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Becky Binns--Togo News Letter

TNLs #25-29
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C'est Quoi?! 

#25 Yacabou and River adventures

#26 Work Tidbits and HOT season

#27 My First Project

#28 Project Follow-up and Match-makers

#29 Adventures in Lomé and Pagala

Fri, 22 Mar 2002  TNL #25

 Hey All,

          I hope you've all had a beautiful week.  I hear Spring is breaking through on your side of the ocean...I am envious, although we did have a cold front of about 90 degrees this week, it's just not the same as a New England Spring.

           I have an update on the Yacabou situation for you all.    A couple weeks ago, I put a lock on my gate to keep Yacabou and his friends out of my yard, where they spend lots of time talking and hanging out around my well.  I made sure there was another place for Yacabou to get water.  There was. And so all went well, until two days ago.  I heard something in the front yard, and knew Djalilou was at school, so I went outside and caught Yacabou jumping over my wall.  Flabbergasted, I asked him what he was doing, at which point he fell down on his side of the wall, disappearing from sight. 




He peaked up over the wall, "Beckum! How are you?"

"Fine.  What are you doing?"

"I thought you were in Kara."

"No, I'm here.  What are you doing?"

"I was getting something from my room."

          Now, "his room" has not been his room since Lori fired him a year ago.  I got really mad and couldn't think of the French to tell him I was really mad, so I just told him to go away. 

          The next day, yesterday, Djalilou left the gate unlocked and Yacabou snuck in to get water.  I caught him, and as we discussed the fact that he wasn't supposed to be there, he continued to draw water.  When I told him to stop, he threatened to talk to his uncle.  I said we should go together and tell his uncle about Yacabou's trip over my wall.  He got really mad.  I got really mad.  It was ugly.  I told him to get out of my yard immediately.  Then I went inside, and as the anger wore off, I started to feel a bit guilty.  So I went over to his house and told him that the problem was that he was being sneaky and disrespectful, and if he asked me, he could come over one time a day to get water.  But if he climbed over my wall again, I'd talk to his uncle and he couldn't come over at all anymore.  He said something that I didn't really understand about Togolese laws, thanked me, we shook hands, and I left.  Somehow, I don't think the escapades with Yacabou are over just yet...

          On a brighter note, this past weekend was one of the best times I've had here.  Three other PCVs and I rented a car and took off down 6 hours of dirt road to the river that divides Togo and Ghana.  There's a PCV who lives on the river, and nine of us met at her house.  We loaded boxes of water, sleeping mats, food, firewood, Frisbees, and a crate of Ghanaian beer (a gift from the villagers) into a boat, leaving no room for ourselves or our backpacks.  So we put our bags on our heads and followed the boat down the river for about a mile to a private beach on the Ghana side.  We swam the afternoon away, cooked over an open fire, swam some more, then settled down for the night in the sand dunes. 

        It didn't take long for us to realize that we were not alone.  Turns out large, hairy, white Tarantulas are attracted to camp fires.  But never fear; just as we were discussing what to do about this arachnid invasion, a boat full of the local PCVs  Togolese friends showed up.  The fact that they came at 11pm in nothing but their fruit of the loom underwear was OK, because they caught the spiders with their bare hands, and threw them into the river, proving to us that they were not poisonous.  We all woke up in the morning with horrible spider bites, but, thus far, have all survived.  After a swim, we were back on the road by 7am, scratching our bites, but confident in the fact that it was all worth it.

           I wish for you all a blessed week, and I'll be back in touch come Good Friday.

peace out,



Fri, 29 Mar 2002 TNL#26

Hello All,

      I was just writing home to my sister telling her that I worked a lot this week (a topic that many of you have been asking about lately), but that it's hard for me to talk about work, because my job is so hard to define.  But I figured I'd at least give you a couple tidbits of the work part of my week now, and next week I'll tell you more as I will have completed my first big project by then. 

Tidbit #1: My PCV neighbor, Jackie, and I are putting together a small conference for 6 girls in our area next week.  On Tuesday, we went to talk to the taxi guys to see about renting a car for a small field trip during the conference.  The price for the car should have been between 5000cfa and 7000cfa for the trip.  But, because we are American, they asked for 10,000cfa. I gave them a broken-French speech about how we're not wealthy tourists, we're volunteers trying to help their community out, and I refused to pay more than 7000cfa.  After a half an hour, Jacky was trying to convince me to accept their last offer of 8000cfa, but I wasn't budging. 

          Finally, the taxi guy looked at Jackie and said "YOU are American, but YOU Mariama (turning to me), You are Togolese!".  We weren't sure who was supposed to be receiving the compliment there.  Unfortunately, the American won, as everyone but me agreed on 8000.  It's not so much that I care about $1.30 of Peace Corp's money, it's just the principle of it, you know?

