Saturday, November 27, 2010

A funny thing happened on the way to Tsinigan

A collection of amusing things that have happened in my first 6 months in Togo:

On a recent bush taxi ride, we pulled over to remove the back row of seats and toss in a hog-tied cow. From the stench emanating from the back seat, I can only imagine that the Fulani man taking the cow to Lome was also planning on selling several kilos of manure.

Two days later, my own village upped the ante by balling up two full sized bulls and tossing them into the back of a pick-up truck.

Togo isn’t a big tourist destination. It’s a beautiful country and I am constantly surprised by all the rich traditions here, but they still have trouble getting people to visit. As a result, all of the tourism posters are gross exaggerations and blatant uses of photoshop. In one poster, the same woman is photoshopped in three different places. In another, a man is photoshopped dancing over a fire. This would be ok – I certainly can’t dance on hot coals and would need to be photoshopped – but he is photoshopped over another man who is already dancing on the coals. Finally, Togo’s biggest attraction (and the best poster) is part of a mountain that was cut into to build a road. The result is a giant rock in the median that cars drive around. The tourism poster, however, has superimposed a semi-truck that has been shrunken down to the point where it looks like a hot wheels car in order to make the rock seem larger and more majestic.

On another bush taxi ride, another volunteer, Jane, and I were squashed up in the front seat (standard operating procedure) when the driver either blew through or didn’t see a gendarmes check point (if it was the former it was probably because he didn’t want to pay the bribe). Anyways, I wasn’t about to complain because he gunned it and I was hoping that we would make good time to Atakpame. About ten minutes later, we blow a tire but the driver keeps going. I figured we were trying to get to the next small town and fix it there, but he randomly turns off the main road and takes us down several windy dirt roads before finally stopping. He explains that we were being chased by two gendarmes on motorcycles and that we had to hide from them. The driver and his assistant then took our bags and ran out to the road, jumping in front of traffic to get us into another car. Basically, he was trying to get rid of his Yovo evidence, so now I will be known as Exhibit A and Jane will be Exhibit J.

Public urination is a big part of life here in Togo, not to mention the part of cultural integration that I embraced the easiest. However when visiting a classy city like Lome or Atakpame, there are signs all over the place that say “Defense d’uriner ici” or “Interdit de uriner”. Translation: Don’t urinate here, or It’s prohibited to urinate. But sometimes the message either doesn’t stick or doesn’t get there in time. Example: On n’urine plus ici. Translation: We don’t pee here anymore.

My 75 year old landlord recently had a voodoo priest come to our compound to perform a traditional ceremony that would give the landlord a prosperous and healthy life for the next 10 years. The ceremony started at around 10 pm (super late in village when you wake up at 530 and there’s no electricity and its dark by 6) with lots of singing, drumming and drinking. At various points during the ceremony, the following things happened:

My landlord lit a pile of gunpowder 3 inches from a voodoo priest’s head
One of the voodoo priests left for a minute and came back dancing with a pot on his head.
The voodoo priests jumped up on the paiote (palm frond awning) and ripped down some supports ad branches until finally being restrained by the bouncers (this happened twice)
One voodoo priest came up to me and after my host family explained what I was doing in Togo, he proceeded to beat me with a branch (this was a type of blessing)
As part of the voodoo demonstration, the priests got a hold of knives and started making cutting motions against their skin. As my landlord put it: “they have strong minds and strong bodies, so the knife cannot break the skin.” Twenty minutes (and several shots) later, my landlord said: “we haven’t used that knife in a while, so the knife cannot break the skin.

I ended up going to bed at 430am, but my host family was mad that I went to bed so early. Nevertheless, I was up the next morning at 6 to help slaughter the goat and dance some more.

La vie est toujours comme ça...

Ps: I went on a tour of the Brasserie Benin (Togo’s brewery) while I was down in Lomé. Nothing funny here, just awesomeness. We ended up drinking beers that couldn’t have been more than 30 minutes old – the bottles were still foamy from when they were filled.

Pps: New blog post for the kids at

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Take It Back Now Y'all

The Peace Corps has three goals: 1) Technical support - I teach health things. 2) Teaching Togolese people about Amerika - Football: Its like rugby but totally different. 3) Teaching Americans about Togo - this blog and/or wikipedia.

The third goal is one of the top three most important goals in Peace Corps history(!!!) yet it is usually pushed back as the least important topic as it is hard to realize in country, and once a PCV gets home, fufu and pate take a backseat to cheese coneys and crave cases.

However, thanks to the wonders of the internets (Togo just upgraded their vacuum tubes), contact between volunteers in the middle of nowhere and everyday people like yourself is a possibity.

Part of my goal 3 contribution is the World Wise Schools Correspondence Match - a program that links Peace Corps Volunteers to schools in the States in hopes of a better worldwide understanding of cultures.

My "kids" are Mrs. Shields' 3rd grade class at Hilliard Elementary in Westlake, Ohio (near Cleveland). They seem like a fun bunch and we have a lot in common!!! We all enjoy geography, trick-or-treating and dodgeball!!

Anyways, Mrs. Shields has set up a blog for the kids to ask me questions about life for kids like them in EPP (Ecole Primaire Publique), so if you'd like to know what the kids are up to these days head on over to:

BUT PLEASE!!!!!! - that blog is a forum for third graders to communicate with me in a safe environment, so I want to institute a museum policy there (look but dont touch). Please take a look to see what American kids want to know about Africa, and I will repost any fun stuff here. But in the long run, this blog will remain a (somewhat) unfiltered look at my life in Togo - with all the trials and tribulations involved.