Friday, February 24, 2012

Oui, allo!

I’ve been lagging a little on the updating, I know, so I’ll just cover the last few months with bullet points.
Togo is getting hot.
A bunch of Volunteers came up from other regions to visit Dapaong for Christmas this year, which was apparently a Christmas miracle as Savanes is so far out of the way it’s been seen as an established fact that we never get visitors. The program director for the agriculture program, Paul, actually lives up in Dapaong when he’s not working in Lome, and he was kind enough to invite us all over to his house for dinner with his family. He seriously fed 20 young men and women who live on pasta and flour in village, and pulled through like a champ – tons of meat, rice, sauce, and of course, chakpa and sodabe. The breakdancing children are what made the party, of course. Merci mille fois, Paul! I, true to form, became increasingly inappropriate with my Golden Girl/friend Kelsey, which resulted in me having to explain to a concerned volunteer sitting next to me that, “I’m not crying, I’m laughing, dammit!” The result of a bunch of normally isolated volunteers letting off steam is best left to the imagination.
New Year’s:
Called “Bonne Année” here, it seems to combine what the Togolese love best: moseying around saying hi to each other and drinking. And playing the same three Moba songs on repeat all night long. Children come up and yell, “bonne anée!” to which an adult responds “bonne fête!” and gives them candy (maybe). Then they laugh and run away. I’m still getting bonne année’d by the sassier kids hoping for candy and I can’t blame them – it’s true, sometimes I still have candy on me from when a boutique lady can’t make change and I just buy the cheapest candies she has on hand.
Changement du comportement (behavior change):
I’ve started “running,” which means I shuffle around at 4:30 in the morning (the time I normally wake up here). I figure it gives me something to do for the hour or so before the sun rises – and the occasional chicken or pig screeching at me from the bushes while it’s dark gives my heart a kick. Could that count as a “speed burst”? Anyway, there’s a lot of cursing, tripping, and screaming – sometimes all three at once, like this morning when a neighbor kid ran up behind me and asked to join. Of course he kicks my ass, and when we get back I see he still has to change into his uniform and walk the 7km to get to school. Oof.
The women’s conference is coming up in a couple of weeks, and I’m taking on a few middle-schoolers in kind of a “big sister”/”mentor” role. I know that when I was 15 I wanted to hear a stranger tell me about my sexuality and “changes” in garbled English. Well, we’ll see. I figure at least everyone’s Uno and Frisbee skills will improve. There’s also a Moringa tree project I’ve been working on, and by that I mean I ordered the seeds from the bureau in Lome and I’m awaiting their arrival. Lately it seems like I’ve simply been gracing events with my presence and not much else – sorry.
Mutating rapidly into a skunk stripe/pompadour. Luckily there’s a volunteer up here who cuts hair so I’ll make sure to get all cleaned up before the conference. I know that mohawks lend an air of gravitas to any situation or outfit, but I think I’ll let it go. For now.
G.I. Tract:
Doing great! Parasites may either be nonexistent or simply dormant, biding their time, but I’ll wait ‘em out/keep trying to kill them in their sleep with piment (a type of spicy pepper) and beer.
I’ll try to find a more specific topic next time, just fulfilling a couple requests for a pulse check.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Dope Nose

Note: I'm thinking of submitting this for a Peace Corps published magazine, "Perspectives," that they have in Togo. Tell me if I'm full of shit or not.
        I can’t speak for everyone but I have to say that the lack of a genuine French equivalent for the word “awkward” has been a matter of concern for me. The word itself is so all-encompassing of the interactions I have here with my Togolese counterparts (adults and especially children), Administration, and even other PCVs, the people I am closest to, who have only seen me in this extremely high pressure situation of Peace Corps in West Africa. We may have acclimated, ou bien, habitué-d to our environment here, but everybody deals and reacts with living and working in a foreign country differently. Me? I’m awkward. So. Awkward. Oh, hey, boutique-lady down the street. You’re telling me (something) about change for (something) I just bought at your store and then you’re going to just stand there and stare at me. Okay, maybe my français vraiment n’est pas encore arrivé, so I’m going to apologize profusely and rummage around in my purse until you start to laugh and say that you messed up on the proper change, hand me some coins, and walk away, still shaking your head and giggling. Or there’s walking down the street with a local guy when a kid runs out, stares at me and screams “YOVO YOVO!” On my own that’s usually fine. If I’m in a cordial mood I might say, “B yin Konjit” (“They call me Konjit”) to set the little bugger straight, or if not in such an expansive mood I might say “WHAT?” or “Yooooo!” and attempt a high-five. However when I’m with another Togolese there’s an awkward pause, the other person clearly wondering if they should let it be or start scolding the kid in Moba or French.
