Fête de Retrouvailles 2014!

So in village, we have a Fête de Retrouvailles every year. To me, I describe it like a village family reunion because everyone is basically kinda related in a village of 2500 people. This year it took place 15 August - 18 August.

Anyway, last year in 2013 I wasn’t able to really participate in the festivities because I got to site right in the middle them, so this year, I made sure to participate!

There was enough drinking, dancing, and fun having, and it was awesome! The program included an excursion to some nearby waterfalls, bar chilling, a picnic, a musical concert (we invited a group from Lome to come do a dance and drum performance, some church choirs from village performed, some youths lip synced), and a village wide community meeting.

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Pictured here from left: my main homologue, ME, my homologue’s friend

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Musical group that we invited from Lome

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Waterfall pic

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"picnic" pic … we’re really just taking a break from hiking to drink some tchouk (a local drink, that’s so sweet and yummy. To me, it tastes like lukewarm thick apple cider—more like the closest to apple cider I’ma get in Togo)

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BAR CHILLIN’

"Note to self: every time you were convinced you couldn’t go on, you did."

(107/365) by (DS)

i really, really like this.

(via godmoves)

"Our souls are not hungry for fame, comfort, wealth, or power. Those rewards create almost as many problems as they solve. Our souls are hungry for meaning, for the sense that we have figured out how to live so that our lives matter so the world will be at least be a little bit different for our having passed through it."
Rabbi Harold Kushner (via gettingahealthybody)
"Will I be something?
Am I something?

And the answer comes:
You already are.
You always were.
And you still have time to be."
Anis MojganiHere Am I  (via h-o-r-n-g-r-y)

Projet de FARN (Part I)

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NOTE: Anytime I use the pronoun “we” in this post, I’m referring to the village’s women’s group: Les Femmes Lumieres de Danyi N’Digbe

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m working on a nutrition project in village called Foyer d’apprentissage et de Réhabilitation Nutritionnelle. Well, we successfully completed the first part of the project! The 12 day cooking demonstrations with the mothers of moderately malnourished children.

During the 12 days, we prepared 4 different recipes of bouille (porridge). On the first two days, we made corn porridge with bananas and peanut butter.

[Side story]
Originally, I had wanted to start with the enriched bouille, however, I had to wait until the big marché day to get access to peanuts and beans (esp peanuts). I was so worried we wouldn’t be able to start on time after having to postpone twice because of my schedule and then because of the maman lumiere’s schedule. Anyway, I realized that we could start with a different recipe and for the entire project we could just try different porridge recipes.

The other two porridge recipes we used were rice and egg porridge, and enriched soja porridge. I think my favorite one was the rice and egg porridge, but most of the moms didn’t really like it haha (we only made it for 2 of the 12 days — and although we added plenty of citron, it still had a raw egg smell to it. I think that was a main turn off point for the moms; ‘tis understandle; the smell of raw egg isn’t always the most appetizing). Most of the moms LOVED the enriched bouille though! Because the average age range of children in our project was 1.5-2.5yo, we used the last three days to prepare some regular meals in addition to bouille. Because part II of the FARN project involves gardening and producing vegetables, I figured we could do some demos incorporating vegetables we would be growing in the garden. Thus, during the last three days, we made riz-au-gras (fried rice—using bell peppers), rice and sauce tomate (using carrots, zucchini and moringa powder), and rice and sauce d’arachide (using cabbage, carrots and Moringa powder). They all turned out amazing.

On day 12, we weighed the participating children to see if they gained weight, and most of them gained a little! We’ll see how the behavior change looks when we weigh them again in 1 and 2 months. The moms really appreciated the project and the two Femmes Lumieres I primarily worked with as maman lumieres were incredible!! There was a point when my main homologue was telling me it’s impossible to find moringa powder in village, but one of the maman lumieres was like she has Moringa powder at home! ‘twas great! But they did note the problem that it’s difficult to find Moringa in village and we’ve been planning to add some Moringa trees to our garden anyway.

