Thursday, December 27, 2007

After recovering from biking most of November, I spent December in and out of village, accomplishing very little. I had a brief jaunt down to Lome for doctors’ appointments at the beginning of the month, then convinced myself it was silly to start new projects before the New Year. I’m a great volunteer.

About two weeks ago, I had my first running meeting with maybe 10 kids. Six of them started with me at the primary school, and we picked up others along the way. We ran through village on the national highway, and at someone’s yelled request, the students started singing. The song and our two-line formation deteriorated by the end of the 20 minute run. No one showed up last Saturday, so I just ran alone. I’m going to blame the school holiday on the lack of students and hope it’s not because they changed their minds about running on Saturday mornings. They picked the day.

On the 19th, we celebrated the feast of Tabaski (sheep festival) in village. It’s a Muslim holiday commemorating God giving Abraham a sheep to sacrifice in lieu of his son, Isaac. To celebrate, everyone kills and eats sheep.

I was a little nervous about a sheep-slaughtering festival, but it wasn’t too terrible. I only saw three dying sheep and watched my homologue wash his sheep’s intestines and cut up innards. I visited my market lady friends, and in the evening, I participated in dancing. Yes, this means I danced, but mostly I watched. The next day the chief, in the holiday spirit, gave me something in a black plastic bag. I thought it was more rice and cooked meat, because everyone sends each other food on feast days. I got home, eager to eat the rice for lunch. I opened the bag, and it was full of raw meat. I gave it to my neighbors.

On the 23rd, I biked up to Dapaong. I think it’s about 102k, and I’ve biked from Dapaong to village before, but getting here this time was really difficult. There is a long stretch of barely discernible incline leading to the city, and about five kilometers out, I had to stop and walk. This is very frustrating after pushing my bike up real mountains. But I got here, and Amanda said she’d stopped in the same place. She only had a 40k ride from her village.

Christmas passed without all the usual hype, which may be why it didn’t really feel like Christmas. We exchanged small gifts, made lots of food (bread, lots of desserts, pasta salad, chicken, fries, fruit salad, deviled eggs and crazy Scottish baked things by Helen) and ate it at Paul the Lebanese guy’s house. Helen, Amanda and I intended to go to a 9 p.m. mass on Christmas Eve, but we were in pajamas by 7:00. Then Helen said it would last two hours, so we watched Borat instead.

I begin teaching next week when school starts again. I’ll teach third year English three to four times a week. The books I received from the school director provide less guidance than I expected, so I visited the head of school inspection in Dapaong. He’s going to give me a grammar book before I go back to village. I know correct grammar when I hear and see it (usually), but I doubt I could tell you what the present perfect or past progressive is without reference. So I’m a little nervous about trying to teach it with just a student’s book and a course syllabus. Teaching should make for interesting future updates.

I’m trying to get back to village tomorrow, but that would require me to pack my bags, and I’m very lazy. Maybe I’ll get a burst of energy soon.

Happy New Year to all, and celebrate safely.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas

The subject line basically covers everything I want to address. I'm in Dapaong, it doesn't feel like Christmas, and I'm ok with that. However, I hope everyone has a lovely holiday, with or without snow, whatever you prefer.

A more interesting update will follow in the next few days.

Joyeux Noel (wow, I hope I spelled that correctly or my French teachers and my parents will send me mocking emails).

Thursday, November 29, 2007

about that trip...

See photos from the Tour de Togo at

I'm very tired, so please excuse this post. I leave tomorrow for village and want to write a little about our trip - thanks again for all the encouragement and donations.

We biked for 10 days, although Dun and I took a break on Thanksgiving (only biked 17k from Waragni to Pagala). We had an amazing meal - turkey (I didn't have any of that), Stovetop stuffing, devilled eggs, jambalaya, salad, mashed potatoes, steamed veggies and lots of dessert. It's not Thanksgiving unless you eat yourself sick, and I gave myself a REAL Thanksgiving. Then I biked about 75k the next day (happy birthday to me) and had a warm coke. The Pagala folks did sing the birthday song to me on the 22nd, and then Dun and Connor sang it very quietly at 5:30 a.m. on Friday before we hit the road.

On Saturday, we biked from Seregbene to Badou. This was the casualty day (lots of blood, nothing serious, just scary, and the three uninjured bikers managed to bandage up our friend - although I was called the "worst health volunteer ever" - blood makes me nervous), and also the day my right knee decided it was finished with this trip. The day ended with an 8k stretch of paved road down a mountain. Very enjoyable, except the next day we had to go back up the mountain to get to the path to Amlame, Sunday's destination.

Sunday was by far the worst day of the entire trip. After pushing our bikes up 8k of mountain, we had a few little downhill spurts, then more mountain. It was basically mountain all day. At the end of the uphill part, around 2 p.m., we reached Elevagnon (sp?), which was very lovely... until we realized the only way to get there is a 20k path up (or down, in our case) a rotten sand and rock path. So... 20k down, braking the whole way. I felt bad for the people who joined up again after a Thanksgiving break in Sokode, but everyone survived.

Monday we went about 85 or 90k from Amlame to Agou. We had a lovely lunch in Kpalime, then raced to Agou Akoumawou, where Helen and I showered, washed clothes, then let the Peace Corps drive us to Nyogbo. I visited my host family. They were very disappointed that I was only staying about half an hour, but I promised to return. They gave me bananas.

Tuesday was a straight shot to Lome, 105k. By that point, my left knee decided it was finished too, so I rolled in with Ace bandages on both knees. We saw what was probably the best sight of the entire trip during that 105k - a grinning girl holding up a dead bush rat by its head. Sorry, I was going too fast to stop and take a picture.

When we got to Lome (very scary biking amongst the cars and motos), we stopped to have a quick drink, then rode to the beach bar, where the lovely Melissa O'Shaughnessy (Savanes volunteer) had organized lunch for us - sandwich makings, candy bars, little gift bags filled with dried fruit, Gatorade, Doritos... I love Melissa. And that was it. 10 days, over 900k (the national highway route is about 700, we added roughly 200k with our off-roading madness), and at least $5,000 raised for girls' education. Yay.

I'm going to go pack, go to bed and go back to village now. On a bus.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

and then there was delicious food

We made it to Lome alive (but maybe in pieces with Ibuprofen and rehydration salt addictions). Longer post with pictures to come, but this is just to announce that we're all alive (one casualty the whole trip).

So far we've had pledges for around $5000 (at least?). Thanks so much!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

whose idea was this, anyway?

That, in one word, sums up the last four days. As in, ouch, my crotch has never hurt so much. Ouch, my shoulders tense up after about 20 kilometers and ouch, by the end of the day, my legs are so tired it's hard to get off the bike.

Here is a simple break down of our schedule: wake up around 5. Eat breakfast (bread or oatmeal). Bike. Take short breaks and one longer lunch break (eat more bread). Bike. Arrive at destination. Complain alot. Shower and wash clothes. Eat dinner. Sleep. Repeat until next Tuesday.

Actually, we've decided to take a break on Thanksgiving, since we're biking an average of 85km a day. A little more detail about the trip so far:

Saturday morning, Dun, Amanda and I caught a car to Cinkasse, on the Togo-Burkina Faso border. Took a picture, biked back to Dapaong, gathered bags, volunteers and a second breakfast, then biked to Mango. Total of 105k. Cliff made us delicious curry pasta.

