The comments and opinions expressed in this blog are my own and they do not represent the US Government, the Peace Corps, or the Government of Togo.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Happy belated holidays everyone! I am going to try my best to quickly sum up what has been going on with my life since I last updated. I hope it’s not too boring…

The Men As Partners (MAP) training I did in November went really well. The first day was dedicated to explaining the history and significance of MAP. There is a large guide book which explains MAP, and lays out many activities that participants can do with groups of men and women. So we trained twenty participants how to use the guide, what the target audiences were, and how to plan an activity with a large group. Then they had to go out into the community and practice doing one of the activities from the guide with a group of students or apprentices. I was so proud to see how well they took to the ideas we were presenting, and to see how excited they were to share these ideas with other people in the community. I felt really good about the results of this project and about the sustainability of the activities as well.

So right after the MAP training, I went up to Bassar to celebrate Thanksgiving with some other volunteers. We had a really delicious meal consisting of garlic mashed potatoes, sautéed carrots and green beans, stuffing (sent from the states), apple crisp, pumpkin pie, and turkey. The turkey was actually pretty funny since none of us knew how to cook it and we didn’t have an oven big enough for the thing. So we ended up grilling it which went alright. Not very traditional, but at least it was cooked! The day was pretty good overall. I ended up getting a little homesick, but it helped to know that I would be home for Christmas.

In the beginning of December, I got to go up to the north of Togo for the first time! I had a meeting for the magazine I work on, Lève-toi Jeunne Fille, in Dapaong which is the regional capital of the Savanna region. While we were up there, my training group also celebrated our one year anniversary of being sworn in. It was so great to see everyone together again. It also felt really good to have one year done! I can’t believe how fast the time has gone. Time here passes so strangely. The days can seem to go on forever but the months fly. With only ten months left now, I am really starting to feel the rush to accomplish all of my goals here in Sokode. There are so many things I want to do and I always felt like I had tons of time to finish them, but now the time is passing faster than ever!

So then I had a couple of weeks to just be in Sokode before I went home for Christmas! I can’t even describe how happy I was to see everyone at home. The two weeks went by so fast, and now they seem kind of like a blur. I got to spend most of my time with my family in Dallas, and one night in Austin which was great! It was also really funny to see the things I had totally forgotten about in the states that were amazing to me. A few examples: ATM machines, people standing in lines, highways, public restrooms, mirrors everywhere, etc. I think it’s safe to say I spent the two weeks in a state of wonder. Anyway, thank you to everyone who made my visit so wonderful.

Now, I’m back in Sokode and gearing up for the next few months of projects. I have quite a lot on my plate, so I should be pretty busy. The most pressing project at the moment is the middle school I am building. I won’t go into too much detail, but I started this project with my friend Thommy who came to visit in September. We are currently finishing up the fundraising and starting construction in February. If you’re interested in more information for this project, we have a really great website you can go to! Check it out!

I also wanted to address the 20/20 special that aired a few nights ago. I haven’t seen it, but I have heard that it may not have made Peace Corps look so great. I have always felt that my safety was a top priority of the staff here in Togo. If anyone saw the show and has questions about what was said, feel free to email me and I would be happy to talk about my personal experience. That’s pretty much all for now. I hope everyone had a great holiday season, I know I did!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Hello hello! Well it seems the fall is upon us which is so hard for me to believe! I have been keeping busy as usual, but I have been lucky enough in the past few months to see a few friends who don’t live in Togo. As I mentioned before, I took a vacation to Lisbon, Portugal in August with several of my best friends from home. It was far better than I could have ever imagined. I first realized this when I got on the plane in Lome and was welcomed by my airline breakfast. Now I know what you’re thinking…”airline meals should not even call themselves food.” Well, you would normally be correct unless you have been living in Togo for the past year of your life. This was the greatest breakfast I have eaten in months. Seriously. So, I knew this trip was going to be awesome.

After seven hours of travel to Lome, eight hours of waiting in Lome for my flight to leave, four hours to Morocco, two hours wandering the duty-free shops in the airport, and a one hour flight complete with anticipation that made it seem like twelve hours, I arrived in Lisbon. Obviously these people knew I would be so excited to see my friends, so they kindly took about forty minutes to send our bags to the baggage claim. Finally, I get my bags and make a bee-line for customs and breeze right through. The rush of excitement I felt when I saw five screaming girls jump up amongst the large crowd in the middle of the arrival terminal was indescribable. This was absolutely the happiest I had been in a very long time. Thank you guys so much.