As for the garden,
We received funding! We’ve started creating nurseries for the plants that need them. So far this week, we’ve completed the nursery for the cabbages and will be working on the other nurseries during the month (tomatoes, bell peppers, egg plant, etc).

The first time I went on a waterfall hike

Easter Monday: April 21, 2014.

I was set to go on vacation in May (back to America beeches!!) and my homologue really wanted me to take home awesome pics of Togo. He really wanted me to impress my parents with the beauty of our region, so he was like— Easter Monday, we’re gonna go to the loveliest waterfall in Togo.

It’s tradition in village for people to go see this waterfall during Easter Monday. I asked why, and he just said it was part of the fete/celebration. 

So we’re all ready to go Monday afternoon (more like noon-ish), but before we leave, my homologue insists that we need some drank. It’s the way we celebrate here. I’m like okay, “yayy drank” I don’t mind. We get to the boutique and buy a box of boxed wine. At this point, I’m thinking this waterfall hike is gonna be serene and chill, and we’re gonna stroll a bit, get to the waterfall, and meet a bunch of people from village, then just drink and be merry picnic style. Sounds like blissss

On continue…

We get on his moto off to the waterfall. The ride is about 14k out of the village going towards the Ghana border. Upon arrival, we meet up with my homologue’s friend (a stunning Togolese woman by the way) and they chat, and ask me "which waterfall do you wanna go see?" I say, "the prettiest one of course." There are 2 different spectacular waterfalls at this area, one is on the Ghana side (in Ghana) and the other one is on the Togo side (in Togo). They agree that the Togo one is the grandest, but the hike to get there is crayy. 

I’m like, well, I’ve been in village for 8 months at this point and have yet to see a waterfall… “a crayy hike” isn’t going to discourage me. My homologue really supports going to the Ghana one but I’m like, wouldn’t I need my passport? Amusingly, he’s like “you’re black, you pass for Togolese, they’ll just let us through,” and as tantalizing as that sounded (illegally going to Ghana  muahahahaha) I was like nahhh I wanna see the grand waterfall, the one’s that in Togo that requires the ridiculous hike. The up-side about him supporting the Ghana one was that with that one, you can moto straight to the fall. At this point in time, this meant nothing to me because once again, I WANTED TO SEE THE GRAND WATERFALL!

Once agreed, we embarked on our journey to the grand waterfall in Danyi-Yikpa! We tried buying some purewaters for the trip, but of course, none were available. We then tried getting bottled water (voltic or vitale) but then again, none were available (getting things in this country on a holiday can be a task sometimes). 

Anyway, we start hiking and I’m in macho mode like I can do this. I walk 10k to the market every week, what’s a waterfall hike? Yeah, what’s a waterfall hike? We ascended for what I’d like to recall as an hour. 1 hour ascending steep rocky mountainous paths. I WANTED TO DIEEE but never accepted weakness en face my homologue. He’d be like "are you tired? do you wanna stop?" & I’d just be like, “no on y va.” At some point (like 3 some points) I did say, I’m gonna stop because I NEED take a breather. We got to the top and then the descent began. STEEP, rocky & slippery. It was then that I discovered I have a REAL fear (it was mental yo) of descending steep paths. I wanted to cry. But, we’d gotten to far, and my homologue offered his hand to help me start the descent. I INTERNALLY CRIED THE ENTIRE TIME. 

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can’t you just see the tired in my smile? — this is on the 1hr ascent

We finally descended right until we got to the waterfall and it was magnificent. We took some pictures—didn’t drink the wine because there was NO WAY I was climbing back up that descent on a tipsy state of mind (though now that I think about it, I wonder if it would’ve made me more courageous). In any case, had I drunk wine, I’m sure I would’ve vomited at some point.I did enjoy the waterfall scenery though. Got to run into some of my students among other people I know from village. It was fun. I was glad I took the hike and chose to see the Togo side. Oh yeah, also, during the descent, we were able to see the Ghana side waterfall and I was very glad with my decision to go Togo side (haha to go Togo). Not that the Ghana one didn’t look impressive from afar, the Togo one was just that much more impressive.

