Saturday, July 26, 2014

Fete-ing it up

And here is the long overdue post of my Maternity House inauguration party. The party served not only as the unveiling of the Maternity House but also as my going away party from village so as you can imagine, it was a pretty big deal.

But the story actually starts a week before the party. It begins with a sheep.

This sheep. Although at the time he was alive. So, for fetes (this is french for party btw) there's always supposed to be food there. I told my village I would take care of the food and they the drinks. For really big fetes though, not just any food can suffice, there generally has to be an animal killed. So I went to buy a sheep. Now, this was the week before the party and I had been working everyday on finishing the house. I was tired, worried the house wouldn't be finished in time, that the prefet (he's like the governor) wouldn't show up, that something would go wrong, etc. Needless to say, I will never be a party planner. 

So, there I was in Sokode trying to buy a sheep. I have no idea about costs or how to pick out a good animal and I know Togolese people. They will be so quick to take advantage of that or that fact that I'm obviously a foreigner and cheat me. So I asked the guy who makes my shoes next to the marche, who is a good buddy of mine, what I should do to find a good sheep. There was a another guy in the shop, who I didn't know, who offered to take me and help me find a sheep. So we go into the marche and lo and behold this guy has a buddy that sells sheep. We pick one out and he helps me discuter a price, but I'm skeptical because people tend to help their buddies out to get them good prices...The thing was the equivalent of $50. That's a lot for someone(me) living below the poverty line. But I wanted to do this for my village. I pay the guy and I tell him I will be back after I pick up my shoes.

After my shoes are finished, I go back by myself to pick up the sheep, and I find out that they were bargaining for a different sheep than I thought. This other sheep is the same size as the one I was looking at, but is really dirty. Aside from the fact that I will be carrying this thing on the back of a moto, and I don't want to get dirty, I, who knows nothing of buying and killing animals, immediately assume if the thing is dirty it probably wasn't really taken care of well. I tell the guy I want to switch sheep and he is like no, I'll wash it for you and it will be all better. It seems like I don't have a choice then. I tell him I want to go eat and I'll come back after to pick up the sheep. So, I go get some food, and the whole time I'm still thinking about this sheep. The thing is so dirty, what if it's unhealthy, and I feel like I paid too much for it. So, when I finally go back to get my sheep, I'm really questioning my decision, I'm thinking I need to just convince him to exchange my sheep. 

When I get there, the guy who sold me the sheep has already left the marche with all his other animals. He left my sheep with someone to give it to me. And although the thing was cleaned, it still had dreadlocks. I try asking the person who held my sheep for me if there was any way he could call the guy and exchange the sheep for me and he's only like sure, but you have to come back for next weeks marche for that, and my party is 3 days away. I'm trying to convince him to call the guy and see if we can work something out that day, while I'm in town, and all the men who are there just start laughing at me, calling me silly and telling me to just take my sheep. So, I'm really frustrated now. 

I'm trying to leave the marche, but now I can't. On top of all that, the moto guy who brought me to the marche has come back to me to tell me I didn't pay him enough to get to the marche. I moto all the time around Sokode and I know the price. He is telling him I have to pay him 5 TIMES the normal price. He is refusing to take the money and while normally I would just walk away, I have this damn sheep, who's being a butthead and I'm having to drag him along with me. So the moto man grabs my sheep and refuses to let go until I pay him more. The marche is packed and people see this commotion and start coming over to watch/put in their two cents. Everyone is just like just pay him more, you're white, we know you have money. Now, being at the 2 year point in my service, is a weird thing. I know that unless I one day decide to actually live in Togo again (unlikely) this is the most integrated I will ever be in Togolese culture. I'm leaving soon and this should be, in my mind, the peak of being used to/comfortable in/able to deal with Togo. And if this is as good as it gets, that SUCKS. 

So this marche mama, comes over and she takes the money from me and grabs the guy off of my sheep. This wonderful angel of a woman is just like walk away, I will deal with him. I'm so relieved and angry and stressed and sad. Buying this sheep for my village and having this party is supposed to be fun and happy, and as I walk away the crowd that has amassed to see the commotion has started yelling out at me "Anasara" which means white person. And I burst into tears. In public. In the marche with literally hundreds of people around me and watching, and in Togo is very unacceptable and socially awkward. I get out of the marche hysterically crying and unable to even say a word. I have to say though, as hard as I think Togolese culture is sometimes, there is almost always at least one person to come and help and be mature and generous. For that I am really grateful. A moto guy pulls up next to me and I'm a mess, I can't say anything. He just takes my sheep, puts it on the moto and is like let's get out of here. He's so patient with me horribly trying to explain where I'm going through my tears and says nothing else. I'm too tired to try to make it back to village that night and he takes me to a friend's house and ties up my sheep for me. After everything that happened I'm starting to actually like my sheep; it feels like we've been through a lot together. And so Nana and I, we name him "So fresh and so clean," because he's actually not so bad now that he's had a bath. But, I finally get him back to village the next day and none of this stopped me from having the village kill him and eating delicious sheep kebobs.

