Friday, November 28, 2008

Turkey day...mmmmm

The brocoli I planteded is not quite ready to be harvested (of which I am soo excited because it has been over a year and a half since I got to eat one of my favorite veggies)(not found in Togo) but we had a huge turkey dinner at my country directors...mmmm

Running a marathon in Africa...PART 1

Ok, so all things aside..I did mention trying to run a marathon on each of the seven continents. Didn't I?

And I did say this after a strong finish at the Boston marathon in April of 2007, and after knowing that I will be in West Africa for the next two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Togo. I was at the peak of my physical fitness, ready to conquer anything. May I also say I proposed this before even setting foot on the continent of Africa. I mean, I know this place is hot, but also home to some of the fastest long distance runners in the world. Maybe training here will further increase my capacity to run with the greatest. This Midwestern girl must have been dreaming.

While living stateside I had to cram in time to train between a busy work schedule and the outdoor elements we call a cold and windy Chicago winter (not to mention that come race day in Boston I was dealing with a “Nor easter”). Though on average, the temperatures were more suitable to running during daytime hours. I also had access to all the latest fitness equipment, the ability to train indoors, and the ability to mix in other forms of strength and cross training. I could run in the dark, daytime or early morning hours depending on my schedule.

I had the options of all the latest sports drinks and food supplements, charging me full of electrolytes, vitamins, minerals and elements to aid in performance and recovery. My glycogen levels were maxed out and I was fully loaded for any workout, I followed a balanced diet complete with whole grains and soy proteins, calcium and carbohydrates.

I was also mentally stimulated by others in the act of training, moving at the motion of many athletes in the city all developing their maximum capacity for oxygen flow. I would enter smaller races and half-marathons to challenge myself and be among others like me. There was camaraderie amongst my co-workers and I as we would hold each other accountable for following an exercise regime. “ You going to the gym after work?, why not?” We also made sure each other had made enough trips to the water cooler to consume the full 8 - 8oz glasses of H20 necessary for maintaining a healthy glow.

Towards the end of some of my neighborhood runs I would coast into “Borders Books” to grab the latest issue of Runners World, roll it in my hand like a baton and think back to those track days as I sprinted home. Upon reaching the apartment I would buzz into the nearest coffee shop to grab a latte and pain au chocolate, treating myself to a job well done. I would then take a nice hot shower to sooth the muscles and pop back out into the city.

I had access to personalized training schedules and playlists. I would upload my ipod with new tunes and hit the streets with my Nike+ chip telling me how far I've gone, how far to go, and letting me know stats on pace, time and calories burned. It felt as though I had my former cross country coach watching over me, stopwatch in hand, yelling splits at every mile. This in turn made me feel accountable for my training as well. Plugging in the ipod and uploading all my past runs to log on my personal profile placed me in competition with others like me around the world working to achieve the same fitness goals. But most of all I was in competition with myself. As if the record of my runs would prevent me from slacking or from skipping out on training since there was some form of physical evidence, a log of work completed.

At all times I felt comfortable, able to chose amongst a wide variety of running gear depending on the workout and climate. I could update my running apparel, adding new layers of sweat wicking, cooling fiber technology to my core. I wore my little shorts and tanks most often when the weather was warm. As the temperatures dropped into the 50's and 60's (perfect temperature for peak performance) I would wear tights and a t-shirt, my feet comfortably encased in sweat wicking, no-rub socks.

I would treat myself to relaxing foot baths in the evenings while resting on the couch watching the newest Netflix arrival I grabbed from the mailbox. I was at ease, in my element, and felt on top of the world. Running to me was my Yoga, a time to reflect, breath, cleanse the body and feel revived. How was I to know that in another place and time, these feelings could alter.

Enter...Togo, West Africa.

In the weeks after completing the Boston Marathon I had tapered my runs down to a smattering of footsteps. I replaced the occupation of training with running around town gathering whatever gadget or gizmo necessary for survival in Africa. I had my shopping list organized by hints and suggestions by former and current volunteers abroad. I was also wrapping up my job as a product designer, working up until 1 week before I flew out, which left little time for much else. I would still squeeze in a nightly run from time to time but I closed out my gym membership and started to remove myself from my old routines. I had to get ready for survival in Africa. My co-workers told me that I needed to “bulk up” in order to avoid the famine of Africa or the onslaught of dysentery or amoebas. So that I did, indulging in the many treasures American has to offer by processed foods and snacks.

