Wednesday, November 2, 2011

First Package!

Wednesday is my Marché Day. I usually follow a routine when I go out to buy my food for the week. Before I leave my house, I walk my dog and then feed him and the cat. As I leave my house on my bike, he always howls at my absence. I park my bike at the post office and check the mail for my cluster. Currently there's two of us volunteers that get our mail here. The third finished her service and her replacement will swear-in to post mid-Nov. Every time there's a package, I never expect it to be for me. Today seemed no different. There was a box wrapped with our "Corps de la Paix" label. I totally expected it to be for my neighbor cause she gets tons of stuff from home. Nope! Addressed to me!

Thanks Wu-Tang and LBC K! I forgot to warn about how they open packages here. However, they are also superstitious, so if you put religious symbols like crosses and "Dieu te voit" (God
sees you) they will deter them a little.

On the back of the package it said it was torn when the post office got it, which worried me that some unsavory customs person rummaged through it. But, everything looked fine inside.

Hooray for America things! Once thing that happens to you when you get village food here all the time is that you get used to starch based foods and hot pepper for flavor. Therefore, snacks from America taste so much sweeter or saltier. In theory, I will ration these, but I'd give it till the end of the week.

Here's Rampage and Nightmare, my dog and cat, respectively next to my bike. I was heading up to my roof to get a picture and snuck a shot of them.

This is the lady across my house. She sells fried manioc balls. A few months ago a storm blew away the shed covering. Since raining season is coming, I think that's why they're rebuilding another one again. My landlord said we could put a gazebo thing on my roof like that so people can hang out, but I don't really want to commit to major investments to my house when I'm gonna be here less than a year.

Last Saturday we had our post visit party in Agbelouve, which I'm guessing is about an hours north of Lomé . Post visit is a week when the new trainees visit their posts for the first time. I'm getting two new neighbors and they seemed really happy about coming to post and very upset to go through another 3 weeks of training. I remember those days... Anyways, this little playa kind of hung around the bar at the party. He's a little mentally handicapped so people kind of brush him aside and his parents kind of ignore him. He was dancing and following us all night. Someone put sunglasses on him and I told him to dance to Usher. I'm so cool.

Thursday, May 19, 2011


I suspect curiosity is peaking over what types of foods are available here. I can get street food easily near my house. It is actually cheaper to buy street food than cook for yourself, but eventually the lack of variety gets to you. For your courtesy, I took pictures of my meals today.

This is my lifesaver. The lady who sells this is 20 feet from my house. She's always smiling and friendly to me. Also, she speaks French, but gets a kick out of my attempts of speaking local language. Anyways, I went all out spending an extra 20 cents this time getting rice, beans, AND spaghetti. Normally, I'll just get the beans with gari, which is dried and pounded cassava. They add palm oil and some sauce I don't know of. For the rice and spaghetti, they add a tomato paste and pepper sauce. While it lacks in nutritional variety, this is super cheap, fills you up, and gives you more than enough carbs to do peasant work. This was sort of brunch today since I missed breakfast. If you have to know what this is called, it's just beans, rice, and macaroni (l'haricot, le riz, et le maca)

A little more exotic now. This was lunch - la pate, specifically la pate avec la sauce de gumbo et la poisson. The pate is the white thing and is made from corn flour mixed with water and boiled in a large pot. I tried making it, but it's kind of hard. Most likely because I didn't stand next to the pot staring and stirring the mixture for over an hour. Afterwards, you cover it with a towel and let it cool a bit and scoop it out to form these blobs or patties. There's different types of sauces, but if you're super cheap, you can get the default one, which is just okra sauce. Again, I spared no expense and spent the extra 20 cents to get 2 small pieces of fish. During marche day, you can get chicken, beef, lamb, and bush rat in my village. Up north they got donkey and dog. The gumbo sauce is okra, with hot peppers and what looked like tiny anchovies.

I didn't actually eat this, but it was on my table and I thought I'd share. This is one of the types of bread you can get in my village. I don't know how to spell the village name, but it's basically salt (salé) bread. It's good as an egg sandwich. There's another kind of bread I rarely get cause it's the sugar (sucré) kind. That one goes better with jam or peanut butter. You can also see some oranges that are actually green. I miss the humongous California sweet oranges I used to eat, but what can you do when you're halfway around the globe.