Tidbit #2: My PC director visited me Wednesday, and I took her to meet the Secretary General of Bafilo. While we were in the government building, we ran into the Mayor, a very old, very traditional man who calls me "Anasara" (white person), and consistently asks me to build latrines.  My director, who is Togolese, explained to him that Americans don't like being called Anasara, and my program is Education, not Excrement-Management.  Mr. Mayor gave the normal response of, "Oh good, good, education is good."

           An hour later, he sent a messenger to my house with a thank you note for our visit and a large hunk of local cheese.  The note ended with, "I will send the latrine plans next week. Sincerely yours, The Mayor of Bafiloville". Luckily, my director was still there, so she took the note and his phone number, and I got to keep the cheese. 

          I suppose I could write you 10 pages of tidbits and eventually create a clear picture of my work...but instead I think I'll talk about the weather. Hot season has arrived.  I don't think anyone could have prepared me for this. People have tried.  One of the missionaries said its like being in an old attic on a hot August day, except you can't leave the attic.

           Someone else told me it's impossible for a foreigner to spend more than two hot seasons in Togo (hence the reason that most ex-pats vacation in April). I say it's a bit like running ten miles in a Houston heat wave, then jumping into a black car with black leather seats parked in the middle of a shade-less parking lot, and then realizing that not only are you locked in, but it has automatic windows, and you don't have the keys.  Oh, and you're wearing a snowsuit.

          That almost describes how hot it is.  It's too hot to sleep naked.  You have to sleep wrapped in a wet sheet.  You would think that this would mildew your bed, but as soon as you remove your body (the only source of moisture) from the bed, it dries instantly.

          My shower has become a favorite place, but I can't get cold water anymore.  The pipes aren't buried deep enough, so I only get hot water.  I have to drink at least 5 liters of water a day just keep up with the sweating, more if I actually want to pee.  Nobody comes to visit me in the middle of the day anymore, partially because no one leaves their house between 10 and 3, and partially because touching my iron gate to open it would result in 2nd degree burns.  Now, you may be saying, "OK Becky, enough with the exaggerations".  I'm not exaggerating.  Exaggeration would be fundamentally impossible considering that there are no words to express the actual reality of the situation.  Tom Hanks came close when he stepped off the plane in the movie VOLUNTEERS and said, "What are we, a mile from the sun?!".  No Tom, try ten feet.  I believe he also said something along the lines of, "If I get out of this alive, I'm never leaving the east coast again!" Ha! So yeah, it's hot.  And I haven't even told you about the trials and tribulations of heat rash...but then, do I really have any right to talk about such "suffering" on Good Friday?

          You are all in my thoughts and thanksgivings as we observe this day of great sacrifice and prepare for the gift of the third day. 

Peace Out All,


Sun, 7 Apr 2002 TNL #27

        OK Everybody, hold on to your hats, I'm about to talk about work. What? Work? Becky works? No, actually I walk around chewing on a pen, looking pensive and busy, but, miraculously, things get done around me. Let me tell you about it.

         You're not really supposed to work until after you've given yourself 3 months to settle in and get to know your community. But when Lynn and Jonnett and I heard about the Take Our Daughters to Work project we were interested.  It's an annual project involving all of the Kara region volunteers, but organized by 2 or 3 new volunteers.  Because it has to happen during the Easter week school break (and because Easter was so early this year), AND because our training was pushed back a month by September 11, we had significantly less experience and time to prepare than normal.  We were terrified.

          Take Our Daughters to Work is a world-wide program in which village girls are taken to the big city to visit with successful businesswomen, learn about technology, health issues, AIDS, and the benefits of continuing their education.  So our job was to find dynamic businesswomen, organizations to come talk about relevent issues, transportation, food, and housing for everyone, a place to hold our last night party, a caterer, and a number of other little things.

          The planning process was long and frustrating and fun, and before we knew it, it was also over, and the week had arrived.  The first half of the week was spent in the four smaller cities, or prefectural capitals, surrounding Kara.  Since Bafilo is one of these cities, Jackie and I had 8 girls for a mini-conference on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.  The girls and the speakers were amazing, and by the time we got in the car to go to Kara Thursday afternoon everyone was feeling pretty good.

