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.