So after a long tearful welcome in the airport, we checked in to the hostel and began the vacation. I’m not exactly sure what all we did while in Lisbon. I was pretty focused on hanging out with my friends and eating the entire time, and I know that happened. I’m sure I saw some interesting things in Lisbon, too, but it’s all kind of a blurry euphoric haze. Every five minutes there was something new that amazed me; hot showers that don’t come from a bucket, real coffee, hundreds of restaurants to choose from, paved streets, night life?! (I forgot that people all over the world don’t go to bed at nine), clothing stores, air conditioning, good wine, ice cream, highways, etc. All in all, I had a fantastic week. I was pretty sad to go home, but knowing that I will be home for Christmas really helped.

A week after getting back to Togo, all of the volunteers from my training group and the training group that arrived in June of 2009 had our Mid-Service Conference. Attending this conference really put into perspective the time that I have spent here and the time that I have left in Togo. We spent several days evaluating the work we have already done, and forming goals for our second year of service. It was a really great feeling to be able to write goals and feel comfortable that I know what I am capable of here in Togo. I am hoping to accomplish a lot in my second year, but it’s great to have confidence in what I am doing and in what I have learned in the past year.

After this conference was over, I stayed at the training center for a couple more days to attend the Karren Waid conference. Karren Waid was a Togo volunteer in the ‘90’s who was killed in a bush taxi accident. After her death, her parents started a scholarship fund for girls in Togo. So, there are two scholarship recipients in Sokode for whom I act as a liaison. I have to say, these girls are incredible. The obstacles they have overcome in order to break out of the life laid out for them is really amazing.

School started a week later, and so the activities that have been on hold for the summer vacation have restarted. I am back doing my two student clubs, working with two women’s groups, and hanging around the schools. I am not teaching again this semester, but instead, I am trying to plan a teacher training. Since I cannot live in Togo forever, it’s much more sustainable for me to teach the teachers in the middle schools how to teach the Life Skills classes themselves. That way, the students will always benefit from this class long after I am gone.

So then September was almost finished, and my good friend Thommy came to visit. My first visitor! Thommy and I met when he was studying abroad for a semester at UT, and have stayed in contact ever since. Being the world traveler that he is, he decided to take the opportunity to come visit my little corner of West Africa. It was really great to be able to see Togo through fresh eyes. On the one hand, it kind of showed me the ways I have become a little jaded by life here, but on the other, it showed me all the ways that I have matured and the things that are no longer difficult for me. We did a couple of days in Lome, about five days in Sokode, and one night in the tiny village of Wassarabo where my good friend Emily lives. It was really fun to be able to show him around and show my Togolese friends that I had a life and friends before I moved here. I think it was a great trip for Thommy overall, and if it wasn’t, I would never know because he didn’t complain at all and was a fantastic, enthusiastic guest! He was also inspired by the work I am doing here and the people of Togo and we planned a little project of our own, but you will have to stay tuned to hear how that pans out…

For October, I planned a Men As Partners (MAP) conference for community leaders in Sokode. MAP is a program that targets men in order to involve them in the gender development process. Basically, the status of women will not progress without getting men on board. So everything was ready to go, but our funding ran into some issues arriving in Togo, so we had to postpone the conference until November. I am really looking forward to it, even though it will be a month later than planned.

For now, I am just working and living my routine here in Sokode. It’s really nice to just be here after all the traveling I have been doing in the past few months. I am just trying to enjoy my time and make it slow down a little which just keeps getting harder. Before I know it, it will be Thanksgiving and then Christmas at home!! I miss everyone and hope that everyone is enjoying the cool weather.

Friday, August 13, 2010

So, to answer the burning question in all of your minds: No. I did not fall off the face of the earth. I did, however, rudely neglect to keep my blog updated for the last several months. So sorry. I’ll try my best to update you all on what has been going on in my life without boring you to tears. Also, my computer is still having major problems (stupid viruses), so I have to write this pretty fast in an internet café. Please excuse my poor grammar and typos.

