Monday, October 15, 2007


Looks like I will begin working with a local Micro Finance sometime within the next week.  I also found an internet café in Vogan, and the two are actually related.  I had turned in my résumé to the MFI and had tried to make contact with the director several times but he was never there.  I went by with my homologue yesterday in hopes that we would find him but again caught him out of the office.  We spoke with the secretary and left a note.  I went off to the internet cafe and paid for two hours, had the chance to talk with Lauren on gmail chat for a little bit, and did some browsing around   After an hour and a half the director shows up to get online and we chat, set up Monday at 8:30 as a good time to meet, and go about our business. 

Mr. Eklo came by this morning to help straighten up the furniture situation here.  He paid me back the 3 or 4 dollars left over from other money I had already given him, and then I gave him another 60 dollars or so to pay for my kitchen table, four wooden chairs, and a cabinet where I can finally put my clothes and organize this mountain of papers that seems to be rising up in rebellion.  I'll finally feel moved in.

I've also made a friend next door whose mother has been cooking me something to eat every evening.  They have a refrigerator, a TV, and a DVD player with several movies, all the indicators of a middle class family.  I've offered to pay her mom to cook for me every evening.  I hate having to put something together myself, I just straight up cannot make something as delicious as they can.  I've become accustomed to the food enough that I'm starting to crave it.. 

Friday, October 5, 2007

Swing Low

September 28th, 2007

I just finished what might have been my most pensive shower since
arriving in Togo. Today has been a tough day, and a tough day for no
reason in particular. Nothing exceptional happened, I went to market
with Becka and Bridgette (my homologue's daughter). I came back along
the route and talked with the guy from the farmer's association,
canceling our lunch date for tomorrow.

So what am I doing here? Why is it that I made the decision to sign up
with the Peace Corps to come struggle through French in a foreign land
that I may never completely understand. I'm sure that it was not
completely altruistically motivated. I convinced myself I would be
getting something out of this, namely a new language and an altered
consciousness developed through life abroad. But I had no specific
plan, I still cannot decide what route I want my life to take. So why
have I taken this detour? Is that what it is? A detour? I suppose
not. I don't think so.

So what did I come here to do? I'm not sure. But isn't it wise to make
choices in your life that you want to do, even if you don't have
direction? How can you choose to do what you want if you don't even
know what that is?

I think back and wonder why it is that I just don't start working
towards a future that benefits myself. Suppose there is an explanation
for this. In my letter of motivation submitted to the Peace Corps I
stated with firm and honest resolve that one finds peace through service
to others. This line of thinking tied in directly with my spiritual
side. But what if I'm wrong. What if happiness just comes from our
relationships, from feeling well integrated in our communities, being
loved by those around us, and ultimately through doing something and
doing it very well. What if the missing puzzle that I'm searching for
is not selfless service but self-actualization.

But maybe the key to my puzzle relates to self hatred, and resolve to
one's worthlessness.

Is this the New Year? I don't feel any different.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Premier Post of Vogan