Sunday morning, Cliff rode with us to a river (I don't pay attention to names anymore), where a pirogue shuttled our bikes and then us across (pictures to come later). Then we biked forever on junky sand, gravel and dirt paths through savannahs. Periodically, we passed women going to the field or carrying wood piles on their heads, but for the most part, it was very lonely. Yet every time we stopped for a break, small crowds appeared from somewhere. 85k total.

We spent Sunday night in Guerin-Kouka, at their maison du passage. Yesterday and today were "easyt" days - 55k and 50k, respectively. From Guerin-Kouka to Kabou is about 35k, but the hills are long and numerous, so it felt longer. We took a long break in Kabou and visited the volunteer there, then finished the 20k to Bassar. Amy hosted us in her almost-American house, complete with running water, electricity, a refrigerator and flush toilet. Amy is wonderful.

This morning, after more bread - there are other things to eat here, but I feel safe with bread and shortbread biscuits - we biked from Bassar to Sokode. This ride took us along the edge of a national park (again, it will remain nameless), which only means gorgeous views, not animals. Gorgeous views and hills that make you cry for your mom - or just push your bike for several kilometers. There are skull and crossbones road signs along this road, which should give you an idea of the steepness.

Now we're enjoying our afternoon off in a "big" city. We're leaving the majority of our group here in Sokode for Thanksgiving. Dun and I will continue tomorrow (and will also be the only two who biked the whole country), but others will join up again, or for the first time, in the next few days. If you're still interested in giving anywhere from $5 to support our ride AND girls' education, it's not too late to email me and tell me so.

I have to go find some bananas now, before my entire body goes into a spasm.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Ok, thanks again to everyone who plegded - I AM actually going to bike. We start tomorrow. Positive thoughts, prayers, crossed fingers or whatever are welcome as we bike down country. I'm looking forward to the part where we ford a river (like Oregon Trail!).

Our estimated arrival date in Lome is November 27th, the day before the 45th anniversary celebration. There are only three of us doing the whole route (all Savanes volunteers, because we're clearly the most hard-core - disregard my frequent bouts of illness). I'm trying to think positive - "Don't get sick, don't get sick." So, fingers crossed.

I was hardly in village long enough this week for anything exciting to happen. We had another club meeting and started the AIDS section in my "Life Skills" manual. We played a Myths and Realities game, where a student read a statement (poorly translated into French by yours truly and the compact Larousse English-French dictionary) about AIDS, then decided if it was true or false. They got all the questions right and the statements spurred some interesting discussions ("If a mosquito bites someone with AIDS and then bites someone negative, can they get AIDS?" "If a HIV-positive woman cuts herself while preparing juice and you drink the juice with the blood in it, can you get AIDS?"). Fortunately, the teacher working with me during meetings is great, knowledgeable and enthusiastic enough, so I don't have to run meetings completely alone. I also don't know how well I could control a classroom full of teenagers, so I'm happy to have him there.

After the meeting, several students stayed to discuss running. When I get back in December, we'll start meeting between 5:30 and 6 on Saturday mornings to run. We'll see if this goes anywhere.

Hope everyone is well and I wish you all a happy Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 10, 2007


Thank you to everyone who pledged for the Girls' Education Bike Tour. I may have asked prematurely, as I may not be able to go (and won't know until Thursday, the day before I have to return to Dapaong for the tour). In any case, I'm planning on going on it, but if things change, I will let everyone know. Your money, of course, would still be welcome, but I understand if you prefer to donate on the condition that I actually bike.

As for AIDS ride this week, it went wonderfully until Wednesday night when I lost my lunch (several times) in a field next to the school where we were sleeping. I spent Thursday sleeping in the chase car, on school benches and on a mat on the ground. Peace Corps would be significantly easier without all the illness.

So I spent the week riding 127k on my bike and doing condom demonstrations for crowds of all ages. There was more to the presentations than that, but condoms got by far the most reactions all week long. Here are some pictures.

Helen on the road from Nano to Malagou, Day 3.

Amanda and Helen pushing bikes up the mountain on AIDS Walk (Wednesday was a tough day).

Showing my appreciation for the awesome baobab tree outside Bagou (or Bogou, we went to both).

Naki-Ouest's elementary school students mobbing to check out the new arrivals (Day 1).

Saturday, November 3, 2007

the begging begins

Hello again friends. The disadvantage to my being in Dapaong is I start clogging your inboxes with my incessant rambling. However, I'll try to keep this short and toss in some photos for your enjoyment.

Next week, I'm participating in AIDS ride, in which volunteers spend the week biking
around region doing presentations on AIDS in different villages. About two weeks later, with more volunteers, I will bike the length of Togo, from Cinkasse to Lome to raise funds for the Karren Waid Foundation, a Peace Corps fund that supports girls' education. All participating volunteers find sponsors for the ride (it's like those walks where you pay five cents for every mile I walk). My target is a total of $100 for the whole ride (school fees for a year of middle school are about 5,000 CFA, which is roughly $10, not including books and uniforms). So basically, if five people want to give $20, I would reach my goal. Or 20 people could give $5.00 and fund about six girls' scholarships (each scholarship is around 15,000 CFA).

Please email me at if you're interested. At this point, I just need you to pledge - the details of how we will actually get this money will come later. I think what will happen is when the tour organizer, Dun Grover, goes home for Christmas, he will collect checks, so you would mail them to him. Again, more details to come.

Thanks ahead of time, and enjoy the photos (if I succeed in uploading them).

The Oti River and oncoming storm (which totally soaked me). Now that rainy season is over, this river is significantly smaller.

The women's side of the Ramadan prayer service at the elementary school.

My wonderful neighbor girls, Izafot (4) and Hanatou (2). They're fun, but a little too much at times (the baby hasn't quite learned how to share yet).

Friday, November 2, 2007

some events of the last month

After 19 days in Sagbiebou and 26 days withough internet (that’s alot for someone whose job used to essentially be responding to emails), I’m happy to report I’m still alive.

The highlight of those 19 days was spending five of them sweating in my bed and on my floor, temporarily out of order with what I’ll call a bacterial sinus infection (who cares about technicalities – what it was was unpleasant). The highlight of that experience was walking ino my kitchen one night to discover maybe 100 tiny spiders converting everything in my cooking area – dirty dishes, sponges, stove, med kit – into their new home.

So I killed them.

Before disappearing into my house for a week, I celebrated the end of Ramadan with my neighbors and landlord. This means I went to a huge service at the elementary school with them, then greeted the village chief and other important community figures. In the evening, I visited my landlord and spent the most awkward hour and a half sitting at a table with him, a lady with a baby (a wife?) and my neighbor Alima, with an audience of 20 children. We listened to his stereo, drank Fanta and he and I ate. I shared with Alima, i.e., tried to get her to eat the meat while I ate the cous-cous around it. Like I said, awkward, and very anti-climactic, as the way people talked up this celebration, I was expecting music and dancing in the street. I suppose that comes from living in New Orleans.

I spent several weeks half-heartedly searching for the middle school director. We finally met the day before school started. He told me I could start a health club and I told him I could help teach English. I always told myself I would never teach, but I’m excited to start. I observed one of the classes this week and just being at the school is 100 times more interesting than sitting at the clinic.