In the beginning of June, we held our computer camp! The boys came the first three days and the girls came the three days after that. Everything actually went really smoothly. The Togolese men we worked with on this project were so awesome and basically took the reins on the camp. This was really exciting to see because when Drew and I leave, the camp is sure to continue. It was really cool to see the students learning basic computer skills. I guess I never realized how much I know about computers until I saw these kids learn from scratch. Surprisingly, one of the most difficult things for them to learn was how to double click the mouse. Anyway, I think the students learned a lot which will help them in the university studies later. So thank you to everyone who donated money to the project. The students wrote thank you emails with their new computer skills which will be coming your way just as soon as Drew and I translate them.

The second half of June was spent helping with the planning of Camp Espoir. This is a national camp that happens annually in Togo for children who are infected or affected by HIV/AIDS. This year I was the coordinator for the Centrale Region of Togo, so I worked closely on the planning with EVT, the HIV/AIDS association in Sokode. The actual camp was held in Pagala in the middle of July. Fifty kids came from the Centrale and Plateaux regions of Togo for four days. Activities during the week ranged from sessions on hygene and puberty, to a carnival and a market where the kids could buy and sell things that they made. All in all, the week was so much fun. It was really great to meet all these wonderful kids and get to see them just have fun and take a break from their normally difficult lives.

So that’s it for camps. After Camp Espoir, I spent about a week at home recovering from the exhaustion of being a camp counselor three times this summer. I also got a chance to meet some of the new volunteers in my region who arrived in early June. It’s really exciting to see so many new faces in our volunteer community, but it’s also really sad to see the old ones leave. Anyway, about a week into my sleep coma, I had to go to Lome because I ruptured my ear drum. Never a dull moment here. It all happened within one day. I woke up and my ear kind of hurt, and five hours later I was crying and pacing my house from the pain. Several hours later my ear was bleeding so the medical officer decided to have me come down to see an ear specialist in Lome. I was pleased to find out that it was just a small tear in the ear drum and that it would heal just fine. So, now it’s several weeks later and I can hear again!

Last week I was in Lome again to have my ear checked and do some work for Leve-Toi Jeune Fille, the girls magazine I am working on with several other volunteers. I also got to hang out with the new group of volunteers after they swore in which was pretty exciting. This week I am finishing up some work for a project I am planning for October for men in Sokode, and then I’m off to sunny Lisbon on Saturday!!! To say that I am beyond excited would be an understatement. It’s all I can do to stay busy this week so I don’t go insane from the anticipation of seeing Jaclyn, Bretani, Paige, Kara, and Caroline. I. CAN’T. WAIT.

I think I’ll wrap this up with a story from a couple of weeks ago. So Heather is a volunteer that lives about 35 K from me in a town called Tchamba. She is just finishing her two years and about to go back to the states so I wanted to go see her before she left. Heather is a health volunteer so she works a lot with the maternity ward in Tchamba. She had mentioned to me that I could come spend the night in the hospital with her one night and wait for a baby to be delivered. I was very curious to see this so I agreed. So the day came and it was pretty rainy all morning. I was toying with the idea of biking to Tchamba but since it was raining I just decided to take a nap and go later in the day by motorcycle. Well I woke up around 3:00 and in a moment of spontaneity just decided to go ahead and bike. Let me just point out that the most I had biked to this point in Togo was probably about 7K, but I’m strong, so it’s no big deal, right? How hard could it be. So I just threw some stuff in a bag and took off. About 10K in, I decide that this may not have been my best idea ever. Not only was I already tired, I had to speed up to make it to Tchamba by dark (6:00). So about 10K later, I’m going slower than ever and my butt hurt so bad from the too tall seat on my bike, when this high school boy starts riding next to me and just staring at me. I become annoyed and ask him what he wants when he points out to me that my back tire is completely flat. Great. At least I was going so slow because my tire was flat, not because I am embarrassingly out of shape. So the rest of the way I got to stop every ten minutes to pump up the tire because, naturally, in my haste to leave my house I did not pack my tire patch kit. Anyway, I made it to Tchamba before dark by some miracle.

After a couple of hours of recovery, Heather and I went over to the hospital. And we wait. I was pretty exhausted from my bike adventure so I fell asleep for a while on one of the hospital beds. Then around 4:00AM I was woken up when a woman arrived ready to have a baby. I went into the delivery room to talk a little with the woman who is in charge of the maternity ward, and watch the events unfold. The room consisted of two beds for delivery, a drain in the floor, and a huge tub of bleach. The differences in the delivery rooms in America and in Togo are too many to even begin, but I was astounded by the simplicity of the room. It made me wonder how things are so complicated in the states and so uncomplicated here in Togo, and what is actually necessary.

