I spent a solid two weeks at the Peace Corps training camp in Pagala. The first few days were for a formation on how to promote math and science to girls in highschool. There were two volunteers from each region and each volunteer brought a homologue with him or her. I brought the physics teacher from the public highschool in Tchamba.
The formation was cool. It was basically like a very mini PST. Rose (the APCD for the GEE program) talked about why girls' education is important and how girls get the short end of the education stick here in Togo and why it is important to promote math and science. We also learned how to do some simple experiments in village that don't need a lot of technical equipment. And we talked about possible project ideas we could get started in village such as science clubs, camps, or fairs. We also did fun stuff like exchange brain-teasers (ok, you have a 5 liter jug and a 3 liter jug, you need 1 liter of water. go.) And at the end of the formation, we broke up into teams and played a quiz game. We got asked science/math questions but also cultural stuff so that the Togolese formateurs and the volunteers had a little exchange. I remember one of the answers was "Harriet Beacher Stowe", but another one was "Albert Camus".
It was fun to hang out with a bunch of people who get excited about science and math. I was happy to have a long discussion with Katrina about Avogadro's number and carbon-12. The hardest part was (still) the language aspect. Although my French has improved considerably since I've arrived, I'm really used to conversing in a non-formal style (maybe over some tchouck). So when it came down to a technical discussion, I was lacking a lot of vocabulary. Like what are the French words for "radius" or "nucleus" or "square root"? (The answers are rayon, noyau, and racine carre, respectively). It was hard to kind of re-learn a bunch of science material in another language, just to have a discussion about why you think a specific experiment could/couldn't work in your village. I kind of felt like the Togolese science teachers thought I didn't know what I was talking about, but I think I held my own during the quiz-game.
Camp UNITE was AWESOME! It was a total of four weeks long, broken up into one week for boy apprentices, one for girl apprentices, and one each for boy/girl students from villages all over the country. I was a camp councilor for the week of boy students. The camp kind of has a little plot to it. The first day, the kids learn about the "bridge model" which is a go-to lesson-plan if you ever have to keep a group of kids busy for an hour. The basic idea is that we are on the shore of a river; we are students, brothers, sons, friends, football players, etc. We want to get to the other shore; we want to be doctors, journalists, fathers, husbands, etc. The water represents all of the "traps" in life; we don't want to get pregnant, or sick with AIDS, or drop out of school. So we need to build a healthy lifestyle bridge across the water; we want to manage our time well, have good communication skills, etc. Ok, so after learning this, the kids come out to see the bridge consisting of planks (each one representing an attribute of a positive lifestyle) that stretch across "water", to a pavilion on the other side (that represents a successful life). But after talking about it for a few minutes we're interrupted by Paggi, the antagonist. Paggi was a participant last year, who disguises himself in a ridiculous costume. Paggi comes and steals all of the planks.
To get the planks back, every day the participants have to complete a series of challenges and with every challenge, they win back one board. The challenges encourage working as a team and good communication skills such that every challenge is impossible to complete on your own, forcing you to work with the other members of your group. And to make things harder, the participants are not allowed to talk during the challenge, therefore they have to decide on a plan
of action before starting, and stick to it throughout.
Throughout the week, we teach the kids the benefits of gender equity, family planning, time management skills, etc. All of the participants leave camp at the end of the week ready to change the world. They are all so motivated to go back to their respective villages and teach what they've learned; it's extremely inspiring. The problem is that, since the camps are 4 different weeks, and camp happens every year, that none of the participants know each other (e.g. the boy apprentices don't know the boy students or any of the girl participants). So when they get back to village, every participant is left to change the world on his or her own.
So, since I've been back, I've asked Emily for a list of the participants' names and have done my best to find them all around town (Tchamba is a big place, it's hard to find some of these kids). We've had one meeting for them to get to know each other. We exchanged phone numbers and stuff like that. Now, if any one of these kids has a brilliant idea to change something that they see as a problem in Tchamba, they have a network of friends to lean on if they need or want help. Right now they're in the middle of planning a sensibilization at a village 7km en brousse called Alibi 1. Why they don't just organize something here in Tchamba, I have no idea. But it's great to see a group of motivated kids who care about their future and the future of their friends and family. These kids are special, and they're all going to do some awesome things.
In mid-August, Nicole got on a plane in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, and when she got off, she was in the Land of... well... over-crowded bush-taxis and the Home of... food that doesn't quite sit right in your stomach. Regardless, we had a great time. Well, I had a great time with her, you'll have to ask her how great of a time she had. Although it was a bit overwhelming, every moment was something new and I doubt she'll forget any of it anytime soon.
After the long (oh so long) journey from Accra to Tchamba, we spent a week in village. We walked around, I introduced to her to all of the crazy characters in my life these days, and we had more calabashes of tchouck than Nicole could handle. We saw naked children getting scrubbed down by a family member while balancing on a rock just wider than their feet on the side of the road, bush-taxis that look as if there is enough cargo teetering atop that the slightest breeze could send them tumbling down the side of a mountain, and vans with an entire football team AND all of its fans sitting in, standing on, and dangling from the roof-rack, and you know, other stuff that happens here every day. Obviously, we couldn't meet everyone and do everything in only one week, but I'm satisfied with the amount of ground we covered. A lot of people I wanted Nicole to meet were in Nigeria or Lome for the summer vacation or otherwise just not around, but we hit the basics: drinking tchouck, pounding fufu, and rolling up our pants to cross a stream in the woods.
After a week in village, we spent a week traveling around Togo. We went as far north as Kante and made our way back to Lome and then Accra staying at various volunteer's houses, transit houses, and cheap hotels. We saw some Tatas which are two-story mud huts that people live in and used to serve defensive purposes, and climbed up the inside of a huge baobab tree. And we hit the capital of every region with the exception of Dapaong (cause lord knows, that it's a freakin drive and a half to get all the way up there) just for lack of time. I got a nice little case of the worst diarrhea I've ever experienced due to some bacterial dysentery, and got severely dehydrated. So, to say the least, I wasn't bringing my A-game throughout the duration of our Tour-du-Togo, and I feel bad, that I didn't have the energy to really take Nicole all around the different cities we visited. But such is life in the Land of food that doesn't quite sit right in your stomach (or is it Home of...). Anyway, I'm all better now (thanks for asking) and Nicole has returned to the Purple Mountains Majesty and the Amber Waves of Grain. All-in-all it was a great trip, and I'm super thankful that she spent all of the time and money and endured all of the frustrations to come out and visit. It was great to see her again and I felt a level of comfort that I haven't felt in a year. And I did things with her that I probably wouldn't have if she hadn't come to visit.
-back to school-
And now I'm back in village. After a long-ass summer, I am so grateful to be able to just BE here in Tchamba. It's nice to get back into somewhat of a routine, see the same people every day, and to put my laundry back on a shelf instead of back into a backpack. The kids are back to school, and things have definitely settled down. I'm ready to start whatever work awaits me. As I've said, the UNITE kids are organized, and the physics teacher I brought to the science formation is back in town. Heather and I have also taken the first few steps in organizing a group of students to plan an event for World AIDS Day on December first. So, I'll let you know how the next couple of months turns out, what projects make it, which ones (inevitably) fall through, and if I start any new ones.
Oh, and hey, I've officially been in Togo for over a year. YAY!
Also check this out (translated from German). Scroll down to the September 25th entry. Heather and I went to Kaboli with her homologue, and some swiss from the Red Cross came too. They also have an entry about Wasarabo, Emily's village, but she went into Sokodé for the day, so she missed meeting them.