            Thursday night went really well with the exception of a small monkey attack.  The Aldermans, our Baptist missionary neighbors, lost track of their pet monkey, and it attacked one of our girls.  When I arrived in Kara, my friend Ariana was carrying around a sling shot and a machete, and asked me if I wanted to help kill a monkey.  The girl got the appropriate shots, the monkey escaped the wrath of Ariana, and the events began.  After some group forming icebreakers, we had a great non-prof organization come and talk about AIDS.  They had a large Togolese Mama there to give a condom demonstration.  She told us she was a man who didn't know how to use a condom, and she would need some help.  Then she lifted up her dress to show us that with the help of an artistically carved piece of wood and a large elastic belt, she was indeed a "man". Three of our girls seduced her and skillfully demonstrated the proper procedure for putting on a condom. 

      It was an educational night, and before we knew it night became day and it was Friday morning. The girls loaded into 4 vans and started an all day rotation to visit a hospital, an organization that works with health and social problems of Togo, a computer lab (where they saw and used computers for the first time ever), and a very dynamic female fabric store owner who has become so successful that she even drives her own Mercedes Benz. 

          With the exception of the general problem of making people in Togo stick to a schedule, Friday went wonderfully.  And to celebrate, we carted the girls off to the roof of a hotel for a  party.  There was tons of food (which was a relief as we had many problems with the caterer and thought she'd skimped on the food), and there was dancing, dancing, and more dancing.  After putting everyone to bed, I stayed up till 2am typing all the girls names into the computer and making (thanks to our new IMAC) very official looking certificates of merit for their participation.

          By 8am Saturday morning we had completed our certificate ceremony (which was somehow MCed by the PCV with the least amount of French, me)  and loaded 42 girls back into cars to return to their villages. My girls sang AIDS prevention songs all the way home, and so even in my blurred state of exhaustion, I was feeling pretty good about life.  Not to mention feeling a huge sense of relief to have project #1 behind me.  And yesterday was my three month anniversary of living in Bafilo, which means I'm allowed to work now, or rather, I'm allowed to walk around chewing on a pen looking pensive and busy.

Life is good.

Peace and Blessings to you all.


 Sat, 13 Apr 2002  TNL#28

Hello All,

          I did a follow-up visit to four of the Take Our Daughters to Work girls with my director, Rose, this Wednesday.   The first one, Alimina, sat on a bench outside of her family compound surrounded by her adoring brothers.  She is the only girl amongst many boys in her family.  She smiled and confidently answered all of Rose's questions. 

Rose: "Alimina, what did you learn while you were in Kara?"

Alima: "How to use a computer, how to use a condom, how to use a femidom...many things!"

Rose: "What will you do with your life now?"

Alima: "Finish school and go to University."

Rose: "What will you do after University?"

Alima: "I'm going to be a Doctor!"

          Two weeks ago, Alimina wanted to be a mid-wife, believing that, as a woman, that was as far as she could go in the medical world. 

          The next stop was Alia.  I love watching Alia dance.  She is so full of joy and confidence, that when she dances, she radiates with a sense that all is right in the world.  She is the only French speaker in her family, and the only member in her family to ever attend school.  If she wasn't in school, she'd already be married.  Rose asked Alia if she had a boyfriend.  She did.  Now, let me add a side note about boyfriends.  Almost all girls over 14 years old have one, and it's unfathomable to have a boyfriend and remain abstinent (what else is there to do?).  Even parents, although they worry about their children having sex, see abstinence after puberty as a joke.  Abstinence is beleived to be bad for your health. Right. So while we try to encourage abstinence, the general focus is on birth control and AIDS prevention. 

Rose: "Alia, do you use a condom with your boyfriend?"

Alia: "Yes!"

Rose: "What if he refuses to use one,"

Alia: "Then I'll use a femidom.  I can't take any risks, I have to finish school."

          Next stop, Fofana.  Fofana is a 20 year old 9th grader.  This is not abnormal here.  But she's at an age where her father could marry her off any day, and so she has begun to lose enthusiasm for school.  While we were in Kara, she started crying when she realized that she could finish school.  Talking to Rose, she was shy, and uncertain, but happy.  You could see the excitement and fear of the possibilities working themselves out in her head.  I don't know what will happen with Fofana.  I do know that she's scared and frustrated, possibly even more so than before TODTW.  But she has hope.

           Last girl; Tchilala. Tchilala could do my job with twice as much energy, enthusiasm, knowledge, and, well... chutzpah.  She wears a fake wedding band to deter guys, because she doesn't need the distraction from her studies.  She would have impressed the socks off Rose BEFORE Take our Daughters to Work.  Now she's on fire with enthusiasm because people are listening and talking about all this stuff that she's known all along. 

          A fifth girl who we talked to was the 11 year old daughter of one of the women I work with.  She's two years younger than everyone else in her class, but she's #1 grade-wise.  She told us that she will go to University and study bio-chemistry and become a Doctor.  And she won't run away to go enjoy the good life in some "white country", because they need good doctors right here in Bafilo! Oh Yeah!