                The closest word I can find for “awkward” is “maladroit” (also the name of a great Weezer album, yes). I use it all the time with the rationalization that I’m sure the person I’m speaking to will “get it,” which is usually my excuse for my spoken French overall. Volunteers with our 10 weeks of professional-grade language training probably get that it’s etymologically “mal à droit,” or “badly/poorly right.” So… “not right,” I guess, yeah, which would be an accurate way of describing many of my interactions here.
                The most recent glaring example of maladroit in my life would come from a meeting I had with my homologue, the director of the CVD and some professional development official who’s from Lome. The villagers wanted latrines. Naturally. They also want a new CEG. Makes sense. We went over a list of eight items I thought I could help them with, but many of them involved money. I had explained to them going into this that I am not an NGO, I do not give money, and they assured me that they did understand this. However, they started giving me the names of NGOs and organizations that can give money, such as the Catholic Church in France. I asked them if they had already approached them for the money they need.
I could see the conversation circling about, with a lot of eye-rolling and sheepish glances to the ground. I fixed my smile in place and saw my foot start to jiggle faster and faster, waiting for the response I knew was coming yet still made it difficult to breathe. It finally got to the color of my skin. As a blanche, maybe I could push the NGOs a little more, make them work a little faster or more in my village’s favor. I’m sure my smile was crooked when I made no promises to these middle-aged men but assured them that we would try our best.
                “Mal” as “badly” or even “wrongly,” “droit” as “right”: both of left versus right, and of the concept of rights. This was bad. This was badly, poorly, not “right.”

Sunday, December 11, 2011


I figure it’s finally time to fill you all in on the secret to not going insane or ETing up here in Savanes: it’s made in trash buckets and consumed via a hollowed-out gourd, called a calabash. Chakpa, ou bien, “dam” in Moba, is a fermented millet beer that is drank all day, every day, by people up north. It’s slightly alcoholic to begin with and as the day progresses and it ferments more in its plastic serving bucket it becomes stronger. Chakpa stands after 5pm can get rowdy, as a friend here can attest to. There’s no shame in being drunk in public here, nor is there an inappropriate hour to start drinking. A lot of farmers in my village seem to function on a slight buzz, even filling up bottles and bringing it to the fields with them for lunch. Chakpa fulfills a lot of roles: the chakpa stand is the social gathering place (okay and when I say “stand” I really mean a woman sitting under shade of some kind with her chakpa buckets, some calabashes with a rinsing bowl for after each use, and maybe a few benches. Sitting on tree roots or rocks is always an option). Selling chakpa also gives women a little extra income – hardly any, as a calabash up here goes for 50 cfa, but seeing as the farmers grow the millet themselves, the ingredients are basically free. To get more into the (unfortunate) health aspect, it’s the cheapest way to feel full and it keeps the kids quiet.
                Side note: I was hanging out at a stand once and a bunch of men were pointing and laughing at a little girl, maybe 2 years old, who was slugging chakpa out of a calabash like it was her job. I asked them why it was funny – I mean, I knew why I thought it was nuts, but maybe the guys had a different opinion? – and they told me it’s because she’s Fulani, an ethnic group that’s primarily Muslim thus forbidden to consume alcohol. So, you know, in my subtle manner I asked them if they thought she was going to be punished by an angry parent ou bien God-même and they said, nah, she’s too young. She doesn’t know any better, that’s all. Aaahh, THAT’S why it’s okay. Seriously though, the kids down south are so much more rowdy and annoying. Just saying. Also, one of my favorite chakpa stand scenes has got to be the woman holding a breastfeeding baby with one hand and a calabash in the other.
