Jan 4, 2008

Weeks 26-29: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year... en retard! :)

Week 26

This week was good. We're starting to get back into a regular routine. We didn't go up to Kuma Dunyo to meet with Cafe Kuma, but I did meet with ICEC and CIFAID, the microfinance organization and cyber cafe I'm working with. Nadia's homologue at ICEC identified two employees who I will train to carry out their computerization project. I was pleasantly surprised that one of his choices is a young woman who works with women's savings groups. I think she'll benefit a lot from the knowledge. Now I just need to finish documenting the organization's current business processes, and we can start talking about what tasks we can automate.

We finally had another web design class at CIFAID on Friday. I was planning to cover methods of formatting text in HTML, but my homologue requested that we finish cover the configuration options in BlogSpot. We'd already covered the most important features and I sort of felt like we were backtracking, but we managed to cover a few useful nuggets that I'd previously skipped over. I later asked my homologue if he'd prefer to use our sessions to talk about other forms of website templates like yahoo's geocities instead of HTML. He said he'd like to continue with HTML, but that it's a bit difficult to understand. I promised that I'd work to develop better pre-tested examples and a more structured approach for our lessons.

I don't think my current outline method of teaching is working so well. I try to answer every question with an example, which requires me to generate examples on the fly. That's usually fine, but I often boof up or accidentally introduce tags and attributes we haven't covered yet, which leads to more questions and confusion. The next time we meet, I'm going to try to have a prepared script that I will test with Nadia ahead of time.

Week 27

Lydia, our site mate here in Kpalime, said goodbye to her friends and neighbors here in Togo and boarded a plane early Tuesday morning. We waited with her at the airport in Lome from midnight to 4:00am, when the check-in desk opened. We're really sad to see her go. She has been a huge help in our acclimation to work and life in Kpalime. I know she's moving on to new and even more exciting things, though.

We spent the rest of the week getting Lydia's house ready for us to move into. We had a few leaks in the roof repaired, changed the locks, fixed the broken front gate, and painted the house. It looks really nice, and we're excited to move in tomorrow. The temporary house is all packed up. In the morning, I'm going to disassemble the bed, find a taxi-bus, and move everything across town.

I still get butterflies in my stomach when I get ready to haggle over prices for services like transporting furniture. I've got 5000 FCFA (about $12) in my pocket, and that's my limit. I'm not sure it's going to cut it, but here's hoping. I'm still amazing at Nadia's proficiency with "discuter-ing". She's freaking amazing...friendly, but spirited and adamant. Sob stories and sworn minimum prices are usually enough for me to cave, but not my lady. No, no, no. I thoroughly enjoyed watching her work her magic on the folks doing repairs on the house this week. If there's one thing I hope to learn from my Peace Corps service, it's how to effectively negotiate prices, and I'm learning from the master.

I can't believe it's almost Christmas. I got a hold of some assorted Christmas music this week, so now I'm jammin' to a little Holly Jolly Christmas while I type. I love the holidays. I have most of my Christmas cards ready to send out to the family back home, but I waited too long. Now they're probably not going to get there until mid to late January. Oh well, it's the effort that counts, right? Maybe I'll just send an e-card to tide them over.

Week 28

We finished moving into the house over the weekend. I negotiated a darned good price for the transportation for the furniture. I though it would take two trips in the taxi to move all the furniture and stuff, but the driver wanted to do it in one trip to save gas. The result was a feat of engineering reminiscent of a college science project. Furniture rose 5 feet above the top of the car and 6 feet behind the back. The driver wove an intricate design of cross ropes between chairs and tables as they extended outside of the car on all sides. I really wish I'd taken a picture. Anyway, all the baggage survived the treacherous journey across town and was safely deposited at the new house.

Nadia and I spent the rest of the week overseeing the repairs to the roof and the painting of the house. Before, all the walls were whitewashed. Now half the house is a nice light blue and half is kind of a lavender. It's really pretty.

This place is huge. It's got to be around 2000 sq feet, at least twice as big as our last apartment in Texas. We spent a good amount of time trying to figure out what to do with all that space. We have a master bedroom, a guest bedroom, a spare guest bedroom/storage room, a bathroom, a bike storage room, and a large open living area that we split into a dining area, a living room area, and an office. It feels a little weird living in such a large house. It feels a little weird living in such a big house, but it's nice having room for other volunteers to stay over when they come into town to pick up their mail or to buy food in the market.

