I think I have eaten my body weight in peanuts over the past 2 days. People have been harvesting them for the past 6 weeks or so and I have recently gotten into eating them. There are two ways of preparing them-- steaming/boiling them in the shell or roasting them in the shell. there is no salting. People come over to my house with a pocket or shirt full of peanuts and we hang out and eat them.

Togolese have this really smooth crack, split, pop-into-the-mouth routine. i still have to use 2 hands and miss my face more often than not.

Its grilled corn season too. You take an ear of young corn and stick it in the fire until the kernals are nicely toasted, or charcoal, then eat it. so good. white and yellow corn are equally good.

I read about the concept of "slow time" in some magazine a couple days ago. I think that its a good way to characterize life here. People spend hours a day sitting under a neem or mango tree shelling peanuts and talking for example. You have time to notice and observe stuff too. I spend a lot of time on my porch doing crosswords and watching the world go back. This is especially good for thunderstorm watching. Think about spending 2 hours sitting on your porch with someone and doing nothing. its a really weird concept for americans. our self-worth is tied up in being "busy." granted, its really frustrating here when this different concept of time gets applied to things like, say, scheduled meetins, but thats just part of it.

i don't mind goats. but like 15 of them like to sleep on my porch at night. this makes going to the latrine at 2 am somewhat challenging sometimes. that and they knock my stuff over and it wakes me up. yet life goes on.

A typical Peace Corps day

Friday, September 16th, 2010, I left for Philadelphia and pre-departure staging. Friday, September 16th, 2011 was a typical Peace Corps day.

A couple of months ago me and Jen, my neighbor, re-started the Committee Against Forced Marriage, an initiative that some people in the Nampoch canton had started several years ago. As our first official event, Jen and I decided to put on a girls football match, after which the Committee members would address the audience about the problem of forced marriage.

So, a couple of weeks ago, when I got back from MSC and Bassar, Jack, one of the Committee members and an immediate neighbor came to me and was like "the football field is over-grown, we should do it at the primary school where the ground is clearer." I was like "um, the middle school ground is like 1/3 the size of a football pitch, no." Unfortunately, my mental state then sucked, and I didn't do anything about it.

Long story short, last monday, I got on the ball and bought some herbicide and got the coach to go spray the terrain (football pitch in french). I wasn't very optimistic that this would kill the weeds in time, but I thought it would help.

On Wednesday, I went to see the chief to tell him about the match and to get him to tell some kids to go "mow" the terrain, i.e. cut the grass with machetes. An hour with a lawnmower would have made my life so much easier.

Friday rolled around. The terrain was still overgrown, albeit slightly brown. I got up early, tracked down the coach, and we went to see the chief again. He called the guy he'd told to cut the terrain, and the guy was like "everyone is off trading labor in the fields today." I was bummed. Then the coach and I spent the next hour wandering through Nampoch rounding up people to help cut the field. Most of them were friends of mine so it wasn't hard. I was relieved and went back to my house to coordinate food efforts. The Committee was suppose to supply the food, I was organizing the the game, and Jen was bringing her team from her village- Manga.

Back at the house, the Committee members brought a lot of new yams for fufu, and got stuff to make sauce, but they didn't have the money to buy chickens for the sauce. I delegated people to go buy chickens, then decided to go check on the field status. As I biked by the middle school, i saw people out on the parade ground putting up goal posts. I swore.

The coach was like "the weeds in the terrain are too tough to cut with machetes, so we'll lay out a smaller terrainhere, and it'll be great." The terrain they were laying out was about half the size of a normal sized terrain and included 4 mango trees. A flag pole was directly behind one goal.

I had an internal freak-out, then helped them set up the field. And got sunburned. Seriously, you haven't really mowed weeds until you've used a machete.

As the afternoon progressed, the terrain got set up and laid out. I biked back home and coordinated the acquisition of tchakpa. Jen texted me to say that the van that came to pick them up was going to be late on account of friday prayers. The ref did show up on time. Karen had arranged his services, but he forgot his watch and didn't look too thrilled about the small field.

I tracked the coach down again and pressed him to find jerseys for the Manga team because they didnt have their own. He told someone to go collect jerseys from the cartier players.

The match was suppose to start at 3 pm. Which is about when the Manga team arrived. After Jen and I got them squared away, we discovered that the Committee didn't really have a plan for addressing the population. I found myself coordinating that and planning the match (2 30minute halves, 8 players on a side) with the ref at the same time. The President of the Committee talked to the players awhile, and Jack did too. Then we finally got the match started an hour later. In retrospect, that was actually decent timing.

I had to walk around the terrain during the match to keep from fidgeting. I was a nervous wreck. I was afraid that a failed match would both look bad for the Forced Marriage Committee and also dampen my efforts to engender a girls' football culture in the area. I was really happy, and a bit surprised, to see people get as into the girls' match as they would have a guys' match. There were a lot of people screaming at the ref, at the teams, and at each other like any good football game. When Nampoch scored, the crowd went wild. I think I remember picking someone up. It might have been my host dad.

Nampoch won, 1-0. The first goal scored by the Nampoch girls' football team.

Afterwards, I was even more surprised when a sketch group composed of a bunch of my friends put on a professional sketch about forced marriage. It was a big hit. It was all in Konkumba so I didn't get the jokes, but by that point I didn't care.

We took the Manga team, the theater group, and the Committee back to my house for supper under storm clouds. The Manga people left right before the storm hit. Jen told me later that they floated home.

