Saturday, March 20, 2010

Well, the elections are over and I am out of "lock-down." Thankfully there were no major problems. GNASSINGBE Faure was reelected and will serve for five more years. Now let me catch you up on how I spent me time in "lock-down."

There was a week long voodoo festival in my village, more specifically my house, and I got to see a lot of interesting stuff. There were about 100 plus people in attendance and the festivities went nonstop, 24/7, for a week. That means I had about 10 drummers pounding away on their instruments right outside my window all hours of the day and night. There was a lot of dancing and chanting and periodically throughout the week people would get possessed by spirits. They would start speaking in tongues and thrashing all over the place. This would continue sometimes for hours. When a person was possessed they had to be covered in white powder and wear special clothing. There was LARGE amounts of Sodabi consumed and they also regularly ate cola nuts which are loaded with caffeine to help them fight off the effects of sleep deprivation and drunkenness. They also did a couple mass animal sacrifices, at which time I hid in my house trying to block out the sound of 10 screaming goats.

Sadly one of my chickens was stolen during the week and although I can't confirm it, I am pretty sure she got offered up as a sacrifice. Poor Lola. That puts me down to 5 chickens, Sam, Sarah, Zena, Hercules, and Tarzan. Whenever I walk to my shower I get harassed by Samantha in her never-ending quest for food. I have gotten used to this by now but it appears Sam has developed a new tactic to get food from me. Here is how it happened: after getting into the shower and shutting the door in Sam's face I got lathered up and was in the process of shaving my armpits when all of a sudden I hear wings flapping. Horrified, I looked up to see Samantha's massive form flying at me over the shower wall. She then landed in the shower and started trying to peak me. Since I was stuck in there with her, I had to hurriedly rinse off while holding her at bay with my shower squeegee. I only managed to get one armpit shaved and I still have no idea how Samantha managed to get all of her weight over my shower wall, she must have really wanted some corn.

My village Mom, Adjowa, told me a story about when she was a teenager living in Lome spending her days walking around the market and beach area selling things. One day when she was down by the ocean she saw Mama Water. When I asked her who Mama Water is she explained that Mama Water is a spirit that lives in the ocean and she is half fish, half human, and very beautiful. She said she saw Mama Water hanging out near the shore and she was smiling and laughing at everybody. One man on shore tried to take a picture of her but the camera wouldn't take it because Mama Water is a spirit and you can't take pictures of spirits. I wanted to clarify that I was understanding correctly so I got one of the children's book I have "The Little Mermaid". When I gave Adjowa the book and asked her if Mama Water was similar to Ariel, she started freaking out and yelling "That's her! That's Mama Water. I saw her with my own eyes." I was completely baffled by this conversation but instead of trying to fight it I have decided to take Adjowa's word for it. Apparently The Little Mermaid lives in the Gulf of Guinea, just off the coast of Togo. Adjowa also informed me that when she got home that night and told her mom she had seen Mama Water, her mom said it was a bad omen to see spirits and Mama Water was going to come in the night and kill her. Adjowa didn't sleep a wink that night. She also recalls needing to go to the bathroom really bad during the night but she was forced to hold it because she was afraid to get out of bed. So Ariel is a killer as well, Disney needs to get their facts straightened out.

With the help of Kelsey Nameck and her Girl Scout troop I was able to do an art project with one of the classes at the elementary school. Kelsey and her troop did a project where they decorated masks cut out of paper and attached to Popsicle sticks. She then sent me all of the materials, including pipe cleaners, feathers, and sequence, to do the same project with the kids in my village. First let me say that students here rarely get an opportunity to be creative, so when I first explained the project to them and showed them the photos of Kelsey and her troop with their masks, the kids just kind of all looked at each not sure what to do. Once I finally got them to just have fun with it they couldn't be stopped. Some of them even wanted to turn their own faces into the mask. I have to admit I was tempted to let them do it, but I was a little worried the glue dots I was using might not come off that easily. Overall, we had a lot of fun and the kids got an opportunity to be creative.

As far as work goes, I am in the process of doing a hand washing campaign with my village and I am teaching a couple of women how to make liquid soap and bars of soap to sell in the market. We are also about to plant a Moringa orchard. Moringa leaves are super rich in vitamins and can be eaten fresh or transformed into powder to add to sauces. It is an easy and inexpensive way to get children their necessary vitamins. Now I just need to pray for rain.

