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Ahhh, it's good to be back at the computer.  How I miss it when I am in village!
Tomorrow we have a meeting of all Peace Corps Volunteers in Togo.  It's called All-Vol and is an actual legitimate party funded by Peace Corps.  There will be, like, three business-sounding announcements, then we get to have a Barbecue, card games, and basketball games to our hearts' content.  There will even be a lip-syncing contest between the regions.  I am so excited. 
So anyway, 15 or 20 volunteers who live around the Kara region are conglomerating here tonight and early tomorrow so we can louer a car together.  If you want to know what "louer" means in Togo Taxi Talk, you'll have to see the Transportation section I worked on last night.  Since I was coming out of village anyway, I decided to show up early for the sole purpose of working on this site.  Don't you feel special?  I bought ten hours of internet time, and as long as this chair doesn't fall through with me and the connection remains stable, I plan to abuse this poor keyboard.
Hope for the Poste
I humbly admit that it is at least slightly possible that I have underrated the Togolese postal system.  I recently received three packages of colored pencils that my mother sent to me only ten months ago.  Yep.  They are postmarked July 1, 02!  Now I have reason to hold out hope that the other half of the No-Bake cheesecake my mom sent and the M&Ms Mark sent me months ago might actually arrive.  I'd like to formally apologize to any Togolese postal worker that I may have formerly accused of being incompetent.
I have the feeling I might eat these words, but this hot season has not turned out to be the bear that everyone promised it would be.  In fact, the second-year volunteers cajole us newbies about it.  They use that tone of voice grandparents reserve for complaining about having walked five miles in the snow everyday to and from school.  Instead of "and it was uphill, both ways!" we get, "we would wake up to 110° weather, covered in 8 hours of sweat!"  I am glad that we haven't had to go through that.  My village is near a low mountain range that somehow produces wind, so I think the hottest it gets there on a regular basis is 105° or so in the middle of the day.  What is nice is that we have not had a single night over 80°, according to my thermometer.  This past Sunday was such an anomaly that I was actually nervous.  I mean, it sprinkled a few times--freaky for the height of dry season--and at night, it was so cold I thought about going inside.  I was curled up in my doubled-over sheet, remembering how I had threatened my Peace Corps recruiter not to send me to a cold country because I would Early Terminate (ET) the second I saw the first flake of snow, when I became inspired to look at my thermometer.  It was 70°!  On one hand, I felt like a total wuss for being uncomfortable at 70°, but on the other hand, I was actually worried that such low temperatures in the dead of hot/dry season might be a sign that The End is near.  I don't remember studying any Togolese radical eschatological groups in my New Religious Movements in Africa class, but I am sure that if they are here, they were nervous Sunday night, too!  Today it is probably 100° or so, and my informal poll of passersby indicates that it is not going to get hotter over the next few weeks.  The rains would normally recommence at the end of April, but most people seem to think they are coming early.  There are clouds in the sky for the first time since December, so I can only add my terribly uninformed assent to their predictions.
Take Our Daughters to Work
This past week, the Kara region volunteers facilitated a project called Take Our Daughters to Work.  Each volunteer brought two girls from village to see what kinds of jobs are possible for women.  The project is designed to encourage middle-schoolers to go on to high school, but it also exposes them to options for those who cannot continue.
In my prefecture, we started out in my village.  The Danish NGO Bornefonden explained their work, which is based on helping students, especially girls, stay in school.  The female groupment from my village also gave a presentation on beekeeping.
The group then moved to Bafilo for 2 days.  A midwife talked to the girls about her work and gave them some basic information on family planning and female health.  The middle school director presented on the problem and prevention of HIV/AIDS.  Becky's homologues, the Parajuristes of Bafilo, gave them a talk on their work, which consists of protecting the rights of women.  One of the interesting points of this talk was the girls' insistence that female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced marriages are no longer practiced in my village.  Apparently they were common practices in the past, but since a Togolese law threatened to incarcerate anyone with knowledge of either act, they have become things of the past.  Whew.  I hope the girls are right.
As for the Natural Resources Management volunteers, Greer, Kara, and I taught the girls to make improved cookstoves and soy products.  Traditional West African cookstoves involve balancing a pot on three rocks and shoving wood into the fire underneath.  Improved cookstoves surround that original design with a six-inch layer of mud that insulates the pot, allowing one to cut wood consumption by 70%.  Not only is soy a great product for refertilizing the soil, it offers many more nutrients than are in the typical Togolese diet.  We taught them to make soy cous-cous, but our soymilk and soy cheese (tofu) was a total flop.  It worked out perfectly, though, because one of Becky's students knew how to make soymilk and tofu.  Hers turned out wonderfully, which all the volunteers considered a bigger success than if we had succeded ourselves.  This way, we could say, "Look.  We white people don't have all the answers.  You are every bit as capable as we are."  That gave them a boost in self-confidence.
After the Bafilo portion of the program, all of us moved to Kara, which was the first voyage to the big city for many of the girls.  They loved it.  It was strange to show Togolese people how Togo works, but everybody had a great time of it.  The girls heard presentations by family planning NGOs, the director of the bank, and a merchant who had built her way up to owning her own boutique. 
My responsibility was to take a group of girls to the Internet café.   It was so cool to see their reactions the first time they ever saw a computer or had the internet explained to them.  They were even impressed by how I can type without looking at the keys.  I showed them this site and they were astonished to see a photo that I had taken of me in Bafilo on the internet.  I also showed them my Hotmail inbox and sent a quick message to my friend Amani.  They couldn't believe that we can communicate so quickly between Africa and America.  I wouldn't trade that experience for all the hot showers and Big Macs in the world.
The last night of our adventure was a dance party for all 36 girls and the 18 of us volunteers.  In comparison to other Americans, I describe my dancing skills as "aspiring to be decent, maybe, someday," but here, even that flicker of hope was extinguished.  These 13- through18-year-olds have so much more rythm and expression than I could ever hope to have.  I got to make a big idiot of myself by trying to dance like they do, but I had fun doing it.  Just as a note to anyone who is thinking about becoming a PCV: you will spend the majority of your service making an idiot out of yourself, so you might as well enjoy it.  Everybody loves to laugh here, so if you can make people laugh, they will love you.  I think it must have been a PCV who invented that bumper sticker that says, "Your Village Called; They Want Their Idiot Back!"

