Update from HQ

Oh man, I have not written anything in a very long time. I know I have things come up in my life: moved to a new place, meeting new people, having a new job. But really it shouldn’t be any excuse. Six months ago I was saying goodbye to everyone in Sotouboua. Today I’m hanging out in my room in this town house’s basement, about to go out in a couple hours to watch the Super Bowl. I went out earlier this morning and it was snowing, but the overall weather is too warm for it to stick around.

When I arrived back to America, I chilled out in Florida for a solid two months. Then I moved up to DC right after Christmas where I have a new place and a job. I’m working on a USAID project with a development organization. Now I get to experience what development work is like from the perspective of being in a cubicle in a developed nation (it involves a lot more Excel spreadsheets). It’s a little different than what I’m used to.

What I’m working on is called the Leadership, Management & Governance project. The thing I like most about being a part of it is that their main objective is to help improve health systems by building the system’s capacity in leadership, management and …. guess what it could be … governance! This means teaching better managing and governing practices to the people that run these organizations. I don’t think I could be part of something that just went into different countries handing out mosquito nets or free condoms. That really doesn’t do anything other than teach people that if you hang around and do nothing long enough, someone else will show up to clean up your mess.

One job I applied for and heard back from was somewhat like that. It seemed really awesome because I working in the Democratic Republic of the Congo at the deputy director level. Their main goal was to promote family planning methods. I just wasn’t sure how much of that involved giving handouts. So I ended up turning it down for something that I felt might have a greater impact over the long run. But then again I’m working for a USAID project, so there is so much bureaucracy, and results come in the form of a deliverable report that shows numbers. It shows how many participants attended a training session, so now these participants should have this knowledge to go back and change their organization for the better, but will they? It is hard or sometimes impossible to see what really happens from these reporting methods. But as long at the numbers show up, the project ‘officially’ made an impact.

It is weird too, because I don’t see or know the people in which I’m affecting. This is a big disconnect that I’m learning to deal with. But that is just part of stepping back and taking my place in the bigger picture.

I do like DC, although I miss the days past of $4 pitchers. I still feel uncomfortable when ordering a $12 pitcher and having that be a “good deal”. Also, how can this be the capital of the United States of America, yet not a single restaurant understands how give a split check (lack of innovation, even Denny’s has you beat on that one)? Other than that, I love walking through the city. So many cool museums and monuments to make sure I’m never bored. The night life is pretty cool too. There are a few good hole-in-the-wall bars for me to kick it with friends and a bunch of dance halls can be found in the basements of U Street. Let’s see how long I stay here!

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I can’t stand TV right now

I really feel for everyone all around the country that was directly affected by what happened in Connecticut on Friday. To lose a group of young people and those dedicated to helping their community is terrible.

I’m just going to say one thing and then I’m done. I’ve been doing a lot of things lately over the past two days other than watching TV. It’s not because I’m trying to live a more active lifestyle. It’s because I can’t stand watching whats on TV. Most every station I normally watch will not report on anything else but Sandy Hook Elementary. Something I heard that I don’t agree with was that video games lead to this kind of violence. It’s weird though, because I’ve dedicated so many hours of my life to video games and never played a game that involved mass murder at a school. In fact the only place I’ve ever heard of that and learned everything I need to know about it has been from the week-long marathon sessions that all TV news stations put on every time a tragedy like this happens. It seems every time I try to see what’s happening in the world all I get is an aerial shot of an elementary school and a reporter say, “Now, I don’t want to dwell on the killer but… [insert complete profile including possible motives, planning and life story].”

Unfortunately these types of incidents have been happening about every half decade since I was in middle school. And every incident has the news giving a complete run down of how everything happened including crucial up-to-the-minute updates of things like how the killer liked playing ping pong. I know this isn’t nice to think about, but right now there is a little kid somewhere with mental issues seeing this basic “how to” guide all over the TV and is seeing all the attention this killer is getting. One day when he’s older and depressed, he’s going to think back to Wolf Blitzer and everyone else with their captivating news reports and think, “Yeah that’s how I’ll get the world to know me.” He isn’t going to get that from playing Halo 4 or Mass Effect 3. Everyone is talking about how we need to toughen gun control laws, change mental health policies or ban violence in games. Why don’t we look into news reporting and how they take advantage of these incidents with sensationalism? And I’m done.

