Thursday, June 24, 2010

Ici et La Bas: Where are you?

Do you know where you are? I do. Since coming to Togo I know where everyone and everything is…all the time. In Togo, there are only two places you will find anything: ici (ee-see) and la bas (lah bah). This translates to here and over there. I have tested this theory often which a great variety of people, and without fail whenever I want to know where something or someone is, I get one of those two answers. I had no idea life could be this simple. I have thrown away my maps.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

What's It Like???

There is no way to tell you. You just have to come do it. I can, however, tell you what I'm doing...

Let’s discuss bucket baths. So you get a bucket of water, maybe a sponge, your soap and shampoo…yeah, it’s not that hard a concept. The thing is that a bucket bath can be a quick rinse that dramatically cools you off, and it’s really nice under the stars and the palms. I was surprised about two things. First, the well water here is not freezing. It is a reasonable temperature even in the morning, although pouring it over your head will definitely get your attention. Secondly, you really can get completely clean without using a lot of water. Not to get all Greenpeacy, but in America we really do waste a lot of water, and it isn’t necessary. I still stand by the idea that if that’s what you want to spend your money on then so be it.

Time to talk about media. The media in my Host Family is mostly religious in nature. I did not know there were so many Togolese Christian Music Videos, and some of them go on for 15 minutes! The World Cup has started and that seems to be on every channel as well. Surprisingly quite a few Stagiares care about that. I do not. Such is life.

Did you know that there are seven categories of things that fall out of your butt? Yeah, I didn't either, but I do now. I knew they'd end up teaching me things.

Time for a few food notes. It was expressed to me more than once that people felt the food would be a great challenge for me. I admit that I had this same thought. I am not sure that I am eating common Togolese dishes at this point, but from what I have had with my host family the food is turning out to be more of a non-issue. Rice dishes, pasta dishes and fruit dishes. All of the dishes have sauces of some sort and most have meat. I have not been served anything that I did not enjoy, although it was a weird meal to have only plantains or only tapioca. My family has been kind enough to respect my dislike for breakfast and each morning serves me bread and water. Water is another thing…when they serve me water it is heated water with a lemony tasting herb in it. That is the norm in Togo.

I am in French class. There is a professor...and me. Try falling asleep in THAT class.

I recently learned how to wash clothes Togo-style. Three buckets, a giant bar of soap and plenty of insanity. The information that I was going to wash clothes had spread and I had more than a few onlookers. The resident expert (who incidentally is 12) showed me how to wash the clothes. Basically you rub soap on the piece of clothing you are working on, then rub sections of the fabric together roughly. No less than six people felt the need to re-show me how to do this right off the bat. It would seem that I was not rubbing them with enough force to be useful. You wash each piece three times in different buckets, rinse them and then hang them to dry. The drying has taken two days so far. It is very humid here.

Bye bye bye. Later!

Monday, June 7, 2010

A few days in...

Well, here I am with a few minutes to myself for the first time, or at least a few minutes that I have taken away from the trainee group. Tonight was a dinner with the Peace Corps Togo Country Director and the Assistant Director of Mission from the American Embassy. So much French being spoken. I'm barely keeping up, but that should change after Wednesday when we move out to our training sites and start launguage and culture training. We have some trainees with some very strong language skills, and even more trainees with extensive previous overseas travel and volunteer credentials. Just a really good group overall.

The food: Nothing really hot or weird yet at all. They have been babying us with wonderful and recognizable dishes. Pastas, Chicken, Pancakes, you name it.

The drinks: Coke here tastes different, we have been soooo lucky to have endless bottled water so far, and if you get a chance to pick up a bottle of Cocktail de Fruits do so.

The weather: Hot, humid and rainy. It is the rainy season afterall. It has been mostly dry, though, but I always feel sticky.

The volunteers: The current volunteers have been really awesome to us trainees. We had a party last night and I swear there were more of them than us. Remember that there are 29 of us, and maybe 90 of them total in the whole country. They came in from far and wide. Made us feel special.

I do not have malaria yet. Go me! I do, however, have lots of vaccinations and such to lessen the potential impact of what I may inflict upon myself when I inevitably forget to wash my hands before a meal. So much diligence is required to keep from getting sick.

The city: Lome is a real deal city with lots of familiar amenities...along with an endless parade of motorcycles on every road and baby goats on the sidewalks. When we ship out to our training sites in a few days things will get a bit more rural...and by a bit I mean possible lack of running water and electricity for many weeks. Ever used a latrine? Me neither.

The electricity. Hit or miss. It missed last night when my roommate was in the shower. Oops. That's what flashlights are for.

The few days so far:
Washington Day 1: Land in DC. Cab driver explains that he was in the War Corps in Afghanistan and that the Peace Corps does not pay enough. Meet another early arrival, have dinner, go to bed.
Washington Day 2: All day training, dinner with the trainees at PF Changs (still convinced it stands for Pretty Foul), go to bed.
Washington Day 3: Vaccinations, airport, off to Paris, then Togo
The flights were long but we were well taken care of. International amenities are plentiful and awesome. Movie, games, meals...no charge!
Togo Day 1: Arrive, Welcoming party for new trainees, deer-in-the-headights looks all around, settle into hostel. Hostel amenities meager, toilets look different, shower head uninterested in cleaning you, but definitely sufficient. Go to bed.
Togo Day 2: Training, vaccinations, French test akin to dental work, party with the volunteers, cloudburst, go to bed.
Togo Day 3: Training, vaccinations, dinner with the Country CD, head to local bar with wifi...soon to go to bed.

Well, this has been random. I think I am getting tired. Later, gators. My love to all. I apologize in advance, but things will get sappier as the days go by. This experience is really helping me to find perspective and value in my life. I wish all of you were here to share in this. It's only been 48 hours, but it feels like at least a week. If Lisa were here I would have her quote those lines from The Jerk. She always could.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

And so it begins!

Well, here I am in DC at the hotel and tomorrow starts the whole ball rolling. It's like this...

Finished the house and got to Denver and flew out to Vegas. I was lucky enough to have really good company on the day I left so it wasn't nearly as depressing (but still stressful from all the dealines) as I thought it would be.

Got to Vegas and spent a few days with Ryan and the family and they helped me to start and finish all my packing. I am 20 pounds underweight, and so is my luggage. HAHAHAHAHA! Oh stop, you know it's true. I have no idea where I went wrong, but I packed everything I thought I would need and still had room to spare. The final buying spree was way too expensive, but I will make up for it by living on a very meager income for the next 27 months.

Here are my packing tips for staying under the weight limit: Do not bring anything that you will run out of in a month or two. If you don't need it after that, then you don't need it now. Don't bring things that you will re-supply in country. Just buy them there to start with. Bring a bunch of camping junk so you will feel more prepared. There.

Boarded a plane today and here I am in DC. I have already seen the Washington Monument and the Pentagon...although only from the air and the back of a taxicab. My taxi driver had a LOT to say about US politics and how he thinks the Peace Corps does not pay enough to be worthwhile. He was in the army in Afghanistan. I guess their army pays pretty good, or at least good enough to make you want to come here and pursue a lucrative career driving a taxi. :P

Had dinner tonight with a fellow trainee and our pre-staging rep. This is going to be awesome. I can tell already!

Here is my story of woe, just so you won't think everything is roses: My lamp didn't work in my hotel room, so I swapped the lightbulbs with another lamp in the room. In doing so I broke the bulb in my hand and cut myself pretty good. I think I may die. Wouldn't you know it.

Here is my story of un-woe: My laptop hooks up to the LCD TV in the room so I can write this without looking at a tiny screen. Yea!