This past couple of weeks has been great! I had the opportunity to explore the area a bit with a few of my fellow PCVs. I went on three separate hikes to the waterfall that provides all the water for my village and the surrounding villages. It was beautiful! (I took some photos, so maybe someday I will come up with a way to get them on the site for you.) While I was at the waterfall, I got to see my very first snake in Togo. It really wasn't big enough to be an African snake, in my opinion! It was dull green and 18 inches long, so I can't even brag that I saw a particularly terrifying variety. C'est la vie! What I can brag about, however, is that I also got to see several small monkeys! My wildlife knowledge is kind of lacking, so if any of you is a primate buff, you can let me know what type of monkey is just over knee-high, gray, has a white fringe around the face, and is very good at fast escapes! I was excited because I had never seen wild monkeys before. On the last trip to the waterfall, the torrential rains we have been experiencing made a small river swell over the bridge we needed to cross. We abandoned that mission and headed to another waterfall, which resulted in a short free-climb and a jog to get down the mountain before dusk. (Somebody please call my mom and Aunt Jayne to assure them that I am OK!) As always, the time has passed too quickly! The workers who oversee this internet café have begun to suspect that I am glued to this chair, and yet there rests so much to be done! I am heading back to my village today, where I have Kotokoli lessons, chicken-house building, and painting my walls to look forward to. Take care!
I am back in the regional capital and just had another experience that makes me so happy to have started a web site. I just lost another e-mail (this time to my mom) that I spent 20 minutes typing! Urgh! I am going to try not to let the frustration show as I edit the site!
Anyway, as an overview, everything is still going great here in Togo. I am still having the time of my life and living each day as an adventure!
I have put together a few cultural notes that I think might be interesting to some people, but feel free just to skip over parts if, say, washing laundry by hand just isn't that interesting to you--honestly, the magic of it is even wearing away on this side of the pond, too!
The biggest news so far is that I have finished training and am now an official, honest-to-goodness Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV). I am at my post now, which is in the Kara region of Togo. I am about ten miles east of the Benin border and ten miles west of the town of Bafilo. Bafilo has electricity, running water, and phones, but it takes me about an hour of biking on an unpaved, hilly road to get there. I am not complaining, though; I kind of like the ride. Plus, there is a PCV in Bafilo, so I always have a place to stay there.
The name of my village is Tchalimdé. They tell me that it has two thousand people, but I am thinking that there are more like 400 or so. I think I will have a clearer picture of the size of the village is when school recommences on September 16. As is, though, I am pretty sure they are counting several villages together when they tell me the size. My rationale is that the place is small enough for everyone to know each other by their first name--I know this because they don't really have last names--and it would be hard to do that if there were 2,000 people in the town. Maybe I am wrong--I'll correct myself later if so.
Nearly everyone in my village is Muslim and speaks Kotokoli. There are only a handfull of jobs other than farming, such as teaching, sewing clothes, and selling goods, but most of those people are farmers, too. The problem with the region (and the region north of Kara, the Savannes) is that the soil is absolutely nutrient-poor. Years of deforestation, slash-and-burn agriculture, and lack of crop rotation have taken their toll on the soil and left it sandy and rocky. The problem is even worse in the Savannes, where desertification is even more evident.
That is actually why I am here. My program is Natural Resources Management. The other eleven trainees and I learned methods of composting, contour planning, animal husbandry, intercropping (planting two complimentary crops together), alleycropping (planting Nitrogen-fixing trees among the crops), and reforestation over the course of our 10-week training. It is terrifying to be expected to be a technical expert on these things, especially when villagers approach us expecting quick fixes to problems that will take years to solve. At any rate, during the first three months, it is our main task to get to know the community and design some sort of project that can assist them. One of Peace Corps' main philosophies is that we shouldn't simply come to the village and give money to fund a project; the idea is to help them assess a problem and learn how to solve it from within. That is difficult for the villagers to accept--whenever they hear, "I am here to help you," they understand, "I am here to offer you money." For that reason, we always say instead, "I am here to work with you," trying to explain that if we do a project for them, they won't know how to do it themselves and will be in exactly the same predicament when we are not here.
Although there are the constant frustrations of not being able to help everybody--even if there are only 400 villagers, I cannot give all of them the loans and gifts they constantly ask for--this is a fabulous place to be.