Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Rains Roll In

(written 4 May 2011)

Since several people have been asking lately, I’m going to start off this blog post with a list of things I would like to get in care packages. Many of these things, which make me ecstatically happy and give a pleasurable reason for my existence, are not available in Togo (except, of course, in the care packages of other volunteers heh heh). Here we go:

-Oreos –Of all sizes and flavors. At the marche in Anfoin I can easily find these Parle-G biscuit cracker cookies that come from China, margarine from Thailand and sugar which when mixed with vanilla make fantastic icing, and make what I like to call ‘en brousse’ oreos. The real thing is better…

- M + Ms – Not to be found even in Lome. Once again all shapes and flavors would be awesome. Recently received some mint m+ms that were exquisite.

- Granola Bars – The kind that aren’t good for you, with chocolate chips and gooey goodness, etc.

- Crystal Light – Those little packets of mix that can make lemonade, orangeade, etc.

- Army rations – These are so delicious! How did I ever think they weren’t that great! I just tear open the packages of food and cute little packets and mix them all together and peacefully consume the goodness.

- Love – Not sure how you can get this into a packet and preserve it very well to ship over cuz it would probably melt, but I’ll ask for some anyway ;)

My life has picked up a little bit since my last blog post. I went to another training in Pagala up in the Centrale region near Atakpame. We talked about how to plan projects and how to make them succeed. I figured out why my garden training didn’t work: in order for a project to fly, the group or community has to do two things:

1) Realize and acknowledge that there is a problem.

2) Have the desire (motivation, enthusiasm, whatever) to solve the problem.

The project is the course of action meant to address that specific problem: malnutrition, soil depletion, bad sanitation practices, lack of income generating activities, no water, etc. I came to Anfoin super gung hoe to do gardens because we spent so much time growing green stuff during training. But I didn’t take the time to realize what the real problems were in my community or help the people spell out the problems and decide on a solution. Heck my arms hurt after hauling one bucket up my looong well, how could I expect people to want to start a garden at their house when they would have to do that time after time to water it?

Needless to say, my garden is beginning to look less pathetic since the rainy season began. I’ve got more cucumber than any person could want for, but there is a tomoto thief who has been stealing my baby grape tomatoes. I don’t really understand because usually when people ask to try a vegetable from my garden I give them some. My friend Ezekiel (my garden is in his compound because in mine there are bush rats running around that would replace the tomoto thief) seems more angry about it than I am. Crop theft is pretty common here: some people will spend the whole rainy season raising a field of yams and then arrive at the end to harvest them and find that someone has come in the night to gank them all.

While the garden training bore resemblance to a broken airplane’s downward spiral, I have a few other projects that are beginning to take flight on wings full of air. The nitrogen-fixing-tree nursery I began back in February is full of young trees that are ready to plant now that the rains have returned. These past couple days I’ve helped my groupement in our communal field planting corn, and when it begins to sprout we are going to plant lots of trees in between the rows of crops. Also, each groupement member is planning on taking trees from the nursery and planting them in their personal fields. Guess I must have done an alright job convincing them that soil degradation is a big problem and agroforestry is the best solution for us.

Another budding project is a training for my community (the Koutigbe quarter of Anfoin) on Moringa. Moringa is a tree whose leaves have vitamins A (good vision), B, and C (dodge sicknesses), calcium (those bones), iron (good for blood), and even protein which people normally get very little of since eggs and meat and fish are so expensive. This is the simplest, easiest, and least expensive way I’ve heard of to help an agricultural community confront problems with malnutrition. I’m working with a really great guy Louis who raises chickens and who already has the tree growing at his place. He’s also already made powder with the leaves and puts it every night in the sauce, so he has experience with the tree which is much more important than anything I could every teach about the tree.

As opposed to the garden training where I did all the planning and preparation alone, now I have a nice and motivated community member working with me on this moringa training. I was planning on scheduling it on a Saturday (like my garden training) but Louis reminded me that Saturday is market day in Anfoin. So we rescheduled to Sunday from 10-12 (after mass at the church) and planned to do the formation in a peyote next to Louis’ house. The way I’m finding participants is also different. There are these clusters of clay huts between where I live and Louis’ house. I’m going to each of these clusters in the evening, trying to arrange to meet with and talk to everyone who lives in the huts, and have them choose one woman (cuz they do the cooking and would be the ones to use the trees) to come to the meeting, learn about Moringa, and take some seeds home to plant them. That way everyone is interested but I’m not just arriving to a group of people I don’t know, talking, and giving them something before disappearing.

(That DOESN’T work by the way. I recently helped with a polio vaccination campaign and walked all over Koutigbe giving the liquid-drop vaccination to kiddos and at the same time tried to help the Community Health worker explain to people that they need to start washing their hands correctly before meals and after they go to the bathroom. Think they’re going to do that after we just talk at them? They need to be guided to realize that diseases are a problem and often come from bad sanitation, they need to want to change their habits so that their children will get sick less and be able to go to school, and then after being demonstrated how to wash their hands, washing their own hands, and then having them get their children in a line and having the parent teach their kiddos to wash their hands and doing it day after day after day… whew, I’ll stop there.)

So one person will represent each group. I couldn’t handle everyone in the community coming, and this way the community is responsible for reminding the participants about the training and then asking them what they learned when they return. At the training I will teach about Moringa, Louis will translate for me into Ewe and also talk about his experience with Moringa, and then we will go to his neighbor’s house and help him to start the tree nursery. While I spent 3 months planning the garden training, I’m only throwing in 2 weeks on this one. And it looks like it might do a lot more because these people are really the poorest of the poor. Each family has basically an army of kids who flock to me like flies when I walk into the middle of their cluster, and lots of them look like they could use moringa powder.

Lastly, I’m gearing to go back to Pagala to help out with a camp this month. It is to teach Togolese students about life skills like AIDS, family planning, much of which I know very little about but will be learning a lot. Pagala is awesome because there is Wagash, or goat cheese, and tons of great big trees that I rarely see in this country.

I’m still here, now poking holes to plant corn instead of digging uselessly in the dirt, which is nice. Finally the rainy season started and has made my job a lot easier. Guess I’ll go plant some trees now.