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.