Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Le dix-huix aout deux mille dix

A Day in the Life of a (quasi) Peace Corps Volunteer

I'm not sure why I decided to do this seeing as I've been a volunteer for less than two weeks, but today seemed like a weird day/a day that a recruiter would tell you about when you were considering applying. So here goes...

2-3 am – I'm not exactly sure when this was because it was the middle of the night, but sometime between 2 and 3 in the morning I was awakened by a woman who was screaming at the top of her lungs just behind my house. Soon after more women came and they began singing in Ewe. At this point I know enough Ewe to greet people (ndi, ndo, woale), welcome them (woezon loo), tell them my name (nkonye enye Andre), tell them where I'm from (metso Ohio le Amerika), say what I do (see previous post), and say goodbye (miagadogo), but I can gather from the wailing and singing that someone has died. I go back to bed and dream that I am the brakeman on the first coed Olympic bobsled team.

Ps – Africa gives you weird dreams
Pps – Our sled won the gold

5 am – Daily rooster alarm clock

6:30 am – Actual alarm clock. Followed by breakfast, shower, and seizing the day.

8 am – Get things together at the Dispensaire (local health clinic) to start the day's work of vaccinating children between 6 and 18 months as well as pregnant women, health workers and local authorities (police, gendarmes, teachers, chiefs, gongoners, etc) against H1N1 flu. I talk to my homologue's younger brother who had been charged with ferrying the vaccines between us and another dispensaire 20 km away because our butane powered refrigerator had broken. He tells me that the death was an 8 year old boy. Chances are that I saw the kid running around the village or saw his mother at a baby weighing or at one of the vaccination sessions over the past two day. I don't go over to pay my respects because I still feel like an outsider, even though most of the village knows my name. No one I ask can tell me the cause of death, but I feel bad that I wasn't able to do anything about it especially being a community health volunteer. During training we were told that the first death in village would be a very sad and somber experience, but apart from the immediate family and a steady stream of people paying their condolences, everyone else in the village went about their business as usual.

I ended up meeting the boy's father the next day at the market and he seemed in surprisingly good spirits, either that or he was just in a state of shock. Either way, he still showed up (along with the rest of the village) to watch me get whupped at soccer.

8:45 am – The nurse and I arrive at the primary school of Alati-Marche after a fun-filled moto ride through the fresh mud (don't worry Mom/PC Bureau – I wore my helmet) and set up shop in one of the classrooms.

9 am – Vaccinations begin. I'm starting to get used to the sound of lots of crying babies after spending a good amount of time at the dispensaire, but I still find it weird when 30 year old pregnant women are wincing at the prospect of a small flu shot. I now that its because they are not as familiar with shots as we are stateside, but it still seems odd to me. As we are doing the vaccinations, I see a small motorcade of about 5 or 6 motorcycles each with three people riding on them headed to Notse for the funeral.

11 am – The intermittent rain showers, as well as the need to tend to the fields, means that not many people have shown up so one of the ASC's (Agent de Sante Communautaire = Community Health Worker) goes off to tell more women to come and get vaccinated with their babies. When he returns, his breath smells like sodabi (a local alcohol made from fermented palm wine). In my region of Togo, “The Sodabi Belt,” most meetings and meals don't start without a shot or two of the “boisson locale”. La vie est toujours comme ça...

12:30 – We finish up the vaccinations in Alati-Marhe and return to Tsinigan, where I return all the vaccines and finish up paperwork.

1 pm – I make lunch. Spaghetti bolognese/togolais, made by sprucing up tomato paste with garlic, onion, fresh tomato and a healthy amount of local spices. I make sure to save enough leftovers for dinner because I hate cooking.

2 pm – Do dishes, straighten up my house, and clean my water filter, followed by an afternoon nap.