This Wednesday, 31 students attended the first health club meeting. I think it was forced attendance; before my counterpart, the science teacher, arrived, only one kid said he was there for the meeting. Anyway, I introduced myself, we played a name-game (or tried) and I asked what they wanted to do with the club (get soccer balls and jerseys). Then I gave them an anonymous health questionnaire to see what they know. More than half of them think malaria comes from the sun and that condoms are 100% effective in preventing pregnancy and STIs. Considering the number who also said they have sex, this demands attention. Hopefully, they come back next time.

I’m still far from fluent in Tchokossi, but can now greet (or at least respond to greetings) in Gan-Gan and Mossi (Burkina language). One of the Mossi yam and melon vendors forced a language lesson on me two weeks ago. Then she decided she wanted to pay someone to paint (henna) my feet. So last Sunday afternoon, I sat in the market and let a woman put henna and ash on my feet and left hand (I tried to discourage the whole event by saying I have dirty, stinky feet, but they insisted). The ash turns the designs black, so basically, I look like I walked through coal. Everyone else loves it, and my friend was so happy she air-kissed me. I gave them brownies to say thanks.

And as always, thanks to everyone who’s been writing. Mail is almost better than chocolate – chocolate makes me fat, and letters make me happy (but if you want to send both, I'll just be fat and happy). So thanks, and eventually, you will receive a response.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Work, markets and elections

Health update: no more fevers, but now I have an infected cut by my 2004 shin puncture scar (some will remember that incident). That's what I get for tyring to shave my legs in village. Idiot.

Food update: I just had the most delicious yogurt at this little restaurant in Dapaong. I brought my own chocolate granola, and it was heaven. They even had a tv with French news.

In the last two weeks, I’ve taken tiny steps in the direction of what can be called work. I mean work beyond cooking for one every day, baking brownies, burning my trash and chasing out the continually growing spectrum of wildlife encroaching on my personal space. The crickets and spiders have given way to salamanders, wasps, one very large roach (insecticided), two small frogs (one disappeared and one died) and an annoying and ever-changing collection of insects that only come out at night to dance and commit suicide in the light of my candles and lantern.

Wednesdays are still my busiest days, although we went from about 170 women and babies last week to maybe 50 this week. 50 is comfortable. On Monday, with the clinic staff, we decided to focus on two themes for talks on pre-natal consultation (CPN) and vaccination days. For CPN, the talks will be on the consequences of giving birth at home and on Wednesdays, nutrition. I did the first talk on Tuesday, and the birthing assistant translated.

As a result of the Dapaong malnutrition conference, the Sagbiebou clinic now “takes charge” of moderately malnourished children. This means that if I notice an underweight baby on Wednesdays, we compare its height and weight to a number on a chart. If the baby is less than 80% of its body mass index, we send the mother home with enriched porridge for two weeks. Last Friday, one of the medical assistants, Kokue, and I biked to five of the families’ homes. All the mothers said they prepared the porridge properly (one measure of porridge, two measures of boiled water) and that the children ate well. I believe each child stays in the program for three months, so we’ll see how many gain weight.

On Tuesday morning, I biked over to the chief’s house to ask for his assistance in finding a language tutor. Hopefully something comes from that, as I’m getting tired of saying the same 10 things I know in Tchokossi to everyone.

I’ve discovered that going to the market is a great way to increase my vocabulary (and amuse everyone else), meet people and take care of business, all in one trip. Right now, in addition to the usual okra, tomatoes, onions and garlic, I can get oranges, bananas and watermelon at the Sagbiebou market on Thursdays. Last week I followed a little girl around who said she knew where I could get peanut butter. She took me to her mother, who was chatting with friends and not selling peanut butter, or anything else, for that matter. Later, I found a woman (she acted like we’d met and talked before, but apparently, I dropped my talent for remembering names and faces in the Atlantic) who took me to a lady with delicious peanut butter. And she taught me how to say peanut butter in Tchokossi.

Two weeks ago, I biked to Mango (about 30k/16 miles) to check out their market. Less exciting than Sagbiebou, but Mango has shops with toilet paper – I had a lesson-teaching experience of leaving my last roll on the latrine floor before a downpour... paper bags hurt – and a volunteer with a lovely house containing a flush toilet and refrigerator. AND they have a community center with a bar that has nearly frozen drinks. Cold drinks have become a source of great happiness.

Last Saturday, I biked to Gando (15k/8 miles) for their market, by far the most lively in my prefecture. If you come to Togo, we’ll go to Gando’s market. They have a huge pagne (cloth) selection, a Fanmilk (ice cream approximation) guy on a bike and more stores with toilet paper. I ordered a lit picot (plastic-woven metal-framed bed) from the picot guy and a food cabinet from the carpenter. Then I had a cold drink before biking the 8 miles back on the dirt road to Sagbiebou.

The market was probably more lively last week due to elections campaigning. Parliamentary elections take place October 14th. We go on “standfast” this Monday until the 22nd. That means no leaving village during those weeks. It also means pack a bag and be ready to evacuate if necessary. I was unconcerned about this until I came to Dapaong and other volunteers partially convinced me that there is a slight chance of unrest. So I’ll pack my bag when I get home, but will continue to believe that the election will go smoothly and all will be well, minus a potential loss of phone reception and maybe a toilet paper crisis (I’ll have to stock up while in Dapaong).

And on that note, I’m going to go withdraw most of my money from my bank account and buy some tp. Just in case.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Too much time in Dapaong

I just got over my first illness in Africa, which is the sickest I’ve been since April 2003. On Monday, I went to the morning session of the conference, skipped the afternoon half, and then attended all of Tuesday. On Tuesday night, I started feeling chilly. But I was also really warm. And things just went downhill from there.

Now, 10 liters of water and about 20 Ibuprofen later, I think I’m mostly back to normal. Minus a really ugly cough, but I get one of those every year. And urgent trips to the bathroom, but that too, will pass. Needless to say, I missed most of the conference.

Before I became immobile for three days (except I wasn’t, and I nearly passed out twice after going into town to get food, bad idea), I visited Cinkasse, the northern most town in Togo. Nothing too exciting there, except Helen screaming at the 15 moto and taxi drivers who mobbed us when we arrived.

On Friday (last Friday, yesterday I didn’t leave the maison), I rode to another volunteer’s village and helped out with a day camp. We played HIV/AIDS education games. I’m looking forward to [hopefully] working at the schools in my area, but the beginning of school has been delayed by a month because there are elections in October. So... I guess I’ll have to wait.

This evening we’re having a COS (close of service) party for a volunteer who’s leaving in about a week. Then I’m going back to village. Unless my fever comes back. Nothing makes you want your mom like being sick in Africa. Except all the news I’m getting from my mom is about fabulous travels, which is not what one wants to hear when she’s sick in Africa (but write me about your travels anyway, I like updates).

Now I’m going to disappear for an indefinite amount of time again.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Welcome to Sagbiebou

My arrival in Sagbiebou (Aug. 27) stressed me out considerably more than the post visit wedding-style welcome. Within moments of pulling to the highway shoulder, a small crowd gathered to help carry my possessions into my house. I know I should be grateful, but I don’t like people touching my stuff. I’m not usually overly-possessive or even neat, but when I move, I just want to put things down where I want them and at my own pace.

When I got into the house, the “bedroom” was locked and “Where’s the key?” got no satisfactory answers. In my absence, someone moved the bedroom stuff, including the clothes and books I’d left, into my “kitchen”. The kitchen stuff was in the living room. Once everyone left, I discovered that the clothes, which were left under the window, were all a little damp and moldy. Gross. So I had a wet mattress (it rained on the way up from Lome), no bedroom and one pair of extremely moldy pants.