Hey everyone, I wanted to give an update on my situation here in Vogan. I arrived here along with another Peace Corps volunteer during the morning of the 27th of August. The Peace Corps was in a bit of a rush to find a house for me at the last minute. The house I was originally supposed to take did not pan out because the landlord decided that he wanted to change the contract at the last minute and the Peace Corps was not happy with whatever has been included in the revised edition. So during my visit to post which occurred during the last week of July my homologue and I walked around town looking at potential alternatives. The most suitable option was located near the government office where my homologue works. It was in a really beautiful area, but I still felt like it was too large for one person and the PC administration was concerned because the nearest access to pipe born water was about a kilometer away. If I moved into this house I would have to pay a sizeable amount of money each week for someone to make multiple trips back to my house. After returning back to Agou, I heard that another house had been found that appeared to be better than all of the others, but the owner of the house was in Paris and either could not be contacted in time or was not interested in renting the house for two years. So at almost two weeks prior to my arrival here in Vogan there as no house for me to move into. With one week remaining this house was located and PC security gave the go a head and my program coordinator also approved. They scrambled to get screen doors put on all the windows and doors and to get as much fresh paint on the house as possible.
So this house is situated on the far side of town. If you were coming into town the direction of Lomé you would take a right after the taxi station and then immediately see a huge collection of covered concrete platforms for the regional marché that occurs every Friday. You could continue down the dirt road and eventually come across a concentration of vendors selling fruits and vegetables as well as other daily wares. This is what we call the petit marché. You would continue down the road until it merged with another and then cross a river. On the other side of the river there would be a fork in the road and you would take the left fork marked by the sign reading “Togoville” and would then soon pass the Lycée on the right. My house would be located within the first compound on the right hand side of the road. It has white walls with red trim and
I believe that this compound was built relatively recently. The buildings are all in pretty good shape with paint in good reasonably good condition. Five single men live within my compound, two are teachers at the Lycée and the other two work at an NGO. We have an open courtyard area with room for three mango trees, a well, a cistern, and a reasonably sized garden of about 12 x 20 feet growing tomato, citronella, and a couple aloe plants. My house itself has a covered porch that leads into an open living area that I use as both a common area and a kitchen. I have a sofa along one wall facing the entry door and along another wall I keep a raised table for preparing my food and a separate screened cupboard. Along the floor I have three plastic bowls for doing my dishes, pre-wash, wash, and rinse. I keep a 75 liter plastic container next to the cupboard and another 100 liter container in the bathroom. From the living area there is a door leading to the two rooms in the back. At the end of this short hallway is a back door that I open up each day to allow air to circulate through the house. To the right is a room that I use for putting all of my excess items that I am unable to organize and to the left is my room. In my room I have a full sized bet, a work table, and eventually hope to have another piece of furniture to put my clothes and books. A door opens from my room into a small room that has a shower drain and a toilet that is manually flushed with a water bucket. The room also has a sink with a drain where I put a small plastic bowl for washing my hands.
To take a shower I heat some water with my gas stove and mix it with cool water in a bucket to reach the desired temperature. I use a 17 liter graduated bucket for showers and generally need about 13 liters of water. I stand in a larger sturdy plastic basin that fits both of my feet comfortably inside and allows me to kind of crouch down and sit if I need to. I take a large plastic cup that you could use to drink out of and pour the water over my head, use a piece of mesh fabric to make lather with the soap and proceed to scrub down and then rinse. The majority of the water drains down into the basin in which I stand and after finishing I pour this water into another bucket that I keep next to the toilet to use for flush water. I don’t really miss taking showers with running water that much. The bucket shower can be relaxing and warm and you’re not left with a guilty feeling for letting the water run over your body to waste, and moreover you can reuse the same water to flush the toilet, further conserving water and eliminating as much waste as possible.
I have electricity in my house and, unlike in Agou Akoumawou, it rarely goes out. When the power does cut it usually only lasts for a few hours. I’m able to use my computer and charge all of my electrical appliances that include my radio, fan, hair clippers, and a AA/AAA battery charger. Unfortunately the voltage fluctuates so it is necessary to use a voltage regulator between my more sensitive electrical appliances and the current coming out of the wall. But at time it fluctuates so rapidly that the regulator itself is unable to keep up with the changes, so I’m hoping that my computer’s power pack has some additional protection to compensate. I’ve also got a 300w capacity 220 to 110 volt step down converter compliments of Lauren Twist. I use the thing every day to minimize the risk of damaging my PC with a voltage spike and it allows me to charge my batteries and my radio without frying the electronics (already fried one charger supposedly rated for 220 volts).