That's about all for now. My paper chain to count down the days until I come home is getting shorter and shorter. 5 months to go!!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

I hope you all had a great Christmas and New Years. December was a busy month for me. After the soccer tournament was over I was looking forward to some relaxation time and enjoying the holidays. Unfortunately, a foot wound I got while distributing free condoms at one of the soccer games ( I was trampled by a mob) became infected and I had to spend 10 days in the Peace Corps hospital. The nurse took a culture of the wound and discovered I had a staph infection, not MRSA but still resistant to the three antibiotics I was currently on. The PC nurse switched me to a more effective antibiotic and I am now in good health. For 10 days I had delicious meals, hot showers, and air-conditioning, but I have to admit the pain of the staph infection was not worth it. I would have much rather been eating pate and sweating bullets in Koudassi without a staph infection. Now I constantly have my mothers voice in my head saying 'wear closed-toed shoes whenever you leave the house.' I am trying to do a better job of listening to her advice but it is just so hot and my feet feel trapped in my running shoes.

New Years is the biggest holiday in my village ane we had a lot of fun celebrating this year. We brought in the New Year with lots of food to eat (mainly rice and macaroni with a red sauce and chicken), fireworks, sodabi drinking, dancing, and carnival events (well, Togo's version of carnival events). For one of the events you had to kick a soccer ball through the middle of an old car tire. I was the only female in village to score, I won a warm Fanta! Two observations I would like to make about the New Year festivities is that children should not drink alcohol and whistles should be illegal. Here it is normal for young children to take a shot or more of sodabi before they eat and I actually saw a drunk 2-year old. I tried to explain to them the dangers of alcohol, especially for small children, but they stuck to their claim that sodabi gives them 'the force.' Also I am pretty sure every single kid in Koudassi bought a whistle for the festivities and they all insisted on blowing on them all day long, right outside my house. I actually stole a couple of whistles from some of the kids who were being particularly annoying and I still haven't given them back, nor do I have any intention of returning them.

Last Sunday a Catholic Priest from one of the larger towns in my region came to Koudassi to hold a church service. He brought 2 alter boys with him who were about 12 years old. Their job was to set everything up and prepare the euchirist and wine for the service. As the token white person in the village I had the very front and center seat and could therefore see everything they were doing. Well, as they were preparing the euchirist they didn't think anyone was watching and they kept taking handfulls of the little peices of bread and stuffing them in their pockets. Then, throughout the entire service I watched them munch on the stash they had collected. After the service there was an auction to raise money for the church. I bought 4 yams, 2 pineapple, and a bunch of bananas for about twice the price I would have paid in the market, but it was worth it and I had a lot of fun. The funny thing is, whenever I bid on an item everyone else automatical gave up. I think they realized that no matter how hard they tried, I would always be able to top them.

I don't know if I have mentioned this before, but my village is very big into practicing Animism. The man who owns my house is the leader of the whole movement for my village and surrouding villages which means he is constantly performing ceremonies and rituals right outside my front door. A couple of months ago he built an entire house strictly dedicated to conducting ceremonies and worshiping their idols. There is a life size sculpture of their main idol protecting the house. He carries a coffin on his head that has an evil spirit trapped inside of it and he wears a belt that has about 20 knifes in it. Inside the house are three smaller idols, one each for health, work, and marriage. Each morning people come to pray to these idols and wash themselves with special water. They are also constantly doing animal sacrafices (chickens, goats, or cats) to the idols and the spirits they represent. The practice of Animisn is very interesting to observe, but it has also caused me a lot of problems as far as work and health education goes. It is difficult to influence behavior change when people believe that evil spirits are the cause of their childs illness when really they are sick with malaria or ill from drinking contaminated water. They are also very reluctant to trust Western medicine and therefore rely on natural herbs and offering sacrafices to the spirits of health when they are sick or injured.

Some sad news about my chickens, one of Sarah's chicks was eatten by a hawk and four more of her chicks were eatten by this huge black rat that stocks my house by night. She now only has one chick left thet she is gaurding with her life. Samantha's four children are now old enough to be on their own and she has started giving eggs again (yuuummm). So I lost a lot of my chickens in the past week, but I did find my cat. I thought Mawuna had run away or died in the bush but it turns out he was catnapped by someone who lives on the other side of the village. One of my neighbors found him and returned him to me. He was really skinny and skittish at first, but I have fattened him up and he is happy to be home.