After the initial desire to sit in a corner and cry, I unpacked what I could, ate something and got over it. The next day, I got my bed, table and two of the four chairs I ordered, and we got someone to break into my room. I have different locks on all three doors in my house, and the locksmith locked the bedroom keys inside the bedroom. That’s where the keys were.

The first three months at post are meant for figuring things out: get to know the community, identify potential work partners and projects, improve local language. At the moment, my goal is to leave my house at least once a day to do something besides run or ride my bike. I’ve succeeded so far, although I can entertain myself for hours in my house, cooking, baking, sweeping, reading, writing letters and checking how much water my filter’s filtered.

Sadly, every small task I complete is a big deal.

“I hung TWO laundry lines! I’m fabulous,” and “I burned my trash. Good day, good day.”

When I do leave my house to stroll around Sagbiebou, I get a taste of what life as a celebrity must be like. Everyone in village knows my name and they yell, “Madame Awa!” from distances so great I’m unsure who’s calling me. I just walk around waving at everyone and telling them, “Ca va.”

The only day I really do anything that can pass as work are Wednesdays, when we weigh and vaccinate babies at the dispensaire. I mark the babies’ weights on their growth chart and mark what vaccinations we give them on another chart. Ideally, we would take time to ask each mother if she’s exclusively breast-feeding or advise her on how she can help her baby gain weight (most of them are underweight). However, it’s extremely chaotic with 25 screaming children, and I can hardly ask a mother her child’s age, much less what she’s feeding it. Also, I ask the age in Tchokossi, and of course, the mother only speaks Gam-Gam or Peul or some other local language.

I hoped to find a language tutor immediately, but the tutor seems to be in the same place as my house-assistant girl, and I don’t know where that place is. So I walk around and try to pick up little phrases and words from strangers (okra, eat, I already ate, bon appetit). I also try to learn kids’ names, but I ask a child his or her name and the responses sound like the kid just made a noise.

“Nzda? Really? Your name is Nzda? Oh, NzDAN! Of course.” So I still have to work on wrapping my brain around the vowelly names. I’ll get there (I hope).

After 10 days of hanging out in Sagbiebou, I hopped in a bush taxi (that broke down) to Dapaong, where I’m staying for another 10 days. I only planned to stay the weekend, but my counterpart asked if I could attend a nutrition conference here this week, so I said yes. I don’t plan on dividing my time equally between village and capital, but I call this gradually settling in to life in the bush.

I do have a new address, although the old one also works. Please send mail to

Linda Golden
B.P. 102
Mango, Togo
(West Africa – if you feel this will confuse your postal workers, leave it off).

Finally, on a subject mostly unrelated to life in Togo, I found out (two weeks after the fact) that St. Bernard Project, the organization I worked with in New Orleans, was on Oprah on August 29th, the two year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. For an organization that started small and is barely a year old, that is amazing progress. You can check them out at I'm so proud.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

off to post

I've been an official Peace Corps volunteer for three days, but the fun really begins Tuesday, when I arrive in village. We're leaving tomorrow morning, but since we have a long way to go, the Savannes volunteers will probably spend the night somewhere so we don't have to move into our electricity-less homes in the dark. This is good, as I still have some shopping to do. Apparently, five days in Lome aren't enough for me to buy everything I need. Shopping in the market takes alot out of you, though.

Yesterday we went to a beach party organized by the Gender and Development committee to raise money for girls' scholarships. It was at a private beach and therefore like leaving the real world - manicured lawns, super clean bathrooms with hand towels, a pool... I swam in the ocean with the black plastic bags and other random pieces of trash. There was a wall further out that broke the big waves, therefore making it somewhat safer to swim. The undertow was still strong.

The whole time in Lome has been kind of surreal. I've been to four different "yovo" stores (yovo = stranger, foreigner, white person), which are like supermarkets at home, or maybe in Europe. The first visit, at "Le Champion" I was overwhelmed. The second visit, at Super Ramco, I just popped in to buy spices. The third store, Citimart, broke the bank. I lost it and just bought things somewhat indiscriminately. I don't REALLY need insecticide, but it might come in handy in my latrine. And raisins... I might use for baking. And cashews are just good.

Now I'm going to try to post pictures. I don't know when I'll have internet access again, since I'm going to Sagbiebou, so the weekly updates may become bi- or tri-weekly updates. We'll see. So wish me well, send mail (letters, not packages) and hopefully I can write in a few weeks.

My house in Sagbiebou

The road to the Tech House in Agou Nyogbo

With family members and compound residents. I've got my arm around my little brother George.

Pounding fufu (really just for the picture - it's hard work).

George is a supermodel and I'm shiny.

CHAP trainees minutes before swearing-in as official volunteers. Top row (L-R): Nori, Lauren, Ashley, Aimee, Kate, moi, Becka, Alicia, Tig, Danielle. Bottom row - Natasha, Helen and Stephanie
With my host mom at swear-in. She's wearing an outfit made from cloth I gave her as a thank you gift.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

last week in Agou

We started last week with a crêpe night on Sunday, grace à Linda and Lauren. The crêpes turned out well, but it didn’t come close to a Geneva crêpe night. That might have something to do with location.

We did group presentations on Monday and Tuesday, which included a health carnival for kids, a skit and discussion on HIV/AIDS, and a session on making enriched porridge. All the presentations had great attendance, and aside from some rain, things went well.

Training is basically over. On Thursday, we had our final oral French exam. We’ve had three exams – one as a placement for the classes, one mid-way exam, and this final one to see if we’ve attained an intermediate-mid level. The test administrator asks you questions and they tape record your answers. Now, after eight years of French, I do ok. At the mid exam, I was at the intermediate high level. I will NEVER get anywhere, though, because when I have to speak French under pressure, my level, whatever it really is, drops to dummy. My French teachers can attest to this. I did manage to quite eloquently yell at a taxi driver who tried to overcharge us last week, but I did rotten in that testing room. In any case, it wasn’t so bad that they’ll keep me an extra week. My French is definitely good enough to manage in Africa, and I’m practicing by reading French fashion magazines. That should be very useful in learning how to say, «It’s very important for babies to breast-feed exclusively during their first six months.»

We leave Agou Nyogbo on Wednesday morning for Lome. Swear-in is on Thursday evening, so if you write me, you can start addressing it to PCV Linda Golden, since I’ll finally be an official volunteer. Hopefully I can post some pictures next week. I have lots.

And in other news, I’m thinking about getting a dog to keep me company at post. I’m hesitant, because then I have to find someone to take care of it every time I want to bike to Mango or wherever, so I’ve decided not to actively search for one, but to be open to the possibility of one finding me. So if anyone has dog-training tips to send me (just in case) I might need them.

Next week, updating from Lome... and hopefully the beach.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

worms, candy and rats

Another week down, less than two to go. While classes were a little more interesting this week; certain events also added excitement, or at least created extra fodder for the Peace Corps rumor mill.

Mid-week, my Tchokossi teacher and I arrived at our class and learned that I am now the only Tchokossi student. The business trainee headed to Mango switched posts, which means I no longer have a neighbor 30k away from Sagbiebou. It also means I get private language classes to learn whatever health-related vocabulary I want. For instance, the Tchokossi word for malaria, pongombie, is a combination of “horse” (pongo) and “urine” (mbie). Evidently, malarial urine resembles that of a horse.