4 pm – Go to the dispensaire to fetch some water. On the way there I have to turn around no less than seven times to wave to all the kids who are screaming my name. Maybe its because I'm the first white person they've seen, or maybe its because I'm not named Komi or Kossi, but those kids sure love screaming “Andre!!” over and over. On the way back, several kids offer to help me carry the 55 pound jug back to my house, but I am determined to do it myself. Everyone in village is laughing at me, and rightfully so, I look ridiculous. But even the four grown men riding on one tiny moto laugh at me – I guess it takes one to know one. I make it back with the 55 lbs on my head (I'm a real African now!), but I make a mental note to find someone to fetch me water when the cistern dries up and I have to walk a lot farther to the pump.

4:30 – I was planning on spending the rest of the afternoon at the dispensaire, but they had closed up shop after doing vaccinations all morning, so I decide to do some reading. I started out reading an Anthropology and Public Health textbook, but then I switched to Michael Crichton's Pirate Latitudes, because, c'mon... pirates!!

6:30 – Reheat the pasta from earlier and actually read about Public Health this time.

8 pm – Start typing this up before going to bed.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Metso Lolonudowola!!!

I swore in as an official Peace Corps Togo Volunteer on August 5th only to be rushed off to my post village early the next morning. The title of this blog post means “I am a volunteer” in Ewe, the local language in most parts of Togo, Ghana and Benin. My post village is the tiny town of Tsinigan in the southern Plateaux region of Togo. If you want to try to find it on a map, don't because its not there. Your best bet would be to try to find Notse, which is my prefectural capital. Notse is about 100 km north of Lome and about 60 km south of Atakpame (the regional capital of Plateaux) along the route national. So do your best to find it, but don't count on because its not even on any of the maps here.

I am based in Tsinigan to work with the local “dispensaire” which consists of a nurse, a midwife and about 20 community health workers from Tsinigan and the surrounding villages. All in all, the Tsinigan health zone has supposedly 9,500 people but that number is suspect as there hasn't been a census in Togo since 1981.

The major health problems in Togo relate mostly to reproductive health and malaria. Reproductive health encompasses HIV prevention and family planning, which also plays a part in nutrition and overall development as less children means more money for food and other expenses to properly raise a family. The Plateaux region, as well as the Maritime region (the southern-most region which includes the capital and the Atlantic shoreline) are the rainiest regions and therefore are more susceptible to mosquitoes and malaria.

Nerd Sidenotes: Malaria is such a large problem in West Africa and Togo for several reasons:

1. There are four species of malaria parasites that infect humans and by far the most deadly is Plasmodium falciparum which is also most common in Togo.
2. Female mosquitoes transmit malaria by injecting saliva as an anticoagulant while taking a blood-meal, and the saliva contains the malaria parasites. The species of mosquito that is present in Togo (Anopheles gambiae) is also the species that is most efficient at transmitting malaria parasites.
3. There are many rumors about the way that malaria is transmitted such as: spending too much time in the sun, working in the fields, and eating too many mangoes. As a result, malaria is over-diagnosed and a lot of my work here will be concerned with proper diagnosis and treatment of malaria.

A final note about Togo:

Togo, like many developing countries is very patriarchal which is understandable as the men are usually the ones that do the manual labor and thus earn all the money. However, the women care for the children which can sometimes be 6-9 people yet they do not have the funds to pay for proper nutrition/health care/family planing/education for all the kids.

So, Peace Corps has come up with a new program called Men As Partners which comes on the heels of several women's empowerment programs that all had shortcomings because they did not include men. So Men As Partners hopes to introduce men to the benefits of seeing things from the woman's point of view.

Because of the general disparity between men and women in the Peace Corps, especially in the health sector, it is encouraged that male volunteers take a very proactive approach especially when it comes to involving local men in women's rights and health issues.

Luckily for me, my Peace Corps volunteer neighbors are ahead of the punch and are already planning a Men As Partners formation (training) in my prefectoral capital so I can hit the ground running and tag along with them.