Sep 15, 2007

Weeks 12-14 (weeks 1-3 at post)

Week 12 (Week 1 at post!):

Well, I'm finally at post in Kpalime!  Monday morning, all the new volunteers loaded our stuff into taxi vans.  We quickly said our goodbyes and everyone was off.  I actually lucked out on transportation.  Nadia and I had left a sizeable amount of stuff, including a propane gas tank, a gas stove, a large backpack, some training books, and various other items with Lydia, the current Kpalime volunteer.  It was way too much stuff to carry by hand across town to our house, and I really didn't want to have to rent a taxi to move it.  I was supposed to load my stuff and most of Nadia's stuff into a van with three other people, which probably would have been plenty roomy, but there were too many large items like mattresses and propane tanks on the roof.  Instead, since Kpalime is so close to Lome, I got a Peace Corps Land Cruiser to myself!  I even got to pick up the extra stuff (except for our bikes) from Lydia's before heading over to our house.  I had a little trouble remembering the location, since it was on a back road a little ways outside of town, but after about five or six wrong turns (no surprise to anyone who knows me) we found it. 
I spent the rest of the morning getting things arranged.

When I started getting hungry around noon, I decided it was time to meet the neighbours.  It's about a twenty or thirty minute walk to town without stopping to talk to people, but salutations are very important in Togolese culture.  There's really no way to stop and talk to everyone on the way to town, since there is some sort of bread/vegetable/petrol/etc. vendor stand in front of nearly every home.  I decided I'd stop give a "bon soir" to everyone I pass and only stop to talk when people actively called me over to their stands.  This turned out to be timed about right.  I stopped and introduced myself to people at a barbershop, a small dry goods store, a bread stand, a bar, and vegetable stand, and maybe another stand or two.  I particularly liked a sweet lady that sells bread with her family and a kid that works at the barbershop.

I grabbed an egg sandwich from a cafe in downtown, and headed to the market for a little shopping.  I mostly bought food items, whose prices are generally fixed by season, but I knew I needed some cookware, which would require a bit of haggling.  I only came away with one pot, but I was proud of myself for talking the price down by about a third.  It's the rainy season, so of course it poured as I walked home triumphantly with my pot and my sack of tomatoes, onions, garlic, bread, and bananas, stopping along the way to greet my new friends.

I visited my homologue at his cyber cafe on Tuesday, just to say hi and to establish a time for our first official meeting.  I took another trip to the market to buy some string to hang the mosquito net and to buy a few other odds and ends.  It poured again on the walk back, but at least I had an umbrella.   I cooked up some tuna tomato curry from the recipe book Peace Corps supplied us with, and it wasn't half bad.  This settling in thing was not too bad, even though my wife was still in Lome.

The next couple of days were a little rough.  Without Nadia there and without any real work schedule, I had trouble convincing myself to get up in the morning.  Nadia's homologue had helped us order a little bit of furniture from a local carpenter during post visit, but he was out of town until the end of the week, so all my time at home was spent sitting on a mattress on the floor.  Our mattress, like most mattresses in Togo, is just thick foam, and my tail end wore a sizeable dip into the mattress within the first few days.  I tried to make a few minor repairs to the house, like fixing a gap in the front door and replacing the broken lock on the bathroom door, but I learned that Peace Corps would only reimburse those costs if the landlord is unable to make them.  I wasted two hours trying to fix an impossibly ancient and rusted door latch on Wednesday, then spent the rest of the day just sitting on the floor looking at the ceiling and trying to pick up radio stations on a short-wave radio.

We had bought another cell phone in Lome with a SIM card from a different cell carrier from our first phone, and every time I tried to dial Nadia's number, I was told that the number did not exist.  Apparently there's some stupid call routing issue with phone numbers that start with a zero (and, of course, all new numbers start with zero), so I couldn't call Nadia, and by this time I was really starting to feel lonely.  I wasn't entirely surprised that I was affected this much by our time apart.  The previous year, Nadia spent a two-month stint in Washington DC for work, and I remember that the first two weeks being absolutely miserable.  After all our time in such close proximity thus far in Togo, though, I figured I'd enjoy a little time to myself.  No such luck.  I can't imagine what it's like for people with a spouse serving in Iraq.  That's got to be torture.

I stopped by the bank to get the money to pay for our furniture, and the bank manager told me we only had one more available withdrawal until I could show him a copy of our marriage license (since we have a joint account).  Nadia and I brought a copy to Togo, but we realized a few weeks earlier that it had gotten lost in the move.  We had left a copy with the Peace Corps bureau in Washington DC, but I couldn't get anyone at the bureau in Lome to request a fax copy.  My family attempted to fax it to a cyber cafe in Kpalime, but we gave up after a few hours of trying.  My mom finally was able to email a scanned copy about a week later.  THANKS MOM AND UNCLE DONNY!!!!

