Sunday, March 6, 2011

Baby Steps

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My baby sister is beginning to learn how to do chores around the house. Taking example from her mother and older sisters, she absentmindedly moves the dust around the courtyard with a straw broom, swishes water around with clothes in a basin without cleaning them, and puts a big pot on the stove with dirt and rocks in it to see if it will transform itself into pate. In doing all this, she is incredibly cute and runs off giggling whenever she sees me looking.

When I got here four months ago, she wasn’t doing any of this. She was hardly able to speak a few words in the local language. Now she can hold a basic conversation and is beginning to take a role in the household. She still has a far way to go and some growing up to do, but don’t we all?

This is the way I feel about my service thus far. At first, I couldn’t do anything. Now I can sort of communicate and move things, mainly myself, around. Other things include dirt and people. A lot of this movement though seems misdirected, like I’m pointing the dirt or the people in the wrong direction. Other times it seems like I’m throwing in the wrong combination of ingredients and expecting something entirely different to come out. For example, this afternoon we had a groupement meeting and I decided with the president of the groupement and another member to put on an improved cook stove demonstration. Some of the women got into it right away when I stepped to the side and told them to mix some mud and straw together, put these rocks there, pile the clay up like this. Some just lounged on the grass, wondering what their crazy new volunteer was doing when just before we had been talking about buying another collective field, much more important.

I am also inspired by the fact that there is actually something green in my garden now. Before it was just brown, a very homogenous and not inspiring color. When people come to look at it and see brown they are like ‘you fail’ and walk away. Now though I have some pretty sweet tomato plants to show them and I can point at the basil and tell them how if it grows with the tomatos they both taste better. Oh, Italy, a little piece of you sticks with me though I move closer to the equator. Not only did the tomato seeds I bought here sprout well, but the ping pong ball tomatos that I brought from my mom’s garden in the US are coming up pretty strong. Hopefully when they start producing veggies I can give seeds to the groupement members to plant in their gardens. That and eat copious quantities of them like popcorn.

I feel like these little tomatoes might also do good in the marche here. When I walk over to step into that throng on Saturday mornings, I am always surprised… to see that everyone sells basically the same stuff. There is always a long line of ladies selling just tomatoes that are all the same, another long line of ladies selling just peppers, a long line of vendors with hand me down clothes that I can’t tell apart. Seems like there is just about as much variety in vendors as there is international diversity in my village… The other day I went to the market with a friend in Tabligbo looking for ingredients to make smoothies (yes, you heard me right, smoothies, he found strawberries in Lome and we chopped in a pineapple and four bananas and two things of sugery fan milk glace, then we blended it in his blender, whaaaa) and there was a lady in the market selling home made ice cream! Only one! And it seemed to me like she was making a killing, selling each cone for about 100 francs (20 cents).

When I go to my market I look for original people to tell the volunteers with Small Enterprise Development about, but they are really hard to find. Luckily, when I least expect it I also just happen upon cool stuff. The other day I went to saluer the owner of an auberge (motel-like lodging) who lives in his establishment next to the river that flows through Anfoin. After talking to him for more than two hours, I was astounded how many projects he had going and how cool they were! For starters, he has three fish ponds where he practices pisciculture. He uses the fish to feed to his crocodiles, which have big teeth and are way awesome to see after looking at goats and chickens for months. He also raises ducks and is planning to add agoutis and rabbits to the list. There is a great view of the river from the patio of his auberge, he has all kinds of cool nitrogen fixing trees growing, and he has begun a huge garden where he is growing watermelons (which I have yet to see elsewhere in Togo) and eggplants. We had a fantastic conversation over a beer, and I explained companion planting to him and all my ideas for setting up our model garden and model field. If I was coming to Togo, this is exactly where I would want to stay and what I would want to see.
He also offered to let me stay for free whenever I like, so if I ever need a break from my screaming sisters for the evening (all as cute as they are painstakingly annoying), I can jet down there and we can hang out. He has this cool idea to grow veggies in the river on a floating platform made of bamboo. He can wedge baskets full of sand and soil into the float with the bottom part in the water, and the soil will suck water up into the basket so that he never has to water the plants. Awesome!!! Wish he already had this thing so I could take a picture.

Watering a garden (I do it every morning and evening) is definitely the most difficult part of keeping one up. It’s great to say I want to do raised beds, garden planting, all that jazz. But when I have to pull the water up a well, put it in buckets, and walk it to my garden, it is nothing like having a hose. In fact, my pectoral muscles have been sore for like the last month trying to get those bad-a tomatoes going. Hopefully when the rainy season starts my garden will take off some more, and it will feel less like I am just moving soil around.

Thanks to all the people who wrote to me, acknowledging my existence even though it seems so faible at the moment. I haven’t been out of village in a while, so tomorrow I’m heading a little north to help a friend start his garden. Maybe I’ll have some knowledge to impart. Maybe not. But good times will be had by all.