                Of course, poverty and boredom come into play. The Russians have vodka, the British have gin, we have chakpa. After planting and harvest, subsistence farmers really have nothing to do and if it’s not a marché day the women claim that they do nothing either because, you know, running the house doesn’t count. If you were bored, tired, and hungry, wouldn’t going through life with a little buzz make everything a little rosier? I know that it’s made my assimilation much easier here. I can’t throw a rock without hitting a chakpa stand in my village, so all I have to do is stroll outside, sit down for a while, and become increasingly more tolerant of people excitedly yelling at me in Moba. That’s how a few volunteers up here have learned their Moba, actually – it’s like having a language class in a bar. The women in my village rotate who makes the chakpa for which day, and I’ve already found my favorites. My homologue’s wife makes the best in Dampiong (Sundays and Thursdays), and the woman who lives across the “street” is sure to bring me a free liter of it every Wednesday morning, the carafe perched jauntily on her head and not spilling a drop. I’m usually down for the count on Wednesdays until mid-afternoon, yeah.
                On my way to the market on market days, chakpa stands dot the sides of the road and I tend to get flagged down by people who invite me for a drink. It’s completely gauche to not accept somebody’s invitation, so I roll on over and sit down to have my “goût,” which is the free first taste that the chakpa-lady, called the “diengal,” gives every customer, and by “goût” I mean the calabash is half-full and people who have visited from other regions claim that our bowls are the biggest. The person who does the inviting always pays for the drinks of the invitee, as well as anyone the invitee has with them. It’s also completely fine to give away some or all of the chakpa you are given. Just hold out your calabash and ask if anybody wants some – frankly, if it wasn’t for that social nicety I probably wouldn’t make it to Dapaong on market days. I’ve lately been buying a “demi,” which is about a liter served from a carafe, and send it around to the other people at the stand. It’s a good way to get people to like me, what can I say?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Traveling in Togo

Sometimes, when people ask me what Togo is like and I’m feeling like a pithy smart-ass, I dead-pan that it only has one paved road and it’s riddled with pot-holes. It’s hyperbole, yes, but it’s not too far from the truth. The paved road in question, the Rue Nationale, runs the length of Togo north to south and is the main transportation route for everything: 18-wheelers, motorcycles, private cars and bush taxis. The Rue runs 317km from Lomé, the country’s capital city in the south along the coast, to Dapaong. A friend calculated that it takes her four hours to drive that distance in the United States. It takes about 12 hours here, if all goes well. The fact of the matter is that the Rue is not taken care of by the government or any private businesses, and all the traffic it gets physically tears this two-lane road apart. Togo has some of the lowest trade tariffs in West Africa, meaning it’s popular for international businesses to transport their wares via giant trucks up and down the country. I’ve seen license plates from as far as Rwanda transporting for French and German companies.
The best bet for traveling the length of the country is to take the “Lomé Limo” provided for free by the Peace Corps, but that only runs a couple of times a month. The next option is to take the Post bus which is run by the Togolese post office, “La Poste,” and makes a daily run from Dapaong to Lomé with a few stops along the way. The Post bus is typically like a Greyhound bus in style – but Greyhound after it’s been chewed up and spat out by the Rue. Also, one time it tipped over on its side while a volunteer was on it. Frankly, it’s still better than the last option, the bush taxi.
Bush taxis are usually vans, though I’ve seen a couple of four-door sedans, that are filled to the brim with people, animals, bags, oil drums, and if there’s anything left over its strapped to the roof. It’s not uncommon to see a van with a pile the size of its own height on the roof, sometimes with a bleating sheep strapped up front… which reminds me of a conversation I had with a volunteer from North Carolina.
Me: “Does that remind you of home?”
“Nah, there we’d use duct tape.”
