Thursday, December 26, 2013

Merry Christmas from Togo!

Hello all! I'm a little late in wishing you all a Merry Christmas, but I'm on African time.

My plans to go up north to the big holiday party there changed due to a lack of money and no tickets for the nice bus. Without those tickets I would have been stuck taking bush taxis the whole way which is in no way a vacation.

Instead I ended up at Peace Corps' other transit house in Atakpame, a larger city (town really) with fresh vegetables, lots of avocados and mangoes and a yovo store that sells Pringles and Snickers bars. The two other volunteers and I spent most of the time hanging out, cooking and enjoying the unlimited wifi available here. A blender was recently purchased for the house, so we've been taking advantage of that and making lots of mango smoothies. Yesterday we went and got beers and pizza for Christmas dinner- pretty good to me! Without any Christmas weather, decorations or music going up and playing around me, I didn't really get into the Christmas spirit this year. In a lot of ways though that made it easier. Last year in France I considered very much trying to buy tickets to go back, and this year the thought didn't even really cross my mind. That made it a lot easier the celebrate here.

I know after my last post a lot of you got worried about me- don't! I had been debating putting up the post, but after a conversation with another volunteer, Lucas, about how people rarely show both sides of the Peace Corps experience, I thought it was worth including. Things have gotten better since then as well. A visit from Rose, the education program director, helped sort out a lot of problems that I had been having at school. Not all of them are necessarily fixed now, but now I also have a good idea of who is willing to work with me, and who is disinterested in the Zafi community. Also, as much as I hate quitting anything, if i really had huge problems, I'd ask for a site change or go home. As the Country Director said "Two years is a long time to be miserable."

Vacation has given me a bit more free time (between classes, English club, Science club and helping the eighth graders in the next town with end of year English exam prep I'm actually starting to be busy!) and in the free time I've been able to start walking again. My ankle still isn't 100% after that sprain from early October, but it's getting there. Because of that I don't want to start running again quite yet, but hopefully soon. I found out the Ghana half marathon in Accra is September 28, 2014. I'm not quite sure of my commitment to it yet, but the first registration deadline is in May, so I'm leaving my decision until then. All the same, it's something to look forward to doing.

It's always a little hard to leave the big cities, good food and internet to go back to village, as much as I love Zafi, but of the presents Mom and Dad sent, I made sure to keep a few wrapped and leave them waiting for my arrival back home in village.

With that, I need to buy some veggies, avocados and mangoes and then head back, so I'll leave it here. Most of all - Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Downsides

Sorry I haven't written as much as I'd like lately. Much of what I've blogged in the past has been a bit about what happens day to day, and with internet only every 2-3 weeks it makes it a bit difficult to keep that up. It's often said that Peace Corps makes you experience your highest highs and your lowest lows. I have to agree with with, but also follow up with the fact that I didn't know they would be in the same day! This makes even end of the day reflection difficult sometimes.

I've been having a difficult time here, as everything familiar seems to shift from under my feet. I can't do many of the things that I loved to do in the USA or in France. The closest swimming pool is about 3-4 hours away from me, which rules out swimming laps a few times a week. Cooking is interesting here, it challenges me to find solutions when usual things aren't available, but it also takes up a lot more time and I can't keep leftovers as I don't have a fridge. I try to give away a lot that I make to my host family, but if it doesn't have hot peppers in it, they're not too interested. Walking through the market smelling (by choice or not) all the dried fish is a lot less appeal than walking through the French supermarkets deciding between different types of foies gras and Brittany salted butter. In any case, despite French indulgences, most of my meals consisted of vegetables. Here, vegetables are limited to okra, tomatoes, onions, a small bitter white eggplant and a tough type of spinach. This combined with the fact that every meal is made from scratch means that I don't eat as well here and my body is taking the toll. I 'm not in nearly as good of shape as when I was in Texas, and it's frustrating that I let something I worked so hard for, slip away. Running happens from time to time, though I'm pretty limited in when I can go (4:30 am in darkness before school) because of work schedules and the heat of the day. Much of that has been put aside anyway since I sprained my ankle a few weeks ago. I read a lot, but if leave my house to do it, I'm interrupted by the questions “Is that the Bible?” followed by earnest desires to get me to come to church or “Oh, are you working? You can do it!” No comprehension that reading can be fun, which is frankly just depressing to see over and over.

In any case, much of that gets pushed to the side quickly since basics such as showering, laundry, cooking, and cleaning take up so much more time when they required doing it all by hand and fetching water from the pump. If I leave anything out for more than 20 minutes in my kitchen start to attack it and thus, constant cleaning.

As you can tell, it's been a difficult adjustment. I've seriously considered ET-ing (early terminating or quitting) more times than I can count. It's hard here, just in having to meet your daily basic needs, and doing that becomes even harder in French and Ewe, with people harassing, shouting “Yovo” and a lack of local emotional support.

I wasn't really sure of why I was doing Peace Corps when I left, other than that I wanted to travel, have a bit of an adventure and continue being in a francophone country. Well, I've had a bit of travel, a bit of adventure and it turns out Togo is even less francophone that I thought it would be (in my village, few women speak French, no children below the age of 8 do and of those few who do speak French, even fewer speak it correctly). I had wanted to do they Peace Corps for a such a long time but I forgot why I wanted to. I didn't give much credit to Peace Corps before as anything more than a good will mission. After seeing the work done, I give much more credit to volunteering aspect, as even the simplest things really do make huge impacts on the lives of people here. Teaching a woman to make tofu can create a whole new stream of income allowing for children to go to school and increased nutrition. A small loan allows for start up capital that couldn't be attained elsewhere. Calling on girls in class and making their voices heard increases confidence that will stay with them in all pursuits in life.

