I recently returned from Togo, West Africa where I visited my daughter, Katy. I was there for 17 days and she asked me to writing a little something for her blog. Please read and enjoy it. Also, I would like to thank all those who made a contribution to the Women’s Conference that Katy is facilitating in March. I have met the other two Peace Corps Volunteers that are involved in it and both women are very warm and intelligent. I was able to spend a day with them while they worked on some of the details. They are still in need of some funding ($200), so if you still would like to make a donation, that would be so helpful.
[Update: The project is fully funded! Thank you so much for your support.]
Lori’s Togo Trip
So, I finally made it Togo this past month to see my beautiful daughter Katy. She greeted me at the airport with a sign saying "mommy". When I saw her, I had a feeling of relief after the long flight. She was wearing a beautiful dress made of flower sacks. She sure can wear the dress.
It was definitely a transition there. It was very hot and humid in the capital (it's by the ocean) and my hair was one big curl. Katy lives up north and it is still hot but it's a dryer heat so I was a much happier camper once we made the 13 hour trek up there.
|The beach in Lomé.|
In the first week I was able to meet many of Katy’s Peace Corps friends. They are all so nice, friendly and very intelligent. I can tell they appreciate one another.
|Having dinner with other PCVs in Lomé.|
The women there were so kind to me. They offered me gifts, food and drinks. They share what they have, even if they don't have very much. They have made me feel very special and I can tell that they appreciate the work that Katy has done with them during her time there. It is very much like a sister bond.
Traveling of the roads of Togo is quite the experience. You really never know what to expect each day. I have been in/on a bush taxi (communal transportation system that is the main way of traveling for most Togolese), Peace Corps van, post office bus and moto. Some rides are pleasant and some are challenging with not enough space and often requires bargaining about the price. I would say this is one of my least favorite parts of the trip.
|Standard bush taxi|
I brought small gifts for the family where Katy lives and a few of her special women friends. The children were so excited to receive them and they laughed and giggled as I took pictures.
|Kids in Katy's compound|
As we walked through her town, children sang out "yovo" (white person) to me, so I would say I have been christened by Togo.
I have enjoyed tasting the different foods. Surprisingly, there wasn't much that I didn't like. The main meals they serve are rice, corn, beans or yams. A different spicy sauce accompanies each. It is very tasty and yes, you eat it with your fingers. They serve your plate full and what you don't finish, they will. Nothing goes to waste. They are also very proud to serve the fermented millet beer. I took it slow being that the weather was so hot but eventually I came to find it very refreshing.
|Drinking tchakpa, the local millet beer.|
So, who can say that they spent their 55th birthday in Africa, riding on the back of a moto, climbing a mountain, spending time with lovely people, having a nice quiet dinner and a summer night walk home all with their daughter? It was a lovely day. The hike up the mountain was a challenge in the ninety plus degree weather. As I stopped for break halfway up, a women passed us coming down the rocky path carrying a large pot on her head loaded with vegetables she was going to sell at the market. I took a picture of her and shook my head. The women here are amazingly strong in many ways, both mentally and physically.
One day we took a long morning walk to visit the village of Cecile, Katy's dressmaker friend. It is where she grew up and it was a wonderful venture. The people in her village were so kind and happy to see us. Most Togolese people love having their picture taken. They stand still and straight like the Old Italian photos of my ancestors. Smiles are hard to come by but as time went on I found that I could sometimes get them to crack a smile. The oldest woman in Cecile's village was close to 100 (well, she has a son that was 82) and blind but with a beautiful smile. It reminded me of the visits I have with my family in Italy. Everyone is so happy to see you.
|A son and his mother|
One afternoon was spent in a classroom of 30 children. Katy and another Peace Corps worker, Sam, hold weekly Geography clubs at two different elementary schools. They talked about the continents, countries, north, south, east, and west and also about the different languages that are spoken throughout the world. The children seemed very excited to learn.