Bags packed and on my way, I left the cool American soil and took flight. I remember the feeling after stepping off the plane that first night in Togo. The heavy humid air hit me like a marathoner hits the “wall.” Running in this place was the last thing on my mind at this point. It was hot, and for a girl who’s lived in the Midwest her whole life this was something not yet manageable. Plus, I was ready to fight malaria and digestive issues. The idea of running on top of all that was not in the schedule.

Once arriving at our training site and making our presence as the only white people around for miles I felt a sense of isolation and public display. We were different and something to study. We were placed in our host families and started to adhere to a schedule of class and family time. As much freedom as I felt living in the States, once here, I felt trapped by cultural norms and wandering eyes. I felt as if I was on parade and any movement I made needed to be explained. Since my ability to communicate in French was seriously lacking, I decided to be still. In that way I didn’t have to voice any reason for why I run and where I’m going,when I’ll be back and if I’ll bring home bread. With time, this lack of physical movement left me feeling less than complete and a little depressed.

Running as a mode of calming myself and making myself feel better was replaced by meetings with new friends over local brews and snacks. All the rushing and moving around town that consumed most of my days in the states slowed to a crawl. Partially due to the heat, but mostly due to the lack of places to go, as well as the heavy, vitamin deficient foods that felt like lead weights in our guts. We had a lot of time to sit, whether in class or at the local buvette*. We hid from the cultural suffocation of our host families, and drowned our homesickness’s in conversations of better days. We cracked open bottles of Pils, Eku and Awooyo, and snacked ferverishly on roasted peanuts and fried balls of dough and cookies.

Needless to say, I slowly began to reverse the healthy effects running had instilled in my body. I became tired and bored, and began to look forward to naps and reading books as a moment of comfort. Any of you who know me well, can understand that that profile is not one that describes me well. In my life, I was never one to sit still, never took naps, and never seemed to find time to cozy up to a good book. I needed to move, but here in Africa, there's no where to move we are still.

I arrived at my post in September of 2007 and tried to think of ways I could create a routine that involved exercise. However, I was such a new shiny installation in the village that again, “all eyes were on me.” So I resorted to trying to create a “home gym” routine. I asked for books on pilates and yoga as well as fitness dvd's and equipment. I sectioned off a place in my house to “set up shop” and I went out and bought a fan (a must here for one who has the luxury of electricity). I tried to make myself enjoy doing crunches, thinking, if anything, I will strengthen parts of my body I ignored during my marathon training. In the mornings after my neighbor left for school I would shut the gate and try to do a little jump rope on the terrace. I also though up ideas to try to put together a girls running club but noticed no interest in the sport in village. Since you work all day and live all day in the sun and heat, who would want to run in it for fun as well.

Luckily, AIDS ride was on my program. In October, volunteers from each region gathered to bike from village to village for a week educating the people on AIDS prevention. It was great, we hit the open road and for that whole week I felt at ease. Well, aside from the “Night at the Disponsaire.” when we were rudely awoken to the wailing of a woman in labor and another with a scorpion bite while sleeping over at the local medical clinic. Between stops in village to do condom demonstrations and perform skits on AIDS topics I plugged myself into my ipod and coasted down the open road (or dirt path). The screams of kids yelling “Yovo..Yovo,” and the hisses beckoning me to stop and chat were drowned out in a meditation of music and movement. It felt good.

AIDS ride charged me up to start running again but since the holidays were on the rise I soon forgot to pencil it in. I was trying to find a place in my village, work, friends, etc. I looked forward to time spent with my boyfriend Wil, who left for Peace Corps with me but ended up in Mauritania. It was hard to get back into a routine and even harder when no one here finds interest in the same. I was also dealing with diet issues and the lack of energy felt by the foods I ate. So I resorted back to stretching and meditation. Again...little movement.

Then came the spring and I began to remember what I once said about running a marathon here in Africa. Some of my fellow volunteers mentioned the idea of running Ghana's Accra Marathon in September and within a day I decided to register. I knew I better take a chance while I'm still on this continent because I may regret it in the future. Like in the past, once I advertise that I am going to run a marathon it becomes the little guy on my shoulder that makes me train and keeps me on schedule. So in time I was on the road again. Wil's parents sent me a new pair of trainers and with a fully loaded itunes playlist I plotted my course.

