Archive for October, 2007

work update

Monday, October 29th, 2007

 I really have a great opportunity here in Sokode to be meeting so many people who are excited to learn about computers and technology.  I have been working with my counterpart’s computer training center to write a business plan so he can apply for a loan to update his equipment.  We also hope to assemble a trade association of “informaticiens” – more on this as it evolves.

 I am most excited about my work with the schools.  I am working with 2 Lycees (High Schools), one private and one public, to teach and improve the use of computers as a tool in education.  The public school is a “technical school”, where they teach trade skills such as masonry and auto mechanics.  My first year here I will be training the trainers, that is teaching a small group of teachers a deep enough understanding of computers that they will be able to teach to larger groups and to their students. 

 The private school had the benefit of working with a previous Peace Corps Volunteer, and already has a trained staff.  I will be working with this school to improve the level of computer use, and through clubs and programming courses, take them above basic knowledge of typing to understanding how the computer is a useful tool.

 Additionally, work with small businesses, NGOs, and english classes are keeping me busy. 

 How you can help:
-Are you familiar with software used in any of the following fields: woodworking or carpentry, civil engineering, electrical engineering, architecture, masonry, mechanics, floor plan drawings. If so can you send me recommendations, links, or legal copies?
 - If you have taught a programming course, do you have advice on how to introduce the subject and motivate students?
- Do you have any materials for any of the above in French?

Religious diversity in Sokode

Monday, October 29th, 2007

Sokode is a Muslim town, but it does have a significant Christian population. The two populations appear to get along remarkably well. I have never heard anyone use any slurs or speak derogatorily of the other religion. Muslim and Christian children play together and go to the same schools. People of different faiths will work side by side. The Christians don’t blink so much as blink when Muslims step outside for the afternoon prayer. Christians and Muslims young adults date each other, sort of, although Muslim parents don’t want their daughters marrying Christians (unless the man converts). Christians and Muslims can be cousins, or live in the same housing compound – sharing latrines and water wells. People tell me that even if the chief of their neighborhood is of a different religion than themselves, they think he will decide fairly and not take religion as a factor in his decisions.

I asked several people here of both religions whether there is any tension between the two religions. Everyone said there aren’t any problems. I asked: if that is true, why do people get along so well here in Sokode? What can the rest of the world learn from this? People here respond to these questions with a shrug. The Muslims say that they know there is one God and He is the same as the Christian God. The Christians responded that the Muslim here are not fanatics. The Muslims say Osama Bin Laden has done harm to the faith in many ways. Everyone acted as though it was an un-interesting topic. Of course they get along, why shouldn’t they? The Togolese are peaceful, they say – not like the Nigerians, they imply.

My American friends who were political science majors posit that there aren’t any riches in the area so there is nothing for the two religions to fight about. (Not like the Nigerians, they imply). Personally, I find this view a bit cynical and will continue trying to learn from the Togolese and the people of Sokode about their peaceful ways.

 PS I have nothing against the Nigerians do not intend to imply anything negative by reporting these comments.

proud woman

Thursday, October 18th, 2007

Check out my photos on flickr from the end of Ramadan prayer. Everyone was dressed to the nines and excited to have their picture taken.

Day in the Life

Monday, October 15th, 2007

Since many of you are asking about work and daily life, here is a description of my day Thursday.
 4:30 woke up to the sounds of the mosque call to prayer
 5:00 failing to fall back to sleep, I read a book called “French Lessons in Africa”
 6:00 one hour of exercise on my yoga mat in my living room.  Morning exercise is crucial for so many reasons.  Twice a week I go outside and face the yelling kids who follow me jogging or biking, but  today it is nice to stay inside today and have some privacy.
 7:00 Breakfast of french toast with homemade passionfruit jam and Togo grown Cafe Kuma coffee.  Since I’m going to try to fast today in honor of Ramadan, I eat and drink plenty for breakfast.  Real muslims finish their breakfast before sunrise and fast until sunset.  I’m too nervous about a day without food and water to start fasting at 4am so I am cheating with a late breakfast.
 8:00 Time to head to my counterpart’s office.  Since my bike ride is hot and long, I’m easily inspired to leave early in the morning before the sun is in full force.
 8:30-9:30 chat with my counterpart about his business plan, my electricity bill, how Ramadan is going for him, etc. Since Ramadan ends this weekend and there is a big holiday, most people are on vacation.  Next week we will start talking about starting the trade association for computer professionals.
 9:30  I go to the market as a favor to a volunteer who needs a basket to transport his cats.  I ask the people who are selling live chickens if I can get a basket like the one their chickens are in, and they tell me to come back in an hour to talk to the basket sellers.
 9:45 Stop by the new boutique and “Cafeteria de la Paix” near the regional Peace Corps transit house.  The owner is friendly and outgoing.  I’m interested in eventually getting a few yummy American items on the menu like peanut butter and jelly or mac and cheese a la Togo.  This will take some time to implement, if it happens, but I consider it part of my work as a Small Enterprise Developer.  I hope to integrate some business skills at the same time.
 10:00 Stop by PLAN international, a large NGO, to introduce myself.  The first 3 months as a volunteer involve getting to know the community and figuring out where I can be useful.  This means a lot of cold calls like this at various organizations.  The guy I talk to a PLAN has worked with Peace Corps before and right away suggests that I can help with an English club, computer training, or work with microfinance.  He will talk to the director and set up a time for us all to meet.  I am reluctant to leave his air conditioned office.
 10:30-11:30  I’ve heard about a business started by a former PCV and her Togolese partner in which local women are paid fair wages to make traditional shea butter.  It is called Alafia or Agbanga Karite and the goods are sold at Whole Foods in the US.  I’m curious and decide to visit.  Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that it is several kilometers away, and leave my bike at the Peace Corps house.  I discover that the place is closed for the upcoming festival and I will need to return next week.  I get sunburnt and dehydrated on the shadeless walk back.
 11:40  I find a girl at the market who agrees to make a chicken carrying basket for 500 CFA and sell it to me next week.
12-12:20 return to my home on bike.
12:20-13:00  I’m filthy from sweat and dirt.  I take my second shower of the day.  The Togolese shower a minimum of 2 times each day, and this is something I’ve had no trouble adopting. I realize I need to drink water, but manage to not eat.  Abstaining from cigarettes and sex doesn’t cause any problems.
13:00-14:00 My first successful afternoon nap since arriving in post!
14:00-15:00 Do some computer work on my laptop, such as preparing some Excel lessons for the director of the school I am working with.
15:00-17:00 I meet with the director of the school in his house.  He receives a constant stream of visitors and phone calls, so only about 45 minutes of our time is spent working on using Excel to improve the schools record keeping.
17:00-18:00 Head over to the school for my private French lesson.  I have found a great tutor who works with me on dialogues and pronunciation twice a week.
18:00-20:00  I break my fast at sunset with some  boiled corn paste drink and fried bean cakes.  Both are more delicious than they sound. I dine at the school director’s house on Fufu.   We discuss what to do if a snake gets into my house, the integration of Muslims and Christians in Sokode, and the upcoming Mali-Togo football match. 
20:00-20:20 I bike home in the dark, thankful for the light of oncoming motos and for the dynamo headlamp I bought in France.
20:30-22:00 After another shower, I study a little French, and then type up this account of the day
22:00 bed time.  Wish me sweet dreams!

 

kids outside my house

Wednesday, October 10th, 2007

Aren’t they cute?