Even though all that is great, those weren't my goals when coming into the Peace Corps, and those changes are not quickly or easily seen. It makes it really hard to figure out why I'm here, especially on a day to day basis- even more so when intestinal issues take over and I can't get off the toilet.


When I left for Philly, and our eventual departure to Togo, I gave myself a year. Two years and three months frankly just seemed too overwhelming. I'm still shooting for a year, but from this point of view even that seems pretty difficult. So, I guess we'll see how these coming months go. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Road Trip Savannes!

With IST approaching, I managed a boondoggle to get a ride in the Peace Corps car from Maritime all the way up to Dapaong in the northern most region of Togo, Savannes. The only downside to this trip was the 12 hour car ride (but in a Peace Corps car, a very different level of transportation than the typical bush taxi). But the biggest upside to all of this was getting to see what the rest of Togo looks like and seeing my best friend, Amelia who I haven't seen since swear-in.

The Savannes region is about as different possible from Maritime. Maritime is still green and humid, while things are turning dry, dusty and brown up here. There's hills and even some mountains, where as at my site and the surrounding 30km I rarelly have more than a 15 foot elevation change. Moba is the most popular local language in Dapaong, though others are in the area while down in Zafi Ewe dominates, even to the extent that many women don't speak much French.

Togo and neighboring countries were divided by European powers during colonization without regard to ethnic groups or geography thus Togo had great variation from the North to South. What this also means is that there's a lot to explore over the next two year, and I'm just getting a first taste!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Careful what you wish for....

Sorry for the delay in updates! Internet has been particularly spotty lately, even at cyber cafes. My friend Neal was kind enough to let me use his internet key when I stopped by the other week, but I didn't want to take advantage of his hospitality.

As I mentioned last time, the start of the school year was marked by strikes, and my off handed joke about striking until Christmas has become a little too true. The past few weeks have been marked by starts and stops. This has led to mostly stops, rather than starts, in my work.

I announced my girls' science club and twenty minutes later the school was shut down for what turned out to be about a week and a half. Our teaching timetable hasn't been 100% hammered out yet, so that's been holding me back on when to even find times to meet for clubs.

We are now headed to In Service Training (IST) which gives me a chance to talk to other volunteers and, importantly, my director. This will give me a chance to hammer out some issues and get ready to get back to work with new excitement in village.

Hopefully, I'll have some goo news to report after IST!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Back to School

This week marked the beginning of our school year. It's my fourth year on this side of the desk, and my third year doing it in French. My life for the last 20 years has been marked by the start of school, so this late start, along with the hot weather has really thrown off since of time. I've finally finished up a 5 and half month summer.

My first day here wins prizes for being the least organized but also the least stressful. The first day had been pushed back several times because of strikes, and there was rumors to keep striking and not start of Wednesday, but the following Monday. With teachers unsure whether or not they should be working, the day mostly meant sitting around in the teacher's hut chatting, and vaguely considering teaching.

I have only one class 5iemeA (7th grade, section 1) and only 4 hours a week of class. The kids had a year of English last year, but unlike my middle school French classes which only ever addressed the present tense and passe compose, heavily interspersed with art projects and cultural lessons, these kids are expected to pretty much learn all the English grammar possible in four years and not much else.

I managed to give out American names (to my disappointment, no one chose Bubba, but we do have Barack, Tex and Junior) and go over some classroom commands, but not anything else. The teachers repeatedly told me that "next week we will actually start teaching." So the best is yet to come.

Not only am I to teach these kids English, but reteach them how to learn. The classroom in Togo is dominated by rote memorization and copying from the board, not very heavy on the critical thinking skills. The hardest part of this is getting the kids to ask questions. It's just nor normal for them to do that.

That might be related to some of the punishment techniques often employed here. I was informed that each week there is a "Teacher of the Week" who is like the dean of students or disciplinarian. What that really means is hitting the bad students with a stick (often in front of the entire school). So in addition to creative lessons plans, I've been working hard on trying to come up with punishments that the teachers will accept, but won't look too soft either.

It's been good to be back at school. I actually have some work starting, I people I can work with, as before many were gone on vacation and I have somewhere to go during the day. Zafi isn't very big and so it's hard to wander too far without ending out of town.

I know your school years started weeks (or months) ago, but mine starting just in time for another strike to bring me to Christmas vacation I hope!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Peace Corps Volunteer Life

Dear Diary,

I found little ants crawling around in the sugar today, despite the tightly sealed plastic lid. I didn't want to waste the sugar so I just shook the container a lot until I thought I killed them all. Then I made my oatmeal and added the sugar.

I think today is when I officially became a Peace Corps volunteer.

Love,
Anna

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

You Say Goodbye, I Say Hello

I had unusual luck as a new volunteer to have a current volunteer in village when I arrived. Not only a current volunteer, but one who speaks French well, is well respected in the community, knowledgeable about Togo and a great person in general. Caitlin (or Akouvi as she's known in village) was a great resource in getting to know people in Zafi, and knowing the ins and outs of village life. One of the biggest helps was learning to cook and more importantly shop. In the same way we can walk into a supermarket, and know what's down each aisle, and what's in each of those colorful boxes without having to read each label, Caitlin was able to help me learn what is in all of those cooking pots down the street, what days the tofu lady opens up shop, who washes their hands when cooking and whose kids are always sick.

Beyond all important food tips, Caitlin was able to introduce me to good work and community partners. Those partners who have been a consistent positive presence, those who could be, and those who didn't work out for whatever reason.

It was a great help to have Caitlin here my first few weeks, but the end of her service has come and now it's just me and the albino as the white people in village. I can see that she really did great work here and that she is spoken of well- and certainly not quickly forgotten as even despite my explanations, I am still often called Akouvi.

Caitlin's departure has also meant the true start of my own service. While school doesn't start until October 7th this time here on my own is giving me the opportunity to figure out how village life is for me. I can't text or stop by Caitlin's house to ask “how much should this much fruit really cost at the market” or “how do you live on something other than carbs here?” While it's the loss of a resource and friend, it means that I've had to figure out more things myself and put myself out there.

