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How could I possibly leave you all for over 2 years without any Jen-stories?  Check back often for updates! 
 
(FYI, I've switched over to handwriting these updates in a notebook in village and then typing them up when I get into a town with internet, so the dates you see are the date it was written down, not the day I was in a 'hi-tech' town!)

Stories from 'Stage' (Training)

Etude de Milieu (first 3 months at post in Kougnohou)

Tuesday, August 10, 2004   As of Aug 12th I'll have officially completed my service as a PCV.  Two years and two months.  Wow.  The hard part for me is just getting a ticket for my dog and I to get home.  I thought I had put a story or so on here since May but it seems to not have worked and who knows what I'd written.  Here's a new story from an email I just sent about today's plane ticket issues:
oh, ....will I ever truly get home?  I really worried about this quite a few times today.  I had to scrap the ticket I wrote to everyone about when British Airways tried to tell me Milo would cost $700 to take on the flight and that they couldn't even confirm him for another 48hrs. I luckily even got that info before I got to the Accra airport without $700 cash all by myself the day of the flight.  The only good thing about that news was that I felt vindicated over insisting on having this worked out in detail BEFORE getting to Accra whereas several folks have rolled their eyes at my issues and ongoing problems and feel like I'm over reacting amd are sick of seeing me in the office lounge talking about the latest developments when other folks ask me about it.
 
I was lucky that my director was nice and took initiative to help me resolve it today and placed a call through the US Embassy line that somehow gets a US line here and called a travel agent, British Airwyas, and finally, Northwest.  I spent an hour and a half on the phone.  Can you imagine calling the US from Togo on a streetside payphone for that long and how much that would have cost me? Anyway, I was finally able to get a reservation from Accra, through Amsterdam, to LAX, now on the 19th rather than the 21st and the total with Milo is less than the estimate PC gave me in cash. 
 
We go to issue it and figure out how to pay and get the ticket to me and then realize we can't.  Kacey, I almost cried...again.  Finally the NW agent gets word that by using the confirmation number a Lome travel agent computer should be able to call up the reservation and issue it from here.  The problem was that Accra's airport isn't equipped to handle e-tickets or prepaid tickets that you pick up at the counter.  But then I go to the travel agent and they can't do what they should have been able to do.
 
I started working on Plan B and C and D.... things involving a PCV friend's sister picking it up and bringing it the next day on her flight to see her in Togo; or having my folks pay for it via credit card and picking it up in Vegas at the airport and then FedExing it to the wife of the new Country Director who's coming on the 14th.  Then I get an email from a friend from home that he found out a KLM office is in Lome - I'd emailed him to see if he knew an int'l travel agent or had any ideas on possible routes/airline carriers I could try. 
 
So, things currently are looking up.  Tomorrow I go to see if the travel agent got the code or whatever they needed to access my reservation.  If not, I go to try to find the KLM office to see if they can access my reservation from the KLM number I got when I reserved the flight.  If that doesn't work, then we move to the FedEx plan for the next person I can find coming to Togo. 
 
Really, I'll make it home eventually....  I can't wait to finally just have this done so I can just focus on wrapping up other stuff.  I'll see you all soon!!  Don't forget to email me your current phone number so I can call you when I do get there!

Wednesday, May 26, 2004  I'm starting to clean out my house and make arrangements to sell my furniture.  I just packed up the books that Peace Corps lends us for resource material for our work.  I feel better having made a little headway.  I also have put the word out about a moving sale and realized that it will be easy to sell everything from my stove, to my mattress, to small kitchen odds and ends.  I've gotten rid of some clothes that just don't fit anymore and some things I don't wear much and know I wouldn't take with me to Seattle.  I am almost done working on the revision of the PC Togo cookbook for the incoming group of PCVs.  I wish I weren't feeling sick again or I would want to try out some of the new recipes.  I just made matzoh ball soup for dinner thanks for sending a few boxes for Passover, mom and dad!  My latrine/mason training project is coming along.  We keep running out of sand for the cement and then it rains and the road is too muddy to transport more.  But regardless, it looks likely to be done in the next few weeks.  I hope it is.  Tomorrow I'm making banana bread with Akouvi to sell in the market on Friday.  I also have a meeting tomorrow with the regional chamber of commerce (Chambre Regional des Metiers) representatives.  My replacement will be working more with them than I did since they were just really getting set up out here.   

 

It's raining more often now and my veggie garden is doing well.  There are small zucchinis growing, if I could only keep bugs from getting them.  The broccoli are also getting bigger.  They'll be ready to eat the day I leave, I bet!  Tons of flowers are now blooming around my house.  It's hard to realize that I moved into this house just last April and it was surrounded by dirt and pebbles.  We just told my host family/landlord that Peace Corps is keeping the house for another 2 years for my replacement.  Hey, if any new incoming PCVs are reading this, if you're in the Small Business Development program, this could be your house that I'm talking about!  I hear there are 10 new SBDers on the way, 8 men and 2 women.  There are I think 11 or 12 Natural Resouce PCVs also coming at the same time, more women than men in that group.  I'm trying to prep my village to realize that I could be replaced by a man.  They tend to want another PCV just like the one they had, but quickly adjust anyway when they don't get that.  I'm down to about 2 months now.  I just have to go to Lome to look at flight info in a few weeks.  Hopefully book a ticket, too.  I'll feel better knowing it's taken care of and I can just focus on wrapping things up here in village. 

 

Hey, one good thing just happened here in village I helped get the hours of our electricity changed.  It was from 6pm til midnight from when I got here til April.  The generator was only installed in 2000 from what I hear.  Then in April they changed it to 8am-12pm and 3pm-11pm; 12hrs total.  Great for businessesin LOME!  But here in a farm town nobody is using electricity from 8-12 or 3-5.  They're all in the fields or at school.  Except for two or three individuals in a gov't office.  I just found out it got changed to 10am-2pm and 4pm-midnight.  Now people can use a fan during the hottest hours of the day. We just got a photocopy machine in village at the mini-poste so now I can make copies of things without leaving village.  If this had happened when I first got here I'd have considered getting a fridge or small freezer and a fan.  I'll just pass along the advice to my replacement when I meet them. 

 

 

Tuesday, May 18, 2004   They ate Lion.  I can't believe it.  Milo's first friend and he was eaten.  My carpenter had two dogs, Jack and Lion.  Lion used to come by sometimes to play when I first brought Milo home with me.  He always came up to me for a scratch on the head when I passed by their shop while walking through town.  Mawusi, the head apprentice carpenter was at my house yesterday fixing the windows that wouldn't shut (wood warps with the start and end of the rainy season every year) and I asked, "Where's Lion?" Last time he'd come with him to my house.  He tells me he was killed.given to the Kabye to eat.  Why?!  Well, it seems that there was a dispute between Lion's owner, Togbevi, and a neighbor about a dead goat.  Togbevi says the goat was sick and died.  The goat's owner says that Lion killed it.  All they know for certain is that Lion was found eating some of the dead goat meat.  Mawusi tells me that actually the goat was sick and another large dog in the neighborhood had started eating it, Lion just came along and found it like that and ate some, too.  Problem is that once a dog kills an animal and eats it, he'll probably do it again.  I don't know the details of the rest of the dispute, but it seems to have gotten more complicated and eventually resolved.  Togbevi had some work he needed done in his fields.  So, he gave his dog, Lion, to some men in exchange for the work.  They happened to be Kabye, an ethnic group from northern Togo.  Part of their culture includes eating dog meat but only the adult men do.  Women don't ever and young men have to successfully wrestle at the Evala festival around age 18-25 to be considered adults.  *sigh*  This is one actual reason I'm bringing Milo home with me.  I couldn't be sure that some day someone wouldn't steal him to eat him or that a family wouldn't sell him to the Kabye if they needed cash.  Every week I get mail from my office that is delivered to the gendarmerie (local military post in my village).  The vast majority of gendarmes are Kabye.  The President of Togo is Kabye.  They like to joke around with me that I should give them Milo to eat.  At first I was actually worried that they wanted him.  Then I realized they were teasing and even poking a little fun at themselves.  (Or, were they?!)  When Milo was little they'd say, no, not yet, after he's at least 6 months old, then he'll be big enough with enough meat on him.  Now I just ask them which sauce goes with dog meat. 

 

Monday, April 26, 2004  A big storm just blew through my village, but this time it spared my fence.  Rainy season is quickly approaching, but for the meantime we have a really hot day followed by a cold rainy day, really hot couple of days, quick nighttime storm, hot day, cloudy day, hot and sunny (good for laundry) day.etc.  Once the rainy season really starts it will rain torrentially every day and sometimes also at night.  Ironically when I get back to Seattle it will be the few months during the summer that it doesn't rain there.  

 

Speaking of being back in Seattle, I think I'm getting closer to a plan for heading home.  I will more likely than not go directly to my parent's new home in Vegas with Milo.  Then I'd like to visit my grandma and some other family and friends in NY/NJ after spending a little time with my parents but before heading up to Seattle.  Getting to Seattle may be tricky I think I'm in for a road trip with Milo.  Anyone else up for a road trip with us?  He's a really nice dog and he loves going in the car!  It'll probably be the end of August and may involve a stop in San Francisco for a few days.  My friend Amy from Michigan is going to be in Seattle over Labor Day for her cousin's wedding so I'd like to be there by then.  I just worked out a tentative schedule that would mean I would COS (Close of Service) on August 7th, getting to Vegas the 8th.  I'd spend the 8th-13th with my parents and then go to NY/NJ the 14th-22nd.  Then back to Vegas for a couple of days to see my parents again and to do some final re-packing of all the stuff I left at their house for over two years.  I have to officially get my COS date approved before I can book flights home, but I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be ok.  Next time I'm in Lome I'll go online and look up flight info or just stop by some of the airline offices in town.  I'm going to sleep on this tonight and see if I don't change my mind about anything in the next couple of weeks before I put in my request for my official COS date.  Am I really leaving this soon?!  Has two years already gone by?! 

Sunday, April 18, 2004   So, my two years is coming to an end soon.  I am still working out when I'll officially be heading home, but I'm thinking it will be early August.  That's just over 3 months from now.  As soon as I set the official date, I have a feeling I'll start counting down in weeks, not months.  That's actually a scary thought.  I'm looking forward to getting back, but how am I going to say goodbye to everyone here, and how am I going to get my work wrapped up, finish working on the revision of the PC Togo cookbook, travel to Mali, and write a fairly final version of my degree project in just a matter of weeks?!  I guess that will help me get back into the pace of life in the US again, eh?  Can anyone reading this recommend me for a job that will let me continue to take daily afternoon naps?  Ack!  Job searching!  I've got some time til that is a pressing problem, but not too much since I should be graduating from UW in December. 

I don't know what else I can write about today.  I thought I had an idea, but I've completely forgotten what it was.  Is there anything you want me to write a story about?  If you've got any ideas, email me or leave me a note in the guestbook.  Actually, just email me or sign the guestbook anyway.  I will probably get mail you send for the next two months, but after the end of June, just email me instead of writing snail mail letters.  Sorry to those of you who wrote to me recently and are waiting for a reply.  Some letters seem to have gotten lost (I've emailed about that with a few of you) and I am finally after close to two years falling behind on writing responses.  I promise I'll more than make up for it once I can get back to a US-based telephone J 

 

Thursday, April 1, 2004   Can you believe I get online sometimes only once or twice a month?  I finally got used to being without technology at my fingertips and then I bring back this laptop to my village.  But I can't do most of my work on it during the day since the battery only lasts about 2 ½ hrs.  And people keep stopping by and I don't want everyone knowing it's here. So, it actually works out fine that I have electricity for it only after dark.  I just realized this week the true meaning of "appropriate technology", a favorite buzzword in the world of international development.  For my village, here's a sample of what would be an "appropriate" improvement to various aspects of life:

  • Watering cans, very few folks actually have them for their vegetable gardens;
  • Plastic screens in windows (no glass, just wooden shutters) and mosquito nets;
  • Megaphones instead of the usual shouting when folks go around with a cowbell "gong-gonging" with announcements early in the mornings or on market day;
  • Kerosene lamps instead of just candles;
  • Can openers, I've seen only one other than mine at my friends' housesmini cans of tomato paste and any other size can are just opened with a giant knife or machete;
  • Better batteriesthe AA and D ones here seems to be much weaker than the Energizer or Duracell that we're all used to;
  • Cement cisterns to catch rain water at each homethis is part of my current project.   There's a pump, but it's farther than the river to many homes and takes forever to fill up your basins, especially if other folks are there before you.  A more expensive option to a cistern is a well, but I've only seen one here and that was at the house of a French expat who used to live here;
  • A painted stenciled sign at your workplace there are no newspapers sold here, no local radio, no other way to advertise what you do;
  • For folks with a little money, a gastank stovetop.  For the majority of the folks here, an improved clay cookstove would be a way to conserve wood and charcoal.  I don't know why we don't learn about solar ovens with Peace Corps.probably because nothing folks eat here is made in an oven other than bread (and they have giant bread ovens at some homes).  Food is usually in the form of sauce on rice or another starch, or something deep fried;
  • Calculators forget about computers or internet;
  • A land-based phone line that works!  They recently came to confirm the placement of the antenna for the cell phone company.  They installed the antenna in Badou (an hour and 15 mins away) over 2 years ago and they still have yet to see cell phone service there though.  If our land lines worked better, we wouldn't need cell phones;
  • Mills to grind dried corn, etc. versus doing it by hand.  Most people make peanut butter by hand on their kitchen grindstones.  One woman sometimes takes a bulk amount of roasted peanuts to a mill and sells baggies of peanut butter (it's used to make sauce, not eaten like Americans do);
  • Paved roads, or honestly, even just a well-graded dirt road would be nice;
  • Replace all the bush taxis with any car that is barely considered legal to drive in the US it would definitely be an improvement;
  • Toothbrushes instead of the traditional chew stick from a particular type of tree;
  • There are several types of latrines ranging from a hole in the ground with a plank over it to kinds that use water to "flush" (mine's in between the two, but I did have a cement seat build up over the hole with a modern plastic toilet seat and lid permanently cemented in), and toilet paper vs pieces of old school notebook pages (I buy TP, but it's out of most folks budgets).

March 20, 2004 Got my project approved! Now Im super busy organizing everything with the local clinic staff, the taxi drivers union members, the market vendor ladies, families that live by the market, and the area masons. People have been really receptive so far and have agreed to do their part in the project. I think the problem of confidence is what often deters folks from contributing financially to a community project. Too many times theyve been promised something, told to chip in, and then nothing ever comes of it. This time were able to tell them that the funding is already approved and that there are two other parts of the community also participating. Nobody seems to want to bear the load of the responsibility more so than anyone else. But with my involvement in the money management they seem to feel more comfortable that the funds wont get abused. Its sad that theyd trust an outsider more than a member of their own community. But now I understood how to work within that kind of context and I can use this opportunity to demonstrate ways to have open books for public scrutiny, hold people accountable for getting receipts and multiple price quotes for big ticket items, and maybe theyll be able to use this as a way to have confidence in future projects without me.

Funny thing just happened. Milos been playing with his little friend from next door a lot today. Shes been gone a lot more during the days now that shes big enough to go to the fields with her family. Without really thinking about it I realized that today must be "glou", the fifth day. Many ethnic groups have a traditional 5 or 6 day week that they still use for farming practices. Here in Akebou the glou is the last day and you dont go to the fields that day. I just checked my calendar and counted from earlier in the week and yup, todays klou. Ive never been able to figure that out on my own. I always have to ask when it is since I dont keep track unless Im about to try to schedule some kind of meeting and actually want folks to show up. Its little things like this that make me realize how far Ive come in getting used to things here.

Its just starting to pour right now. Its truly the HOT season now, but almost the cooler rainy season. Its been raining hard about once or twice a week for a few weeks now. My flowers from last year left seeds in the soil and theyre starting to come up, as are some new green beans that were just planted. If anyone has broccoli seeds, please send em to me!! Last year I managed to grow one against everyones better judgment and would love to try again before I leave. I tried to plant a mango tree last year, but Bandit dug it up twice and it died. I think Ill try again this year and some other PCV will profit from it after Im gone.

 

Friday, February 27, 2004 Well, I just re-read the last story a day after writing it I had ended up in the medical unit in Lome for a few days. I luckily got diagnosed correctly this time with amoebas and got the proper medication to treat it once and for all. It doesnt always show up in the tests and theyd given me medication for giardia (a parasite) just after New Years when Id had similar symptoms (dont worry, Ill spare you all the gory details). I am now one month amoeba-free and feel great! Some PCVs manage to resist succumbing to the nasty little germs here and can eat street vendor food w/o consequence. Im not so lucky and will now be avoiding a lot of the things I used to buy on the streets like salads and fresh grapefruit/lime juice mixed with water and ice (man, I really enjoyed the few opportunities Ive had to have ice), and fufu. Even rice with sauce b/c the plates they serve it on are freshly rinsed in untreated water and even a few drops remaining on my plate is enough to contaminate me again. Im tired of being sick and can wait a few more months for salad.

