mercredi 26 septembre 2007

Post Descriptions and Coup Coups


We are now on our third week here in Togo. Stage continues to go
pretty well despite us all being a bit sick and a bit tired. We have
spent a lot of the last week in French and Ewe class and technique
class (which we have mostly been focusing on HIV/AIDS).

On the one afternoon we had off one of my fellow trainees decided to
give us a jujitsu lesson as she is an instructor back in the U.S.
About five trainees and three Togolese guys walked over to the college
(middle school) and had our first lesson out on the football field. I
think it was a pretty entertaining for the kids playing in the school
ground. After an hour we had about 30 people watching us including
mothers with children and teenagers. I really think that Shannon (the
Jujitsu instructor) should start a club in her village. I was pretty
bad at flipping people over with my hips, but I did enjoy watching her
take on all the Togolese men and often beating them! I think the
Togolese women also found it pretty empowering!

On Thursday we got the region and post descriptions. Most of the
posts are in pretty rural villages working with the dispensaries.
Because I have an MSc, I have a choice of three posts, all is regional
or prefectoral capitals. The posts are in Vogan (about an hour from
Lome), Notsi (about 2 hours from Lome) and Dapoung (which is the
northern regional capital – about 12 hours from Lome). I think I am
most interested in the Dapoung post which is working with the Red
Cross on HIV/AIDS, monitoring and evaluation and nutrition. I will
let you know where I end up next week. Dapoung is only about 6 hours
from Ouaga Dougu (sp??), so it really isn't in the middle of nowhere
and apparently there are yummy watermelons there.

Yesterday we went to the college again to learn about the different
schooling levels and to organize a practice "health club." Even
though school is out for vacation, about 50 kids showed up for our
visit. Most of them had come from the fields so all had "coup coups"
(machetes) in hand. It was a bit intimidating to have 50 kids with
huge knives watching us, but they all seemed pretty chilled out. We
have our first health club meeting next Sunday, so hopefully that goes

Today we had our first bike repair session. I had a fun time learning
how to change and patch my tires. I was surprised by how easy it is
and how well I did it my first time. I got new tires for my bike
because the pervious user had obviously biked a lot and they were
pretty worn out.

Next week we have some exciting plans including climbing up Mt. Agou,
having a 4th of July party (which includes some of the volunteers
learning how to slaughter chickens) and having a fashion show of
American and Togolese clothes with our host families.

Thanks for all the e mails!

Yaga Dogo (goodbye in Ewe),

Journey to Agou

Ndor (hi in Ewe) Everyone,
Thanks again for all your messages! It is great to hear news from abroad. Life continues to go well in Togo. Thus far I have yet to have any kind of sicknesses (knock on wood), so long may that continue.
As disorganized and bureaucratic the Peace Corps was to get into, it is amazingly organized in country. EVERYTHING is taken care of! We left Lome last Wednesday and arrived in Agou with a huge reception from the village with music and dancing. It really was an amazing sight! Our training village has between 4000-7000 people (people seem a bit unsure). It is at the base of Mt. Agou. It is really a lovely area of Togo. We are all living in host families. I asked for a calm host family and really got what I asked for! I live with a single woman in her 30s who makes cakes and cookies that she sells in Lome, Kpalime and the village. She is really nice and very very concerned about my safety and comfort (the first night she even told me to go put on trousers and socks so I would not get bitten by mosquitoes). All the Peace Corps host families have to be inspected multiple times. The Peace Corps requires that we have mosquito screens on all the windows and doors. This is great for a bug free area and makes for ease of finding all the other Peace Corps rooms as they are decked out with brand new mosquito screens. It has seemed like Christmas everyday as we were given huge water filters, new gas stoves, gas, new lanterns, mountain bikes, new helmets, locks, lights for the bike, repair kit, saddle bags, toe clips, bleach, mosquito nets, French books, dictionaries, health binders, and flip charts to give presentations about HIV, nutrition and sanitation. They really have this staging down to a fine art! Our host families have meetings every week to discuss having a volunteer staying. The trainers also live in the village and our safety and comfort are top priorities for them. We have a very strong Togolese woman who is the P.C.V. coordinator.
to the village, the village has a main road (which I live on) that has a few shops and houses. The road is paved but all the other roads are this amazingly red mud. I think most of the population lives out in the surrounding areas. We have ventured off a bit into the other areas but are usually told not to go too far. Yesterday we went to the market for the first time (all 35 of us!). It was an interesting experience. The people were not really in your face at all, just pretty curious about why we were all there. We eventually decided it was way to hot for walking around, so took over the only bar in the area. I am very fond of a drink called "sport actif" which tastes like diluted grapefruit juice WITHOUT added sugar - it is very tasty and refreshing.
The area around the village is mostly trees and mais fields. My house is rooms around a courtyard. My shower area doesn't have a roof, so I get to bathe looking up at the mountain and trees - a very nice setting. If I look the other direction it is the main street and I can almost see over the top of the shower wall, so I prefer looking up at the mountains.
We have been divided into health and business volunteers in two different villages. Yesterday was the first time we met back up again. We had a good time recounting various stories. I think the funniest one was this one from a guy who doesn't speak any french - his family had given him some maïs (corn in french) and he thought that they were saying "mice" so he sad NO THANKS pretty firmly thinking that they were trying to feed him rodents.
The training days are pretty packed - 7:30 until 12:00 and 2:30 until 5:30 and then homework afterwards. Today is our first half day off since we arrived at staging. We all decided to come into Kpalime, which is the nearest large town to use the internet and get various other things not available in the village. Kpalime is about 15 minutes by taxi from the village.
In other news in my life, my Grandmother died peacefully on Wednesday. Everyone here has been very supportive and I could have been beelined to Accra had I wanted to go back for the funeral. Yesterday I showed pictures of Granny to my host sister which was nice. My host sister's mom died last year so she was a good person to talk to.
I hope this e mail finds you all well and sorry it is a bit random, the internet is slow so it has been written in spurts.