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I Can’t Stay Still

After being back in Florida just over a month I took a two week trip to check out some sites in the North East. Originally I was going to fly to New York, meet a friend and we were going to drive together back down south. Unfortunately he ended bailing last minute due to family issues. I already had my plane ticket, so why not go ahead and do this solo.

I flew up to New York on the morning of Black Friday. Actually, before I start I want to say I had an awesome Thanksgiving. We had family and friends over and so much food. I regret having to leave all those leftovers behind. Although my mom did make me a turkey sandwich for the flight up.

Arriving at JFK, I was picked up but my aunt and cousin and taken back to their place in the Bronx. I had a great time catching up with the family, playing monopoly and checking out the Bronx bar scene. I hadn’t been up there in a long time, so it was nice seeing all the familiar sites.

The next day I went to a friend’s place in Manhattan. He happened to be a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from Togo too. A great thing about having been in Peace Corps is that when you’re done, your part of this network of friends who live all over the country. We spent the day walking through China Town and down Canal Street. Asian ladies would walk past saying things like “Rolex, Rolex”. I bought myself a cheap pair of gloves.

I was also freezing cold because my time in Florida and then in Togo had not prepared me for weather under 60 degrees.

That night was there was a small Peace Corps Togo reunion. I met up with a few people who had been in Togo but had left a year before me. We ate at a restaurant near NYU called Bareburger. They specialize in organic burgers. The food and beer was great, but there were way too many choices on this menu. With each burger you choose what kind of free range animal you want, followed by which organic cheese, and then which organic bread. I’m glad I don’t do this hippie organic thing too often because they make it overly complicated.

That night I went out to the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater to watch some improv. This has become a tradition of mine to check out a show every time I’m in New York. Although it can be hit or miss with the acts, I suggest it for anyone making the trip up there.

The next day I took a somewhat sketchy bus from New York to Wilmington, Delaware. It was with a company called Xinnix. When I went to the station the lady behind the counter asked for my ticket. I showed her the electronic one on my phone, but she said that wouldn’t do. So she decided to print me one there, but the printer wasn’t working. I ended up getting a piece of paper with my destination, driver’s license number, my name and the date written on it. The trip itself down wasn’t bad and it only cost me $25. I spent most the time playing Words With Friends and practicing my French (I love having a smartphone!).

In Delaware I met up with some more friends from Togo. We stopped off at a restaurant/brewery called Iron Mill for delicious burgers and a beer sampler. At the end of the meal I made my first growler purchase. On the way back to my friend’s place we decided to drive by Joe Biden’s house, because he lives near him. We came up to the place and slowly inched by trying to see if Joe was chilling on his property. The driveway was full of white mini vans blocking the entrance and the view. As we made our way by we noticed the closest minivan had a secret service agent in the driver seat staring right at us. First reaction was to drive away fast, but would that be suspicious? Was it already suspicious that we were creeping past Joe Biden’s house? We decided the best course of action was to maintain our speed and slowly drive away while this secret service agent was probably writing down my friend’s license plate info to put him on some sort of watch list.

That night we went out to watch Lincoln, Spielberg’s newest movie. It was alright, but I don’t think it is worth the money to see it in theaters. And some things in it were a little ridiculous. Like when the House was taking in the votes. Why make it so dramatic, did nobody in Congress know how to count? The Amendment passed by a landslide, yet the representatives only reacted in the cheesiest ways possible when the final results were spoken.

Next day I was on a Greyhound to DC. And since that ride I have decided Greyhound is terrible. I bought my ticket a week before and chose the will call option so I wouldn’t have to worry about carrying a ticket around with me. I showed up at the bus station and went to the booth to pick up my ticket. When it was my turn I asked the lady behind the window, with my id and credit card ready, for my ticket. She responded with I was suppose to print it up before getting to the station. I responded back with that I purchased it on will call and didn’t receive an online ticket. I asked if she can print it up here and she responded no because this is not a kiosk. I don’t know what that means. I then asked how am I suppose to get a ticket if I was never emailed one and the only thing Greyhound emailed me was a confirmation to pick it up at this station. She responded she didn’t know. I thought I had moved back to a country that had customer service, but I was beginning to doubt that.