My typical day begins at around 6-8 am. I then walk next door to buy a loaf of bread for about 20 cents, come back and boil some water to make tea or coffee and then sit down in front of the computer to watch an episode of the Daily Show or the Colbert Report that my dad sends on a regular basis. Afterwards I usually devote a couple hours to language study and then spend a little bit of time keeping up with current events in magazines that my dad also sends on a regular basis. I do this until I get hungry and then cook up something in the kitchen either listening to the BBC or Radio France depending on whether or not I feel like exercising my brain further with French and also on the programming (I would rather listen to pretty much anything on Radio France than listen to an in depth feature on the BBC on British sports). Both of the stations are broadcast out of Lomé in FM so I get great reception without having to use an extended antenna. After lunch I do whatever else I can fill my day with. Sometimes I’ll go out and get some shopping done, or I’ll go over to my homologue’s house and see his family, or more often than not I’ll stay here and find something else to read. I have an intimidating stack of books, binders, and plastic bound booklets with information on various projects that I could start. In the past few days I’ve come across some apparent opportunities so I have some homework that needs to be done.
This pass Saturday I had mentioned to my homologue, Mr. Eklo, that I was interested in visiting with the man who works to prevent the traffic of children for labor. So on Tuesday the 11th, a day after returning from a trip to Lomé, I get a phone call at 7:45 in the morning and we agree to meet at 8:30. At the ONG, named Terre des Hommes, I learned a little bit about the projects that are undertaken. The man, whose name I know but am not sure how to spell, goes out into the surrounding villages and tries to convince people that they should not let their children be taken abroad to neighboring countries or even to Lomé to work with the hope that they will be able to send money back home. He gave me several examples of projects that he works on to help train kids thus making them more valuable and self sufficient within their own communities. The focus appears to be on coming up with income generating projects, or finding funding to send the kids to school so that they can learn a life skill. I wasn’t a prepared for the meeting as I had hoped so I wasn’t able to phrase the questions that I wanted to ask. I want to know more about how these kids are recruited from the villages, where they go, what happens to them when they leave, where does the money come from to fund these projects, what can I do to help with this operation, etc. I promised to return in the near future with more questions and expressed my sincere interest in working with him in the future. He welcomed my offer and said that he has worked with another Peace Corps volunteer in the past.
As we were walking out the door another man walked in who operates a Microfinance organization in the same building and he invited me back into his office with Mr. Eklo. The operation ran by this man also appeared to offer numerous opportunities for me to explore. His microfinance operation focuses not only on providing finds for entrepreneurs in the community, but also works in education about health issues and HIV/AIDS. He has also worked with Peace Corps volunteers and showed me pictures. I recognized one of the girls as Lydia who had come to our training site and stayed with us for one week. I feel like these two organizations, located within the same building, could potentially offer me enough work to stay comfortably busy for the foreseeable future. Although I’m not exactly sure what it is that they will need, I am sure that there will be something I can contribute to both. As of right now I’m pressed with coming up with some questions for another interview in which I hope to gain some more insight into their operations and get one step closer to finding regular work. I’ve still got another two months before I’m expected to have identified and integrated with some organizations throughout town, so I think that I might be right on track at this point.
I’m also excited about the start of the school year. I am so close to the Lycée and have enough potential contacts with the school that I will hopefully have the opportunity to teach one or two Junior Achievement programs at the school. There is an introductory economics class that I am interested in teaching and also an economics of education class that I could also run. I’m also exploring the possibility of starting an English club in town, either at the Lycée or with an NGO operated by Becka’s counterpart. I expressed this desire to Mr. Eklo, and he told me that he will be feeling out the situation and looking for some interesting people in the community. I wouldn’t really be teaching English in a formal way, but would instead provide and opportunity for people to practice using grammar in speech and to learn vocabulary in lexical groups through topic discussion and role play.
I have also started to attend Mr. Eklo’s Assembly of God church. I think that it is an excellent way to gain recognition within the community, learn more about the culture, and also to exercise my French comprehension and reading skills. This past Sunday the children had an hour and a half long program where they entered into the church with choreographed movements and sang and danced at the front. Then they had a skit emphasizing the responsibility of parents for paying for children to go to school and also for the children’s responsibility to use their education to aid their parents later in life. I felt like I learned a lot about the culture and really had a good time. Church always seems to be fun here; it’s more like a celebration with people up and dancing in a circle singing. The first part of the service is always in Ewe, but my homologue translates to me in French in a lowered voice the points that he sees as interesting. When the pastor is not speaking in French and Mr. Eklo is either busy or not translating I open up a copy of the new testament that he gave me in French. I’ve found the book to be surprisingly accessible to me because I’m already so familiar with the books, especially the gospels, and therefore can work my way through and learn new words through context and get exposure to verb usage more complex than I can currently use verbally. I’m already looking forward to next Sunday. People are happy to see me there and I get to bump into various people like the computer teacher at the Lycée that I would not have otherwise acquainted so soon.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