I also learned the word for guinea worm, which coincided with the previous day’s technical session on said worm. A word of advice before today’s health session: don’t drink untreated water, because that’s how you get guinea worm – and you don’t want it. The worm injects its eggs into water. If consumed at the correct stage in its wormy life, the worm can live in one’s body from nine to 12 months before announcing its presence. It usually migrates to the feet, arms, or hands and moves to the skin’s surface, forming a painful blister. When the person submerges the infected area in water, the worm pops out to inject its eggs into the water and start the cycle again. The only way to remove the worm is to pull it out by slowly wrapping it around a thin stick. If it breaks, you’ve got a new permanent, but dead, friend.

The good news is that guinea worm has almost been completely eradicated in Togo. The two cases recorded this year came from Ghana. Nonetheless, I hold to my original plan: if I get guinea worm, I’m going home. I probably wouldn’t know I had it until I got home anyway, so it works out.

This week another CHAP trainee left for the US, bringing our training group down to 13 (one girl left after two days in Nyogbo). After the goodbyes, I went home and cheered myself up with my newly arrived dark chocolate M&Ms (thanks, mom! Mail was fabulous this week – Katie and Lori, two thumbs up… still contemplating on whether to share). I also went on a run, joined by my host mom (she lasted five minutes), Felicia/Felicité, my 15 year-old neighbor (she almost made it the whole way) and Koku, another young neighbor (he lasted the entire run and picked up a friend). This gives me hope for a future Sagbiebou running club.

Finally, we did a second home visit this week. My group’s visits were standard – families with no mosquito nets, no latrines, frequent malaria cases. However, one group visited a woman busy grilling mystery meat. In New Orleans, we used to joke about the ratburgers, the mystery meat they served as employee meals at the restaurant. That woman was actually grilling rat for dinner, and there was a second one hanging out in a cage. And people ask why I’m vegetarian.

So those are the week’s best, worst and strangest parts. Thanks, as always, for the emails and letters. If you’re thinking about writing, think about including some pictures. I only brought about 10, and I’m moving to a very empty house very soon and need something to put on the walls.

Oh. And if the postal workers at your post office return three letters you’ve tried to send me with the reason, “West Africa’s not a country”, slap their fingers with a ruler. Then find a different post office.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

a short update for a dull week

All I can say about this week is that it passed quickly, but each day felt like an eternity. Two more weeks of training… Technically, i should be in class right now, but someone cleverly negotiated for the whole Saturday off. Since no one fought to have class, we’re actually having a proper weekend.

So in addition to two mind-numbingly dull lectures on health education in the Togolese school system, I had two Tchokossi classes this week. We learned how to count! That sound simple enough; however, there are different ways for counting things and money (and possibly a third way of counting ages, but we haven’t gotten that far yet). I’ve got the basic 1-100 down, but when it comes to franc CFA… we’re talking more math than the French “four-twenty-ten” (that’s 90 for the non-French speakers). In Tchokossi, you count money in units of five, so one is “biye”, which actually means 5 CFA. The number 20 is “dara aburayno,” which means 100 CFA. So if you have a certain amount of money, you divide by five and say that number. Confused? The trouble will start when the bean vendor tells me the price for a bag of black-eyed peas and my notebook’s at my house.

And on a different note, I’m starting a new Google group for friends and family of trainees. I’m giving administrative powers to others, as limited internet access makes monitoring a group extra challenging. To join, visit … someone will eventually add you. The hope with this is to put our training group’s families in touch so they can exchange info on calling cards, travel plans, mailing and whatever other fascinating topics emerge from having a kid in Peace Corps (“So what diseases has Mary had?”).

Finally, on my way to the internet cafe this morning, I bought myself a little snack. The package had a picture of little crackers that you dip in chocolate, so I thought I’d try it. The chocolate was dry and crusty, so I just ate the cracker sticks. Next time when the package says, “Quality Food You Never Taste!” I’ll pay closer attention.

Happy August, folks.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

untitled post

So I didn't update last week because after typing up the blog, the power went out. Disgruntled, we left to shop for post visit. I cheered up quickly when Helen said, "That man's naked. There's a naked man running down the street."

And indeed there was. That was our introduction to the crazy man of Kpalimé.

We left for post visit the next day, Saturday. There are four of us in the Savanes region, and I got dropped off first. I had a huge welcome and immediately got a new name from the chief (Awa). The women accompanied me to my house with my counterpart (the volunteer's first point-of-contact in village) and all my junk. Apparently, I got a new bride's welcome, which involves singing and ululating.

After dinner with my counterpart, Saibou, and the presidents and vice-president of two village committees (development and health), I spent my first night in my new home. They put a cot from the dispensary in it for my visit, but it's otherwise unfurnished. There are two rooms (bedroom and kitchen) and a large living room which will also serve as a dining room and guest room. There's no running water or electricity. The shower floor has to be cemented, and they have to build a seat for the latrine. Hopefully that will be done when I get back.

Sagbiebou lies along the national highway (two lanes) at the intersection to Gando, a village 16k towards the Benin border. The village consists largely of mud huts. Mine's not a mud hut. The dispensary opened in February. My counterpart, who's the dispensary nurse and director, and the birth assistant seem to have the most modern houses. When I had dinner at Saibou's on Sunday, we watched TV5 on the generator-run television. The village has great cell phone reception, but that's about it for amenities.

I spent A LOT of time at my house during my four days in Sagbiebou, cleaning my water filter, washing dishes, cooking mediocre and unspiced meals and making candleholders out of cardboard. I also read, took naps, played with different interior decoration ideas and planted a moringa tree that another volunteer brought me.

On Monday, we had a meeting with the chief and local authorities. People seem very interested in doing business, education and farming projects. Judging from the children's swollen bellies and bleached hair and the raw sewage between huts, I'll have enough to do in the realm of health. I'm willing to expand, though.

After the meeting, I sat around at the dispensary. There was a lot of this during my visit as well. The best parts of hanging out there came on Tuesday and Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Saibou and I planned to meet at 8:30 to go to Gando so I could order furniture. We didn't leave until after 10, because Saibou had patients. Then he told me that because the baby born that morning was big, there was some "tearing" and he had to do a little surgery on the mother. I asked if I could watch. So on my third day at post, I watched my counterpart sew up a woman's vagina. He used a little anesthetic, but he definitely sewed where he hadn't injected, because she was clearly in pain.

The next day, Saibou had to go to Dapaong, so I hung out with the rest of the stuff at the dispensary. Wednesdays are vaccination days, so I got to mark what vaccinations we gave on a sheet of paper. Shortly after I started doing that, the birth assistant called me in because a patient went into labor. So I saw my first live birth. I went over and held the woman's hand because she gestured at me. I don't know if that's what she wanted, but it helped me.

I left on Wednesday evening and spent the night in Mango with another trainee. Yesterday we came to Dapoang, our regional capital, where the volunteers (ok, Ben) fed us an amazing meal of salad, tapas, bean burgers and brownies. We're going back to Agou tomorrow for the last three weeks of training. Apparently, those weeks will take forever. Going to post made me realize how much I like my host family, so I'm going to soak up the free food and lovin' while I can.

Friday, July 13, 2007

field trip

This Monday, we made soymilk and tofu It was probably the coolest and most useful thing I’ve ever learned to do, besides maybe sheetrock a house. We put lemon grass and sugar in the soymilk, and it was better than any Silk I’ve had.