The bush taxis are legally only allowed the car’s manufactured seat limit buuut that doesn’t happen. The back seats of sedans that theoretically only seat three can, in fact, sit up to five (if there’s a kid in the equation) but more commonly four (which once included three strapping young lady volunteers and one “marché mama,” typically a large middle-aged woman who will not attempt in any way to shift her bulk to make the seat more accommodating for the other passengers). The drivers charge a flat fee for each location they drop you off at, so cramming in as many people as possible is, uh, “fiscally prudent” for them. I’ve also been on one when it broke down in the middle of the day, meaning an hour-long wait on the side of the road while the driver, in French known as the “chauffeur,” (said as un-ironically as possible by Americans) tinkers with the engine and his apprentice hands him the tools.
                So imagine being squeezed in an old wreck of a van (always with a cracked windshield. Always. I think they come standard for cars shipped to Togo), of course with the crying baby and chickens running around your feet, and add on the driver swerving around pot holes, animals, and any other cars that dare to be out on the road as well. Some volunteers get used to it, especially when a significant other or work takes them around the country, some can simply become habitué to not being afraid to die, and some become home-, ou bien, “region”-bodies. Volunteers up in Savanes have a reputation for disappearing because we don’t like to travel around the country, and nobody wants to make the trip up here to see us. Can’t imagine why. There’s a West African PCV conference that takes place every year. It used to be in Togo until the volunteers in other countries basically refused to come here anymore. Of course this fills me with a scrappy type of pride: our country of service is so scary even other West African volunteers avoid us! Really, though, they do have a point. Luckily the only real traveling I have to do is from my village to Dapaong, a 12-15km bike ride – depending on who you ask. I’ve already made it clear (to anyone who will listen) that the only reasons I can find to travel down to Lomé is if administration drags me down, I’m sick enough to need the med unit, or I have to fly out of the country.
                Everything’s going well, otherwise! Thanksgiving was lovely and I’m looking forward to Christmas up here.  I’m helping facilitate a Women’s Empowerment regional conference that takes place on March 8 of next year, co-running a day of activities for a club for AIDS orphans this Saturday, and helping out with an AIDS day…event(?) on Thursday with the same kids. December 1st is International AIDS day, it turns out. Hope you’re all staying warm and dry back home. My neighbors are complaining about the cold around here, too! Its Harmattan season, so winds are blowing down from the desert/Savannah up north. This means I occasionally have to sleep with a blanket, even throw a sweatshirt on in the morning. The people in my village are wearing ski caps and jackets. All day.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


Something that’s a given by serving in West Africa is illness. Here we are exposed to diseases I have only read about in adventure novels and histories: Yellow fever, giardia, malaria, tuberculosis, scurvy (the one thing that I refuse to succumb to in my landlocked state in f-ing Africa is scurvy), amoebas, etc. Thus far only one person in my stage has had malaria. Fun fact: even when taking the malaria medication properly, it’s only about 85% effective. At least it’s still easily treatable, although because it’s so over diagnosed in West Africa the parasite itself is becoming immune to the treatment. Not to belabor the point or scare anybody back home, but two people in my stage have been med-sep’d due to sickness that couldn’t be treated in Togo. I’ve been pretty lucky thus far with only a couple of colds and the basic gastrointestinal complaints of a yovo becoming “habitué” (translated colloquially as “getting used to”) to living in a developing country. However, I believe my luck has finally run out.
Yesterday I spent my time curling up in a ball on the couch at the work station in Dapaong, groaning, and collapsing onto my side while clutching a pillow to my stomach (“Maggie’s hitting the deck again!”). The theatrics were making me feel better, I think. To be blunt, I could actually feel my intestines vibrating along with intense cramping, nausea, and my personal favorite symptom: sulfur burps, which are exactly what they sound like.
“Do you smell that?”
Me: “What? I don’t know. Whatever. I think it’s from outside.”
“It smells like burning. Did you light a match?”
Me: “I think someone’s cooking outside. IT MUST BE A BUSH FIRE.”
Though I’m innately a private person, I’m mostly thankful for the transparency I share with other Volunteers here; I feel like I can get an honest answer about anything I ask about my new home: culture, language, emotional ups and downs… sometimes when it comes to physical issues, I still blanche.
“Do you feel nauseated after you eat?”
Me: “Sure.”
“Do you ever get this (imitates rumbling sound – it’s kind of like a double bass-pedal) in your stomach?”
Me: “Yes.”