I spent a lot of time in Feb out of Kougnohou. But it was all work/grad school related official travel/work days. I decided on my topic for my degree project (DP) for my MPA at UW. Im going to write a case study on something to do with the difficulties that an international US-based NGO has run into here in Africa. I went to their regional office in Accra, Ghana for a few days and interviewed their staff, met with their regional director, read files, emailed professors at UW, and generally tried to just get started. Im at the point now where I have too much info and need to narrow the scope a bit. Im waiting on a report theyre working on to give me a more clear idea on how I will focus the topic and then Ill probably go back to Accra in April to do some follow-up research and try writing a draft or detailed outline to send to UW for advice. It feels good to be started on my DP finally. Time is flying and before I know it Ill be getting wrapped up and planning my return to the US.

I also just finished my proposal for a big project for my village. It will be decided on this coming week in Lome by my office. If its approved well be training masons to build cisterns to catch rain water off of the roofs of peoples homes. And also building a semi-private/public latrine by the market to be run by the taxi chaufeurs union (currently the only option by the market is to go into the bushes not far from the rivers which are a drinking water source). Ive been working with the local clinic staff to get this project developed as a result of an increase in cases of typhoid fever and other water borne diseases. If it gets approved Ive got my work cut out for me since well have to convince many people to chip in for the materials to be paid for by the community. There is a huge problem in Togo with lack of confidence when it comes to managing other peoples money. Its more often than not mismanaged or flat-out "bouffed" (eaten/stolen). Hopefully with my presence in the project and some checks and balances well be able to convince everyone that this will be a legit project and they wont be just giving their money for nothing. Ive also helped a local NGO and elementary school submit their proposal to the US Embassys "Ambassadors Self-Help Fund" to put up a cement building for their school vs the mud-brick walls they currently have. But that decision wont be made til June or so and I wouldnt be directly involved in managing the funds anyway.

Its felt like a very productive month for me. I got a lot of work done in putting together proposals on computers using Excel for budgets and just generally planning everything out to the littlest detail. I dont often have the opportunity here to feel so "professional". Its more casual usually for me, people show up to meetings when they can get here, or not, and reschedule if they cant make it. Most of what I do seems to come up at the last minute. Its a far cry from the life I lived in the US where I had meetings non-stop, managed details of 10 projects simultaneously, and had constant access to computers, electricity, phones, and my own car. And so did everyone I worked with. Oh, I just had a scary thoughtIm going to be behind the wheel of a car again in 6 months. I wonder if it will be difficult to readjust to driving again after over two years of being here and not driving even once! I think Im starting to think too much of readjusting to life in the US. Ive still got 6 months here thats a lot less than two years, but still quite a while to go.

 

Saturday, February 21, 2004 A long time ago I thought Id get around to slowly adding stories that talk about some of the things here that I deal with every day, but I never quite got that far. I mentioned once about my friend, Phynessas, website (www.phynessa.tripod.com) that does a great job of this. I figured Id try a little bit though, too. To start off with I cant think of a better bizarre experience that is more truly Togolese than the bush taxi. Heres a typical day of travel for me.(sorry, just realized how long this story is, but thats the reality of a bush taxi ride here they never seem to end!)

Ive got to go to Kpalime today. To look at the map, its not all that far. (Grandma Rene would say its just 4 inches away.) If I had a direct ride in a nice Peace Corps staff Land Cruiser (which of course I dont have) it could take 2 ½ hrs door to door. Its 10:30am. I head to the taxi station in Kougnohou to see if a car is there that is going to Atakpame. There are never direct cars to Kpalime from here. I can take the daily Atakpame cars though that head in the same direction and then change at Timedja before getting to Atakpame. Hmmm. Theres a car, but its a 9-passenger and Im the second passenger to get there. That means we need another 13 people before we can leave. Yes, I know math has never been my strong point, but here in Togo theyve defied the laws of physics and every bush taxi is like a circus clown car. 5-passenger car = 8 adults (and maybe a couple of small kids or babies); 9-passenger van = 15-17 adults; 15-passenger van = 24 adults. Plus a mountain of baggage including huge sacks of corn, or charcoal, or bananas, or dried corn kernels, and live goats or chickens. Often the baggage is piled into the back and the door is tied down so it wont fall out since its unable to be closed fully (or even halfway). Or it gets piled on top of the van, often so the van is now twice its usual height. So, its 10:30am and theres obviously no way Im leaving any time soon. Im friends with the chauffeurs and my house isnt far from the station so I leave my bag and tell them Im going home til theyre ready and to come and tell me when were really going to leave.

At 10mins til noon I go to check how close were getting to leaving. The chauffeurs can never say how long the estimated wait is even though they do this every day. You have to know how to ask. "Il rest combien des passengers?" How many more passengers are we waiting on? Hmmm, 4 more. That could be 10 mins or 2 hours. But I know were a lot closer to leaving than 13 passengers. But, its going on noon and folks dont usually leave at noon since theyre preparing lunch now and then its the sieste. So, I go home again and make something to eat for myself. *thunder* Its raining this time of year again so its going to pour in a little while. That means Ill have time to take a nap, too. I swear the Togolese think theyll melt in the rain. Everything just comes to a halt when it rains. Ok, granted, its usually a torrential downpour, but come on, it happens every single day. How can you just "stop" everything?! Oh, just like that. Ok. I guess I dont have to rush to get to any meetings on a rainy day either since even if I show up on time nobody else will have even left their houses yet.

After eating and dozing on my couch a while someone finally comes to tell me were ready to leave the station and I should hurry up "because theyre in a rush". Ha! I get to the station at 1:40pm, pile in with the rest of the passengers and were off in a flash. I wear grubby dirty clothes for travel because I rarely get out of a taxi feeling clean or without messing up my outfit. On the contrary, the Togolese dress up like its a fancy occasion when they travel. Ill never get it, but I guess they want to impress the folks theyre going to see. I usually get where Im going and shower and change. Oh, its raining again. Glad I brought an extra pagne with me in the car.its good to have a cloth when the windows dont close fully or the roof leaks. The driver flies down the road. The main road from my village is paved luckily, but full of many many many potholes that he swerves around maniacally to avoid hitting. And were in the mountains and the road curves plenty on its own. I prefer to sit smushed in the back row so I dont see as we almost go flying off the side of a cliff or come inches from hitting other taxis heading in the opposite direction or goats or children scattering out of the road. (Another perk of this is that when/if the side door flies off, I wont fall out Kacey can attest to this experience!)

It takes about an hour and a half to get to Timedja. En route we stopped several times to let passengers out and pick up new passengers and unload and reload baggage. As we approach Timedja I remind the chauffeur that I want to change to a 5-seater going to Kpalime. He nods and after the intersection commences to wave out the window at approaching vehicles signaling with secret chauffeur sign language that hes got one passenger to change to go the opposite direction. A 5-seater waves back with the appropriate signs and we pull over and stop. I pay my driver and switch my bag and get in the next taxi and we continue on our way, only backtracking about 2km. Because the Atakpame-Kpalime road has many large villages/small towns, there are a lot of 5-seaters that pick up and drop off folks along the way. Its more comfy than a large van, but stops more often. Again, I prefer the back seat, but thats because it sucks to share the front seat with another passenger for 2 hours. Even the driver shares his seat most rides for part of the trip so we can get another person and their money up there with us! At least with 4 in the back seat you dont have to straddle the gear shift.

Halfway to Kpalime my driver stops and tell me and the other three passengers to get out and switch to another 5-seater because of taxi union rules and the checkpoint just up the road. Hes not really allowed to be on this route and this other guy is. Ok, so we switch and were on our way again. Or, we were. Something just sounded horribly wrong with some part of the engine or tire and weve stopped. The driver gets out and checks the problem and discovers its only just a little snag with the brakes. Oh, great, not a huge problem. He removes the tire, takes apart the brakes by banging on it with a rock to remove a part, cuts a piece of spare rubber from a "tool kit", does something he looks like hes done dozens of times before, replaces everything and the tire and were off after not much more than a 15 min delay. Sometimes its more serious and they have to wait to flag another car to take them to the next town to get a spare part and then come back to fix the car. If thats the case, you just get stuck waiting, or if its not fixable that day (like the transmission completely dies or an axle breaks or smoke is inexplicably pouring from the gear shift box) they flag another car and transfer passengers and the drivers work out the difference in the fares amongst themselves and we just still pay one driver the original price.

Finally, we pull into Kpalime at 5pm. It took almost 3 ½ hours of driving time to get here, but I had tried to leave at 10:30am. I guess its like estimating travel time in NY. You can guess roughly how long it takes, but its always conditional based on traffic and accidents that can cause huge delays. Sure, the delays are unknown, but they happen so often theyve become somewhat predictable. I had told my friend in Kpalime that Id try to leave my village in the morning, but not to expect me til closer to 4-6pm. Thats when I usually seem to arrive, regardless of when I try to leave.

 

Monday, January 26, 2004  I just realized that todays my half birthday. (Sandy, you may be the only person who can appreciate this!)  Im 28 ½ now.  Ill most likely spend my 29th birthday here and leave shortly thereafter.  Thatll be 3 birthdays in Togo since I got here in June 2002.  I heard an airplane this afternoon.  I was on my way outside my house with a bucket of water heading to my shower and looked up into the sky to see if I could see it.  There arent many airplanes that pass over here.  Probably only heard a dozen or less since I got here.  In Lome you hear more since the airport is there, but even still, only a handful a day leave Togo.  Flights to Paris on Air France only leave three times a week and thats a major carrier here. 

Ive been sick lately.  I had a sore throat/cold/cough that has been bugging me for a week and a half and it seems to be finally heading out, but not quite completely gone yet.  I ended up spending a lot of time in my house as a result.  I got out and about a bit today and feel better for it.  I realize when I head out that projects Im working on are really there and not just in my head.  Some days I feel like what Im doing will vanish the minute I head home.  Folks just need lots of prodding and encouragement to get the ball rolling.  Im going to make an effort to spend much of the next few days out of my house just hanging around by the menusiers (carpenters) shop, my host familys boutique, the taxi station, eating food at street vendors stalls, taking walks with Milo. 

I had a discouraging day last week when sitting in on a presentation by some representatives of a national committee fighting AIDS came to Kougnohou.  This committee is funded by UNDP (PNUD, in French) and has supposedly been working for the past 7 months with what sounded like $14million worth of funding.  It was a little difficult to grasp all the details of the meeting.  They brought a little generator to run an overhead machine and had a great presentation prepared in French but continued to elaborate in Ewe only.  One presenter didnt speak Ewe (shes originally from the North and speaks Kabye and Mina though) and tried to give her part in French, but they cut her off and had the first guy do her part of the presentation in Ewe, too.  Sarah (the other PCV) and I were a little frustrated.  But the biggest frustration for me was really the content of what they were telling local village representatives about.  All these folks came together, some from villages some distance away, to hear from these PNUD folks.  All they seemed to say was that a committee was formed, they had funding that took a long time to get from the international community, and that they were working to fight AIDS in Togo.  One goal is to help get AntiRetro Viral medicines to 3000 Togolese by 2005.  Yeah, only 3000 people. This is a goal of a 3-year plan.  So that makes what? 1000 per year?  My village alone has about 4000 people.  Togo has close to 5,000,000 citizens and Ive been told that 1 in 7 or 8 has AIDS or HIV.  Someone asked how much it costs, 300,000CFA.  The high school teacher sitting by me whispered that that is 3 months salary for him, oh and that is only for a one-month supply of medicine.  Teachers are some of the best paid people in Togo other than government officials and military.  Other goals involved more awareness and information campaigns.  This is all nice, but during the entire meeting they not once told us HOW they were hoping to reach any of these goals.  This is the committee that has been in place working for 7 months.  After spending so much time with my jobs developing strategic plans and worrying about measuring results, implementing programs, and then a year of grad school for similar types of work, I couldnt help but leave feeling like this committee hasnt a clue what theyre doing.  I certainly hope Im wrong and this is a classic cultural clash.  Maybe the people here just need to hear how connected this committee is to international agencies, how much money there is, and see a pretty hi-tech presentation.  I would have like to have heard how they planned to do anything that would directly and immediately benefit the people of my region.  They did form a local committee before leaving.  Maybe that was the true reason they came for the presentation.  Im going to stop by the Sous-Prefets (local govt official) office to see what he thinks about everything since hes heading up the local committee.  Maybe I can help them come up with a list of action steps that theyd like to see for this area that can be passed onto the regional and national committee representatives. 

Well, since I now have the laptop at home I seem to be writing longer updates, but since I know you dont want to read on and on and on J Ill sign off here for tonight.  Ill be in Lome soon to post these new stories and will be online on and off for the whole first week of February.  Email me if you want to then and Ill be able to write back fairly quickly.  Miss you guys!  Please write to me! 

 

Wednesday, January 14, 2004  Its odd having two brand new neighbors in the region.  The last group of trainees swore in in December and Ive now seen the two closest to my village several times.  I remember back to my first three months here at post and how frustrated I was with house problems, lack of French skills, lack of nearby Americans, roach-infested latrine, an outdoor shower with a shared wall to the neighbors shower that only came up to my shoulders, no electricity or running water for the first time (Id had a host family with both during training), lots of nosy neighbors, scary bush taxi rides after endlessly waiting to leave the station, and a strong sense of homesickness.  Ive definitely overcome a lot in the past 19 months.  Yeah, 19 months.  Ive only got about 7 months left, maybe only 6.  I officially COS (Close Of Service) on August 27th, but can request to leave up to 90 days earlier than that if my work in village is completed.  Up to 30 days can be easily approved by my Country Director, more than that needs to get approved by the office in DC.  I have to see how a few projects go in the next 2-3 months and then Ill know more about what I want to do.  Im having up days and down days lately.  Feeling a bit ready to just be home.  But then realizing that I am having a good day and getting a lot done and dont feel ready to leave.  I think when the time comes to actually pack up and go it will be difficult to leave Kougnohou and then once gone, overwhelming with feeling good to be back home. 

Ive gotten settled into a kinda routine here and like a lot of it that I wont be able to continue back in the US though.  I get woken up fairly early, about 5ish most days, but stay in bed until a while later when its light enough to see in my house.  I spend a part of the morning making coffee or tea, playing a little with Milo, washing the dishes Id left from the night before, sweeping out the front room and porch, organizing papers and random mess around the house in general, and figure out what to do for the day.  Before coming here I had the most difficult time getting out of bed in the mornings, never had time to eat breakfast if I had to go to work or an early class at UW, always felt sleep deprived, and rarely had time in a day to take care of household chores like cleaning or laundry for more than a few minutes.  Thats something in my lifestyle Ive realized needs to drastically change when I get back.  Its Harmattan season right now and too cold for me to take a shower outside right away (oh, how Ive acclimated!).  I just had the opportunity to see a thermometer from another Volunteer while at my house overnight.  At pre-dawn it was down to 65 degrees outside (I swear it felt a few degrees cooler in my room though!) and I was freezing bundled up in my sleeping bag and blankets.  Oh, if I hadnt mentioned it, I have only screens and no glass in my windows.  I have wooden shutters I can shut if it rains or if I want to keep a little warmer, but I like being cold here when the rare opportunity arises.  The new Volunteers dont think its quite as cold as I do J  I often have time to read a while or spend an hour or so doing laundry in the morning.  If someone is scheduled to come for a meeting I just hang around the house til they get here and then we go over what needs to be discussed on the project.  At some point in the day I may walk into town and see whats in the market along the lines of fresh produce usually the same 4 items, tomatoes, onions, mini-eggplants, yams.  And of course, bananas.  I think I eat tomatoes and onions in almost every meal I cook.  If Ive gone to a large town recently Ill have possibly carrots and green beans in my house, maybe even a tiny green pepper or small zucchini if Im lucky.  Eggs are easy to come by most days in local shops.  (Did you know you dont really need to keep your eggs in the fridge?)   I manage to eat a varying diet, but really miss broccoli and fresh mushrooms.  I try not to eat too much pasta and do a decent job of it, but some PCVs sound like they live on spaghetti and macaroni and rice.  After fixing something for lunch its usually around the time of day I feel ready for a nap.  So do most folks in Togo.  The repos is my favorite part of living here.  I finally found a job with official naptime!   Any meetings in the afternoon wont happen til after 3pm when folks are done preparing lunch, eating, and resting.  I hang out a lot at my house with Milo, Ive read a zillion books and magazines, written tons of letters (which have been great for helping me reflect on what Im doing or trying to do), and slept many many many hours more than Ive ever been able to in my life.  Ive almost caught up on the years of sleep deprivation I put myself through being a workaholic.  In the late afternoon I sometimes go for a long walk with Milo, often accompanied by Bandit, his little friend.  Every time I just leave my house to run to a shop for toilet paper, to the bean lady to buy lunch, to the phone cabine to try to call my main office in Lome, etc, I run into folks I know who stop to say hello and we often catch up on quasi-work-related stuff or set up meetings.  Today I set up when Ill be going to the high school to meet with the girls to work out the final logistics on the new girls study center were opening for them.  Some of the times I just sit at home and have a chance to catch up on paperwork for my director like a quarterly report or my site journal notebook that will be used by my replacement and other future PCVs here in Kougnohou.  Im definitely in the last 6 months phase of the PCV lifecycle.  Its good to be able to see the end of the two years coming and still have time to wrap up things and try to set them up to continue without me. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2003  The past two weeks have brought home to me some of the realities of living here in Togo for a Togolese person.  The lack of job options for one thing imagine you just graduated from high school.  Youre 22 years old and live in a small town.  It took this long because of the way the exams are structured; few people can make it through without repeating a few years.  Now what?  University costs 50,000CFA per year and you have no way to pay that plus afford living in Lome.  So what else can you do to make some money?  Your family doesnt own a functioning general goods store.  If they did you could work there and still live at home.  You dont have money to get your own shop started and its rare that another shop owner would hire an employee thats what their family members are for.  There are no retail chain stores here so that means no companies like McDonalds, Target, Borders, Starbucks, Blockbuster, etc. that hire countless numbers of part time and full time staff.  Other types of work generally require a 3-4 year apprenticeship (tailors, carpenters, taxi drivers, hair stylists, masons, etc) which, incidentally, youd have to pay for, too.  If you really have no cash available, as is often the case, where do you even start?  Luckily if you live in a small town or village there are fields around where you can grow food like corn, cassava, yams, and beans and sell some of the surplus in a larger town.  But that puts you back as a farmer, doesnt it?  So, why did you bother with so many years of paying for and studying to finish school?  This is partly why so many people drop out before finishing. 