I'd like to start this news section with a shout out to my friend Mark.  He is a bit shy, so I haven't yet thanked him publicly for all the work he has done, but, now that he has promised to visit me in July, I can't control myself any longer.  Mark, thanks so much! 
Mark has done all the grueling cutting and pasting that has resulted in my having photos for the site.  He also corrects my typos and formatting errors, and is always there to respond to e-mails with titles such as "HELP! I can't get this GIF centered!" 
I don't know what I would do without your help, Mark.

Maya sleeping on my bed. She thinks she owns it.
She gives me dirty looks if I try to take "her" bed!

Maya the Cat
Before I was bitten by a dog, I visited two friends.  As you all know, I love my cat, so I took her with me to test whether it will be possible to travel with her back to the States.  There were definitely some hairy moments, such as when the bag she was in fell off my bike.  (I'd like to pause to tell my animal-lover friend Tina that it was a total accident and she emerged unscathed.)  There were also some hilarious moments, such as when I biked 38 kilometers with the cat strapped to my back in a pagne the way Togolese women strap babies onto their backs.  It was a riot.  The Togolese on the roadside cackled their heads off at the sight of it.  The cat, for the record, loved it, especially when I turned the whole contraption around to the front in one of those baby-sling type ideas.
Anyway, before that 38-kilometer ride was over, I felt sicker than I can ever remember feeling.  Luckily, there were 20 PCVs at the house to take excellent care of me, which consisted mainly of monitoring my temperature (it fluctuated between 101.4 and 103.6) and pumping me full of Gatorade.  At some point in the night I got up to go to the bathroom and the cat was meowing at the door.  I figured she probably had to go, too, so I let her out.  I didn't feel like babysitting her right at that moment, so I figured she would find her way back in as she always had.  What I hadn't counted on, though, was the neighbor's dog scaring her into exile under a woodpile.  We couldn't lure the cat out before it was time for my taxi to leave, so I had to leave her at my friend's house.  It absolutely broke my heart to leave her there, but I didn't have any choice.  It has been extremely quiet at my house for the past month, but I am not overwhelmed with sadness or anything.  From the first moment that I decided to get a cat, I had to accept that the cat might not make it back home with me.  I mean, my predecessor's beloved cat was abducted and probably eaten.  I will have to deal with the reality of something like that tomorrow at All-Vol.  It will be the first time in weeks that I have seen my friend, who has made extensive efforts to get Maya back.  Among other things, she has made announcements on every local radiostation offering a reward for the safe return of a little cat with a red collar.  Keep your fingers crossed!

Life in General
Life is much better for me these days.  I think losing my cat would have been awful a few weeks ago, but I am honestly OK now.  I have been trying to identify what change has molded me into a happy person after so many tough weeks.  It could be that I changed from Mefloquine to Doxycyclene for malaria prevention; Maya's departure makes it obvious that I lost the ability to understand Cat, so maybe chilling out is another side effect of the switch.  Or, it could be that, in my four-day rabies shot adventure I identified a potential buyer for my village's honey, but I can't be sure that that made me happier, either.
I think it probably has to do with getting over that first hurdle in the PCV lifecycle: the six-month mark.  That is the point where you look at your calendar and realize you've been at post for a fourth of your service and haven't gotten a darned thing done.  That makes every PCV's fear, not accomplishing anything during his or her whole service, seem like a distinct possibility.  In the words of our Medical Officer to a Health Volunteer, "the NRMers (Natural Resources Managers) and SBDers (Small Business Developers) are at that stage where they realize how hopeless everything is here, how it's impossible to make any change, and how all of their work is basically useless."  I really don't think she meant it to come out so harshly, but it's hysterically funny that it did.  It's also funny how right she is!
Luckily, I have other volunteers and my parents to remind me how big a difference I might make for one family or one kid.  The six-month mark is definitely a period of goal re-evaluation, and I think I am happier on this side of that period.
Thanks for reading!

Greer is always a hit with the kids.
Take Our Daughters to Work 2003

Bafilo session of Take Our Daughters to Work