Amber Kenny - Peace Corps Togo.

Environmental Protection/Extension Agent.

Undergraduate at the University of Michigan in Environmental Anthropology.

Amber is both a Peace Corps Volunteer and a graduate student in the Loret Miller Ruppe Peace Corps Masters International Program at Michigan Tech. Find out more about this program at .

from an email on 13 June 2004.

Subject: holy moly, these french keyboards are ca-razy

jus letting you all know ive arrived safely, after a loooong tiring trip. i almost didnt get on the plane because i lost my immunization card, so i almost had to get medivqced to d.c. even before i left! but now am here sweaty, but happy despite homicidal thoughts toward roosters that crow at four thirty a.m, broken cold showers, and getting shots every morning!

from an email on 21 June 2004

So I just traveled 1 hour in a taxi, filled with 7 people and waded through a crazy marche (market) to get to an internet café…. Whew! Well after staying in Lome for a few days, in a place called mammy's ( mammy is an elderly asian woman). In lome we got 2 shots everyday for 3 days; my arms hurt so bad… I think Typhoid was the worst. Lomé was fun; we taught little kids how to play baseball on the beach (the had never heard of it before!) and explored the city; its big, sprawling, and crowded, but interesting nonetheless. we finally left the big city for our training site. The town and the other natural resource volunteers (NRM) and I are staying in is called; Goviè; It's a small little village, very comfortable and everyone is very nice. When we first arrived in Govié, we were met with a brass marching band, our host families, village v.i.p.s and all of the village children on the side of the road and walked to a big meeting house; and I when I say walked, I mean danced. It was very welcoming and happy. Somehow I managed to end up with the chief for a host family… so I'm hardly roughing it. I live in a big house, with a nice courtyard and veranda. I have my own room where I keep all my stuff ( I have so much more stuff than most of the people in my village, I feel kinda bad about that). I have a mountain bike (loaned to me by peace corps, it's the smallest size the had, and it is still too big!), a gas stove, a table a desk and a bed in there; so its pretty crowded…. But nice and really really hot. I have a bucket flush toilet and take cold bucket showers, which are actually pretty refreshing! So I was talking to mon père the chief the other night…. And it turns out he has 4 wives (one died) and almost thirty kids!!!!! Family structure is a little different here…..We have training during the day, with three basic classes. French in the morning … somehow I ended up placing in the highest French class, which really worries me because I don't know how to ask questions (very well) or speak in the future tense. But oh well I think I will learn, I've already picked up a lot of French already. After French class we go out to a field on the side of the road for technical class. We are creating a garden, using simple techniques that we can use at our actual sites. Its hard work in the sun? but it feels good to do some physical work. All the villagers thinks it is hilarious to see all these yovos (the term for foreigners or white people) trying to work in a field.

Homelife is pretty good. Kinda weird at times… okay most of the time. For example, my Mom doesn't live with the chief but a block away ( the chief owns three houses for all his peeps) and makes my food there with her mother.. then brings it to my room? Where I eat it while just stand and watch me eat it. I wanna help, but when I ask, my mom always says tomorrow… hmmm I will have to work on that. The rules are a little different for at the chief's house, then for other volunteer, cause apparently I'm like a princess… and princesses don't get their own water, or do their laundry or wash their dishes…I'm trying to explain that I need to learn how to do those things west African style, because When I go to my post, I need to be able to do those things myself… but I haven't gotten that point across yet…

An email on 11 July 2004

In my town of Govie, music is continuously playing, especially at night….mostly a lot of reggae… though sometimes I get to fall asleep to the sweet soothing beats of 50 cent and dmx…. That's when I think, "wow, its almost like I never left school, still falling asleep to party music. Other nights the music is distinctly African, with drumming, singing, dancing, and I'm think, "whoa! I'm in freaking Togo! this is awesome!"

I just got my third rabies shot… now I'm 30% protected from rabies. I hope the partial protection is worth it, cause my hurts like crazy and is red, swollen and hot to the touch around where I got the shot. Besides that, life here is good. I haven't gotten sick (besides gut-wrenching cramps from hell 3 days after being in the capital, some magical cipro pills took care of them). Training is great. Before the peace corps I heard some horror stories about how lame and middle-schoolish it can be, but so far so good. In fact, maybe less structured than fall camp. I think that's my new masters international model; if you can survive fall camp, you can survive peacecorps training….. My teachers here are togolaise, smart, and fun. I have language and technical trainers. Some how I ended up in the highest language class (?!) so we get to do fun things like interview village elders, important women of the community and visit sdb (sodabe, the local bevie, kinda related to absinthe, lets just say it packs a punch) stills. When we don't have language we have tech or cross cultural class. In tech, we are working on a sweet garden with lots of raised beds full of lettuce, tomatoes, cabbage, carrots. We are also working on grafting techniques on mango and citrus trees as well. Its good fun outdoors work, even in the hot togo sun. In cross cultural classes we learn about cultural differences and how to react in certain situations…. For example, how to respond when people ask for (and this happens EVERY DAY) your skirt, earrings, watch, etc. I'm not sure about the other PCV's but I barely brought enough stuff for myself for the next 2 and half years… but since I'm perceived as a rich yovo( white person of foreigner) I think a lot people here (who don't know me) think I have unlimited access to all this "stuff" that yovos always have a lot of. Sadly, I only get 1.75 dollars a day here (during the 3 montsh of training), which is okay with me, but doesn't really allow me to give away my stuff, and get more…. Nonetheless, I still have more stuff, and money then most of the people here. Anyways, back to school stuff….. we also learn cool information tidbits such as: whistling after 6 pm is taboo because it calls out spirits and other bad things…. Or that crossing your legs here is considered rude, cause it implies you are better than then the people next to you.

Last weekend was a lot of fun…. On the 3rd we went to the big city of kpalime, and jus lived it up. And when I say lived it up I mean eat chicken sandwhiches, go out dancing, and staying in a hotel with air conditioning!!!!!! I actually woke up in the middle of the night, with my teeth chattering. It was magical. And expensive… really really expensive. I think we all blew all of our money! Definitely something fun to do once… but probably not again. I like my little happy slow village a lot better, and it's a lot cheaper too.

For the fourth we met up with the business PCV trainees in ther bigger village of Adeta. We had a big potluck with French fries, fruit salad, other food, and we got cheeseburgers! Again, It was magical. The first time I've had beef since I've been here. The party was fun, some of the young adults in our house families came too , and we just played card games, danced, drank some beers, and ate good food. Just like the 4th of july in the U.S.

So Togo is fun. I'm adapting, getting used to the crazy unstructured-ness of it all, and kinda improving on my French. I found out my post for the next 2 years. Agodokope, its about an hour and half from the big capital of Lome, But is really isolated and in the bush. If I want to get out of village I have to ride my bike 9km to the nearest big road, where I can catch a bush taxi to Lome, or anywhere else I want to go. And only one woman speaks French. The rest or the women speak Ewe…. So it looks like I better get to work on my local language skills! The NRM project just finishing up is one on agouti raising. Agoutis are rats….yes rats, for eating…. So this post sounds interesting to say the least. The great thing about my post location is that there are trees in my region, which makes the forestry person in me all the happier.

5 August 2004 - parts of an email.

So life here , during training, is normalizing, but never boring. I am learning a lot, making really nice friends, its going to be hard to leave for post! I love govié, but certain situations here crack me up... for example the other day we were watching an American movie with an africain-american actress in it. My family started arguing "what" she was... definitely not amiebo (African or black person), at first they said she was a yovo (white person, but also counts for people from India and most Americans) but finally they were like, "I know! She's Chinese". Oh, of course....

us trainees also visited a a spiritual healer the next village over... we learned a lot of interesting info on medicinal plants among other things. Other things being: it there is warfare they have these 2 powerful calabashes they place on a young girl's ( i.e. virgin) head, then the village sends her out first and the bullets will go into the calabashes, and not hit anyone. We also watched him contact ancestors by chanting, and using talismans, and hitting the floor with a stick. And learned about voodoo, curses; and that a lot of people would like to go to the traditional healer for things like broken bones, cause they can get healed faster, but it is more expensive than clinics or hospitals, so people usual only go to the healer when they have ailments they 'got at home' i.e. curses, and things like that.

I just finished my post visit week. The village I will work in is called adokopke, and I'm entering an agouti (cute rats raised for meat) raising project that is about halfway complete. Hopefully, after the project is ready to be independent, i will be able to work on some reforestation projects ( big issue here, since brush fires have destroyed a lot of trees). I got to visit my post while the current volunteer, Jean Ellen was still there. Which was great; she helped me meet the chiefs, and people of the four villages i will work with, introduced me to some really nice families, and helped me figure out the tricky skills of village living. She also helped me navigate the crazy streets of the capital, lome, opening bank accounts and finding fun stuff to do. My village is en brousse... big time. No electricity for many kilometers, no running water.... no real food either, but the people are great, i have a cute little house and a very pretty latrine and outdoor shower. I live in the same compound as an older man (papa) and his youngest wife, their kids the wife's sisters, their kids and the sisters niece (my counterpart's wife, but they are separated now) and her 2 young children. So it is pretty busy; ! lots of kids, yelling, noisy goats, and other activity. The family is really welcoming and protective. I really like my counterpart, or homologue as well, Adza. He is really capable, nice.

I have to use my middle name, lily, at my post because amber is too hard to say... people try but end up saying amble ambrrrreee, umbul... so i am just gonna stick with lily; much easier for everyone!


So, some highlights of post visit:

- goin to the Pentecostal church and hearing great music, singing, and dancing.... although it was a little hard to follow the service since it was all eve, the local language....
- eating dinner at a super cool family's compound... great food, good people, good times. The father asked me if i was a girl or a women.... and i was like, well.... i'm 23, and not yet married, no kids either... and he was like, oh then you are a girl. Jean Ellen, who is 33 asked if she if was a considered a girl or a women since she was older than me, but not married as well... the family was like, no, you're a girl too.... guess you have to be married to be considered a women here.
- The kids organized a night time dance party with drums and super fun circle and hand clapping dances
- Going into lome (despite the crazy crime rate and pushy people) and eating really really good food, cheeseburgers, chinese food, and lots and lots of chocolate. It was magical

I'm excited to move into my post village, and get some work done... and cook for myself. Until then, i plan to enjoy the rest of stage (training), work on my French (slowly improving?) and my local language, and hang with my host family and their other trainees. We have some fun parties planned (peace corps fetes, the rice festival, and a couple of village weddings) which hopefully will be filled with dancing, drumming, good food, and eating. I'm excited.

Life here is still good, pretty healthy besides the ring worm and the occasional stomach malady....

