Wednesday, December 12, 2012


September 21, 2012 - UNITE and Espoir

The boat challenge and a Pagi interruption. This was during UNITE , the girls needed to get their boat, i.e. two planks of wood, across a line about 8 feet away. Pagi is the camp 'spirit' who tries to discourage them by teasing them - in super weird costume. He wears a stuffed Spongebob as a mask and tutus on his feet. What's funny is that some of them were genuinely frightened by him - grigri is no joke here.
To educate a girl is to educate a nation. Get 'er done.

It’s been almost four months since I’ve written to you. I placed much of my routine on hold over the school vacation. Let’s start from the end of June and work our way to present. I had a beautiful 24th birthday in country thanks to a few good friends. This was followed by our Mid Service Conference – the SED and CHAP group had made it past their year mark in country. The only thing I remember about MSC was the Talent Show where lots of us attempted (and succeeded) to dance, sing, compose, recite poetry etc. Upon return to Atakpame, a few of us spent three dollars for tickets to a TooFan concert. If not thrilled for the music, we were definitely all curious to see the performance. Of course, the first two or three hours we watched dance troops stepping to Coole Catche – which does not involve a whole lot of acrobatics. But the young hip Togolese crowd loved it. There had to be a few hundred people packed into le Centre Culturale d'Atakpame.  Then the stars of the night showed up and continued in much the same vain – lip-sinking and unremarkable dancing. What’s funny is that the back-up dancers putting on an athletic display were much more entertaining than the performers. The two guys that make up TooFan were pacing back and forth across the stage and miming into their microphone. Needless to say, not impressive – a week’s worth of lunch money for something I grew up watching my older cousins do in front of their mirrors.
In the bar around the corner, Atakpame, before the 2fan concert 

July was remarkable for the beginning of camp season – Espoir and UNITE. Espoir is dedicated to children infected or affected by HIV/AIDS. UNITE promotes leadership among Togolese youth – students and apprentices alike. Both camps were redeeming – for a week you felt the potential influence positive energy can have on a kid, her family, and community. At UNITE I witnessed how witty and resourceful adolescent Togolese girls can really be - how a week of camp can begin to inspire youth. We watched these videos from one of our donors about food security and the protection of the environment. They depicted stories of agricultural communities from around the world; and this was great because so many of the girls were surprised to see that places outside of Africa experience many of the same struggles as do poor families in Togo. Rather, that the color of your skin does not determine the lifestyle you lead. I felt very touched during the candle ceremony when Chimen told us that the week of camp had motivated her to continue her education. I never had much of an inclination to learn any of Togo’s ‘boncs’ (i.e. icebreakers) - and now I have at least 48 hours’ worth of camp songs inscribed into the folds of my mind. Espoir was an awesomely humbling experience – you could not have guessed that these girls had a history with HIV/AIDS in observing how high-spirited they were. Honestly, they were just like any other teenage girls sometimes – flirting with the young guys on the kitchen staff, seeming uninterested in anything and yet getting into our sessions just as much as their younger friends.  A teenage girl like Samira – patient, sincere, empathetic, whose mother passed away when she was 8 years old – put my life into perspective. I had a lot of fun with my cabin; these hormone-ridden girls gave me a lot of sass, but it was illuminating to observe how ubiquitous adolescent anxieties can be - despite differences in geography and culture. After camp season ended we celebrated the entry of a new class of volunteers and said our final farewells to the volunteers that had welcomed us a year ago. It's strange to think that we could give advise to others. I feel just as silly most of the time, as I did when I first arrived. 
My Espoir cabin - Australia. I had to knock for a whole minute on their doors so they'd get to their sessions on time. They would then drag their feet all the way to the center for our sessions.

Alex and I having pizza in Lome before Swear-in of the newbs

December 2012
Time is enigmatic – you blink and you find yourself in the middle of the holiday season again. But this time around, I’m sitting at my kitchen table in Danbury. I’M HOME! For Christmas. I met my nephew – he is a beautiful, mischievous, charismatic little boy. This is really all I want to do - dance to Thriller with him in my living room. He had the most curious expression on his face as I was trying out my moonwalk. I'm in love :)  Hopefully, we spend enough time together these next few weeks that he won’t forget me during the next 8 months that I won’t be around. Now I settle into the home stretch. 
Titi and Tata

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