It's time to go

Time to peace out of Lome. This time tomorrow I'll be in Vogan. Not too much to report so far, but the upcoming week promises to be full of surprises. I'll be in the process of getting my house in order, and on September 3rd I may be leaving for an preliminary run of the bike route for AIDS ride. Sometime within the next two months Peace Corps is participating in a country wide bike tour broken down into regions. I'm too much of a newbie to really contribute to the whole planning process; I would just be making company for the person doing the real work. I think we would be covering about 150 kilometers in 5 days through relatively rural sections of Togo. The trip would be to locate people in each village that can house and feed the volunteers when the larger group travels through, and also to ensure that the roads are passable. Sounds like some good exercise, but I don't know if it will be appropriate to leave post so soon, but I might be going crazy after a week. Who knows, we'll see. I'll let you all know what happens when I get back to Lome again. And eventually there will be internet in Vogan. I think it might happen within the next three months. But you never know around here.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Sworn In; Verified and Authentic

Hello everyone, it's official, I signed and dated my name and took the oath to defend the consitution against all enemies both foriegn and domestic, that makes me an official Peace Corps volunteer.

We are staying in Lome this week running around and shopping til we drop, but I've been sick since Friday, the day after we swore in. Its nothing major, but I definitely didn't feel like braving the Lome market on market day, and that's just what I attempted to do on Friday with a fever and a slight hangover. For someone that dislikes shopping in general, it can be difficult to appreciate the African method of commerce.

Vendor comes up with post cards (speaking english): Very nice, do you like them?
Me: No, I don't want to buy your post cards.
He kind of hesitates, backs off, and then steps back up to be thumbing through them again, "I will make a very good price for you"
Me: Did you not hear what I said?
Vender: (with a smirk) Oh you are big man, okay.

Thank god something works. But it's really not wise to be like that, I was sick and my head was throbbing. Normally I would be a little bit more measured, you never know who or when you might need a friend around here.

I'm heading off to Vogan on Monday. I still don't have all of my shopping done, but I'm not too worried about it. Lome is only an hour long ride away.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Two very dated posts that never made it on here

Sunday July 15th, 2007

Sundays are the worst.

This week has been full of activities and I’m glad that it’s finally over, but then again it’s Sunday, and Sunday is when everything calms down and I begin to reflect back on the previous week, two weeks, month, and look forward to the upcoming week, month, year, and years beyond that. Sunday is an empty hole in a tightly controlled routine. I usually feel emotional, like I do right now. I miss Lauren’s affection and conversation; I miss the excitement of departing for two years of work in another country, I miss flying several times a week; I miss driving (I didn’t think I would); I miss freedom to determine my own routine, I miss ease of communication; I miss living in a country with infrastructure; and I miss not being a minority.