I found a printer and printed up the confirmation email Greyhound had sent me. It clearly stated that I had to pick up my ticket at the station. I brought it back to the station to show the lady, and she responded with that’s not how things work there. I ended up having to buy another ticket there and now have to send in a refund request which I feel is going to get little to no attention. The bus companies I’ve dealt with in developing countries were way more customer friendly and reasonable than Greyhound.

DC was awesome! Again, I stayed with friends from Togo. I ate such good food. The food trucks that show up by the parks at lunch time are so good! They have everything from Ethiopian food to gourmet mac & cheese. I also spent a lot of time checking out the museums, monuments and memorials. I went on runs around the Washington Monument and up the stairs to visit Lincoln sitting in his memorial. The natural history museum had a funny section on Africa and even had a cut out of a marche mama selling her yams. I checked out art at the Smithsonian to catch up on my 1800s Dutch works and learned all I needed to know about Roy Lichtenstein.

I was in DC for about a week and even had a job interview. So now I’ll be starting up with Management Sciences for Health once all the HR stuff goes through.

My next stop was Atlanta, Georgia. I took an Amtrak train down. I didn’t get very much sleep, but I did talk to this guy sitting next to me about his career as a truck driver. Those guys can make a decent salary, but you have to be pretty committed to your work, meaning staying on the road months on end. I don’t know if I could do that.

Stayed with a friend from Togo yet again. We grilled that afternoon, enjoyed some Sweet Waters and then headed to the town next door called Decatur to meet up with friends. There we went out to a place called Leon’s Full Service. If you’re a cocktail connoisseur, this is your place. They also have a bocce ball court out back that offers a good break from sitting inside.

The trip ended the next day with a Greyhound down to Orlando. I made sure to buy an online ticket and print it up this time. The trip down wasn’t too eventful. So I’ll finish this with some excerpts of dialogue that occurred at the Orlando Greyhound Station.

Asian Gangster: Hey, you look like you’re in a gang.

Me (in jeans and a Calvin Klein sweater): Oh yeah, that’s cool.

Asian Gangster: I was in a gang once. Did some crazy sh**. Just got done doing seven years in prison. It was some f***ed up sh**.

He then pulled out his wallet to show me his inmate card that had a picture of him looking much younger.

Asian Gangster: Now I’m out so I’m down here visiting friends. I pretty much just f***ing move up and down finding sh** to do. You know, I don’t f*** around.

Me (trying not to seem freaked out): Wow, yeah… that’s crazy man. Hey isn’t your bus leaving soon? I see the line is moving.

Asian Gangster: Yeah, I’m heading south.

 

Guy who missed his bus, but is probably a hobo out scamming: Man! I had a train to Alabama yesterday but I didn’t make it!

He held up to my face a crumpled up ticket as proof.

Guy: Now the station is charging me 15 dollars just so I can get home. I have no money, no phone… I don’t even have a place to stay!

Me: Yeah, that sucks. The same thing happened to me on my way down from Georgia. I had to pay 30 dollars.

I made up that story hoping it would somehow get him to leave me alone… it didn’t.

Guy: 30 dollars! So you know what I mean! I’m just looking for help. If anyone here could give me a couple dollars I can start making it back home. I ain’t got nothing here!

Me: Wish I could help but I don’t have any cash on me.

Guy: Oh come on, I just want to go home.

Me (I didn’t want to be a guy yelling at a probable hobo at a bus station so…): I have some change, but that’s all I got.

Guy: Man, I really need dollars if I wanna get back.

Me: This is all I got.

Guy: Oh thanks, this is almost a dollar!

 

I’m getting in the car about to head home to Clearwater having just refused buying a hobo Oreos.

Angry Hobo: Hey! Thanks for nothing a**hole!

Me: No problem!

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Detour

I’ve been back in the states for just under a month now. It’s been weird getting back into the habits of Western culture, but I think I’m handling it alright. Last time I posted anything on here was right before I left Togo. I’ll go over a quick summary of what I did on my trip. Before I start I want to say this trip was done by my friend Jake and I, but throughout the whole trip we met so many awesome people everywhere we went even though I don’t mention them directly here. Seeing a bunch of places was cool, but meeting everyone is what made it an amazing experience.

August 3rd is when I officially ended my service as a Peace Corps Volunteer. That same day I crossed the border with Jake and Beau, two others who closed their service that day. I said bye to Togo and got in a bush taxi heading to Accra, and the taxi turned out to be a comfortable and I had lots of space! In Accra we met up with a few other new RPCVs and that night we decided to go all out, which meant going to KFC. In the US going to KFC means your poor or you don’t care about what you eat, but not here in Ghana. The chicken here is so good and the prices are for people whose families aren’t out in the villages.

