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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
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 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. 

Sunday 6/16/02  I'm in Togo!!!  There are 21 people in my group and everyone is great.  We had a very long flight, changing in Paris from JFK, then a short layover in Lagos, Nigeria before arriving in Lomé.  Before we left, we had a day in Phily for an orientation called staging.  The first thing we were told was to be sure to write home often ;)  We're staying at a very nice hostel in Lomé called Chez Mamy until the 19th. Then we head off to Kpalimé to start training.  I've discovered that I'm nowhere near as allergic to the mosquitos as I was afraid I'd be and haven't had any weird dreams from the malaria meds yet either.  It's pretty humid, but tolerable.  We have ceiling fans in our rooms at Mamy's and mosquito nets for our beds - it reminds me of the canopy bed a friend had when I was little.  Being here is a bit surreal...feels like summer camp (is everyone in the group here? don't forget to be downstairs for breakfast at 7...)  We get a bunch of shots over the next few days. I can't wait to meet my host family.  We went to pick out our bike size this morning and will get them in Kpalimé on Wed.  Half my group is doing Small Business Development and the other half will be doing something environmental.  There are 3 others in the midst of their Masters, so I won't be the only one working on a degree project next year.  We were greeted by current volunteers and our director last night.  Then went out for a welcome beer with the PCVs....then collapsed exhausted into bed.  Locals are pretty happy that Senegal won their game this morning.  Not too many computers here so I'll go now and write more in a few days from Kpalimé.

Thursday 6/13/02 I've officially completed staging. I'm leaving Phily for Togo tomorrow! I'm visiting a Michigan friend, Josh, who lives here right now. And yes, I've managed to unexplicably crash one last computer before I leave ;) I just met the other 20 PCTs (Peace Corps Trainees) that I'll be with for the next 2+ years and they're a great group. The male/female ratio is just slightly higher than at the Evans school (maybe 6 guys out of 21). Had my last NY bagel for breakfast this morning. And went out to dinner to Panang tonight, a great Malaysian restaurant I've eaten at in Manhattan once before. I think it's finally sinking in that I'm really leaving. 7:15am we're out the door of the hotel and off to get vaccinations and then we head to the airport a couple of hours later. Sounds like we should expect a big welcome group of current PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers) and staff and local Togolese who are involved with the training we're about to start. Write to me soon!!

Tuesday 6/11/02  I'm just finishing my whirlwind tour of Newark.  Going to Phily tomorrow.  It was hard to say goodbye to so many people this past week and a half, especially my friends' kids who are going to grow up so much in the next 2 1/2 years while I'm gone.  Kids can be so cute... 4-yr old Katelynn wants to come to visit me in Africa and even told me, "I'm not afraid of shots" when I was trying to explain to her why she really couldn't come to see me in my new home.  I'm looking forward to seeing photos of them getting bigger while I'm away.  Wonder who'll have new babies while I'm gone?!?!  Oh, and of course, I couldn't leave without crashing one more computer (sorry, Tom!) ...luckily it's up and running again :)

Sunday 6/9/02  I just want to say how great it was for so many of my family to come to visit last night.  I am so glad that I got to spend time with everyone before I leave.  It really means a lot to me that folks drove in from Virginia, NJ and upstate to say goodbye.  I can't wait to get the film developed so I'll have photos of everyone to take with me to Togo. (Although, I'm sure I'd never be able to accurately descibe one of our family gatherings to anyone who hasn't experienced it firsthand! Col, you may be the only brave one out there!)

Friday 6/7/01  I'm back on Long Island and have less than a week til I leave.  I've managed to see a bunch of good friends and have the family gathering tomorrow before I run back to Newark for a quick visit.  On my trip back from Seattle, they decided I was "random" and searched every single thing I'd brought home. (For those of you who've seen my luggage, you know what this means!)  I have managed to acquire more stuff to take with me since I've gotten home than I could possibly pack into 2 bags totaling less than 80lbs, so I'm about to rethink what I'm actually going to bring.  ("need to have" vs "nice to have")

Wed 5/29/02  I have two more days to finish up all my assignments, pack, and spend time with friends in Seattle.  I'm off on Monday morning, back to what people insist on telling me is called "Lawn Gisland" and the even more popular "Nork" for a brief visit.  Two weeks til I leave for Togo!!

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