Thursday, April 3, 2014

And up goes the roof!

The rains are slowly coming upon us. We've had 2 big rains (short delay in work), and it's only a few more weeks until rainy season actually starts.

But, now that we have the roof up, we're in the clear. Next comes the flooring, which will be next week. The menusier is furiously working on doors and windows so we can get the frames in before we cement over everything. It's supposed to be Wednesday, but we will see. After that it's just the paint and the beds.

relaxing under their newly built shade

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Here we go!

When I started writing this blog post, I was planning on covering the beginnings of work on my maternity house, but in the 2 weeks since we’ve started, the buildings are more than 50% done already. The amount of work and dedication I have seen from my village surprised even me.

So, here’s how it went. The CVD and I went to Sokode to buy materials. I dropped 1,000,000 CFA at one time, which made me feel like a baller, because here people talk about millionaires like we talk about millionaires in the US, but here a million is actually $2000 US. Back down to earth. Then we hired a truck and brought the stuff in to village.

In 2 days, they built the foundations for the buildings. They brought in all the bricks they made from the riverside and in the first week built half of the first building.

1st building - rooms for the pregnant women

2nd building - midwife's lodging

you can see on the left side where the maternity rooms will go and on the right there is the health clinic

halfway up already!

Week 2 they worked sun up to sun down and finished putting up the walls of the 2 buildings. There were masses of people that showed up to help, even those who were “helping,” standing around, watching and directing others (me included). The students at the middle school brought the bricks in from the riverside. The women brought in water from wells about 150 to 200m away, one bowl at a time. You can just imagine how much water is needed to mix cement for 2 buildings (a lot). They brought it all in themselves, first pulling the water from the wells by bucket and rope, then transporting it on their heads to the construction site.

the work force

the directors
(starting from the left: president CVD, Imam, Treasurer CVD, Plan Togo Volunteer)
But, wait a second, let's get a better look at that Imam's t-shirt

ha ha. i guarrantee he has no idea what that means

notice that the middle woman is pregnant and the 1st woman has a baby on her back, and they are still carring water, now that is dedication

The men were out there mixing cement and building the walls for about 30 minutes before I noticed that their wheelbarrow didn’t have any wheels. They would fill it up then have to carry the whole thing over to the side of the house. They told me they didn’t have any working wheelbarrows, the other one had no handles, and they’d been doing it like that for a while (these are masons by profession). It just looked like so much extra work, I gave them money to get their wheelbarrows fixed.

Seeing these people work so hard and long to get this done (and they were getting a lot done) made me feel really good about this project. I was expecting hitches. I was expecting the people who signed up for community contribution to have to be coaxed from their houses every morning to work. This is normally how projects go. But, I have been so far pleasantly surprised to see how committed my village is to doing this.

probably the most precarious scaffolding system I've ever seen, but no one fell

Not that there haven’t been hitches. So, before they got started on the foundation, they had planned 2 days before to start and the days came and went without any work being done. The CVD and I went to the village chief, who was in charge of rallying the workers, and talked to him. He said he would have a meeting with the workers and find out the problem. The chief comes back to me and says that the workers are sorry, because they want to do the work, but they can’t leave the work in their fields to start on this because they won’t have any food for their families, and since they are not getting paid, they wont have a way to support themselves if they leave their fields now... “What? Wait a second. What do you mean they’re not getting paid?” And the chief is like, “I know, but they said, if you can wait like 2-3 weeks til the tilling of the land should be done, they will start the construction then.” So, to back up a little bit, the way planning/organizing the work has gone for this project, after my counterparts and I flesh out a plan, we go to the chief. I talk and the CVD translates into Kotokoli for the chief, he approves our plan then communicates this to the head masons and carpenters, and they communicate this to their work teams. It’s kinda like playing telephone apparently. So, it got lost somewhere down the line, what was to be community contribution and what would be paid by the grant money. The masons, who are being paid for skilled labor, thought that all their work was going to be unpaid as community contribution, and still agreed to do the job. I correct the chief, who was very excited that I am “so generous,” and said he would meet with the masons again. They started the foundations 2 days later. 

This is the kind of hitches I’m dealing with and I’m glad personally because this might be the easiest project I’ve done in Togo. As all these people work hard on the house, I sit in the shade, yelling out words of encouragement to them and taking photos. Meanwhile, people from my village, including those working, are praising me left and right. They come up to me to thank me or bless me and tell me things like “Have courage. I know the work is hard, but God will help you” (actually said). I kinda feel like an imposter, but I do have a newfound appreciation for my village people. Now that they have completed the walls, what’s left is putting up the roofing, floors, doors and windows, then paint. It might be a lot, but at the pace they’re going at, it might only be a couple of weeks to finish. I just hope that by going on about how great my village and the work is that I didn’t jinx myself. (Knock on wood)

Just for Laughs

#1 I finally found out what kind of animal we hunted in my house. It is called a “mouserain” in French and is actually a shrew. They look like small rats with pointy-er noses and suck the blood of chickens and other small animals. Gross right?