The presidential elections will begin mid-february and continue until mid-march. During that time all volunteers will be on standfast which means we can't leave our villages. This is to make it easy for Peace Corps to locate us in case we need to be evacuated. During this time I will not have access to the internet or my mail so it may be a while before you hear from me again. If you want to check up on me you can always call me but I should mention that we have been warned there is a possibilities the phone service providers could be shut down around election time. If that should happen just know that I am perfectly safe in my little village and also very close to the Ghana border. Anyways, I have a lot of pictures to load to go along with this blog but I do not have the time to do it right now. I promise I will get them posted in March. I miss you all lots and I am very excited that it is only about 7 months now until I will be home :) Let the countdown begin!!!!

Monday, December 7, 2009

World AIDS Day Soccer Tournament!!!!

As many of you know already I organized a soccer tournament with my village and a village 7 kilometers from Koudassi to celebrate World AIDS Day. The tournament was held this past weekend and I am happy to announce that it was a great success with only a few minor glitches.

The tournament started on Saturday in the village of Ati-Atovou. The chief in Ati-Atovou is actually one of the coaches for Togo's national soccer team Les Eperviers (the sparrow hawks), so he was kind enough to loan us his van to transport people between the two villages. Saturday the van arrived in Koudassi and took the girls soccer team, my counterparts, and some spectators to the village of Ati-Atovou. We started out by marching through the village with a megaphone to encourage people to come and watch the match. Once the crowd had gathered at the field we gave a talk about AIDS and distributed condoms to those who are old enough to be using them. Then the match began. The girls had a lot of fun playing and everyone in the crowd was very supportive. I felt kind of like a soccer Mom, cheering them on and making sure everyone was drinking water. Unfortunately the Koudassi girls lost to Ati-Atovou 0-1, but it was still a great opportunity for them. Sunday the tournament continued in Koudassi with the boys team. We basically did the same exact routine as the previous day and, hooray, the Koudassi boys won!!! Everyone was very excited and dancing and singing all over the field when the match was over. So now I am in Lome writing up my final report to submit to Washington D.C.. Thank you to all who donated to the project, I truly appreciate your support in making this a successful project.

Otherwise than that nothing too exciting has happened lately in village. Both of my chickens hatched chicks, so I now have several little mouths to feed. I made the mistake of trying to pick one of them up (they are just so adorable) and got attacked by a very angry Samantha. She pecked me so hard it drew blood. I am now afraid of her and have to carry a stick with me whenever I go to the bathroom in case she tries to attack me while walking across my yard. My cat, who was really starting to grow on me, is missing. I haven't seen him for a week and I think he either was eaten or has become a wild bush cat.

Christmas and New Years are coming up which means big village fetes so I am sure I will have many interesting stories to share in about a month. I hope you all are enjoying the snow and Christmas spirit. Until next time, Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

It is already the end of October and I have no idea where the time has gone. The hot season is making its way towards Togo and as I sit melting in my house in Koudassi I invision the first snow falling back home. I realize it will be a couple more weeks before the snow actually starts but it still makes me happy just thinking about it. Work has been pretty slow since I got back from Egypt but things are about to pick up. School just started which means getting back into the weekly routine of after-school clubs and health sessions. Also I just submitted a project proposal for a soccer tournament between two villages in the Ave region for World AIDS day on December 1st. If everything goes as planned with that it should be a blast. Progress with the health center continues to be slightly discouraging. Hopefully I will have some good news to share with you all by the end of this month, but that is banking on people showing up to meetings and finally being decisive. We will just have to wait and see.

A couple of weeks ago I posted some pictures of my neighbor Napo and the snake that he killed at farm. The story behind this picture is that he killed this snake at farm and then brought it home to prepare and eat. Everybody freaked out that he was eating a snake, they get really superstitious about that kind of stuff. Having never tasted snake before, I was curious and decided to eat some for myself. It is actually really good, in my opinion it is way better than goat meat. The next day everyone in my neighborhood went to farm and I was completely by myself. I took advantage of the peace and hung up my hammock on the porch and settled into reading a good book. After about an hour I suddenly got this feeling that I was being watched and looked over my shoulder to find a green mamba staring straight at me about a foot away. I couldn't get out of the hammock without being in striking distance of the mamba so instead I just sat there frozen staring straight back. After about 5 minutes of this he apparently decided I was too large a prey to eat and he exited my porch. When my neighbors came home from farm and I told them the story, they said the snake was sent to warn me and that I should never eat snake again. Also, just to be cautious, they made me take another shot of sodabi from the bottle containing 14 snakes to reinforce my protection.