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my homologue (see the waterfall? isn’t it magnificent?)

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me, taking in the beauty of the waterfall. see the rainbow?

The hike back was so much easier. I guess because this time, the ascent wasn’t as long and the descent not as steep. We got back to village, had some fufu and finally shared the wine.

I got back to my house, it was almost dark (like around 18h 00) and just passed out on my couch—because of tiredness, not the wine. The next morning, my thighs were screaming, but oh it felt great!

"You’re going to find that this journey means as much to you as it will mean to the people and the communities that you’re going to serve. It goes both ways. That’s the beauty of it."
Secretary of State John Kerry, April 4, 2014, Peace Corps Swearing in Ceremony (Morocco)

Earthworks and Gardening: Training of Trainers (Thies, Senegal)

I had the opportunity to attend a training event in Senegal on bio intensive gardening. The training was wonderful. Coming in without much knowledge on gardening techniques—this training was so beneficial.

In village, I’m currently working on a project with the women’s care group in village—Les Femmes Lumières de Danyi N’Digbé. The project is a two-tiered project. The first tier is a FARN project (Foyer d’Apprentissage et Réhabilitation Nutritionnelle). In English I believe it translates to the hearth nutrition model project. Our implantation of the FARN project has also been divided into parts and before I get into further explanation of our project in village, I’m going to explain the basic idea of a FARN project.

A FARN project aims to aid the caregivers of malnourished children less than five years old to learn how to properly provide for their children and promote their growth. What the FARN model does is it uses a positive deviant within the community to be the role model for the other caregivers. What this means is that where these malnourished children live, there are other families experiencing similar living standards to those of the families with malnourished however the children of these other families are healthy and growing well. The FARN model uses these “positive deviants” in food preparation trainings to show the caregivers of malnourished children how it is possible (despite their living standards) to provide their children with nutritious meals.

The set-up of the FARN project wants us to work mainly with moderately malnourished children, but in village, ours might agree to include the three severely malnourished children we identified (severe as identified on WHO growth chart) mainly because our FARN project is in two parts. The first part involves the food preparations with the Maman Lumière (the role model/positive deviant). That part will last 12 days, and the parents will be providing the ingredients and cooking utensils. The second part of the FARN project will involve creating a sort of demonstration garden where the caregivers will be allowed to work in (gaining knowledge in bio intensive gardening methods) and be able to take the produce with them home. Since this second part stretches the project for a longer period of time, I think it should be okay to include the severely malnourished children so their caregivers can benefit from the produce. I was speaking to the infirmière at the local clinic and he described to me a program implanted in the northern part of the country where families of malnourished children get provided sort of food boxes with vegetables, eggs, fish, etc. However, such a program is not found in our area of the country (the rate of malnutrition is highest in the more northern regions of Togo); however, if we can implement a similar program in our village using produce from this demonstration garden and the labor of the caregivers, I think it’s best to include the severely malnourished children. We’ll see how it pans out. I also don’t think this part of the project (the gardening part with the caregivers) will be indefinite; however, from the training in Senegal I think we’ll be able to also show the caregivers how they can have container gardens at home. In that way, the gardening part of the project can be further sustainable.

The second tier of the project will be to sell the produce from the garden and use this as an income generating activity for the Femmes Lumières.

We are starting our cooking demonstrations this week, and as soon as we get the funding for the gardening, we are going to start on that soon as well. 

"My mother used to say to me, ‘You can’t eat beauty, it doesn’t feed you.’ And these words played and bothered me, I didn’t really understand them until finally I realized that beauty was not a thing that I could acquire or consume. It was something that I just had to be. And what my mother meant by saying that you can’t eat beauty is that you can’t rely on beauty to sustain you. What actually sustains us, what is fundamentally beautiful is compassion for yourself and those around you. That kind of beauty inflames the heart and enchants the soul."
Lupita Nyong’o (via voguememoirs)