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Becky Binns--Togo News Letter

TNLs #10-14
TNLs #1-5
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TNLs #91-95

What's in Here?
#10 Food Glorious Food (good one)
#11 Visit to my new Home
#12 Christmas
#13 I kill my first chicken (funny first half)
#14 Goodbye to training
 December 4, 2001
            Having a PC Trainee staying at your house is a sign of prestige here in Kpalime.  Creating a noticeable difference in her weight is a sign of wealth.  Thus, we all experience great pressure to eat large masses
of food continuously.  I've surprised myself at my ability to appease.  My food capacity has grown 10 fold over the past 6 wks.  Heather and Kris, if you  were getting married in January, we'd have a problem with that brides maid dress.  Luckily, we've got 5 months of me trying to feed myself before June 15. 
        Have I mentioned fufu?  Togo is famous for fufu.  Picture a large mass of tasteless, white silly putty with absolutely no nutritional value.  Cover it with a variety of yummy sauces, and it goes down quickly,
only to expand to 3 times its original size five minutes after consumption. I am one of the few trainees who really likes fufu; mostly because I like
to help make it.  The process involves a large wooden mortar full of chunks of raw yam, and two people beating the crap out of it with 5 foot tall wooden pistons.  If you fall out of rhythm, you will likely render your fufu-making-partner unconscious.
          Along with fufu, I also enjoy the piment (very spicy peppers).  They float in most sauces, and one way to impress my hosts is to eat it instead of eating around it, as is the practice of most Yovos.  Most Yovos are smart.  I was one of those kids who couldn't say no to a double dog dare.  My first piment was swallowed whole...not so bad.  It was the equivalent of a pea size dab of wassabi, survivable.  Next time, I decided to chew it.  I immediately experienced a rapid succession of violent hic-ups for five minutes straight.  After this experience, I feel I could take on a whole bowl of wassabi, but I don't chew the piments anymore. 
(*note: A month or two after writing this I learned that most Togolese people don't eat the piment either. They were not impressed by my attempts to eat them. They were amused)
            Yesterday I got to meet with the girl whose moving out of my post.  Turns out I've got a refrigerator, a fan, electricity (I guess that's obvious with the above  two items), a large front porch, a big yard with space to garden, a big kitchen, living room, bathroom with shower, sink and flush toilet, and three bedrooms, among other things.  Is this the peace corps? Is this what I signed up for? Does anyone want to come and be my about all of you, it seems I've got room. 
          Life is good, there's a line for the computer, so I should share.  Next time I should tell you all about the 50 lbs of plaintains that my family received from my neighbor as a sort of dowry...for me, right. 
Love to you all,
17 Dec 2001
Hello All,
          First of all I apologize for the expansive amount of time between emails, apparently I've concerned a few of you...I'm still here, I've just been experiencing
some technical difficulties in the area of email (I am in a developing country).
          So I promised to tell you all my plantain dowry story, but I have so much more to say right now, so here's the nutshell version;  wealthy 23 yr old neighbor hangs out at house all the time, God tells him he's going to marry me, I disagree, he pushes the issue, I tell him I won't talk to him until he drops it, he gives me 50 lbs of plantains (not a plutonic gift here in Togo), I give plantains to my host family, they guilt trip me when I don't go out with neighbor for his birthday, he drinks too much on said birthday and rolls Dad's car.  God may be telling him we're meant to be, but I'm clearly getting the "stay away" message from up above. 
          I just returned from a week's stay at my new home in Bafilo.  My house is amazing.  I live alone in a compound surrounded by a cement wall, behind which
there are rolling mountains.  Within my compound I've got tons of fruit trees, a well, a garage, "servant quarters", and my house, which is way to big (but who can really complain, right?). The people of Bafilo are great.  I've already met the chief, the other chief, the mayor (he wants me to build latrines, not my area of expertise), the prefect, the police, the military gendarmes, the directors of many of  the schools, and some other respected individuals in town.  Most people speak French in town, but they're already trying to teach me to speak their local language, Kotakoli.  When they speak to me in Kotakoli, I never understand a word, but I do know that the first three or four questions of every encounter can be answered with the word "alafia", which means "good".  A typical encounter on the street probably goes a bit like this;
Nice Woman Selling Bread: Welcome!
Me: Thank you!
NWSB: How's your health?
Me: Good!
NWSB: How's your family?
Me: Good!
NWSB: How's your work?
Me: Good!
NWSB: Would you like to buy some bread?
Me: Good!
NWSB: You don't understand a word I'm saying, do you?
Me: Good!
NWSB: Your head's screwed on backwards.
Me: Good!
NWSB: Goodbye
Me: Goodbye!