As Caitlin was preparing for life in the USA, and what that will mean for her, I was mentally preparing for two years in a small African village. Obviously we were at different points psychologically.

I'm glad that my time here has really started, as I had been feeling like I was in limbo since we left Philadelphia. While Peace Corps service comes with its own lengthy list of doubts and uncertainties, I'm glad to be here and finally starting and adventure that I've been planning for a long time now.


So here I am. Two years. Me and Togo.  


Monday, September 16, 2013

My One Day Dog

Some of you might remember that I was to have a dog. Well, I would go visit my dog every day before I could take him home. I name him, calling him Taco, a named that sounds even cuter when the people here say it, and in preparation for his arrival I tried to get as much as possible up off the floor and away from peeing puppies.

So, I finally took little Taco home, and at night put him in the fenced in area by my shower and toilet, which is part of the larger fenced in area of the compound. While he whined for some time when I first put him back there- away from his litter mates for the first time he eventually quieted down and I figured slept.

In the morning I got a shock as Taco was no where to be found. Apparently people sometime steal dogs (not to eat, that doesn't really happen where I am, though there are certainly dog eating regions). So he might of have been stolen, or simply escaped. He hasn't turned back up at Paul's house, or around here, so no one really knows.

I was offered a replacement puppy, but I figured that for now maybe it wasn't a great idea. Between traveling, my small living space, and my host family's lack of current dogs I declined a Taco II.


All the same, here's a photo of my one day dog.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Witchcraft

One of the things that Caitlin has really wanted to learn about during her service and before she leaves is voodoo. With this mission in mind, my landlord, Joseph was able to bring us to two different charlatans, to divine the future.

The first thing we learned was the distinction between Afaka and Voodoo. Afaka includes just about everything in the world, while voodoo is putting a spirit into an object. Our first visit to the Afakala (practitioner of afaka) included many different fetish items (items of power and or magic) on a mat, giving him 500 CFA to complete the ceremony and lots of Ewe which we didn't understand. Joseph would translate for us at different points, but it didn't quite have the same effect that way.

Caitlin was told that she had a bright star and that as long as she advanced slowly and with caution, that she would have great success for her and her family.

Both Joseph and the afakala were kind enough to indulge out many questions afterward. We want to learn most of all who practices afaka and why. We were told that it is a type of animism, and thus good Christians do not practice it. I asked if it exists for Muslims and was told yes, but they have their own leaders. This is a slightly misleading response which require reading through the lines a bit. Basically, both Christians and Muslims practice, each with their respective afakala, though if they want to be respected in their religious communities, they should not reveal to others that they are doing this.

I also asked what the most common request was; to see the future? to do well on a test or exam? for fertility? for wealth? quick recoveries from an illness? In a very typically Togolese response, I was told “Yes.” This often happens when a person doesn't understand the question, when they don't want or have a straight answer to give.

We also asked about the fetish items; where does he get them? What is the significance? What is this gross crazy looking thing? Well, he gets them from

his teacher (note, we also often see them for sale at the weekly market), they are not ordinary objects, but ones that have been treated with certain powers, and the gross, crazy looking thing is a buffalo horn with seemingly too much buffalo still attached.

After leaving the first guy, we headed over to a woman to see what her thoughts were on Caitlin's future. There we had a very different experience, as the woman went into the next room and called the spirit to speak to her (and us). The voice was high pitched and rather creeping sounding and it and the woman would have a conversation back and forth. Caitlin had been hoping to contact her deceased grandfather but the woman said that it was more expensive to contact someone all the way in America (about 40 USD) while finding out about her future would be cheaper (1 USD). And thus, being Peace Corps Volunteers, we went with the cheaper option. The ceremony was less interesting than the last was the woman was hidden away in the other room to contact the spirit and though we could hear her, there was nothing to watch.


I can't say that either of these visits created a deep belief in voodoo or afaka, but the tradition is strong here and not to be messed with. If you challenge someone's abilities to curse or protect you they could very well try to test it out by a snake suddenly finding its way into your house, or poison in your meal. I'm not sure whether voodoo is “real” or not, but either way, it certainly has power. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Funeral

Over this past weekend I was invited to a funeral. I, in no way, knew the deceased, or even how the person inviting me to the funeral was related, but I went along anyway. A Togolese funeral is different from an American one in just about every way possible. A Togolese funeral is characterized by dancing, bright fabrics, singing, and a huge party. Similarities include many people, often from far away. Joining together to remember the deceased.



Being white, it's often that I become a guest of honor by showing up; chairs are found, in the front row no less, even among the most crowded venues, I'm served first, and huge portions, etc. So Caitlin and I were given front row seats to the show.


A griot or historian/ storyteller informed the crowd about the person's life and the family that was gathered to celebrate them. At least that's what I think they were saying, as it was all in Ewe, so I didn't understand it.

The ceremony was a cycle of the griot singing/speaking, everyone coming up front to dance, and the pounding drums. After a few cycles of this, we retreated back to one of the family's homes for a meal including two different main dishes, soft drinks and alcohol.


An interesting aspect of the funeral, which costs a lot to put on was that at the end, everyone contributed money, which was all recorded I a notebook, one by one as people gave their contribution amount was shouted to the crowd and the family would respond “thank you!”



These village celebration will become routine before too long for me, but for now they are still new and exciting and certainly a part of Togolese culture worth sharing with you guys! 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Moving out and Moving in!

**I wasn't able to write a blog post right before we left for post, so here's an edited journal entry that better captures how I was feeling, rather than me trying to think back to what it was like.

I can't stop thinking about home. Not New Jersey, or Texas, of even Michigan or France. Since leaving for college I haven't lived in one place for more than a year ( Kalamazoo could have been, but I always left, and was happy to leave in the summers.)