12 August 2004. email.

well i have got another infermiere adventure story..... while i was gone on post visit, my host sister, adzo, fell and twisted/cut her ankle really bad....and of course this being Togo, the gash got badly infected.... so it was "dr. amber to the rescue with the magical peace corps medkit" again. so we gave it some hot soaks with antibacterial soap, used bacetracin cream and wrapped it up... but it wasn't getting better so we one night we decided to find the nurse ( the young guy who hangs out chez chef sometimes) who was chillin at the stb (sodab~local "beverage") stand. first he told adzo, in eve, not to use the bacetracin (i thought that bacetracin cream was good for infected cuts, but what do i know, i'm not the village nurse!)and he would look at it in the morning. i said it wasn't good to have an infected cut like that. then the nurse, under his breath, said in FRENCH (so i would understand) "oh, the whites just dont like things like that." i asked, "oh and black people love having huge oozing gashes?" to which they laughed and adzo said yes... .so i said, "well give me a knife and i'll cut adzo's other foot if she likes it so much!" and they laughed even harder for about a five minutes, told a bunch of people (maybe even the whole village) what i said, and said i was such a comedian.

next morning, we went to the infermiere and the nurse poured alcohol on the cut, picked at it?, poured iodine, hydrogen peroxide, and some mysterious white powder on it , then wrapped it up and gave her a prescription for a tetnus shot.... i hope it works! my job was to hold adzo's scared two year old, act as moral support and make sure the nurse didn't do anything too weird, like cut off her foot or something. plus i gave her some money to help contribute towards the shot fee... firstly because if she didnt get the shot because of lack of money, and got tetnus- i would feel really bad, and secondly the day before she did a lot of work for me and the other trainees... our teachers said we were going to do food tranformation: soy milk, tofu, soy cheese, and conserve some jams, jellies and vegetables, as well as to learn some traditional dishes.... and to invite our sisters to learn/help...and well it was very cool to learn all those things, our sisters were treated like ma! ids of all work, and were 1)either ordered around to do all the food prep work, or 2)did the work for us because they didn't thing we were capable of doing it. so i felt really bad that i invited adzo and then she had to work with a wounded foot and a crabby two year old... so i contributed toward her tetnus shot as a kind-of "thank you"..... only in togo i would i ever pay towards a tetnus shot as a thank you gift!

there is only a week and a half left of traning! i am proud of myself that i have made it this far.... though actually, it really hasnt been very hard. all my food is painstakenly prepared for me, i have to fight my moms or my sister in order to do my laundry and burn my trash myself.... and i havent been that sick...i feel like havent had so many people taking care of me and conderned about my well being my whole life! its slightly.... smothering,but soon i will start work at my post village. and have more privacy and no 24/7 scheduled weeks for traning... plus no more dealing with the male population of my host family... every host brother wants to be my boyfriend, the chef's 14 year old grand son winked at me the other day and called me "ma cherie"! even the chef was getting a little too friendly... so i havent been as nice and polite to the men in my family, figuring its better for them not to like me that much than for them to like me TOO much!

Today i wanted to burn my trash (how we get rid of garbage here)but my mom marie would hardly let me help. as soon as she carried my trash out of my room a bunch of village five year olds came up and started snatching things from the trash!!! like old candy wrappers, and they licked them! yuck! it was like a feeding frenzy. my trash (some plasitic bags, wrappers and banana peels turned into coveted treasure) the kids (nd maybe adults?) couldnt understand why i was getting mad at them for trying to dig through the trash... i guess since i threw it away, it technically wasnt mine anymore, and there for free game??? my little sister, velveta, picked out my used up deodarant stick, and all the kids, and adults asked what it was... and the imp inside me made me so, "oh that? thats perfume that you rub all over your body." everyone was impressed and velveta acted like she just salvaged valuable treasure.... mon dieu! note to self, burn trash by self, in private from now on.....!

I've been working in our peace corps garden a lot latley, trying to keep up with the mauvaise herbes (weeds)... kassy and i notcied our tomatos were all dryed and whithered with yellow leaves... so we decided to water them a lot.... we took some watering cans to the river, where there were naked little kids playing in the water. they insisted on filling the cans up for us.... this is the first time i've seen little kids playing in my village just for the sake of fun, not playing help do laundry, cook, or clear a field...anyways, so we watered our tomatos, only to be told by the instructors after we flooded our plants, the reason why our tomatos are whithered is because they have too much water, not that they are too dry.... oh man! i feel like i just ruined two months of nuturing these stupid tomato plants for nothing! oh well.... live and learn, right?

30 August 2004

well i am officially a volunteer! i swore in last night with 18 other volunteers9 we already had 3 ETs... a pretty high drop out rate)> we all wore African outfits. i start living at my post sunday, which is about a 3-4 hour bush taxi ride from the capital.

I am taking over a really big project on agouti rearing (also known as grasscutters and bushrats) because of the previous volunteer's efforts, i have a ridiculous amount of money to devote the agouti raising, so I ill probably be quite busy with that for awhile. however, i plan on observing the silvicultural situation in my area, taking notes on what people want, and what seem to be major issues (already know that brush fires and population has caused major deforestation, and soil degradation. i am also interested in a leguminous tree, Leucaena, which everyone plants here to enrich the soil, but is considered invasive in predecessor recently planted a field full of Leucaena, and i'm not so sure about it...)

Amber and an improved cookstove.

So that is what is going on with me. my post is en brousse vraiment, so I wont have access to email (or electricity, or a phone, or cars, or water, or even food) very often. but my region's capital (work stations, computers, etc) is Lome, so i will have access to the peace corps office computers, and other amenities when i do make it into town, which i think will help when i actually start work on my master's projet.

11 September 2004

unless you live in a neighboring village, no one really goes to, or knows about my post village, Agodokpe... but it is a great village with people working hard and interested in working with a peace corps volunteer, and most everyone is very welcoming.... right now i am working on completing the agouti project, trying to make it interdependent and self sustainable. so far this had been a little difficult since not everyone wants to even finish their agouti enclosures, or save money to buy good feed for the animals... its hard to get the point across in my poor french and even poorer eve, that if you put in a sub optimal effort on raising agoutis... you are going to get sub optimal results.... but i am working on it...

i have a nice house (2 rooms), connected to a house in my host family compound. i have a great, helpful, trustworthy, hard working homologue (counterpart), kind neighbors, cute (if not loud) kids running around, and only 2 village drunks to contend with! i had a welcome ceremonies with the chef, the village notables, and my homologue. it was very welcoming, the chef talked about the village embracing me with two arms and working with my for the next two years... although when i said i was there to work on agricultural projects, especially with trees... there were some grumblings that trees weren't important, and they wanted new animals instead. then a notable said no, trees, like grafted fruit trees and teak (slightly invasive tree gown in plantations for lumber) are important... so maybe i will try to build upon that sentiment t encourage other forestry/agroforestry projects... but it was a little discouraging since i am also here to work on my forestry mast! ers project.... anyways the village gave me a live (!)chicken, lots of rice, and vegetables. i was honored. however, as the chicken was alive and kickin', i passed if off to a host sister, hoping she would "take care it". don't think i am ready to kill a chicken... and not sure i ever will be....

the goats and sheep that roam, or maybe i should say rule, my village are unbelievable. there are so many of them, and they are so noisy! it seems their nosiest times are during the reposer (rest time in the afternoon) or at night... in other words, the times i try to sleep. they're driving me crazy! the other night, they were so loud, i almost got outta bed, grabbed my chef's knife and hunted some goat! only three things stopped me 1)it was dark and i am afraid of the snakes that supposedly come out at night, 2)killing village goats probably won't help me in my quest to be "bien integre", and 3) since i couldn't event think about killing a chicken, pretty sure i couldn't kill a goat either... so i just went back to sleep to cacophony of billie goats calling for lady goats, and baby goats bleating for their mammas.... i am hoping i will just get use to it.

yesterday i cleared the demo field with the farm team (a group of high school students). using an African hoe is not as easy as it looks! but it was fun working with the kids. the student working next to me found a snake in the area between us! he killed it right away. i asked my homologue if the snake was dangerous, and he said, "no"... but then he said, "it just will bite you really fast, prick you with poison and then you will die".... maybe his definition of dangerous is different than mine.... i just going to plan to stay away from all snakes in the future...

26 September 2004

what do a squawking chicken, a screaming baby, a praying nun, and a sketchy old man have in common?

they were all sitting on the same bench as me on the bush taxi ride into lome.. needless to say, it was interesting and loud ride....

the first month at post has flown by. i've been pretty busy, working in four villages (including the one i live in) on the agouti project. people who needed to finish their enclosures in order to receive agoutis are actually started to do the work i've asked them to (and we have given a 2 week time limit to those who have not). so i am very happy.

it is the little rainy season right now in togo, so i've started a big garden planted with vegetables that I like to eat (very hard to get vegetables besides tomatoes and onions in my neck of the brousse) and they seem to be growing well, so in a couple of months i should be living large eating all the salad i want! until then i'll have to make do with all the many combinations of onions, tomatoes and pasta.

after the farm team cleared our field, my homologue, adza, my eve teacher, the team captain, akpenne, and i planted corn. it just started growing! i'm excited. the farm team is going well, we just had our first official meeting. lots of kids wanted to be on it, but i limited it to 15, just because the field is small and it is hard regulate lots of teenagers! we plan on working on compost, garden, farm projects as well as making improved cook stoves and other small projects. the kids are excited and it is fun working with them. i want to also talk to them about SIDA (AIDS) and other important issues that affect their lives, like staying in school, teen pregnancy, etc.

i started teaching english to 4eme and 5eme (7th and 8th grades) here as well. teaching english is a lot harder than i originally thought. and although my first class wasn't a complete disaster, i wouldn't call it a success either... i'm taking local language about 8 hours a week. finally starting to be able to say some simple phrases in eve! like where i am going, etc. people think it is hilarious when i speak it, but are very encouraging.

i am about to collaborate with another natural resource management volunteer on a anti brush fire campaign she has organized. it involves going around schools and teaching about why brush fires are bad (deforestation, etc) and what they can do to prevent them. then students who are interested can make up a rap on brush fires, and the winning one will get produced and playing on radio stations in togo. it sounds really fun, and a different way of getting the word out.

so that is basically what is going on here. still relatively healthy, except for some demons that live in my stomach, the ring worm, etc... but nothing too serious!

14 October 2004

although we are in the petite rainy season (2- 3 months of rain as opposed to 3-4 months later on in the year... i think) there is nothing petite about the rains themselves- every evening it pours! so anything, meetings, eve class, etc, i have scheduled are canceled.... plus my field and my garden are flooded... i think the corn is going to make it, but the garden, it is flooded and seems as if my dreams of fresh vegetables will be postponed to the next rainy season....

this coming week i will be working with women in a couple of villages working on soy projects... talking about nutrition, making tofu and soy milk from soy beans, etc. the women seem very interested in soy, maybe even some day forming a soy growing co-op. which is really good because people here, especially children don't get enough protein...

still working with teenagers helping with english classes and my farm team. its really fun working with kids in the villages, although challenging. i haven't gotten to work with the farm team as much as i wanted, since i was really sick for a few days. i think i had some evil curse from the marche rice and beans lady... or maybe just amoebas... but it was bad- people would come up to me and ask "lily, cava?" and i felt like answering, "well, i'm lying on a palm mat, outside my lantern shivering in the heat... so no!" but i just said "cava un peu" and eventually got better.

other village news...the other day i was riding my bike to the middle school, when i saw a bunch of branches in the middle of the dirt road... and i thought "oh that's annoying, why did someone leave all those branches there?!" got to the school and the teachers asked, 'did you see the dead body?" dead body!?! what? apparently the branches were covering a man who was murdered the night before. supposedly, he's the 4th person in the area to have been killed for "their blood" for some grisgris/voodoo practices.... kinda scary, but my village said not to be afraid, just don't leave the village late at night, hmmm... and they insist that some beninois or nigerian person, i.e. outsiders are responsible... but who knows. they collected 60,000 francs (less than 50 dollars) to "traditionally" find the killers...whatever that means.

also, i find out that the reason why a huge baobob tree (one of the few left in my region) has been cut down is because it was infected with sorcerers and mauvais spirits... so people cut most of it down... and after leaving the cut pieces alone for awhile (to let the spirits out?), people slowly started taking pieces away for firewood, and i can't help but wonder, if they cut it down for firewood all along....

i got a kitten! i am not exactly a cat person... but i was having a major mice problem (it was like cirque de souris in my living room the other night) so i decided to get a cat to take care of the situation. officially i named her adeyla which means hunter in eve... but as i just call her kitty, that's what everybody else calls her... so far she hasn't caught a single mouse (she probably thinks their her brothers and sisters) and eats better than most people in village.

from an email on 1 November 2004

after i wrote my last letter, i went to the medunit to just get some Tylenol. once there i found out i had amoebas (probably explains the stomach demons), a respiratory infection and a fever! so, i went in feeling relatively healthy, and left, 30 minutes later "sick" but i didn't even feel that bad!

