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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Cadeau!

“I got gifted some really nice lettuce and cucumbers this morning!” Those actual words filled with excitement came out of my mouth Monday afternoon while talking to Virginia. She then stopped me laughing pointing out that never in the U.S. would I have uttered those words let alone with such excitement.  But now when it’s a bit of a challenge to find lettuce and cucumbers I get pretty excited just to find them, so you can only imagine my excitement to have been given some of the best quality I’ve yet to see for free by my neighbor who’s a retired gardener.  As I’ve already said several times since being here, the Togolese are just very generous and it still surprises me how much they give especially considering how little they have.  In the last week I’ve been gifted lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, an insane amount of green beans and peanuts, bananas, tofu, and a bible (in French). And of course on pretty much a daily basis I’m gifted Tchouck which is their local fermented drink made of millet, which is slowly creating an addiction (tastes like a fermented cider). And in addition to that my gardener neighbor has offered to plant any seeds that I buy out at his garden and he’ll bring me the veggies once they’re ready.  Says he’ll help me plant a small garden in my yard if I decide to do that as well.  He also gets rid of all the weeds that sprout up around my house which helps keep snakes away and just makes everything look nicer.  I find myself on a daily basis just trying to figure out what I can do to pay everyone back for all their help and cadeaux they give me.  I’m really just not sure what I can do yet but it does give me motivation to work as hard as I can to help as many people here as I can even though I know that given the state of Togo all I can really do is make a tiny difference in maybe a few people’s lives.  To really give these people what they need there needs to be some top level changes that we as volunteers just have no control over.  It’s actually really frustrating because I want so much for them after seeing their generosity on a day to day basis.  Well enough with that talk though, not much I can do but do my best and hope that one day those top level changes start taking place.  

Saturday, September 04, 2010

23/8/2010 - It’s raining!

It’s funny how you change your feelings towards things depending on the situation you find yourself in.  In San Francisco I hated the rain because it meant walking in it to get to and from the bus, waiting for the bus in the rain, then getting on a soaking wet bus with everyone either wet or getting you wet with their umbrellas.  Then upon reaching my destination it usually included having my umbrella flipped inside out which I’d be thankful that’s all that happened and it didn’t get torn apart or ripped out of my hands by the insane wind tunnels created by the buildings of downtown San Fran. In L.A. it was a matter of having to deal with drivers who have never seen rain and really aren’t quite sure what to do about it.  Paris was about the same story as San Fran minus the extreme winds. And well Houston, it was welcomed sometimes and not so welcomed other times. For it either meant flooding or was helping with the drought. Now I find myself in Togo and I find myself waking up everyday saying “man I hope it rains today”.  Here rain means it’ll actually be somewhat cool, the Togolese will tell you it’s cold and to put a jacket on, while to me it just means I actually won’t sweat while it’s raining or overcast.  Rain also means free water! I don’t have to worry about sending someone to the pump for me and paying them or paying for my water.  Not that either are really that expensive, it’s just easier when it just comes falling from the sky and involves no money at all (I have buckets that I collect rain water with and large 100 liter bins inside in which I store my water in case you’re wondering).  And to the lazy side of me it means a guilt free day where I can sit inside and do whatever I’d like not having to worry about going out in the town since no one does anything here when it rains.  They think I’m crazy if I even attempt going out in any sort of rain.  So inside I stay reading a book or napping! Of course there are the downsides to the rain here as well and I’m sure many times I will come to hate the rain.  The roads become horrible and many of them become impassable in which case you may not be getting to your destination.  The people do nothing when it rains, which again means you may not be getting to your destination if you’re trying to travel or may mean no one will show up to your meeting or your training.  And there is of course flooding here as well.  It’s just such a relief from the heat though that so far it’s hard to not love the rain!   