The next day I went from Accra over to Cape Coast, such a nice beach town out west. It was Jake, Lyle, Christa and I. The town was home to a few colonial era towers and a castle. We did some exploring and a tour of the castle, which was used as a depot for housing slaves before they were shipped overseas. The castle was full of interesting, yet pretty sad, history. The whole town was really pleasant and a fun place to walk around.

Sorting the nets out in Cape Coast

After Cape Coast we headed further west to an eco-friendly (I swear I’m not a hippie) beach resort called the Green Turtle. Two days of chilling on the sand and eating great food. I know the owner was about to sell the place, so I don’t know if it is still there, but if it is you should go visit it!

Next our party split. Lyle and Christa continued on to travel west along the African coast, and Jake and I headed back to Accra to catch a flight to the UAE. Our flight had a nine hour layover in Cairo, Egypt, and we decided to jump in a taxi and take a tour of the city. It was around 1am, but the place was still alive. We had some really nice street food, crossed the Nile and saw burnt out buildings from the Arab Spring. After dealing with airport security asking for bribes to let us back in the airport (don’t worry, we didn’t pay) we made it back to in time to jump on our connecting flight straight to Dubai.

Snap shot of Cairo

Dubai is a place I need to go back to when I have money. They take every awesome touristy thing you can think of and then make it ten times better. While we were there we checked out the world’s largest mall, went up the world’s tallest building, skied indoors and did a sweet sky diving simulation. We also checked out a mosque where they actually let non-Muslims in to get an idea about Islam and strolled through a museum to learn how Dubai became and stayed a prominent location for business and trade. We also were there during Ramadan, so a lot of time was spent walking around hungry with all restaurants closed until sun down.

Stay classy Dubai

After spending a good chunk of our readjustment allowance, we took a flight over to Hanoi, Vietnam. This country has amazing street food. We spent our first day walking around the capital and getting use to crossing streets full of hundreds of motorcycles and scooters flying by. The best thing to do is to just walk and don’t stop. They’ll drive around you. Accidents mostly happen when the pedestrian stops and goes backwards. So even though it looks like a death trap you just got to man up and walk through this sea full of horns and exhaust.

We tried taking a three day trip to Halong Bay, but a typhoon came through and turned it into only a day and a half. Beautiful mountains jutting out of the water, but the water itself was disgusting. We had a great time jumping off the boat, but I had to call it a day after having too many unknown floating objects (UFOs) wash up against me.

A floating village out in Halong Bay

Back on land we took a 26 hour bus ride from Hanoi, Vietnam to Lang Prabang, Laos. I feel all my bus taxi rides in Togo had been in preparation for this trip. This ride covered everything that should happen during a long bus ride: loud obnoxious music you don’t understand, uncomfortable seating, bus getting stuck in the mud, rip off bus stops and a not-so-bad border crossing.

The bus actually had to be pulled through this mud patch

Lang Prabang was a great introduction to Laos, which is my favorite country (tied with Cameroon). I kept feeling like I was in Key West, just with a lot more Buddhist temples around. The place we stayed was down a quaint, narrow street lined with houses and palm trees. It was humid, and even though there were no beaches there was a river that flowed through the town. When you go there check out a place called Utopia, a restaurant/bar right on the river.

Next stop was Vang Vieng. This is the place to go if you want to experience MTV Spring Break in the middle of a small country in South-East Asia. It also has good rock climbing. Such a weird place, but I had fun.

After two days of that we went down to the capital, Vientiane. One thing I realized on this trip, which I just never thought about before, is that communist countries aren’t like the dreary places I always learned about from movies. Vientiane was such a mellow, fun city with so many interesting people. We spent one evening bowling and another evening strolling through a park watching joggers, bicyclists and kids on skateboards doing their thing. They even have daily giant organized public dance sessions with tons of people who come out for it. Why is this not happening here in America!

Why not America?

A trip down south took us to a few small towns to check out caves. The best cave had a river that went 7km through it. So we were in a boat floating through darkness with the only light coming from our head lamps. It was like being on a whole other world! I now know I like exploring caves.