12 other volunteers and i just finished a week long bike trip, called AIDS ride. we gave presentations to middle school/ high school students on HIV/AIDS (sensilbilisations de VIH/SIDA). It was great time, we probably biked about 80 k in total, and gave small talks to students and larger presentations to whole villages about how one gets AIDS, how to prevent it, and to disprove some myths. the students performed skits and poems. one skit in particular was truly creative: a chief of all maladies held a meeting in the "forest" and the students personified each of the major illnesses. there was polio, whooping cough, tetanus, and of course the biggest and most powerful, AIDS. and the way these kids acted out these maladies was amazing, they dressed up, contorted their bodies and just moved in exaggerated ways that portrayed the maladies. i was surprised at how much some kids knew about AIDS, and how little others knew. for example, many did not know what abstinence meant..! or if they did said it was impossible to practice in Africa. or others said you could get AIDS by eating with an infected person. but i think and hope, over all, having 12 "yovos" bike into little villages to give talks on AIDS made an impression on the students and the communities.... it definitely made an impression on me, how creative kids can be, and how education is crucial to the fight against AIDS in Africa. after the ride, i was so tired! i think my legs are still recovering, but it was definitely worth it! we stayed in different volunteers houses along the bike route. it was fun seeing they varying conditions of different volunteer houses (electricity vs. none, etc) for 2 nights we stayed in my little village, i was really happy to show other volunteers where i lived...but it made me realize just how small and rustic (?) my living arrangements are!

other news.... farm team is going well, we are working on composts right now, weeding the corn field, and gardening. i worked on soy transformations with women of my village and a neighboring village. first, i was supposed to do one in the other village, so i prepared the soy beans for 2 hours, went to the village and... all the women had left for their fields! i was a little frustrated because i worked so hard on preparing the beans. but i just went back home and did the transformations myself (making soy milk, tofu, etc) to practice for the next day's session in my village. that session went well, and some of the women from the neighboring village walked all the way to my village to attend this session. we made soy milk and soy cakes... they were really good, and nutritious!

as for the murder that happened near my village... i think it is still unresolved. i guess the reason why this particular man was killed for his blood was because he didn't have a wife, girlfriend, kids, etc and he was around 40... and blood "undiluted" like that is supposed to be really strong blood. a traditional healer was hired to find the murderers... somehow he named 4 men (something to do with a crystal ball, a pan of water, and a virgin (i.e. 10 year old girl) to verify what he said) who happened to live close to the road where the body was found. the police took them away, then sent back because of lack of evidence. everyone in the village thought they were guilty...then all 4 men ran away at first no one knew where.... but they went to the police (about 20 k or so from the village) saying the village framed them for the murders and were trying to kill them. so I'm not sure whats going on, or if it will ever get solved.

speaking of people trying to get blood, last time i was Lome, i was in a little restaurants with another volunteer, speaking English. this Togolese man was watching us, and asked "you two are peace corps, right?" we said yes, he asked us where... we said the canton (equivalent to county) where we worked, and that was it. we left the restaurant, hear a voice calling "mes soeurs! mes soeurs!" it was the man from the restaurant. he started explaining how his wife was sick in the hospital, then handed a piece of paper with a blood type on it... but the blood type was faux a type! something like AO+.... he asked, "please donate some of your blood, my wife is very sick, there is a place just over there that you can give blood" we both said no, it wasn't our blood type, etc, and he got a little pushy, "if you don't give blood its going against God, against your jobs of volunteers, i need to find clean blood, i need to find white people's blood!" still we said no! , so he asked us for money to buy blood... but i just told him, like he said, we are volunteers, volunteers work for no money (or in my case, very little, just enough to get by) so we couldn't give any. we walked away, he followed for awhile, but eventually we lost him. when i told my village friends this story they were like, "oh! lily he wanted your blood because he wanted to sell it for gris gris!". so I'm not sure if it was gris gris or a sick wife, but while in Africa, i plan on keeping my blood to myself.

so as usual, my life as a PCV is always interesting, with many small and big adventures. still doing well, battling homesickness at times (i miss coffee shops, snickers bars, my comfy bed, flush toilets and my friends and family!) , but at the same time I'm making a home and family and friends here. i am a little impatient to start doing some agroforestry projects and focusing on improving my french... but ca va aller... they will happen as the time goes by (i hope!).

23 December 2004

Well, I passed the six-month mark... and my 24th birthday. I'm pretty proud of myself for making to both of those time checkpoints. Living here for 6 months has changed me, and yet it hasn't.... I still like doing the same things.... riding my bike, hanging out with friends, going out for a drink... procrastinating. Only my friends are 2 middle aged Togolese men, a middle school girl and I have to ride my bike 9 km for that cold drink. Oh and the Togolese put my procrastinating skills to shame! It really does take months to something that can be done in a few days. One village even told me they were not able to do the work because they were "just too lazy". I asked one of my middle-aged friends if this was a legitimate excuse, and he assured me it was.... Since I'm close to Lomé, I also get to go into the city a lot, hang out with over PCVs, and most importantly eat pizza. I like the fact that I get to experience the extremes: very rural living in a small village, but after a bumpy bush taxi ride (that can take anywhere town 2 and 5 hours) I can experience urban Togo as well.

My village is very safe (except for that whole murder thing, but that was a gris gris anomaly) Sometime I forget when I go to Lomé I need to be on my guard again. For example, one day, I went to the bank, got money and later that night I went to a bar with some other PCVs, expats, etc. I put my bag down on a table for 5 minutes... and when I came back, my wallet was gone- with 20.000 cfa! (40 dollars-- a lot for me!) and my laisser-passer (document I have to show to gendarmes (army)). So getting my wallet stolen was not fun. But I'll never be careless with my bag again. Since I didn't have any money for a while, I had to stay in village for a long time, and show up at random houses during mealtimes.... I felt like an idiot, here I am trying to improve people's lives... but instead, I just eat all their fufu.

December has been a hard month for my village. We had a lot of deaths in the area. People have been getting headaches, high fevers, and then after a couple of hours, they die. And what is really sad is the baby of my host family got really sick and died. I'm so sad. The whole village is sad. She was the chubbiest healthiest 9 month old I have ever seen in Togo, or the states. The last baby one would expect to get sick and die. She got a high fever, after a few days they bought her to the nearest hospital and the doctors didn't know what she had, but they said she was missing blood, so her father bought blood, they gave her a transfusion and then she died. I don't understand how they could know she needed blood when they didn't even know what the illness was. The family is convinced she died because a jealous person sent a bad spirit to t! heir house. That's pretty much the explanations for the other deaths as well. Although I am pretty sure one woman died of AIDS, people just really didn't talk about it. That's one of the hard things about living here, when people get sick... even if they go to a hospital, they die. In the U.S. you go to the hospital and come back healthy. It scares me to realize just how fragile life can be. But village life is continuing, we're entering the dry season; people have harvested their crops and getting ready for the Christmas/ New Year's celebrations, which apparently is one huge weeklong party.

I just completed a weeklong seminar with my homologue (Togolese counterpart) Adza, and my stage mates. It was good seeing everyone from training again. During the formation, I ended up traveling up to Dapaong to help out a friend who had to go back the U.S. for a family emergency. The north is so different than the maritime region. It's beautiful. Savannas, surrounded by rocky cliffs. I want to go back to explore further. Apparently there used to be elephants and other wildlife, but during a period of "civil" unrest in the 90's all the animals were killed. There are seriously no animals here. A couple snakes and birds, but that's pretty much it.

So living here has changed me, yet, at the same time, it hasn't changed me. I guess what has changed is my perspectives... especially on prices, food, and prices of food. I need to discuter the price of anything I buy. If someone gives me a fair price up front, I get mad that they didn't try to cheat me and that they took away my chance to act outraged and bargain. On food: I really miss vegetables... and salad. Pretty much on a straight carb diet in village, since we don't have a lot of food there... when I come into Lomé I turn into this crazed herbivore, eating as much salad as I can. And for the prices of food... things I used to think were cheap... I realize are luxury items. Like bread and butter- that's for rich people! If I find stale bread once a week, I'm happy. And I'm not even going to talk about butter... and protein? Hard to come by... there's a reason kids here are running around with orange/blonde hair... its call protein deficiency. So besides bread and butter, I realize that high protein diets like the Aitkin's/south beach/ low carb diets are also luxuries.... even though I didn't really think so in the U.S..... speaking of eating meat... I got a dog, and my Ewe teacher was telling me about the "crazy people" up north and how they eat dog, and can you believe it? Then I asked, "well you eat cat, don't you?" and he answered, "yeah I eat cat...but back to those crazy northerners, can you believe they eat dog!?" totally missing the connection.... I named my puppy, Abolo (sounds like ablo), which is my favorite African food... but now I'm wondering if it was a good idea to name her after food....

Work is going well, still working on the bush rat project... starting up in another village.... I will send out pics of the bush rats, so you can see what I'm working with here...

Excerpts from Quarterly Report for December 2004.

I am a volunteer in Agodokope, a small farming village in the maritime region of Togo. I am a secondary volunteer, following up on an animal husbandry project raising agoutis (bush rats). I am currently working in 4 villages, Agodokpe, Batekpo, Hilhagbe, and Tsikale. Each village has a homologue, although I consider my Agodokope homologue, Benoit Adza to be my main counterpart.

I separate my work in four major divisions: the large project (agoutis), farm team, education and small projects with women and other interest groups. I visit 2 villages 4 days in a week, and then visit the other 2 villages the following week

The large project: The agouti project is jointly funded between the NGO, Heifer's International and Peace Corps. Four people in each village (16 total) are raising agoutis. Two people in each village were trained in a training center in Kpalime, Togo. They, in turn, trained the other villagers. Each person involved in the project has cement enclosures and has received bags of agouti food and medicine to participate in the project, each person must build a paillote (shelter) and enclosure with specific dimensions. After which the person received 4 agoutis (3 female, 1 male) with the stipulation that they must pass on 4 offspring to a new person who completes an enclosure as well. Currently I am in the process of turning the project into a sustainable project. Such as finding and encouraging other villagers to raise agoutis in enclosures made from natural materials (clay walls instead of cement, etc), encouraging participants to save their own money to eventually buy food, and how to find a good market and price for the agoutis.

Since there are more funds available, I am also starting the project in another neighboring village Tokplakope who has been asking to work with a volunteer for several months.

The project seems to be going well, slowly at times, partially due to the number or people involved and partially due to this being Togo, work moves at a slower pace. Also people only really do things I continually ask them too. I'm afraid when I leave the project no one will do anything without the nagging Peace Corps volunteer. The project in Agodokope and Hilhagbe seem to be the most successful, with the most dynamic homologues. The work in Batekpo and Tsikale has not gone as well. The people don't seem to be very enthusiastic about working with a PCV or working in general. Because of this, I do not plan on continuing with these 2 villages. In Toplakokpe, I have conducted 2 introductory meetings and have found a motivated counterpart in this village. Besides the agouti project, they have also expressed interest in agroforestry projects.

The next phase of the project-using natural materials-is difficult because people are discouraged when they see the professional cement enclosures the original participants have. However, it is possible to create enclosures out of clay, straw, and other materials. The only manufactured materials needed are enough cement to coat the interior of the clay walls, and material for doors into the chamber of the enclosure. In order to encourage people to make enclosures with clay, I have created a "system of encouragement". If they complete a certain number of building steps, they will receive 2 bags of cement for the interior, after the completion of other building steps, they will receive a large bag of agouti feed and medicines. Finally after the enclosure is constructed, they participant will receive 4 free agoutis.