Last night was a short lived experience worth reference. We had returned from a three day field trip across the southern part of the country. I was exhausted and had intended to spend the evening at home, but there happened to be a theater event going on that evening (it was more like a talent show) and another PCV’s host sister was scheduled to perform in a dance. Carolyn (the PCV) came by and we chatted for awhile until her sister stopped by. Her sister was so excited, she was all smiles and had all sorts of spring in her step, it was cute. We picked up David (another PCV) who lives next door to me and we walked over to the adjacent village where the party was happening, paid 200 CFA, and went inside. We had to wait about an hour for the show to get started and the first act was a guy with a guitar who played Hotel California, a Beatles song, and another English song that I didn’t recognize. The next act was where things got interesting. A guy came out who had white paint on his body and was dressed in western clothes. We couldn’t understand what he was saying, but he kept looking directly at us and was obviously using us as a reference point for his comedy skit. And we all got the feeling that he was being really offensive. People in the crowd were throwing money at him in what appeared to be an active participation in his performance. It was an extremely awkward situation to be in. I looked over at Carolyn and said that I didn’t want to stay, she went ahead and decided to stick it out with another PCV and I returned home with David. It was one of, if not the most, awkward moments since we have arrived in village. I still don’t know what happened afterwards; have not seen either of the two who stayed, hopefully that was the extent of things. Maybe it wasn’t as bad as it seemed, but who knows, we didn’t understand what was going on.

And now there are the needs, chores to do. I need to go gather water from the river tonight, need to rinse my clothes (I already washed them), need to take a shower, need to eat, and I really need to study French. Everything takes so much more time here. I have an exam coming up on Tuesday. I’m not sure how I feel about that. I don’t speak French all that well. So I should probably work on that. Looks like I’ve got some quality dictionary time coming up for tonight.

June 11th, 2007

Hello everyone, I’ve been in the capital of Togo since Sunday evening. So far everything has been great. We are all well fed, housed, and even have our own personal Land Rover and 15 passenger van that we jump in even if we are only going down the block. We are staying at a small hotel and have all the food we could eat. All of the houses, and this hotel, are in walled compounds. The streets are made up of walls, outside the doorway of each wall you see people outside selling various wares and food. There are little phone “booths” attended by someone. These are all called cabines. There are quite a few bars around town, some are built into the walls along the street and others are larger establishments. The first night we went to a really fun place, and probably packed about 70 people or so inside. The people are great, which is good considering that we spend all of our time together. First impressions, pleasant people, humid, hot (but not that bad), and humid. The humidity level is comparable to what we get in August, and from what I hear it is like this all the time, and we even get a sea breeze here along the coast, cities to the immediate north are probably more humid. From what I have seen and heard, Togo is poor, but resilient. For the time being we are allotted the equivalent of $1.75 a day until we complete training, afterwards we receive about $9 a day. This is actually a great wage for a single person considering that housing and utilities are paid for. We can all live comfortably, most live on much less. If we step outside and walk down the street we catch everyone’s attention. We are on display all the time. You can definitely tell a difference between us and the volunteers that have been here for awhile. They are different from us, we don’t know what’s happening. I feel so naive.

We’ve been attending educational sessions all day every day. So far we have learned about fevers, malaria, shown how to make a slide with our blood, visited the health clinic (which is amazing), visited the peace corps office (nice too), received vaccinations for Typhoid, Diphtheria/Tetanus, Yellow Fever, Polio, Meningitis, and Rabies, learned how to use a kerosene lamp, cook with a gas stove, handle our initial experience meeting our host families, met the ambassador, received a security briefing, gone out to the bar twice, had lots of good food, sized and fitted for bicycles/helmets, taken a French placement exam, tomorrow we have a discussion about diarrhea and will receive our medical kits.

The next stage is the meeting of our host families. They will be providing me a place to stay while I am in training and will cook for me three times a day. They might speak a few words of English, and at least one member of the family will speak French. From what I have heard this is really going to be pretty intense. We are talking the real deal, chiefs, dancing, music, huge celebration when we show up, little children running up and hauling luggage over their heads, parading through the village. So it could be pretty exciting. This village has never housed Peace Corps volunteers before and apparently they are pretty pumped about it.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

In Lomé

Hello everyone, I thought that I put another post on here before but somehow it never seemed to make it. I don't have much time to be reflective right now, but I will in less than a month because I'll be at my post in a town named Vogan and I will have lots of time on my hand. The first step is to set up my house, study French, and really learn how to cook for myself. When I lived in Holland I was able to get away with buying lunch meat at the store and making a sandwich. But here it's a little different. I'm going to have to be a little bit more resourceful than I ever have before. Fortunately I have some friends nearby, we'll get together and be domestic from time to time. I hope to learn how to make Banana bread and Carrot cake with a Dutch oven. I'm really pretty excited about this.