I got a new kitten to keep me company and scare away the mice. His name is Mawuna (meaning gift from God) and he is pretty entertaining. I have lost track of how many times he has climbed to the top of the tree in front of my house only to get stuck and then desperately cry for help. I then have to send one of the kids up the tree to retreive him. Ten minutes will pass and the whole precess will repeat itself. I also should update you on my chickens. Of the four, only two remain. Zed was eaten when my friends came to visit and Rawanda got sick (hopefully not bird flu) and died. Sarah continues to be the only chicken who will provide eggs. She faithfully gives one a day but the only problem is it is always in a different place (it is kind of like an Easter egg hunt everyday). Samantha has managed to grow to twice the size of a normal Togolese chicken. She has accomplished this because she is a bully, towards me and the other chickens. When it comes time for feeding, do not get in her way because she will employ an means necessary to get as much food as she can. I also have a laugh attck everytime I see her run. Not only does she still have a slightly gimp leg, but she is also so fat. I plan on taking a video of her running to get her morning breakfast, it will be sure to make you laugh.

Well, that is all I have for now. I hope everyone back home is happy and healthy. I have started counting down the months to my return: only 10 months to go! Until next time, I love you all lots! Whit

Friday, September 4, 2009

A little bit of history for you . . .

The other night I had dinner with one of my counterparts and he asked me if I knew the story of how the Ewe people came to Togo. They story he precceded to tell me was very interesting so I thought I might share it with you.

The Ewe first came to Togo from Nigeria. They crossed through Benin and into Togo and settled in a town called Notse. The king at the time was a very cruel man and kept a tight hold on the people. To make sure no one could escape from his kingdom he forced the people to build a clay wall surrounding the entire area. The men who were instructed to build the wall were not allowed to use water to mix the clay. Instead the king put broken glass bottles in the dirt and made them walk over the dirt with their barefeet, thus making clay with their blood. There was only one entrace in the massive wall and that was gaurded at all times. The people, tired of the kings cruel regime, devised a plan to escape. All the women of the village were instructed to discard their water at the same spot along the clay wall. Overtime the water broke down the clay and created an exit. One night the men of the village decided to throw a party in honor of the king. During the festivities the women and children were instructed to escape out the exit. After the king went to sleep the men followed they women and exited through the whole in the wall. As they walked away they threw corn and rice on the road behind them to attract the birds. The mass amounts of birds eating the grains erased the villagers footprints in the sand and made it impossible for them to be followed. After that the people dispersed all along the Southern portion of Togo and Ghana.

So, thats a little bit of history for you. That same night I also found out that when a village Chief dies the nobles take the head of one of the men villagers and have to bury it before the bury the Chief. But don't worry my counterpart assured me that they no longer practice this in Koudassi. Although it does still happen in some of the smaller villages.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Here is the story of my great adventure with my three friends, Hanna, Kelsey, and Jana, in the land of koshery (delicious food), pyramids, creative pick-up lines, and lots of sun (aka Egypt)!

We arrived in Egypt the morning of the 8th and were picked up at the airport by our travel guide Sameh (Sam for short). Straight from the airport he took us to Giza where each of us rented a camel and prepared for a two-hour tour of the three largest pyramids (there are nine total), the cemetery where the slaves who built the pyramids are buried, and the sphinx, the guardian of the pyramids. My camels name was Moses and he had a saddle mounted to his humps. Since he was so tall, he had to lay down so I could climb onto his back and when he stood up, I was literally about 6 feet off the ground. Camels are not the fastest creatures in the world but they are definitely the best mode of transportation when touring the pyramids, which after seeing in person I understand why they are one of the seven wonders of the world.

After saying goodbye to Moses, Sam took us to a private villa on the Mediterranean. We drove for three hours with nothing to look at except for flat desert and then just like that we were driving along the coast line, watching the turquoise waves crash down onto the white sand beaches. I thought I was in heaven, it was by far the most beautiful beach I had ever been to. We spent the next day and a half here, playing in the waves, swimming in the pool, and soaking up the sun. We also took a little trip into the city of Alexandria where we saw a citadel and the Alexandria library. The library was amazing, it was several stories tall and had rows and rows of books in all different languages.