This project is almost at the point where the volunteer can step back and allow it to continue on its own. Although I'm starting up the project in a new village, I predict I will be able to slowly stop working on this project and early March, and have enough time to start a more concentrated focus on agroforestry.

I feel (at least hope) I'm settling into the village well. I have 2 host families who are very protective an helpful and kind. I think the rest of the village likes me as well, the other day, my homologue and Ewe teacher came up to me and asked if it would okay with my APCD if the two of them could somehow find enough money to send two representatives from the village to the Peace Corps bureau say thank you for sending me there. I thought that was very sweet, but told them they didn't have spend money on me just to say thank you.

10 April 2005

The past few weeks I've been busy with traveling and P.C. business outside of village. I'm participating in revamping our Natural Resources program, which will focus on more agroforestry and forestry projects…. As of now we get trained in every single thing from alley cropping, gardening, raising chickens, goats, sheep, and agoutis, erosion control, plant diseases and much much more…. Kinda confusing and hard to actually learn or understand how to do anything well. For example during an meeting for agoutis (bushrats) I tried to bring up the subject of agroforestry, while someone asked for a diagnosis of a tomato plant disease and then someone came up to me and asked me to help with the tricky delivery of a lamb. Only subject I even semi-knew was the agro forestry. So hopefully by concentrating the program, we can address Togo's many environmental pr! oblems through forestry and agro forestry. I'm also just got elected to the "Volunteer Action Committee" (VAC), where representatives from each region meet with the administration every 3 months to discuss volunteer concerns, problems, etc…

I went to Ghana twice-once for work and once for vacation. Ghana is a wonderful magical country. It's a developing country that is actually developing…unlike Togo, which seems to be stagnant or regressing in the development area. And people speak English! It was great. First I had a great visit with a Forestry PhD student from MTU, Emmanuel, who was back in his hometown of Kumasi working on his research on mahogany trees. I got to see the Boberi forest, which basically is what my area in Togo would look like if we didn't burn the bush twice a year (to hunt out the few remaining animals left). I was shocked to realize just how altered and degraded the environment is en comparison! Unfortunately during the trip, I was so sick with giardia (round 3, have since moved on to round 4! ahhh! what i'! m i doing wrong?), and a lower resp. infection, I wasn't the best guest or energetic visitor…. Despite the sickness, I still enjoyed myself and enjoyed visiting the forest…. Then after the Kumasi trip I met up with other Togo PCVs in Accra. Accra is a real city. With multi lane highways, street lights, sewers, lots of cars, restaurants and stores. I was in culture shock…. But still manage to enjoy eating a cheeseburger/fri/milkshake meal worthy of any American greasy spoon. Then a few off us went to a beautiful beach hideout on the coast of Ghana. It was a-mazing. Stayed in a dorm-type room with shared bathroom for four U.S. dollars a night. Got up in the mornings ordered a banana pancake, went swimming, when I'd come out the pancake was ready, then I'd swim again, rest, swim, maybe go for a walk, then eat some more…. It was a great relaxing trip. I almost didn't come back to Togo (j/k). When I returned to my village, I found out my puppy died! I was so sad. I guess a few days after ! I left, she got sick, wouldn't eat, then did a death march to my 3 special families' houses, then curled up and died. My families were so upset. They didn't know what to do, since I wasn't there. They had a mini wake for my dog and buried it, and even discussed how to handle this problem with our chief! I don't think I'll get another dog, even though she was good company around the house and in the field…. But dogs just get too sick to easily here.

Since I've been back I'm trying very very hard to wrap up the bush rat project, which involves me not actually doing too much work, but riding people's cases, acting as a cheerleader and at times kind of like an angry parent (when they don't do the work). its actually pretty tiring. But if I have to do that to make this project at least semi successful, well, I'm going to do it. We've had a little problem with corruption (someone selling bush rats that weren't his, and then saying the animals "died" and other sketchy things) and a wayward homologue who was under the impression my job was provide him with a bicycle, camera, pitchfork and shovel and marry someone in his village. But we've had a chat with all those people, had to use some tough love and I think/hope we worked out the problems for now. The guy who illegally sold the bushrats that weren'! t his had a trial and got fined 2 bottles of STB (local distilled beverage) and 4 bottles of soda. And 20.000 francs (about 40 dollars) but of course, what farmer has 20.000 francs…let alone to spare? So he's not really being held to that, I think it was just for show. Right now I'm working on a multi-part forestry/ag project to take place over the next few months… starting off with training my counterparts in grafting mango and citrus trees with the stipulation they teach others… creating tree nurseries with native species and nitrogen fixing trees (what I want to do) and nurseries with teak trees (what the farmers want to do, but not exactly the best for the environment). I've been working on our program's newsletter as a co-editor. Also I have been working with my farm team, planting cornfields and gardens, and getting blisters on my hands (my family here thinks its hilarious that after only a few hours working with the African hoe, I'm! so fragile my hands get all blistered, and I'm outta commission for a few days).

After the agouti trial we (the elders, the accused, and me) had a big feast of pate (cornmeal kinda like congealed grits w/o butter and salt, you eat it with spicy sauce) that had gross dried fish in it (one of the few sources of protein, but not exactly delicious) I wasn't eating the fish and everyone was pushing bony semi dried fish chunks at me, trying to get me to eat the "best part" of the sauce… until my counterpart told them I only ate meat and not dried fish, so they host called for the sauce with meat in it, a kid brought some meat sauce over for me, I tried a scrawny piece of meat, it was the gamiest thing I have ever eaten. I asked what it was and everyone just mumbled, "oh, you know, just some meat" finally I found out it was rat. Not bush rat, which is fat and meaty, and pretty good, but actual rat. Like the animal in the subway, or in ! the roof of some villagers house. Wow. I'm not going to lie, it was not the best meat I've ever tasted… think I'll stay away from it in the future. Definitely an acquired taste!

28 April 2005 - Excerpts from the quarterly report.

1. Agouti Project: This project takes the majority of my time. It's the continuation of the previous volunteer's work, which I have to finish until the funding (from Heifer International) and all the steps in the project plan are completed. Each of the original participants who received 4 breeding agoutis must pass on 4 agouti offspring and train another farmer. Four villages have 3 to 4 new people working to receive the passed on agoutis by building enclosures for the agoutis. The second group of farmers are constructing the agouti enclosures completely out of natural material, clay walls, straw roofs, etc, in order to continue the project in a sustainable manner. After they create adequate shelters and receive training they will receive their agoutis. However, many of the farmers in the new group are not completing the work by deadlines, and need a lot of strong encouragement to get any of the work done. This is the time consuming part. The villagers in the second group are reluctant to finish their enclosures because creating mud enclosures is not as exciting or special as getting all cement enclosures (like the first group) but they still want to receive their free four agoutis, so they insist they will do the work. Finally I had to give them a strict deadline-May, to finish all the work necessary to receive agoutis. If they do not finish the work, they won't receive agoutis and the money will go back to Heifer International. I will continue to work in the newest village to start the project, Tokplakope, until mid summer, as we have just started up the project there in January.


2. Farm Team: I'm continuing to work with my farm team. I find that working with teenagers is a little more rewarding because they actually almost listen to me, and are excited to work. This rainy season we have cleared two fields, planted corn, and cassava. We have also created a garden nursery with vegetables such as lettuce, cabbage, carrots, and tomatoes, after a few weeks we will transplant the plants to other beds. I'm hoping the garden will succeed this time, especially because my farm team kids have never tasted any of these vegetables except tomatoes. At the end of the last rainy season I hosted a party for the students at my house, where we ate local dishes prepared with the food we grew in our field. The students enjoyed the party and are excited to work and have another one at the end of this season. Unfortunately, the village nurse "stole" half my field to plant peanuts without asking me or telling anyone, so I'm not sure how big our harvest will be this year.

The garden.

Amber in the kitchen.

With a family in the village.

A path in the village.

21 June 2005 - Excerpts from a quarterly report.

Bush Rat Project: The second group of participants (those who constructed bush rat enclosures out of local materials) finished training and received their pass-on gift bush rats, medicines and feed, ending the project in the 4 villages I "inherited" from the last volunteer. For Tokplakope, the village I have just started to work in, I organized a two week long training to teach the participants how to raise bush rats. After the training, the participants also received their pass-on-gift, 4 bush rats. This project is almost finished, and I now have more time to work on agro forestry projects.


Agro Forestry Projects: In honor of Togo's Arbor Day (June 1st)

Nurseries: I gave workshops on the importance and uses of trees in 4 villages. After the presentation we established tree nurseries comprised of: Albizia chevalerie, Samanea samen, ,Leucaena leucocephala, Moringa oleifera, Khaya spp. and Neem. Over 2000 seeds were planted. I also discussed environmental problems that are caused by deforestation on how planting trees can remedy those problems.

Grafting: I organized a small workshop for my counterparts on grafting. Mr. Blaise Ayassou, a governmental agricultural agent/ Peace Corps Technical trainer, helped me lead the workshop. The workshop was held at Mr. Ayassou's house in a larger city, about 30 km away from our villages. We taught how to graft mangos and citrus trees. In return for travel and food costs for the day, the counterparts agreed to lead workshops in their respective villages.

Farm Team: Despite being alley cropped with nitrogen fixing trees, the soil in our field is so tired and overworked that nothing grows very well; on top of that, we just experienced a mini drought, which caused our corn crop to fail. The kids were discouraged, so we started a large garden project on a different piece of land. We are cultivating local vegetables (leafy greens kind of like spinach) as well as cabbage, carrots, lettuce, tomatoes, etc. We are using bio intensive techniques, organic pesticides and composting. The kids are excited to work on the garden and hope to sell the produce. However gardens take more work than fields, and if I do not constantly tell the kids to do maintenance on the garden, they just do not work. As a result, we have already had some losses, but with more work, I think the garden will still succeed.

Small projects: I led a natural pesticide workshop to a women's gardening association in the village of my PCV neighbor. I taught how to use Neem leaves and seeds as well as hot peppers, and garlic to create pesticides. I am also working on our Natural Resources Management (NRM) newsletter and am a representative on the Volunteer Action Committee (a sort of glorified student council).

11 July 2005

Well I'm a month past my year mark.... 13 whole months in Togo. it sounds so long, but it feels like i just got here. as always, living life in Togo is interesting. surprising things happen all the time... for example, someone just ate my cat. she was really fat, and apparently too tempting to leave alone. I'm bummed, she was a good mouser. besides for my cat-hungry neighbors, I'm enjoying Togo. i finally feel at "home" here--comfortable in my surroundings and with my friends. However, I often feel like I'm never doing enough... enough projects or work, or anything the same time, I always feel overworked and tired. Its kind of hard to reconcile the two.. comportements (for lack of a better word in English). Luckily my former tech teacher from training just came out to visit my post. It was so validating... I got to show off my farm team's two huge gardens, some tree nurseries and talk about my alley cropped field and of course, the bush rats. For some reason it took his visit for me to realize how much I (and my villages) have accomplished in the past year. Maybe I was focusing too much on failures, frustrations, and not-so-perfect results than the successes. At any rate, I've been here a year, and I'm proud of myself. Despite all the stresses Peace Corps Togo has definitely been worth it for me.

One of the stresses/annoyances I don't think I'll ever get over is the many pre-conceived notions and misconceptions Togolese people have of outsiders...mainly Europeans/Americans... For example, many Togolese talk to me (and all other white people) is a high falsetto voice. Imagine a big brawny farmer asking, "how are you?" is the voice of a small girl. its funny, ridiculous, and darned annoying when they don't stop. Apparently they believe that the french (and all white people are french here...) speak in this high voice, and will only understand french if it is spoken back to them in the same high voice. I try to answer back to them in my lowest voice.. which is still pretty high, and they still don't get it. Another misconception i get, is everyone assumes i have 5 kids stashed away in the United States. when i ask them why would they think that, they say, "well women have to have kids to get fat" when i explain that i don't have children, they ask, "then how ! can you be fat?" i don't explain about Ben and Jerry's ice cream, or snickers, 'cause that would be bragging...