Today I’m in Bassar, in the Kara region. Our field trip began yesterday. Our first stop was the Red Cross in Atakpame, where the director gave us a brief overview of activities in the region. One of the employees was from the Savannah region and hopefully I’ll get to collaborate on some kind of project with them.

From Atakpame, we drove to Sokodé, where we had lunch and visited a Peace Corps maison du passage. It’s like a hostel for volunteers passing through town. They had lots of books there, so I grabbed one. The book situation seems pretty good for now, at least until I get to post.

In Sokodé, we visited a family planning ngo. They have had 215 girls start birth control since January, which is great for preventing pregnancy, but not necessarily AIDS. Still, it’s impressive.

Today we visited an ngo that works with people living with HIV/AIDS, their children, and children whose parents have died from the virus. This was by far the best visit – even though I was exhausted, thanks to the rooster that crowed non-stop outside our window starting at 3 this morning. We heard about the different programs, some of the children sang for us, and four HIV postive people told us their stories.

The stigma against people living with HIV/AIDS is still a problem here, to the point where families turn children out of the house for disgracing them by getting HIV. One woman said only her mother knows about her status. She’s a hairdresser, and she’s afraid that her customers will find another hairdresser if they find out she’s positive. Unfortunately, she’s probably right.

The other problem is the lack of ARVs (anti-retrovirals, or drugs) in Togo. Previously the Global Fund subsidized drugs for people living with HIV/AIDS, but Togo lost its funding due to human rights violations in the 90s. They continue to fund those who were subsidized, but for those who are newly diagnosed, there may or may not be drugs available. One guy today has gone 15 days without his ARVs. If you have enough money, you can pay for your own, but they come from Lome and are basically unaffordable for most people.

So that’s the situation here. Sorry to be a downer.

Tomorrow we’re visiting a traditional healer, and next Saturday, we leave for post visit. The Ewe (pronounced eh-vay) lessons have been replaced by Tchokossi lessons. When I get to post next week, I’ll be able to ask people their names and tell them I’m from America. I’m sure it’ll be great.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

In case you haven’t realized, I pre-write my entries during the week. Then, while waiting for the internet to load, I type them in Word. Internet here literally gives me a headache. Ok, on to the interesting stuff.

My home for the next two years is Sagbiabou.
Don’t look for it in your Lonely Planet books. You might find it on Google maps, but it’s a tiny dot on our four foot Togo map , so good luck. It’s 30km southwest of Mango in the Savannah region, which is the furthest north. I have two years in the hottest part of Togo ahead. Glad I brought along 36 rolls of film to fry.

What else do I know about Sagbiabou ? It has about 2,000 inhabitants, no electricity , pump and well water and cell phone reception. I’ll get back to you on that after post visit during week seven. I’ll be working with the staff at the dispensary, hopefully creating fabulous health education plans. I believe there’s a middle school five or six kilometers away, and I’d really like to work with youth and women.

My closest CHAP neighbor will be in Dapaong. If you visit, you should look into flying into Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou. Apparently it’s cheaper, and it’s just about as close to Sagbiabou as Lome is.

So we wished the week away anticipating our post assignments, and the Fourth of July holiday helped the time pass. That morning, 12 of us hiked Mout Agou in five hours. We didn’t make it to the official peak because the guards demanded 2000 CFA ($2) from the group to pass their little rope road block. The top was just around the corner, and we decided to keep our money and go back down.

In the afternoon, we had a party at our Tech House. I made pasta salad with another trainee and others brought guacamole, brownies, fried tofu with hot sauce (bought from a toothless old man on the street – he’s cute, not sketchy), cornbread, french fries and fried chicken that was alive that morning. I thought it went well, for a Fourth of July celebration abroad.

Our technical classes became more interesting this week, which also sped up Friday’s arrival. On Tuesday, we weighed babies, Thursday we did home visits and yesterday, we gave short presentations (causeries) to a small group of random Togolese.

Most of the babies screamed and fought – who wants to hang from a scale in plastic underwear in front of mom and 14 white girls anyway ? – and the home visits were awkward. We broke into small groups and popped into homes to ask questions about children’s vaccinations, mosquito nets, water sources and waste disposal. It was practice, just as the causeries were, but it was still awkward. I expect it will be even more awkward at post when there are no other Americans to help ease tension with jokes. Then again, I won’t be reading questions off a sheet of paper.

Next week, we’re going on a three day field trip. More on that next time. Still waiting for letters.

Saturday, June 30, 2007


Before I go off on my weekly whatsit, let me advertise someone else’s exciting adventure. Four Webster friends are walking across the US as part of a senior overview project. Check out their story at

Last Friday, my French class – a total of three students – started Ewe lessons. Ewe, one of many local languages, is what everyone in Agou Nyogbo speaks when they’re not accommodating the yovos. My host father told me Germans often find Ewe comparable to German and transition easily.

I speak German. I feel like I’m learning Chinese-Klingon. I have yet to move beyond, “My name is Linda. What is your name? How are you? How are your children? Morning. Teacher. Student. Mid-day. Evening. Driver. Nurse. Doctor. Come eat. Come wash.”

No matter what phrases I learn and practice, I rarely understand what my family and neighbors say to me when they greet me or send me off. “Yoh” is a common response and precedent to an actual response, so I usually just say, “Yoh?” and hope that it’s right.

The Ewe lessons may end if my post is up north. While people speak Ewe throughout the country, our village may use another one of the 40 languages (Peace Corps teaches nine of those). On Thursday, our program director gave us the 14 post descriptions. It was the most exciting event of the week, besides jiujitsu.

On Wednesday, we had the afternoon off for “private studies”. My private studies meant my first jiujitsu lesson with three other trainees and four Togolese guys. Jiujitsu, which means “gentle” is a martial art that our coach, a self-described “peanut”, has studied for 12 years. Before joining Peace Corps, she taught in Brazil. She’s teaching us very basic self-defense.

While the girls practiced moves on each other, she would help the Togolese guys. They let her demonstrate maneuvers on them, an she can flip a dude like a pancake. I think after a few more lessons, I will at least be able to incapacitate an attacker long enough to run away. Hopefully that will never occur and I can just continue enjoying the lessons, which involve lots of rolling around in the grass.

As for post, about six or seven sites sound promising to me. After some reflection, I realize I’m open to going anywhere. Electricity, running water, cell phone reception – I didn’t really come here for all that. It would be great to have regular access (once a week) to internet and phone, and that’s possible from all the sites. So I guess I’ll survive even if I get sent to Tado, the most feared site on the list. We find out next where we’ll be. Besides our Fourth of July picnic, that will probably the event of the week.

Send letters, please. I promise to reply to anyone who writes. Also, if you send anything besides letters, try to fit it into a padded envelope. I hear that makes the journey smoother, faster and less expensive.

The address, again, is:
PCT Linda Golden
Corps de la Paix
B.P. 3194
Lome, Togo
West Africa

I'm waiting...

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Dining in Agou

We’ve been in our training village, Aguou Nyogbo, for 10 days. Last Wednesday, the chief, elders and our host families welcomed us with music and speeches.

Since then, we’ve had language, technical and bike classes. We visited a market, annoying the sellers with questions on prices. We wandered around Kpalimé, the nearest city, after tearful breakdowns in internet cafes. On Sunday, eight of us hiked up Mount Agou with various “family” members. We visited a local state hospital. Yesterday, we learned how to make our own compost piles.