The rain finally let up a bit on Thursday, so I got dinner with Lydia and a Togolese friend of hers.  I was also able to get my bike from Lydia's house, which made the subsequent trips to and from town significantly more convenient.   I was finally able to talk to Nadia over the weekend, and things started to look up.  I started getting the house ready for her arrival by scouring the bathroom and scrubbing the living room floors.  Lydia got a hold of some cilantro, and we had a Mexican night over at her place.  We didn't have lard to make tortillas, but we made some pita-type chips that went pretty well with the refried beans, salsa, and pico de gallo.  Before I knew it, I'd rounded off week 1 at post.

Week 13 (Week 2 at post!):

I got up around 8:00 on Monday and tidied up the house (as best as I could) for Nadia's arrival.  I organized our stacks of training manuals and backpacks of clothes and swept a bit.  Then I sat at the door for about two hours rushing to the compound gate whenever I heard a car pass by.  She finally arrived around 10 or 11, and I haven't stopped smiling since.  She apparently had a great (albeit expensive) week in Lome polishing her French.  We did a little shopping that afternoon, and by the end of the first day, our house already started looking more like a home.

Nadia's homologue helped us pick out the fabric for the cushions for our sofa and chairs, but we knew we wouldn't get any furniture for at least another week or two.  The floor didn't seem so bad now that I had someone to sit next to, though.  Meanwhile, I started my newly established Monday/Thursday visits to CIFAID, my homologue's cyber cafe.  I took a look at his network setup.  They have about twenty PC's sharing a single dialup connection.  They're using a Windows XP box with Internet Connection Sharing as the server, which is not terribly secure.  I talked to Maurice, my homologue about setting up a simple firewall and about getting some software to monitor internet traffic.  I have a feeling that a lot of the already over-taxed bandwidth is being used by malware and other junk on the individual workstations.

We spent a lot of our time sorting out daily chores, like where we could wash dishes and what to do with our garbage.  Things are going great this week, though.  I'm finding that Nadia is an amazing chef, and I'm at least a passable one.  I'm looking forward to expanding to more complicated recipes.

Week 14 (Week 3 at post):

We spent a lot of time this week dealing with furniture.  The carpenter told Nadia that everything was ready to pick up on Tuesday.  We gave him an extra day, but when we went on Wednesday, he hadn't even started on the table and chairs we ordered.  We finally got the stuff that was finished to the house on Thursday, so we have a place to sit and the stove is no longer sitting on the floor.  Hooray!

I configured a simple firewall for my homologue's cyber cafe and spent some time removing viruses from various computers.  I think I'll spend some time next week looking for some downloadable software for monitoring network traffic.  I'm starting to wonder what other things I can do to get the most out of the shared dialup connection at CIFAID.  I assume Windows' Internet Connection Sharing does at least a fair job queuing internet requests and preventing large requests from completely hogging all the bandwidth.  If I were a little more comfortable with Linux, I'd probably try to set up a Linux machine for the server.  I'm a code monkey by trade, so all this network admin stuff is a little outside my realm of expertise.  I'm learning, though, little by little.

I talked with the director of a small computer training center near our house.  He said he's interested in learning more about Linux and web design (specifically Dreamweaver).


I also met with the owner of a small computer repair shop that doubles as a small cyber cafe.  We didn't talk about much, and I don't quite know what I can help him with, but we're going to meet next week to discuss his business.

I'm spending a lot of my time at home preparing a training program for web site creation, since there seems to be a market for simple web development services here in Kpalime.

Finally, thanks soooooo much, mom, Staci, and Erika for the packages you guys sent.  The cd's are a huge help, and we've been thoroughly enjoying the candies and tabasco.  Merci beaucoup!


bill said...


I've been enjoying the blogs produced by you and your stagemates for the last couple months.

The loneliness can be grueling. You are lucky to be there with your wife. I was a PCV in the tiny town of Kotadjou (Northeast of Atakpame) in 1996-1997, I terminated my service early partly because I felt so alone.
Thanks for all you stories. They sound so familiar except of-course for the computer/ cell phone issues/ work. When I served the internet was just starting and cell phones were a rumor.

Have fun.


Laura said...

Hey Tristan,
I'm so glad we're able to keep a tab on you guys. So thankful for the Internet. Ian may have information regarding Linux. I'll ask him.....we are sending a package to you guys soon. Any requests?


Andy said...

Hi Tristan,

Ask the Admin IT guy (dang, I've been home for less than a year and I've already forgotten his name), last I knew he had a bunch of Ubuntu install CDs. If nothing else he could download one for you on the faster net they have at the bureau. Copies are probably still floating around the country too, ask around.


Tristan McInnis said...

Thanks for the tips, Bill and Andy! Things are going great here, BTW. Hopefully I'll write something up this week for the last months. And I'll ask the IT guy at the bureau about the Ubuntu disks.

Laura, glad to hear from you. We were just reminiscing about our game nights today. :) Say hi to Ian for me!

Take care!

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