Our next stop was Dahab, a small town on the Red Sea. It was about a nine hour drive to get there but we drove all through the night so we wouldn't waste any daylight. In Dahab we ate at a restaurant called The Funny Mummy, where instead of chairs and a table we sat on big pillows on the ground, the atmosphere was very relaxed and colorful. Since Dahab is known for it's coral reefs, we decided to rent some snorkels and check out the fish. The Red Sea is very different from the Mediterranean, but it was still beautiful and standing on the shoreline of the beach, I could look across the Red Sea and trace the outline of Saudi Arabia.

At midnight we drove an hour to the base of Mt. Sinai. Mt. Sinai is the mountain Moses climbed when he heard the ten commandments. Also at the base of the mountain is St. Catherines Monastery which is built on the site of the burning bush. We started hiking the mountain at about 2:00 AM so that we could reach the top in time to see the sunrise. The hike consists of a 7 km walk and then 750 winding stone steps. To add to the difficulty of the task, it is absolutely freezing. The achy muscles and numbing cold were all worth it as we sat and watched the sunrise slowly light up the vast rocky landscape of the Sinai area. After thoroughly soaking up the beauty of our surroundings, we headed back down the mountain and started the drive back to Cairo.

Once we got into Cairo Sam took us to a perfume shop where you can buy pure Egyptian perfume. I have never worn perfume before but I thought it might be nice to smell good when I get back to the states, a nice change from my current status. So, I splurged and bought a bottle of lotus flower perfume. Hopefully I don't get tired of the scent because there is probably enough to last the rest of my life. After making our purchases we checked into a hotel and got a good nights sleep. The next day was spent touring the Egyptian museum which houses most of the artifacts and sautes from the pyramids and temples found throughout Egypt. After the museum we visited the largest Mosque in Egypt, the Mohamed Aly Mosque, and then we caught the 10:00 PM train from Cairo to Luxor, a ten hour trip along the Nile.

In Luxor we visited the Karnak Temple, the Luxor Temple, the Citadel of Salal Al-Din, the Valley of the Kings, and the Al-Deir Al-Bahari Temple. All of these sites had something new or different to offer. I am amazed not only by the beauty of all of them but also by the architecture and man power it took to construct such massive and intricate structures. Other highlights of the two day stay in Luxor are eating at McDonalds (yuuumm!), taking a sail boat ride down the Nile, and shopping at the local market where I bought some scarves, jewelry, tunics, and bags for really cheap. That night we got back on the train and returned to Cairo where we had two hours to shower and take a quick nap before setting out on our desert camping adventure, by far my favorite part of the trip.

After driving for three hours into the Oasis, we met our desert guide Loly and switched vehicles to a Land Cruiser. We also had to be accompanied by and armed guard strictly because we are American (I will explain this later on). After the car was packed and everyone was ready to go we headed out into the desert first stopping at the black desert, then the old white desert, and finally the new white desert where we made camp for the night. The desert landscapes were amazing and Loly let us sit on top of the Land Cruiser as we drove, which was very thrilling and the best way to take in all the scenery around us. At night we ate rice, veggies, and chicken, all cooked over an open fire. Tired from the long day we set up our sleeping bags and mats on the sand and laid in awe of the star-filled sky above, counting the shooting stars and wishing the night never had to end. As we drifted off to sleep, a pack of desert fox came sniffing around our camp and sleeping bags, curious but otherwise harmless. Some of them were close enough for me to reach out and touch, but I was too tired to care. The next day we headed back the way we came in, stopping at a natural spring to take a dip and get clean. This was pretty much the end of our trip, we headed back into Cairo and flew home the next morning.

On the 20th I crossed the Ghana border back into Togo and immediately felt a sense of relief mixed with sadness. Relief because I was back in the land of familiar, in a way I was home. Sadness because my summer of fun was over and because after traveling from Egypt and Ghana, two of the most developed countries in Africa, Togo looked lacking and worn down. But I reminded myself that this is why Peace Corps is here and it shouldn't discourage me, but motivate me to try and influence change. When I got to Egypt, I had no idea what to expect and I have to admit I was awed by how developed and thriving the country is, largely due to the tourist industry. Another thing that shocked me was the general attitude towards Americans. Egypt is the first place I have been where Americans are not liked. Add the fact that I am a woman and you can probably imagine how my friends and I were looked at by the locals. Most of the time we pretended to be Canadian, when we were in places that required we show our passport, the Egyptian government required we be escorted by an armed guard. I never felt in danger or thought that these measures were necessary, but I understand the reasoning behind the regulation.