          Back to the idea that abstinence is bad for your health: My neighbors have begun to worry about my health over the past few months, and routinely send me men.  After it was clear that I wasn't hooking up with my neighbor, Safiou, they sent me a young chauffeur.  When I stopped letting the chauffeur inside my gate and started talking to him only over my wall, they sent me a member of their professional soccer team. I think they thought his light skin, earring, and western name, James, would be appealing to me.  After  James brought me a necklace, bracelet, key chain, cloth bag, and wooden paper towel holder (complete with two rolls of paper towels), and still didn't get invited inside, they seemed to have given up.  We can hope anyway.  Silly American, doesn't she know she'll drop dead if she continues like this for two years?! So yes, life continues to be fulfilling and amusing.  You are all in my thoughts and prayers.

Peace Out.


 27 Apr 2002 TNL #29

Hello All,

          OK, my goal in the next 30 minutes or so is to wrap up my past two weeks in 500 words or less (I never was very good at counting words.  Do "I"s and "and"s and "to"s count? And shouldn't post-totalitarianism count as at least 3 words?) Anyway...Last Monday John, Ariana, and I joined about 20 other people in a rusty, decrepit 15 passenger van and made our way down 300 miles of potholes and hairpin turns, through blistering sun and flood-forming downpours for 9 hours until we arrived in our beautiful capital city; Lomé.   Lomé events included, but were not limited to; spending a day at the beach, eating in expensive restaurants, playing lots of pool, watching Moulin Rouge dubbed over in French, discovering a very cool Jazz Club, and buying my plane ticket home.  Yes, that's right, I'll be vacationing on the eastern shores of the beautiful US of A starting in the end of May.

          After four days of spending way too much money, we loaded into another quality vehicle and traveled four hours north to the Pagala Peace Corps Training Center. Picture a typical New England summer camp, except replace the deciduous trees and mosquitoes with African foliage and really big mosquitoes, lots of them.  Before PC Togo got the bright idea to place us with host families, PC Trainees used to spend their first 3 Togo months at this camp in their own little mini-America.  Now it's just used for the annual All Volunteer conference and short seminars.  Joyfully, I had the All-Vol conference and a Project Development Management seminar scheduled back-to-back, so I got an entire week of summer camp fun.  All-Vol was essentially a big party with some elections and informational lectures.  Pretty painless.  Then most of the PCVs left while 12 of us first year GEE volunteers stayed to await the arrival of our Togolese counterparts.  We were asked to invite two people from our village to come to the seminar so we could all learn how to develop projects together.

Since they were there, the entire seminar was held in French, AND it was all information that we had already learned during training, AND it consisted of about 9 hours of lecture a day.  Needless to say, I didn't do a heck of a lot of active listening.  I did however wake up and start listening when my counterpart started talking about the inclusion of women in society.  I chose this man to come to Pagala because he works for an organization which deals mostly with women's rights in Bafilo.  He informed the group very matter-of-factly that, "women's inclusion into society is an issue for God, as he intentionally made them inferior to men; less intelligent, less organized...".

          I honestly thought he must be playing devil's advocate until I saw all the men's jaws drop, and all the women's eyes flash with unharnessed anger.  I was told by PC that I should still work with him as he is very motivated.  I'll just need to "find a happy medium between his philosophy and the American way of seeing things". Yeah, OK.

          On a brighter note, I spent some quality time with my fellow PCVs.  We wrote top ten lists, deciding that, among other reasons that we are more beautiful in Togo are; our carbohydrate enriched Buddha bellies, permanent sweat mustaches, and adoption of Togolese mannerisms (nose- picking, grunting, and pointing at everything with middle finger).  We also took out our pent up aggression on each other.  At one point I was reaching into a 100 gal. tank to fish out something I'd dropped, and my friend Ariana decided to push my head down a bit and not let me stand back up.  It was dark so she didn't realize that the tank was full to the top with water until she saw bubbles coming from my submerged face.  We laughed so hard that there was loss of bladder control.  We then drew what we considered to be a hilarious face on my Buddha belly and convinced my belly button to sing "Only You" to our Togolese trainers.  I think I may have crossed some unspoken cultural boundary there.  Sadly enough, this was the highlight of our Project Development Seminar. Second sad point: the face won't wash off.

          All in all, it was a fabulous time with good friends, but I'm happy to be "home" again, or rather, back in Kara.  I haven't returned to Bafilo yet.  I figured I'd stay in Kara long enough to let you all know that I'm still here and that I'm coming home NEXT MONTH!!!!!! Not that I'm exited about that or anything.  Peace out all,