The sneakers were a nice relief from the heavy trail running shoes I brought with me to Togo thinking I would be in the back woods on dirt trails. Most of Togo is “en brousse” as they say, but where I live there are also paved roads, so the road shoes made me feel lighter. I started my training during a camp I was facilitating with other volunteers. It was great to get going with others in search of the same goals. Every morning we would wake each other to head out for a run before starting camp for the day. That week, I ran the most mileage since I had stepped foot in the country. And I felt energized.

Then I brought the energy back home as I continued my training. By then, I had found my place in village and everyone was pretty comfortable with me so I thought it would be less of a stress. I adapted my routine to going to bed early in order to wake at the break of dawn and hit the road. I didn't hold office hours as a volunteer but still had to wake up early to profit from the coolest time of the day. No ability to enjoy afternoon runs here when temperatures reached highs of 80's-90's and upwards. I chose one of three main directions to take, north and back, south and back, up the mountain and back. I wanted to find the back trails but every time I tried, I ended up lost in a farm somewhere or in someones backyard. So I stuck to the pavement.

In the beginning I attracted an entourage of young boys sharing similar interests, joining me “en route.” That was for the first few weeks, and then as my mileage increased I sensed their disinterest in running alongside. My friends in village talked of my activities; “Adjovi, tu faire le sport ce matin? Tu est forte eh?,” stating the obvious. I carried coins in my socks to buy breakfast street side after my runs. I began to love it all over again and the image I was creating by doing so. My confidence rose and I stepped back into who I always was, and what made me “me.” Nothing was questioned and all was understood and accepted.

I continued on with the training and soon was at the height of the long run. Having done a 16 miler with a friend up north I figured I would at least try to get in another longer run. I decided to chart the course by heading south to Kpalime 30k away and upon arriving, jump in a bush taxi back. So I had it planned for the week and thought up ways I would carry water and some energy gels (which in fact had been sent to me in another great care package of enhanced training supplements). Then I got sick.

I had been sick for over a week with allergies and chest congestion. There were few runs I had where I felt completely healthy and energized and this seemed to make the present feel as if there weren't a chance I would feel it again. How could it be that being here in Africa could bring on a cold that not even the coldest winters in Chicago could create. Thinking back it could have been due to the pollution of all the great cargo trucks rolling past me on my runs due to a bridge collapsing on the national highway up Togo, connecting trucks to the port. They were now obligated to take the western routes so I had to deal with the damage they inflicted on the crumbling old road my village was situated on. Soon, I was wishing I still had those trail running shoes as the pavement turned into a dirt path from the stress of traffic.

With only weeks left till the race and not much time to get well, alone squeeze in that long run, I decided to call the med unit and discuss my illness. I mentioned it had been weeks of the same symptoms and so she suggested I try antibiotics. I stopped by my local pharmacy and picked up some to get me on my way to feeling better before she was able to deliver the stronger dose. Thus, in a couple days I was on the Z-pack, a 5 day “knock it dead” antibiotic that I never once needed while suffering through the seasonal changes stateside.

After two days of the Z-pack I felt a lot better and thus planned for the long run to Kpalime. I headed out the following morning at the crack of dawn and strapped on a fanny pack loaded with gels and a small bottle of water, as well as money for the return trip. “All I have to do is keep going, till I hit Kpalime,” I thought. Then I would know that I was capable of finishing the marathon. That was a long morning and at times I considered the thought of hailing a taxi, cutting the route short but I continued on pace. I made it to Kpime about 10k from Kpalime when the need for a nice cold glass of water became too much to handle and I had to stop to seek refuge in the next best thing, “pure wata”(water in a bag). I thought for sure there was water at the local “watering hole” but to no avail, I was fooled. How crazy since this town sits at the base of a waterfall. I pleaded for well water, anything, then finally, as easy as it seemed, the guy behind the counter pulled a bottle of water from the fridge and poured me a glass. Here in Africa, even the simplest demands become so difficult to acquire.

Shortly after the pit stop I saw a Peace Corps vehicle fly past. Hoping it was not my medical officer who delivered the Z-pack to me days earlier I was reluctant to see it was my director. After asking what I was doing 22k from my village, I explained and he remembered my mention of the marathon. He gave his admiration for my “courage and strength” and mentioned he would try to stop by my village on his return to Lome. I felt great having the recognition of my run, visual proof that I actually did it when I try explaining it to others.