            Another reality of life here related to school is the high rate of unplanned pregnancies.  I was approached a few days ago by a friend who teaches at the middle school.  The previous week had brought 4 girls to him with the news that they were pregnant and didnt know what to do and were afraid to tell their parents.  What could he really do for them now?  He just told them that whatever else, do not try to abort a pregnancy by yourself.  This sometimes happens and the girl ends up at the local hospital, but she and her family dont have the money to pay for medication needed due to the complications (i.e. antibiotics).  This same teacher was found by a member of a students family in the middle of the night at his home to come to the hospital.  She needed 4500CFA for the medications.  He didnt have money that night either and had to go to the home of the school director.  Teachers are some of the better paid people here in Togoif they get paid.  Checks are supposed to be every month, but every few months or so they just dont get one.  Theoretically the money is owed to them, but really, when are they going to see it?  And how can you plan your life around that kind of unstable income?  Try to imagine if your monthly paycheck just didnt get issued 2 or 3 times a year. 

            I was talking with a taxi chauffeur the other day about his work.  (I was waiting for the taxi to Badou to fill up, he was waiting for more passengers going to Atakpame.)  I found out that his mom died when he was 9 years old, his dad when he was 10, and his grandmother when he was 11.  He was taken in by another older family friend, but he died 3 months later.  He was taken in by a driver and became his apprentice.  Hes now driving the taxi that belongs to another person, when its available for him to drive it.  He earns about 1000CFA per day of work.  Thats enough here to buy your food for the day, but doesnt leave you with much.  After occasionally buying new clothes, medication, rent, etc, you cant even save enough to think about the day you might own the taxi yourself and keep all the fares you collect daily.  This is why access to credit can change a persons life here.  But, unfortunately, with so little money in your life on a regular basis, you dont get much practice at money management and budgeting.  And everyone else in your family is pretty much in the same situation as you and will find out that you have money in your pockets if you do succeed in getting credit somewhere.  Then they come to you with a request for aid/assistance how can you say no when someones sick, school fees are due the next day, etc.  Lots of loans just never get repaid.  In the US were proud of our independence and ability to be self-sufficient.  Asking for money from family often makes you feel like you failed or did something wrong.  Thats just not a part of the culture here.  Everything else seems to come out indirect when people are talking, but asking for money is pretty straightforward. 

            I had all this on my mind last week and then just was online in Kpalime a few days ago and realized that most of my stories about life here leave out this side of it all.  I guess I tend to feel like sharing when Im in a better mood, but I felt like I needed to talk about this part of life, too.  Im still finding plenty of work to do, but it took me a year and a half to really get it and see what people are up against.  I dont know what feels different about it now, but somehow it does.  It just sank in even though I knew all this from close to Day 1.  Yeah, its discouraging many days, but there are always those few people you feel you are connecting with and who you learn from and can share your knowledge and experience with, as well.  Im feeling pretty good about what Im doing in my village with the folks I work with.  I never set the bar too high when I got here though.  Sometimes PCVs try to jump in and take on ingrained culturally based differences and run headlong into a cement wall, get discouraged, give up, and go home before their 2 years are up.  They dont see that its possible to do what they felt they came here to do.  I guess thats the difference in the Peace Corps experience for everyone what you had in your head when you got here. 

Saturday, December 13, 2003  Just a quick note to say that I'm settling back into life in Togo since Kacey finished her visit here.  Unfortunately I left my notebook with a couple of Jen-Stories at home, but I will go back and type them up soon!  I've been struck by a few things about life here in Togo recently that I want to write about, some of the realities have recently hit home and I'm seeing things through slightly different eyes this month.  So, check back in a few weeks and I should have more posted....  Great to keep hearing from everyone on email, guestbook, and snail mail.  It's only because of you guys keeping in touch with me that I am still here chugging away trying to figure out what it is that I can do during my two short years here.  Hopefully I'll figure it out soon!

Monday, November 24, 2003  Phew, I survived my hectic vacation schedule and am now back home in Kougnohou with Milo.  It seems that in my absence Milo had a few parties or something because now his 2 friends from the neighborhood crawl under my fence to come over to play with him in my yard.  Hes going to love going to the dog parks in Seattle.

            Being home in NY was fairly surreal.  It now seems like months ago rather than just weeks.  I was surprised at what shocked me and what didnt.  NY still feels like home, but although I knew thered be traffic Id forgotten how shiny and new all the cars are.  I was somewhat overwhelmed by Barnes & Nobel and Best Buy, but even had a little trouble making selections at the drug store.  Thank you to all you guys who put up with my bizarre reactions. (Garlic knots!  I forgot entirely about the existence of garlic knots!) 

            It was amazing to see so many close friends and family in such a short period.  Im especially appreciative of everyone who met me halfway in NY.  Im glad I had the chance to practice coming home so now I wont be so worried about reverse culture shock when I finish up my full 2 years in Togo.  And my return to Togo with Kacey helped me see Togo with new eyes again and appreciate just how much Ive gotten used to here.  Special thanks to Kacey who, as Amy so adeptly put it, took one for the team and ventured far from the comforts of home in Seattle to spend a little time in Paris and then almost 2 wks in Togo.  She had the full Peace Corps Togo experience from broken down bush taxis (repaired with a rock, 2x4, spare piece of exhaust pipe and a large mallet), hand washing clothes, outdoor bucket showers and my latrine, tireless mosquitoes, biking on dirt mountain roads under the African sun, bush taxi doors flying off while driving, and all topped off with a scary case of food poisoning from some street vendor food in Lome.  Overall, she said shes glad she came I just hope she got home comfortably!

            So, Ive been here a year and a half and still no pictures on this site.  Most of you saw my photos while I was home, but Im still working on it for everyone else. 

            *Yawn* hmmm, must be time to get ready for bed. Yup, Im back on schedule again 7:39pm J

 

 

Wednesday, October 15, 2003  It's been so long since I had a good connection at the same moment as some free time to spend online.  Sorry for the lack of new stories, but check to see if you read the one I added after the fact for June about a typical day at work.  I've been occupied as many of you know with my travel planning for a trip back home to NY.  Well, I made it!! I have to give a special thank you right here to Kathy and Lloyd for picking me up at the airport and taking care of my jetlagged/culture shocked self this first day back in the States.  I hope I don't drive them crazy with too many Jen Stories in person!  I realized just now that besides my parents they are the first of my friends' voices that I've heard in the past 16 months .  Have I really been gone that long?  Kougnohou really feels like home to me right now, but NY will always be the home I came from and can go to visit.  The next 3 wks are jam-packed and I am about to get on a marathon phone call to everyone I've been emailing these past few months to set up details of who/where/when.  Here's a short summary of my adventure away from Togo so far:  got on the airplane in Lome last night with Michelle, a PCV friend who just finished her service.  It was nice to fly to Paris with her and not be alone at the Lome airport before taking off.  Flight was good - maybe it's me but the airplane food on Air France was great!  Mmmm, Camembert :)  I had a quick connection to NY and Kathy picked me up and took me to their apt in Queens. I unpacked a little after calling my folks to tell them I got in.   After a long hot shower (ahhh, the wonders of hot running water!) we headed over a few blocks away for mushroom pizza slices,garlic knots, and Arizona peach iced tea and rounded off the meal with a Hagen Daas waffle cone.  I better not eat like this every day of my vacation!  But Day 1 is special, right?  I know that it's not likely that a PCV is reading this who's in Togo now, but thanks so much to all you guys who hooked me up with last minute warm clothing to borrow, and my folks for mailing the rest from Vegas after digging through boxes and bags of my stuff that I left at your house.  It's a brisk windy crispy day maybe about mid-50s (much better than the 39 degrees I feared) and I'm cold and loving every minute of it!  I know it'll be hot season very soon after getting back to Togo, so I won't complain about the cold weather for just a few wks.  I'll be trying to get some film scanned in and photos posted finally while I'm here in NY.  Just about to get 5 new rolls of film developed and I've completely forgotten what's on them. 

Saturday, August 30, 2003  I just sent out a big email message to everyone so I know some of you will be reading this pretty soon and I figured I should add something.  I said most of what's new in my email and it's on my homepage about my trip coming up in October and being here at post now for a whole year.  It's gone fast.  I have some old stories from June that were never typed up that I'm going to add now, so scroll down to June and see if you've read them or not yet....

Sunday, July 27, 2003   Ahhhh, I am just getting back from a relaxing long weekend vacation to a beach hotel in Benin.  No, I don't really need any more exposure to the sun, but I did have a fabulous time sitting on the beach and eating at a great restaurant for two days while not being harrassed and not thinking about anything related to my work or my village.  I went with Valerie, her bday was the 25th and I turned 28 yesterday.  She'd lived with the same host family as me for her training the year before I got here. 
 
Now I'm hanging out in Lome for a standard midservice medical exam.  Yeah, midservice - that means I'm halfway done.  Wow.  Time flies.  The next year is already packed with trips and work and I can practically see how I'll spend my days through New Year's.   My training group is having a one year anniversary trip in early September to Ghana involving a beach resort, rainforest canopy walk, and then I'll continue on to visit Anthony's family in western Ghana, he's a Ghanaian friend who was at UW last year with me.  Then in October I'll be in NYC and LI and Newark for about 2 1/2 wks for a wedding and visiting family and friends and I'll stop in Paris to also see friends on the way back to Togo in November.  Thanksgiving will involve some kind of PCV gathering and big cooking and then it's the season for fetes here.  Dry season will be in full force, the Harmattan winds and dusty roads and cold nights and gatherings in village for Christmas and New Year's.  I have rough ideas for a case study to do for my degree project for UW, so by then I'll have to start seriously working on it.  Before I know it I'll have less than 6 months left and my replacement will be in training in Kpalime while I wrap up loose ends on my projects.  I just went last week to the current group of trainees to help with their session on nutrition and cooking and got to meet everyone coming in.  It's a nice group and a few will be in the Plateau region so I'll have a chance to see them every so often in Atakpame or Kpalime when I head in to town for banking and shopping. 
 
Work in Koughnohou is suddenly moving along.  I just hooked up the Kougnohou carpenters with the wood depot project with a guy from Lome who wants to buy wood from them.  Another guy is researching snail raising and mushroom farming and I'm helping him work on a feasibility study and business plan to see if it'll work out.  The pineapple organization *finally* seems to have realized what I've been trying to work on with them and will soon sit down with me to put together a draft proposal/business plan/budget for their group.  And I'm helping the local Social Services agent revise a couple of proposals for helping a soap making group and a family with AIDS who runs a chicken/egg farm.  Other PCVs are still sending me ideas for recipes to add to our cookbook, but if any of you out there reading this have a favorite recipe for anything you can send a photocopy of it my way, too!   Overall, things are good, I feel healthy and happy and can't wait to be in NY in October!!  Hope to see you or talk to you on the phone then!  (My folks just moved from LI to Vegas so I don't have a phone number to be reached at in NY anymore, but I'll post a number of a friend you can reach me through as soon as I have an idea where I'll be staying while in town.)

Friday, 4th of July, 2003  I left my notebook with stories from June in Kougnohou by accident and will have to add them later on.  I'm getting ready to change my approach to work a little to more one-on-one projects rather than groupwork as a result of the difficulties and delays I've had.  Some of my fellow PCVs have reached the same conclusions.  I'm also busy getting info from folks to update our PC cookbook which is a fun side project.  And, I'm hectically planning a trip back home in October to the NY/NJ area.  I'll let you know when I fix the dates.  My veggie garden is doing fabulously and I'm happily crunching away on green beans, cucumbers, radishes and expect to have tomatoes and zucchini and peas soon, too.  Lettuce and cabbage and pumpkins and carrots are taking a little longer.  And watermelon are in season up north so I'm going to get some seeds and plant some at my house, too.  Milo is good, hopefully not tearing up my yard this week.  He's home alone being fed by a friend for the first time while I'm here in Lome for meetings.  I'm also planning a birthday vacation to a beach resort in Benin for a long wkend at the end of this month with Valerie, a PCV who's bday is the day before mine.  I can't wait to go!  My first official use of vacation days and I can sure use a work-free trip out of village!  Miss you guys, so send me snail mail!
 

Saturday, June 21, 2003  Example of a day at work.... (yes, a *Saturday*)
I wake up at 5:52am to sounds of goats bleating, roosters crowing, and children playing around my house and the sunlight brightening my bedroom.  My PCV neighbor, Sarah, spent the night at my house after yesterday's weekly market.  While she sleeps I put a pot of water on my gas stove to boil and go outside to let Milo, my puppy, in the house.  The hot water is for me for a cup of tea, but also b/c I need ot make Milo's food for the day.  I've been feeding him a mixture of broken crumbs of dried fish and corn meal mixed with hot water.  Next trip to Lome, the capital, I'm going to look for US-style dry dog food now that most of his teeth have come in.  "Clap-clap, Jenny, excusez."  I hear the family next door's daughter at my gate -it's not 6:10am.  She's here with another young girl to fill up huge gasins of water from my cistern for their house.  It hasn't rained in 2 days and their cistern is empty.  Mine's usually overflowing now with the rains coming every day.  I have plenty to share.  Sarah's up now.  I've got to get ready for a meeting.  She makes tea for us both and I get my bike gear together and out onto my front porch.  The meeting is a training session in a village 8km away for a new group of pineapple cultivators.  I'm working with the regional organization that helps get local groups of cultivators started and thens sells their pineapples to an export company in Lome.  I was told to be there to start at 8am.  But, this is "African Time" and I know everyone will be later, but Murphy's Law still applies and I don't want to make a bad impression on my first visit to this village, so I lwave my house at 7:30am. I get to the village at 7:56, 4 mins to spare.  Not too many hlls uor this way.  In another direction I can only get 5km mostly uphill in 35 mins.  Today I made 8km in 25 mins.  I meet Kossi on the roadside and we walk over to the chief's house where I see a handful of young kids, a bunch of chickens, goats, and dogs, and a couple of women preparing food at their outdoor stoves.  The maman greats us and places a bench in teh shade under the eves of the house for us.  We need to wait for the men to arrive and are told that someone went off to tell them that we're here.  8:30am....9:03am...9:38am...still nobody else here.  I'm having fun playing with their little girl who's sitting next to me.  She's not scared of me.  Sadly, often that's the case.  A child will catch a glimpse of my white skin and run shrieking to his mother in sheer terror.  Why?  well, many young children have never seen white skin.  Imagine a green-skinned Martian walking into a nursery school.  That's the closest I can come up with to compare.  This little girl is used to it I guess.  Then I hear from the mom that her older sister married an Englishman and now lives in Europe.  Oh, finally, the men are arriving.  I heard from Kossi on the way over here that he expected 3 groups of 11.  Hmmm...only 7 men are here.  It's now after 10am.  "The others are coming," they tell us.  *sigh*  I paly with the kids next to me some more.  10:25 now.  Seems like nobody else can make it.  Something about a death in a nearby village and they all went to pay respects to their family.  Ok, so only one group of 11.  We rounded them up and moved the benches under a tree out of the sun.  Kossi starts by writing some info on a piece of plywood with chalk and the 3 who know how to write copy it down.  The chief has someone bring a basin of oranges out.  They're in season now.  Oh!  It's a gift for me.  Thank you.  More info is written up and copied, yet none is explained out loud.  That part comes with the hands-on demo later.  There's just one page of outlined typed info that Kossi is sharing, yet photocopies aren't in his budget, I guess.  And, the closest copy machine is 36km away from where we live.  It's 11:56am.  Originally Kossi had told me the meeting was about 2-3hrs long.  I figured I'd be home by noon.  We've barely even started.  Hmmm, I think I'll eat an orange now.  I don't know how much longer we'll be here, but hopefully I'll be done by 2pm.  I have another mtg at 3pm that I only got invited to yesterday afternoon.  Don't want to be later for that one.  Not that they'd actually start on time either, though.  Copying of info is finally done, Kossi and I are led by the chief's wife over to where she's prepared lunch for us.  Oh, please let it not be gumbo sauce!  That's not like Louisiana-style gumbo.  "Gumbo" here is the word for okra.  I've never imagined a slimier sauce could exist.  I really really can't eat it.  I've tried.  Just can't do it.  Yeah!! Rice with red sauce, much better!  (Kossi was served gumbo sauce though, but he and most Togolese love it.)  While eating Kossi tells me a strange story of his father who was killed 5yrs ago by a corcerer who was sent by people in his village who were angry with his father.  I've heard things like this before.  Voudou is prevalent in Togo and animism is often a part of religious beliefs. After eating, we go back to the group and they're shown the technique of triming the tops of pineapples properly to prepare them for planting.  As we're finishing up I hear women's voices singing and I see a line of women approaching the house, each carrying a huge metal basin piled with wood on her head.  They deposit the wood in a pile, all the while singing which quickly turns into traditional dancing.  We're done with the pineapple training so I go over to watch and a women takes my hand and pulls me into the group to dance with them.  Another woman is going around with a shot glass and a bottle of sodebe (African gin/grain alcohol) and everyone takes a drink.  They offer me some, but I thank them and decline.  I've tried sodebe before and am not a fan - now I get laughs when I tell them it's just like "petrol" (kerosene).  3:35pm  Really time to head home now.  I have 8km to bike back and the daily afternoon rains are on their way so I'll have to hurry or get caught in a douwnpour.  Kossie wants me to plant pineapples at my house in Seattle when I go home.  He says they'll grow there - I'll give it a show, but I really don't think he has any idea what "cold" is after spending his entire life here in Togo.  But, hey, wouldn't it be great if it worked?!