Rachel is a woman that Katy has worked with very closely. She helps to promote her sewing projects. I visited her shop, which is a very small shed right on the main road. It's hard to believe the quality products that are made there. I bought a purse and wallet from her and was also gifted a couple more items. She told me how much she appreciated the help that Katy has given her with her business. She is a single mom who sends her three boys to private school. They want to become doctors and a judge someday.
|Rachel (left) and her family|
Another morning we took a moto ride to one of Katy’s women's groups. They were very happy to meet me. They showed me the box where they store their money. There are three locks and three different women hold he keys, and a fourth keeps the box at her house. They can borrow money from the group if needed but pay it back with interest. Their year-end is coming soon and they will divide it up. Katy said that it will probably the largest sum of money that they've ever had, as they are usually accustomed to spending money as they make it. Then they danced for me, gave me a traditional woven pagne (a skirt and head wrap), three jars of peanuts and a live chicken. It was the second chicken I was gifted during my time there. The chicken was prepared the very next day for a lunch of bean meal with tomato gravy. It was tasty.
For dinner that night, I met with more Peace Corps volunteers. I enjoyed hearing about their background and they all seemed content in why they were there and what they wanted to do.
One evening I was able to see the process of making fufu, (the pounded yam dish). It reminds me of the hard work that went into some of the Italian dishes my grandparents would make. I finally tasted something that I did not care for. It’s a mustard paste that they use in sauces. It smells awful but the Togolese love it. My favorite food was pintade. It is guinea fowl. You see the pintades walking all through the towns and villages just like all the other animals. The animals never seemed to be fenced in.
|Fufu with peanut sauce and cabbage and chicken.|
Katy treated me to what they would call frozen yogurt. It was very delicious, especially on the warm days. You suck it out of a plastic bag. Lots of plastic bags are used around here. Anything you buy off the street is put into one and they even sell water in a small plastic baggie.
I picked up my dress and shirt that I had made by Cecile. There was extra material so she surprisingly whipped up another dress! The material cost more than she charged me for the labor.
Many of the families here have no running water, no stove and no refrigerator. They are living their lives like we do when we camp in tents. It is something you can get used to and after being there for over two weeks I found that it can be easy to mold to if you have to. It seems like the people are very happy with their lives. They don’t have much and don’t seem to need much to be content.
Katy did a wonderful job showing me what her life has been like for almost the past two years. I took many pictures that I am happy to share. She has met wonderful people that have thanked me over and over again for allowing her to come to Togo and work with them. I would say "you’re welcome", although really it was all Katy’s idea. Katy has made a difference here in Togo and they appreciate her.
My last few days we did the most tourist thing you can do in Togo, we went to Kpalime. It’s the prettiest region surrounded with lots of green mountains. As I took a walk towards the mountains, it brought me back to my walks in Italy–very peaceful and beautiful. The hotel we stayed at cost $27.00 a night and Katy considered it to be one of the nicer, more expensive hotels in Togo. It came with air conditioning that worked poorly. They gave us one towel that we ended up using for the water that leaked all over the floor when you took a shower, but we had hot water! You have to take the good with the bad. They also had a pool, but we had to pay $3.00 each to use it so I made sure to get my moneys worth! Our dinners here were at a restaurant owned by a Belgium family. They spoke English and were very nice, a mother and son operation. Good food too. I only had one coffee the whole time I was here, and it was in Kpalime–Nescafé with canned condense milk. It also brought me back to the days when I would have a spoonful from my grandmother’s sugary sweet cup of coffee.
|During harmattan, men migrate south from Mali and Niger to sell the camels.|
Katy asked me what my favorite moments were in Togo. I said meeting all of the people that she has been working with, enjoying time and meals with other Peace Corps Volunteers, and also seeing and living what she has dedicated her last two years to. Not everyone could do this and I admire the hard times she has gone through and will still go through in her last few months. She is a strong woman and I am very proud of her. I also enjoyed meeting her puppy, Lux. She is a cute, well-behaved dog and I look forward to her coming home to California.