Besides these humorous misconceptions there are many that are very discouraging. The main one I encounter is people in my villages believe they have no control over their destiny, that they cannot better their lives, because they are Togolese, and Africans... a man I work with once explained to me in ENGLISH (he can barely speak french) that "the African man is lazy, it is why we are poor". Who told him that?! and he knows it in french and english.... I encounter this belief all the time, its not true, but i don't know how exactly to disprove it in a way my community will believe in. I feel like all I can do is work on agriculture projects with them and hopefully help my friends discover it is possible to accomplish something, even when you do not have much.

A project that is working really well is my farm team's garden project. its HUGE. we have two main gardens. The students and I have planted vegetables like cabbage, carrots, lettuce, etc. those are doing pretty well. But the local vegetable, boma (like tough spinach) is doing great. we are so excited. hopefully we can sell our produce at local markets, and make money to help the students with their school fees. At the end of this season, I want to reward the most hardworking students by taking them on an environmental field trip, to visit a large waterfall, a few hours away. Hopefully this will also encourage some environmental appreciation which is not a common attitude among the students or the people of my community.

The other day I saw a woman in the market carrying a baby tied on her back- a normal occurrence here in Togo, but in front she was carrying a baby doll that was carved out a cow bone. My friend from village told me that the doll represents a dead twin (she also clarified, only people who do not go to church practice "things like that"). Every time the alive twin gets a new outfit, the doll gets the same one, the real twin and the dead twin get the same food, etc. Otherwise the dead twin will get jealous and take power away from the living twin. customs like this are very mysterious to me. No one really wants to talk about them, especially the people in my village who attend Church, but they all know about them, and most believe in them. Voodoo is everywhere, but rarely spoken of. When i ask questions, people get cagey, talk down about it, and don't give definitive answers. Once, in the next village over, drums were played for 2 days straight (no breaks!) chez! la maison de voodoo. I asked what was going on and everyone answered, "oh, you know, just a ceremony-thing..." . what ceremony? "oh nothing, you know, just playing drums..." oh... ok. So from what I understand, voodoo doesn't publicly exist, but people believe in it. Otherwise, then why was there that dead guy on our road, drained of blood, last October? or why did my host family have to move because of a witch's curse? and why is my village grandma considered a powerful dancing sorcerer when she is blind and can't walk? So for something that doesn't exist, it affects many lives.

I just found out that my "special girl" (she is like a sister to me, and helps me out so much with everything) didn't pass the equivalent of 8th grade. She is so upset, I'm upset. It just isn't fair. She's 19, or 20, but her school age is 15 (so she won't be too old for school) and she worked so hard this year. she is so smart. out of 63 students in her class, only 13 passed the exams issued by the state. 40 students failed? that is not normal. she attends a private school taught by overworked teachers who have a high school education at best.... there are no books, and half the students' time is taken up by working in their families' fields as well as their teachers. i don't know how to help. i want to try to make a study team with her and some other dedicated students, and find a tutor. maybe a high school student or someone during summer vacation. only problem is, once someone goes to high school from village... they never come back, except for Christmas. or maybe for a random weekend, or for a coup. anyways, we'll figure something out, she is truly dedicated, and wants to succeed.

24 September 2005. Excerpts from the September quarterly report.

I conducted awareness raising trainings on the importance and uses of trees to "tree teams" in the four villages I work with. The tree teams continued to tend their tree nurseries (planted at the end of last quarter). I was disappointed to find out that some teams were not watering or thinning the seedlings to have one tree per bag. These teams had a higher tree mortality rate.

Mahogany: Mahogany has a high appeal to farmers because of its timber and medicinal values (traditional healers use it to make a traditional medicine that apparently cures just about every illness known to Togo). The four tree teams have planted mahogany nurseries two times. Both nurseries failed. The mahogany did not germinate. It is frustrating because mahogany is one of the few things the farmers are actually interested in and of course, it is the one project that does not work. We know its possible to grow mahogany because they are a few trees in one of the villages and along a nearby river. We will try again.

Teak: I conducted workshops on teak planting and maintenance with four new teams. It was difficult for people to understand that one cannot leave some seedlings in a field and have quality timber in 20 years and it was difficult for me to teach this to people who had never attended school and therefore did not "get" my teaching style. Eventually I figured out flipchart pictures and hands-on work was the best way to explain the techniques. After the workshops, we planted teak nurseries. Again, the nurseries failed. Less than 10 percent of the seeds germinated (teak usually has a germination rate between 20 and 40 percent). Part of the problem was a lack of rain and the farmers were not "good" about watering the germination beds. Again, I will try again but will not work with the same teams, but with a few individual model farmers instead.

I visited Michigan Tech graduate student, Emmanuel Opuni-Frimpong in Late July, while Professor Andrew Storer was also visiting. At the Forestry Research Institute of Ghana, I observed Emmanuel's project and talked with Teak researchers, Dr. Siaw and Claudine Ethier, to learn best teak nursery techniques. I also learned techniques for mahogany as well.

Farm Team: Our garden is thriving although the farm team is not. After school got in mid July, the students lost interest in the team. However, before the team disbanded for the holidays we managed to build a rainy season compost pile and enlarge the garden to accommodate seedlings from the garden nursery. After I came back from my August vacation, I found some enthusiastic students had enlarged the garden again. It is now at least four times its original size and our open spring-fed well is not cannot provide enough water for such a large garden (nor for the people who steal the well water to distill "local beverage").\

7 October 2005

After a relaxing visit and slightly debaucherous voyage to my homeland, the wonderful Upper Peninsula, I returned to Togo a slightly healthier (and by healthier I mean I gained 10 pounds…is that even possible in 3 weeks?!) and happier American ready to get to work and make a difference!...don't worry the typical peace corps volunteer apathy and jadedness soon returned after my first 4 hours in country, and dimmed my exuberance somewhat, at least to the point where I'm no longer blinding the people in my village I'm trying to work with.

My readjustment period back to Togo was a little painful...mostly having to do with my old friends, the stomach demons. Still trying to make peace with them, I think they're getting back at me for thinking I could get away living the life of a gourmand while I was in the U.S. 2 weeks of stomach demons are no fun... I probably should get that check out. Another annoying readjustment has been getting used to people calling me fat/gained weight again…. I told my villagers that people in the U.S. thought it was funny that Togolese considered me a fat person, and they were like, "hahaha, Lily, but that is funny! Because you ARE fat!!!" To which! all I could say was, "I KNOW!" And be happy I get more than enough food to eat. The last readjustment has been the Togo sun…. surprisingly, its so much stronger than yooper sun. How did I forget that in just 3 and half weeks in the states? Well, my glowing red sunburn is helping to remind me of that now. Planting trees in a remote field for 4 hours will do that to a yovo.

Akapen in the garden.

My farm team's garden is AMAZING! I'm so proud of the kids and of our success. We've been eating a lot of salads and last Wednesday our cabbages were finally ready. I introduced the kids to stir fry with the cabbage…at first they were unsure of stir fry and soy sauce (a great condiment addition to any culture's cuisine), but as there were no left overs, I'm pretty sure they enjoyed it. The other day I had the team turn over our compost pile, layer per layer. I told the kids "Touch the compost! Just put your hands right into it! Feel that- that's HOT! Because decomposition is taking place! This is science!" The kids shot me the "you crazy" look, but felt the compost anyway, and agreed that is was indeed hot to the touch. If middle school students in the U.S. gave me the crazy look I would think it was because they thought touching decaying organic matter was gross, but this is Togo, and the gross scale is at whole different level here (example: my 3 year old host brother was playing with a dead bush mouse like it was stuffed animal yesterday. To me, that's gross, but the parents thought it was cute…). Next layer turned over, one the boys said, "Oh. A snake". Chop. And cut his head off. I exclaimed, "What?! A snake! What kind of snake?'
"The Black One"
"And which black one is that?"
"Oh you know the one that has fangs, and shoots poison. It will kill you."
"OH! That Black One!"
Now I understand why they gave me the "you crazy" look, because they actually knew what was living in the decaying organic matter. We also found 2 skinks, random large disgusting insects, and an ant's nest full of angry biting ants. All that life in just a little 1 meter squared compost!


Other work is going well, we thought our tree nursery beds failed, because the seeds still had not germinated after a month, but the rains started, and all our teak seeds started sprouting. So that was exciting. Mahogany seeds didn't germinate though. I'm enjoying being back in village. I bought another puppy. Her name is Fufu, she's really sweet, and will hopefully be some good company in the fields...

3 November 2005

Its one of my favorite times of year, the end of the 2nd rainy season-all my favorite foods are in abundance and everyone wants to share. I cannot go to someone's house or visit with someone with out eating grilled corn, or boiled peanuts, fried yams, and fufu. It's great!

There are other ways of knowing I've been in Togo besides the calendar. For example, I can work in the field for a relatively long time and not get blisters on my hand from using the African hoe, a back breaking tool used for: clearing land, making furrows, weeding, digging holes, cutting poles, killing snakes and much more. I don't have to wear shoes either, although I probably should since a former PC neighbor of mine didn't wear shoes in her backyard and contracted a lovely disease, creeping eruption. And finally every small child cries "Lily!" when they see me in village because they have learned to talk since I've been there, and think my name, Lily, is the name for white person. At times I feel like I'm so bien integre, I'm m! ore Togolese than American. However, a recent conversation proved to me this is not the case. The other morning I was eating breakfast (black-eyed peas with crunchy cassava flour) with the new middle school English teacher. He told me other Togolese people consider him more American than Togolese because of his habits/likes/attitudes. He is trying to find ways of getting me to marry him and bring him back to the States, and thinks by letting me know he is already Americanized, we'd be a good match. But as he is telling me this, I notice he is wearing a winter hat (although its very hot here, men feel that a winter hat is fashion statement), an African batik shirt, and women's jeans (men like to wear women's jeans because they are more stylized and fancy, you know, cool embroidery and buttons, etc) and is eating with his right hand. Now, its true I'm wearing almost the same outfit (minus the winter hat), eating with my right hand, but I really wanted to tell him, as of now, here! in this mud hut, he would never be considered more American than Togolese. His thoughts (we just had a conversation on why he feels its necessary to hit students for discipline and why do people consider it wrong for a teacher to have an affair with a student if she is over 16), attitudes, mannerisms and customs are Ewe and not American. Furthermore, I realized if this is true for him, the same is true for me. I will never be considered more Togolese than American for the exact same reasons. I may wear the same clothes, eat the same food, work in the same field…but the way I do things, the way I think and act will forever be American. For example when I get frustrated at having a million people (or 15 kids, seems almost the same at times) scream YOVO! (White stranger) at me in a singsong voice, my confused friends ask, "What's the big deal? You are white. How is telling you that annoying?" Or when I accidentally use my left hand to eat in the communal fufu bowl, and there's a moment of silence when no one says anything but I realize I've committed a faux pas, I apologize, and then my friends say, "its cool, we know you're American, and that's what Americans do". I guess there are only so many ways a girl from rural Michigan can fit in a small African village.

Peppers in the market (click here for a larger photo which makes the peppers show up a little better).