 

Wed, May 7, 2003 

I just went through a phase where I didnt feel in the mood to write letters or stories for my website.  Partly because Ive been busy our of village for mtgs and trainings, partly because Ive felt a little off  and very tired, and also because I just got a puppy who keeps me busy.  Last month I moved into my new house and am slowly rearranging and ordering new furniture.  I am much more comfortable now and theres even a crossbreeze in the front room and on my veranda which makes a world of difference.

            It took my a while to realize I may have some sort of bug in my system Just a constant feeling of fatigue, loss of appetite, and general rumbling once in a while in my tummy.  No problem with the runs (luckily, unlike most PCVs here), so I didnt consider it a problem, but Im getting it looked into now so well see what I have. 

            Other new things.  Milo (mee-lo) my new puppy is adorable and generally pretty well behaved (except right now hes run off to a neighbors house to look for bones and chickens to chase).  Having a puppy is fun here since Im home with him a lot, I have lots of unstructred time to spend with him so he knows me well, and he can follow me around town without any problems.  Good he just came back and I dont have to worry what trouble hes getting into.  He likes to chew on stuff, but has plenty of toys (old plastic bottle, metal can, sticks, mango pits, scraps of cloth, and even 2 US-style dog toys from another PCV whos dog sadly died).  He really likes sticks and bones he finds at other families homes.  Im working on teaching him to stay out of my new veggie garden beds. I just got some kids to come over and help set it up this week and hope soon to see carrots, lettuce, spinach, peppers, peas, pumpkins, tomatoes, beets, radishes and more !

            Rainy season has started again.  Mangos and avocados are back in abundance, yum!  Send me any recipes youve got for these Ive volunteered to work on updating the PC Togo cookbook with some other PCVs. 

            Im coming up on my 1yr anniversary here in Togo.  The next group of new PCVs are getting ready to head out to start training.  Ive seen a couple of notes from incoming PCVs whove found my site.  If anyone else sees this, WELCOME !!  Were all excited for some new faces to get here.  I know you get sent a packing list, but its a little outdated.  Heres what I wish I had known :  khaki pants and skirts are the official uniform for school kids, you can requisition medical stuff for free from the med unit (including dial soap and neutragena face soap, vaseline moisturizing lotion, sunscreen ; bugspray, EVERY over teh counter medicine, bandaids, dental floss, baby powder, vitamins, calcium pills, gatorade a little bit- for dehydration, SPF chapstick, and more), bring a couple of favorite style pants and shirts and skirts and dresses you can get copied in local fabrics, dont pack leather sandals (they get mildewy), you wont use hiking boots, a pair of Chacos or Tevas is a good idea, flip-flops are found EVERYWHERE here, bring your swimsuits, I LOVE having my folding speaker (about 20 dollars at radioshack) and the copies I burned of my CDs and the rechargeable batteries and charger I got at Costco.  Wish Id brought 2 sets of double-size flat sheets and not only one set, I was glad to have some stationary and envelopes on hand for the first couple of wks til I found where to buy more, bring a box of decent Bic pens, its ok for women to wear pants (and easier for biking), shorts are ok in your house and for exercise and sports, I love having this website, expecially the guestbook since I dont get online often and cant keep up with emails very easily and the site is free (tripod.com), and send a mass email out now to all your friends and family to get their current snail mail addresses so you can keep in touch.  I may or may not be online again befoer you head out, but drop me an email if you have any questions.See you soon !!

          Thats all for this episode of Jens Life J  Dont forget to write to me via snail mail everyone !!!

 

 

Friday, April 25, 2003  So the mass email didn't make it out last time, I'll try again in a little bit today.  Happy Passover and Happy Earth Day everyone!  I received some great care packages with things I requested from my folks for hosting Passover Seder with some PCV friends and it went fabulously.  I think we ate better than some of the Seders I've been at and hosted with friends in the US even.  If you don't have a meat meal the door is opened up to incredible dairy dishes like maccaroon-crust cheesecake!  And we made mock chopped liver which came out amazing, especially after pulverizing it by hand instead of using a food processor like we would have been able to in the US.  I had a few Jewish PCV friends and non-Jewish PCVs over for the two seders.  One of them came the day prior and we made bagels for the first time - not quite NY quality, but man, they were sooooo gooood!  Cinn-Raisin, Honey Whole Wheat, Sesame Whole Wheat....next time I'll try Everything bagels.  And the first night of seder was also the first day I brought my new puppy home!  Il s'appelle Milo (mee-lo) et est tres adorable. He got his shots today for a bunch of stuff and I'm really hoping that he'll make it through another 17 months in Togo so he can come back to Seattle with me.  He's in the PC bureau with me right now on my lap sleeping.  Yesterday was funny when I saw that he was shivering a little and realized that it probably had to do with the A/C here that he's not used to. He's 9 wks old now and I've had him just over a week.  He's really been very good - listens for the most part when I say no, has learned to pee outside, handles traveling in bush taxis better than some PCVs I know ;)  and follows me everywhere (sometimes a little too closely - like under my feet). Ok, I'm going to try to send out that mass email again now.....

 Monday, 14 April 2003  Hi, Im about to send out a mass email, but Im having some technical snags tonight online.  Hope it goes through!

 

Wednesday, April 9, 2003 For about a month Ive been hearing nonstop BBC hsortwave radio coverage of the pendin, ongoing, and (hopefully now) the ending of a war with Iraq.  Peace Corps also provides us with the international editions of Newsweek though usually several wks after printed.  I hear the same news that you hear, but without the American media spin.  Please tell me that the freedom fries and freedom toast idea did not get widespread support!  It wasnt mentioned on BBC but other PCVs heard from family and friends that restaurants were changing menus.  Being in Togo hasnt put me in danger from anti-American sentiments, but I have been asked several times why the US attacked Iraq.  Its hard to explain, but also a good neutral way for me to show how citizens of the US can disagree with our President and say so very openly without fear of retaliation.  Not so much the same here.  Ive heard talk of June elections, but no date has been set yet.  Togos not Côte DIvoire, but Ive heard mixed sentiments from folks.  I just listen and then get the converstation on a new topic. Peace Corps is apolitical and were not supposed to even express our personal political options while here. 

 

Wednesday, Mar 19, 2003  I just picked up a bunch of mail in Badou this past wkend.  It works so much better than mail sent to Lomé.  I still wont be online for another 3 wks....  In this crazy age of hi-speed/hi-tech communications in the US, its nice to be away from it for a while.  No internet to constantly check for msgs and surf for info, no cell phone beeping every time its turned on to tell me I missed msgs.  The landline doesnt work regularly in my village so I get in touch with neighboring PCVs by sending notes with the taxi chauffeurs.  I know this probably sounds miserable to most of you reading this, but think of all the free time I have not to do other things....I hand-wash laundry, cook on my gas range and dutch oven, roam the weekly market and buy fresh produce, write letters, read books for fun and for info for project ideas, go for long walks or bike rides, visit friends and neighbors to chat and practice my French while learning more about local customs, I often take naps at the hottest part of the day, I will soon start a veggie garden, and just find that Im available more often at the drop of a hat to join someone to eat with them, to discuss a project they want to try, to go to the fields with a friend to see what they do all day, or to travel to another PCVs village for a visit.  I always find plenty to do in a day and end up looking back at a full schedule for the week, but right now I have a total of 6 mtgs planned for the next 3 wks.  This leaves me time to track down the folks I want to set up mtgs with and do things for myself (something I often lost the ability to do when I worked in the US and let my jobs take over my life).  Oh, before I go any further, I had a request from Mari to tell you about traditions surrounding death and funerals here.....

Sadly, there are many more deaths qnd funerals here than youd see in the US.  I have never been so grateful for receiving what seemed like dozens of vaccinations for diseases such as yellow fever, meningitis, cholera, measles, mumps, rubella, polio, TB, Hepititis A and B, and my wkly malaria meds.  AIDS (SIDA) is prevalent, but usually undiagnosed and has a terrible stigma so people rarely admit it if someone has it (if they even know).  Most illnesses are attributed to palu (paludisme=malaria) regardless of what they actually are just due to diagnoses being difficult to obtain.  One reason for large families is the knowledge that it is very unlikely that all the children will be alive to care for the parents in older age.  So, funerals are common occurrances.  But the funeral is a completely separate event from the interrment of the body.  The interrment is fairly quickly qfter a death.  Families gather at the deceaseds house, people bring food and pay their respects.  If the family has sufficient money at the time and if its dry season or a period during the rainy season when people have a little free time, the funeral may also be held.  If not, the funeral can occur 6 months later or so.  The funeral is a ceremony to release the spirit of the deceased from this world. It takes place for several nights not days and involves great expense to the family to pay for drummers, food, drinks, new clothes, the fetish priests, etc. Im now speaking on hearsay because I havent actually attended one, but Ive heard many during the nights from dark til almost dawn.  The funeral is extremely important to life here.  It is essential to show respect to your ancestors as their spirits either will watch over you or can return and cause problems.  Hence, Ive heard sad stories of entire savings being depleted or construction of homes or stores being almost indefinately interrupted in order to cover funeral expenses. 

 

 

Sunday, Mar 9, 2003  I have good news re: house repair work...my latrine and shower are done (and beautiful!), I'm moving into the larger house next door in a couple of days, qnd my fence is getting put up this week so I can start a goat-proof veggie garden.  Work is going...some people show up for mtgs, some don't.  But if the project isn't self-motivated it aon't be sustainable so I'm trying to be patient with everyone.  I'm used to being able to jump in and get things rolling auickly, so it's frustrating some days, but overall coming along.  The BBC recently had a radio contest asking about 3 typical sounds from your street and I thought I'd share mine with you....constant calling back and forth between baby goats and their mamas as they search for each other around the family compound; the steady thunking rhythm of fufu being pounded for dinner by 2 people alternating their beats; the rising and falling whine of the petrol-powered mills as they grind up dried corn by the huge basin-full to later be made into pâte, ablo, beignets, or other local favorites (and when rainy season really starts, the deafening roar of torrential downpours pounding daily on my tin roof).

 

Saturday, February 22, 2003  Quick update... girls club turned out to only be a group of 21.  We played the human knot game and talked about problem-solving and team work.  Overall, it went pretty well.  On a sad note, I found (another) new puppy.  I heard yesterday that while I was in Pagala a rabid dog attacked my puppy and he died.  (Yes, I've received 3 preventative rabies shots and have to go to Lome for 2 more if I get bit or scratched by a dog or cat.)  On the way home from training both legs of the trip I had taxis break down.  My friend, Akouvi, and I just flagged down another vehicle going our way and left our luggage with the chauffeur and other passengers after a 30 min walk down the road.  It was almost dark and I didn't want to sleep on the edge of a mt road, although the chauffeur was positive he'd bring the right part back after taking another taxi back into the town we'd just left.  Hmm, yeah....and if it wan't the right part?  Hitching rides is jus a part of life here.  And I even got my luggage back the next morning without any trouble! 

Saturday, February 15, 2003  Happy Valentine's Day!  No, it's not really celebrated by many Togolese - my theory is that's because there's no Hallmark here in village to promote the idea.  I had a fun surprise delivery of 2 V-Day packages yesterday brought by a PCVwho lives by the Badou post office.  She and my closer neighbor slept over and we made a fabulous dinner together.  I tried out a recipe for gnocchi and it worked fairly well, but the garlic bread made the meal.  It's only been 2 wks since I got online, but I won't see a computer until the end of the month.  In the last 2 wks I got word back from the med unit in Lome that what I thought was giardia turned out to be amoeba cysts and trophs and I'm on some new meds now.  I don't feel very sick luckily.  Other better news is the progress FINALLY being made on my latrine/shower construction that started the end of Dec.  The mason'd originally told me the whole thing would take a week to do.  Yeah, why do I keep believing people when they give me timelines for anything here?  It only frustrates me and doesn't get the work done any faster.  I miss being able to talk to my friends at home when I get frustrated.  You guys know me and that I'm generally an optimistic person.  Some days here I feel like I come across as a glass-is-half-empty person when I hear myself talking to other PCVs who I occasionally seem especially my closest neighbor who I see every week.  Tomorrow I head off to a training with the other PCVs who I arrived in Togo with.  We'll be in Pagala for 4 days.  The PC Country Director also set up a mtg for other PCMI volunteers who need to tie in PC with a Masters degree.  I've had lots of ideas for case studies, but I've recently been playing around with the idea of so;e sort of program evaluation on the various aspects of the PC Togo program (training, the Small Business Development program, the past 40 yrs of PC Togo, etc).  I don't need to really get started on my degree project (DP) yet, but time is going by fast and I've realized how I'll be affected by the lack of infrastructure and the delays that this will cause me.  Any feedback or communications with UW will take wks each time in each direction, I have no computer in village to type on so I'll have to write it mostly by hand for retyping at a later date.  Even gathering info not directly found in village will be hard. It took over 2 hrs yesterday for me to get a call through to the main bureau in Lome because the line cut out every 30 seconds (NOT an exaggeration - I truly wish it were).  But I have lots of ideas and am actually looking forward to working on it.  Everything else I do hear daily is so foreign from the rest of my prior life (gee, imagine that!), it will be good to tie it together a little.  Work-projects are coming along "petite a petite" as they say here.  Ça va aller...  The "home depot" is a baby step closer to reality, but a long way off from a real start.  I finally got the members of a savings groupement to set up one-on-one mtgs with me for March.  I'll have a chance to do visioning activities for each of their small businesses to help them come up with a plan for expanding their businesses with help from a loan from the groupement.  Right now they rotate loans each month using the members' aggregate personal savings, but nobody really knows what risks their savings are being put through by another member.  So far all loans have been repaid, but I'm a litle nervous for them.  Ideally, they'll set up a credit committee to review the loan request to analyze the business plan and determine a recommendation for the members to vote on.  As it stands now, each mtg ends with something like this:  "So, who wants to take home some cash today? Immaculee?  Tobie?  No?  Ok, maybe Eli?  How much do you want?  50,000cfa?  100,000cfa?  Hmmm, we need to give out another 200,000cfa still.... oh, good, Immaculee will take a loan again this month and Abra will take some, too."  Part of the reason that money gets handed out like this is because there is no bank in village to keep large amts of cash safe.  Leaving all the cash at Emma's house (she's the groupement's treasurer) is a risk, too.  Voleurs (theives) abound.... it took me a while to push the idea out of my head of a tight knit African village where everyone works together to help each other all the time.  Half the village is related to each other, but that doesn't mean anything.  Yeah, folks really come together to support each other in times of need, but lack of "confiance" in one another is a real deterrant in my work.  Another project I'm doing now is a girls' club at the middle school. I observed 2 classes with Sarahm the PCV in Djon who'll be working in Kougnohou with me.  But I'm flying solo for the first class here on Friday.  Wish me bonne chance - 90 girls in one room, ages 13-20, me trying to explain fuzzy new concepts in French....ack!  I'll let you know how things turn out.  (PS- I'm bringing home my puppy in 2 more wks now that he's old enough to eat solid food! And I get to start moving next door into the bigger house, too.  Going to try to get a doggy-door put into my new screen door.)

