two ears of corn

That is the title of a book about development. Another good book for those of you who are inclined towards gardening is "How to Grow More Vegetables." It is a book about bio-intensive gardening. We use a lot of its techniques.

Nampoch has a new (replacement) pump. I will write a post about it later.

Its grilled corn season! Women and girls grill young corn over charcoal and sell it along the roads. So freaking good. Its not sweet corn, but I love it.

It got me thinking about how seasonal the foods are here. Like cashew fruit or mangos or grapes-- stuff comes into season, gets eaten intensively, then disappears for a year. Its kind of an exaggeration but not quite.

One thing that I like about Peace Corps is that there is a high possibility every day of something happening that completely surprises me. Today, for example, I went with Alisha, Katie K, Maggie, and Ben Conway on a field trip to this farm where this guy uses extensive agro-forestry techniques. It was pretty cool. On the way back though, we were walking to town along the Route National in hopes of finding a car back to Kara. This Chinese engineer in a crew-cab Tundra pulled up and gestured at us to get in. He spoke about 5 words of French and no English. His Togolese helped told us that he is part working on the road construction projects that bracket Kara. It was really cool/bizarre. The engineer took us to Kara and even went out of his way to drop us off where we needed to be.

I am really tired of traveling. I got back to my village on Wednesday. Then, on Saturday, I went to Bassar for a west Kara going-away party for Matt and Emily Pike. Their service is done, and they are leaving in a couple of weeks. It is really sad. This is monday, and I am in Kara.

I am sort of scared to go back to Nampoch though. Last Wednesday a 1.5 year-old kid dropped dead. then Friday, a 9 year old came back from the field and dropped dead. No noticeable symptoms in either case. Seriously. Its weird.

The river has ceased to be challenging and is now scary. I took a boat across it on my way home.

I fed Nigarmi and Mullet (Nigarmi's big brother. I am babysitting him for Jen) sardines the other night when I got home. Then Nigarmi caught a mouse. Which he apparently ate whole . . . then barfed it up on my lit picot. I just wanted to share that.

I don't have any weird bug stories this time. Unless you want to check out poultry lice. Alisha's compound was infested with those. They drove everyone nuts.

I hate PCs. I have this virus that is screwing up my computer and I don't have the resources to take care of it.


I usually do not think that life here in Togo is all that different than life anywhere else in the world. Sure the details change, but the essentials are the same. Most of the time.

So a couple weeks ago I went to visit the prefect with Karen and Emily about a project. It was kind of a big deal, so I wore my Chaco sandals instead of my usual tapettes—50 cent flipflops that everyone wears. I was not paying attention when we were walking home, and the top strap on my right sandal rubbed a blister on my ankle. The next day, I spent like 14 hours installing pumps, also in my Chacos, and still did not have the presence of mind to make sure my strap was adjusted right. The day after that, Thursday, I could barely walk.

The little blister had gotten infected. Since it was right on one of the tendons in my ankle, it really hurt. I did a little surgery with a pair of finger nail clippers to get it to drain and the next day I could walk just fine. In the States, a little blister like that would heal in a day or so. If it got infected, antibiotic ointment would have it cured over-night. Ha. Another rule of thumb in the States is to leave small injuries uncovered. Again, ha. A couple months ago, I tripped over a rock one night in Kouka (don’t take street lights for granted) and messed up my toe. The next day I was sitting out side playing Settlers of Catan with Karen and Jen (don’t laugh, its cutthroat). After 10 minutes I felt a stab of pain in my toe, looked down, and discovered that flies had eaten of the scab. But I digress.

My sore didn’t heal. Every time I was outside, which is most of the day, flies were at it. Band-aids didn’t last long. Ointment was more of a stop-gap measure. I can’t remember the last night I wore shoes, let alone socks. Squeaky clean feet are the mark of a PCV who just got back from a trip to the US. I finally had to resort to putting ointment on it, followed by a Band-Aid with athletic tape wrapped around my foot.

When I first got to Togo I was bemused by these circular, nickel-sized scars everyone seems to have on their shins. Now I have one on my ankle. Well, actually now two. I scrapped the same ankle in Kouka and That eventually got infected after I forgot about it.

Anyway, the point of this lengthy diatribe about trivial health issues is this—in the US, rather, in the Midwest to be more accurate, we take for granted basic, general, cleanliness. There are fewer bugs, fewer microbes, far fewer parasites that can get us.

Case in point—rainy season has, slowly, started. This means that the bug population is burgeoning, especially mosquitos. I think that my host mom spent the entire week before last taking David and Jiddah to the infirmary because they were sick with malaria, or intestinal parasites, or both. Most likely both. The majority of kids in Togo have intestinal parasites and almost everyone has had malaria, or has it, depending on the type. One of my good friends in village had malaria symptoms this past week.

A lot of people here know that mosquitos carry malaria, and they sleep under mosquito nets and use mosquito coils etc. Basic sanitation, like hand-washing, is by no means universal, but personal hygiene is important; my host family showers more than I do I think. Kids play in the dirt here, but they do that everywhere. Disease, and parasites, are much more powerful facts of life here than in the US.

