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.