#2 Real conversation I had the other day:
Man: Where are you from?
Me: America.
Him: Ah! America….blah blah blah
(5 minutes later)
Him: Are you a black American?
Me:………um, yes.
Him: I could tell because of your skin.
Me: Could you really? (I don’t think sarcasm really carries here)
Him: Yeah, when I saw skin like yours, the color, I just knew it.

#3 I’ve been in Africa long enough apparently, that now my internet finally knows about it (‘bout time). When I get on facebook, the rarity that it is, all of my ads and page suggestions are about Africa or for African products/vacations/fashions. I get on the other day and it’s like “Visit Africa”

So, THAT’S what Africa’s supposed to look like. Huh... 

Not that my scenery is any less beautiful.

#4 I know I titled this thing just for laughs, but this is just a random add on. One of my friends in village, gave birth 2 days ago and let me name the baby. I wanted it to be a girl so I could name her after myself, but it wasn't, so I named him Peter. Here's to you dad! Baby Peter:

#5 This one is also courtesy of facebook. So I’ve got 5 months left in country, and the countdown has already started. I’ve been trying to prepare myself for my transition back to America (getting a job, find a place to live, act like a normal person not living in an African village), and I’ve been, of course, pretty anxious about it. When I first came here, I expected to leave, looking kinda like this

 A deep tan, a righteous ‘fro and a little bit of African style

But I’m pretty sure, in reality I’m going to more resemble these guys:

 Table manners and all

Loved ones be prepared!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

February 2 – Official Mouse Catching Day

So, it was a Sunday, market day in the city, aka day off. Ta’Mar, my volunteer friend and closest neighbor, was having a mouse problem. Specifically, one mouse. Terrorizing her house. She decided that morning that she was finally going to put out a mouse trap. She was confident that the battle would soon be over. So, she left her house, mouse trap set, hoping to come back to no more mouse problem. She came over and we had a movie night.
As we are watching this movie, out of the corner of her eye, she spots a mouse come into MY house, and screams. It came in from the bathroom and went into my bedroom. I was skeptical, you could say, I didn’t know I had a mouse and I hadn’t seen it. It had nowhere to hide in the bathroom anyways. “I saw it! It ran straight. It must be under your bookshelf,” she said. So we went in there, and I promise you I’m not exaggerating, bowls on top of our heads, just in case we see the mouse, and go rattle the bookcase. Nothing. We open up the cabinets. Nothing. We scoot the bookcase off the wall. Nothing. “I swear it’s in here!” says Ta’Mar, and no sooner than the words come out of her mouth, the mouse darts out from the bookcase to under the bed we are standing on. We jump and scream and run out the room. “Well damn, I’m not gonna be able to sleep knowing there’s a mouse under my bed. We gotta take care of this mouse!”
We go to the kitchen and throw some dried beans and marinara sauce (all I have to eat in my house) on a plate to lure it out. Then we backtrack the mouse’s steps. We search the bathroom. There’s no place for this mouse to live. Then, a breeze comes in through the window. We open the glass panes and lo and behold. There is a mouse-sized hole in the screen. He must be coming in every night through the window! That’s probably where he’s gonna try to escape. “I have the perfect thing for that. I just read this really bad book…” and we block up the hole in the window with the book then shut the bathroom door and wait. It doesn’t even take 2 minutes and the mouse is back. We spend 5 minutes both screaming in terror running around my living room with bowls trying to trap the mouse underneath. He runs back under the bed. Ok, we need a better plan.
We move the plate a little bit outside the door of the room and this time we’re gonna wait til he’s out then shut him out of the room so he doesn’t have anywhere to hide.
We wait and we wait and….THEN we see him! He’s snuck past us, he’s already at the door of the kitchen. “This is it, Ta’Mar. We gotta lock ourselves in the kitchen with him til we catch him.” And, in we go. Another 10 minutes of us screaming ourselves silly and running after the mouse, a couple of false alarms and finally, we have the mouse under a bowl in my kitchen. “Well, what do we do now?” “Let’s throw him out?” “No, then he’ll just be waiting around my compound til he finds another way in. We gotta kill him…or have somebody else kill him.” So we put some weights on top of the bowl and leave him there, til we figure something out.