As we approach our move out-date in Kpalime and our move in date for our new homes, many emotions come forth.

First of all, I'm happy to finally unpack my suitcases. I've been living out of a suitcase since mid-April, and really, even since I left Texas last May.

With the excitement of course comes fear. I'm overwhelmed by the idea of having to stay in one continent country–state village for two years. But then when I actually get to buy things without analyzing the cost/benefit of owning it for just a couple months my feet stop itching for a few moments.

To be able to see a lot, you always have to have something in the works. I've been planning for Peace Corps since before I left Texas, left for Guadeloupe, and for France. It's rather natural, that while my departure is two years away, I'm already thinking about where I want to make my home afterward.

I miss my friends and family, and I'm tired of always moving away. But it feels like there's just always more to see. Could a new adventure be waiting in Denver or Georgia? What about graduate school?


Most of all, how do I stop thinking ahead and be present in the moment? How do make where I already am, my home.  

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Cafe Kouma

Caitlin (the volunteer I'll be replacing) and Lauren, another 2nd year volunteer came up to Kpalime following the swear-in party in Lome. Lauren wanted to learn more about a nearby coffee plantation to bring back information to her village, but also because she loves coffee. Despite the fact that Togo is well suited through many parts to grow coffee, most Togolese don't drink it, those who do drink “coffee” have Nescafe Instant Coffee and the majority of the coffee is exported anyway. Coffee makes my stomach hurt, so I'm not a fan, but I figured it would be fun to go along anyway, as Cafe Kouma is up the mountain and I was happy to do something outside of training and unscheduled.


I'm really happy I went along, and the moto ride up there was great, just by itself. The roads were basically empty, and a tunnel of greenery, except for the parts where it opened up into beautiful views of the mountain side and Kpalime below. I was really nervous about having to take motos in the beginning, but after only a few rides, I've become really comfortable with them and even look forward to them.



Up in Kouma, Kodzo met us at the plantation to tell us about his farm and work. He's worked in the past with Peace Corps through Small Enterprise Development (SED) program  (currently being phased out). He had a lot to tell us about his fields, but most of all it was great to see a working organic, shade grown, small business, coffee company as work. 

Of course, we went home with coffee (and honey!) in our bags both for ourselves and as gifts. 


Even better than that, our beautiful ride home was only interrupted by the chance to stop at some amazing waterfalls! 

Friday, August 9, 2013

Officially a Peace Corp Volunteer!

All of us took a road trip down to Lome to meet up with CHAP and EAFS for some Lome shopping and swear-in!

Peace Corps gives us a nice sum of money to cover the costs of settling into a new home. However, they don't tell us how to spend it, so you quickly see what people value. I spent the vast majority of my money clearing out the spices from the groceries, along with just about every other shelf. I also picked up a potato masher, whisk, cheese grater, cutting board and miscellaneous others. I will say that the liquor section of the store seemed to have much emptier shelves after we left.

Beyond shopping, we had the real reason to be back in Lome- Swear-in!

Me and Ryan. Ryan is rocking a chief outfit, complete with hat
Both ceremonially and officially, we took the oath and have become Peace Corps Volunteers!


Everyone had pagne (the colorful local fabric) outfits made. EGE went a step further, and in the Togolese way, got matching fabric as one does for special events.

I have to say, we are a good looking group!

Peace Corps is kind of a big deal, and there's not much else to put on the news here, so a report of our ceremony was aired SEVERAL times on multiple Togolese news channels. Several volunteers gave speeches in local language- which were all amazing. 
And of course, it was also a chance for us all to celebrate a little! 


Festivities went throughout the night, as CHAPS and EAFS all headed out to their posts, while EGE packed up and head "home" to Kpalime.


Friday, August 2, 2013

Kpalime

For the EGE volunteers, we packed up and headed to our new, temporary, training site of Kpalime (Pah-lee-may). It's here in Kpalime that we have model classes and the rest of our training. What's Kpalime like? Well, we have running water first of all! Kpalime is a tourist filled city, as it's a lively town with a gorgeous mountain setting the background and a great gateway to waterfalls and hiking in the area. We've also found it to be a less aggressive city, or perhaps just more used to us Yovos and therefor we get less harassment.

Because Kpalime is a big town, there's also a good number of restaurants including an amazing restaurant called “Le Bon Vivant” which is owned by a Belgian guy, and more importantly, has a great selection of beers and the best burgers I've ever had.

Our host families are also much more accustomed to having students. While there aren't many streetlights, there's moto (motorcycle) taxis everywhere which means you never have to walk home at night. Being able to stay out until 9 (hey, it's pretty late considering we start teaching at 7am each day) is a big change compared to before, when we were racing the sun home, making it back before the 6:15 sunset.

Many of us are also happy about the change because we feel it's been the most useful part of training. You can talk about teaching theory until you turn blue in the face, but it wont mean much until you actually get to practice teach. Here we are teaching at a local middle school summer program, and then also with a micro-scholarship and English program funded by the US Embassy. The program at MLK Jr. funded through the embassy is very similar to the work I did in France, as it focuses a lot more on cultural aspects. However, I find the classes at the local middle school (CEG Kpodzi) to be the most helpful. We are teaching using the same textbooks that we will most likely use this year, and while the classes are smaller than we will have later, these are regular students- unlike the selected ones from MLK's program.

Kpalime has been wonderful, and I'm really going to miss it when I leave.


Other reasons to love Kpalime? The most beautiful walk to school I've ever had.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

A good day to switch to Doxy?