Finally, you gotta have hot sauce. This comes from Lomé. I wish I could find this in village. As you can see, it is totally authentic hot sauce imported all the way from Louisiana to the supermarket.

Notice how most of the foods are starch based. People can't afford to eat variety so they don't get their vitamins and proteins. Since guys typically burn carbs easier, they're skinny and cut, while the women just store the carbs, becoming bigger. If Togolese people call a girl fat, it's not an insult, it's supposed to mean she's healthy. Personally, I'm not crossing that line.

Monday, April 18, 2011

PC 50th

I spent this past weekend in Lome mainly cause I was sick, but also to support the Peace Corps 50th Anniversary Girls Soccer Match. It took place at the University of Lome and was played by the English Club at the University versus Volunteers and Staff. Was a pretty good turnout and folks from the US Embassy came and to give out support as well.

At half time, they did a sensablization on gender roles.

We often do this activity. There's 2 lines and it's a relay race between genders. Guys have carry a baby, a book, and a bucket because these are typical things that represent the roles of women in Togo. The girls in this case, carry a book and kick a soccer ball, cause that's what guys do. The girls usually win cause it's easier to be a guy in Togo and also most people drop the baby during the relay. It's all fun and laughter and easily underlines a serious point about the differences between gender and sex.

In the end, I think the score was 3-2, University of Lome, but they really dominated the whole game. That's all that is scheduled for 50th anniversary events, but I submitted a budget for a basketball tournament to the committee. Keeping fingers crossed it will happen. There's high interest because we have a real team and it will be really competitive. We're also out for revenge from our last loss.

Afterwards, we were invited to a BBQ at one of the embassy worker's houses. I've never been in the ex-pat area of Lome so it was a big cultural shock to see essentially the suburbs in Togo. It was kind of funny cause it was supposed to be a potluck, but no volunteer had access to a kitchen to actually cook something. Instead we chipped in money otherwise we would have all brought corn or beans like the village peasants we are.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Oh no...Oh no..Oh YEAH!

Insane day. Finally go my internet subscription to work. Togocel must I'm the most annoying person in the world. They need to recognize. The ridiculousness I went through will not been soon forgotten.

Daniel's profile finally got posted on Kiva. Should be excited, but instead I found that his profile is completely wrong. Not only did they totally ignore my write-up (both in English and French), but they also put in things that are irrelevant or untrue.

I told Daniel about it and he was very upset. I'm so ashamed of it that I'm not even going to link it. Just more work for me to fix this.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Rock beats wood

Been devastated the last 3 days with stomach problems. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) it’s not the first time since I’ve been here. I have never had the kind of digestive issues I’ve had in Togo. Whatever. C’est le Togo.

Things have been moving (relatively) fast with the turkey expansion. Daniel was convinced to upgrade his turkey structures from wood to concrete. Henceforth, cement:

And more cement.

Here's where it's all going to go down.

And the view from the other side, where you can see Daniel's house. It's an average size Togolese house.

He actually bought the land about a year ago, and it's been sitting like this since. When I got to post, I told him we were going to do something with this space. I just hate seeing things being wasted or underutilized, which probably highly attributed to my engineering background. Progress! C'est bon, non?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

So far so good

I saw Daniel this morning to see how it went yesterday at WAGES. It seemed to go well. He filled out the paperwork and someone came this morning to his farm to take pictures. Apparently, the pictures I took were nice, but they weren’t allowed to use USB keys on their computers in fear of viruses. Lame. On the plus side, I think they will use my write-up, and with any luck, I might get my name on Daniel’s bio. I’m surprised that Daniel needed a co-signer on his loan consider Kiva is taking on the risk. Also he had to deposit a quarter of the amount he wanted to borrow in his account. He’ll get his money this Friday and the interest will be no higher than 10%. This is great as we can start away and start constructing the coops.

I’ll keep photo records of our progress. I think that’ll be cool.

For the record, here's one of the pics we took Sunday that WAGES didn't accept. They better have taken one as good as this.

And since I have a short attention span, I also took pictures of the puppies that were scurrying around.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Hooray new blog time!