So eventually the woman is ready to deliver, and SURPRISE, Heather is going to deliver the baby! I actually think I was more nervous to watch Heather deliver the baby than she was to actually do it. I did get a little uncomfortable when the woman in charge was telling me to take pictures of Heather in the middle of the delivery (just imagine this in America: two strangers in the room where you’re giving birth, one of them delivering your baby with no prior experience, and the other taking pictures…probably so many illegal things happening there) have to admit, some of it made me a little queasy and I may have added at least five years onto my biological clock, but all in all it was an incredible experience.

So other than that, life is going really well here. Time continues to speed up with every passing month which is scary. I can’t believe I have been here for almost a year. Weird. I still love hearing about everyone’s lives in America. I’m starting to look forward to coming home for Christmas which I’m sure will be here before I know it. Hope all is well with everyone, and I promise to try to be better with the blog!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Hello everyone!! I realize it has been a while since I last updated you on my activities here in Togo, but I have actually been super busy the past couple of months! So as not to bore you all with a fifty page blog post, I will try to give you all the highlights of my life from where we left off.

First of all I would just like to say THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU to everyone who donated money to help fund Camp Informatique! I really cannot tell you how excited I was when I found out the project was completely funded, so thank you so so so much. You are all so wonderful. The other organizers and I have been busy getting everything organized before the students arrive next week. The group of Togolese people that I am working with on this camp is really on top of everything, so I actually haven’t been wearing myself out with the details. The boy students will be arriving on the 6th of June and leaving on the 10th, and the girls arrive on the 10th and leave on the 14th. I will be sure to let everyone know how the whole thing goes once we are finished.

So, speaking of summer camps, I just got back from Camp UNITE. This particular camp is for Togolese youth who show promise mostly in the way of leadership. We teach them about a variety of topics such as Puberty and Adolescence, Child Trafficking, and Income Generating Activities. There are four camps: one week for girl apprentices and one week for boy apprentices, and one week for girl students and one week for boy students. I was asked to be a counselor for the girl apprentices camp this year which I happily accepted!

First I went to a three day training to be a counselor. That was fun since I got to hang out with several of my other volunteer friends, and I got to know the Togolese counselors pretty well. Each American is paired with a Togolese to present a session to the campers when they arrive, so we got to prepare our sessions during the training. I was asked to present one session on Income Generating Activities and one session on Time Management and Goal Setting.

After the training, I had a couple days to rest before the campers arrived which turned out to be a blessing since camp was exhausting. So then the girls arrived and we had five days worth of singing, dancing (I had to do FOUR traditional Togolese dances with my cabin…), and learning. It was so great to see the transformation in the girls throughout the week. Girl apprentices in Togo are a group that is very rarely encouraged to be leaders and to continue learning. When they arrived, many of them were very shy and had a lack of self confidence. By the end of the week, I was beginning to see some of them come out of their shell which was just incredible. When I say that they were timid when they arrived, I mean they would not speak at all, even in small groups. They would turn and look down or hide their faces with their hands. By the end of the week, they were able to speak to a group and prepare skits about serious topics like sexual harassment. Camp this year was a very eye-opening and rewarding experience in many ways that I don’t know how to express.

That being said, there were some hilarious moments throughout camp; most of them having to do with myths about puberty or sexual relationships. For me they were pretty funny, but they were also a huge reflection on the lack of sexual education in Togo…for many of the girls, it was the first time anyone had ever spoken to them about menstruation, and they were mostly between the ages of 18 and 23. So, to entertain you and open your eyes a little, I’ll share with you some of the best things I heard or saw.

1. “Some women don’t bleed through their vagina. They bleed through their hands and feet. I have seen it.”
2. “If you wait five years after having sex, your vagina will shrink back and you will be a virgin.”
3. “Masturbation is something only white people do.”
4. “In our village, if you sit on the sacred rock (a rite of passage at the age of 16) and you are not a virgin, you will die.”
5. “If a woman has twins and one is a girl and one is a boy, that’s how you know she was unfaithful because each twin is from a different father.”

All in all, it was a great week. I felt like the girls really benefited not only from the sessions, but from being able to be around other motivated young apprentices like themselves. It was so great to see the bonds form between them and to see them encourage each other to be leaders in their communities.