A side note. Togo, along with other West African countries, undertook a massive campaign, starting in the 90s I think, to eradicate Guinea Worm (Google it!), a particularly nasty bug that used to be endemic to the region. The campaign has been successful in Togo; there haven’t been any reported cases here for a while although I think there was one in Ghana recently. Jimmy Carter played a role in this—he is one of my heroes. Anyway, the next time you’re complaining about sub-zero temperatures, just be thankful that, because of them, you can garden barefoot without worrying about nearly as many things trying to get in you, unlike me.

a hot shower . . .

so Alisha and I are in Lome for the week working on the new issue of Farm to Market. We are half of the 4 person editorial board. Farm to Market is a joint NRM/SED publication that goes out to west Africa. maybe I can find a link to it someplace. Anyway, its hard, but its fun. I enjoy editing and putting stuff together.

We're staying at this hotel called the Phonecia. It has hot water. I have not had a hot shower since I left the US. It is kind of mind blowing.

I biked over to Atalote on saturday, as opposed to taking a moto. This will save me 9 mille total. I am almost sure it is worth it. We guess-timate that its about 40k total. I had a bunch of crap on my bike because I am going to be gone for awhile. The paths around the river are (more) washed out--I felt like I was biking on the beach. The river was up to my diaphragm. Luckily my big backpack is somewhat water resistant. I about face-planted when I got to the other bank, but other than that it was fine.
The rest of the trip sucked. I wasn't feeling it. I felt like I was going to die. I wound up getting sick the next day so maybe that's what was wrong. Anyway, I made it ok.

I hate swarming poultry lice.

Who reads this thing? you should leave comments.

I helped my host family plant corn last week. It was intense. It took probably 15 people most of the day to prepare and plant 1.25 hectacres of corn. I helped until my blisters hurt too bad. I will post pictures of it later. i hope

quick hits

I woke up the other morning, walked out of my house, and watched a duck eat a mouse

more like gumming it to death, but same thing

this week's google assignment-- Tumbu Flies! more specifically, their larva

next week I will be in Lome, so I will be posting prolifically. I hope

today is July 4th. i think. i celebrated it in the Lome Limo today, listening to fellow PCVs singing american songs. for like 15 minutes until we got too car sick to do it anymore

Of Biking and Football

my football team! the guy on the end in the white is one of my best friends in village

So last Sunday was the big girls’ football (soccer) tournament. There were 8 teams competing—Namon, Manga, Nawari, Bourku, Nampoch, Nandota, and 2 teams from Guerin-Kouka. My Volunteer neighbors came with their respective teams—Manga, Bourku, Namon, and Kouka. We played at the Kouka football field. The weeds weren’t cut down, but they hung nets on goals, set up the pavilion, and marked out the boundaries. Aside from a random herd of sheep that kept wandering on one end, the field was pretty nice. Since the field is right across from the big Kouka Sunday marché, there was a big crowd there for most of the day.

There were 7 60-minute matches total throughout the day—first round, semi-finals, and the final. Karen, who did most of the organizing, set up two pools, and then we drew for our opening matchups.

Nampoch didn’t win.

We played the 4th opening match, which started at like 1200. We drew Kouka B. I figured that we were in trouble when I noticed that all the girls on the Kouka team had shoes, if not actual cleats, stockings, and full uniforms. The Nampoch girls had matching jerseys and played barefoot. Kouka B has been playing for a while. It was the Nampoch team’s first competitive match. We lost 2-0 and our match had the distinction of being the first match that wasn’t decided on penalty kicks after ending 0-0. After I got done being disappointed, I was/am really proud of the Nampoch girls. They played really well against the team that would eventually win the tournament, and that had the edge in age, experience, and equipment. Afterwards, my friend Jen, whose Manga team also lost early, and I planned a scrimmage so that we could encourage our teams to keep playing since our villages don’t really have a culture of girl’s football yet.

The Friday before the match, Alisha biked out to Nampoch from Ataloté. I met her about halfway in Helotè. The total distance is somewhere between 35-40k. It’s hard to tell for sure because part of the route consists of paths through the Kara River valley. I did manage to carry our bikes across the river without falling. I was proud of myself. We got back to Nampoch about noon.

Anyway, the bike trip was a lot of fun, although we had to spend the next day recovering. Alisha helped out at the tournament, she’s much better at motivational speeches in French than I am, and we spent a couple of days hanging around in Nampoch. It was really nice having her around. People in Nampoch love her. They like it when their Volunteer brings his wife around.

Alisha left this morning actually. I biked back with her to Helotè again. The way there was fine, but I had a problem on my return trip. It rained pretty heavily last night, but the river was still only up to my mid-thigh at 8 this morning. When I got back there at about 10, the river had risen about a foot; it was up to my navel and a lot faster. It was kind of sketchy, but I made it across just fine.

It’s actually a really interesting bike ride. About a quarter of the ride is on little roads or just half-meter wide dirt paths around the river. If I am going to Ataloté, I can saluaté people in Konkumba up to the river. Konkumba still works on the far bank, usually, but about 2k down the road, Lamba starts taking over. Nandodja, the first sizable town after the river, is definitely Lamba. By the time I get to Heloté, no one speaks Konkumba and they all drink tchouk instead of tchakpa even though its maybe 15k from Konkumba-land.

After this bike ride, and my earlier bike tour, I am all about biking places. Traveling uses up a decent chunk of my monthly living allowance because my area is so remote. Biking is free, lets me see, and experience, a lot more of the countryside, and gives me a lot more exposure to Togolese. For example, this morning, a lady stopped me in the first village on the Konkumba side of the Kara river, said she was my host mom’s little sister, and asked me to saluaté the family for her. That would never happen if I was on a moto. On a bike, I am something tangible, that often speaks garbled local language, on a moto, I am a white apparition passing through.

And on that note I obviously didn't finish writing this post, but I am in Kara, its like 1500, and I need to get home before it gets too dark . . .