(Ignore how dirty my house is, I just moved into a new house)

We finish the movie in peace, and Ta’Mar is ready to go back and check on the mouse in her house. “Call me if you need me!” I say as I stop by my neighbor’s house. He sends over his son to take care of the mouse for me. He lifts up the bowl just enough that his tail pops out of it, then smashes his head under the bowl, on my kitchen floor. Well, guess I’m not using that bowl of death again. He pulls the thing out and is like, “That’s not a mouse.” “What is it???” “C’est un mousserat(sp?)” “Mousserat?” “It’s stinkier than a mouse.” And he takes the thing out of there.
So, I immediately call Ta’Mar: “Get your French dictionary out and look up “mousserat.” That thing wasn’t a mouse.” “Well, you’re not gonna believe this, but when I got home, the mouse was waiting at the door for me and I chased it into my bedroom and now I’m locked in here with it. You wanna come over and help me catch it?” “Yeah, I’ll bring the mouse-killing bowl.” So, I run over to her house, find her in the bedroom, and we go through the same screaming, rattling, running around the room routine for another 10 or 15 min, til the mouse runs into her mosquito net and we trap it in the corner. Ta’Mar beats the mouse in the mosquito net with a broom for a few minutes til the broom falls apart (Togolese broom), but the thing is still alive. We call in a neighbor. He slooowly squeezes the mouse to death. “Is it dead yet?” “Not yet…” “Now is it finished?” “No, but he’s dying…” Three minutes later, “It’s finished,” and he takes it out of the house. “Go us! Two mice in one day! Today shall forever be known as mouse-killing day!” as we high-five. “Wait! Mine wasn’t a mouse tho!” and we consult the French dictionary only to not find the word. We even looked up rat and skunk and possum and weasel, but that wasn’t it. Well, mouse it is.

And that’s how it became Ta’Mar and my official mouse catching day (we didn't actually kill them ourselves). “You know what though, I hope nobody ever tries to break into my house while I’m here, because I could be screaming for 10 minutes straight and my neighbor wouldn’t even come by to check…”

And on another note: Update on my maternity house

My PCPP page is up, we're fundraising now and my village is excited! 
When I  got back from my 2 week visit to America, my counterpart, the president of the Village Development Committee had a "surprise" for me. While I was gone they had dug up the trees and completely cleared out the land for the maternity house. 

The land/"Before" picture

Since then the villagers have been busy collecting the materials they will contribute and building bricks by the thousands. 

My counterpart (president of the Village Development Committee)

Now we are just waiting til we can get all of the money raised and start building this thing. So PLEASE help us!! We have $3100 left to go! Contribute to my Maternity House Fund here:

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Camp Season over. Thank god. Chi-dren are exhausting. But, youth camps make for fun, -ight-hearted, motivating projects. Because Togo is sma-- country, Peace Corps here is ab-e to do nationa- camps for youth. We have a Peace Corps Training Center out in the woods with cabins and everything where we bring kids to, from a-- over Togo, to meet peop-e from different regions and participate in youth education programs. This year I participated in 2 camps: Camp Espoir and Camp UNITE.

(p.s. sorry about the missing -etter, my computer is not -etting me paste anymore)

Camp Espoir
Camp Espoir (Camp Hope) is a camp for chi-dren affected by HIV/AIDS, either because they are infected by the disease or affected by others in their fami-y, genera--y parents, who have the disease. During the camp, the chi-dren are taught basic hea-th -essons such good nutritrion, hygiene and sexua- hea-th for the o-der kids. They are taught how to take specia- care of themse-ves to -ive hea-thy -ives even with HIV/AIDS. But most of a--, the camp is to show the kids a good time, to be in an environment where there is no discrimination based on their status or their fami-y's status, and to p-ay with kids who aren't p-ayed with very often, who most times are shunned by their communities.

 A group of the kids

 Dance party!

And then we had West Africa's premier Puppeteer show up for our camp and do a show for the kids


Camp UNITE, is my baby! I'm gonna be organizing the camp for next year with two other vo-unteers. Camp UNITE consists of two camps actua--y, one for outstanding students and another for capab-e apprentices. Peace Corps vo-unteers and UNITE trainers throughout the country who work with and are impressed by students or apprentices in their area recommend them to be participants in the camp. The camp teaches youth how to make hea-thy -ifesty-e choices, the importance of gender equa-ity in society,  and to how to succeed in the professiona- wor-d. During the camp, these sessions are comp-imented by activities geared towards promoting critica- thinking and of course p-enty of fun games. On the -ast day of camp a-- the trainers and participants head out into the streets for a parade singing camp songs and chanting. We end the parade in a neighboring vi--age, where the youth perform dances, and sketches and pass on to the vi--agers what they -earned during the camp, whether it be why gir-s need to be sent to schoo- a-ong with the boys, or the importance of waiting and protection to promote sexua- hea-th. I did both a gir-s camp week and a boys, but the gir-s take better pictures, ha!

Sexua- hea-th session, and yes, that is a huge uterus on the ground



and more dancing

the sketches...

the mother married off her daughter when she was too young and now she's having birth comp-ications

After after our presentation and parade, the vi--age women wanted to thank us with a dance: