Monday, December 12, 2011


So I am just going home for a brief visit to hang out with family and friends during the holiday season, but I don’t think I have ever been more excited about a vacation in my LIFE.  And it’s to a place I’ve lived for 22 years.  Of course, I’ll be doing new and fun things like hanging out with the boy in nyc and meeting his family, but I’ll be right back to the old and the familiar DFW metroplex after a few days.

So why am I SO excited? More than any other trip I’ve ever taken? Because I need a serious break from this Togolese life.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Togo.   I love my village, my house, my neighbors, the cute babies, and all the people I’ve met.  Rice and beans have become a comfort food…I think I crave them more than I crave cheeseburgers now.   So what’s up? Why have I been feeling blue lately? I think most of this blog has been about the amazing kick ass times I’ve had, but rarely do I ever go into if I ever feel frustrated or sad.   Being a Peace Corps volunteer isn’t all about holding cute babies and sharing cultures, it can also be frustrating and eye opening.

Reason #1: I am tired of getting sick!! I’ve had more ailments here in Togo than my entire life (probably an exaggeration).  Yes, part of it probably has to do with the way I take care of myself, but a lot of it has to do with the fact I’m living in Africa.  A general list of maladies I have had since coming here: Colds, Food Poisoning, Malaria, Amoebas, Pink Eye, Bronchitis, Gall Stones (I’m not sure if I believe this one),  and general other stomach pains that I have no explanation for other than the fact I eat street food every day...

Reason #2: Work here is hard. 

I have had more failed projects here than I’d like to count.  English club at 8:00AM on Saturdays? Nice try, but no way are people coming to that one.  Computer Club? HA, half of the computers are broken today.  A funded project that you wrote a grant for and got approved to receive funding for? Woops, your check is still somewhere in the DC vortex.  Getting stuff done here is HARD! I guess the major problem is that I see so many avenues for projects, but finding the time, the resources, and the right motivated people can really just bog you down.

While this is a huge reason why I am frustrated, it’s not the end of the world.  I have had some incredibly successful projects, such as starting a new science club at the middle school, the high school science club which is entirely run by students, Leve-Toi Jeune Fille, various summer camps,  working on the UNITE team, etc.  It has just taken some time to slow down my American-Paced attitude about work and getting things done right away. 

Reason #3: I really really really miss America.   I miss having privacy.  I miss not hearing “WHIIITTEEE PEEAARRSSSOONN” being yelled at me once I step foot out of my door.  I miss going to a grocery store where I have options. I miss going swimming. And most of all, I miss my family and friends.  Life is going on with or without me in the states and that has taken a lot of adjusting to get used to.

So, I’m off to America to recharge, to get my fill of draft beers and cheeseburgers and Mexican food, to see my lovely friends and family, and to put my life here in Togo back in perspective. But after all of it, I know I’ll want to come back to Togo; I have a life here! I have a house, a cat, a best friend for a neighbor, a boyfriend, and so many amazing volunteers I love hanging out with.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Happy Tabaski! Or Happy Eid al-Adha for those not in West Africa!

FAIR WARNING!: these pictures get kind of gross.

Yesterday was Tabaski, the “festival of sacrifice”.  It celebrates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son for God, but God stepped in and Abraham only had to sacrifice a sheep instead.  This is the holiday of holidays for people in my village.  I would say it is the closest thing to Christmas (not in a religious context, but more for the intense amount of celebration).  Everyone puts on their finest clothes, spends insane amounts of money on a family animal to sacrifice, and parties it up with sodas and treats. 

Looking REALLY good.

In the morning, Justin and I got all dressed up in our Togolese-finest to go to prayer.   Men and women must separate for prayer; the women have to pray behind the men.  Because of this, Justin went off with my neighbor Salim and I went off with my two friends Nahid and Whitney to go pray with two women we work with at the hospital.  We headed off to our colleague’s house to learn how to properly wash ourselves before prayer. 

Learning the steps to washing.
Justin and Salim

People from Tchamba (pop. around 13,000) went to the central elementary school to all pray together.  Hoards of people packed in the courtyard and laid out their prayer mats to stake a place to pray.  There were people riding horses, beating on drums, and selling popcorn and treats everywhere.  Tabaski is also the time to give to the poor, so people were shelling out coins left and right to give to those asking.  

Cute girls at prayer

At 9am the Imam started off with the prayer.  I have never prayed before so it was a lot of me watching out of the corner of my eye to see what others were doing.  It was an amazing experience to see a sea of women in veils praying all at the same time.  In muslim prayer there are several steps that start with one standing, then one bends down, then one sits with forehead to the ground.  Imagine hundreds of people doing that all in sync!
So many people! This is only a tiny tiny portion.

Nahid, Wembe, Whitney, and Cherifa

After the prayer, which only lasted maximum 4 minutes, we all filed out and headed back to our colleague’s house.  They had made a delicious meal for us of foufou, rice, and cous cous with a ton of beef in it.  We ate as much as we could but knew that there would be more meals for us to go to later on that day. 

Rice, foufou and couscous

On my way home, I certainly saw the essence of a “festival of sacrifice” as goats, sheeps, and cows were being slaughtered in the streets.  I headed straight to Salim’s house where I found Justin, scarred from the mass-slaughter he had witnessed.  Apparently, he had gone around with all the men to kill the various animals in my neighborhood.  (By that, I mean Justin took his camera around and followed everyone blindly into one situation after another).

Sweet little Manaf ignoring whats happening behind him

Salim's impressive cow.  He's so proud!
Each family sacrifices one animal for this holiday.  1/3 of the animal goes towards the family, 1/3 of the animal goes towards friends, and 1/3 of the animal goes to the poor. (I now have a freezer full of beef that I’m currently googling marinades for).  Animals are CRAZY expensive with cows going for $600! Needless to say, this is a huge deal and families are super proud of their haul.

The family across the street and their lamb.  (You can't tell in this picture, but they were going pretty nuts).
The rest of the day was spent at my friend Moctar’s house.  His family cooked up another meal of foufou with sesame sauce (yum) and a yummy salad.  After that we headed to his brother’s dege (ice-creamish stuff with couscous inside) shop to indulge in their Tabaski gift to us, free dege!

There were a ton more celebrations happening throughout the night but I decided to turn in early and rest up.  I just got over having pink eye in both eyes and my eyeballs are still pretty dry and get tired quickly.  Plus this party lasts for 3 days!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Fine Cooking in Togo

Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli with Garlic Bread!

First, you start off making the cheese, the closest thing to ricotta.  Lome is the only reliable place to buy cheese and since that is 8 hours away on a good day, homemade cheese is the way to go. Boil up some powdered milk, add some vinegar, and watch the curds separate from the whey.  

Make some sauce from a can of tomato paste, water, chopped up onions and tomatoes, and mushrooms from a can.

Make homemade ravioli pasta.  We also use the same recipe for making lasagna noodles.  Some flour, eggs, and water. Let it sit for 30 minutes before you start molding it around.

Stuff each of the ravioli shells with the ricotta cheese and your spinach.  But spinach doesn't exist in Togo so you gotta use gboma, the closest thing to spinach but a little more bitter.

 Pinch it all up!

Cook your raviolis in some boiling water until you think it's done (we totes guessed).

Garlic bread.  If you're lucky like me and you live next to Bouba, a Germany bakery in Togo, you can get some yummy breads.  Bouba is actually in Sokode, 34k out of Tchamba, but some lady always comes to my village with a giant box full of bread probably weighing 50 pounds. She walks all around my town with that huge box on her head selling bread. Pretty unbelievable. Anyways, we got some plain old bread, drizzled some olive oil on it, garlic, and italian herbs.

And then you eat delicious food!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Unlimited Amounts of Internet!!

I now have unlimited internet, which really knocks out any excuse I had about never updating this blog.  I’ve had an usb modem that allows me to connect to the internet, but it was pay as you go.  But, I’ve decided it is worth it to splurge some of my money and to try out this unlimited internet.  So for about $30 a month I can use the internet anytime a want for as long as I want. Ridiculous!

Being that it’s October now, one can assume I’ve survived the maelstrom of summer camps.  I participated in 5 different summer camps and loved every single one of them.  Besides from Camp UNITE, which I already wrote about, I participated in:


Camp Informatique is the computer camp that Katy and I put on at the beginning of this summer.  The top boy and girl in seconde (the equivalent to a sophomore in college) from each high school in the Centrale region were invited to attend this camp.  The boys followed by the girls had a 4 day long computer camp in the regional capital, Sokode.  During the 4 days they learned the names of different computer parts, why one uses computers, how to use a mouse, how to type, how to open programs, how to type letters on Word and how to explore the internet.  While they weren’t learning something new about computers, they were playing games, singing, playing soccer or going to sessions on the importance of gender equity, self-confidence, or HIV/AIDS.

It was incredibly inspirational to see how quickly someone who had never even seen a computer to learn in 4 days how to surf the internet and write word documents.  The girls who participated in the camp received valuable training that they would have been very likely to never receive elsewhere.  Camp Informatique provided these students with the basic knowledge of computers that would allow them to confidently walk into their nearest computer cafĂ©.  Thank you for everyone who donated to this project, it was a huge success!


Camp Espoir is a week long summer camp for children who are affected by HIV/AIDS.  This could mean that they themselves are infected with the disease, or the disease has significantly influenced their lives, such as losing a parent to it.  The kids participating range from 6 years old to 18 years old.  Camp Espoir aims to provide these kids with the best week of their lives (ie actually being allowed to be a kid), providing an environment where they are not marginalized or teased for being affected by HIV/AIDS, and providing them with useful sessions that will help them make healthy life decisions. 

The camp was filled with fun, traditionally American activities such as a camp fire where they roasted marshmellows, a scavenger hunt, and a carnival.  There were also educational sessions like human rights, nutrition, income generating activities, hygiene, etc.  I was super lucky to have the youngest girls, so I got some nail polish and lipstick and we all went to town.  Needless to say, this was the saddest and hardest camp to leave.


Camp ScientiFille (a blend between the French words for scientist and girl) was a week-long camp that brought together 11 villages throughout Togo.  Each village brought the Peace Corps volunteer, a science teacher, and 3 female students.  Getting girls to go to school in Togo is a challenging task, but even more so is getting girls to pursue a science track in school.  Students have to choose at a very young age what “track” they’d like to do, whether it’s the arts or sciences.  Girls that do want to follow the science track are often discouraged by their teachers and parents.  Camp ScientiFille aimed to encourage the girls to follow a science track, show the teachers that girls can and should be scientists, and showed how to make science fun through experiments. 

AMENONS NOS FILLES AU TRAVAIL (Take our daughters to work)

This was a week-long camp for a little over 20 girls in the Centrale region.  Every region had their own version of take our daughters to work, but I obviously helped out with the best region.  Heh.  Anyways, during this camp, girls from rural villages came to Sotouboua, the 2nd largest town in Centrale and spent the week learning about different career paths.  The week’s activities included touring a radio station, being a part of a radio show, listening to panels of women speaks about their jobs, and sessions on various life skills, such as self-confidence or planning for a future.
Teaching about computers.


After all of this I finally took a vacation! Family came to visit so Justin and I hopped over to Accra to spend a few days there before we picked them up from the airport. Basically, Accra is just like America to a Togo PCV.  There is everything there.  Paved roads, ice cream, iced coffee, KFC, A SHOPPING MALL, a movie theater; the list is pretty endless… We ate about 5 meals a day plus snacks, caught two movies, hung out in air conditioning, took hot showers, and used the fastest internet I’ve used in over a year.  Overall, it made me super happy but also incredibly sad.  It seems silly that all this is a short 4 hour drive away from Togo, but Togo can’t even begin to compete. Even in Lome, Togo’s capital, there are few paved roads, internet is abysmal, and all the delicious food we have in lome is thanks to the Lebanese immigrants.  Oh, Togo.

With my family, we traveled throughout Ghana.  We visited about 3 slave castles, two national parks, and one of the biggest markets in West Africa.  It was pretty stressful.  Despite English being Ghana’s official language, I only understood/could communicate a few things.  Once we crossed over to the Togo border, I was relieved.  Not only because I could easily communicate with everyone but because I knew 100% what I was doing.  In Togo, we visited the tambermas in Kante, hung out in my village and got to know all my neighbors, ate a bunch in Kpalime, and saw the few tourist attractions there are to see in Lome. 
Cape Coast castle

Mole National Park

The Tambermas (tatas)

And now, I’m back in village. Finally.  But, I’ve been having to travel in and out for various meetings and getting paper work finalized for my next project.  I received funding for a project that I picked up from previous volunteers, “Loro de Alafia”, or reproductive health in English.  It is a 4 days conference for 20 rural, muslim women to come in and learn about the reproductive system, family planning, and how to talk to their husbands about gender equity and family planning.  It will be all in local language since for the most part, these women have not been to school or they have been to very little.  Luckily, I have some great counter parts and partner organizations that are essentially planning and putting this project into action while I handle to paperwork and budget side of it all.  It’s happening in about a month, so I’ll let everyone know how it goes!
School has started back up and so have my science clubs.  My two science clubs have been the most sustainable projects I’ve worked with.  I’ve been super lucky to find counter-parts who are motivated and willing to work with me.  I’ll be starting my third club in the near future, as soon as school starts to stabilize a bit more. 

And finally, Leve-Toi Jeune Fille, the magazine I’m working on with two other volunteers has put out the first issue with the new editors.  Plus, I’m about to wrap up all the articles for the next issue, Community Action.  So exciting!

Friday, June 3, 2011

CAMP UNITE! (c’est la jeunesse) CAMP UNITE! (c’est l’avenir) CAMP UNITE! (c’est l’avenir du Togo!)

Camp UNITE [uni-tay…not unite] is a 4 week long summer camp for the youth of Togo.  It is broken down per week by girl apprentices, boy apprentices, girl students, and boy students. During the week, the 30 or so apprentices or students go through a series of sessions, team building challenges, spurts of dancing and singing, and small discussion groups.

I just got back from the week long girl apprentices camp.  IT WAS AMAZING! By far, it was my best week in Togo.  I felt more accomplished and touched in this week alone then all my previous time in Togo.  So what all did we do exactly? Here are all of the sessions the girls had:

  •          Self-Confidence and Influence of Friends: I lead this one along with my Togolese counterpart! We talked about self-confidence; what it is, how does one obtain it, why is it important, etc.  My favorite activity had the girls each take a piece of paper and write “I can’t…” and then they would fill in the blanks of something they think they cannot do, or they are incapable of doing because it is too difficult.  After that, we literally buried their papers of “I can’t” into the ground and shouted the phrase “Vouloir c’est Pouvoir”.   This session was so great because all the girls heard, and maybe for the first time, that they all had value and were important. 
  •          Gender Equity: During this session the girls learned about gender equity and why it is important.  There are very strict gender roles here in Togo that limits the opportunities for a lot of girls.  Girls have the responsibility of doing all domicile chores, which always will make it difficult for the girls to study.  Girls are also told that they cannot become mechanics or carpenters because they are boys’ jobs.  During gender equity, it was explained to the girls the difference between ‘gender’ and ‘sex’, how these gender roles get put into place, and what the girls can do to combat these roles.
  •          Introduction to Income Generating Activities: We explained what an Income Generating Activity is to the girls and why doing and IGA is important.  So many girls cannot afford to go to school or apprenticeship, and many girls will turn to a form of prostitution or just drop out.  Another option is an IGA, such as making liquid soap, tofu, popcorn, lotion, jam, etc.
  •          Importance of Girls Education: This session was a tricky one since we were talking to girl apprentices who had already abandoned their studies; however it was extremely useful to talk to the girls about why it is important to send their own daughters to school and what they can do themselves to continue their education.
  •          Relationships, Abstinence, and Family Planning: During this session, my friend Danny went through the different kinds of relationships there are; acquaintances, friendship, and intimate.  A big family is very desirable in Togo; however it isn’t always looked at through an economic perspective.  Danny did an activity where two couples were each placed into a ‘house’ a square made out of masking tape on the floor.  We went through the scenario where one family practiced family planning while the other did not.  Eventually the house got more and more crowded with the family that did not practice family planning and it was more and more difficult to adequately share the ‘food’ (cookies that Danny had brought).  At the end of the session, all the various forms of birth control available in Togo were introduced to the girls and a health agent from the local hospital was there to answer questions.
  •          Adolescence and Puberty:  So puberty is a pretty taboo subject in Togo and doesn’t get nearly the attention it deserves.  So many girls don’t know what will happen, what is happening, or even what happened to their bodies during puberty.  My friend Megan went through this session and explained the changes girls and boys both go through, lead a “true” or “false” game with certain myths about puberty, and lead the girls through a walk through vagina.  The walk through vagina was built by a couple volunteers and allowed the girls to follow the path of an egg through the fallopian tubes, uterus, and vagina.  So informative!
  •          Child Trafficking: This is a pretty important topic in Togo as many children are sent each year to Nigeria for either hard labor or prostitution.  Nigerians often come through Togo convincing parents to let them take their children to Nigeria by promising a better life and a lot money.  The kids travel in terrible conditions to Nigeria, get abused for years, and come back an abysmal amount of money.  During this session, we had some girls give testimonies about their experiences with Child Trafficking and what the other girls can do to combat it. (Like Income Generating Activities!)
  •          Sexual Harassment: Karen led this session and did a great job of explaining what sexual harassment is.  Harassment is frequent in Togo, almost to a point of normality, unfortunately.  This session went through and explained to the girls at what moment an action passes the limit and becomes harassment, how to recognize when they are being harassed and what they can do to stop it.  The girls practiced saying “NO” (avec la force!), something a lot of the girls had never known to do before.
  •          HIV/AIDS: This session was to explain HIV/AIDS, how one becomes infected, what is happening to one’s body when they have it, and what they can do to protect themselves.  We played a game of “true” and “false” with the myths of AIDS.  We also showed the girls how to properly use a condom.

  •          IGA-Marketing: I lead this one too! We talked about the different points of marketing, the importance of treating the client like king and taught them how to make popcorn!
  •          IGA-Feasibility Study: Megan went through this one and taught the girls how to do a feasibility study and how to make Neem lotion.
  •          Time/Money management: This went through the different ways girls can plan their time and manage their money.

On the last day of camp, the girls paraded around a neighboring village.  At the end of their parade, they performed traditional dances (super interesting as the girls are from all 5 regions of Togo, each ethnicity with their own dance) and went through 2 sketches that portrayed the importance of getting tested for HIV/AIDS and the importance of girls’ education.

All in all, this camp had a huge impact on all the girls that participated and even me.  We are still raising money for the students camp so if you have the means, I’d really appreciate donations!

Monday, March 14, 2011

3 months!

I have officially been in Tchamba 3 months now, woo! That is a pretty big landmark. So to recap what I have been doing since my last blog post:

I spent most of this month trying to figure out what was going on half the time.  Lucky for me I came in with some French….except not exactly West African French.  It took me some time to get used to some phrases like “Et les gens de la?” literally meaning “And the people of there?” I get asked this anytime I go anywhere that is not Tchamba.  Or “Tu es la?” meaning “Are you there?” when someone is looking right at me.  Or asking a specific question and getting the answer “c’est….les choses quoi”, or “it’s…the things what.”

I live in a primarily Muslim town, however, so Noel was not quite celebrated in my community.  But luckily, my girl Ellen came down for Christmas and I spent the day learning how to kill and defeather a chicken.  Then we made chicken tacos! With Rice and beans, taco seasoning and velveeta (the last two were definitely sent from America).  We spent the night eating and drinking wine with Nahid and my neighbor Salim, who was the one who gifted me the live chicken.

New Years also isn’t exactly celebrated here in Tchamba because we are a Muslim community and it’s not technically their new year.  But, we had a huge fete regardless because General Tikipina came to town.   The general is from Tchamba, so our city put on a daylong party for him which included various speakers, horses, dancing, and food!  General Tikipina even gave a shout out to Peace Corps in his thank you speech, which was pretty awesome.

I also went down to Lome for a bit to take care of some business and to see Justin back from his trip to America.  We explored Lome and took in some ‘Al Donalds’ and ‘KFG’, both surprisingly delicious.

After my trip, I came home and got the cutest kitten in the world, who I named Potato.  My neighbor had kittens so I decided to buy one.  I paid 1005 CFA.  A pretty bizarre amount because no one usually has 5 CFA.  I asked if I could just give 1025 CFA, but they insisted I give the 5 CFA piece otherwise my cat might run away.

I had training at the end of January where all the GEE volunteers from my group got together for a week and learned about new possible projects we could work on.  All the topics were super interesting; I learned how to make tofu and soy milk, so cool. Plus, it was a lot of fun to see everyone all together again since I hadn’t seen most of them for 2 months.

AND the most exciting news of all, Nahid and I started a radio show in Tchamba! It’s every Saturday evening.  We pick themes that relate to girls education or health.  We started by introducing ourselves and Peace Corps and what our program goals are.  Then we’ve moved on to topics like self confidence, behavior change, HIV/AIDS, and correct condom use.  This week we are going to be bringing in the local doctor for an interview, and hopefully in the future we’ll bring in some “femme modele”, model women in the community to interview.


This was a hectic month for sure.  There were a few volunteers who were planning on going up to Burkina Faso for FESPACO, the pan-african film festival that happens only once every two years.  So I got my visa for Burkina Faso, which was a pretty good debacle.  To get a visa into Burkina Faso, it’s 90,000 CFA, about $180. Or, you could get a 5 country tourist visa which gets you into Burkina Faso, Benin, Togo, Cote D’Ivoire, and Niger for 25,000 CFA, or $50. This 5 country visa isn’t exactly publicized very well, nor does it really say on the visa that it’s for 5 countries, but after a few stressful days, I got it and it ended up working.
So, at the end of February, I made my way up country and into Burkina Faso.  FESPACO, held in BF’s capital, Ouagadougou, was so much fun.  There were films from all over Africa, a few from France and a few from USA.  The films were mostly in French, or in local language with French subtitles.  Ouaga is also just a pretty awesome city to take in, especially if you’ve been living in Togo for a while.  We went swimming, ate burritos, spaghetti bolognaise, cheeseburgers and fries, and found a wine and cheese restaurant. 


Justin and me at a fancy pants restaurant.

Us with our badges!

On our way home, after our car exploded in the middle of nowhere.

And now I am home, hanging out with my cat, nursing some amoebas, and watching some Frasier.  Despite all the fun things in Burkina, I am really in love with Togo, especially Tchamba.

So in terms of what I’ve been doing in my day to day activities…

·         Tuesday and Thursday mornings I go to our hospital’s baby weighing and vaccinations.  I usually help update the vaccination records and will sometimes stand in front with the doctors to provide the anecdotal “My name is Cherifa” in local language to all the mothers who come.  Once in a while the doctors ask me and Nahid to do a causerie.  Since Nahid is the health volunteer, I usually hold the posters up and smile as she talks about what to feed your babies after six months.

·         Wednesdays I go to the Science Club at the high school. Every week I’ll translate two experiments out of a science book to give to the teacher, and he usually runs with it.  Half the club is made up of girls, which is amazing considering the low enrollment numbers for girls.

·         Wednesdays I also have an English Club for the high school kids.  The kids have to take and pass the BAC in order to successfully complete high school.  There is an English portion on the exam, which even I think is hard.  So, I go to the school with a BAC study guide and will work through examples with them.

·         Saturdays I meet up with the high school girl’s soccer team.  Each week a new girl will volunteer to come to my house at some point within the week and we’ll pick a theme to do a 10-15 minute presentation on after their practice.

·         After the girl’s soccer team, I make my way over to the English Club.  I offer it on Satuday mornings too in case Wednesday didn’t work for some of the students.

·         Saturday evening I have my radio show.  During the afternoon, I’ll usually meet with the high school kid that helps us out with the show.  We pick out the theme and write up the script.  Then he introduces the music and the theme and asks me and Nahid questions related to the theme.

·         An ongoing project is planning Camp Informatique with Katy K.  Camp Informatique is a summer camp for the top boy and top girl in seconde (like a sophomore) in their high school in the Centrale region.  They get the chance to work on computers (computers are a scarce here) and to learn how to actually work one.

·         And! I’m one of the new editors for Leve-Toi Jeune Fille, a magazine that compiles articles written by students, volunteers, and Togolese professionals all related to a certain theme.  It’s so awesome because it’s written entirely in French, which gives Togolese something to read (which there is none of here).  There are 4 editions a year; the upcoming one’s theme is Girls in Science.

…And that has been the last three months, in a nutshell.

And obligatory cute cat pics:
Justin and Potato Cakes after a bath

Me and Sweet Potato!

....Potato with Potatoes...