I am getting geared up to be a trainer for a new set of agriculture volunteers. I am going to do my best to impart my knowledge about life and work in this country to these fresh new faces. While I am looking forward to the opportunity to take part in building a new Peace Corps generation, seeing new arrivals makes me feel old. It makes me think about where I was and what I was doing about a year ago: taking trains through rustic countryside, eating salami sandwiches with pesto and grape tomatoes, staring up at the frescoes in cathedrals. In Italy.
When I think of Italy, my mind still wanders immediately to food. I remember making pizza, pasta sauce, and gnocchi in my house while eating dishes in restaurants that were delicious beyond words with names to match. Here in Togo, my favorite dish to cook is called ‘fettuchini alfredo en brousse.’ As terrifying as it sounds, I have been able to use local products to make a pretty decent pasta sauce that, like fettuchini alfredo, is white. First, as with all dishes, I sauté onions, garlic, and piment peppers (from my village marche, nothing has taste for me anymore unless it has hot pepper in it) in olive oil (expensive but a vital ingredient to my life, could not live without it, found only in Lome). I also put macaroni on to cook with just enough salt water to cover it. After the garlic/onion stuff looks decent, I pour it in with the macaroni and add powdered milk and margarine (available in village) with spices (oregano, pepper) and sometimes fresh basil from my garden. When I can I also throw in carrots or green peas. I stir for about 5 minutes till the sauce isn’t runny, add a few cooked eggs, and BAM, I have made food to keep me sane. I try to imagine that the sounds of babies crying outside or my host mother humming an African folk hymn are drifting up to my balcony from the courtyard of my apartment on via Vizzani.
The river that runs through my village reminds me of another part of Italy: Venice. My friend who owns a hotel on the marshy river and a buvette closer to town near the bridge is thinking about joining the two with a canal. I thought he was joking until I saw a bunch of brawny Togolese guys in the river the other day hauling up big globs of mud. Maybe in the future I will have a tailor make me a Gondalier outfit and I will take upper class Togolese on rides through the marshland as a fundraiser. Le Venice du Togo, ca va arriver. I have a new neighboring volunteer who lives on Lake Togo, and soon we will be riding a boat across to visit the town Togoville. Maybe we will even see a mermaid (which I’ve been told exist but will only come if I throw whole eggs in the water, which seems a waste of eggs).
Last Friday I went to visit another neighbor in Vogan and together we made lasagna using a dutch oven. It was sooo delicious. She made ricotta cheese by boiling powdered milk and curdling it with lime bought at the marche. I spearheaded the tomato sauce, and we also had salad and garlic bread. The most essential element that was missing was the wine. Oh, there was wine, it just came out of a box. The reputation of Italian boxed wine is improving. Here we are lucky to have wine at all. I wanted to get a nice bottle at one of the stores, but when we live on 8 dollars a day there was an unspoken agreement that the box would win over the bottle. It did the trick.
Occasionally I go off on nostaligic speeches about the beauty of Italy, talking at length like a guidebook and staring into the distance. On my birthday after getting decently soused I sprawled across two friends and went on a long monologue about frescoes, piazzas, and porticoes. I do miss Italy, but there are great things about Togo too. This past week work has really begun picking up for me. I’m beginning to talk to a lot more people about the benefits of eating Moringa tree leaves, and I might do just that until I finish my service. If I did nothing with my two years here but tell the entire village of Anfoin that eating Moringa can improve health, I would feel accomplished. This last week I did a Moringa training kids infected or affected by HIV in Aneho, and today I did a training at the lycee and we planted 5 trees. I’m also hoping to do a Moringa mural in local language at the dispensary so that when mothers come on Fridays to get their babies weighed and vaccinated I will be able to tell them in Ewe about the benefits of the tree, how to grow it, and how to make Moringa leaf powder. Doing work and being busy makes me happy. I feel fulfilled, in heart if not in stomach.