Tuesday, January 27, 2003 So, heres a good story for you.... I pulled my dutch oven off my shelf to bake a cake this evening, put it on the counter, picked up the lid, and, hello, who do we have here ? Ive been pretty patient with spiders so far, but in my dutch oven is not a part of the deal. You see, there are these super-sonic speedy flat spiders all over my house. We had an agreement stay out of my bed and you can live in my house. I figured that they of course understood that meant to keep out of my pots and pans and food. So, now I have on in my dutch oven. Hmmm....its not flat, actually, its a rather odd-looking spider...with a red hourglass on its abdomen! ! Oh my god ! A BLACK WIDOW SPIDER ! ! So, what do you do when faced with one of your biggest all-time fears in reality ? Go and get a neighbor to kill it, of course J He didnt quite understand what I was saying at first. whats that you say, a venomous snake ? A scorpion ? No, a deadly poisonous spider ! (Oh, btw, yes, there are 10 species of venomous snakes here and its also currently scorpion season.) I dont think he knew what a Black Widow is and now they think Im nuts (ok , they already thought that). Its hard to feel comfortable right now in the dark. I think Im going to go to bed with the lights left on in my bedroom. They go off at midnight when Kougnohous electric generator is shut down, anyway. Oh, and PS.... I made the cake Id intended to bake before my little friend interrupted things.

Ok, its the day after now. Im actually feeling a little silly about the Black Widow thing. Its a tiny bug - Im a lot bigger and smarter than it is. If it hadnt been nighttime I may have been a little more rational yesterday. Its a shame itd moved and I didnt get to take a photo. I was on the phone with my directore today about something else and ran the incident by him. He confirmed what Id started to think I wont die if I get bit, but itll probably hurt like hell. Same thing as wed learned about snake bites. He doesnt think Ill find a whole family of Black Widows in my house either, which was the thought that was freaking me out the most. Hey, if I had to find a venomous critter in my house, better a little lone spider than a cobra or rattle snake ! !

Monday, January 20, 2003   I now am much less stressed by trying to email and update my website. There's a new internet café here in Atakpame with a good connection and is even air conditioned!!   I am also excited that starting this week I will have my mail and admin notices from the PC Lomé bureau dropped off in my village for me and my 2 closest neighbors.  This means I don't have to take a bush taxi almost 2 hrs away to check on packages anymore.  BTW, where are they?  I do believe you guys have mailed me what you've later sent letters telling me about, but if you didn't hear back from me, I haven't gotten it (yet?). Also seems that some letters are MIA, too, now.  Hmmm, wish I had a suggestion, but I don't.  Just don't give up and keep on writing to me!  So, now that the fêtes are over (there was another on Jan 13th for a Togolese holiday commemorating the day the President took office - 36 yrs ago!) I am actually working. I held my first real mtg with a group...in French and Akebou.  Well, I spoke in French....they spoke in Akebou and maybe some Ewé, too, but I had two co-facilitators helping with the translations back and forth and all-in-all I was pretty impressed with how it went. I had flashbacks to any number of meetings I'd held in Newark with Do Something or Just One, except no Spanish was being translated for me.  :)  I've known that learning a local language would be helpful, but this meeting really kicked me in the butt to get a tutor and start cracking down.  The biggest challenge is that nobody writes in Akebou and the sounds are so different that I don't know how to write down what I hear in a way that I can read it back the way I'm supposed to say it.  I learned how to say "little dog" chiké-é-bi" (or something like that) which may become the name of my puppy!  Yup, I'm getting a puppy :)  So, now doggy chew toys and snacks can get sent to Togo, too! He's only a month and a half old now, but lives at my neighbors with his mama so I've been going over to play with him and the other 4 puppies lately and can take him to my house in another month (and also get him vaccinated for rabies and distemter).  Well, that's all for today folks!  à bientôt!

Sunday, December 29, 2002  "Work" has essentially come to a halt during this holiday season. Celebrating here in village involves a lot of sodebe (Togolese moonshine). I spent Christmas here with my host family in Kougnohou. I spent the morning by myself at home while families all around me prepared fufu for bfast/ Then they were off to church and came home for lunch. I joined one family for lunch, well, for the preparation of lunch, really. I watched them cook up rice, spaghetti, and a yummy, spicy, oily, tomato sauce with chunks of chicken, goat, beef and/or lamb (I got served chicken and am not sure what the other chunks were). Then they sent a daughter with me to drop off my personal serving bowl so I could eat at homeon my own. I think they might have thought Id prefer to eat there than with them. My neighbors eat meals outside in the outdoor kitchen area, sitting on stools strewn around the compound. They eat with their right hand more often than with forks. I havent eaten much with other folks since Ive been here and they all think I cant eat their food because its too spicy. People are always amazed when I tell them I like "piment". (Its the crushed up dried fish that often gets mixed in the sauces and the slimy okra that I am not a fan of and this they find incredulous.) Or when they do invite me to eat with them, Ive already planned and half-prepared my dinner or have vegetables that are starting to get old and need to be eaten right away. I made ginger garlic mashed sweet potatoes for the other part of my host family and ate at their house for Christmas dinner (same meal as I had for lunch, but goat chunks instead of chicken). Then we went off to the "ball" in our new clothes. It was like walking into a crowded club DJs blaring music, people crowding the dance floor, bars lined the sides of the room selling drinks. In reality, we were in an outdoor cement basketball court with crumbly cement walls and the "bartenders" were serving shots of sodebe or shots of boxed wine (very little wine lots of sodebe). And people of all ages were there. Moms with babies tied on their backs, young kids, teenagers, adults. Many folks also went to the other "club". Same idea, but at the outdoor video theatre around the corner. For New Years Ill be 12km away in Djon with the new PCV there so Ill get the see the celebrating without electricity.

Saturday, December 21, 2002  Wow, how do I describe yesterdays market? The last market day before ChristmasI somehow always forget about the last-minute shopping everyone does. Try to picture this; a combination of Long Islands Tri-County Flea Market, the Mall of America, Seattles Pikes Market on a summer day, Michigans Meijer, a NYC street fair and the Port Authority Bus Terminal all rolled into one and its the only place to buy anything and is only open one day a week for all the shopping needs of those who live within an hours drive of here.and nobody speaks English. I had 3 other brand new PCVs with me as we pushed through between stalls and other shoppers and tried to find what we were looking for. Luckily the heat has diminished a little in the past week or so. Actually, its quite cool at night up here in the mts. I even pulled out my sleeping bag for a blanket last night. First time in 6 months Ive used more than a top sheet. Up north the PCVs are melting in the high temperatures. Bizarre how the climate ranges so much in such a tiny country. Maybe Ill start getting more visitors now as they try to escape the heat. J

 

Thursday, December 19, 2002 Joyeux Noël et Bonne Annee! I have promised my host family and neighbors and friends here in Kougnohou that I will fête with them for Christmas. I hear New Years is an even huger deal in village, but I think Ill be heading up to visit another PCV whos having a party. This will be my 1st New Years w/o a ball dropping in NYC that I can see on TV. Midnight NYC will be 5am here. Today I saw a group of men trying to recapture my carpenters recently purchased gigantic pigsoon to be Christmas dinner for quite a few families. It must have heard that Tues is its last day and got out of the fence by his house. Its going on 8pm and Im glad our electricity is back on so I can read and write after 6pm. I can cook, eat, and wash dishes by candlelight and kerosene lamp, but not read or write for too long before I want to go to sleep. We had 4 nights w/o power and I was worried it might be even longer since so much of life here goes on w/o electricity. Even the bar has a kerosene-powered fridge for beer and sodas since theres no electricity before 6pm. Im trying to figure out what Im trying to accomplish by writing all these little "stories" for you to read. Partly, I want to share what Im doing here and I am also trying to explain the differences btwn life in the US and life in Togo, but somehow I always feel like I leave out the things I want to say. I have a growing list of general things Id like to tell you more about, but never quite get to that. Im going to try sticking to just one thing for a while now that my life is settling into a sorta routine after almost 4 months of living in Kougnohou. Please, help me out and leave me a note in my guestbook with any questions you want me to address here and Ill have more of an idea what Ive managed to communicate and what Ive left out. Some future topics Ill try to cover: travel via bush taxi, marché day, getting clothes made, (mis-)communication, my water "source", funerals, Togolese cuisine, the "yovo" phenomenum, common names for people, and possible random maladies according to my Peace Corps healthcare guidebook (Staying Healthy in Togo S.H.I.T.). Let me know where to start and what Ive left out!!

 

Sunday, December 8, 2002 - Monday, December 9, 2002
Man, mefloquine...  if I didn't see how bad malaria looked I'd be tempted to take a few weeks break from my meds. I have another option, doxycyclin, but I'd have to remember to take it daily at the same time vs just once a week which I know I'd forget to do and it also increases sensitity to sun, so I'll stick to what I have.  I've been dealing with insomnia and weird dreams as my side effects and last night had a series of unrelated lifelike nightmares. I've been lazing about at home today, napping and reading and listening to the drums and trumpets down the hill at a church.  I feel hungry and full at the same time today. Overtired and I can't sleep. Lonely, but I don't want to socialize. I'm a little sore from our hike yesterday to the absolutely beautiful Akloa falls by Badou.  About a 45 min trek in the bush, much of it steeply uphill, which culminates at a wide, almost-round pool of water at the base of a waterfall.  We started up the face of the rocks as the water poured past, butterflies fluttering around the green forest plants and trees up the sides of the mountain and a strong warm wind breezed all around us. I felt like I was visiting a movie set, but it was real.  Next time we're going to go swimming there. .....It's Monday now.... So, this morning I looked at my watch and thought to myself, "Why does it say today is Sept 12th?"  (12-9) I guess it's a combination of getting used to little differences here plus that it is just flat out too hot to be December in my mind. Right now its a little cool and even breezy out. There's a rain cloud passing overhead teasing us with a possible shower. It's officially Dry Season and Harmattan. Dust abounds on the unpaved roads. Everyone wears a pagne or knit cap on their heads to keep the dust out of their hair. (Bush taxis don't often have glass in the windows once you get to smaller routes on unpaved roads btwn villages.)  Harmattan only lasts about 3 1/2 months by my village (or so I've been told).  I have plans for a veggie garden after rains start again.  I'm getting psyched to move into the larger side of my house.  I've seen yet another PCV's village house in Tomegbe by Badou and have more ideas for mine. Last week I suddenly remembered my dream to one day have a porch swing. My menusier says he knows how to hook one up.  I'm going to see about getting a wicker one made in Atakpame (I'm afraid a wooden one will be too heavy regardless of what Togbevi tells me). I'm working, too, really, I am.  The CEG (middle school) director sent the English teacher by my house on Sunday to ask if I would teach one hour a week "English or dancing or singing or something". Hmmm, English is definately more my forté than his other suggestions, but I have materials for a LifeSkills and AIDS awareness program that I think I'm going to try instead. I may enlist the aid of the new neighboring PCV trained for Girls Educationto teach with me.

Monday, December 2, 2002 Happy Chanukah!! Tonight's the 4th night. I'm back in village after spending several days with a group of other PCVs for Thanksgiving.  We cooked up a feast! Pintade (guinea fowl) and peanut sauce, salad, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potato casserole, cranberry sauce, monster cookies, pumpkin pie, apple tarts, cheesecake, fruit punch spiked with sodebe (I actually juiced a watermelon and pineapple amongst other things), and a plastic barrel of tchouk (millet beer).  It was just as huge a meal as I've ever had at home with my family (but no "hockey pucks" mom, dad, and Drew).  One difference is that I've never gone out back of the house to check out the killing and plucking of the bird before (other PCVs braved this feat, not me!).  Now I'm back in village, but have 2 more small excursions planned in the upcoming weeks.  Going to Badou to Elisha's for a birthday fête and to play tourist at the Akloa waterfalls.  A few of the PCVs in my region have been tossing ideas of ecotourism projects around with each other and local gov't officials. Then mid-Dec it's off to Lomé for the 40th anniversary of PC Togo and the swearing in of the new volunteers.  About 80 PCVs will be in Lomé for this fête and a few days of shopping and going out to eat and dancing and the beach.  It is still HOT and only promises to get hotter.  A PCV up north told me how during hot season last year her outdoor thermometer reached 140 degrees...and only stopped there because that was as high as it measured!  Shouldn't be quite that bad in my region since I'm up in the Plateau mountains.  Maybe I can get a few folksto take a beach vacation in Benin for New Years...?  I'm listening to my shortwave (Voice of America) and they just played "We Are the World". It's hard to beliee that song and campaign to aid starving Africans was 17 years ago.  Now there's another  famine in southern Africa.  Although not immediately visible by me, I've heard stories of scarcity of food up north during the dry season.  I feel a little odd - I am in Peace Corps, but can afford to do and buy things here that very few of my neighbors can. I'm about to do some more construction on myhouse to put up a privacy fence, latrine, shower, garden, and screen in my porch and windows. In the US I'd never be able to afford these types of renovations.  Nor would shop owners start stocking specialty items just because I tell them my friends and I would like them to.  (A "yovo" store in Atakpame agreed to bring in cheese from Lomé so we don't have to only eat super-processed Vache Qui Rie.)  Overall, this year I am much more aware of just how much I have to be thankfulfor.  Well,I'm going to go down the way to say hello to my host family - wow, what a coincidence, my host sister just stopped by to welcome me back.  Maybe I'll swing by the mini-poste, too. Oh, here's another address closer to my post for you all to use for packages:  BP 98, Badou, Togo, West Africa. This address is better than the Lomé address but I should eventually get the things that have been sent to the PC bureau in Lomé. Keep using the Kougnohou Mini-Poste for letters! Thanks!

Monday, November 25, 2002  Last time I did internet I bought a disk.  Now I can type these stories in Word, save em, then cut and paste em onto my website...and when it all crashes I wont lose my typing for the day ;)  I forgot how important it is to use disks to back up your work after years on servers at my jobs and grad school.  Ahhh, yes.... simple technology can do wonders for my sanity.  The hi-tech things I brought with me or that I can find here that I lover the most are:  my rechargeable batteries and clam-shell portable speakers for my CD walkman, ELF brand insecticide (peach scented!), my indestructible Nalgene water bottles, mosquito net, my Chaco sandals with anti-microbial soles, my water filter, and good pens.  On the other side of the coin, my favorite low-tech things are:  my 2 burner gas stove and propane tank and my dutch over (success today with my first attempt at banana bread!), fences made out of natural plant materials all around my veranda, clear starry skies due to lack of electricity and no light pollution, inexpensive custom-build furniture and handmade baskets and clay jugs, seeing brightly colored/crazy patterend pagnes on blowing in the Harmattan winds on the clotheslines strung up all around and between my neighbors houses, and the refreshing feeling of cool water as I scoop cupfuls from my shower bucket and immediately start air-drying as the sun beats down on my in my outdoor shower.  Overall, as a PCV Im living large here in Togo.  A far cry from my life in the US, but somehow I expected it to feel more difficult to acclimate.  5 months has been slow and fast all at the same time for me.  Already things at home in the US are changing in big ways in your lives my parents, brother and grandmother will all be in new homes/states when I get back, several friends have already gotten married and others have had babies, and still others Ive heard are planning weddings for 2003 and others are expecting new additions to their families (congrats! You all know who you are!!).  My 10 year high school reunion is this weekend.  Although Im still in touch with my closest friends, Id love to know about everyone else and what theyve been up to since 92.  If anyone reading this has any info or photos, pls drop me a note in my guestbook or send me a letter!  10 yrs ago I would never have dreamed Id be in Togo right now speaking French with a funky accent, calling home Seattle.  It seems like a huge amount of change since high school, but I still feel like the same person Ive always been.  On a different note, Ive now seen 2 village houses for other PCVs...and their latrines and showers.  Im in the process of looking for someone who is a reliable mason to start construction for a new set for chez moi.  I put up with cockroaches, flies, funky smells and curious neighbors for 3 months and its not getting any better.  Its also been made clear to me that other PCVs have much nicer latrines and privacy fences surrounding their homes and I can and should too!  (Hmmm, wonder what challenges the other UW PCMIers are finding in Bulgaria, Morocco, Paraguay and the Carribbean?)