          The best part of this is that NWSB gets to go home with a funny story about the new Yovo in town, and I get to walk away with a sense of accomplishment because I've just had a meaningful cultural exchange in Kotakoli. 
            Apparently it's not a good idea to brush your teeth with unfiltered water.  A family of Amoebas seemed to have hopped aboard my toothbrush and taken up residence in my intestines.  That's right folks, I've got amebic dysentery (did I even come close to spelling that right mom?).  I'll refrain from sharing the detailed symptoms with you as I believe the TNL audience has just been joined by a group of 2nd graders.  Go home and ask your folks about it kids. They'll be impressed that you know the word amebic dysentery, and they probably won't be able to answer your question.  It's always fun to stump the folks. Anyway, I've taken a round of Cipro (isn't that the wonder drug for anthrax?), and all is well in my intestinal world, I hope. 
          Bafilo is about 7hrs from Kpalime, and thus it became necessary to find a bush taxi at the end of the week when I wanted to return to training.  5 other PCT slept at my place the night before our voyage so we could tackle it together.  We found a Muslim driver, which is good because they don't drink, but it's bad because its the end of Ramadan.  The man hadn't had anything to eat or drink all day.  After watching him fall asleep at the wheel twice we made him pull over and take a nap for an hour.  Then we sang Christmas carols and show tunes at the top of our lungs for the remaining two hours of our drive.  He stayed awake,
but wasn't at all amused. 
          Ok, I believe that's all that's fit to print for now. Peace out to you all.  Do me a favor; go sledding and drink hot coco for me, I miss that stuff in my 90 December, I'm a New Englander for goodness sake.
Blessings to you all,
December 23
Merry Christmas Everybody,
          It's my first Christmas away from home and I'm dealing with it in the same way that I deal with everything difficult in my life...denial.  Christmas? what Christmas? There are no lights, no trees, no snow, no "Christmas Story" movies, this can't be Christmas!  It's 90 degrees out!  Perhaps I should be challenged to use this opportunity which is so void of commercial Christmas to really dive into the real meaning of Christmas...but denial just suits me a bit better. 
             However, I will break from my denial for a moment to let you know that you are all in my heart and prayers during this blessed season.  I wish you all  loads of peace and love and snow...did I mention I miss snow?
          I will be spending my Christmas at the ambassador's house in Lomé.  It's a pool party/ BBQ, there may be a Christmas tree too (we can hope anyway).  Peace to you all!!!
December 27,2001
Hello and merry season of Christmas All, 
The Chicken Killings
   Last Saturday I was invited to Ariana's host family's house to watch her host brother kill a chicken.  Ariana had bought a chicken the day before  and decided that it would be a good educational opportunity.  We sat with the chicken for an hour waiting for the water to boil (which is necessary for  plucking purposes), and then Ariana's brother came over with a big knife...
          ...for those of you who are vegetarian (Heather), or are concerned with the Rights of the Togolese Chicken (Evan), or just have a weak stomach, you may want to skip over this story...
          ...We followed said brother out the back gate, watched him step on the chicken, pluck a few neck feathers, slit the throat with ease, and drain the  blood.  Not too horrible.  We then returned to the yard where Ariana's Mama told Ariana that she was going to kill a chicken now.  I looked at her with a "didn't see THAT coming, did you?" look.  She was told to kill the rooster, or that's what we thought anyway. After chasing the rooster around for a few minutes, we were re-directed to a pretty brown and yellow  chicken.  We finally caught it and looked up at Ariana's Mama for our next instruction.  For reasons that neither of us understand, the Mama said " OK, Becky's going to kill this chicken."
          Now, I killed a bird once, but it was with the grill of my car and it was, I believe, somewhat quick and painless for us both.  I wasn't ready to kill this chicken, and I told them this, but they didn't seem to care.  So we walked back into the backyard again. I was handed the chicken and the knife, and I said "No, I really don't want to do this today", then I stepped on the feet with one foot and the wings with the other.  "Do I really have to?"  All I got was a nod.  The pretty brown and yellow chicken clucked softly into my hand.  Brother pulled out a few neck feathers and pointed to my target.  I held my breath and started to saw.  The knife was not sharp.  "forte! forte!" (stronger, stronger) the brother whispered with urgency.  I immediately became concerned with one thing; putting this chicken out of its misery. I sawed like crazy, and finally there was blood.  Ariana said, "Make sure you cut all the way through the jugular!" Now, you're not supposed to cut the head all the way off, but I didn't know why...until I stood there holding the chicken's head  while the neck went crazy  squirting blood everywhere.  I tossed the head into the grass, where it lay silently clucking at us, and tried to control the neck as the body desperately tried to break free of my feet and run.  Brother took the chicken away from me, and I thought, "Now that wasn't so bad" (right).  We plucked, cleaned, and cut up the two chickens, and then went out to eat.  Ariana thinks we should have fried chicken parties at my place in Bafilo.  I think I'll let her kill the chickens. 