So now I begin my second year of work in Koudassi. I feel more prepared for this year and hope I can accomplish more than I did last year. I also hope that, thanks to the stories my friends and parents will share, all of you back home can begin to understand life here a little better. Having "outsiders" come visit me and my village educated me just as much as it educated them. It is strange how living here day to day for a long period of time desensitizes you to life going on around you. Poverty, hungry children, beatings, etc all start to seem like a normal part of life. But spending time with people who are seeing this for the first time reopened my eyes and reminded me how grateful I should be for my life back in America.

I am so thankful I got to travel to Egypt and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a good adventure. I hope you all enjoyed your summer and are ready for the fall. As always I miss you all lots and I am sending lots of love from Togo. Until next time- Whit

Friday, July 31, 2009

Well I reluctantly dropped my parents off at the airport on the 21st after three weeks of adventure and lots of food. I am sure many of you have heard all the stories by now but here is my account of my parents trip to Togo. . .

I picked my parents up from the airport on July 4th where I found out they narrowly escaped being sent back to the US due to the absence of their shot records. After many hugs and kisses I swept them off to the five-star hotel where we would be staying for the next couple of days. Just kidding, I really took them to My Diana's Hostel, fully equiped with an electric fan, toilet that flushes (sometimes), and a bed with pillows that are as hard as a rock. We spent the next two days touring Lome, manuevering our way through the hectic market (the meat market was especially shocking for my mom, non-refridgerated meat had her cringing), and we visited a "zoo" where we saw snakes, crocs, monkeys, and ostritches.

The morning of the 7th we rented a van from a chauffer who lives in my village and after picking up 130 mosquito nets, we started the 70 km trip to Koudassi. The driver had called ahead to tell the village that we were on our way and when we arrived we were greeted by a mass of women and children dancing and singing a welcome song for my parents. We drove straight to the cheifs house where we were greeted by even more people. After introductions and greetings we were whisked off to my house to unload luggage and get situated. The only problem was I had forgotten my keys in Lome. So, while my neighbors broke into my house for me, my dad, mom and I waited patiently on the porch with about 100 other people veying to get as close to my parents as possible. Eventually we got settled in and people began to disperse. My neighbor Adjowa (aka my Togolese mom) wasted no time in providing my parents with their first Togolese meal, pate and gboma sauce with fish, if their insides were squirming they didn't let it show. After lunch my parents got the full tour of the village and by the end my mom was (and I quote my older sister Sarah on this one) "a melting pad of butter." However she quickly adopted the stove fan, a fan woven out of palm fronds and used to start fires, as her new best friend and biggest ally in combating the African heat.

The next day my villagers had a party for my parents which included lots of food, skits, speeches, dancing, and singing. The highlight of the party was my parents doing the traditional Togolese chicken dance. I hadn't laughed that hard in a year. I highly recommend watching the video I took of them, it is sure to put a smile on your face. To be fair they did pretty good for their first time and this is coming from a chicken dance professional.

The next day, Thursday, was market day in Koudassi and therefore the best time to do vilage talks and distributions. Based on my last mosquito net distribution I was prepared for all out chaos, but to my surprise things went pretty smoothly. I strated out giving a talk about malaria, the importance of using a net, how to hang a net properly, and what to do if one gets malaria. My dad got to help pass out the nets and my mom was the designated photographer. Thank you again Mt. Spokane HS, almost every household in Koudassi is now equiped with a mosquito net! After the distribution we decided to visit the next village over for some local made beer called tchouk. Well, after a 3 mile walk in the Togo heat at 2:00 in the afternoon my mom was really looking forward to an ice cold beer. To her disappointment she discovered that tchouk is niether cold nor (in her opinion) delicious, but the experience of a local "pub" was entertaining enough to make the trip worthwhile.