The match, overall, was a great success. People have been asking me when we're going to go play in Manga. Yesterday, in the Kouka marche, a couple of my (guy) friends from Nampoch started trash talking with a couple girls from the Kouka team about who would win the next game. Friday, however, was an emotional roller coaster. I went between "oh crap, everything is screwed" to "oh wow, I cant believe this is going to work" hourly. I was pleasantly surprised when cool stuff happened without me having to coordinate it. I learned a lot about my community (one of my best friends in village is an actor, who knew?). I had to remind myself throughout the day that everything was going to work out even as it looked like it was falling apart. So yeah, over all, a typical Peace Corps day.

More snakes and chinese flashlights

I promise that after this I will stop talking about snakes. But I'm freaked out now. So last monday, when I was biking into Kouka, I saw a big one crossing the road ahead of me. When I got back home that night, Kodjo came over and we eventually started talking about snakes. I described this snake that Alisha and I saw when we were biking back from Kante last month. Kodjo was like "yeah, that was a spitting cobra" (awhile ago he told me that those are good eating). So after that, he told me that the chief's daughter got bit one night last week but that Kodjo's father-in-law, who is a local fetisher, was able to save her using traditional methods. It was about this point that I realized that he was making a distinction between snakes ("serpents" in french) and vipers (same). When I asked him about vipers, one of which bit the chief's daughter, he was like "oh il y a beacoup ici." Crap.

My parents called me right after that talk and I sat out under the magic reseau tree and shined my flashlight in the bushes the whole time I was talking to them.

Speaking of flashlights, that was probably the 5th flashlight I've had since I've gotten here. They are cheap. I can get one for about 600 CFA. They are LED and put out a lot of light, even with the cheap Chinese batteries here (C- batteries shouldn't be squishy. enough said). However, they have to be handled doucement. The little metal plate that the battery touches under the bulb is really flimsy. If it is bent at all, your flashlight turns itself off all the time. I spent a month beating my first flashlight against things to make it work until i figured out what the problem was. Now, if I am feeling ambitious, i pry out the little metal plate and bend to back into shape. If I'm not, I give it to N'tilabi after I send him to go buy me a new one. He likes tinkering with them.

I had a really weird moment in Kouka last Sunday. I stopped at this boutique to buy phone credit. While I was negotiating with the shop owner in French, a guy asked me "are you the guy who speaks Arabic" in Arabic. I found myself holding a conversation in Arabic while getting my phone credit recharged in French. I had a huge headache afterward and found myself mixing up languages for the rest of the day.

Kouka on marche day is kind of crazy. The main road through town is laterite, ie packed red dirt (the nearest paved road is about 25 miles away). Trucks roar through town along with overloaded bush taxis (vans) and a sprinkling of cinq-places. Zeds dart through this dust storm, dodging vehicles and each other. A few lonely bikers are usually included in the mix, as well as the odd pedestrian and random livestock. Last Sunday I was headed into town on the back of a zed. there were two trucks coming toward us, side by side, as a car passed them on the "shoulder". We got around them, and another zed, by going through ditch.

stuff I forgot to add

Before I started this post, I had to squash a mosquito

Saturday, N'tilabi and Adjay, my host brothers, went hunting in the teak woods with slingshots. They killed some big bats which they cooked up that night. My friend Djabob was over hanging out with me, and he insisted that I try it.

It didn't taste like chicken. Maybe like a chicken heart. I think I ate a whole bat.

The other day I was laying in my house during repo when a thunderstorm blew up. I ran outside to rescue my solar charger, then I helped a neighbor girl sweep up piles of peanuts that were drying in the courtyard. in the pouring rain. it was kind of fun, although she was freaking out.

A big snake crossed the road today as I was biking into Kouka

Below is my mamba


This has probably been the weirdest, and by far the most difficult, past 10 days of my service in Togo.

Contributing factors to the weirdness- we have internet (sort of) in Guerin-Kouka now! I am sitting in my friend Karen's house typing this. Her homologue is the head of a local NGO that recently got some internet 'keys' that we can use. I think the official name for them is USB modem. We can (sometimes) connect to the cellular network. . . right now it isnt working. Oh well.

Last week all four stages (sectors) from 2010, this includes mine, had their Mid-Service Conference at the PC center in Pagala. Since the CHAP/SED stage swore in 3 months before ours did, it was their actual mid-service, whereas for us in NRM/GEE it was more like our 10 month service, but oh well. The conference was 2.5 really busy/hectic days. We had stuff scheduled all day, plus all the other committee meetings and collaborating that PCVs do when we find ourselves around each other. It was really good to see everyone again, as well as to meet new people from the other sectors. There was a bit of wrenching personal trauma at the end of MSC, but oh well.

After MSC, I went, with a bunch of other Volunteers, up to Bassar for the Yam Fete. This corresponds, roughly, the beginning of the yam harvest in Kara. Yams are one of the staple foods in northern Togo. In Nampoch, people were anxious for them to mature because corn stocks were nearly depleted and the prices were going up in the marches. Anyway, the Yam Fete was fun, except for the personal problems and the fact that Bassar's football team beat Guerin-Kouka's.

Friday was the Yam Fete in Nampoch. Karen, Jen, and Abby all came out for it. Here, it has more of a religious overtone; its regarded as more of an animist/fetish holiday because people make a lot of sacrifices for security, good harvest, health, etc. And they dance a lot too.

The highlight of the party was yesterday. I was picking stuff for people in my garden, then Karen, Abby, and Jen, went over to eat at Kodjo's house. I stayed behind to fill up my water filter and stuff then joined them. In the 15-20 minutes before we got back, a meter-long green mamba crawled up the rear wall of my house and hung out on the wall by my water jar/garden gate. By the time we got back, someone was carting its writhing remains off on the end of a stick. The Togolese response to any kind of snake is to beat it with a big stick until it stops moving. In this case, I fully endorse that action. I will post pictures sometime.

The weather is changing again. Now, the days are hot, the nights are cold(er), and there are thunderstorms almost every day. I like having to sleep under a sheet for once.