Tuesday, November 12, 2002  Id blocked out half the day today expecting my director in town, but he had to reschedule at the last minute.  Well, he tried to get a msg to me yesterday and again this morning, but the phone lines didnt work.  After trying to call him for a few hours myself I finally got through.  Ive been up since 4:30 this morning.  Got out of bed after an hour of trying to fall back asleep and by 6:25am was out for a bike ride.  I finally made it up the hill to Adape.  5km isnt far, but its almost straight uphill from here to Adape!  The way home was much quicker :)  During training I used my bike every day, but not much since I got here to Kougnohou.  My PCV neighbors will be at their villages soon so Im trying to get back on my bike more regularly so I can visit them.  Im getting a little push from the PCV 36km from me who has biked here and tells me that next week shes coming back via bike again and together were going to Djon (12km each way) and a day later to Klabe Efoukpa (10km each way) to see the new PCVs while they are visiting their posts.  Ive only gone 10km in a day so far, but Im going to try a little further later this week before she gets here next week so I wont be thoroughly embarrassed!  Im flipping around on my shortwave right now and somehow seem to only find a Spanish station.  I feel like I should be able to understand what theyre saying, but of course, I cant.  The French stations are hard to understand, too.  Im getting better with understanding people when we talk face-to-face, but still struggle a lot.  I have realized how much Ive picked up that is brand new vocab.  Back in high school we definitely never learned words for harvest (recolt), flys (moucherone), malaria (paludisme palu), gas stove (rechaud), cockroach (carfa), roasted coffee (café torefié), can of tomato paste (boit de tomate), bleach (javal), box of matches (boit des allumettes), my taxi broke down again (mon taxi brousee a tombé en panne encore), etc. Im now more comfortable discussing project plans with associations and individuals.  Actually, does anyone out there want to look into something for me?  My region grows robusta coffee beens and the farmers cooperative would like to export directly themselves rather than continue to use an intermediary for-profit assn anymore.  Im looking for contact info and guidelines for US companies that buy fair trade coffee.  My internet connection is so slow and infrequent its hard to surf and there often arent printers available.  Any info you can find and print and mail to me would be great!  (Emailing links to websites doesnt usually work well.)  Thanks!  And, of course, keep writing regular letters to me and signing my guestbook!  :)  Miss you all!  Oh, random comment of the day (as if the rest of what I write isnt random)  Im about to chop off my hair.  Its been almost 6 months since a haircut and I havent left my hair down more than 10 mins a day since I got to post!

Thursday, November 7, 2002   Happy Birthday Mom!  Im going to try to call home later hope youre there.  This week Im catching up on some paperwork.  I got my site journal notebook over the weekend from my director and have started filling in infowho Im meeting with, organizations Ive met, projects Im getting started on, general info about my area like marché days for nearby villages and taxi fares between places.  Im in a new post and in 2 yrs another PCV will take my place and add to the site journal notebook, as well.  Theoretically there will be 3 PCVs in a row 6 yrs and then PC will graduate this village for my program and move on to give support to another village.  Another PC program may use Kougnohou as a post (girls education and empowerment, community health, or natural resource mgmt), but not small business development for a while.  Im crunching away on soy nuts that I made the other day.  Amazing the things I do on my own here that Id never think to try in the US soy nuts are just soybeans, rinsed off, stones picked out, and stirred in a pot on a low fire, then a little salt added in when theyre done 15-20 mins later.  Without pretzels for 2 yrs, I think Ive found my new snack food (I can readily find peanuts to munch on, but soynuts are healthier).   Just got back from calling home and surprising my mom with my call on her bday at 6am NY time.  The phones cut out 4x in 30 mins.  I hadnt ever called for more than 5 mins from my village before, usually I use a phone in a larger town, but I now am hearing that it is usual for phones to cut out in this region.  And someone in my village actually told me that hed like to start an internet placeafter 6pm, of course, when our electricity comes on.  Um, yeah, right. There are just some projects that Ill have to decline.  I really feel like Ive started work now.  Im having mtgs and follow-up mtgs with a few groups an have started to commit to a few projects.  One group of neighbors wants to expand their savings group to become a microcredit institution.  Another group who collectively make and sell soap needs help restructuring their financial records, raising profits to help pay off a huge loan, and growing their business.  Another group is researching prices and suppl y of wood planks and transportation costs in order to start a lumber depot here in our village for all the local carpenters.  My Sous-Prefet mentioned wanting to start a chapter of Croix Rouge here, too (there are other chapters in the region, but a bit further away and Kougnohou is the sousprefecture capital).  I find mysef constantly explaining how I dont give funding, just advice, like a consultant.  And that external funding from the European Union or an international NGO isnt a guarantee of successor necessarily desirable.  Funding always comes with strings attached.  But Im happy to be working after being here for 5 months.  The first 2 months at post are challenging in many ways, but feeling like youre floundering in search of good projects is one of the biggest challenges.  But by being patient Ive learned a little more about the motives of the many whove approached me, who I can trust and rely onand who I cant.  Hope this explains a little more about what Im doing for those of you whove written letters or notes in my guestbook asking for more info!

Saturday, Oct 26, 2002 8 :14amwaiting for someone to show up for a mtg. This is one reason why working from home is a good thing. When folks are late or no-shows, you can easily go about other parts of your day while waiting. So far during my 3 month etude de milieu while not working Ive managed to get involved in a few projects. My mail goal for now is to help organize a group of menusiers (furniture makers) to buy planks of wook in buld to stock and resell locally here in Kougnohou. As it is now, they constantly go off to the bush to look for vendors every time a piece of furniture is ordered.. My menusier happens to be the president of an assn of workers for the Akebou region and has started meeting with me to discuss logistics. One day he gets a lot done, the next day his feet are dragging. But its all a metter of perspective, I guess. I dont know what other demands he has on his time (family, working in the fields, supervising his apprentices, etc), so this may not always be a high priority. Theyve been so long without a lumber depot, whats another month or so, right ? The guy who Im waiting for this morning had approached me through the chiefs wife, my friend Akouvi. He came by as scheduled last Sat 8am (he picked the date and time). Not sure if hell make it or not today. He formed an assn (groupement) that involves about 50 people in the region who grow piment (hot peppers), peanuts, bananas, and plantains and want to export them. And also buy cafe and cacao from this region to resell via exporting. We didnt exactly cover export logistics in training, but I was able to suggest that he visit the Chamber of Commerce in Lomé on his trip there last week to drop off official papers at the Ministre de Finance. Im sure they know of an ONG or assn already doing this who could point him in the right direction with more info than I have. Another guy wants me to work with his family groupement who are starting a teck plantation (a lumber tree which sells for a high price). Hes pretty organized already, not sure what I can do. I asked a natural resources PCV about it and he mentioned that some people plant the trees too close and also that teck draws water from surrrounding land and can harm nearby crops if too abundant. Im going to request some resource books from the Lomé PC office. I have til March 2003 before he starts planting to figure out a plan with him. On the non-business project side of things, the middle school English teacher, Peter, just came back into town and stopped by to introduce homself. Hes worked with PCVs before up north and wants to set up a girls club and do presentations about Life Skills and AIDS all programs I have info about from training :) Im going to go to his class to see things firsthand for a bit before formally starting any activities. Ive gone to Badou to help a volunteer there with an ONG that wants to offer computer classes, has comuters and funding to hire an instructor, but doesnt know the questions to ask the 2 job candidates. So, Im keeping busy. Still chasing down the other menusier who hasnt finished the cover for my cistern and the mason who tried to tell me he completed the cement work, but had left a part of the inside of the cistern undone. But the best thing happened yesterday ! I found zucchinis and string beans in my marché for the first time and much cheaper than in Atakpame. The new volunteers swear in mid-Dec and come to visit posts in a few weeks. I cant wait to have nearby neighbors (10 and 12km). I hope they like their posts and dont decide to go back to the US (some trainees do after seeing what their posts are like). Hmmm, 9 :23am, guess my mtg isnt happening. Off to look for the menusier again !

Friday, October 18, 2002 (written in village) 10 letters and a package from my folks in the past 2 days ! (4 at the min-poste, the rest via the PC Lomé office). I really would love to go to Lomé to the mail processing center to see what on earth they do that gets mail to me in such sporadic disordered bursts. Im glad I went into Atakpame again after only 1.5 wks. Usually it will be more like every 3 wks, but Id offered to dogsit for another volunteer goin out of town for the wkend. Possibly a practice run for me.. Ama is lying on my bed as I sit here sipping freshly-brewed lemongrass tea and listen to my ABBA Gold cd. My stomach feels a bit funky today. Probably because I ate at a restaurant last night. I tried to order pintade (ginea fowl) and couscous, but they were out.and out of chicken.so I settled for a 2 egg omlette over couscous that comes with this really good tomato sauce served on the side that you spoon over it. Or it could be the yogurt from lunch. The same restaurant sellsa big serving of plain yogurt for really cheap and I cant readily get yogurt anywhere else but Lomé. I split an order with another PCV and made tzatzaki J Im finding myself in bush taxis way more than I expectedin the first 6 wks at post. Ive been to Badou 3x for meetings and end up staying over a night or so at Elishas b/c taxis and night travel and mt roads are not a good combo. Im heading off again on Mon-Tues to Kpalime, the town I lived in for training. Im returning Ama to her mom wholl be there to help with the new group of trainees. Im excited to visit my host family, too. I spoke to my oldest sister on the phone to tell her Id be coming into town. Im getting better at speaking and understanding French on the phone which used to terrify me. Petite à petite. A French woman whos working for a French org here in Togo was at the Atakpame maison yesterday and I could understand almost all of what she said to us. The French-French accent is SO different from a West African-French accent. Mosquitos are bad in my house tonight.going to get ready for bed now and climb under my mostiquaire after I pop a benedryl so I dont keep myself up scratching all night !

Thurs, Oct 10, 2002  (handwriting from home again for retyping later)  Waiting to start my first real meeting here at post.  I've only gone to sit in on and be presented to a couple of groups for meetings us until now and they were all held in local languages which I don't understand.  Today I'm not sure my role exactly, but I've been given a seat up front facing the attendees.   I'm with a group called Chambres Régionals des Métiers which is like a regional merchants assn for all sorts of jobs.  The meeting began at 10:20, pretty much on time.  The room setup was typical - row of chairs at the front, table for the center of the row only.  Set towards the back of the room are close rows of simple benches, no tables.  Lots of space between the presenters and attendees rows.  .....  2 hrs into the mtg now, the Regional President has been doing a great job of presenting in French and Ewé, switching between the two languages every few minutes.  Most here speak both, but not all of us, like me!  It's common to repeat things many times in mtgs.  This helps get the point across.  He's not using any visual aids, unless you count that he held up his sole copy of the bylaws and budget to show us that he has them here.  I don't know the literacy rate here, but that's probably just a part of why he's not writing anything for the group to see and follow.  Someone read out a 14 point agenda when we got started, but it was too fast in French for me to catch it all so I have no idea how much longer this meeting will continue.  .... It's now 12:30pm, I'm hungry and have to pee and there is no sign of a pending break.  I have  mtg in Badou at 3pm with another NGO that the PCV there asked me to help her with.  I have no idea when a taxi may leave here for Badou and I need about an hour and 15 mins to get there.  I'm going to have to bail out of here if we're not done by 1pm the latest.  I think 3hrs of my time is enough here today.  I'm learning a lot, but I really need a short break!  And lunch before heading to Badou.  Amazingly enough he still has the attn of the 30 or so attendees, only one is sleeping in the back.  This style mtg would never work in the US.  I'm trying to figure out mtg protocol here so I'll know what's expected of me when I call some group to a mtg I'll one day run.  They always start off with a slow process of thanking everyone with a title for being here, Monsier le Sous-Prefet, M. le Commisionaire, M. le Cheif, Mademoiselle la Representatif du Corps de la Paix, les chiefs des villages, Messiers, Mesdames, Mademoiselles, chères invitees....  Then each person with a title gets to then say thank you for being invited, also mentioning the long list of VIPs.  I watched the Police Commissioner next to me taking notes and then realized he was just writing down the titles of people so he'd be able to read off the appropriate list when his turn to speak came.  .... How do I duck out of this mtg now?  It's 1pm.  I have not idea if it's wrapping up or only halfway through.  Going to try to catch the eye of the person who invited me and sneak out now....

Tuesday, October 8, 2002  It was helpful last time to have my "story" written out in advance - my thoughts almost went in order and when the computers ate it, I didn't lose everything.  So, now I'm writing at home and will copy this in Atakpame.  I'd like to share more of the little things that make life here what it is.  I'll try to walk you through a typical morning... I wake up to sounds of neighbors chopping wood or pounding fufu, roosters calling to one another, and radios blaring.  I may vaguely recall that I woke up and rolled back over after hearing the first round of roosters and the distant bell for the 4:30am call to prayer.  I stay in bed wrapped in my top sheet against the slight chill in the air since I sleep with my bedroom shutters open (screens are closed trying to keep out most of the bugs).  I feel around for my glasses which are next to my pillow and my watch to verify that it's as early as I know it is...sigh...5:30am.  I turn on my shortwave radio to see if BBC has any interesting programs or just news.  Today it is a story about 'out of body experiences'.  I pull up the edge of my mosquito net from where it's tucked in between my bedframe and mattress and slide my feet into my lime green flip flops that I wear around the house.  (I have another pair for the shower and one for walking around town that both get full of mud and dirt.)  I wrap a pagne around my waist and take my chamber pot (sorry if this is too much detail for some of you!) outside and dump it in my latrine.  On my way out I nod a quick hello to the family next door and the goats.  Little lizards scatter diagonally across the wall of the house as I walk around the corner.  After returning to the house, I wash it out.  I know it's time for coffee and b'fast.  By now BBC has told me all about Bush wanting to attack Iraq, continued fighting in Israel, and further updates on the coup in Cote D'Ivoire.  I get coffee going in the biletto espresso maker that Wendy sent me (thanks again, Wendy!) and put up some hot water for oatmeal.  The varnish is now dry on my newly delivered guard à manger (pantry shelving) and I can finally put away all the ziplocked bags, plastic containers, plates and pots and fresh produce that have been in boxes and large plastic tubs on my floor.  Aahhh, my house finally feels like home now.  "clap-clap, excusé, clap-clap, excusé..."  My host family mom, Imaculé, is stopping by to let me know she's leaving for the marché in Seregbene, a village 36km from here that she goes to every Tuesday to sell things.  She goes 12km to Djon every Mon.  Friday is our marché day.  The rest of the week she helps her husband in their boutique here in town, takes care of stuff around the family compound, or heads to the fields to supervise the kids working there.  It's now harvest time for corn and sweet potatoes.  After eating, I wash the dishes and then carry the 'sink' basin outdoors to toss the dirty water into the grass.  I swap flip flops at the door in a feeble effort to keep some of the dirt out of the house.  While finishing my coffee I try to organize my desk/kitchen table. Yes, even here in Kougnohou I'm surrounded by paperwork!  I'd just visited Atakpame this week and got my mail, including memos from PC Admin.  I find an appropriate place for my personal papers and memos I need to follow up on and start writing a letter to a friend.  I get about one letter for every 3-4 that I write, but mail is slowly making its way to me from you all! I just got a letter from someone who sent it 2 months ago.  I pop in my Moby CD.  Caffeine has now kicked in and I feel like sweeping before going to take a shower. Always start at the back room and work towards the front door, out onto the veranda and off the front step.  Now, where'd I leave my shower flip flops?  I get wrapped in a pagne, slide on the flip flops and pick up my shower bucket from its home behind the front door.  I use a large deep purple and yellow striped plastic bowl to scoop about 12 liters of water into the red plastic bucket from the large blue plastic tub I keep out on my veranda.  The neighbor's kids come every other day to refill the blue tub with pump water for me.  (My new cistern is almost done, but not quite ready to use yet.)  I put my sponge and soap dish into a large plastic cup and hang it by its handle into the bucket which I pick up in one hand while carrying my shampoo and conditioner with the other.  The front door closed behind me, I head around to the side of the house to the outdoor shower area.  It's now close to 9:30am and the sun is strong.  It feels nice to dump cupfuls of cold water over my head as I wash up.  The shower stall has 4 sides, one with a small wooden door.  The walls come up to about my shoulders.  It was strange at first knowing that my neighbors and anyone walking by would see me out here, but its a little away from the main pathway and half the people here don't even use a closed shower stall.  Women breastfeed very openly and some don't cover their tops when at home, so I'm the only one who'd even notice someone taking a shower.  Even knowing only my head and shoulders show, I still feel better when my neighbors have already left for the fields than when they're all outside preparing meals or hanging laundry as I walk to and from the shower wrapped in my pagne.  After getting back in the house and dried off I put on a batik print skirt and tank top, pull my hair back, brush my teeth, pop in my contacts and grad a small bag on my way to the petit marché to buy tomatoes, onions and garlic.  Not sure what I'll make for lunch and dinner yet, but I almost always use these ingredients in some form or another.  I'll probably stop by my host family's boutique and say hello to a few friends who live near that side of town. You always pop in to salué when you're passing by.  After I get home, well, I'll figure out the rest of the day when something comes up....