I had a bout of bad health for a minute in October, no grave illnesses, just numerous annoying ones… ALL AT THE SAME TIME. In addition to the stomach demons (fine, they're just amoebas, but demons seem more appropriate…less passive), I woke up with intense pain in my jaw, only to find I couldn't open my eyes. Yes, pink eye exists in Togo, in case you are wondering…then I found out that ringworm decided to make a return visit. So on top of not being able to chew or even talk without pain, the amoebas, pink eye, and ring worm may indicate I'm interacting too much with small village children. As for the jaw, I must be under a lot of subconscious stress because while sleeping, I was grinding my teeth so hard, I dislocated the jaw! The fantastic med unit here helped me out with the amoebas, etc… but could not with t! he jaw, so I finally just took a sufficient amount of strong pain relievers and manually popped it into place. Then fell "asleep" i.e. passed out for about 6 hours. Not being able to chew on top of stomach demons was really no fun. So now I am happy and healthy again, relatively parasite free and I think I managed to push the stress even further into my subconscious, so no more jaw problems. The Togolese mantra of, "cava aller" (its going to go, a "life goes on/it's going to get better" statement) is firmly embedded in my psyche and outlook of life here so, cava aller.

Work is going well. We're finally wrapping up the bush rat project. Our farm team's garden is still fabulous. The gumbo and green beans are almost ready. Unfortunately, we had a problem with a cabbage thief. For awhile there I felt like the Farmer MacGregor trying to catch a naughty Peter Cottontail…who turned out to be a rouge member on the team. BUT-we dealt with it, and the team is back on track, and working harder than ever.


Cracking palm nuts.

January 2006

I hope everyone had a great new years, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, winter solstice, etc. The holiday season is different in Togo. Kinda feels like all the other days, hot. This holiday season was full of ups and down. I got spend Christmas in Lome with my good friends Tanya and Michelle. We made a huge Christmas feast and watched Christmas movies (TV is magical). However I couldn't really eat anything because I was under attack by the worst stomach demons ever. Then my puppy got really sick, and had to be "taken away" (as in not coming back) by the vet. Very sad. i loved that little dog. she was the best taken care of baby in my village- she had all her shots, good food, puppy vitamins, and regular baths... and she still died! Apparently she had a brain tumor, which triggered a stroke?! crazy. When the people in my village found out that both my dog and I were really sick, and my dog died they told me that actually it was me that was supposed to die, but! since i had a little dog, that the powers that be took her instead. so i was really lucky i had a dog. I'm not so sure about that.

Anyway, I spent New Years in village with 3 other volunteers. I cooked up a lot of good almost American food for us, made sangaria, and then tried to stay up to midnight. now, i usually go to bed at 7:30, so making it to to midnight mark was pushing it. but we managed to stay up till 12. it was anticlimactic. we feel asleep at....12:05. I miss American new year's parties!

Currently, I'm trying to find funding for my new agroforestry project, which includes trees for multiple uses (fruit, erosion control, timber, etc). There is no money readily available in Togo. It is really frustrating because I'm working with motivated farmers, its just that the money isn't there. I wrote up some grants, now i have to wait and see if i get the money- I hope so! some of the farmers have already cleared their land in hopes of getting trees. I'm also questioning households on their agricultural activities (inputs, outputs, etc) for my research. I've found out that people do not generally keep track of anything. like how much they plant, or spend, how much they harvest and sell. People are bemused by me asking them questions such as, "how much cassava do you plant?". They laugh and say they never counted, or with the question, "how much cassava do you harvest"?" I get an exasperated sigh and a response along the lines of "why would we count? you plant cassava until all the stalks are planted, and then you eat it until its gone. "Oh right. The I ask if they harvested enough food for their family. and its never enough, especially this year, due to a lack of rain. Then again, there is never enough resources for the people of my village. Its frustrating, because some of the technologies are available.... fertilizer, better grain, medicine and vaccinations, even cell phones... its just that there is a large disparity between technologies that exist in Togo, and actual technologies that the average person has access to and can afford. Okay I feel discouraged, and can't think of anything else to say.... despite this discouragement, I'm thinking about staying another year.... i don't know. any advice? I really love my Togolese friends and families... and I think I'm doing good work here.

February 2006

Amber and Antoinette


New Years Dance

People do not celebrate new year's eve, but day... by going to church for 5 HOURS. Then feasting and dancing. My counterpart, his family, and I had a huge fufu feast, we even killed two chickens for it.

More of the New Years Dance

February 2006

I just traveled to Ghana to meet my friends Holly and Brian in Accra. They are here to visit and to do some volunteering. It's so nice to have old friends here. We went to an AMAZING beach the day after they arrived, to relax before the big voyage to my village in Togo. It was beautiful, a sandy cove enveloped by cliffs on either side of the bay. I almost told Holly and Brian to forget about going to the village and that we should stay at the beach. Just kidding, I am actually very excited to bring them ! to village and show off my work have them meet my friends, and to see and experience how I live. I've planned a big children's party with games, dancing, and prizes while my friends will be in village. The kids in my village rarely have any fun events planned for them besides New Year's day and it will give Holly and Brian a chance to learn some fun traditional dances and interact with the kids-they are so cute! I love them (even when they are being little brats or giving me pink eye, or whatever). I am constantly amazed at how hard the children work here and with their resourcefulness and capacity to make fun and play games while basically doing hard labor.

I love living in West Africa, I ! love Togo, I like Peace Corps. After doing some soul searching (and yet another bout of stomach demons) I've decided that for these reasons it would be best not to extend my service and leave after my mandate is finished at the end of August. I want to work here and live here again, but in a different capacity then Peace Corps. Primarily, I want to "start my life" find a job, finish the masters, and see my family. Then there are the little bureaucratic rules, although not hard in the beginning, begin to chafe after 2 years. For example, I want to be able to drive a car if I want to, or Travel more than 2 hours away from my house without requesting permission. Finally, I need to reacquaint myself with my American self. My Peace Corps friends all make fun of me, because even when I have the option of the bed, I sleep on the floor, because I'm so used to it. I sleep outside when its hot and love eat! ing with my hands. Some surprised Ghanaians artists told me that was I just like a Ghanaian women, before I could say thank you, they continued to say, "yeah, just like a Ghanaian woman, aggressive!". I think the comment was merited on me eating some random Ghanaian street food (maybe where the last bout of demons came from? I never learn) while strongly bargaining for a mud cloth bag. I got the bag relatively cheaply, earned respect from the seller and he bought me a bag of beesap juice (delicious juice made from dried flowers) cause he thought I was funny.

I want to do one last BIG project before leaving Togo. The bush rat project is pretty much done, and I have done numerous small agroforestry projects. Now I want to do a large scale agroforestry project where I train 10 model farmers in techniques that will aid them in the immediate, near and far futures. Things like alley cropping, fruit tree grafting, oil palm cultivation and timber species such as teak and mahogany. These farmers will then pass on the knowledge to other interested farmers in their community. Only problem is, I lack funding. There is no available funding in Togo right now. So, I applied for a Peace Corps Partnership fund, for which I wrote a proposal explaining the project (enclosed at the end of this email). Peace Corps in turn puts the proposal online and people then donate to the project…If anyone is interested in donating to the project, kindly go to the! Peace Corps webpage ( and go to the section "Donate Now", click on Africa and scroll down until the Togo reforestation project, under A. Kenny. The people of Gape will greatly appreciate it.

I hope you are all well! I'm going to go show off my village to my friends now!
Miagadogooo! (bye in ewe)

PS- My proposal found on the Peace Corps website:

Reforestation Project

TOGO Volunteer Coordinator(s) A. Kenny of MI
Funds Needed
$1,974.00 Original Request
Project Number
693-269 Community Contribution
$2,760.00 (58%)

Deforestation has a large negative impact in this area. Erosion washes away topsoil, and destroys roads, paths and crops, especially during the hard rains of the rainy season. Due to land pressures from an increasing population, much of the farmed soil is tired and overworked. There is also a lack of available fuel wood, causing women to walk a great distance in order to collect wood.

In order to alleviate these problems, a group of ten farmers will be trained in basic techniques, and decide what combination of trees they will plant on their own land. The farmers will utilize Nitrogen Fixing Trees, which will ameliorate the soil within two to three years, and increase locally available fuel wood and animal fodder. Trees planted for near-future benefits! will include citrus, mango and oil palm. Participants will be trained in grafting techniques for citrus and mango, and use scions for grafting on local seedlings. They will also participate in workshops on long term maintenance techniques. The grafted fruit trees will produce fruit in four to six years, and oil palm seedlings will produce fruit in three years. Oil palm trees can also be harvested for palm wine in ten years.

Partnership funds will be used to purchase and transport seedlings and equipment. The community will be contributing land and local seedlings.


16 March 2006 - Excerpts from Amber's quarterly report

1) Work Completed. [Editor's note: this is only a small part of what Amber sent in as "work completed".]

a. Participating in palm wine collection with local farmers.

b. Still teaching English even though it is extremely frustrating.

c. Prepared my village and created program for The Visit of Gaddi Vasquez, The Director of Peace Corps

2) Research Work [Editor's note: again this is only a small part of what Amber sent in as "research".]

I have been trying to go the FAO library in Lome to see if they have information on Maize, Cassava and teak, but guard won't let me in. He keeps telling me the library is closed and keeps asking me to get ice cream with him instead. Not really sure why or how to gain access to the library (or if it's even worth it).

3 April 2006

So, I'm pretty sure my favorite little girl, Antoinette and I got drunk together over a fufu dinner the other night. Her dad (my counterpart, Adza) had given me two shots of sodibe (local moonshine, distilled from palm wine-it probably could make one go blind) and a ¼ shot for Antoinette, and within minutes we were giggling over the same joke, only she's a 3 year old Togolese girl and I am a 25 year old American…. And I have no idea what the joke was about. Oh, local beverage, apparently it is fun for all ages.

This morning I saw the solar eclipse! All the volunteers in my region got together to watch it! All the Togolese people hid indoors. People in village were stressing out about the eclipse, apparently the radio "told" them if they looked at the eclipse, they would go blind, and people took that warning to heart. At church on Sunday they announced, "Everyone has to stay indoors during the eclipse! Close the doors, and windows, don't look at the sun! Stay inside and pray! For the whole day!" it was very Y2kish…I tried to explain that it would really only last for about 15 minutes, and just like the sun hurts your eyes when you look at it normally, looking at the eclipse could do the same thing, but no one really understood me and they went back to their doomsday predictions.

I only have 5 months left in country! I cannot believe this! How did two years go by already?! I don't want to leave my friends and families in village. How will I keep in touch with them? I am not sure I can. Its going to be hard. People in village are starting to realize I am leaving soon. Most react with a "Oh no, that's not possible! You have to stay 1 or 2 more years! You can't go!" (this makes me feel a little guilty and sad to leave, but happy I'm appreciated). However, others react with what I call the "oh sh!t" factor. As in, "Oh sh!t, Lily is actually leaving and although I have had 2 years to work on tree projects, I never did- maybe I can get something in real quick before she leaves". People are scrambling up to me asking me to do tree projects, to be let into existing projects, etc. this is the most interest I have had in my work in the 2 years I have been here, and its too late! Whereas others are asking me to do little last minute projects before I go…You know, like increase the rainfall - that type of thing.

Even though it's going to be extremely difficult to leave, I think I have to. I LOVE my village, but I'm missing something…. Not really sure how to articulate what it is but I am a social person and no matter how well integrated I am in the village, no matter how much fufu I eat, or how much local language I can speak… I cannot get the social life I need…or not social life exactly… but social system? Support? Hmm I guess the point is I will be ready to go home in August.

