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.