However, in spite of new families, a new climate that nurtures latrine-loving lizards, roaches and buzzing, winged creatures (I have a shower and a flush toilet. Total high-life), food remains tied with bowel movements as the conversation topic. Since one is not really polite or interesting conversation for non-volunteers, we’ll talk about food.

First off – I’m still vegetarian. After our first family meal, minus my five year-old brother, George, I announced that I don’t like meat, but I eat fish. For the next three nights, I had fish in every dinner. I meant that I like the occasional salmon, tilapia or flounder – not smoked fish every day.

The fish streak ended pâte night. Pâte means both pasta and a doughy, corn-based starch eaten with sauce. You use the pâte to scoop up the sauce. My mom’s sauce of choice is fish sauce made from greens called gboma, similar to collard greens. The gboma gives the sauce a brown, mucus consistency. Add the fish and voila! yuck. I ate it, but the next morning I told my mom no more fish sauce.

For breakfast, I had omelette two days in a row. To my host mom, omelette means semi-scrambled eggs garnished with raw tomato slices and large pieces of raw onion.

“Pas de omelette tomorrow, s’il vous plait»

In the last week, the breakfast spread expanded to bread, jam, margarine, homemade peanut butter and La vache qui rit cheese. I also have a bunch of bananas that I race to eat before they brown completely. I eat a lot of bananas.

At every meal, my host mom asks what I want to eat for the next meal (burritos, guac and a margarita). Since I don’t know her meal repertoire, I go off what I’ve eaten the last week. So again, lots of repeats. But aside from the trying to come up with meal ideas, I’m doing ok on the food thing. I’ve had no scares. One volunteer’s family gave him corn-based porridge for breakfast. They told him it was maize, which sounds like “mice”. He said, “No, thanks.”

We have avocados. That was really my biggest concern. I recently had a mango that completely reversed my stance on mangos. It was amazing.

And, on that note, I leave you with a wish list:

1.Chocolate candy (Ashley received Reeses in the mail and they were mostly unmelted).
4.35 mm negative holders
5.razors with soap in them
6.Secret gel deodorant. I don’t care what scent.
7.A 3 lb. tent (mom and dad? Birthday present?)

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Very briefly - bought a cell phone today. Number is 927 1088. To call from the States, enter that number after dialing 001 228 number.

We leave for stage (pre-service training in French, really internship) in Agou Nyogbo tomorrow. Cell phone reception is "unstable" there, and there's no net access, so you may not hear from me for a while.

Thanks to all who have been reading and emailing - it's great to hear from you all. This is the worst keyboard of my life.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

First Togolese blog in my first Togolese internet cafe, where the keyboards are an even greater challenge than those in Switzerland. I can't even type my name properly.

So, despite our hour wait on the runway at Dulles, we made our connecting flight in Paris. They held the plane for us AND all but one of our bags arrived. I hope to eventually post some pictures, but I think I'll wait to attempt that later in my stay.

I need someone to write me the ending of the film Zodiac, because I watched it on the plane, but an announcement interrupted it right when Jake Gyllenhall runs out of the creepy film guy's house. Any takers?

Our delay meant we arrived in Togo just before sunset, which is at six. The Peace Corps took care of all our arrival needs: all we had to do was sit in a room and wait, hand over our passports, and get our bags.

My final days in the US were full of lasts. Last hot US shower, last pizza, last Ben and Jerry's, last phone calls. Now I get to have firsts: first sightings of people carrying huge packages on their heads, first Togolese beer, first Togolese meal, first night in a bed with mosquito netting (I always wanted a canopy, and now I almost have to have one).

We're staying at a hostel in the capital, near the Peace Corps office. After dinner and some official business, current volunteers walked us to a bar, where there were more volunteers waiting for us. It was all a little overwhelming, especially the walk on completly dark streets. We really do need flashlights.

Today we got more shots, got a talk on safety and security and took a language "test". That was just a conversation with a PC staff member. We also chose our bikes and helmets.

I'm sure there's more I wanted to say, but my time's almost up. I may have said this already, but if your inbox is tired of updates, please unsubscribe yourself from the Google group.

I'm going to start reading "On Writing Well" so these updates suck less.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

One last day in the USA

I apologize for that rhyme, but not so much that I'm going to change it.

Staging, as I suspected, was somewhat like freshman orientation, with everyone a little overwhelmed and excited. As soon as I walked into the hotel lobby, two other volunteers grabbed me (the luggage is a dead give away). We went to lunch with one more girl, and talking about all our anxieties helped get me out of the I Just Said Goodbye to My Family mode. The whole staging event reinvigorated my enthusiasm about my service. I didn't even cry today!

Out of our group of 35, 20 will work with SED, or small enterprise development. There are 15 community health and AIDS prevention (CHAP) volunteers, including myself. There are 6 men, and 29 women. All the CHAP volunteers are women. And that's pretty cool.

This morning, I went for a lovely run in our nation's wonderful capital. The fact that my knee gave me almost no trouble made the run extra lovely. And my next run will be in Togo. I can't wait.

We start tomorrow morning at 7 a.m., with a fun trip to the clinic for vaccinations. Our flight doesn't leave until 10 p.m., but we're going to the airport at 3. I suspect that five to six hours in the aiport will be enough time for me to finish reading the Togo section of my West Africa guidebook. Or else, I can get well-acquainted with Dulles.

One last note on packages - I heard that anything weighing over five pounds will cost me about $20 to retrieve from the Togolese postal workers. More on that if I ever get my $43 package of books.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Letter to Family and Friends

Dear Families,

Greetings from the Togo Desk in Washington, D.C. It is with great pleasure that we welcome your family member to the Togo training program. Over the years we have received many questions from Volunteers and family members alike regarding travel plans, sending money, relaying messages and mail, etc. As we are unable to involve ourselves in the personal arrangements of Volunteers, we would like to offer you advice and assistance in advance by providing specific examples of situations and how we suggest they be handled.

1. Irregular Communication. (Please see #3 for the mailing address to Peace Corps' office in Lomé the capital of Togo). The mail service in Togo is not as efficient as the U.S. Postal Service. Thus, it is important to be patient. It can take from three to four weeks for mail coming from Togo to arrive in the United States via the Togolese mail system. From a Volunteer’s post, mail might take up to one to two months to reach the United States depending upon how far the Volunteer is from the capital city, Lomé. Sometimes mail is hand carried to the States by a traveler and mailed through the U.S. postal system. This leg of the trip can take another several weeks as it is also dependent on the frequency of travelers to the U.S.

We suggest that in your first letters, you ask your Volunteer family member to give an estimate of how long it takes for him or her to receive your letters and then try to establish a predictable pattern of how often you will write to each other. Also try numbering your letters so that the Volunteer knows if he or she missed one. Postcards should be sent in envelopes--otherwise they may be found on the wall of the local post office.

Peace Corps Togo has established “The Lomé Limo” which runs up and down the country monthly, delivers mail, medical supplies, and sometimes volunteers or staff to central sites along the national road.

Volunteers often enjoy telling their “war” stories when they write home. Letters might describe recent illnesses, lack of good food, isolation, etc. While the subject matter is often good reading material, it is often misinterpreted on the home front. Please do not assume that if your family member gets sick that he or she has not been attended to. The city of Lomé has medical and dental facilities, and there is a Peace Corps Medical Officer there as well. Most Volunteers can reach Lomé in less than one day’s time. Many Volunteers also have access to a telephone so that they can call our Medical Office. In the event of a serious illness the Volunteer is sent to Lomé and is cared for by our Medical Unit. If the Volunteer requires medical care that is not available in Togo, he/she will be medically evacuated to South Africa or to the United States. Fortunately, such circumstances are very rare.