Holly and Brian's visit went fabulously, although we did experience a few … misadventures. Luckily Hol and Bri have good senses of humors…otherwise I don't know if we would have made it! To get to my village was the first and maybe most dramatic misadventure. It took 6 HOURS to get to my village from Lome… That's only 70 km, folks. I could have biked it faster. We caught a taxi from Lome to the closest "big" city to my village. It was market day there, so we could catch the village taxi home. Unfortunately, on the way from Lome, my stomach demons were acting up and made me feel extremely nauseous. There were 7 people squeezed in a Toyota hatchback and I'm struggling not to throw up. not exactly my most comfortable moment. Holly and Brian were asking questions about Togo, and I finally had to say, "um I can't talk right now, I'm too busy concentrating on not throwing up.", as I clutched my stomach and closed my eyes. That was weirdness #1 for my friends: this is what Togo can do to you and your health. Then weirdness #2: Togo roads are dangerous …. as shown by the huge over loaded semi in front of us. It lost control and started swerving, almost hitting our car, 2 other cars…everyone in our car is yelling, shouting hail marys, praying, etc… luckily the truck found its bearings and we all continued on our merry way. but it was truly scary! Weirdness#3: mob fight scene. I have never seen a Togolese person strike another person, but we did that day. Once we got to the market we witnessed a man getting pickpocketed, that man then clocked the thief, and then pretty much the whole market jumped into the fight. Instant justice in the market and we got to witness a mob beating. Welcome to Togo my friends. Weirdness #4: The whole taxi ride to village. After waiting for the taxi for 3 hours, the taxi was finally ready to depart to village. Despite it being dry season, as soon as we board the taxi, a huge torrential downpour decided to strike. We waited in the taxi for the blinding torrents of rain to cease for about an hour. Let me take a moment to describe our village taxi. It's a white 9 seater van. The oil light is always on, the whole frame shifts when the gears shift and the tires are bald. The windshield is shattered, the windows are stitched plexi glass. The sliding door neither slides nor closes. The trunk doesn't close either. None of the window seals seal. So when the rainstorm struck, we got SOAKED. On this day, we fit 17 people in the car. Not the record of 26 persons I once had the pleasure to experience, but it was still a tight fit. In addition to the 17 people squeezed into the car, massive amounts of cargo were placed on the roof. Once the rain let up, we set off on the newly muddied road. About 5 km from the market, the front tire/axel starts making horrible noises, like gonna break kind of noises. We stop, everyone gets out. To Holly, Brian and I, the problem was obvious-the car is overloaded BEYOND CAPACITY. The driver decided to go back to market and check it out. We sit on the road in the middle of the bush for about 45 minutes, until he comes back with the "fixed" car. We all get back in and off we go! For about 5 feet…. and the noise starts up again. At this point the driver decides the car is indeed overloaded and makes half of the passengers get out to look for motos. Thanks to a family of 4 cramming onto one moto, Holly, Brian and I got to stay in the van of death. Just because it rained doesn't mean the car should travel any slower or more carefully. Because of the open sliding door and the rust holes in the floor, we soon became covered in mud. Since we are driving fast, suitcases go flying off the roof and also get covered in mud. 5 km from my village we take a 20 minute detour to a random small village and 2 random toddlers (sans adult) get shoved in the car, and off we go again. I then put my hand up to steady myself and <<FLASH!>> I touched some random live wires and electrocuted myself... As I said, VAN OF DEATH. Eventually, we made it to village. Once in village we had a lot fun. Holly and Brian stayed for a week. They managed to charm every single person in my village. We received so many gifts. I think we got a total of 10 pineapples, bananas, yams, cassava, chicken, sodebi, and more. People barely have enough food for their own families, yet they were so generous to my friends. I was really touched. The visit went well, we visited the fields, went to church, wakes (always a really big party here), taught English to my middle school classes, held a children's festival, pounded fufu, went to market and more. At the end of that visit our village had another important visitor- THE director of Peace Corps, Gaddi Vassquez (And his entourage). It was quite an honor for the village to show off all the projects we have been working to the director. The girls dance troop performed for him, we planted trees to commemorate the visit, and the village asked Gaddi if he could somehow make me stay 2 more years… nice try guys.

The rains have come I am so happy; it was unbearably hot in village. My house felt like an oven. It was so hot, I had to sleep outside, but I was scared of snakes and malaria, so I never slept well…whew, it was rough. Now that the rains have cooled things down, I can sleep inside again! Rains also mean its field time. ! My farm team and I just created a new garden and planted a field of corn. I have also been working on getting my tree projects set up, visiting farmers' fields, (one of them involves a 9 km bike ride, a 4 km hike, and wading across a big river, it pretty much takes the whole day).

I tried explaining our Easter traditions to my English club. The kids thought it was the weirdest thing ever. They were like, "So the parents tell the kids a giant rabbit leaves candy and toys during the night and hides eggs around the house? Ooookay." Here the kids get up at 4 in the morning and have a singing/drumming parade until sunrise, which I am sure American kids would probably think was just as bizarre.

16 May 2006


(What's up in ewe)

Today has been a trying day…one of those days where it seems like everything/one is against you. I tried to get to village today from Lome. Unfortunately, it is rainy season and has not stopped raining for the past 24 hours…despite this, I decided to try to get back to village. I really wanted to get back to village because one of my friends just had her baby and I need to work in my field. So I took a taxi in the rain (almost crashing 5 times due to poor driving in poor conditions) to the closest "big" town near my village, to then try to take taxi to my village. However, because of the rain, no one was going to my village, the dirt roads were washed out and I had to wait two hours in the rain for another taxi to Lome. Back in Lome, the taxi driver was going to charge me an exorbitant fare to continue the ¼ mile to the house I am staying at. So I got mad and decided to walk to the house…in the pouring rain with all my stuff. And people laughed at me! (People crying in ewe, "haha, look at the white girl in the rain w/o an umbrella!" sometimes it's not so great knowing the local language) so then I decided that everyone in Togo is mean, and I almost started to cry. I have never cried here! (Well except once) Not even during the coup when the soldiers were coming or when I had to sleep next to my latrine due to my amoeba friends. Since then I have dried off, read a historical romance novel, and am now ready to face the world…or at least the people and adventures I encounter along the journey to village.

That all being said. I have decided to extend! I am going to stay in Togo at least until November. I still have some projects I want to follow up on and I really am just not ready to leave yet. Last week my training group had their close-of-service conference, and everyone else in the group was ready to leave in August and some even had their tickets home already! I am not ready to even think about leaving let alone buying a ticket out of here. However, since I am getting replaced in August, I will be moving to the nearest city to collaborate with some organizations on forestry projects. I am so excited; I'll be living with my PCV buddy, Katie, in a house with electricity and running water!!! And there are vegetables there! Plus I'll still be close to my village, so I can still visit with my friends.

So I won't be coming home as soon as I thought, but don't worry, I will come home eventually…for a little while, at least long enough to finish my degree.

14 June 2006 - Excerpts from quarterly report.

During this quarter I conducted training workshops where 12 model farmers from 4 communities were trained in techniques for planting teak using the Taunguya system. Farmers then planted a total of 12,125 teak trees. After planting the teak they established food crops between rows of the seedlings. I also coordinated the planting of 1,350 trees for June 1st, Togo's Arbor Day. Trees species included fruit, palm and native trees.

Bush rat project: I'm still working on this never-ending project, but in a more hands off way. I'm helping the bush rat association create committees that monitor market prices and members' work that will encourage/enforce animal care/maintenance.

Farm team project: Because of water shortages last year, this year the team decided to plant gardens in a low-lying area, near a seasonal stream. The first attempt of a garden failed because of poor seeds that did not germinate. By the time we established the second garden the rains came. The most amount of rain my region has seen in 17 years. The seasonal stream turned into a seasonal lake and the garden was completely inundated, as was our field. Since I'm leaving in 2 months, we've decided to let go of the garden project. (Also it would be hard to find available land that wasn't flooded at this point.)

I collaborated with girl's education PCVs on a presentation/workshop that took place in my village to educate the population on the importance of sending their children to school, HIV/AIDs, etc.

I am establishing a "natural forest" or an arboretum on a half of hectare of donated village land. Within the upcoming months we will be clearing the land, planting purchased and found native tree seedlings and fencing in the area. The chief and village are enthusiastic and supportive of the project. The chief said that the forest "will be to preserve trees so our children know what the forest is, and what the land looked like in the time of their grandfathers"

This rainy season is very rainy, more so than usual, so whole fields are flooded, rivers are full and there are even new rivers and streams, the roads are washed out. The farmers are afraid the cassava will rot in the fields, and the corn won't succeed. So in the 2 major rainy seasons I have experienced at post, one has been practically a drought, and the other a flood. Both poor years for crops. However this rain has been good for our teak trees.

12 July 2006

At the end of June I went back to my training village to teach the new group (my group's replacements!) agroforestry techniques. It was really good to go back to where I started my Peace Corps…voyage. I realized how far I have come. I also appreciated the village and people more since I am more at ease with the culture and know the language (especially the local language, its amazing what a difference that makes in understanding what is going on). I also enjoyed hanging out with the new group. 13 new American friends! I almost wanted to renounce my own training group, join theirs, and stay for another 2 years they were so much fun! Although, I was slightly embarrassed-- some of them read my emails on the website and asked questions like, "were you really only sad that your cat got eaten because it was a good mouser?", and "did you really blow all your money in Ghana in one weekend? That doesn't sound very Peace Corp-ish…" To defend myself, yes, I was sad when the cat died, but when you are in cat eating country, it's a risk to own a cat, and you have to understand the potential consequences and prepare yourself accordingly. And as for blowing my money in Ghana, as a volunteer, I do not have much money to blow, therefore its easy to do, especially in expensive Accra. Secondly, I may have exaggerated that statement I bit , I tend to sensationalize my stories… speaking on sensational stories, I will now tell you a story, called "Amber's little sister comes to West Africa":

Emily's arrival:
I am outside the Accra airport waiting for my little sister's arrival. Officially her flight arrives at 18:15, but I checked her estimated arrival time on the internet and it said 18:13. I get there at 17:30, just to be safe. At 18:13 I get up to join the other awaitees pressed against metal barriers bordering the doors, who are anxiously looking for their loved ones or holding up signs for lost looking white people. Emily doesn't show up. At 18:45 I start getting worried. I have seen rich looking West Africans dressed in the latest fashions here to visit relatives; I see Indian business men, and whole Lebanese families. Still no Emily. Finally I see a small white young woman coming through customs. "Is it her?" I wonder as I strain for a better few. I haven't seen my sister for a year, so I am not exactly sure what she looks like, as the woman comes into view wearing a white "racey" shirt, I think, "oh please let Emily be more culturally sensitive than to wear a booty outfit in Ghana". Luckily it turns out to be a European volunteer who must not have read the appropriate clothing section of lonely planet. I finally ask the "help desk" (misleading as it is not a desk nor helpful) if they were sure my little sister was on the plane. They asked how old she was and when I told them "21" they laughed and assured me she would be fine. But really anything could have happened to her…like that plane movie with Jodi Foster where they kidnap her daughter and then convince her that the daughter was never on the plane! What if that happened to Emily? Finally at 19:30 when I had almost given up all hope, Emily emerges from the doors.

Going to Kumasi:
We buy bus tickets in Accra to go to Kumasi (this is one of the reasons I love Ghana, they have things like multiple paved roads and busses). While waiting two hours for the bus a man came up to me and said he wanted to marry me because I am white. Usually I would just say thank you and move on, but this time I say, "its stupid to marry someone because of the color of their skin" and then he asked me if I didn't want to marry him because I didn't like black people. This saddened me and also made me mad. I tried going back to my original argument (also pointing out he was already wearing a wedding ring and him admitting to his 3 children) and he just asked If I could give him my sister instead. Fed up, I reverted to the Togolese passive aggressive avoidance technique of avoiding eye contact and refusing to acknowledge him until we get on the bus. It is amazing how effective that is.

We are going to Kumasi to research our respective prospective careers-Emily to observe some Doctor friends at the teaching hospital and me to research at the Forestry research institute of Ghana.. We stay with the brother of a Ghanaian friend. For dinner the first night we eat boiled yams. After I eat my fill and get up from the table the brother tells Emily, "Your sister is fat". Emily's eyes get huge and she exclaims, "My sister is not fat!" I have yet to explain to Emily that there is no taboo about commenting on opinions of personal appearance. I just agree and say as the last time I saw him I was wracked by amoebas and I am fatter this visit around.