Having spent the last few Sunday nights (the day I would take
Mephloquin) waking up in the middle of the night, thinking there were
intruder standing over me, or unable to fall asleep because I was sure
someone was already in my house, or going to sneak in this NY Times
article was an interesting read for me.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/30/business/fda-strengthens-warnings-on-lariam-anti-malaria-drug.html?_r=3&adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1375387997-LYgCEoHpqlJo98Yj5A57fg

I'm glad to take the burden of a daily pill, rather than weekly if it
means I'm no longer freaking out in my bedroom in Togo.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Post Visit

Well, I just got back yesterday from a 4.5 day visit to the village where I'll be living for the next two years come August! I was lucky, as I'm in Maritime, I didn't have far to travel to my post but others, like those in Savannes had a total of 4 days travel, just for a day up at post!

When I got out of the car, I had drummers pounding away, women dancing, singing, and a plate of spaghetti with a glass of cold, very sweet red wine waiting my arrival. My homologue, the middle school principal, Lucas, his homologue and I all sat down to to eat, as appraising stares made sure that we ate enough. Having finished, we headed back outside where the dancing and drumming was still going on. I won the approval of many by joining in in the dancing and shaking my booty. I figure I'm going to make a fool of myself no matter what over the course of the two years, so I can do it with a smile and dancing or sour-faced. I chose dancing :)

Then I had the introductions of many community members- many of whom I've already forgotten the name of. After all that excitement, I was finally given some time to settle in (and pee! I had to pee since before I got out of the car!)

Caitlin, the current volunteer arrived back into town about mid-day and from there she showed me around. It was nice to see her perspective on the town, what places are important to her and what her life is like there. She also showed me some of the prettiest views in village.


She will be leaving in mid-September which gives us a few weeks of overlap which is nice.

I'll be living in a different house than she had, but while she was in town we were able to cook together (spaghetti with local cheese, basil and tomatoes and french toast with pineapple topping!) Which was really nice.

Also, she has the best gift to leave me when she goes- a puppy!

One of these lovely puppies will be my own. I loved getting to play with them during post visit. The are such cuties!

When we move in for real, Peace Corps gives us a “settling in allowance” which is pretty sizable chunk of change to help us set up and pay for lots of initial costs like furniture and household items. However, we don't get that money until after swear-in. Because of that, I couldn't afford a gas stove right now (costs about 40 USD) and instead I cooked on a charcoal stove (costs about 5 USD) for the two days that Caitlin wasn't there!

My backyard and temporary kitchen
I joined the waterfront staff at Glen Spey, not in small part of avoid doing camp cookouts. I am awful at cooking over a fire, and more than one of my cookouts ended in me sneaking into the camp kitchen to steal away granola bars for my campers. So it was no small miracle that I was able to do pretty well on my charcoal stove. One day I made a sort of stir fry with rice, pineapple and soy which is sold around town. Another day I had tomatoes, onions and lentils. There weren't the most spectacular meals I've ever made, but they were decent and hot which was enough.

From left to right: My shower, my bucket flush toilet, me, and dinner.
On my last full day, I stopped by the school to sit in on the “conseil de classe” which happens at the end of each term and each student is discussed. It being the end of the year, a major topic of concern was who would pass on to the next level, and who would be held back. The meeting was called for 8am, I was told by an English teacher to be there at 8:30, all the other teachers were there at 10:30 and the principal showed up and we started around 11. The meeting went until 2, at which point we ate lunch together, finally ending everything around 2:30/ 3pm. It was a good insight into how things might go for the next year.

There are 12 teachers at the school, including tow other English teachers. The school doesn't have many resources- including things like toilets. Or latrines. Guys just pee where ever, and girls go into the nearby field. I'm the only female teacher. Can you understand why I was desperate to leave the 6 hour meeting? Other than the lack of bathrooms, the school seems fine. There's a teachers' paillote (straw hut) in the middle and then class rooms surrounding it in a U shape.



Basketball is played with real baskets here.
I had a really great post visit, and I'm glad to have a little insight into where I'll be living for two years!  

Communication

Just a quick update about contact info since now I've visited my post. I'll be keeping the same address, and and all packages can go to it. My town doesn't have good Togocel (my current carrier) reception, so there's a small chance I'll get a new number with a different carrier but probably not. I don't have internet access in my town, or reception for my internet key. Letters are the best way to reach me, but sometimes they do get lost, so please shoot me an email if you haven't heard from me in a while. It still may take me a while to respond, but I'll get to it eventually.

Again, my address is:

Anna Williams, PCV
Corps de la Paix
B.P. 3194
Lome, Togo
West Africa  

(it's also listed on the side bar to the right) 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Language and Technical Presentations

A large part of training here in Togo is language based. Most people don't come in with very much French, but even coming in with French skills doesn't preclude you from language class! Those of us with a high enough level of French just get to enjoy local language classes instead! So, whether it's French or local language (Ewe for me), you're head is swimming either way.

Togo doesn't have a unifying, country wide lingua franca, so it's only this year that Peace Corps has really started local language here. In Senegal, it's easy to have everyone start learning Wolof, because no matter where you are it's helpful, but here in Togo it's very region dependent. This poses a problem, as when we first arrive, they're not sure yet where to send us in the country for our posts, so they're not sure what language to have us learn.

With the early push for local language, all of us found ourselves doing our first technical presentation in a language we are uncomfortable with speaking- French or otherwise.

Somehow, many of us were able to stutter though Ewe (and even Bassar) presentations introducing ourselves, talking about Peace Corps' mission, the English and Gender Education goals and what work we will do at post. Those who gave presentations in French did a great job, even though there were many butterflies in their stomachs before hand.  


Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy Independence Day!

Even all the way over here in Togo, we have to celebrate the fourth of July. While it wasn't burgers and cookout type fair for food, we still made do with some street meat hot dogs, avocado and egg sandwiches and drinks.
The patriotically dressed of the group

Me and Amelia

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Bikes and Bibles

Sorry about the post confusion. Here's the proper blog from last week.