Thursday, Oct 3, 2002    Before I type in the new story that I wrote out at post to copy in today, I just need to say that the guy at the computer next to me is wearing a Santa hat.  You see everything as far as fashion goes here!  Ok, so heres what I wrote a couple of days ago at post:  Ive been here for a month and have successfully explained to half the kids that my name is not yovo and to not sing the yovo song at me.  My neighbors son, Emmanuel, now gets upset when I leave rather than when I show up.  I wish somebody will be able to come and spend some time here for a visit.  Its going to be so difficult to explain the realities of day to day life when I get back.  And Id love to show someone around my town, other parts of Togo, even travel to Ghana.  (Not likely that Ill be going to Cote DIvoire any time soon given the current situation with the attempted coup detat.)  Two new major home improvements that are making things more comfortable are my cement water cistern to collect rain water from my roof and electricity from 6pm-midnight (not that I stay up past 10pm ever).  Im used to living independently and its difficult to have to rely on other peoples timeline for something so essential as water.  Not knowing when the refill of my plastic container would occur by my neighbors kids, I often find myself debating between taking a bucket shower, washing dishes, and refilling my drinking water filter.  Even though the dry season will start soon, the cement cistern is huge and I can get it filled less often than every 2 days like I need to now for the small plastic container.  Once the cistern is in action I think I will be buying a large clay jar to use inside of the plastic container as a fridge with sand between the two for insulation.  But Im getting used to cooking without having lots of leftovers and have also realized that being out of a fridge for half a day isnt going to ruin most foods.  But of all the new things in the past week, Im most happy about my desk/kitchen table.  I finally can organize the stacks of resource books and papers I received at training and have accumulated in the past month at post.  I made a planner our of some folded notebook paper to keep track of the next few weeks now that Im actually finding groups that want to meet with me.  I was so burned out when I arrived in Togo after the last quarter at UW that I was glad to let the trainers take over my life for a while.  But after 3 months I realized how much I need to be involved in creating my own schedule rather than just show up the same time and place day after day.  Other new things.In case youre concerned, the coup in Cote DIvoire has not affect life here in Togo. Its 2 countries to the West (after Ghana). Peace Corps volunteers there have been evacuated to Ghana. Im very glad that I chose Togo when Peace Corps gave me my choice of assignments here or there!  Ive been keeping busy at post and have gotten my dutch oven up and running.  First item out was oatmeal choc chip cookies which were better than any Ive made back in the US and Im not just saying that because its been over 3 months since American food!! Next Im going to attempt bagels, shame theres only cream cheese in Lomé (if I can figure out who sells it I heard its available somewhere).  More letters are starting to arrive via Mini-Poste (5 so far) so I guess some of you are reading this website and havent forgotten about me yet J  Random question how do you keep leather sandals and hiking boots from growing mildew in a moist climate?  Its just growing on them by leaving them on the floor in my room.  Since I dont know if Ill get to email more than once a month, Ill try keeping more frequent update notes at home and will copy them in all at once next time Im in Atakpame.  Hopefully this will start making more sense and be a little less all over the place.  Im never quite sure what to tell you all about.  If you have questions or just want me to write about anything specific leave a quick note in my guestbook I check that first before adding the new stories.  Oh, and Im hoping to get some photos up soon (thats soon on Togo-time).  Ill put a big note on the main page when I do so youll all know.  And one last notea few friends in letters have asked me to let them know what they can send me.  Ive put a list of small things that can be easily mailed with letters on the contact info page so click on the link for How to Contact Jen on the left of this page and see what you have around your house already or come across at the supermarket or while out and about if youd like to send anything to me.  Thanks a million for all the wonderful messages and letters your support is really helping to make this an incredible experience for me. A bientôt..

 

Monday, September 16, 2002  I just typed this whole thing and it was eaten by the computer here and now I dont have much time left to rewrite everything.  Heres the short choppy version of what I said originally Im in Atakpame, the regional capital by my post, for the past wkend with other local PCVs.  Just spent 2 wks in Kougnohou and things are going well.  Im getting house repairs done, am ordering more furniture to be made, have gotten to know lots of new names and am getting settled in in general.  Ive visited Badou, the large town west about an hour away to see Elisha (another volunteer) and met the Prefet (local govt official).  Ive also gone with my host mom to a market day in a nearby village, Djon.  Those of  you whove read or signed my guest book may know that Ive gotten in touch with Peter, via email, whos a former PCV in Kougnohou and had married a member of the extended family whose house I rent.  Hes also in Seattle right now, small world, eh?  Im relatively healthy, aside from the mysterious 102 degree fever I had the day I got into Atakpame that ran its course in less than 24hrs.  Life is surreal here at times, I can see how much Ive adapted to and am starting to imagine how bizzare returning to the US will be in 2 yrs.  Of course 16 people fit into a 9 passenger van, why didnt I think so before now?  An indoor, cold, running water shower is a luxurious thing.   Bleach is an essential item for food preperations.   Military checkpoints every  10 minutes down the road is not something to be concerned with.  Nothing is thrown away, its ALL reused by someone for something cut an old gas can in half the long way and open it up and you can use it to bake bread.  Those old school notebooks, well the pages can be ripped out and used to wrap individual pieces of street vendor food.  Ive got a million more things to say, but no more time left today.  I hope you guys write to me some more soon!!  Miss you!!

Tuesday, August 27, 2002  Lomé did not seem this wonderful when I first got here, but is just terrific now after two months in Kpalime.  I have been here since the weekend and yesterday signed the papers that officially designate me as a Peace Corps Volunteer and allowed the bureau to give me my settling-in allowance even though the ceremony is on Thursday.  We've all be madly dashing around town to the "yovo" supermarchés and spending money for household supplies.  This trickiest purchase has been by far my mattress.  Three hours in the 'mattress district' yesterday and we left with nothing but a headache.  Everyone wants your business and swears up and down that they can get you what you're asking for, just follow them down the block to the room they keep the other mattresses in, or to their friend's shop, etc.  Then you get there and they have almost what you asked for, but it is the wrong material or size or they say they can have the right one here for you in 3 days.  Finally we found the kind of mattress we were on a quest for (a double size mattress with springs), but they wanted to charge 160,000cfa when we were looking to pay 60,000cfa!!  Back at the hostel we compared notes with another group who'd gone out in the other Peace Corps van with the other driver and who had more success.  So today, in a matter of 30 minutes we went to their vendor just outside of the main part of Lomé and purchased hard foam mattresses for 45,000cfa.  The hardest part of shopping here in Togo hasn't been knowing what you want or being able to afford it, its just been finding someone that sells it.  I had a wonderful time yesterday afternoon at Ramco, the supermarché that sells all sorts of incredible non-perishable stuff (trust me, to me this stuff is just heaven right now) such as chick peas, cans of spinach, tuna fish, olive oil, spices, soy sauce, good solid chopping knife, ceramic coffee mug, oatmeal, shampoo and conditioner, and aluminum foil and a box Kleenex - all things I'm seeing this week for the first time since I got to Togo.  Most of this was super expensive, but I figured I'd buy it just this once and have a good stock to start off with and rely on more local goods from now on.  The day I arrive in Kougnohou (Friday) is the marché day so I'll be able to buy my fresh produce there when I arrive.  After that, the only fresh produce I can get during the week (that I like) are tomatoes and onions.  I probably will head into Atakpame after 2 weeks in Kougnohou to hit the bank and check for my mail at the maison de passage.  I hope my bed is ready when I get to Kougnohou.  You can't count on anything here.  Peace Corps directly deposits our quarterly salaries into our bank accts.  We were told that the money was there already.  Nope, just isn't there for some reason.  They're working on getting in touch with the banks to straighten it out.  We all need to withdraw money to take to post with us to pay the remaining balances on our ordered furniture and pay for basics for the first few weeks til we'd head into larger towns again.  It all works out in the end, so I'm not too worried.  I bought a beautiful folding chair in Kpalime that has fabric suspended so it's like you're in a hammock, so if my bed isn't ready I can sleep there or on my mat for a night and just sit at the carpenters during the day and watch them work on it until they finish.  I don't really think this will happen, but it's not impossible.  No mail yet this week, but they said they'll be checking the post office box before we leave so I'm hoping to get some letters.  I've sent some responses out in the mail this week to folks I just heard from.  Thank you thank you thank you thank you for writing!!    Two years.....  I can't figure out this week if I feel like that's a long time or not enough time.  I am starting to get a bit homesick and in those moments it feels very long and Togo seems like an entire universe away from my life back home.  Then I have moments when I think there is no way I'll be able to learn to do the things I want to learn or do the type of work I want to do in just two years. Am I really going to be 'fluent' in French?  How on earth will I manage to understand anything of Ewé or Akébou?  Will I be able to grow vegetables successfully in my garden?  Will I figure out how to regularly maintain my bike properly and get used to riding up and down unpaved mountain roads?  I know the improbable is definately possible.  I now wake up on my own before 7am every morning, if not before 6am.  I hardly hesitate to smash spiders (still working on my courage against the roaches).  I get by every day communicating in French and am usually understood and can understand what I'm being told for the most part.  I can (sorta) do my laundry by hand. I know that I'm about to start another adventure this weekend as I move to Kougnohou and that it will be as entirely different from training and living with my host family as that has been from living in Seattle this past year.  Wish me luck in the taxi brousse!

Wednesday, August 21  Only 2 more days left of training and then we go to Lomé to do some paperwork, shopping and get sworn in on Aug 29th as official Peace Corps Volunteers.  I'm really going to miss my host family, and they've been telling me things like I should cut myself in half and leave half here in Kpalime with them.  It's nice to know I can come and visit since they're not that far from my post assignment (relatively speaking).  I wanted to make some American food for them before I left and found some cinnamon in Lomé during a field trip and made french toast this past Sunday which went over really well.  It's known as pain perdu en français.  I am going to make one more thing tomorrow for my last dinner here - matzoh ball soup!!  I mentioned it in passing to another Jewish volunteer who's about finished with her 2 years and Debbie sent me a box of soup and matzoh ball mix :)  Not sure what they'll think of this!  Ok, I have my list of random stuff with me once again and I'm going to try to add the things I left off last time about my visit to Kougnohou...  the 25franc fine I mentioned for being late to the groupement meetings, well, I didn't finish the thought.  The very next day they were all about 2 hrs late for the lunch they decided to have together to welcome me!  C'est Togo!  I also got first hand experience in the bush taxis.  My closest neighboring PCV came to see me the second day in Kougnohou.  She ended up staying over that night because her taxi didn't leave before dark and we're not allowed to travel at night - pretty dangerous going speeding down mountain roads when half the other drivers don't have lights on their motos or cars or might have been drinking, not to mention the enormous potholes.  At the end of the week I took a bush taxi myself.  They cram about 20-25 people into a 15 passenger van and load the top rack up with luggage and supplies that were just purchased so the van is twice its normal height.  In the process of finding enough passengers, you wait.  And wait.  And wait some more. Then they're all of a sudden in a mad rush to leave!  I got to sit up front so I wasn't too squished - just the driver, another man, me and a small 9yr old girl sharing the driver's seat with him.  I stayed one night in Atakpame, the closest main town where the PCVs rent a house for when you're traveling or come into town for banking or internet or to get away from post for a bit to see other Americans.  It reminded me a lot of the co-op I lived in at Univ Michigan.  The next day we rented a taxi to ourselves as there were 6 of us heading to Kpalime.  We rented a 10 seater and paid for all the seats so we'd have a little elbow room...or so we thought.  Just over halfway there we start seeing smoke inside the van from the engine.  It just got worse from there with odd noises coming every time the driver tried to shift gears.  After a particularly horrible noise, we stopped and in looking under the van found a major unfixable problem.  Luckily there are only a few roads in Togo so you get passed by other taxis all the time and the drivers know each other since they all have assigned routes between major points.  Two cars stopped and the two passengers from one climbed into the other, already full car, and the 6 of us and the car's driver got into the 2nd car and we continued on our way. Considering the possibilities, this whole process only took 15 minutes, so I'm considering myself lucky!  One last story and I'm off to one of my last classes for training....opening my bank acct.  I attempted to do this on my own in Atakpame and luckily ran into my homologue, Olanlo in the bank.  Had he not been there, I'd still be bank account-less.  The PC staff told us to hang onto about 3-5,000cfa to open our accounts. I try to do this with 10,000 and he lets me know that that particular bank requires 50,000!!  Olanlo got us into the director's office and he agreed to let me open mine for 25,000....which I didn't have. I happened to have about 40US on me so I tried to exchange it, but BTD doesn't exchange money, I should go to UTB down the block.  So, off we go to UTB....they tell me that they only exchange 50s, not 20s, but around the corner is another place that does.  Again, we head to the next place.  Evenutally I'm back at BTD with my 25,000.  Now the paperwork begins...I had my 2 required photos that PC knew to give me...what was that?  3 photos? You need 3 photos? But I only have 2.  And a copy of my passport?  I don't have that with me either.  More discussions and after promising to return next time with the third photo and copy of my passport, I get my account passbook.  By the way, this is pretty normal I'm later told for dealing with Togolese banks. Yes, there are rules, they even may be written down, but you can bargain with everything here, not just at the markets!   Will try to add one more update from Lomé before the end of the month and after that expect less frequent updates from me.  Thanks for all the mail I've been receiving, I'm especially going to need it once I get to Kougnohou!

Tuesday, Aug 13th, 2002   Just spent a week in Kougnohou and all I can say is j'aime beaucoup chez moi!  It feels very real now.  Finally got to be on my own schedule rather than at class every day at the same times.  And, best of all, I got to cook!  Didn't finish my 3 cans of tomato paste til the end of the week so the dutch oven baking experiment was put on hold til I get back.  Where to begin....?   My house is nice, a little small, but I may move next door in 6 months when the NGO there finishes up their project and leaves for the next region they'll be working in.  I had some difficulty understanding the logistics involved in hooking up the electic to my place, but I think its pretty simple to run a line from my host family's house down the way.  Regardless, it would only work from 6pm til midnight each day anyway.  I'm getting used to the lack of indoor plumbing and showing outside (sometimes in the rain).  Definately need to get a chamber pot though for the middle of the night and torrential downpours - this is something that most other PCVs I've met have agreed is essential!  I am actually killing my own HUGE bugs for the first time in my life, wonders will never cease.  My latrine needs some major insecticide though.  And some air freshener stick-ems or those pinetree shaped car fresheners :)  I have ordered a bed and kitchen counter/table.  Everything is made from scratch here - if you can draw it or describe it you can have it made.  Got my first taste of true 'Togo Time' at the groupement meeting I sat in on.  Most folks showed up after an hour and a half, but I was so impressed when they made a rule instituting a fine of 25f if you're late next time.  Then they organized a lunch for me with them the next day.  I chose that moment to show off my one sentence I know in Ewé, "Nye me lo na fetri o."  This got laughs and also guaranteed that I wouldn't be served the okra sauce the next day :)  So, much more to tell you about, but I have 1 min left on my acct right now.  Will add the rest later this week!

Friday, 2 août  Today we met our homologues and tomorrow at 6am I'm getting picked up to head off to Kougnohou for a week.  I went to the marché today and yesterday to buy some basic food supplies as I found out that marché day in Kougnohou is today and I'd be there a week without lots of fresh veggies if I didn't buy them here before leaving.  Shopping in the marché is nothing like shopping in a supermarket or even a farmer's market.  If you go alone, you feel like everyone trying to give you a bad price, you're being called at from all directions, and you don't know where to go to buy which items.  If you take a friend, they want to go to different vendors for each specific thing when most things seem to me to have the same price everywhere.  Regardless of what you do, its tiring.  Today went better for me than yesterday because I went alone, returned to a vendor who I know, my list was much smaller and didn't include items that were sold by so many different people.  My most challenging item to find on my list was a can opener which really surprised me.  Folks here just use a knife to poke holes in and take off the lids to metal cans.  I bought another batik pagne today that I'm going to take to have a dress made when I get back in a week. I just picked up a dress yesterday that came out really great!  Still working on getting some pants done right.  If I bring them clothes I already have or photos/catalog pics they can copy stuff very easily.  (If you see any summer dresses, skirts, shirts, etc in a catalog, mail me some pages pls!)  I am very glad to be leaving in the morning to get to my new home.  I think the other trainees and I are working on our last nerves and people have begun to snap at each other more frequently which is not fun to be around.  My counterparts seem nice, one more so than the other.  Emma is a local merchant who heads up a women's savings group in her neighborhood.  Monsieur Yovo does something with an NGO that seems to be all over the place and I didn't really understand much of what he was expecting of me.  He did try to get me to lead an accounting session this week for their NGO's annual meeting of 200-250 people who will be in town.  Ummm.....right, maybe next year's meeting.  This week is for setting up our homes, meeting the local authorities, ordering furniture, opening a bank acct, and getting to know our neighborhood a bit. I noticed something funny today while running errands.  Its a little cooler this week and more rainy than it's been (pretty much like Seattle rainy days in May or June) and a bunch of folks were riding around on motos wearing US winter coats and hats!  Its still over 70 degrees though!  Oh, one quick random question to everyone... I have some host family members who are interested in some French-speaking pen pals via email or snail mail.  They're teenagers, but I think would like to correspond with any age.  Email me if you're interested...thanks!  And one quick riddle for you before I head offline for the night -
which one of the following doesn't belong?  
rain storm at dusk
muddy dirt roads
goats
Jen on her bike

Saturday, July 27  Ok, at the wise old age of 27 I'm officially now in my 'late-20s' and out of the 'mid-20s'.  Thanks to all for the bday wishes - and I even got 3 more letters yesterday, too!  Random thoughts for the day:  I think I still get 4-5 new mosquito bites every day.  I've started thinking a little in "franglais".  Found out that my nouvelle maison has 2 rooms, lots of outdoor space, PC could consider paying for home improvements such as a screened-in porch or kitchenette but that electricity is not necessarily essential even if it is available.  My 2 counterparts' last names are "Yovo".  Last wkend I visited the Benedictine monestary and bought some honey, mango jam and COFFEE!! I found out that my town's name is an Ewé word (Kougnohou) that literally means "better dead than"...the question remains...better than what?  I'm being told that its a pretty town in the mountains.  Got to run for today - I'm meeting another volunteer from a nearby town at my host family's house.  It was her bday theday before mine and she coincidentally had the same host family last year.  We're going to the nearby hotel to go swimming and then out dancing with some of our host siblings tonight.