          Note to Mom and Dad:  You will have the live audio-version of this event.  You may want to acquire a mini tape recorder in preparation.  Just make sure you get one with both 1.2 and 2.4 speeds as I accidentally  changed the speed half way through, unless you want to
hear Ariana screaming at chipmunk speed when I beheaded the chicken...
          I had three choices for Christmas Eve; Catholic, Protestant, or Baptist.  I chose Baptist as that's where Elizabeth, my favorite host-family member goes.  The service lasted over two and a half hours and resembled a never-ending summer camp talent show more than anything else.  The first chunk of time was taken up by a 45 minute rendition of Christ's birth   consisting of about 20 scenes.  One scene lasted over 10 minutes and was simply King Herod yelling at the three wise men in Ewe (local language of Kpalime).  I do believe that there was some embellishment of the original story.  Then there were songs, and more songs (all solos)...After a while I got the point.  Everyone in the church was being given an opportunity to share their gifts in celebration of the coming of Christ.  These gifts may have consisted of things such as a 10 minute long guitar solo using just two cords, a squeaky recorder rendition of Amazing Grace, the French version of the Father Abraham song and dance, and a soap opera-type skit, but they were gifts none-the-less.  And what did I have to offer?  Well, I fanned Elizabeth and the baby with a plastic fan for an hour until they fell asleep in the pew next to me,  and then I twirled half the hair out of my head waiting to be given permission to go home to bed.  So maybe I'm still working on my gifts...but I am enjoying this new experience of Christmas in Togo.
          I spent Christmas day at the embassy residence.  Talk about stepping out of Africa and into high society USA!  Great pool, great house (full of art), best eggnog I've ever had, and to top it off the ambassador and his family were good, genuine, generous people.  We knew we'd been in Africa for too long when the trainees took turns going into the bathroom to smell the Bath and Body Works soap.  If I had to have Christmas so far from home, there was no better way to spend it.
             Happy New year's to you all!!!! We have a copy of the movie "Amistad" here, and I was tempted to sit in front of the TV with the movie paused on the scene which was filmed on the lawn of my state capital, you know, to feel at home...many of you know how I thrive on spending New Year's on the lawn of my state house.  But, instead we will be in Lomé preparing for swearing-in.  There has never before been a group of trainees in Lomé for new Years, and our Director is nervous.  He called us "A Walking Group of Potential Statistics"  So we've decided to throw a party on the  roof of the PC hotel, as opposed to taking on the city.  Peace out all!
January 4, 2002
Hello All,
            HAPPY 2002! It was a great New years in Lomé.  We stayed on the roof of our hotel until 1230 when we decided that there weren't many people out, so why not go dancing?  We danced until our alarm clocks would  have gone off on a normal day, good stuff.  The whole week in Lomé was great, although we all spent too much money being Americans and none of us are quite sure how we will afford to furnish our new houses...c'est la vie, we're having fun. 
          In approximately 3 hours I will be introducing myself in Kotakoli to 300+ people as part of our swearing-in ceremony.  Luckily only a small handful of the  audience speaks Kotakoli, so not many people will know that I have no clue how to introduce myself in Kotakoli.
            Speaking of languages, I had my final French test the other day.  Education PCVs need to be at  intermediate high level to swear-in.  I'm at
Intermediate-mid level, which would suffice if I was a health PCV, but I'm not.  They decided to let me move to Bafilo anyway, but in two weeks one of my language trainers is going to come and live with me until the end of January, after which I can think about staring my work.  I'm not beating myself up too much about this as I know it will all come with time.  I just keep reminding myself that I didn't speak any French at all two months ago. 
          A few of you have asked what was going on with me medically.  In a nutshell; they thought I had amebas, but the tests came back negative, so they figured that a piece of broken tail bone was creating some minor
internal bleeding, it took two weeks to get me in for an X-ray (my fault that it took so long, not PCs); and by that time the problem had taken care of itself.  So for those of you who had heard that they were considering medically evacuating me to DC for surgery, this is no longer necessary.  Thank God.  Although it would have been nice to get a free vacation to the US...:)
          Well, I move to Bafilo tomorrow, away from my host family, my fellow trainees, and everyone who speaks English.  For the first time in my life I'm willing to admit that I am indeed scared sh--less.  I know I'll be fine, but that's all intellectual, my nerves are having a hard time catching up.  Big transition time.  I'll write you when I go to Kara next week-end and let you know how it's going.  In the meantime, love and blessings to you all.  I've got you all in my mind and heart, and this keeps me going more than you know.
Peace out!  ~becky