Needless to say, I finally made it into Kpalime, and kept on going until I made it to the Texaco station where cars leave to head back north. I had passed many a thought to hail a cab on the outskirts of town and thought at the first sight of the name of the village I would have permission to stop. As is running here, I have to convince myself so much more that it's enjoyable when at times it is truly intolerable. I enjoyed the reaction of all the taxi drivers that normally take me to and from town. They didn't believe me when I mentioned I had come all the way from Adeta, 30k away. “Quoi? C'est Vrai Adjovi?!” “Tu est fou!” Yes, I am a bit crazy because in their minds anyone who decided to run 30k must have either been running from something or had no other choice into town but to make the trip by foot. I verified my story by showing them my mud splattered legs as sweat ran from every pore. I then squeezed myself in between the driver and the 3 others jammed in the front seat, apologizing for my inappropriate attire and sweaty appearance.

Fast forward to race day. My friends and I made the journey the day before in order to have time to pick up our race numbers and receive information on the start of the course.
To be continued........................

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Saturday, October 18, 2008

running a marathon on the equator

So when I said I was going to run a marathon in each of the seven continents I was crazy. And when I thought since I was here in Africa already I could go ahead and get it over with by running the Accra Marathon this past September I was even crazier. Then came the race....and man..that was the craziest thing ever...don't worry. I am writing a full dissertation on the experience. Hold on to your seat.

However... I did place as the 10th female in the full marathon and won a cash prize! ...that's'd have to pay me to run that!

Friday, September 19, 2008


togo est bon

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

when it rains...make chocolate

So I may have mentioned to some of you my experiences in transforming the cacao grain I collect with my farm cooperative here in Togo. One day I decided that since they only sell the raw product that it would be great to try to transform the grain into real chocolate for a taste test of what they are currently producing. Basically, I decided to put myself in charge of "quality control." I mean why not experiment with a raw product, and if all goes well with what little equipment I have, I may even be able to teach others how to transform it into a marketable local delicacy.

The farmers I work with compose to form a cooperative of farmers from the plateau region of Togo. Together, they have the capacity to fulfill export demands by combining and stocking the grain that is harvested from all the members farms. They pack the fermented and dried cacao beans into burlap sacs which are weighed and then loaded into a truck to ship down to the port in Lome. The grain is sold based on weight. There are different grades given to the raw bean and most is determined by size and weight. A grain that is properly fermented and dried will give a solid weight based on moisture content. The farmers know how to sort out the good beans from the bad, although in the end, since they do not transform the bean into edible chocolate, thay have no context to determine the quality of the taste. Thus, that is where I come in. I have been know to have fine sensabilities in distinguishing the taste of fine chocolate. (or at least I love trying)

and so it goes...on y va!... It takes 3-5 years for a Cacao tree to produce the pods that carry the chocolate bean. White flowers sprout from the trunk and then turn into tiny pods that grow in size of up to 35cm long. (about the size of a small Nerf football) These pods start out as a pale green then turn to a golden yellow as well as shades of orange and red once they are ready to be harvested. The pods are harvested by knocking them down with a large sickle.

After enough pods are collected to fill a basin, they are taken to a spot where they are opened to remove the grain (the chocolate bean itself). In each pod you can find as many as 30-40 beans, all covered in a white pulp (which tasted much like lychees). After all the grain is removed from the pods, the empty pods are tossed aside and the beans are taken to a spot to be fermented and dried.Nothing is wasted: the split open pods are turned into compost to help the trees grow or are burned and the ash is used to make a kind of soap which is cheap and works really well.

The beans are then wrapped in banana leaves and left to ferment in the shade. Inside the leaf package, heat is trapped. The heat makes the pulp ferment, which means that bacteria and yeasts in the pulp multiply. This releases chemicals that give the cocoa beans their chocolatey flavor and color.

After a week of fermenting in banana leaves, the beans are spread out onto long bamboo tables and dried in the sun for up to 10 days. As the beans dry they shrink in size as they lose a lot of the water inside them. A good bean will still have some moisture content. You can break a bean in half to notice if it was well fermented. If a bean has a pale purple-redish tone on the inside then it has not been properly treated. Good beans have a nice dark brown-purple color inside.

In the first sttep of making chocolate, the cocoa beans go through a process of roasting and something called ‘winnowing’ to get rid of their shells. I laid the beans out in a single layer on a skillet over a low-med flame and continued to toss them until they started to pop and crackle. I tried not to burn the bean, only to heat it enough to be able to remove the hull (reddish brown shell) Another time I tried to cook them in my dutch oven to slowly heat them until they popped thier shells.

