Archive for October, 2008

Christmas gift ideas that support Togo

Friday, October 31st, 2008

There is a very neat women’s cooperative here in Sokode.  They produce butters for beauty products that are sold under the label “Alaffia” at Whole Foods.

I have visited the location and stirred the shea butter by hand with them.  Most of the women are illiterate, and do not even speak French.  Here they have a reliable salary, health care, and work that doesn’t break their backs. 

The founder (a Togolese man married to a former Peace Corps Volunteer) was there to explain fair trade to other producers in Togo (weavers, honey producers, etc).  He is encouraging similar enterprises in Togo.  He left me a sample of the final shampoo and conditioner products, which are AMAZING.

I highly recommend you look for their products and give them a try, or give them as Chirstmas gifts this year.  You’ll even find “made in Sokode, Togo” on the label.

coca cola tastes different

Friday, October 31st, 2008

I’ve never been a big fan of pop (also known as soda, coke, soft drinks) but sometimes you just want something cold to drink.  I don’t have a working fridge, so a cold drink means a trip to the “buvette”, or bar.  There, the choice is between beer and a soft drink.

The problem with ordering a Fanta or Coke, 2 of the types of sweet drinks available, is that they are just too sweet.  The sweetness is different than America; they are made with sugar from sugar cane, instead of from corn syrup.  While probably better for me since it is less processed, I struggle to finish a bottle of the sweet stuff.

A cold beer, on the other hand, goes down prettily easily. :)

student debate (Republican vs Democrat)

Friday, October 24th, 2008

This past week I joined the high school class taught by my friend and an English teacher.  We decided that a good way to get them motivated to study English would be to have an American Presidential debate.  One group of 7 kids were Republicans, 7 more were Democrats, and the rest were the citizens who asked questions and voted.

We spent one class giving them vocabulary and some basics on the different views of each party.  We talked about domestic issues (spending on socail services and abortion) and foreign issues (Iraq and development aid).  I tried to give an unbiased point of view. 

The debate was 2 hours and there were some really fun responses to the questions.  African points of view were used to justify American politics.  For example, when asked about why abortion should be illegal (like it is in Togo), the “Republicans” replied that children make up the basis of the economy.  Children are seen as cheap labor here, so abortion also got tied to the financial crisis. 

The Democrats also stated that the Republicans don’t want to provide many social services so they can keep all that money themselves.  Very few people pay taxes here, and government money in Africa often comes from government run companies or natural resources.  There isn’t really the idea that governments would be spending “taxpayer money”. 

In the end everyone voted for the Democrats anyway, but I’m not sure that had anything to do with the debate and what was said.  But the point of the class was to get them talking and thinking, and trying to express themselves in English.  Mission accomplished.

tranportation around the city

Thursday, October 16th, 2008

 Transportation in Sokode has strict heirarchal categories, like a pyramid.  Walkers are at the bottom, and they are usually women and children.  People with bicycles are one step up.  Sometimes students from wealthier families will have bikes to go to school; some men can be seen tooling around town on their bikes.  Then come the folks who have a motorcycle.  Since most roads are small and unpaved “motos” are an excellent way to get around.  Most teachers and professionals have motos.  At the top of the pyramid, and with the smallest numbers, are cars owners.  Usually these are government officials or people who work in Aid agencies  or NGOs.  (There seems to be a requirement that all NGOs have white Toyato LandCruisers. I’ve heard that this is true throughout Africa). 

Peace Corps Togo volunteers get bikes, and I spend about an hour a day on mine.    I used to love biking, but now I find it tiresome.  I arrive at most meetings sweaty and hot.  I get many strange looks as I wipe my brow or get embarrased by the pool of sweat I leave on chairs.

In a classic Catch 22, Peace Corps Togo recently started allowing volunteers to take motos on certain approved routes if they have a moto helmet.  They recognized that taking a car on most roads is impractical and some distances are too far for bikes.  But there isn’t enough  money to provide volunteers with helmets and we aren’t allowed to buy helmets with our own money. 

I’m still pedaling and sweating away.

internet connection

Friday, October 10th, 2008

Do you remember a using 56k modem? Can you imagine surfing today’s websites with that type of connection? Can you imagine sharing that one line with 10 other people? Imagine that one hour of web surfing will cost the equivalent of a decent dinner out. That is the reality here.

On a bad day it takes me up to 10 minutes to log into gmail (settings on simple HTML, no chat). I sometimes send emails to the states asking for information in text replies. People often respond with links to image heavy web sites. The New York Times home page often stalls all transfers in the cyber cafe, and even then it doesn’t always load. And the connection speed isn’t the only problem. Most computers at the cyber cafes are P2s with 128 mb RAM. I go to the capital and use the faster connection in the Peace Corps office once every 3 months or so.

That is where I am right now, and I’m trying to gather all the electronic materials I need for my work (tutorials in French,  Information about donors for the Camp Informatique, Grad schools, etc…)

Hope all is well with you.  Send me a line, but not a link!