration, and the cold-ish Fanta that I just drank.

One parting thought that I have not been able to get out of my head recently is this. The US spends billions of dollars a year on new warships, fighter jets, tanks, etc. What if a couple of these were canceled and the money used to build new wells/pumps across sub-Saharan Africa? That would do more to promote US security than 100 new fighter jets would.

Bikes and Pumps

I am sitting in Karen’s house watching Emily make taco salad. My mouth is watering. Emily’s friend came to visit from the US last week. He brought us tortilla chips. I treat my ipod with less respect.

Last week, my friend Adam organized a bike tour of west Kara in support of his and Emily’s pump project. It was the first annual Dusty Fried Wagash bike tour. Karen and I loaded up our bikes on a car in Kouka and went down to Kabou on Wednesday. We met up with Jen and Kadar, who is the main homologue for the pump project. Karen and Kadar went on down to Bassar on Kadar’s moto while Jen and I waited in Kabou for a car to take our bikes. Three hours later, we left.

Outside of Bassar we met up with Karen, Kadar, Adam, Brandon, Ben Conway, and Adam’s homologue, Gbandi. We left Bassar on our bikes for Dmirori, Brandon’s post. Kadar and Gbandi followed us on motos. We stopped off in Adam’s village, then took a back way to Dmirori. The path was pretty bad, but it was fun. Southwest Kara is hilly and pretty now that its started to rain.

28k later, we made it to Dmirori right in front of a thunderstorm. We celebrated Kadar’s birthday party at Brandon’s house. Then slept. Thursday, we left at like 6am for Kabou. The First leg of the trip was really nice. It was overcast and cool, the clouds hugged the green hills. The road was a red gash rolling over hills and through the trees. We rolled through these picturesque hill-top villages. The villagers definitely weren’t expecting to see a horde of sweaty, panting white people. It was funny.

We hit the main road from Ghana to Kabou about 3k from the border. The next two legs wound up being the worst part of the trip. First off we had this really low, winding hill to climb. We all eventually had to walk I think. At the top of the hill, we stopped off in this town and hung out at a bar for a couple of hours under we could stand up safely. We got in to Kabou about 1 pm or so after another series of long up-hills and short-down hills. It wound up being about 55k. We met up with Matt and Jacqui, who biked in from Bassar, then spent the rest of the day hanging out at Matt’s house.

The next morning I thought that my quads were going to fall off, but we biked up to Kouka. We stopped off at Jen’s house in Manga for awhile, and we visited a couple of pump sites as well. The bar outside of Kouka was really inviting by the time we made it about 40k later. Matt had a amoebas so he rode on Gbandi’s moto. We hung out in Kouka the rest of the day at Karen’s house.

Saturday, Karen, Emily, and I had a trash collection project meeting in Kouka. After that I biked out to Nampoch with Jacqui, Adam, Brandon, Jen, and Ben. Adam and I moto’d out to another pump site in the brush outside of Nampoch with Kadar and Gbandi. We made it right before it started raining. We waited out the storm, but on the way back, Gbandi put our moto over in the mud because the path was a river. We were ok though.

We wound up biking about 145k in 4 days. It was a lot of fun.

Yesterday, we started work on Emily and Adam’s pump project. They are replacing 29 worn out pumps in Dankpen and Bassar prefectures. Emily’s half of the project is funded so she’s getting it started before she COS’s in August. We replaced two pumps yesterday. It basically consists of lowering 30-40 meters of 2 inch galvanized pipe down a well. You have to attach one section at a time. If you drop the pipe down the well—its not really fun to think about.

It was exciting to see the villagers react to their new pumps. Suddenly they had lots of water where before they had little or none. One totally new 38 meter pump costs about 1900 dollars. I’ve bought computers for more than that. You don’t really think about the importance of water until you don’t have it. I feel like that, in the US, we take water for granted. Turn faucet. Drink. Here, you have to walk 5-10 minutes to the pump, wait your turn, then hand pump your water, and carry the basin home on your head. Water is labor-intensive and this, in turn, informs how it’s used. If the pump is broken and water is scarce, for example, women can’t bathe their children very often. It’s humbling for me to realize that I’ve blown money on junk that, if spent differently, could make a real difference in someone’s life.

Anyway, after we installed the pumps, Brandon, Adam, Emily, and Matt gave talks on the importance of stuff like hand washing, sanitation, pump maintenance, and sending boys to get water. It was one of the more rewarding days I’ve had since I’ve been here. We are installing more pumps for the rest of the week.

I just realized this—Wagash is a soft white cheese made by a local nomadic, cattle herding tribe that roams across west Africa. We usually eat it deep fried. Its so good. Really good wagash tastes kind of like deep fried cheese curds.