If for some reason your communication pattern is broken and you do not hear from your family member for at least three months, you should contact the Office of Special Services (OSS) at Peace Corps in Washington at 1-800-424-8580, extension 1470 (or direct: 202-692-1470). The OSS will then call the Peace Corps Director in Lomé, and ask her to check up on the Volunteer. Also, in the case of an emergency at home (death in the family, sudden illness, etc.), please do not hesitate to call OSS immediately, so that the Volunteer can be informed by a member of Peace Corps/Togo staff.

2. Telephone Calls. The telephone system in Togo has fairly reliable service to the United States. In the interior of the country, where most of our Volunteers are located, the system is less reliable. Most Volunteers have access to a telephone in or nearby their post

When dialing direct to Togo from the U.S., dial 011 (the international access code) + 228 (the country code) + the number. Volunteers generally set up phone calls with people in the U.S. in advance, and have the distant party call them, which is much less expensive than calling the U.S. from Togo. Many volunteers decide to purchase cell phones once they arrive in Togo, but they may not always have regular reception at their site.

The Togo Desk in Washington, D.C. usually calls the Peace Corps office in Lomé once every two weeks. However, these calls are reserved for business only and we cannot relay personal messages over the phone. If you have an urgent message, however, and have exhausted your other means (regarding travel plans, etc.), you can call the Desk, and the message will be relayed.

3. Sending Packages. Parents and Volunteers like to send and receive care packages through the mail. Unfortunately, sending packages can be a frustrating experience for all involved due the high incidence of theft and heavy customs taxes. You may want to send inexpensive items through the mail, but there is no guarantee that these items will arrive. We do not recommend, however, that costly items be sent through the mail. Even though many Volunteers sometimes choose to get local post office boxes, you may always use the following address to send letters and/or packages to your family member:

John Doe, PCV
Corps de la Paix
B.P. 3194
Lomé, Togo
West Africa

It is recommended that packages be sent in padded envelopes if possible, as boxes tend to be taxed more frequently. Packages can be sent via surface mail (2-3 weeks arrival time) or by ship (4-6 months). The difference in cost can be a factor in deciding which method to utilize. For lightweight but important items (e.g. airline tickets), DHL (an express mail service) does operate in Lomé, but costs are very expensive. If you choose to send items through DHL, you must address the package to the Country Director, s/c Corps de la Paix, 48 Rue de Rossignols, Quartier Kodjoviakopé, Lomé, Togo. The telephone number for the Peace Corps office in Togo is (228) 221-0614, should DHL need this information. If you send the item to the Country Director, no liability can be assumed. For more information about DHL, please call their toll free number, 1-800-CALL-DHL, or visit their web site at Please be aware that there is a customs fee for all DHL packages sent to Volunteers. For each DHL package, the Volunteer will be taxed 10,000 CFA (roughly US$20).

Sending airplane tickets and/or cash is not recommended. Certain airlines will allow you to buy a prepaid ticket in the States; they will telex their Lomé office to have the ticket ready. Unfortunately, this system is not always reliable. Many airlines (e.g., KLM, Air France, Ghana Airways, Air Togo) fly into Lomé or Accra, but each has its own policy on pre-paid tickets. Please call the airline of your choice for more information. You could also send tickets via DHL as mentioned previously. However, Peace Corps will assume no liability in the event of a lost/stolen airline ticket.

Trying to send cash or airline tickets is very risky and is discouraged. If your Volunteer family member requests money from you, it is his/her responsibility to arrange receipt of it. Some Volunteers use Western Union, which has an office in Lomé. Volunteers will also be aware of people visiting the States and can request that they call his/her family when they arrive in the States should airline tickets need to be sent back to Togo.

4. E-mail. There is fairly reliable e-mail service in Togo with cyber cafes in most large towns. Connections can be very slow and time consuming as well as costly. E-mail, however, may become the preferred method of communication between you and your family member in Togo. Not all Volunteers have access to e-mail on a daily basis but they should be able to read and send messages at least once a month. As with other means of communication, do not be alarmed if you do not receive daily or weekly messages. Unless in Lomé at the office, Volunteers have to pay for internet time at cyber cafes and this can be a slow or expensive process depending on the connection at the café.

We hope this information is helpful to you during the time your family member is serving as
a Peace Corps Volunteer in Togo. We understand how frustrating it is to communicate with your family member overseas and we appreciate your using this information as a guideline. Please feel free to contact us at the Togo Desk in Washington, DC, if you have further questions. Our phone number is (800) 424-8580, ext. 2326/7, or locally at (202) 692-2326/7.


Jennifer Brown, Country Desk Officer
Nicole Lewis, Country Desk Assistant

First blog! Exciting!

Howdy, folks and friends!

Welcome to my very first blog. At the moment, I'm still in my room in Houston, but I thought I should put some general information out there for everyone. I'll close with the official Peace Corps letter to family and friends, which should cover anything I forget.

I leave for staging in D.C. on Wednesday morning. From what I've read, I imagine staging will be like orientation with fewer ice-breakers (although I'm open to a game of Ride the Pony). We're in D.C. until Friday, when we jet over to the clinic to get our vaccinations and then go to the airport. We fly to Paris and arrive in Lomé Saturday evening.

I'll spend the first three days with all the volunteers at a Peace Corps house in the capital. Then we get separated by programs for our three-month training. I'm going to Agou Nyogbo, which apparently has unstable cell phone service. I'm unsure of what that says about internet service. We'll see.

Several people expressed interest in sending packages, which is AWESOME. However, packages can take anywhere from four to six weeks to arrive - if they do. So just keep that in mind. There is also the possibility that packages will be "examined", which essentially means I might not receive everything you put in the package. So don't send anything super valuable.

Here are some tips for mailing, which I stole from the book "So You Want to Join the Peace Corps... What to Know Before You Go" by Dillon Banerjee. He suggests addressing mail in red ink, because somehow, that keeps the curious away. He also says it helps to scribble religious symbols or quotes all over the outside of any packages.

"Though many of the countries in which Peace Corps serves are largely animist in religion, superstition runs high and even corrupt postal workers are wary of intercepting religious parcels."

So break out your religious texts, and toss a "Sister" in front of my name. I'm serious. If nothing else, it will make me laugh.

In case you do feel the need to send me packages, here are some things I think I might want (list subject to change):
- Post It notes
- pictures
- books (definitely!)
- AA batteries
- pens
- peanut butter
- EmergenC/vitamins
- lipgloss or chapstick
- a map of the world
- books
- US stamps (I plan on sending one person a letter full of stamped letters to be thrown into the post box)
- margaritas, I mean, books
- books

That being said, let me tell you that I sent myself some books today. Six books, two of which were blank journals. Apparently, amongst the other recent changes at the post office, they did away with media mail, at least for international packages. The postal worker told me I had the option of priority or express. I went for the cheaper of the two, priority, which was $43. Perhaps sending one book at a time will be more economical (unless it's Harry Potter, whichI fully expect to see in my mail box by next January. Thanks).

That's all I have for now. Tomorrow, I look forward to packing. In typical Linda fashion, I saved it for the very last day.

Oh. Here's the letter from the Peace Corps. Nevermind, look at the next post, this one's already too long.