Our time in Togo has been filled with mundane activities; class, break, class, lunch, class, dinner, bed. We are in class from 7:30 am to 5:30pm, with a two and a half hour midday break to give us time to go home, eat with our family and get back to school. Classes include local language classes (French and Ewe), safety and security sessions, health sessions, Peace Corps policy and teacher training. Saturdays have morning sessions, but the afternoon is free.

Saturday morning was a good break from routine because one of our classes was our bike class! We talked about shifting gears a bit, donned our helmets and set out for a ride. None of us is Togolese, so we tend to get a lot of attention no matter what, but we got twice as much for being a thirteen helmet wearing bikers. (Note: Not wearing your helmet on your bike, or on a moto gets you sent home from Peace Corps)


I was pretty nervous about the ride, as the roads here basically make all biking the equivalent of off-roading. Despite almost wiping out on the first turn (a big soft sand bank was the turning surface), the rest of the ride went pretty well. That first turn didn't do anything for my confidence for the ride, but still I might give biking a try once I get to post as I'm slightly less intimidated by it now. After getting completely sweaty and covered in dirt from our ride to have lunch with our families.


We decided to make use of our free Saturday afternoon by studying French in a big group together.

Haha, get serious.

We went back to the pool. The sun was out in full force, in contrast to last week which was rather overcast. The afternoon was a lot of fun, and I managed not to get sunburned (haven't yet :). We also met some French volunteers/ interns at the pool which was interesting. Most are only here for three months which is kind of funny, since that's how long it take us to just finish training! They were headed back to the pool on Sunday and wanted us to join them, but family obligations kept us from doing so.


What are those Sunday host family obligations?

Church.

My family is a very religious Catholic family. They tried to get me to go to church with them last weekend as well, but I ditched out for the pool. I figured I could make it happen this week (with the caveat that this shouldn't be expected to become routine). While I did mind the 6am start time, I didn't really mind the church service. It was easy enough to follow the general flow of things, as Catholic services around the world have the same format. The downside was that it was all in Ewe. I was able to pick out “Mawu” (God) a few times, but that didn't really help me figure out what the heck was going on. Of course, here in Togo, they didn't stick to the typical hour long format either. The synthesizer and drums started up at every opportunity for another song. Collections were done by everyone dancing up the aisle to give in their money (twice). Fruit baskets were auctioned off as a fund raiser. Everyone shook hands for the “Peace be with you” bit. Really, not that different from church in the USA.

From start to finish, the service took about 2 1/2 hours. At least it wasn't too hot in the building, and the beautiful African print fabrics (“wax” style or more generally “pagne” as they're called here) gave me lots to look at. Afterward, we took a tour of the neighborhood to stop in at houses and say hello to various relatives. They were all a bit surprised to see a white person in tow, but they all were happy to suffer through my crappy Ewe introduction (which Rebecca and Joseph would repeat for them afterward).


An early start to the day, but it justifies a long afternoon nap.  

Monday, June 24, 2013

Welcome to the Peace Corps; Here's your chamber pot

It seems fitting that our arrival to the Peace Corps was composed of lost bags, smothering heat and the purchase of chamber pots.

Yes, chamber pots. While our hotel in defcto training center in Lome had running water, showers, toilets, etc (even air conditioning in some rooms!) We were prepared by staff and current volunteers that most host families would have latrines, nd they would likely be locked at night. Thus, the chamber pots.

We have since left Lome and are now at our training sites, a cluster of 3 villages in the Maritime region.

Between Philadelphia roommates, two transcontinental flights, many beers, Lome roommates nd finally separation into our sectors (English- EGE, Health- CHAP and Envirnoment- EAFS) We've had a lot of time to get to know one another.
One of the ways we've gotten to know one another which will surprise no RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer) and will likely gross out most other people, is by talking about bathroom habits.

Between travel, stress, new food, filtered and bleached water and latrines, bathroom topics have become the main subject of conversations.

Of course we run mild to gory; from how many days it's been since we've shaved our legs, to who hasn't been able to get up off the toilet. Rumor has it that a previous “stage” group had shirts made that read “Every fart is a gamble.” Chewable Pepto Bismol has become out after dinner mint of choice.

The upside to all of this of cours is that I'm far closer with people I've met only two weeks ago than I ever imagined I could be. It's comforting to know that there are 36 other people going through the same things and that we are here to support one another.
I won't pretend I'm roughing it quite yet though. Tomorrow we are headed to the pool at a hotel in town.

What's my toilet situation? Well, I don't have running water, but I do have my own bathroom, with a real toilet (bucket flush) and shower area. Basically 4 star accommodations as far as I'm concerned.

I hope to move onto more family friendly topics next time, but then again- it's the Peace Corps.  

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Safe in Togo

After 30 something hours of travel, we have finally arrived in Lomé. With only 5 hours until I need to be up again, I just wanted to let you know I'm safe and I'll update you further later.

It's hotter than heck and it's 1:30am.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Ready. Set. (To)Go.

With less than 12 hours left before I have to leave the house, I still have odds and ends (ok, maybe a whole frying pan) sticking out of my suitcases, waiting to be tucked in and zippers closed.

In the 5 weeks I've been in the states, I've had an absolutely fantastic time. My goal was nothing more than to see great friends and family and to eat and drink well (which the 7lbs I gained can attest to!).

However in the 5 weeks that I've been back, I haven't really had time to slow down and take in the fact that I'm about to leave for Togo. I'm happy for my host family in Senegal, the crappy first year I had in France, going back to France and trying to all again (and succeeding!). I'm not totally prepared for what's about to come, but I'm not sure that anyone is.

There's been a lot of twists and turns, but I'm really happy about the path I took to get here. My original plan had been to join Peace Corps directly out of school. I wasn't ready for it then. I probably would have gotten through alright, but maybe not have taken advantage of all the opportunities, letting myself shy away and get closed in.