Other than work, things in Sokode are going really well. I celebrated my birthday with three other volunteers whose birthdays were right in a row with mine. We went to Bassar to have a joint party which was so much fun. It is always a treat to be able to see so many volunteers at once as we are all so spread out. The ride home was pretty entertaining since the door to the taxi was not at all attached to the car and had to be tied on with a rope. Also, the mechanic was riding on the roof because he didn’t get in before the door got tied on and we needed him because the car kept breaking down.

To wrap this up, I thought I would share a funny story with everyone since my life is just one ridiculous occurrence after the other. So, one day I was talking with Jaclyn on the phone when the other woman who lives in my compound was looking for me. I tell Jaclyn to hold on so I can go see what she needs really quick. When I go out to the porch, she looks a little confused and tells me that some kids are here with the “singe” that I wanted. Now at that moment I couldn’t remember what the French word “singe” meant, so I told her I would go out and see what was going on. Well, I walk outside and there stands three kids I have never seen before with a MONKEY tied to a rope. So, “singe” means monkey. I just start laughing and tell them that I never asked for a monkey and to take it back where they found it (this was met with some protest since they were sure I had asked for a monkey). I told Jaclyn that I was so glad she was on the phone when this happened because I don’t feel like people believe half the stories I tell from here because they are so insane.

I hope everyone is doing well, and as always I miss you all so much. I eagerly await everyone’s arrival in Togo 

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Hello everyone! Well this blog is going to be a little bit of business and then a little bit of pleasure. I’ll begin with the business.

So another volunteer, Andrew Quinton, and I are planning a computer camp for high school students in our region, Central. Camp Informatique will be three days for the boys and three days for the girls and is set to take place in early June. This will be the third year for this camp, and the last two years were very successful. The importance of teaching these students proper computer skills cannot be stressed enough. Most students never have access to a computer, and then those that are lucky enough to go to university have to struggle to quickly learn these necessary skills. So the camp is designed to take the top high school students (therefore the most likely to continue to university) and teach them basic computer techniques like word processing and how to navigate the internet.

The reason I am going into detail about this is because we are currently in the process of trying to fund the camp. The community of the Central region has generously funded 25% of the camp. Andrew and I are now looking for the rest of the funding. As Peace Corps volunteers, we are not allowed to just get money from wherever we want to use for projects. There is a system called Peace Corps Partnerships that allows us to make a project proposal (complete with objectives, outcomes, and a detailed budget) and then put this proposal on the internet to try to raise money. Once our funding goal is met, the donations are cut off. So, our proposal went online yesterday!

I actually hate asking people for money, and would be horrified to think that anyone I know would feel an obligation to donate money. I just want to let everyone know that this is what I am doing, and if you want to make a contribution to Camp Informatique, we would love you forever. Please, though, do not feel obligated. I will love you forever even if you don’t have any money you want to give me. Seriously. So, here is the link to our project. If you like what you see, the instructions are all there. Also, it is tax deductible.

So now for the pleasure! I just got back from my first vacation in almost seven months! Three of my friends and I went to Grand Popo, Benin for two days of rest and relaxation. We went down to Lome two days early in order to get our tourist visas, and to do some work in the Peace Corps Bureau. Being in Lome for the first time since swearing in was really nice. My main priority was to eat all the good food I had been deprived of for the last four months, and let’s just say…mission accomplished. We also went and swam at the Ambassador’s pool which was like heaven. I haven’t seen a pool in ages and it was seriously the happiest I had been in a while.

So then on Friday, we set out for Benin. To get to the border, we took a cab for about an hour to the border town of Hilakondji. From there, we had to walk across the border control area (which took some time…a little chaotic but not too bad), and switch to another cab. After some heated arguments with the cab drivers about prices, we headed to Grand Popo.

*As a side note, drivers will never tell you the right price at first, ESPECIALLY if you are white and presumed to be a tourist who has tons of money. Unlucky for them, time in Togo as volunteers with no money has taught us how to easily argue our way to the correct price.*

We arrived at our hotel, Awale Plage, after a short time. Let me just say, walking into that beach resort was like stepping out of my current life and into a completely different place. There were nice trees and landscaping, no trash crunching under my feet, the sound of the ocean, friendly people willing to help me, and beautiful pool just waiting to be swam in. We immediately sat down to eat a delicious lunch and hang out by the pool. So that night we went to the outskirst of the town and ate dinner at a little cafeteria by the beach which was really nice.
The next day, we went into the town center to walk around and see the sights. Grand Popo is a sleepy little town with not much going on. The crumbling colonial buildings had long been abandoned but still held some of their charm. We had a lovely morning talking with some of the local people, eating pizza, and just looking around. Then we went back to the hotel to relax and swim for the afternoon. Jacqui and I had a good laugh when a group of about ten men showed up to the pool and convinced the pool boy to let them swim in their underwear( I know what you are thinking, “tight white briefs are going to become see-through in the pool” and you are correct). Also I use the term “swim” loosely considering I don’t think any of them knew how to swim. That being said, the array of dives I saw kept me laughing for about an hour.

