Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Two Months To Go, And Counting!
So, we’re down to our last two months here in Togo! First, a report on final projects…
Our health clinic has been running since about mid-February now. Our first baby was delivered in March (it was a girl!)and another was delivered just a couple of weeks ago. Last month, we accepted applications and chose four recent high school graduates from the surrounding villages to do apprenticeships to learn how to be health agents by working at the clinic for two years. Also, we recently ordered and restocked a huge shipment of medicine from Lomé to replenish what we’ve used since we’ve opened, so the clinic is getting steady clients and is making enough money to cover costs so far. It’s been gratifying to see the villagers coming in to receive services they didn’t have access to before, but it’s been even better to watch the COGES (management committee) take their job seriously and work responsibly with the staff there to manage the project without me. I can only hope they’ll continue to do so after we leave. Thanks to everyone who helped get this project up and running!
The chicken farm project is also complete. The buildings are finished, and windows, doors, and the roof are all installed. Work on the farm has begun, and the owner of the farm is in the process of legalizing a groupement (like a cooperative) to help him with running the farm and everyday tasks. Joe has also been working with him on advertising and business networking so he can sell his chickens and turkeys to large grocery chains in the capital. He’s planning to start taking orders soon for Thanksgiving turkeys and is expecting good sales this year. Thanks to everyone who helped bring this project to fruition also!
For small projects, liquid soap is apparently the cool new thing to make and sell around Tabligbo and the small neighboring villages, so we’ve been teaching large groups and even individual families how to make it and bring in a little profit. At the end of April, I even visited another health volunteer in a small village on the other side of Togo to share our valuable soap-making knowledge with the population there. (I also got to try ginger-infused sodabi [Togolese moonshine] for the first time there, but that’s another story!)
Finally, we’ve started working with our friend Daniel (the above-mentioned poultry farmer) on a conservation and reforestation project. In collaboration with Daniel and his farm, we’ve purchased one hectare (2.5 acres) of land that has been soil depleted due to over-farming and land mismanagement about 5km outside of Tabligbo with the intention of restoring and reforesting the land with teak and baobab trees. The land currently has some trees already, such as palm, mangoes, and acacia trees. We’re also partnering with several local artisans and have begun constructing a web site for the project as well. There is an artisan expo scheduled in the capital at the end of June, and Joe and Daniel will be heading down there to pitch the preliminary project and see what people think of our idea there. More information will be available on this project soon, so stay tuned!
On to non-work-related things…
For the Togolese version of Labor Day, we recently attended a big party which was attended by all of the local unions in Tabligbo: tailors, mechanics, hairdressers, you name it. Included here are a couple of pictures from that fête: one of Joe doing the chicken dance with our neighbor, Lydia, and one of me with our neighbor, her daughters, and a fellow volunteer, Sierra, in our lovely matching pagne (fabric). I would have posted a picture of me chicken dancing, too, but that one (thankfully!) came out blurry.
This past weekend, we convinced the head guy at the local water company to allow us to climb inside the Tabligbo water tower to sit on top and take some aerial photos of Tabligbo. So, Joe, me, Sierra, and our friend Matt were joined by some water company staff, our friend Daniel, and our neighbor Dominique, as we ascended about 150 feet (maybe five stories?) up the interior metal ladder to a final platform and central ladder that led to the hole in the top of the tower. After a brief intermission to deal with some bees that had built honeycombs all around the door to the top (they were dispersed with some bug spray that seemed to have a mostly soporific effect, which was sufficient to get us past them without getting stung), we were able to climb out the trapdoor and sit, for all intensive purposes, on top of Tabligbo. Included in the next couple of posts are some pictures from our exciting ascension of the water tower, probably the highest point for miles around in our mostly flat region.
In mid-June, Joe will finally be heading off to visit the waterfalls on the western side of Togo, and has promised to come back with some good pictures. The rainy season is just about upon us, so we’re waiting for the nearby river to reach a sufficient level to allow us to go fishing and see where those alleged bird-catching spiders live as well. Hopefully, we’ll have some pictures to prove their existence!
And so, final thoughts for today…
We recently had what is called our Close of Service Conference here in Peace Corps, where we learned things like how to talk to our friends and family and potential employers about our Peace Corps service without causing yawns and glazed looks. We also got some surprisingly helpful information about how to translate Peace Corps work into statements that make sense on résumés and about how to readjust to life in the States. It was good to see our entire stage together again, too, as we haven’t all been in the same place since we swore in as Peace Corps volunteers way back in August of 2008. Of the original 31 people in our group, there are 21 remaining who will COS over the next couple of months (the other ten left early or were sent home for medical or administrative reasons). Of the volunteers we’ve met during our service here, we’ve made a surprising number of really good friends we hope to keep in touch with after we all return to the land of bacon and mint chocolate chip ice cream. I wasn’t really prepared to make AMERICAN friends when we got selected for service in West Africa, and it’s been interesting to meet a variety of people who are doing the same thing we’re doing for a myriad of different reasons and share this experience with them.
As we finish up our last couple of months here in Togo, we’re really starting to look forward to our return back home. Family, friends, and food are obviously foremost on our list of things we miss, but the other day, I realized we’re soon going to be experiencing some things we’ve kind of forgotten about. A funny story to illustrate: I had to call our credit card company the other day, and worried that my small task was going to take a lot of time and effort to accomplish (because I’ve become what we call here habitué to things taking much longer than anyone predicts them to take), I stocked up on phone credit for the call. I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly and efficiently the representative handled my request, and I hung up the phone smiling. You know what was so great about that call? Customer service! Yup, the fact that someone helped me without trying to get something from me (like money, my phone number, a visa to America, or my hand in marriage) was quite refreshing. So thanks, Bank of America guy, for giving me yet another reason (not that I really need more than the promise of being clean and eating steak to get me excited about America!) to look forward to coming home. Just a couple of months left now!