I don't have the same stomach turning fright that I had before I left for Senegal (a big thank you to Rebecca who talked me through all of it) but I can help but be a bit anxious.

With that, I need a good night's rest (ok, I still have stuff to cram into suitcases). Hopefully my next update will be from an airport or, even better, Togo!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Guest Post! It's a family affair

We can't ignore the fact that my family already has a Peace Corps history. My parents are RPCVs and were in Tunisia from 1975-77. They took away a lot from their experience, but most of all- my sister! My sister was born at the end of their service, and all of us grew up hearing about their time in the Peace Corps.

I asked my mom to write a bit about here experience, but gave no further direction than that. So here's what she has to say:



Anna invited me to write her first guest posting as we let her loose on the world of Peace Corps Togo in less than 48 hours. I have been rather tearful this week thinking of her leaving for over two years with slim possibilities of seeing her during this time. Yet she has managed to live in far off corners of the world in Senegal and two parts of France, navigating the culture and the bureaucracy just fine. She is fluent in French and has a good head on her shoulders and I am sure she will not only do just fine, she will thrive and be an asset to whatever community and family she finds herself in. All the same, it is still hard to say goodbye to my youngest child.

But I did the same thing to my mother in June of l975 when Bill and I left for possibly the same staging hotel in Philadelphia in order to venture off as Peace Corps English teachers in Tunisia. I had trepidations and hesitations, but I always knew it was the right step for us to take. And it was as that step to join the Peace Corps led to all sorts of opportunities and experiences in our lives. But I also remember being dreadfully jet lagged, and tired of living out of a suitcase by the end of training.  We ended up in southern Tunisia teaching English at the high school and night school in Houmt Souk, Djerba, Tunisia.  We called home after an appointment and hours of waiting at the post office only a few times-for Christmas and to tell the family that I was pregnant and when I had baby Kate (July 4 of course) We received sporadic letters and a few care packages and that was it.  I still feel a gap in family relationships in that I do not remember or know what other family members were really doing during those years. On the other hand I developed a closer relationship to a cousin who was living in Japan teaching English too. Even though communication will be difficult in Togo, I still look forward to knowing more of what is going on in Togo through emails, blog postings and maybe a cell phone Skype call every now and then. A lot depends on where Anna is stationed and that is still a mystery. I think it would help in packing, planning, settling in and adjusting to know where you will be beforehand, but not knowing still remains a hallmark of Peace Corps organization.

I told Anna to look for the line of weirdoes at the hotel and she would see her fellow PCVs. Really that wasn’t fair to the volunteers, but in our group there were a wide variety of people who had their quirks. However, many of these people who I thought I would never see nor hear from again when we left, have become lifelong friends. At our 25-year reunion in Washington, D.C., I was so impressed by the atmosphere of gentle, contented, competence and satisfaction that the group exhibited. These were people who had found peace in their life and souls and could live in peace with themselves. There was a real aura of specialness about these former volunteers in the way they greeted each other and shared the lives they now lived. I didn’t sense this during out training or the few times we were all together, but I have to credit the Peace Corps experience for helping we ordinary Americans with an abnormal wanderlust to become such peaceful souls with an appreciation of the vagaries and ironies of the world.

Do I have any advice for this new group of volunteers? After recently reading Cheryl Sandberg’s book Leaning In. I would suggest doing just that. Grab every opportunity you have, create new opportunities when one door shuts, remember that life becomes of value because of who you are, not just what you do, laugh often, embrace the absurd, endure the necessary and don’t forget to write your mother.

To Anna and this new Peace Corps Togo group, I salute you who are let loose on the world and wish you the best adventure and the deepest insights Your life will forever more be a global one if only in your mind and outlook and you too will someday see that the value of your Peace Corps experience wasn’t just what you did, but who you became.


Friday, June 7, 2013

FAQs

I sent out an email containing some FAQs and basic information, but I'm sure I missed some people. Here it is again, slightly edited.

Q: What the best way to contact you?
A: Snail mail is best. It's the most fun to recieve and reasonably reliable. It's good to number your letters, so that way I know if one has gone missing. Post cards are good if they are in an envelope, otherwise they might become decoration on the Post Office wall ;) I'd love photos in the letters as well. Once I get a cell phone number there, I'll update you all.
Q: What is your address?
A: Anna Williams, PCV
Corps de la Paix
B.P. 3194
Lomé, Togo
West Africa
Q: Will you send a letter back?
A: Of COURSE! If you mail me a letter, I will always write you one back. It may take a bit of time to arrive, but I will be a great pen pal (to those who were France penpals, I promise to do better)

Q: Should I email you my snail mail address? 
A: Only if you want me to write you letters! (and you'll write them back ;)
Q: How much does it cost to mail a letter to Togo?
A: About a dollar. You can buy international  "forever" stamps at the post office, and that way you don't have to worry about the postage price changing.
Q: What if I want to send you a package?
A: You can use the address above. Getting packages can be a little difficult, but padded or tyvek envelopes are recommended by current volunteers. There are fewer taxes to be paid on them, and tend to have a better track record in arriving in the intended hands.
Q: Will you have internet?
A: Yes and no. During training I should have some access to internet through cyber cafes, but it is not guaranteed or very good (think dial up speeds). I might be able to get email access on my phone, depending on what is available there. Email communication will be possible, but not often. So get that pen out and send me some snail mail.
Q: What about skype?
A: Because of poor connectivity skype isn't really an option, at least until training has finished. That being said, once I have a cell phone skype out credit is a great way to make lower cost international phone calls.
General Peace Corps FAQs
Q: What are you doing exactly?
A: I'll be teaching English and runing girls' empowerment clubs.
Q: Why do they want to learn English?
A: From west to east we have; Ghana, Togo, Benin and Nigeria. Togo and Benin are Francophone and Ghana and Nigeria are Anglophone. There are lots of people who come from Ghana and more who do trade from Ghana to Nigeria, so there are a lot more jobs available to those who speak English. In today's market, English is necessary to be competitive in any job- even at the local market!