Really Laos, you are so nice!

After a couple more days hitting up random towns in Laos we crossed over into Vietnam and took a bus to Hue. This is where we bought our motorcycles. It was so much easier than we thought it would be. We tried so hard in Laos to find bikes for sale, but as a foreigner without any national or an organization to spot you, it was next to impossible. In Hue we found two bikes on our first day and they came with registration. All we did was ask the girl behind the desk of our hostel, she called someone she knew, and that afternoon we were test driving two Honda WINs.

After Hue we drove up to the Demilitarized Zone and explored a tunnel system set up in Van Minh during the Vietnam War. They set up their own clinics, schools and living spaces in these tunnels. Crazy how people lived in such conditions.

Our next stop was Da Nang, and to get there we went through this awesome mountain pass. It was right next to the beach, so the view was incredible. At times we were above the clouds. This pass was also featured on Top Gear.

Da Nang was ridiculously crowded. Riding our bikes through there was like being an ant trying to circulate through the colony. A couple days later we headed down to Hoi An. This place has an amazing old town which needs to walked around at night to fully appreciate. Next we traveled to the west side of Vietnam to ride down the Ho Chi Minh Trail. This took us through some towns off the beaten track, and over more mountainous terrain. I love riding a motorcycle on the swerving roads around mountains.

On the way to Da Lat

One place we hit up before heading back to the east side was Da Lat. This place reminded me of San Francisco with its fog and town houses stacked up on hills. From there we took a trip to Na Trang. The trip over was through a crazy high altitude mountain pass. It was so steep and foggy. There were times when I could barely see 20 yards in front of me. I would just kick it in neutral, glide down and keep honking the horn.

Na Trang is a beach town with a water park (yes, with water slides) and an unexpected high amount of Russian tourism. The water park was fun; just don’t do any rides where you don’t use a tube. These slides will hurt if you slide down just yourself. They also blast Russian techo beats throughout the park.

Mui Ne was another beach town a bit more south. We ATVed through sand dunes! The old lady running the place we were staying happened to of lived in the same part San Jose where I grew up. She raised her kids there and then retired back here in Vietnam. It was a cool coincidence and we got to reminisce about things like Ida Price and the Prune Yard.

Next was Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City. We spent a couple days here trying to find buyers for our bikes. We bought them for $175 and sold them for $150, so it is like we only really paid $25 to ride them for three weeks. Riding through Vietnam is one of the best things I’ve ever done.

We ended up going to the Hard Rock and seeing an American bluegrass band perform. There were three Americans in our group and we were the only ones who enjoyed the music. I guess bluegrass is an acquired taste.

We also visited the War Museum which was a major guilt trip. My first minute on the grounds a guy hobbles up to me and tells me his hands and feet were blown off after the war from an unexploded ordinance. He pointed his arm stump towards me and asked where I was from. I said America, looking past him as I really didn’t want to focus in on this uncomfortable situation. He seemed a bit upset when he asked if I wanted to but postcards from him, but I said I didn’t have the money on me.

Vietnam was weird because there were times where I would be wondering what this person thinks of me as an American. Along with the anti-US propaganda, which was through out many museums, we also met many people who had supported the US and still saw it as South Vietnam still occupied by the North. I ran into a Vietnamese marine who fought for the South and US forces when he was 18. He had nothing but good things to say, and he reminisced on what he considered the good old days. It seems though, that this sort of stuff only came up with older people and when I was at museums. I think everyone else my age doesn’t really relate to this because for them it was generations ago.

That was the end of Vietnam. We took a bus over to Cambodia and stopped in Phnom Penh. We went to the infamous killing fields and I left in disbelief. It is just mind blowing what happened to this country and how the international community failed big time with handling this. Go ahead and google Kampuchea or Khmer Rouge if you want to know more about this genocide.

A temple full of skulls from of people who died under the Khmer Rouge, yup for real.

Next was Siem Reap. This place has an awesome night life. One part of town is called Bar Street and it’s full of great places to meet people, dance and play pool. While there we rented bikes and rode out to Angkor Wat and all the other ancient temple and city ruins. It took us two days to check everything out, but we could have easily spent half a week there. Most of these ruins were over 900 years old, so it is so cool knowing people back then had the capacity to put these structures together. I was slightly disappointed how touristy it was, but at least we got to see where they filmed Tomb Raider!