That night we went to what I would say was the nicest hotel in Grand Popo for dinner which was delicious. We all got dressed up which was really fun as we don’t have too many occasions for that as volunteers in Togo. It was by far the best meal I have eaten in a while. I had grilled lamb with garlic and mushroom sauce, sauteed potatoes, and chocolate mousse for dessert.

So, after two nights, we came back to reality in Togo. It was nice to get home after traveling. I would definitely go back to Grand Popo for a relaxing vacation. Now, it’s back to work. As I mentioned in my last post, work is pretty busy with all these summer camps I am planning. I hope everyone is enjoying the beginning of spring, and gearing up for summer in Texas! Have a margarita for me!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

So I just got back from PDM/IST in Pagala. PDM and IST are two separate conferences which have now been combined into one four day meeting for volunteers after their first three months at post. The first, PDM, is a project design and management workshop that’s goal is to teach us how to implement, budget for, and organize large projects. The second, IST, is and in-service training which gets into the technical details and ideas of our jobs as GEE volunteers.

Now I don’t know if I am just not used to work meetings or something, but this conference was painfully long for me. I think it has a lot to do with the Togolese meeting style. In America, speakers work very hard to write very dynamic presentations that keep their audience awake and engaged. In Togo, this is not really the case. The style is just complete lecture with very few breaks or movement to keep the audience participating. This same style is used by Togolese teachers and in the work place.

I realized this difference three days in, as I was frantically drawing circles in my notebook to keep awake, and my Togolese counterpart was still going strong: listening, asking questions, and taking notes. This conference definitely made me appreciate American meetings and lectures so much more. I am not saying that I think one way is better than the other at all, I am just merely pointing out the huge difference in style, which I had never even thought about before.

Despite the loooooong meetings, I actually did learn a lot and got re-motivated to start new projects in village with my homologue. It was also really nice to see all of my friends again and hear what everyone has been up to during their first three months at post. I have to say, I was so impressed with my training group and all the work we have already accomplished. It made me really proud call this group of people my colleagues and friends. And, as always, it was really great to see the Togolese training staff again. This group of Togolese professionals never ceases to amaze me. It’s no wonder the volunteers I work with are doing so well.

So, when I got back from Pagala, I planned out my calendar for the next several months and I am actually getting really busy! I have a big even planned for each month now all the way through August which is great! I sometimes worry about my tendency to over commit, but I also know that I am so much happier and more productive when I am really busy so this quickening of pace in my schedule was definitely welcome. A couple of the projects I am working on are: teaching Life Skills, running a club of Peer Educators, three summer camps (Espoir, UNITE, and Informatique), and I just got elected to be one of the editors of a Togolese publication for girl students.

So, that’s all that’s really going on here in Tiny Togo. I just finished my first six months in Togo AND the hot season is almost over, so you know what that means… you can now come visit!!! I have a feeling you all will be lining up to get here, given how cheap and easy it is to come to Togo, so please let me know when you would like to come so your visit doesn’t coincide with another eager friend or family member’s time. As always, I miss you all.

Oh, P.S.! Congratulations to Lizy and Bob! Lizy, I miss you so much and wish I could have been at your wedding, which I know was beautiful. I hope my gift that I sent you gets there some time in this century…

Friday, February 19, 2010

she's back!

ck!Hello everyone!! My sincere apologies for not updating my blog since December. I will try my best to sum up the last two and a half months without boring you all to tears.
So December started off kind of slow as I was just getting used to the new city, new people, lack of training friends, new house, etc. As I am in a pretty central city in Togo, I did see a lot of volunteers who have to come into town to do banking, shopping, and internet. That was really nice since work was really slow when I first arrived.