After roasting I rubbed the beans to remove the hulls and prepare them for grinding. There is also a fine film that is easily removed by shaking, or blowing the beans with a hot air dryer. This is called winnowing. What is then left is the cocoa nib.

I then took the cocoa nibs and grinded them with my small coffee grinder. The grinding tends to release the moisture in the beans, turning them into a paste. I had done this one time before and all I got was a gritty powder which indicated that the beans may not have been well fermented, with a lack of moisture content. After grinding to for a paste I heated it in a pan while adding a touch of water. I then returned it to the grinder to continue to minimize the grittiness. I repeated this step several times. Finally, I poured the mixture back into the pot to fondu and continued to add powdered milk, fine confectioners sugar,cocoa butter and a touch of vanilla while stirring over low heat. I added these things to taste, since I am only a novice, not quite a chocolate alchemist. Well, not yet.

I then seperated the mixture into a couple different bowls to create some "melanges" In one bowl I added peanut butter (made from scratch by the local marche mamas), in another, curry powder topped with roasted flaked coconut, and in the last, a touch of cayenne "piedmont" powder that is used locally to spice up almost any dish. (I once made a spicy rendition of snickerdoodles with it) I left one bowl to represent the natural "unaltered" taste. I then rolled them into truffle like balls to rest and harden.

ehh voila! enyo ento!...c'est bon!

Though the real process of transforming cacao beans into fine chocolate requires an amount of technical machinery unavailable to me here in Togo, in the end I was able to capture the taste of bitter dark chocolate..made from scratch and harvested by hand. It may not be as smooth and creamy with a nice waxy snap, but it works for me...esp since I made it. I am hoping to see if there will be a market for it in my village, if so, my groupment could start to sell some of the beans to women who will transform it for local sale. I brought the final product to the members at the office and it was a hit. They keep asking for more. So there's hope that there may be a market for it here in Togo. Although, what I need to concentrate more on is getting their office records better organized, potentially computerizing their bureau, and hoping that one day they will be able to become Fair Trade certified in coffee and cocoa. That idea has been difficult to propose (although, they are wanting to register) since it is a hard, lengthy process and difficult to finance in order to have the certifier come and verify. I hope I can get them on their way.

coming soon...Robusta Coffee..from berry to cup...

Monday, September 8, 2008

Chicago Represents

sOrry SO wORd on tHings in tOgO

...allo yovo!

Well I know, so long and no word from the girl in Africa you all know so well. I promise to keep better attention focused on updating this from time to time but with lack of connectivity well, let's say...this is all you get.

HUmm..where to start...
let's see,
* In 20 days I will be posed at the start of the Accra Marathon in an attempt to run 26.2 miles in the African heat, while hoping someone will toss me a water bag before I dehydrate.

*In two months I will be going to my first African tradeshow/artisinal exposition in Ougadougou, Burkina Faso where the woman who I have been helping expand her batiking business will be debuting her new line. Check out her products on my other blog.. aklala de Togo We are also hoping to market some of her product to a Whole Foods Representative who will be visiting Togo. We are going to develope other styles using organic cotton and natural plant dyes.

*Currently due to flooding and poor road conditions travel within Togo is hard and my once paved road that passes through my village is turning into a dirt path. There was a bridge that collapsed on the Route Nationale (main road that connects the port of Lome, Togo to the other land-locked countries to the north) and most of the traffic has been redirected through my road. This means all the large and overloaded Titans have caused the road to crumble turning into a mudpit. It's amazing how fast the road has crumbled. This has made travel hard and I am forced to stay at post more often. Which also means lack of access to internet which is in the town 28k south of me.

*I am having a great time in village and feel well loved by all. I have never felt so popular in all my life and at times is extremely exhausting. I walk through town and do my Miss Togo wave, as they all sream my name..."Adjovi...Adjovi" The other day it was "Fatima" as I practiced the art of fasting and the life of a Muslim for one day during this years Ramadan.

*When it rains I stay inside and convert locally harvested chocolate beans into fine dark chocolate'll see... I make my own chocolate and roast my own coffee here through having access to the raw materials. I have been transforming the grains in an attempt to do a feasibility study on taste and quality.