So today I went to church for the first time in my town of Pagouda.  I had attended church in TseviĆ© with my host family but they were Catholic so I was going to Catholic church.  In Pagouda there is actually a Baptist church so I went there this morning along with the Secretary of the CVD (The agency involved in community development that I will work with probably).  Apparently the Pastor is an American who has been here in Togo with his wife since 1986!  He lives in the regional capital of Kara with several other Baptist missionaries but he comes out to do the service at my town and every other Monday his wife apparently comes out and has a meeting with the women of the church.  He unfortunately didn’t make it out today and instead sent a Togolese man he works with to do the sermon, but I hope to meet him and his wife next time and attend one of his wife’s meetings to see what she talks about and if I can somehow highjack some time from the meeting once I start giving trainings and at least talk to these women about whatever I choose to discuss.  Why I put it like that is that it’s apparently very difficult to get Togolese to attend a meeting and to continue to attend any sessions volunteers put on.  So a suggestion from current volunteers is that if there are any set meetings that people are attending then try to see if you can get some time at that meeting to discuss what you want to discuss instead of trying to form a group/meeting on your own.  Anyway, we’ll see how it goes.  I just found it interesting that this American has been out here for so long.  Apparently he raised his children out here, sent one back to the U.S. for schooling who has since come back to work at another church somewhere near here.  He also apparently has his own private plane and is a pilot.  I must find my way on to this plane within the next two years! 
After church, having realized that I eat tons of soja/tofu, the Secretary took me directly to the house of one lady who makes soja so I could buy some for lunch since she hadn’t yet come out to the market to sell it.  So now I have one spot where I know I can go to look for my tofu.  There is a woman who makes it that lives very close to me.  Her house has been pointed out to me but I’m still not sure which one it is since it was off in the distance in a field with about 3 other houses when it was pointed out to me.  My goal this week is to find her house and work something out to get tofu from her daily or every other day so then I’ll have two spots for getting my tofu.  Next I’ll have to see about finding out who has eggs I can buy when needed.  So far I mostly get all my eggs from the next town over, Ketao, where my closest neighbor is. However, it’s either an hour bike ride to Ketao or a short taxi ride that costs a little over $1 round trip, which doesn’t sound like much but that adds up and could feed me for a day or even more.  I did get an egg carrier though so I can stock up on the eggs when I am in Ketao.  Ketao also has the good chicken eggs, so far in my town I’ve only found guinea fowl eggs which are smaller and the shells are super tough (I have to use a knife to even attempt to crack it!) and they’re almost all yolk.  But I’m thinking it might still be good to know who sells them and where they live so if I don’t make it to Ketao one week then I can still get some eggs.  
I wasn’t feeling so great today and hadn’t sleep well during the night since my stomach was hurting so much, so after all that I just returned home and napped for quite a while (feeling mostly back to normal by night and thinking I was just dehydrated. Staying hydrated here is just really tough and I’ve been slacking off on my water drinking lately and did a lot of physical activity this last weekend). Later in the day I started shelling some fresh peanuts Katie gave me on Friday and then made my first attempt at roasting my own peanuts on the stove.  It took quite a while shelling what I did and I didn’t even finish, but I guess this is what you do when you don’t have a T.V and you have nothing but time on your hands!  I think they turned out pretty good too.  I think I should have let them dry a little before putting them on the stove so maybe I’ll try that with the remaining peanuts later this week and see if they turn out any differently.  But what I have is still pretty tasty and it was a fun little project for the afternoon.  
I also talked to someone today about being my Kabye instructor.  I’m thinking I’ll start that up in September and really force myself to make the effort to learn Kaybe.  I’ve been a bit of a brat about it and not studying it on my own nor trying to use what I do know.  It’s just so weird to me that their official language is French and yet many don’t speak it, or speak it well at least, and they speak local language instead.  So you have this tiny country that has 61 local languages! Which means lots of people within this country cannot communicate with each other if they go somewhere that doesn’t speak their language and they don’t speak French well enough.  Granted they don’t travel within their country much so it isn’t a problem for those that don’t speak French usually. I’m a firm believer in language being a huge part of ones culture, but I wish there was more of an effort to speak more French to really unite the country better. I’ve also just been a brat about it because they will just talk to me in Kabye knowing I don’t speak it yet and never translating anything but just saying it over and over in Kabye like I’m actually going to learn it that way.  Then they just seem shocked when I forget something that they taught me the previous day but that was only mentioned once and never written down for me.  Not to mention that someone tries to teach me a ton every day and there’s just no way I’m going to remember it all.  Then they just try to tell me that it’s easy and I’ll learn it super fast. When I try to explain to them that it’s not easy since it’s in no way related to my maternal language nor to French and the sounds are all very new and difficult for me to form and the fact that it’s tonal based and I have a really hard time hearing the tones, they still tell me it’s easy and don’t seem to understand just how hard it is to learn another language. They all think that within a few weeks I’ll be speaking like a native. I think I’m just frustrated by the constant pressure to learn their language that I get from several people daily.  Considering I already learned one language that would enable me to speak to them here it frustrates me that they demand that I learn yet another in order to communicate with one culture group of Togo and don’t seem appreciative that I at least speak French.  But I will make the effort, I just need to get over my frustrations with the pressure.  It’s just a little overwhelming at first since it is so different from any other language I’ve ever spoken or studied.  And knowing that outside of Togo it’s a completely useless language removes some of the motivation as well.  But the current volunteers all say you can do so much more work here by knowing how to speak the local language so that at least gives me some motivation.  I’m at least at an advantage where I don’t need French tutoring but can go right to local language.  Peace Corps will reimburse us for tutoring costs, but many volunteers use that for French tutoring since many come in with either no or very little French.  So at least I can use my money to go towards local language right away and hopefully get a pretty decent level of local language within my first year.  On verra!