Then Christmas and New Years came and went before I knew it. I spent Christmas here at my house with a few of my volunteer friends. We made dinner, listened to Christmas music, had a white elephant gift exchange, and I tried not to miss my family. I then spent New Years with a couple of my good friends here which was pretty fun. All in all, I was just really glad when the holidays were over. They were definitely not as bad as I had anticipated, but I still really missed being around friends and family in Texas. I guess it became ever more apparent to me how great my family and family traditions are, and how it didn’t really ever feel like the holidays without that.

In January things started to pick up a little bit. My Togolese counterpart and I have been planning a lot of activities that are going really well. I have started working with a womens’ group, an after school club, and I recently began teaching! The first day of teaching was pretty terrifying, but it went much better than I anticipated it would. I am teaching a class called Life Skills. The curriculum consists of a wide variety of topics ranging from Self Confidence, to Good Communication skills, to Reproductive Health, and then I teach how to effectively apply that knowledge to their lives. I guess I never realized how much of these things I was taught throughout school without knowing it. The teaching methods here are so different from those of the United States and these topics are not usually covered throughout the school system. So, it’s pretty fun getting to introduce these new subjects to my four middle school classes.

As far as daily life goes, I have pretty much settled into a routine. I get up every day sometime between 6:00 and 6:30 and make my breakfast: one egg omlette with tomatoes, onions, and bell peppers, and a cup of instant starbucks espresso (thank you so much to all of you who have sent me those…they are the reason I wake up in the morning). Then I go over my list of things to do for the day: some examples would be teaching class, going to the post office, going to the internet, going to talk to the NGO that I work with, leading club, meeting with various people…you get the idea. I also plan what I am going to make for dinner so that I can get what I need at the market while I’m out. There is a pretty consistent selection of vegetables here which is awesome, so I usually cook something with a lot of veggies. So, my day will then consist of whatever is on the list, and sometimes a friend will come through for lunch or to stay the night which is always fun. At night I listen to the BBC or music while I cook. Then I will usually read for a couple of hours and go to bed.

I am continuously amazed at how normal things here have become to me. It’s only when I talk to someone from home and relate a seemingly normal story to them that I can see that my life here is actually very different from what I was used to five months ago. I will give an example. About two weeks ago, I was leaving another village, and waiting for the normal transport for trips here…the bush taxi. So I show up at the taxi station and tell the five men who just seem to be milling about that I need to get in a car to Sokode. They mumble something in the local language that I can’t understand (side note: there are an infinite amount of local languages here, so while I am trying my hardest to learn Kotokoli, the local language spoken where I am, it becomes completely useless if I travel one hour to the north, south, east, or west). So they then tell me the price and that I am the ninth person so we still have to wait for six more to fill the car so we can leave.

So, three hours later I am sitting in the car thinking we are getting ready to leave when I hear a loud popping sound (kind of like a firework) come from under the driver’s seat. Of course we all have to get back out of the car while they take apart the front seat to figure out what the deal is. Another forty five minutes pass and they say everything is good and we can leave. Oh, and while we were waiting for them to fix it, approximately five more people have shown up that will also be getting into the car on top of the fifteen passengers we already had.

I got in the car quickly so that I could snag the window seat which is crucial when there is no air conditioning in a car filled to the brim with people. I immediately turn to see who I am going to be squished up against when a woman slides over. Someone then passes her three giant bags of yams which she has to put on her lap and then one more bag comes over. Naturally she has no room for this final bag so she just places it on my lap. I look in the bag and sure enough there is a chicken in it staring up at me panting. So, I spent the entire hour and a half ride in this burning hot car filled with about twenty five people with this chicken on my lap that kept jumping out of its sack and onto my feet.

This all seemed very normal to me at the time, as this is not an uncommon occurrence here. In fact it is very common. There was nothing strange about this situation. It only occurred to me when I was talking to Jaclyn on the phone that I have gotten really used to some very funny things here in Togo. I truly think that the most important quality for volunteers to have is a sense of humor. I find myself laughing constantly, but if I couldn’t laugh at things like this I think my life as a volunteer in Togo would be infinitely more difficult.

So, that being said, I am really happy here. Yes, I get frustrated, confused, sad pretty often, but I think all in all I am doing pretty well. I still love hearing from everyone at home. Your letters, phone calls, and emails are always so exciting for me as I feel kind of disconnected. I promise to update my blog more frequently again now that the computer issues have been straightened out. If you all have any questions or things you would like to hear about, I am open to topic suggestions. And for those of you (if there are any) who are still reading this, I congratulate you on getting through that painfully long post.