But I'm also a bit concerned with all the excess time that I will have on my hands. I intend to spend a fair amount of time shadowing my homologue (my Togolese counterpart) and figuring out exactly what it is that he does. The language barrier is still huge, I feel like so much of these first few months will just involve getting down the basics of communication. There really isn't much work that I can do before I can speak in French. But I'm also lucky in this respect, my homologue studied for three months in Canada and is really well educated. He speaks French well and when I find myself searching for a word or a verb tense he is able to provide me with great feedback. He also reads English, and probably speaks more than he will let me know, so when I search for a word I can say the English and usually get the French translation on the spot. And he's a really great guy. I like seeing how he treats his family and friends. He's well respected in the community and has been a pleasure to work with thus far.

But time, time, time, so much time to sit around and think. This past week has involved a lot of thinking while in Vogan. It will be a struggle to stay busy during the beginning here, to stay sane, to find some work. Well anyway, I'll write more soon. I'm getting ready to head back to the training site where I will march through another three weeks of language and technical instruction. Sometimes I question how useful the technical instruction is, but then again it's impossible for me to know at this point. I'll just have faith for now. And language, I'm excited to start working on that some more. We took mid term language fluency tests before we left for our post visits and I am considered "Intermediate Low" I was "Novice Low" when I got here, so I guess that's an improvement. I have to be "Intermediate High" by the end of three weeks. We'll see. Time, lots of time.

Oh and I have another post saved on my computer than I need to upload. It might take a few weeks, but I'll get it up eventually.

Love you all,

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Pre Departure Stage in D.C.

Hey everyone, not too much time to report here, but wanted to let everyone know that I made it to staging in D.C. and will be here until Friday. Looks like a great group of people. I'm looking forward to the next three months.

Sunday, June 3, 2007


Wednesday, June 6th, 2007

United Airlines Flight Number: 7924
Equipment: ER4
Depart: TULSA, OK 6:08 Am
Arrive: CHICAGO/OHARE 8:00 Am

United Airlines Flight Number: 606
Equipment: Boeing 737-300
Depart: CHICAGO/OHARE 9:05 Am

June 6, 7, 8 Pre Departure Staging in Washington D.C.

June 8 Depart Washington Dulles via Delta/Air France # 8331 at 10:20 pm
June 9 Arrive Paris (Charles de Gaulle Airport) at 11:50 am
June 9 Depart Paris via Delta/Air France # 8538 at 1:20 pm
June 9 Arrive Lomé, Togo at 5:35 pm

Less than 3 days

Only a few days remain until I blast off from the humble farming community of Tulsa, Oklahoma USA and find myself in the coastal city of Lomé, Togo this time next week. But really, what the heck does this mean anyway? I will stay in Lomé for approximately one week and then depart for a smaller city to the northeast named Kpalimé (pronounced with a silent k). My training will take part in a nearby village (like Tulsa), where I will acquire a basic foundation of French and receive a thorough safety and health rundown along with a measured dose of technical training to boot. Beyond that the story remains more or less a mystery. I will employ myself in the development sector focusing primarily on small business. After approximately three months of training, I will depart for my assignment where I will live and do my best to integrate with the community so that I may become an effective development volunteer. The objective is to provide assistance. But before I can do this, I will have to listen and observe. I am walking into an alien environment and have a lot to learn before I even have a chance to teach. I have to gain respect in my community and overcome my youth. We are officially given six months to orientate ourselves, adapt, and find a direction. The first three occur in an organized fashion, the next three occur at post where I must continue my education independently. Anything beyond this is pure speculation so I'll end here for now. I'm sure I will have many stories to put up here over the next several months. If for some reason I do not post for several days or even weeks at a time do not worry. It probably just means that I am doing something productive. It will be nice to have this space to unwind. So stay tuned.