Peace Corps Togo Letter 1 - Staging Washington D.C.

Salut tout le monde -

This is my first letter for my Peace Corps experience. If you wish to be removed from this list, just let me know.

As most of you probably gathered, I have just embarked on my Peace Corps adventure. For the last few weeks I have been busily packing my bags and generally preparing for two years in Togo, West Africa. My parents have been a really big help in the preparation process, so I want to send a BIG THANK YOU to them!
Because I was coming from Oregon, I got to arrive a day early for the staging event along with eight "early arrivals" coming for the Togo training (mostly people from west of the Mississippi). We didn't know who the others were, but in Dallas, Texas (where I had my stop over) I met two other girls going to the Peace Corps just randomly in the airport (we definitely have a certain look to us - the Chacos (sports sandals that have kind of a z strap for those of you who haven't seen them) are a big give away!). Upon arrival in D.C. some friends from Oregon who had just moved to D.C. kindly picked me up. We had a really nice time catching up and also got to know two other girls who were also headed to Togo. Our training started in the afternoon on Wednesday, so I got the morning to explore D.C. a bit with my Oregon friends.
It was very exciting to finally meet all my fellow trainees. We are a group of 35 - 15 CHAP (Community Health expansion and AIDS Prevention) and 20 SED (Small Enterprise Development) volunteers. The CHAP volunteers are- surprise, surprise - all women. There are 6 male SED volunteers. Apparently our training group gender ratio is a bit less balanced than usual (the story of about everything I have done post high school) and in Togo about 40 % of the PCVs are men. The other groups of volunteers in Togo work on Natural Resource Management and Girls education; the new trainees for those two groups come in September.
I have been really impressed by all the other volunteers thus far. We have bonded really well in just the two days we have know each other. It is a pretty diverse group despite the fact that we are a majority women. The average age of PCVs in Togo is 26, which I would say is probably pretty accurate for our training group as well. We have one married couple volunteering together. Just for some ideas about the group -there are two other half Europeans and half Americans (a half Swiss and another half Brit), a women from Nigeria who just became a U.S. national last year, a number of software engineers (there is a special IT group within the SED volunteers), a number of people who worked in big business as well a biologists, economists, public health specialists, and artists. There is one other Oregonian and a pretty good representation of people from states throughout all the regions of the U.S. (we even have people from Montana, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Arkansas). As far as French level, I think I am probably one of the more comfortable in French. I would say about half the volunteers have a fairly limited knowledge of French, if any at all. I am one of only two people who have been to Francophone Africa before, so I have been telling them a lot of stories from Senegal and I hope they are somewhat relevant to Togo.
On an interesting Oregon connection note - the Country Desk Officer for Togo is from Oregon, one of the leaders of the staging had lived in Corvallis and the Peace Corps Medical officer in Togo is from Portland! I guess Oregonians get around!
The staging itself has included a lot of logistics and safety lectures as well as some fun and games. I had the opportunity to show off my zouking skills (dance from the French Antilles), which the group seemed pretty impressed with. They are much better than my Senegalese dancing skills anyway ;)

Tomorrow we get shipped off to the clinic to get our vaccinations and malaria medication at 7 am (!) and then head to the airport in the afternoon for our 10:30 pm flight to Paris (we have to leave so early because of rush hour on a Friday night in D.C. - none of us are looking forward to 7 hours in the Dulles airport). We arrive in Togo Saturday evening, have a three day "retreat" in Lome and then head to villages outside of Kpalime for our Pre-Service Training. I should have Internet access in Kpalime so will up date you more when I get there.

Hope this letter finds you all well!

A bientot,

PS - As some of you may know I had some major problems getting medical clearance from the Peace Corps (not because of major medical problems, just bureaucracy) and was relieved to hear that almost everyone had pretty similar problems.