The Next Morning:
I decided to stay close to Emily her first day in Kumasi and accompany her to the hospital… just in case she needs help navigating (using taxis, avoiding marriage proposals and child gangs, etc). They assign Emily to the ICU ward, give us scrubs and take us on rounds. At this point, I'm not really sure what I'm doing here. On rounds we observe a man who was attacked by a machete (lacerations down the length of his back and head), a teenage boy who fell out of a coconut tree… let's just say it must have been a really tall tree judging by his injuries, and a man who was gored in the neck by an African steer…right next to the jugular. After this my little sister is woozy and has to sit down. She says, "maybe its because I didn't have any protein for breakfast", but I have the feeling it has something to do with seeing the inside of a person's neck through the outside window punctured by a cows horn. I ask Emily why she can't just store away her feelings and deal with them later, or at least until she can find a beer…but apparently she doesn't deal with things like that. Around 2 pm we have had enough of the hospital so we decide to walk to the nearby Kumasi zoo for a little change of scenery. I'm not sure if that was a good idea. It was the saddest zoo I have ever seen. One of the monkeys actually asked me to set her free, and I'm pretty sure the lion was strung out on xanax.

The following day Emily and I are both happy-- she, because she watched some interesting surgeries and me because I spent the day researching forestry info for my masters at the institute. Although the hospital was interesting I much prefer interacting with trees and not patients.

Back in Accra: On Sunday Emily and I travel to Accra to break up our journey to Togo. We go for a walk, and I buy some boiled peanuts on the street, wrapped in paper. As we walk, I eat the peanuts as people in my village do-throwing the shells on the ground and eventually throwing the paper on the ground. Emily asked if that was hard to get used to… "what?" I ask. Emily said, "remember when you were 11 and you made me and friends help you pick up trash in the river across the street, well…" Oh shoot, maybe I've been here too long if it seems normal to litter. We end up walking to an ex-pat sports bar to watch the world cup final. I have never seen so many white people and flat screen TVs before in Africa. We had a lot of fun watching the game with all the rowdy fans. Emily commented that soccer was really big here. I agreed, at least in Togo, it is more than big, it's a religion.

4 September 2006

Amber & Emily

"A story, Part II: Emily Goes to Village":

After our adventures in Ghana (see attached photo of my sister and I partying in Ghana after intense day of observing the ICU in Kumasi), Emily came to village for 2 weeks. We have not been together this much for this long (24/7) in about 8 years. After a few days we start rediscovering our similarities and more importantly…our differences. In short, I'm fast. She's slow. I'm like a chipmunk and she is like…a tortoise? In village, where living is boiled down to the basics it became very apparent that Emily and I are running on two different clocks. I don't understand how she can take so long even brushing her teeth. I tend to plow on through and do things without necessarily thinking them through while Em is methodical and plans (I suspect this why I have broken 5 bones in my life and her 0). So of course little frustrations arose, me, waiting on Emily's slowness and Emily with me not explaining everything thoroughly. Luckily we have the same sense of humor, and got to share some interesting village experiences together. Oh yeah, one more difference between us. Emily is seriously, deathly, and hysterically afraid of spiders. On the first day in village I was surprised at how fast Em adapted to village life, bucket showers, latrine, 50 screaming children trying to touch you. However, when Emily first entered the kitchen she immediately screamed and ran out. On the wall there was a small/medium spider. She refused to enter until I "eradicate the pestilence". After I disposed of the spider, Emily and I ate a delicious dinner of corn and boiled peanuts from my friend's field (the corn is one step up from feed corn, but I love the stuff). While we were eating a chicken starts furiously squawking in the distance. Emily asks half jokingly, "My God, are they killing that chicken?!". "Squawk squawk squaaaa"-The chicken is silenced mid-squawk. As our very similar brown eyes (hers just a titch more green) look at each other's, I see I don't need to answer that question. I hold back the unnecessary comment of, "at least it wasn't a pig, that's much worse" and we continue eating in silence. 2 am rolls around and I can't sleep (I'm already an insomniac and the malaria prophylaxis exacerbates the problem). Emily is profoundly disgustingly sound asleep. I decide if I can't sleep then she shouldn't either. I wake her up, and she unhappily decides to use the latrine. Once back in the house, she calmly announces, "Amber, there is a very large spider on the wall" and then doesn't move. I, fed up with her arachnophobia, exclaim, "Oh honestly, Emily, you don't even know what the big spiders here look like!!….. Emily?" Complete silence, I look at Emily, she is inanimate. I approach the wall and my sister screams as if her soul is being sucked out and runs outside. I look and see the biggest spider I have ever seen in Togo, possible in my life. I won't write about the commotion that followed, but after an intense battle I managed to kill the evil 8-legged creature. Emily came back inside, but the adrenaline was running so high, we couldn't fall back to sleep for 2 hours. We were both insomniacs after that.
Later in the week I help Emily conduct a health study (my genius little sister is in med school right now) on a disease known locally as "Kuku". Most young children here have swollen bellies due to malnutrition and worms (I think?). Sometimes when they develop a fever and a really swollen stomach, it becomes kuku. The traditional cure is to eat a ground up root called, "monkeys eat it to get fat", cut the stomach in a pattern of scars and then rub a mélange of egg white, kitchen roof soot, and a white onion on the cuts. Almost everyone in village has these patterns of cuts on their bellies, so kuku appears to be fairly common. I am not sure how western medicine would diagnose kuku or cure it or if the traditional cure works. All I know is that is prevalent among children in village, and there seems to be no effective treatment available for the kids. When Emily asked some of the women why children had swollen bellies they answered because the kids "ate too much" and that the most nutritious foods included fufu and corn porridge-both empty carbs. Kids with swollen bellies and scraggly arms are not eating too much. I am not sure how one (the village, the government, NGOs, me?, the world?) can address these mistaken views on nutrition and health, but it is pernicious problem affecting everyone, especially children, in my village.

It was wonderful having my sister here. With her I discovered things about my village I had no idea existed (like kuku and views on health), my Togolese friends got to meet a part of my family and I think therefore got to know me better, and best of all, Emily and I got to know each other better as adults (well, immature 20 something year old adults, but still, we got to reconnect) and had a fantabulous time together. I sent Emily back home in true West African fashion, chock full of local beverage and dancing to her plane. Thank you Emily!

My Letter:
I feel as if I am always surrounded by interesting clashes/collisions of American and Togolese cultures and I'd like to share 3 of them involving People magazine, an American intern here for 3 months and Disney movies.

As you may know, my favorite person in village in 3-year-old Antoinette-- I love her like a daughter. She comes over to hang out when she is 1) looking for candy, 2) hungry, or 3) needs a nap. Usually all three. She also "helps" me cook and loves me unconditionally, or at least until the candy supply runs out. The other day I gave her kool-aid, which she declared was candy water in ewe, and drank a whole liter of it. Then when we were looking at People magazine, she pointed to a picture of a frighteningly thin Kate Bosworth, (an actress, I think) and said the Ewe word for "starving person". That's right Antoinette! When a Togolese child who only eats empty carbs twice a day calls someone, a famous someone, in western (or better yet, Hollywood) culture starving…you know it is indicative of something flawed, if not wrong, in our culture.

Speaking of certain American ideas/ideals as flawed. I had an interesting run in with an American intern who lived in Togo for 3 months. I must admit that I was biased against her from the moment we met because she was bragging about how she waxes her arms and has done so in 7 developing countries. This annoyed me. We are mammals we have hair. I feel if one goes that far to deny that humans are animals…well I have no use for them. (And yes, maybe I am a hypocrite for sometimes shaving my legs when I am out of village, but waxing arms goes to far). I also must admit that certain PCVs were not very open to her presence (PCVs are strange herd like creatures that stick to their own and don't like strangers who don't speak local language. Its wrong, but its true.) And gave her the nickname "alien" (perhaps due to her lack of body hair and kate bosworth-esque thinness). She went on a rant on how she hates Americans and what they stand for and how she wishes she wasn't from there. While doing so, a nearby Togolese person who must have understood English was looking at her like the she was the biggest Jerk in the whole world. People are entitled to their own opinions, but I feel it is insensitive and almost like flaunting to be lucky enough to enjoy all the privileges of being American and then denounce them in front of people who would gladly and desperately give their first born, their right arm, and their eye teeth to trade places with this self hating American. And that's my opinion. The next day we splurged and went to the expensive expat beach (slightly less polluted, no syringes etc, then other beaches in Lomé). Upon arriving, we saw Alien (imagine this: blue ocean, white sand, thatch umbrella-under which is a white linen table with a solitary glass of wine and a sun tanning bodyhair-less American playing European development worker w/o the white land cruiser) and decide to walk over to say a great big American "HI!" As we approach, she lowers her sunglasses and says, "Are you f***ing serious? Peace Corps is invading ME?!" I wasn't sure how to reply to this welcome at first. Finally, I decided to hold my ground, looked her in the eye and said, "Yeah, we are f***ing serious" and sat next to her. She promptly moved. I guess some people just don't want to be friends.

After moving out of village to live in a city with good friend and fellow PCV Katie, My 21 year old host sister Akpene came to visit for a week before school started. Katie has a portable DVD player. A novel thing for both Akepene and I. After carefully perusing Katie's movie collection I decide it would be best for Akpene (having never seen a movie) and I to watch The Lion King and Shrek, as opposed to Crash, etc. While watching the Lion King, Akpene kept on asking what the animals were. I thought this was a little sad, because although most of the animals are from East Africa there are a few in the movie that used to be here in Togo. Like Elephants and Lions (according to government officials there are still 3 lions left in Togo, but no one has ever seen them). After the movie Akpene then said, "So its true then that certain animals can talk". I asked her to clarify and she said since the movie was from chez moi, than it must be true-some animals can talk. I explained to her that it was a make believe story, someone imagined it, and to my knowledge, animals cannot talk. On that premise we then watched Shrek, which I thought was a cute kid story for us to watch. Instead it ended up troubling and slightly offending Akpene. First she said she didn't believe in voodoo. She then said that devils (meaning Shrek) and people who turn into devils after sundown (Princess Fiona) shouldn't be able to get married because it was wrong. I felt bad that I unknowingly caused Akpene angst. She translated the fairytale magic in Shrek into the magic of Togo, voodoo. Because of voodoo, magic, devils, and witches (the things she saw in Shrek) her baby sister died, her family had to change houses, her sisters left village and she is sick all the time. I then felt like the insensitive alien American I was complaining about in the previous paragraph.

Last week I left village. It was sad and hard to do. The chief and CVD (the village's development committee) arranged a huge going away party for me. Funerals here are usually the best and biggest parties around-they last 3 days and include nonstop dancing and celebrating. So I asked if we could make the party like the funeral of Lily-slightly macabre, but a guaranteed good party. The elders decided it would be better to call it the traditional fete of Lily instead of funeral, but it set the stage for a banging party with drumming, dancing, food, speeches and gifts. Other volunteers came as well as my 3 favorite new PC trainees. The local beverages of Sodabi and palm wine were free flowing. Everyone (volunteers, elders, children, my homologue) stayed up late into the night dancing to drums played by tireless middle school students. 2 days later I actually left village but this time it really felt like the funeral of Lily. Everyone gathered around the market car I rented as I left, waving good-bye and crying. I felt like I died. It was serious. I don't like serious.

For the next 2 and half months I will be finishing up a few projects and masters research, which require things like, electricity, access to phones, etc. My replacement is already at post--she's amazing, and I am sure will help carry on my projects and implement many successful projects of her own. I am so happy to have such a great person continue to work in the village I have invested 2 years of my life in.

Togo Information:

Web Sites:


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Updated: 5 September 2006.

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