“Lose your appetite?”
Me: “Indeed!”
“Have you been passing cysts?”
Me: “I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”
Anyway, because I am, I’ll have you know, a Health Professional, I’m pretty sure I have giardia. I think I’d be hard pressed to find a volunteer in Togo who hasn’t contracted it once or twice, no matter how many precautions we take. According to our S.H.I.T. (Staying Healthy In Togo) book, one can catch giardia by untreated water or unclean food. I’m pretty good with filtering my water here, and ice is impossible to find so I haven’t had to worry about tainted drinks. Due to my love of street food and the questionable hygiene practices of those who prepare the food in Togo, I brought it on myself by being lazy and not wanting to cook. The usual procedure for getting treatment here is to complete a M.I.F. kit, which is a stool sample you send down to the nurses in Lome. They do some tests on it down there, hopefully figure out what it is and send you the appropriate treatment. Of course, because I’m in the furthest region from Lome this is a process that can take several weeks seeing as it’s via E.M.S., a mail service that Peace Corps contracts out via the post. I know people in my stage who have already done three or four of these bad boys, and I’m not looking forward to my first experience.
Although I’m sure it would lead to another great conversation with a volunteer on the best way to package and send a stool sample in Togo.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Living situation

Aaaaand I’m back! I figure that before I try to bring you all into the more complex, subtle world of Togolese culture, beliefs, politics, which let’s face it I don’t understand yet, you should know my physical living situation-meme (told you I’d do that).
In Togo there are five regions: Maritime, Plateaux, Centrale, Kara, and Savanes (in order from south to northern most). As previously stated I live in the Savanes region, the area with the harshest weather, the least attention from European colonialists, and the poorest people thus ranking at the top in Togo for malnutrition, illiteracy and mortality rates. Seriously, though, in our CHAP Handbook they always give out percentages of people in Togo who die in childbirth, malaria, malnutrition, etc., and there’s always a special shout-out to Savanes: “… highest in the Savanes region,” “…found above all in Savanes,” when there’s any aspect of undevelopment mentioned.
Dampiong (pop. ~550) is 12km to the north east of the regional capital of Dapaong. The ethnic group here is primarily Moba with a smattering of Fulani, a primarily nomadic group found in northern Togo, Burkina Faso and further west. In my village there is a Catholic elementary school, a Catholic church: “Ste. Therese,” and a Catholic dispensaire. That is it for the public buildings. The closest marche is Dapaong – a mixed blessing, seeing as I can get anything I want there all year round as it’s a regional capital but if I want toilet paper I still have to go 12km and back on my bike. My heat rash doth protest. Actually in the site description for Dampiong it clearly states “must like riding bikes” and I’m pretty sure I put that down as my hobby on everything they asked me to fill out. Advantage: during the rainy season it seriously looks like the set of Jurassic Park.
Anyway, beside those buildings there are a couple of shacks set up under a large neem tree that could be dubbed the “center of town” where you can buy cigarettes and shots of liquor; one time I even saw the little rubber flip flops that everyone wears here called “tapettes” being sold at one. However, every time I ask someone if it would be possible to sell food as well, even what they grow in their fields to each other without having to go all the way to Dapaong, I get a sad shrug and a “mais les moyens n’est pas la” (“but the money/means isn’t there”). I’ve yet to follow the line of logic on that one but I have heard of Volunteers who set up markets as a big project of theirs, so we’ll see. Besides the cigarette/liquor shacks there are chakpa stands. Chakpa is worthy of its own post in the near future so let it simply be known that it is a fermented millet beer that on a good day tastes like cider and on an average or bad one tastes like varying degrees of kombucha. You can’t throw a rock in my village without hitting a chakpa stand – not that I’ve actually tried that. Yet.
My maison-meme
                I live in the typical Togolese two-roomed structure with a separated outdoor kitchen and a corrugated tin roof. I also have my own compound, which is a walled-in “front yard” area of sorts where you host people when they come to visit. You do NOT invite people inside your house unless you are willing to have them barge in on you from then on. The compound is kind of like the drawing room of old, only outside and you have to kick the occasional goat, chicken, or child out. Typically there are several houses that hold one large family that share a compound, which is not an unusual living situation for Volunteers. In this compound I have what can really only be described as a manger (it’s where I burn my trash, thus not a good place for mankind’s savior to be born), and I planted a little mango tree in a hole of dirt where the cemented floor cracked.
My house faces west, which means that I always have light coming through my windows and I wake up with the sunrise thanks to my east-facing bedroom window. Entering the compound and facing my house, on the far right there is the open-air, walled bathing area where I take my bucket baths (exactly what it sounds like). The room that the front door leads to is my “main area” where I keep my gas stove, work desk and little pantry (“garde-manger”). To the right of the main room is a doorway that leads into my bedroom. I sleep on a lit-picot, which is a woven fold-out cot because it’s frankly too hot for me to be sweating into a vrai mattress. Mosquito net draped above it, natch. Unfortunately ceilings do not come standard with Togolese houses so what I have is a naked corrugated tin roof above me where bats have decided to roost. When I return from my training this upcoming week a bat(tle) will be undertaken against the little (ba)s(t)ards. Bright side: made me look up the word for bat which is “chauve-souris” (bald mouse). I do have a separate room for a kitchen but there are no windows, making it impossible to see… it’s basically a storage room.
Unfortunately my latrine (hole in the ground) is just outside my compound meaning that first thing in the morning I have to leave the privacy of my compound, wrapped in a pagne (bolt of cloth), and wave to people as I’m trying to get business taken care of. I also have to knock loudly on my metal door before I enter because lizards like to hang out there and they like to jump ON the giant who violates their home. Maybe they’re more valiant than we give them credit for?
Frankly, I’m one of the few Volunteers here who doesn’t even have electricity – side note: it makes me wonder how much longer PCVs will be able to say “I lived with no electricity for two years.” If it’s picking up this much in Togo, at least for Volunteers, it may be a matter of a decade before this  Volunteer life-style will die out.
My living situation is by far, at least in my stage, the most rugged and difficult. I’m on par with the NRM Volunteers, who HAVE to work and live out in the boonies.
I've never gone half-way on anything, no.

Thank you for the comments! I'm always thinking of home, and you are what make America home.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Hello! I apologize for the long wait before my first blog post – I’ve been distracted by things like lack of electricity, internet, paved roads and discernible infrastructure. I’ll try to get better at avoiding those snags.
Before I begin I have to inform anyone reading this that the Peace Corps in no way condones or is behind anything I write on this blog. This is all me and my personal experiences and opinions.
Who am I and where am I? My name is Maggie and I am serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Togo, a tiny francophone country in West Africa. I live in a tiny farming village called Dampiong, which is about 12km North-East of Dapaong, the regional capital of the Savanes region which is the furthest North in Togo. It also so happens to be the poorest region here. I graduated from the University of California at Santa Cruz in June, 2010 with a degree in Politics, moved to Philadelphia for a year and worked a string of odd jobs before leaving for Togo in June, 2011. If all goes well I’ll be in Togo until August of 2013.
Togo was colonized by the French and Germans before attaining status as an independent nation in 1960. The Peace Corps has been here since 1961, meaning that 2011 was the 50th anniversary of Volunteer service in Togo. Kind of a dubious cause for celebration, I’d think. But hey, we got tee-shirts, right?!
I’ll be using this blog to fulfill one of the three goals of Peace Corps: the sharing of a foreign culture and experiences with people back in America. The other goals are sending skilled volunteers abroad to developing countries who ask for them, and sharing American culture with the people we meet in these countries. I’ll also probably end up ranting occasionally, so please bear with me for those more incoherent entries.
First Entry: P.C.A.s
The title for this entry is in honor of a story I heard about a couple of Volunteers at their Mid-Service Conference:
Administration: “What do you all hope to accomplish in this conference?”
Volunteer 1: “Frankly I want to learn some more Peace Corps acronyms.”
Volunteer 2: “Oh, you mean P.C.A.s?”
Let me say that there are a LOT of acronyms here that my posts will undoubtedly be inundated with. This list will hopefully help you navigate the often non-intuitive (for a non-Volunteer) capital letters I’ll be throwing around. Peace Corps is not only a job, people, but a state of mind.
P.C.V.: Peace Corps Volunteer. Also, people capitalize “Volunteer” here. I’m not being pretentious.
E.T.: Early Termination. When a Volunteer chooses to go home for one reason or another. Thus far in my service (a little less than three months) three people have E.T.’d.
Ad-Sep: Administrative Separation. Administration decides to send you home for one reason or another. Anything from discussing politics with an official, not wearing your helmet on a bike or a moto, or the rumor of illegal drug use is grounds for an Ad-Sep. Scary, yeah.
Med-Sep: Medical Separation. Due to chronic illness or a bad accident that cannot be properly treated in country, the nurses (P.C.M.O.s: Peace Corps Medical Officers) sign off to send you home. Even scarier, and one person’s already been Med-Sep’d – I miss you!
Motos: Motorcycle taxis, which basically the best way to get from one place to another. You sit on the back and tell the driver where to go. The heart-stopping terror I originally felt on these beasts is giving way to giddy thrill. I’ll probably end up with carpal tunnel from the death-grip I keep on the bars in the back, though.
C.H.A.P. (Gryffindor): Community Health and AIDS Prevention. One of the four groups (or Houses, if you will) of Peace Corps in Togo; my own illustrious crew, in fact. I’m not really sure why I’m in it except for the fact that I was a lifeguard for a couple of summers.
S.E.D. (Slytherin): Small Enterprise Development. Introducing small Togolese vendors to the wonders of the international free market. You should all know my opinion on that.
G.E.E. (Ravenclaw): Girls Education and Empowerment.
“Look at you broads, yapping away… I fully support your right to do that.” – Current G.E.E. Volunteer
Self-explanatory, yeah?
N.R.M. (Hufflepuff): Natural Resource Management. The die-hard, genuine PCV articles. Living out in the boonies and teaching people how to get the most out of their dirt. Every time I help one out with their job that day I end up with a sun burn.
It should also be noted that in francophone Africa, “franglais” is a reality for Volunteers. I tend to slip random, poorly pronounced French words and phrases into my conversations and even my thoughts. Here are a few big ones that may end up in my blog:
Vrai(e): Means “true” in French, but also used as “real.” As in, “I was sitting on a VRAI camel. Couldn’t believe it!”
Même: Means “self.” Used as “itself” or simply to give clout to a noun. “Is it in Lomé-même or the outskirts?” “It’s the MAISON-MÊME!!”
Quoi: Means “what” or “that.” Put after a noun here for whatever reason. It makes no sense to me, however I do have it on good authority that the French drop the “quoi” in Northern France. I’ve been catching myself doing it, too: “It’s over there, quoi.” “C’est bonne chose, quoi!”
En brousse: “In the bush.” When you live outside of a major city (such as your humble author). No electricity, no running water, no market, but ALL the street cred.
Dispensaire: “Dispensary.” A mélange of hospital/doctor’s office that they have en brousse. As a CHAP volunteer, I work with mine a fair amount.
Marché: “Market.” In Togo, this means open-air markets with women screaming at you to buy their product, because their tomatoes are better than their neighbor’s. More seasonal than your average Farmer’s Market – for about half the year up here there are no fruits or vegetables to be found. Scurvy is something we have to be aware of, yes.
Yovo: “Whitey.” Not exactly French, but a term that people (mostly children, or “petits”) like to scream at a white person while they’re walking by. It comes in three forms: “Yovo-yovo!” “Yovo?” and a little ditty called the Yovo song: “Yovo, Yovo, bon soir, ça va? Très bien, merci!” It begins to grate, even though older Togolese will tell you that it’s actually a compliment to call someone “whitey.” Let’s not get into that right now.
Stage/Stagiaire: “Stage” is the training period Volunteers receive before being sent to post, “Stagiaire” is the person (i.e., future PCVs) being trained. For Togo it was a two-month period where we had language and culture lessons and lived with a host family.

I hope that will help clear up any confusion you all might have in reading future posts and of course I’ll be sure to translate anything that comes up in writing that hasn’t been mentioned.

I love and miss you all, and I’ll be updating more. Promise.