Q: How long are you gone for?
A: A little longer than two years. I leave June 10th, 2013 and if everything goes correctly, I go from trainee to volunteer in August in 2013 and finish my service in August 2015.
Q: Soooooo, what is Togo like?
A: I'm not really sure- I don't know much more than the wikipedia article! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Togo
Q: What language do they speak?
A: They speak French there, which helps to unify the country as there are about 12 main different languages there. I'll learn a local language during training.

Q: Do you get paid?
A: Peace Corps is a volunteer organization. I am a volunteer though I receive a monthly living stipend to live at the same level as the locals, complete medical care and some readjustment money upon my return to the USA. 
Q: How can I contribute to what you are doing? 
A: Hold off on monetary donations for now, later there may be an opportunity to contribute once I have discovered what my community needs. 

Q: Are you excited?!!? Nervous? Scared? Happy?
A: Yes!
Q: Are you insane?!
A: YES!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Togo Geography

If you skimmed the Wiki articles, but all of those town names seem to have too many consonants and keep blurring in your head, this is for you. Let's do some basics.

Togo is in West Africa. 

It is sandwiched between Ghana and Benin. 


There are five departments (like counties). From north to south we have; Savanes, Kara, Centrale, Plateaux and Maritime.



The Route Nationale (RN) is the main road that runs north/south along the entire country. If you are on the route it's easy to travel, if not, well, your journey will take even longer. 

And obviously, there are many towns and villages all over the country.  


Togo is about the size of West Virginia, or 2.5 times the size of New Jersey. 


And here's the flag of Togo. I think it's pretty :) 




Wednesday, June 5, 2013

I hate packing.

You would think that after living on three continents, traveling to 10 countries and visiting 8 cities in 3 weeks I might be decent at packing by now, but nope, still a struggle.

With Peace Corps paying for two 50lbs bags to Togo I don't have the same incentive to cut things down to the bare minimum either. I think I fed my bags water after midnight because my stuff is taking over the guest room.

Why the heck am I even bringing? Well, way too many shoes (Tom's don't count as real shoes anyway, right?) lots of undies and bras, toiletries, an American flag, 3 books, water bottles, headlamp/flashlight, a solar charger and solar shower, kitchen knives, boxed latke mix, markers and colored pencils.

Though let's be serious, the way things are overflowing, it's doubtful it's all making it to Togo. 4 days left to see what makes the cut!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Running of the Bulls

Despite 3 months of not training, (I've gone on three runs since the Paris Half Marathon 1. Where I really hurt my knee 2. The Kalamazoo Half Marathon and 3. The Flashback 5k) Kate and I still tackled the hilly "Running of the Bulls 8K" in Durham today.

It was one of the worst races I've done. My calves were super tight the first two miles, and I was overheating the last three, but most of all my heart wasn't in it. I didn't have my head in the game and my results suffered.

That being said, it was a good reminder of why I need to keep active. The finish line is an active healthy life.

The Kate and I went to the farmers market and got donuts. Oops.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Beach Week!

I'm finally nearing the end of my adventures as I am with (most of) my family at the beach, soaking up the sun and salt water.

Kate, Ev, Pete and I ran a flashback 5k where I PR'ed by 1 second (though mostly by accident, not real effort).
Like our family tube socks?

Gram and Me :D
beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeach. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Southern Hospitality

In what has become a yearly migration, I once again passed through the extremely welcoming home of Rebecca and Pat (and his family). Since clearly, I hadn't completely broken the scales after leaving Texas, Pat and Rebecca set out to make sure that I would have to buy a second airplane seat on the next leg of my adventure.

We ate and we ate and we ate. Then we talked a long while and repeated it. I can't think of a better way to have spent my time in Decatur.


Sunday, May 19, 2013

Austin, Texas

My trip to Austin was far to full of friends and food for me to find time to blog. Sorry y'all! In the end I managed to see a half dozen of my favorite people and still down food and drinks including Chuy's, snow cones, Shinerbock, Curra's, Magnolia Cafe, and make a trip to Barton Springs.

The Springs! I couldn't stop myself from watching the water when there was a rescue. That being said, I did refrain from yelling at kids who were running instead of walking. 

Not bad for only 2 fulls days in ATX.

(ok, I'll come clean that I also got Salk Lick BBQ and Amy's ice cream at the airport before I left)

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Denver to Austin

I had a fantastic in Denver, but the party continues in Austin. I'm currently in the Denver airport and waiting for my flight.

My time with Amelia in Denver included LOTS of catching up, sun, attaya, drinks and dancing. I can't wait until I see her again (maybe Itriage wants to send her a business trip to Africa?! Wishful thinking)

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Getting Ready

I've only been home a few days which has limited the amount that I can prepare for Togo. I'm slowly making gains though. The pile if shoes in the corner has morphed into a pile of shoes, toiletries, clothes and misc. items. Oh and I found 3,000 CFA leftover from study abroad so now I have about $6 when I land in Togo.

Ridgewood and Errands

20 days after leaving Montlucon, I'm finally back at my parents. My bags are somewhat unpacked, but at the same time being quickly refilled, as I leave on Thursday for a Denver, Austin, Atlanta, North Carolina circuit followed by a week at my parents and then my departure for Peace Corps Togo!

I've been running around doing errands, unpacking, repacking and going through endless shopping and checklists. There's always more to be done, but I'm starting to get a handle on it all. One item off the list- updated the blog!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Babysitting

I'm finally back in the Tri-State area! I have the lovely honor of babysitting my niece while Evan and Maria headed to DC for the weekend.

 

We had a crazy hair off over the weekend, but I think there is no winner in that game. 

That girl is cute, but tiring.