I switched internet providers so hopefully now posting pics won’t be so frustrating. There aren’t many internet options in Togo. In fact, there are only 3: Togocel, Moov, and Togotelecom. Internet is very expensive and kind of a luxury. I get by by sacrificing hard. I stretch my living allowance by eating like a villager and biking everywhere. Maybe that’s why I feel so tired all the time.

One of the big projects I am working on involves expanding my homologue’s turkey farm. He’s been raising turkeys relatively recently, but has had decent success. Last year, we sold about 40 turkeys during the holiday season. He already bought the land, but was originally going to use the money he made to incrementally expand. I convinced him to put that money into a microfinance institution to increase his credit line to get a loan. That way he can do everything at once and increase his production before the market gets saturated.

I thought it would be cool to get Daniel, my homologue, on For those of you who don’t know what is, it is a non-profit microlending website based in San Fran. They partner with microfinance institutions around the world to connect lenders to entrepreneurs. You go on the site and can search different countries, industries, even men or women’s groups you wish to send a lend via paypal. Once they receive the money, whether it was raised on the site, or pre-distributed by the MFI, they are set on a repayment schedule. The MFI keeps the interest and collects the payments and gives it back to Kiva, who then gives it back to the lenders. While there are many MFIs in Togo, there is also a practical reason I wanted Daniel to go through Kiva to get his loan: he can get his money up front without saving for 3 months, which is the norm for MFIs here before they give out loans.

If you go on the site and search Togo, there is only one active MFI partnered with Kiva. Unfortunately, they do not have an office in my village. They’re not even in my prefecture. The closest one is in Tsévié, which is about 45 km away. Well, Daniel had gone by himself several weeks ago and they told him they didn’t do Kiva anymore and to go to Lomé. In Lomé, they told him because he’s from Tabligbo, he has to go to the Tsévié. Furthermore, the Tsévié branch is partnered with Babyloan, which I thought was totally fake, until I looked them up. It’s a Kiva clone, only French, Euro-based, and less established.

I also checked the Kiva site to see if WAGES, the MFI, had lost their partnership; they didn’t. Turns out someone gave out the wrong information, which happens far too frequently in Togo. The truth is that WAGES divided up the branches between Kiva and Babyloan. Unfortunately for us, we were under the Tsévié jurisdiction meaning we had to go with Babyloan. It was frustrating because WAGES was willing to give him the loan given his business plan I’ve worked with him on.

I explained the dilemma to my APCD (my boss) and he suggested I go with him to the headquarters in Lomé and to see if I could get them to change their minds. He even gave me the contact of the director of WAGES because Peace Corps volunteers have worked with them in the past. Last Friday I took the dreadful 3 hour voyage to Lomé and walked for what seemed like an hour through a maze that included literally a burning garbage pile to get to the office. The marketing manager Daniel had previously spoke to was unavailable and we were given the run around by the secretaries. We wasted the morning just waiting for nothing, and I sensed that Daniel was ready to give up. As we were eating, I told Daniel I refused to leave Lomé without an answer. We went back and I name dropped the director and said I wanted to see him. This caused a panic amongst the secretaries and they told us he was in a meeting. I said we’ll wait.

I had anticipated being there all day, but we were barely sitting there for an hour when we were summoned up to him. He was very cordial and polite and his eyes lit up when I told him we were from Peace Corps. He explained they had a long relationship with Peace Corps and since Daniel is working a volunteer, he was confident that there would be no problem with this business plan. I don’t know what I said exactly; it was a bumble of French, but he granted us what we wanted. That’s all it took. Crazy. We left the office not only with what we originally wanted, but also with a hat, polo shirt, keychain, and calendars. Awesome.

Sunday I met with Daniel prep pictures and a profile. If you go to the site, you’ll see that each entrepreneur has a pic and profile. For francophone countries such as Togo, they have a French translation done by a Kiva volunteer. I personally think the bios for Togo are boring because they’re all done by the same person at WAGES, who extrapolates the information from a form. They’re all the same format and sentence structure. Since I like everything to have a little style and flash, I wanted to write the a compelling profile in both French and English, as well as get an awesome picture. People don’t smile in pictures here, that’s why a lot of pics have people looking frumpy in Togo. Daniel wanted me to go with him Monday, but I convinced him that he could do it himself.