Now everything is repaired, painted, and arranged. It looks and feels like a little piece of home. We discovered a few quirks about the house, though. First, there are several buttons that ring a buzzer in the house next door. Apparently an older couple lived here a long time ago, and would use the buzzer to summon house servants when they were hungry or needed help moving from room to room. I haven't figured out how to disable the buzzer, and we've accidentally set off the buzzer a few times. I also figured out that most of the light switches and electrical outlets were installed with their own fuses. Half the fuses are burnt out, though, so I spent half a day swapping fuses out to enable the most convenient switches and outlets. It's really a clever system and a nice alternative to a central fuse box.

Week 29


We spent last Friday up in Kuma Dunyo with Kodzo, one of Nadia's homologues. We ate some really good fufu and peanut sauce, and we talked about Togolese and American Christmas traditions with Kodzo's family. It was a very special time, and we spent the night, intending to leave the next morning.

Getting out of Kuma Dunyo is always a bit of an ordeal. Normally, we go on the main market day for Kuma Adame, a neighboring village. Usually at least one car goes down to Kpalime on market day, but there are only three taxi's in town. On this particular Saturday morning, though, we were completely unable to locate a car. Two of the taxis were rented for a funeral in a neighboring village. The third taxi was broken down, and no mechanics would be coming into town for a few days. Instead, Nadia and I just walked around 20k back down the mountain. It wasn't too bad, since we didn't bring too much stuff and it was downhill, but we're really going to have to figure out a solution to this transportation issue. I'm going to try to fix my bike, which is having serious braking issues. Then maybe we can take taxi up the mountain with the bikes, and then just bike back down.

We spent Christmas in Vogan, a city in southeast Togo. We headed down on Sunday, stopping for a few hours in Lome to meet up with some other volunteers. When we finally arrived at the Vogan volunteer's house, we were greeted by Christmas lights and all sorts of crafted Christmas decorations. Our host had cut and hung paper snowflakes and paper snowmen with all the guests' names. She even had a little Christmas tree with little gold decorations with our names. It was beautiful.

We spent Christmas Eve and Christmas day in Vogan with 10 PCV's and a 3 non-PCV Americans who were visiting another volunteer. We cooked up three chickens for dinner Christmas Eve, along with mashed potatoes, garlic sauce, cucumber salad, and apple pie. That evening we watched as some of the neighbors set up bonfires and took turns jumping over the flames. I don't know if that had any cultural significance or if they were just drunk. :)

We listened to a neighboring church that celebrated by singing until 3 or 4 in the morning. Then we got up on Christmas morning to exchange our secret Santa gifts. I got an apple pie and some Skittles. Score! Nadia was given a very pretty wrap-around skirt. We were able to talk to our families back in Texas, and it was an all-around great day.

We got back to Kpalime the evening of the 26th, and I continued my web design class that Friday. This time I prepared a detailed set of examples ahead of time and saved them on a USB key for reference. Then I did a practice run with Nadia to make sure I was explaining things clearly. She gave some helpful feedback, and the training session went over great with the guys at CIFAID. I was very encouraged because they really seemed to understand and were genuinely excited to try out what they learned. Anytime a question strayed off-topic, I just redirected it and said we would cover it in a future session.

Thank you Mom, Tim, Molly, Grandmere, Barbara, David, Donny, Grey, Lynn, Gary, and everybody at GSA for the packages!!! They were VERY generous and we really appreciate you guys thinking about us this holiday season.


MaryAnn McInnis (the Mom) said...

Hey, guys! You are doing so great and I am so happy that you are able to be so inventive with everything. I will have to send you a bike repair manual--can't have you sailing 12 miles down a mountain without good, no, great, no, PERFECT brakes! The house sounds wonderful. Am I invited?
Love, Mom

Tristan McInnis said...

Of course you're invited! :) And you'll be happy to hear that I now have a set of brand new bike brake pads, and I can stop on a dime.

Tristan McInnis said...

Of course you're invited! :) And you'll be happy to hear that I now have a set of brand new bike brake pads, and I can stop on a dime.