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.