* I finally started my little box garden where I have radishes, carrots, onion, tomato, cucumber, pepper and ...broccoli (not found in all of Togo) With the rain we have been having things are growing in full form.

* I am anticipating another visit from Wil, hopefully in the coming months. We will camp out on my rooftop under the African starry sky since I have constructed a ladder to get on top. It's like my lookout tower now, where I can spy on everyone in village.

*Chances are you might see me in Chicago for Christmas where I may fall victim to the effects of cold weather on a girl who has spent the last year and some in Africa. Right now I have a cold, though I think it is more due to the mildew from the humidity and dampness as well as all the dust in the air from traveling down dirt roads, while following semi trucks.

* I would love to hear from you all and let me know about life "stateside", loves, family, friends, jobs, politics (They LOVE Obama here in Togo and probably most all of Africa) You mention the US election and all they want to talk about is Obama.

I miss you all!!! Let me know the know I'm at a disconnect here and am missin' NPR bigtime..let alone contact with all of you.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

all is not lost

I am soo sorry for those of you who hope for continual entertainment through my blog. I am trying to get a couple good postings together but have been so busy in village and abound.

For some updates:

Health-doing well and have been managing the heat. It is now rainy season so the bug are biting and I probably have about 20 new bites daily. Self restrain to not scratch is futile.

Happiness- Coming back from visiting Wil in Mauritania I had a new found appreciation for life in village. I was well recieved by my friends in village. I think they thought I left for good. Now that they know I haven't, they want to know where thier presents are that I forgot to bring them back from my trip. Geeeezzz... Only thing missing...Wil. I have plans to try to have him relocated to Togo to live with me. We will see.

Love- Still difficult without family and friends(hometown) near by but doing well lovin myself. Wil and I are stronger than ever and who knows.. Will keep you posted of future status change.

Voyages- Had a great time visiting Wil in Mauritania. From camel sandwiches to hot car rides through the barren wasteland. Everything is so much more fun when we're together. I will post a blip on my comparisions to life here and there.

Food-IT's MANGO here there everywhere there's a mango! I have a new found appreciation for all things birthed in nature, including fruits and vegetables. I crave pineapple, apples(though imported here), mango, grapefruit on a daily basis and all i have to do to tame the crave is walk a few feet and drop a coin for a whole pile. I am going to have a hard time returning to bying produce in the states. It's so cheap here..and plentiful...mmmm. I also can't stop eating these damn yummy peanuts. I plan on buying a bowl at marche, blanching them and sand roasting myself. I feel that if I do I will eat them all and potentially I but the little sacs on the streets to control my obsessive noshing. If you only knew the difference, I will never be able to eat a planters peanut just doesn't compare. I am also planning on creating a food journal of all the oddities and locally eaten goodies here...

Work- everything is going great in village and I have a lot of things to do. I am going to be a camp counselor for a girls apprentice camp in JUne. I am working with a batiker developing products for local market and beyond. Had a meeting with USAID that went well, to see how to develop artists locally by participating in local and international trade shows. (I knew my previous employment would come in handy at some point) Making chocolate at home from the cacao beans from my counterparts stocks. (and tools, ie small food processor, molds,books on making chocolate, soy lechitin, cocoa butter etc..can be sent at any whim) Working with women's groups in village to build improved cookstoves (that use less wood or charcoal) Ohh this is a whole post in itself..soon..I promise.

Well in a wrap..more to come..stay tuned...sorry my satellite has been down and all you get is static. "The Yovo Show" staring Adjovi (Megan) to be continued...

Sunday, February 24, 2008

piedmont doodles n passin time


Feb 14th 2008

So last night we celebrated the anniversary of George. George was a lapin (rabbit) who made his way up from Lome with a couple members of Aglame's ONG (NGO). George was unable to express his gratitude for the celebration because his birthday was also the death of him. You see, George the lapin was a product of their new project of elevage (animal husbandry). Rabbits here are rare but the meat tender, so in search of an income generating activity they have turned to raising little George cotton tails. I have to I sat there amongst them and stared at the little piment covered chunks of meat laying on a bed of a brown cement paper bag..I was interested in a taste. So they poured the glasses of 2buck table wine as we sat in front of the buvette chanting “joyeaux anniversaire” to George. Then we nibbled on him. Tender indeed and quite yummy as the last time I had rabbit was when I studied abroad in Italy 2002. By the taste of it, I think they have the beginnings of a great business if they are able to charge top CFA for them.