Wednesday, July 24, 2002  I just realized that my last story didn't make it online, but it should be up right below this one now.  So my biggest news is that the mailman finally came through!!  I got 3 letters Monday and 6 more today!!  I'm working on replying and now that I got my allowance I have money again to buy stamps.  We're gearing up for our site visits to our post towns. We priced out furniture and learned the various types of wood and names for particular items this week.  Funny, I had to come all the way to Togo to get my first new furniture.  I am about to change my way of taking my malaria meds - right now I feel like I have a case of PMS x 10 for two days after I take a pill every week.  I am going to maybe give it one more week to see if I acclimate and if not I'm going to break the pill in half (the medical office said we could do this as the reaction is pretty common).  Otherwise medically I'm doing ok. My brother and sister have had malaria this month which doesn't look like fun.  Oh, I did have one problem this week - je suis tombé de mon velo samedi nuit...dur!  Yeah, that bike helmet is a good idea when you live in a country with dirt roads that get washed out after a rain and minimal street lighting if any at all.  My scrape on my arm is healing pretty well and I discovered all sorts of wonderful things in my medical box like hibiclens, gauze, double antibacterial ointment, and an assortment of sizes and shapes of bandaids.  I had a great conversation this past weekend with my mom, dad and brother who were all together in my folk's new house in Vegas (my parents are retiring and moving there next year - a bit of culture shock waiting for me after 2 years here).  I'm starting to consider a trip next year to Paris, so let me know if you think you might be heading off to Europe next summer.  Have I told you guys about the "yovo song" yet?  Yovo basically means stranger here.  Mostly we hear it from the kids, but occassionally the adults as we ride our bikes or walk around. The kids though have a song they chant almost everytime we're spotted, "Yovo, yovo, bonjour, ça va bien, merci" (which changes to bon soir in the afternoons and evenings).  I can't really explain the phenomenom or how its impossibly to stop and can get annoying very frequently.  The closest thing we have in the US is probably young kids on a school bus screaming frantically at truck drivers to blow their horns or get someone in a car to wave back at them.  I've got to run home for dinner now before my maman gets worried where I am.  I'll try to write again this weekend or during next week.  (does anyone know if the auto-notification thing works when I make an update? my brother and parents told me it didn't for them)

Friday, July 19, 2002  Ok, I believe you guys that mail is on the way - we're all starting to disbelieve our training director that mail is just not arrivingin Lomé for us yet.  When it starts getting here, I'm expecting a steady flow from the comments I've seen via email and in my guestbook on this site...thanks!  Last time I was online I couldn't get this website to come up for editing, so I kept little notes of things I wanted to tell you about.  Most interesting of all, I got some more details on my post assignment.  I am now justified for bringing all the things I was teased about for buying!!  I will not have running water, I hear that it's actually a bit of a ways from my house to get water so I'll be subsidizing a local neighbor to help me out with bringing buckets to my home each day.  In case you didn't realize it, no running water means no shower (in the American sense) and no toilet.  But I did hear that I should have electricity most evenings...after I get it hooked up during my post visit in another 2 weeks.  I'm actually pretty happy with my site assignment.  I will know more, of course, when I meet my 2 counterparts (homologues) and get to my town (which I hear now is really more the size of a village than a town), but I think I got a site with more general NGO work versus such an emphasis on savings and loan NGOs (that's non-governmental organizations).  I know I'll definately be doing work with microfinance in some way, but I'm glad that I have other options waiting for me, too.  And, I hear that Koungouhou was affected by the drop in coffee prices which means....they sell coffee there!! Whoo-hoo!!  I start my Ewé lessons next week and after I get to Koungouhou I will find a tutor to help me continue learning and also to continue my progress with French.  This week for training included a nutrition class and we got to cook a little bit of Peace Corps Togo food for a change from traditional Togolese food.  I also now have my Togo PC Cookbook, "Where There is No Whopper" which I can't wait to start trying out.  I think the most important thing I learned was how to use a "dutch oven" pot actually as an oven!  I miss cooking for myself, but I know I'll miss my host family when I leave.  Oh, today I was a bit upset after I came home from class for lunch.  A friend's baby was in the house and took one look at me and burst into hysterics - he was terrified of me, I'm the first "yovo" he's ever seen. I was really sad that I couldn't get him to even look at me from across the next room without bursting out into tears again.  I'm off to French class now, today we meet at a buvette (outdoor bar) to practice talking with some students in a high school group that our instructors know from before.  The buvettes here are fun, the beer's actually pretty good and there are several options including a dark beer which I like, called Awouhyou.  You're also allowed to BYOFood to the buvettes as rarely they sell food - sorta the opposite of restaurants in the US without liquor licenses.  I'm updating some info on my "how to contact Jen" page, too before I head out today.....  a tout à l'heure!

Friday 7-5-02  I got my post assignment this week!! I'm going to be in a town called Kounghiou - however it's spelled.  I am going to have to learn another language as soon as I finish French which they say should be in another few weeks - ha!  I'm glad that the locally spoken language in my post town is Ewé which is also spoken here in Kpalimé and by my host family so I'll have lots of opportunity to practice before I head out.  I'm pretty excited about my post. I will be the first volunteer there to do small business development so I won't be filling anyone's shoes who is leaving right before I get there.  And I hear that that's a region where they grow coffee and cacao - just one problem....no processing plants. I hear that a monestary not too far away roasts small amts of coffee so I should be able to get some there!  Yeah!  I'm already sick of Nescafé.   For the fourth of July a group of us went up to Tomegbe for a barbeque with the other half of our training group.  We had a great time and cooked up a storm.  There's a PC Togo cookbook that we'll all get a copy of before leaving for post that we took a sneak peak at to help us out with a few things like making barbeque sauce and tortillas.  It was compiled over the years by volunteers and has the appropriate name of "Where There is No Whopper" - a spoof off of the book title "Where There is No Doctor" which is a real book that many health care givers use in parts of the world where there aren't primary care facilities readily accessable.  After coming out of our food comas, we got a game of volleyball going and had lots of local kids as our eager helpers to retreive the ball for us each time we lost it in the bushes with the prickly thorns.  A group of us are going to go out dancing tomorrow night at the night club at Hotel Cristal which is up the block from where a lot of our families live.  Should be fun - our first dance outing so far.  It's getting dark and the roads at night are a little "interesting" to navigate so I'm going to head out now.  Hope to get some mail soon from you all. I started sending some letters out, too.

Monday, July 1, 2002  I've been a little frustrated at the other internet place where I opened an acct.  Today was the third day I went and their internet connection was down. And the last time it was too slow to get anything done.  Today I'm at the other place which is much better.  I've been keeping a little list of things I wanted to write here so I'm sure today's story will be in no order whatsoever (not much unlike all the others!).....  I got my first letter last week - thanks, Josh!!  It took 9 days to get here which is way better than I'd anticipated.  I tried my first bite of goat at dinner the other night. It was actually pretty good, and I'd given up the idea of a pet goat anyway.  I've been served a bunch of sauces with pieces of lamb in it this past week.  The first week was mostly chicken.  My family has 2 puppies whom I'm befriending.  I don't think that dogs or people here are used to being animals to play with.  I had to show my little brother how to pet the puppy, he was a bit scared even though the dogs cowered in front of people as they get close to them.  I think that brother and another are leaving at the end of this week to go back home. They were just staying with my family (they are cousins) for the school year to go to school here. Now its summer vacation.  And there are two other brothers coming back home who have been in Lome at university til now so there will still be 13 of us here in the house.  I've taught my siblings how to play Uno which has been a big hit.  I think I amazed them by just shuffling the cards back and forth very fast the first night.  I found some news stations on my shortwave radio this past week.  I've heard a little about Xerox being the new Enron, conflicts in Israel and between North and South Korea, and a little about events in West Africa.  When you write to me (which I know you're about to do as soon as you finish reading this!) could you clip a few news articles and send them, too?  I'm not feeling like I'm getting much info most days.  Thanks!  I did find a French station and my father and sister told me that Togo's Prime Minister just "stepped down".  I asked why and he said that in the interview the PM called the President a despot.  I'm not sure if he said that before or after he stepped down.  That night the news (on the gov't-run channel) had the lead story of "the 18th anniversary of the President's mother's funeral".  This story got 55 mins of airtime.  At the end for 2 mins they introduced the new PM but never said what happened to the old one.  And we complain about the US local news!  Other new stuff....I got some more shots for rabies and Hepatitis B.   Chlorinated water isn't tasting so bad anymore, I'm kinda used to the swimming pool taste now, although I did ask my mom for some Lipton tea bags so I can make some iced tea.  I've been able to wear my contacts most every day which I didn't expect.  It's the rainy season so its not so dusty now.  I went to the marché on Sat and got my first two pagnes which are large pieces of cloth you can wear as a wrap around skirt, have made into clothes or use for all sorts of things like bedsheets. I'm using one as a towel and bathrobe and want to make pants out of the other.  I also got my first pair of flip flops - the footwear of choice here.  Yesterday 6 of us biked to Tomegbe, the village 14km away where the other half of our group is doing their training.  I didn't realize that Tomegbe was at the top of the 3000km tall mountain!  It took us 2hrs to get there and only 20mins on the way home.  Yeah, I'm a bit sore today.  But I'm really glad to have seen a village before today.  In a little bit when I go back to class, we're each meeting with our director for a short interview to determine our post and I didn't really understand what a village was like as compared to a small or large town.  In Tomegbe I bought some candies kinda like peanut brittle.  Later at home I realized that at 5francs each (bag of 20 for 100f) I spent about 15cents for the whole bag!  I think that's all for today, got to wrap up and get up to the training center on time today!!

Wednesday 6-26-02  I would like to just thank all you guys who are reading this for signing my guestbook and leaving me little notes.  I can't tell you how great it is to hear from you.  Things here are pretty intense in a strangly slow way.  My days are jam-packed with classes and meals and then I'm exhausted at the end and find myself ready to fall asleep before 9pm.  Yet at the same time, nothing moves fast here. Most businesses are closed at midday because of the intensity of the climate and I find myself even walking and riding my bike pretty slowly, too.  And yes, I even talk slower now since I have to communicate mostly in French with my family and during language class.  I found out today that I'll have my post assignment on July 3rd.  I think we're all a little ancy to find out where we'll be for two years.  Hmmm.....what else is new?  I saw a goat get hit by a car the other day - luckily neither were moving too fast and the goat just shook it off and got back up and walked away.  There are goats roaming all over the place here - I have no idea how they know whose are whose or if they even care. I haven't been served goat yet as a meal so I don't even think they eat them very often. They're only outnumbered by the chickens.  So far I've been introduced to fufu, pâte, and a variety of sauces.  I have eaten a peanut butter and banana sandwich for breakfast the past two days - taken it with me to class actually.  My mom here already knows that I'm not a morning person... "Jennifer, tu es enretard aujourd'hui."  Yup, some things will never change ; )  I'm getting more used to getting up at 6am each day though.   I don't spend much time outside, only to ride my bike to and from class and back and forth for lunch.  Even still I've already got a funky tan from my new sandals, but luckily no sunburns yet.  We've started figuring out the local "buvets" to visit for a "bière" after class and today we actually had class at a local restaurant that I hear is the place to go for ice cream.  We just got our bi-weekly allowance today so I'm now able to get some stamps and a few other little things.  Stamps for a US letter from here cost 500 Francs which is about the same as 80cents - the difference being that my allowance works out to about $1.75 each day so that 80cents is all of a sudden a big chunk of my salary! But I have my own money, too, if I run out because of too many stamps, so keep those letters coming please!  I don't think anyone's received any mail yet so its hard to know how long it will take to get here and back.  We're off to class again now - this afternoon is "cross-cultural training".  Yesterday we met the local "Prefet" which was pretty interesting and a bit amusing, too.  He was very proper and then before we left (all 25 of us) he made us say hello and goodbye in Ewé.  au revoir for today.....

Samedi, le 22 juin  I'm now in Kpalimé for training.  I am living with a host family for the next three months here. I have my own room with a lock on my door.  The house has electricity (it went out for an hour or two after the rain storm yesterday, but otherwise works), a tv and phone.  Running water is available from a spigot out back so I get to take bucket showers inside the bathroom by bringing in a bucket of water and using a small bowl to wet my hair and body after I wash up.  The unheated water here is not a bad thing - its not frigid cold like cold tap water in the US, and a welcome treat after a hot day or night.  My mama et papa are wonderful as are their kids and the cousins who live with us. I think there are about 7 kids in the house ranging from an adorable little sister, Lauda, who is 4 up to my oldest sister, Hola, who is an 18 year old university student on summer vacation.  So far I've been issued all sorts of things for training and my time at post:  first and foremost is my water filter and bottle of bleach to chlorinate it, a propane tank and stove top with 2 burners, a kerosine lantern, a bunch of manual and text books for French and safety and health, my medical kit with every over the counter drug you can find and a few others in case of other problems (haven't needed too much yet luckily).  I've started classes already.  We have to be at the training center Mon-Fri from 7.30am til noon and return after lunch at 1pm til 5pm.  Yes, the impossible has happened - I think I'm becoming a morning person!  Well, not really, but I now know the secret to getting someone to wake up early each day - put a rooster in the yard.  I find it very amusing that the family has a tv while I didn't this past year in Seattle, although there is but one channel.  The favorite show seems to be the Brazilian soap opera that's been dubbed in French.  We ventured to the marché today to look at the stalls and get an idea for what things cost.  The owner of the ice cream shop seems to be a friend of the Peace Corps and lets us leave our bikes in the back room while we shop.  I'm out of time today at this internet place, so I have to go for now.  If you're reading this and want to, drop me a note in my guestbook (its faster than my email acct here)! 

Tuesday 6/18/02  Ok... so I was overly optimistic about my mosquito bite reaction.  The swelling is going down now that I've started taking benadryl.  Two days ago we had a bit of free time so we went to the fetish market.  Not sure exactly how, but someone thought it wasn't too far and we could walk.  Getting there was fun, we walked along the beachfront and down roads that passed through areas with small shops and homes.  I had my first lesson in bargaining for the fetishes that I bought (one for general good luck, one for good sllep and good dreams, and one for safe traveling).  The owners of the stands took us into a small room to tell us about the magical properties of each and then after blessing each fetish to be empowered especially for each of us, we were taken one at a time into an adjoining room to pay.  They told me that mine cost 30,000 CFA.  Ha!  We were only given 16,500 for two weeks "walkaround allowance" so I knew that was obscenely high.  I got out only paying 3,000.  The walk home we took a different route.  We were being led by someone who works with our hostel who was very friendly and helpful and talked with us in French along the way.  Not sure why, but we chose not to take cabs home.  Togolese have a very different sense of time than Americans.  20 mins walk turned into an hour.  Another 10 mins further became another hour.  No bathrooms in sight, not much clean water to drink with us.  I felt fine, just a bit tired from what was determined later that evening to have been a 20km hike.  But yesterday morning I woke up feeling a little off.  Got up and dressed but as I took my first bite of breakfast I felt sick, then lightheaded, then a couple of minutes broke out into a sweat.  We were about to head to the medical unit for shots in a little bit anyway, so I drank some water and laid down for a few minutes.  I was a little worried since I seem to have gotten way more mosquito bites than anyone else, but turned out to just be dehydration.  It makes perfect sense now, but at the time I was a little scared:  I ended up sleeping most of the rest of yesterday after I took a couple of benadryl for my bites.  I feel great today though!  And I'm already on my 3rd liter of water and it's not even lunchtime yet ;)  We have a welcome reception this evening with our Country Director and some local officials.  Tomorrow we leave Lomé for Kpalimé and meet our host families.