Our trip in Cambodia was cut short because we wanted to make it to the Full Moon party on the Thai Island of Koh Pha Ngan. This is a giant beach party event that happens once a month and, from the name, coincides with the full moon. It was really fun, but I was glad to get out of that area after four days because it was so exhausting. We went during low traveler season, so there were only around 15,000 people there. Normally they get around 40,000 people during peak seasons.

Next stop was an island called Koh Samui. I spent my birthday relaxing on a quiet beach with a group of friends eating hamburgers at a seafood restaurant.

Back on the mainland we headed north to Chiang Mai. This is the only place I visited where I thought I could actually live here. It is like the Boulder, Colorado of South East Asia. This is an outdoor adventure haven, plus it has amazing culture. Their night markets were amazing. While there I rock climbed, cuddled up with some tigers, checked out so many temples and went to the movies (maybe you don’t think this last one is too exciting but I’ve been living without cinemas for the last two years). You can also go white water rafting, zip lining, ride elephants and so much more!

Hey there sleeping tiger, we’re cool right?… please don’t eat me.

While up north we also visited another town called Chiang Dao. This was a small town full of caves, temples and a beautiful waterfall.

A bus ride down south took us to Bangkok. The two days there were fun. We rode a boat up the Chao Phraya River and spent the day walking on the outskirts of the royal palace, visiting the giant reclining Buddha and getting lost in China town. Night life was fun and I had the best Indian food there too.

Shanghai Pudong International Airport

The final stretch of our trip was a flight from Bangkok to JFK with a 16 hour overnight layover in Shanghai, China. We thought about going out of the airport to explore the city, but the lady at the tourism office didn’t seem to convincing on going out to find stuff to do at night. Plus at this point we were so close to being home that we found ways to entertain ourselves in the airport. After tiring myself out, by throwing rolled up balls of torn up newspaper into a trashcan, I was able to fall asleep on a bench to kill time.

Made it to JFK, said bye to Jake and got on another flight down to Tampa.

I left Tampa on June 3rd 2010 and I returned on October 13th 2012. I’ve had two wild years away where I did so many things and learned so much. I know I loved my family, friends and the US before I left, but two years away has given me a much greater appreciation than ever before. I’m glad to be back!

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Goodbye Togo

Later on today I’ll stop being a Peace Corps Volunteer. It’s been two years here in Togo and I have a mix of emotions to finally be done with it. Tomorrow I’ll leave Togo, but I’m not going directly home. Another PCV and I are taking a 3 month trip through Ghana, then Dubai, then a few countries in South East Asia.

Overall all I feel good about what I’ve done. I left what I hope will be a lasting impact in Sotouboua and made a few good friends along the way. In the past half year or so I’ve felt habituated to life in Togo, but now my time up and I have to leave. I’m sad about saying bye to everyone here, but I’m starting up a new part of my life, so I can’t help but be excited about that.

My last days in Sotouboua were spent meeting up with friends and co-workers. The mayor’s office even put together a goodbye party for me!

I plan on spending my last day in Togo taking it easy in Lome with other PCVs who are also about to leave. I need to go shopping later too, because I’m going to Dubai and the worn-out clothes and flipflops I have now just won’t cut it up there.

University of Central Florida, my undergrad school, recently wrote an article about me if you want to check it out.    http://med.ucf.edu/news/2012/07/a-good-will-science-ambassador/

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funny story

Chapter 1

One time I was in Lome. It was me, Jake and Stacie, and we were all about to go on a kick ass vacation to Cameroon. So we go to the airport ready to get on our flight just to find out it didn’t exist… Our flight did not exist. After trying to figure out what was up by talking to the people at the information kiosk, we called it a night and decided to return the next morning.

Chapter 2

It started with us getting the airline representative to let us talk to her boss so we could figure out our situation. Yet this wasn’t easy, it took about half an hour of us convincing her because she just kept saying we were out of luck and what was she suppose to do. It wasn’t her fault that we paid hundreds of dollars for a service that didn’t end up happening. We went to meet the boss and were already heated due to the flight not existing and the lack of customer service on the airline’s side. So this encounter started with us yelling at him. Luckily Stacie was there because she’s really good at yelling at people (Stacie! If you read this I totally mean it as a compliment!)