Earlier that day I had all intentions to go into the office but got a little distracted. My homologue called me to say that they were in the middle of organizing the “cahier de caisse.” The last time we went through that I remember sitting there for about 4 hours as we taught the importance of recording transactions in a log for each groupment. Two hours went to just explaining what info was to be placed in each of the columns...leaving about an hour for one person amongst them to finally figure out that “objet de transaction” was not a calculation or date but what in fact they bought or sold. Next time I think we should start with basic vocab. En route to the office I decided to take the long way and visit my “good friend” the menusier (carpenter) just to see if in fact he had finished my pantry cupboard. Ohh “pas-encore” I critiqued what was yet to be finished and told him to bring it to my house by tomorrow afternoon at the latest. There is a long story that goes along with my relationship with him, full of disappointment, delay and disgust. I have already used the terms “merde” and “fache” in my conversations with him.

Leaving chez lui I popped in to see what was going on in the mini cafe. Dieu-Donne(“God-Given” the names here) was watching a fuzzy tele that flashed in and out of what seemed to be a test of the National Weather Alert System. I soon realized that what they were watching in broken fuzzy translated French was “Red Dragon.” I proceeded to try to discuss the film in which a disturbed man turns to cannibalism. The conversation quickly turned to the fact that in the US our televisions are not crappy like the ones here, because in Togo “nous suffrons.” I threw in the whole debate on suffering over television quality and reminded him that he ate well today and there are not those in my village at least who are starving. But Dieu Donne will continue to ask God for a new television as if that was his only wish.

I then made my way over to my budding Starbucks cafe. Issac was sitting in there chattin it up with the gens. I took a look around his boutique and noticed empty boxes...dust and a few products on the shelf. What's going on? Ohh waiting for the money to roll in before he does something about restocking the shelves, he mentions. I explain to him that now would be a good time to clean up and make it “proper” for when he does in fact find money to re-stock. Ohh...but I'm lazy, he explains. So I begin to do what I think is needed here. I take action into my own hands and begin to move empty boxes and reorganize. I think what they need is just a bit of a push from a little yovo to get things up and running. Little before we know...brooms are flying, dust fills the air and Issac, his employees and I are all in the middle of a clean sweep. A couple young boys (lazy teenagers of which my village has more than I would like) pop in to seek amusement in watching me help them. I turn to them and say that it's not a television show and if you want to stand there and watch you better help out. I must have made my point because soon they were moving boxes and taking action. That lasted all of 5 minutes as they headed back out to the streets to sit with all the other moto drivers. In due time we had wiped all of the shelves, reorganized the remaining inventory, caught a mouse, learned a bit of spiritual healing with melted rosin that warns off bad spirits (not Voodoo..but Muslim spiritual rituals), and created a bit of enthusiasm for a new beginning. I decided to return home after Issac thanked me for my time with a great big “Ak bey ka ka.”

Upon my return home all dusty and dingy I discovered the water was cut so I proceeded to make a little income generating product for Issac. I turned to baking as I love so much here and adapted a time old traditional recipe of Snicker doodles to Togolese taste....instead of hard to find cinnamon to mis with the sugar..I replaced it with cayenne powder for a spicy substitution.

Try it sometime...”Pimentdoodles”...mmmmmmm

Feb 17th 2008

So the weekend has passed again and in a wink I am approaching the new week. I biked to Kpalime to spend the V-day love with the other volunteers in my region. I love the bike down to Kpalime. I am stressing the down....with ups ..but more downs. I don't mean emotional downs..more of's a nice ride lets say. I say that even more so because it's Sunday morning and I am sitting here, sweat dripping down my leg with a huge bruise on my knee that marks the results of my return. It's hot here..currently 101 degrees at about 3 in the afternoon. I left Kpalime this morning around 9 to make the 28K journey back home. Due to the seasonal winds, and of course lay of the land I had to bike uphill with a strong head-wind. Upon my return, I then cleaned the house a bit and decided to wash up...till I noticed the water cut. So dirty me decides to take a nap instead. I was never one for naps but with the heat, bordem and at times the sheer lack of nothing better to do you tend to cut up your day with a nap. Plus, everyone else is on “repo” too.

