We visited our host mother in the training village of Agou Akoumawou on Thursday and Friday to celebrate her birthday. We made a pad thai and two birthday cakes for dinner on Thursday night. Then we made chinese salad and pate rouge for lunch on Friday. Good stuff (except the pate rouge yuck). Fidelle, our host mom will be hosting another Peace Corps trainee when the new SED (Small Enterprise Development) trainees arrive in a few weeks. I'm really glad we've stayed in touch with her. She's a fantastic lady and a good friend.
Saturday, we had a combined birthday bash for me and two other volunteers. We had cake, pie, and all kinds of goodies. Yum! Can you tell that satisfaction with PCV service is measured in food?
We started our French tutoring again. I really like our tutor. He's very good at explaining concepts and has a fantastic sense of pacing when it comes to introducing new material. He's also good about not over-covering material we already know.
We went to Lomé on Tuesday to try to help a business finish registering for their business license. Only very successful businesses register for business licenses in Togo, and they usually only do so when forced. The registration fees are extremely expensive, and government taxes are insanely high. It's a problem in all developing countries... No one pays taxes because they are too high, but because no one pays, the government has to charge more to those who do pay. Anyway, we found out that in addition to registration fees, current taxes, and possible back taxes, this business needs to pay several hundred thousand FCFA to get a form notarized. In total, the cost is about equal to the organization's annual income. How is anyone supposed to pay that? Again, though, it's a self-perpetuating problem, so what can you do? Sigh... Unfortunately, lacking a business prevents a business from legitimately exporting and bringing foreign money into the local economy.
Friday we said goodbye to an American volunteer who has been in Kpalimé for a few months working with Kiva, a US-based online business that provides loans to microfinance organizations around the globe. She threw a small party with her associates from the microfinance organization she worked with here in town.
We were supposed to restart the Excel class on Monday, but no one showed up. Not a single person...
We biked up to Kuma Dunyo on Tuesday, and ate some amazing fufu with peanut sauce. The group surprised me with some flowers and sang Happy Birthday to me. We got a lot done and had a great time.
Wednesday, I turned the big 3-0. I celebrated by playing about five hours of Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War and Xmen Legends 2. A day of gaming in West Africa is not a bad way to transition into my third decade of existence. Life has certainly never been dull since I met Nadia. We continued the celebration on Thursday with a missionary friend who made some fantastic pizza.
We headed down to Lomé for the weekend to run some errands. We went dancing at a latin club with a live band Saturday night, which was pretty cool. The new SED (Small Enterprise Development) and CHAP (Community Health and AIDS Prevention) Peace Corps trainees arrived Saturday night, too, and we got to meet a few of them. They seem like a good, motivated group.
Only four people showed up this week to the Excel class, so we had a short review and practiced using the mouse. It's hard to move forward with this class when so many students are having trouble with the basics.
Somehow I think my system of counting weeks in Togo is off because June 10 marked our 1st year anniversary in country!
I went with two other PCV's to a presentation for AGOA (African Growth and Opportunity Act) at the US Embassy. It was pretty cool because the Togolese ministers of Commerce and Agriculture and a few other bigwigs were there out of about 40 people in total. AGOA is a piece of legislation that allows the US to waive import taxes on goods produced in certain African nations. Togo was just recently added to the eligible list. Unfortunately, though, it looks to only be of use when exporting large quantities of manufactured products, and Togo really doesn't have much in the way of factories. I guess that's sort of the point. This law allows investors to fund development of the (currently nonexistent) manufacturing industry, which will lead to overall economic growth. It makes sense, but it really doesn't affect my work as a grassroots development worker. It requires work and funding at a much larger scale.
I finally got the Excel class back up and running. We started talking about formulas on Monday. This is the entire reason I started teaching the class. Everyone in the class works at a microfinance institution, so they work with numbers all day long. I see them doing long lists of calculations by hand or with a 10 key calculator all the time, and I want to show them how to do the same work in less time with fewer mistakes. They seemed to really enjoy the lesson. I guess the subject matter was more applicable than changing font size and cell format.
We had a nice dinner with the missionaries at the blind center in Kpalimé on Friday. We had stromboli and played a rousing game of Apples to Apples. I loves me some board games! Then Saturday we went down to Lomé for a Spanish Club dinner at the Brazilian ambassador's house. I always feel uncomfortable at these things since I don't really speak spanish and I feel guilty speaking English with the other Americans. Nadia's spanish is beautiful enough for the both of us, so I tried to stand next to her for the entire evening. It was a great time, though. I met more folks from various embassies and I got to talk with one of the head honchos from Air France.
We did, unfortunately have a bit of a run in with the taxi syndicate on the way out of Kpalimé that may affect future travel, but I suppose we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. I freaking hate the syndicate. It's run like almost like a mafia with a protection racket. Ah well, when Togo can afford to feed its citizens in a few years maybe it can worry more about business regulations.
Nadia spent a couple of days with another volunteer up in Amou Ablo this week, so I flew solo with my Excel class. We went over statistical formulas and how it relates to their day to day work. They seemed to get the gist of it, so I was happy.
Rainy season is coming in full force. We tried our weekly bike ride up the mountain to Kuma Dunyo on Tuesday, but we were washed out and gave up about halfway along. It was good exercise at least. I went again by taxi on Friday to show a few friends around Kuma Konda. We paid a guide for a nice organized hike and he didn't disappoint (even if he did charge way too much). Then the PC trainees came and visited ICEC, the microfinance institution Nadia and I are working with. We told them a little bit about what they do and how we as PCV's can help with training and transfer of accounting/computer skills.