The boss handled the situation in the best way possible. In the midst of us yelling at him from across his desk, he calmly raised his arm towards us holding a remote in his hand. This unexpected gesture caused us all to stop our bitching complaining as we waited to see what would to happen next. That’s when he said “I think we all just need to cool down.” He clicked the remote and the AC kicked on behind us.

Epilogue

There was no way we could stay mad after he pulled a move like that. And things turned out great! We got put up in a really nice hotel with meals paid for, partied with airline staff for the 1st of May (it’s like Labor Day, except way better) and still went to Cameroon!

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The joy of work

So I wrote this post last month and when I was frustrated with work here. I’m cool now and guess what, Chelsea won the Champions League last night! Drogba saved them at the end of the second half then again with the very last penalty kick!

At the end of March I participated in a polio vaccination campaign. It was three days of community health workers going around house to house to vaccinate kids under five and also give them vitamin A and albendezol. Then there were three days of evaluation. During those three days people were sent up from Lome to all the different regions to collect data on how many kids were actually vaccinated and how the overall campaign went. I followed them around from village to village to act as a third party to see how they worked and if their results were truly accurate of the campaign.

A few weeks later in mid April I was down in Lome at WHO’s bureau with other volunteers to talk about the campaign and how we felt it went and what could be improved. Of course there were the usual comments like how the community health workers never accurately track the number of people vaccinated (meaning they lie just to show they did a good job). I’ve learned to never trust any health statistics from now seeing firsthand how they are collected.

Something very shocking was revealed to us volunteers at this meeting. It was when we were going over the final budget for the campaign to see where all the money went. In total it was around $700,000 to hold this national campaign. WHO paid around half and UNICEF paid around half. The budget showed that the Togolese government only paid just under 3% which comes out to around $20,000. And it was for ‘brieffing des ECD/ECR’. Don’t really know what that means but it’s probably just made up. We aren’t at the shocking part yet, it’s still coming.

Well, when we saw how little a contribution the state was actually giving we asked why and explained how even when we do our small Peace Corps funded projects we still need at least 25% community contribution. That’s when the WHO representatives told us that in actuality the government hadn’t paid anything, not a single cent! WHO had to make up that 3% contribution just to satisfy funders who actually look at the final report. Not only is it terrible that the host country wont contribute at all to taking care of citizens basic health needs, but they even signed an agreement along with many other West African countries in Benin a few years back pledging to put 15% of the government’s total annual budget to public health(meaning Togo’s ministry of health). Yet today the ministry of health only gets 7%, and I’m pretty sure no one has any idea how much of that actually makes it down to any of the health programs.

One could argue that the government gave human resources through the health workers used, yet each person in this campaign got paid by either WHO or UNICEF. They weren’t doing it for the well-being of the community, but instead to get paid. A friend of mine who supervised the campaign in Sotouboua got a per-diem from WHO and was suppose to get reimbursed by the state for transport. He’s still waiting for the transport reimbursement.

And it’s not like WHO can sanction Togo and not do the polio campaign. First because they don’t have any power like that and second because we are still next to Niger where polio is endemic, so if kids weren’t getting vaccinated cases would definitely start popping up in Togo again. The problem is if you talk to anyone in the ministry of health they will probably say they did contribute and that the campaign was successful, just look at the statistics and look at the final report showing their 3% contribution.

Just another form of the general mentality I see here, where change supposedly only comes from handouts from the outside world. I’m tired of people always complaining to me about how “Ici au Togo, on souffre. Donc il faut me donner quelque chose.” Dude, one is suffering because you’re just waiting around for someone else to come around and improve your country for you.

I understand that when you work for a ministry here you are entitled to a nice life with a nice car and maybe enough money to build a few houses, but can you at least share some of that money with the programs it was intended to go towards? You couldn’t even contribute $1 for a national campaign.

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Stomping Out Malaria in Africa

April 25th is World Malaria Day. A day to get everyone on board with stomping out malaria around the world. It’s scary to think that malaria is currently the biggest killer over here in Africa, and that it’s also one of the top reasons many kids never make it to their 5th birthdays.

Here in Togo I’ve seen the effects of malaria, like with the kids in my very own compound ending up sick and luckily being taken to the hospital for treatment before it was too late. I also know a few volunteers who have ended up getting it. It is not a pretty sight seeing someone having to take a three day regiment of Coartem to recover.