The weekend was great fun. It's nice to get out once and a while to be around other volunteers and hide out together. What is funny is that even together, we don't talk much. It's good to have the company of others just to have a sense of home but we don't entertain one another all the time. Which is a good thing because we would probably drive one another nuts with our problems. It's also a time for dinner parties and we all love to eat here in Togo. It's usually no fun cooking for yourself so making a nice meal to be shared is a welcome pastime here. We went on a whole Mexican theme making flour tortillas, beans and salsa and sides for burritos, as well as cheese dip and fried tortilla corn chips. To top it off we also had a chocolate cake, my little strawberry heart cookies and some good ole American box brownie mix. Not bad eh? Everytime we get into the whole cooking thing it always comes out great, maybe it's the though of eating something other than rice and beans, or pate and fufu? In any case it's always one of the best meals in country.

Now I'm back at home bored out of my mind. Bored of myself and wondering what I'm going to do with my week. I think tomorrow I'll go to the office in the morning, then hang out with the marche mamas in the afternoon. I love my marche days. In those I learn so much and feel that it is my time to do a little cultural exchange. That and there is something going on in village where everyone is occupied and busy doing something. That means they don't bother or annoy me as much because they aren't sitting around needing the “Yovo Show.”

My new loves....

*Almonds, raw (my love for them is unmeasurable when all you get are peanuts here)
*Dried fruits esp: apples, apricots, prunes and figs ....teachin them fruit dryin..
Cayenne Pepper and *Wasabi
Hummus and Veggies
Grapefruit and Apples
*Dark Chocolate..the darker the better and with almonds even better...Green Tea, White Tea (expensive here)
*Cereal...I would kill 4 some mini wheats...lucky charms...any of the 100 varieties America stocksTogo Meringues
Beans and Tofo...the possibilities are endless (mmm lettuce wraps)
*Got Latte?...not in Togo(International Delights Powder?...ohh please)

*Feel free to send me more rations of the ones with the asterick, as those are unavailable here..hint hint

Monday, February 11, 2008

Fun with Food in Togo

Here are some of my favorite dishes.

Fulani Cheese "Wagash" and Tamarind Chews

Ohh My Meringues

My Mom's Best in Togo

Pom and Peanuts

Homemade Bagels in my Bitty Dutch Oven

Friday, February 8, 2008

will I be the same?

Time has gone by so fast already and since I am not in month 9 of bring in Togo I can see how quickly it will be until I see you all in a year plus....well after Wil and I decide to wake up from our COS trip (Close of Service) we may be eternal vagabonds...I think of how funny it will be...and who I will be

will I eat with my hands..not question the age of foods that may have spoiled and eat them the time I noticed that on the third bite of bread there was an ant colony living in it...didn't phase me..protein?....ration a bag of goodies like it was the only one in the world and the CVS wasn't across the street...go out in the backyard forging for Tamarind pods and funny looking beans to my great suprise finding that the bush in the front has produced pomogranate fruits and I have a citron tree as well as cherry tomatoes and mini peppers.....discovering new street treats....raising my brows in interest when a girl in village tells me that it's possible to make cheese from plantains??? it possible?

missing the little goats that cross my path and dodging the poo pellets...doing the runway walk when leaving the house through my village where everyone now knows my name as they scream it out..."Adjovi...Adjovi" and I throw a complimentary wave or "bonjour, bonsoir"...while the theme song to "Cheers" plays in my head.....knowing what it is to be famous....or are they just taunting me.....waking up to the sounds of rooster crows and muslim prayer calls at 3am-4am-5am-6am-and all other times of the day..or what sounds like pig calls coming from the woman selling bread door to door.....this is Togo.... off beans and rice and using one of now 15 different ways to flavor black eyed peas (think lettuce wraps with cumin flavored-cayenne beans, onions, veg) but knowing that the will never be as good as the ones here that sit in the kettle all day and get mushy so I will start to cook beans in a crock pot to mimic the ones I get from the bean lady that gives you a full cent franc worth....spending the better part of my morning peeling apart a grapefruit section by section and eating the meat while enjoying the crisp tart taste (slow down and try it sometime)..amazed at how much hot pepper I put on my foods...I love me some cayenne!!!...when I never could handle it in the states...having time to play in the kitchen..

..sealing everything I own in ziploc bags....garbage bonfires....using toilet paper one square at a time...sometimes waiting to use the toilet three times before I flush...finding a use for every bit of garbage so I don't have to burn it...recycling...spending all day at the marche wondering around and doing "stall (window) shopping"...asking questions..learning....hangin out with the marche mamas...and sharing my time with them... be continued....ohh but there is so much more....