So that was the bad side of things. As for the good, there was more than enough to make up for all the bad. The party was a huge success. The Peace Corps Togo Country Director came as well as all the neighboring village chiefs and the prefet (I think governor is the right word for that). It rained that morning and I thought it would ruin the party, but the weather cleared up just in time. I, of course, got thanked a hundred millions times all over again. And, the village, as a surprise, gifted me this chief's outfit made out of hand woven cloth made in the village.

there it is

that's the chief thanking me

and then they pulled out a second one for Lauren, the Country Director!

me, Lauren, the prefet and the chief

Lauren also brought with her a ton of gifts as a prize for the first woman who stays in the house to give birth. The women went crazy!

We also took this opportunity to give a little causerie to the village people about the purpose of the maternity house and the necessity of giving birth with a trained health professional.

Then we all went to go see the maternity house

There was even a ribbon cutting

and we all went to check out the rooms

picture time! Lauren, the prefet, the chief, me, the hospital staff, the president of the Village development committee, the Imams and the village elders

me and lauren in front of my mural

And then it was food time. That's "So Fresh and So Clean" on our plates. And notice I still have blue paint on me from last minute painting the day before. ha.

But no, the party is not over yet! Traditional dancing time!

Of course, they made me get up and dance with them. Those are my care group women singing the song they made up for me while we were working on the house. There are also some really embarrassing videos of me attempting Togolese traditional dance, that Lauren has informed me, will be put on the Peace Corps Togo website for all to see.

But no, the party still isn't over! Then, only the important people moved into another room at the chief's house so that they could thank me some more.

And this is the first woman to stay at the maternity house and her newborn baby. She came from the neighboring village to give birth in the health clinic and she told the midwife who delivered her baby that it was what she heard at the party that made her want to come give birth in the clinic. She won the gift, and the maternity house is now officially in use!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

It's done!

I know I owe you guys a blog post. I have just been so busy lately, I haven’t had any time in front of a computer. But finally, I am happy to report that my maternity house is DONE! 

check out this beauty!

Behind schedule I know, but making a schedule and keeping to it is not a strong suit of the Togolese. So, recap of the work:

building the ceiling

building the latrines

making the terrace

cementing over everything

floors done, ceiling up and all cemented!

After all my sitting around watching people, I finally got off my butt and got to help with something. I spent almost 2 weeks getting up and working morning to night with my fellow villagers, painting, putting on doors and windows, assembling beds and putting on all the finishing touches. Just like we started, we finished with a lot of help from the village; we had a crowd turn up every day just to see what was going on and if they could help. 

Then comes the painting

There I am

and finishing touches

latrines done

  my own little project

The last day of work was amazing though. Literally half of my village of around 1000 people showed up. Nearly everyone I knew in the village was there to clear out the land in front of the buildings and to make sure everything was finished. 

people starting to show up...

...and then they came in masses

The village drummers showed up and played for a good part of the morning. I wasn’t sure if they were there to motivate the people working or to get the whole village out there to help, but I’m pretty sure they did both. 

And if I thought I was being over-thanked and over-blessed when I was doing nothing but watching, I had no idea. When I picked up a paintbrush it was like I had grown angel wings in the eyes of my village. I learned some new Kotokoli words to the tune of, “We all pray that when you go back to America everyone will know what you did for us and they will make you a minister (like in the government, not in the church),” and “We pray that you will have many healthy children and a husband who will understand when you tell him you have to move your family back to Kpassouade to live with us again.” Uhhh…and “God knows what you have done for us and there will be a good job waiting for you when you arrive home, we all pray for it.” Oh, so do I. I was literally just “Amen”ing all day as I painted. 

And THEN, this group of women from my Care group who were washing the floors made up this song with my name in it and sang it to me for a good 30 minutes. I didn’t know what it meant but I just imagined it being something ridiculous like, “Rouki is a saint, she is the best person in the world, God is going to rein bounty on her.” HA. It was good though, if I ever needed a pick-me-up or a confidence boost, I know where to go. 

There was a huge inaugural party we had planned just after for the finishing of the house, and we got done just in time. The party was amazing, and I will tell all about it, but for that I have to make another blog post.

"Let us protect our mothers and our children"

Thursday, May 8, 2014

What's new?

Things have been really busy around here! We had two fetes recently: Apr. 27 which is Togolese Independence day then May 1, which is Labor Day. Work stopped for massive parades and parties.

Tchamba also had going on a 3 day animal husbandry fair which brought people in from all over my region.

Finally, Peace Corps Togo has a huge project going on right now called "More than just a game," which is a volunteer tour of all the regions of Togo teaching students about Malaria and prevention through soccer. That was really great to see.

So, I've been in and out of village, but (aside from the time off to fete) my village has been continuing work on the maternity house pretty steadily. They've been putting in the doors and windows and they built up all the floors which now need to be smoothed and covered in cement.

They dug the pit for the latrines.
And they're making more bricks to build the latrines with.

So, whats left? The house needs to be cemented over, walls and floors, and the latrine needs to be put together. The report from the carpenter was that they have been cutting all the boards needed for the ceiling and they are just waiting for the walls to finish to put it up. We're still on track! A lot of the work they're doing now is not as massive as the building of the walls and roof, but a lot of here and there kinda stuff that can end up being a little bit of a process. The workers are out there every day still. AND we do now have an ETA for the completion of the house: June 1. That's what were working towards.