Friday my parents got a first hand experience of a day in the life of a Togolese farmer. The farm we went to is about a mile into the bush and due to the rainy season, most of the trail and surrounding area is submerged in a couple inches of water. At farm my parents each took a turn cutting firewood with a machette and we waded through the rice field before heading home. My mom got to try carring a load of wood on her head like the locals due, not as easy as it looks. I quickly took over for her and she got to be in charge of carrying Berkantine instead.

Saturday my parents got to experience their first bush taxi ride on our way to Kpalime, a city about an hour away from Koudassi. Since the taxi we were taking already had 6 grown men in it, my parents had to squeeze into the hatchback while I shared the front seat with another guy. In Kpalime we were able to find gifts for people back home, fresh fruit and food for dinner, 2 chickens, and an ice cold beer for my mom. On the way home we decided to name my chickens Sarah and Samantha after my sisters. The story behind this is in the Northern region of Togo it is common to name your chickens Samantha. Well it seemed fitting that if I named one Samantha the other should be called Sarah. When we got the chickens home and untied their feet we discovered that Samantha had a hurt leg and couldn't walk. I was optomistic that with some TLC she would make a full recovery, my mom however began planning the spices she was going to use preparing the chicken for dinner. Well I am happy to announce that Samantha is alive and has made a full recovery. After getting the chickens situated my Dad also helped me plant a garden with cucumbers, carrots, tomatoes, and green beans. So in a month or two, with the eggs from my chickens and vegetables from my garden, I will be eating well.

Sunday my parents and I were invited to my colleagues house for dinner where they were introduced to sodabi, the Togolese moonshine and drink I am named after (Whitney in Ewe is 3 shots of sodabi). I was anxious about my parents drinking this because it is so strong, but like my dad said, "the stronger the better, it will kill any of the bacteria that might be growing in my stomach." After pate, fish, and a couple more shots of sodabi, the night ended with about 50 children gathering to sing and dance for my parents.

The next day in Koudassi was spent packing and preparing to leave. My dad also made a bunch of much needed repairs around the house. For the first time in a year I have a gate that closes, a shower that drains, and a latrine that is fit for human use. The day we left, my villagers held a goodbye ceremony for my parents where they presented them with gifts to thank them for coming to visit Koudassi and for allowing me to be here. My villagers really loved my parents and continually ask me when they will be coming back. They couldn't believe how tall my dad was and they said my mom was so beautiful and looked younger than me.

After roughing it in Koudassi for a week we decided to travel to Accra, Ghana and experience some more of West Africa. We crossed the border with no problems and while looking for a taxi we met a lady who works with an ONG in Accra who generously offered to take us to Accra (a 3 hour ride) in her air-conditioned Land Cruser. She then assisted us in finding a hotel with a swimming pool, cable TV, hot showers, and buffet breakfast. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. This wasn't the end of out lucky streak either. The day we arrived we decided to visit the Accra mall which is basically like walking into the US. There is a food court, a huge grocery store, and a movie theater. After sulking to my parents about the fact that, that same day Harry Potter was being released in the states and I was missing it, we visited the movie theater and voila! Harry Potter was premiering the very next day. Needless to say the next couple of days were spent gorging on American style food, watching movies and the Disney channel, swimming in the pool, and just relaxing. Not exactly what my parents were expercting during their trip to Africa, but I really, really enjoyed it.

Now my parents have arrived safely home and I am back in Koudassi taking care of chickens and getting ready for three of my friends from college to come. We will be traveling to Egypt for 10 days so look for lots of pictures and stories to come!

As far as work goes, I have submitted all the paperwork for the dispensaire project and opened the bank account for the funds. An ONG called AGAIB will be funding 95% of the project and Mt. Spokane HS has provided the 5% commuity contribution. The total cost of the project is $35,000 US. It is a huge project but once it is finished everyone in my village and the surrounding villages will have access to quality healthcare (and I will probably have an ulcer). I'm just joking about that last part, but this is probably one of the most stressful things I have ever done. I just keep reminding myself that worthwhile things just don't happen, it takes lots of patience and perserverance.

Well, that is all until I get back from Egypt. I hope you are enjoying the summer sunshine. On a closing note, as I was sitting on my porch writing this my neighbor came over to inform me that the night before he had hung a canvas bag with a live snake in it in the tree in front of my house. He was keeping it there until the morning so he could perform a ceremony with it. Well, sometime during the night it escaped and they think it might have sought refuge somewhere in or near my house. Only in Togo, la vie est toujour comment ca!