I’ve spent quite some time doing work on malaria prevention in Sotouboua. Like there was last December when I went around different neighborhoods collecting data on mosquito net distribution and use. We checked ten households in each neighborhood, with households differing from just a single person to a husband with his seven wives and thirty kids. I was happy to find that the majority of people did actually use a mosquito net, yet many didn’t have any/enough or just didn’t use them! A response I often got when asking if they had a net was ‘yes we have our net set up right now’. So I’d say ‘alright, let’s see it’. That’s when they would suddenly remember it actually wasn’t set up at that moment because they were washing it (the major excuse). I did this with a few hospital workers so we had the chance to educate and motivate everyone in the neighborhoods to use their nets, and if they didn’t have them to go to the hospital and buy one! The info we collected went to a national survey to find out the reality of mosquito net use in Togo.

Another thing I’ve been up to is talking to pregnant women and recent mothers at the hospital’s weekly baby weighing and vaccination sessions on malaria prevention. Each Tuesday the hospital holds a session where mothers come with their babies to weigh them so we can see if they are developing correctly and aren’t malnourished. We also vaccinate the babies and pregnant women too. My main role here is recording in the registry which babies and pregnant women were vaccinated and with which vaccination. I also take turns with the workers in doing health presentations to all the mothers. The topics range from the awesomeness of moringa to transmission of HIV from mother to child. Guess what we’ve been talking about this month… malaria prevention! Hopefully since these ladies care enough about their children’s health to get them weighed and vaccinated, they’ll also listen to what we say about using nets, getting rid of stagnant water, and using neem lotion. If you don’t know about neem lotion as a malaria preventative then look it up!

So this is a little bit of what I’ve been up to with malaria, but what can you do. How will you stomp out malaria in 2012? I know most people reading this don’t having to worry about malaria directly affecting them, but you can still help the millions of others that are affected by it. There are so many organizations out there fighting malaria, so seriously do a google search and see how you can get involved. One good place to start is stompoutmalaria.org.

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Meeting people over Tchouck

I met a really interesting guy this past Sunday while hanging out at a tchouk stand. It was Losso tchouk, not as good as Kabiye tchouk, but I could deal with it. Well, this guy was a shoemaker working here in Sotouboua. He originally came from Ghana and had come over to Togo three months ago. He had been to Togo once before and worked in the town of Atakpame but had to go back to Ghana when his brother died.

This one Ghanaian shoemaker told me about how he really liked to travel and how he had made it all around Ghana, Burkina, Nigeria and up to Libya. It was in Libya where he found himself working in a plastics factory for Gaddafi’s cousin just outside of Tripoli. He said this was around 2002 and apparently there were plenty of westerners there. He said he saw a lot of Americans too. He also had a side job there of making alcohol. Even though it’s a muslim country people weren’t too strict to their faith and he could make a decent income providing boozes for everyone. This is a job mainly for Ghanaians and Nigerians, that’s what he said.

After some time there he headed out west to Morocco and climbed Mount Toubkal, the highest mountain in North Africa. Then he got his hands on a fake Moroccan passport and headed for Spain by boat. Unfortunately Spain’s border patrol caught him before he could make it to land. He was then put in a Spanish refugee camp. He tried staying by claiming asylum. His family back home was part of the Dagbon family in northern Ghana that had some issues back in the early 2000s. The problem there, according to him, is that there ends up being so many brothers with the same fathers but different mothers. This causes trouble when it’s time for a new chief to come into power and sometimes leads to violence and people dying. All because guys have a bunch of kids with a bunch of different ladies. Just wrap it up people!

He was in Spain in 2006 and much of the political unrest had cooled down back home so the Spaniards weren’t buying his asylum and sent him back to Ghana. That’s when he decided to settle down, start a family and become a shoemaker. So now he’s here in Togo, trying to make money through shoes to send back to his wife and kids in Ghana.

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Camp ScientiFILLE 2012

Hey everyone, I’m currently organizing Camp ScientiFILLE, a summer camp for Togolese teachers and students dedicated to encouraging Togolese girls to succeed in the sciences. The project is funded through donations and community contribution, so please check it out. If you’re planning on giving money to a cause this year we’d really appreciate your support. I’m happy to answer any questions you may have about ScientiFILLE, so please feel free to ask.

Here’s the link to our project: https://www.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=donate.contribute.projDetail&projdesc=693-391

Thanks!

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