Friday, July 25, 2008

Camp and home improvements

Even though I spent an hour and a half online last Sunday, I failed to post an update. Here’s a summary of what happened after Lomé.

I spent July 4th and too many days after in Kpalime with volunteer friends who pampered me (and their three to five other guests) so much that I extended my stay by a day. I saw my host family, and yes, Esse is pregnant. She said the baby is due around December, so maybe I’ll have to plan a visit around then.

From Kpalime I went to Tchifama, a village just outside Pagala, where we do our in-service trainings and camps. I spent the night with another friend, who shares the village chief’s compound with 20-something people. Very noisy. It was great just for a night – we had burritos and carrot cake for dinner. The next morning we went to Pagala for camp training.

I loved and loathed camp but overall had a positive experience (so much so that I’m trying to establish a once-a-month volunteer-kid get-together with the association in Dapaong). Amy and I were Butterflies with the oldest girls. This meant we could leave them for five minutes and not worry that anyone would lock herself in her room at night and pee on the floor. They still managed to drive me crazy half the time, especially when it was time to go anywhere. But they eventually cut down their prep time, their table manners improved quickly and they got all the activities we did with them.

During the week, all the cabins learned income-generating activities like making popcorn or juice. Then we had a little market at the end of the week with bottle cap money. The Butterflies made beaded bracelets and toffee. I thought we were just going to make single-strand bracelets, but the woman who taught our session had everyone do a really complicated four-strand method. Turns out she thought we were making beaded AIDS ribbons. We managed to make enough bracelets by Friday and the kids purchased them all with their bottle caps.

On Thursday night, we had a candlelight vigil. I think the point is to give kids a chance to share their stories. I heard that last year, only one girl spoke, so I expected a repeat. Instead we had lots of sharing and LOTS of crying. I didn’t fully understand a single story, but it still made me cry because a roomful of nine-to-15-year olds were talking about their dead parents and AIDS. Besides making everyone cry, I fail to see the point of this activity, but the associations insist we do it. The next night we had a dance party, so that ended things on a happier note.

The biggest news back in village is that I got wired! My landlord plans to move into the compound soon, maybe with his family, but definitely with his generator. The electrician came Wednesday, knocked holes into my walls and now I have light bulbs and outlets. Very exciting.

One more week in village and then I begin my long voyage to America. Where I will post pictures of cute children at camp.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Workin' hard in West Africa

I just worked more in the last week than I have since I got to post (unless you count biking as work).

My peer educators are trained! I don't know how well I trained them - most of them missed some, if not half, of the questions on the final exam - but training ended Sunday and everyone survived. Over the three days, I rollercoastered from extreme satisfaction and joy to impatience, frustration and near tears. I considered firing (not possible) Azembe, an instigating 10th-grade student. He had a comment on everything the women's rights speakers said and tried to argue both that things were better when women had to beg their husbands to travel and that we should isolate HIV positive people. I get fired up about both those subjects. Instead of grabbing him by the neck and shaking him, I babbled on in my best angry French about tolerance and gender equality. Then my counterpart translated.

A quick tangent on that – I’m learning, a little belatedly, that if I want to increase comprehension during activities, I need a counterpart to translate. I mean translate from Linda’s Non-African French to African French, not translate into local language. Fortunately, for most of the weekend, I had a great counterpart, Karim, who is the president of the moto syndicate. I think that means he’s the boss of Sagbiebou’s moto drivers.

After we finished training on Sunday, Saibou (nurse counterpart) and Mr. Tairou (teacher counterpart) told me we needed to motivate the kids with Cokes. I’d offered to take those two, Karim and another teacher who helped me out for beers, but it ended up being the whole group – you can’t expect people to participate in anything if they’re not going to get anything out of it (no, certificates and homemade sugar-cookies are not enough). It was fun, and we split the bill three ways. The kids did a “banc” (a cheer) for me, and when they left, I engaged in two beers and lively conversation with the counterparts and one of the girls’ fathers. Beers in Africa are twice the size of American beer. I slept very well.

On Monday, I headed south. I spent the night in Kara, then came down to Lome on the bus Tuesday morning. After two and a half days of editing, our Perspectives-GAD Newsletter combination issue is complete. I’ve forgotten how tedious producing a publication is. Still, it looks good (mostly thanks to Amanda) and come next Friday, volunteers will have something new to read.

On Wednesday night, the ambassador extended an open invitation to volunteers to attend a 232nd birthday reception for America, which took place in his very large backyard. We went, partook of the free drinks and finger foods, mingled, then moved on. Kind of fancy, except it was clear who the non-Lomé volunteers were (Amanda and I), based on our grungy attire. I don’t even own a nice pair of shoes anymore. Anyway, it was interesting to hang out with ex-pats and meet non-Peace Corps people.

Camp Espoir “Training of Trainers” starts next Friday. Rather than going back to village (an all day affair) and then repeating half the trip next Thursday, I’m going to visit friends in Kpalimé and outside Pagala. Hopefully I can see my host family. I heard rumors that my host mom, Esse, is pregnant or has already had the baby. So we’ll see.

Enjoy the photos.

In Benin. Awaiting your praise for this one.

This canoe trip (Benin) was much less harrowing than crossing the Komoungou with bike bags.

Sagbiebou: an antennae surrounded by mud huts.

The mosque. And a lizard.

(l-r) Mr. Tairou, peer educators with their certificates and Saibou.

Rachidatou's dad, Rachidatou and Mme Awa.