Well, I've finally done it. After talking about it for years. After searching on multiple continents; I have finally eaten dog.
My old roomate Aaron (all my best friends have been named Aaron. That’s cus Aaron’s are always cool people) used to say he wanted to be the Noah of meat eaters. Meaning he wanted to eat two of every animal. Well Aaron, I have knocked another one off the list.
Since Saturday I have been in Kara. It’s weird to wander around this city knowing that it will be my home for the next two years. Two days ago I signed the lease for my house. It’s a nice little place. When you walk in there is a fairly large common room with three doors leading into two bedrooms and a bathroom. I can’t wait to move in! This will be my first house. What a weird feeling. I’m really growing up! Sadly the house only has an outdoor kitchen that I share with the 3 other dwellings in my compound. I plan on building a fairly large bar (5 - 7 seater) that will also serve as my kitchen. That will be an ongoing project for the first couple months of my service. I also want to have stairs built so I can get on my roof. The view will be AMAZING from up there. Sadly there is a wall that blocks it from the ground. But once I get onto the roof I will be able to see for miles and miles across beautiful African wilderness. I can’t wait!
Today I was introduced to the Prefet (head guy in the region) and mayor. It is very important to be on good terms with all local government. The Peace Corps recognizes this and makes a point of stressing the importance of introducing yourself as soon as you get to post. My host country counterpart made the introductions. What a cool experience being welcomed by these very important people!
My brother and I have been talking about eating dog for YEARS! During our entire trip through China we kept trying to find a place where we could eat dog, cat, snake and rat. Sadly we found none of the above. Luckily I got posted to a region of Togo that LOVES dog. After my last audience I mentioned to my guide that I wanted to eat dog and drink chook. He called one of his friends who would help me. After much searching (everyone loves dog SO much that after 5pm it is pretty much all gone) we found a chook stand and a man selling dog. Before I go on I must explain chook.
Chook is a locally made (and when I say local I am talking about in someones house) alcohol. It is made with millet. I’m not totally sure of its production past that point. But it is drunk all across Togo, with most of it originating in my region. One drinks it out of bowl type vessel called a "kalabash." Kalabashes come from a vegetable kind of like a pumpkin that grows on trees (imagine seeing green pumpkins hanging from a tree) that is cut in half and dried to make a bowl. One drinks chook at a chook stand. They are usually 3 or 4 benches around a 10 or so gallon bucket attended by a lady who along with serving it has probably made it in her house. One sits down with friends and orders a kalabash of chook. The lady then uses a slightly smaller kalabash and scoops out your allotted amount and hands you your chook. When I first drank it with my host father a couple weeks ago I was surprised at how much I liked it. It has a sweet taste, slightly bubbly, and overall not that bad. I’m not sure how much alcohol is in it. My guess is it is on the same strength level as beer. Not totally sure though, there are no labels on the side telling percentage. :)
Today we found a chook stand and started drinking. The Togolese friend I was drinking with left for a few minutes and came back with a man brandishing a cardboard box. He puts the cardboard box down in front of me. My friend sits down next to me and says in French, "Here’s the dog!" I look into the box to see 5 skewers with what looks to be meat on them. I have no clue how old the meat is, how long ago it was cooked, or what has happened to it since then. Regardless of all of these things I grab and start eating. I honestly can say that dog pretty much tastes like any other dark meat. It was fairly tender, well spiced.
I can’t believe that I will be living and working here for two years. So amazing! All of you reading this, come visit me and you too can eat dog! I can’t think of anything more appealing than that to make you come. :)
Well, I've finally done it. After talking about it for years. After searching on multiple continents; I have finally eaten dog.
Posted by Aaron on 7/27/2005
My tooth hurts! The root canal that i got 2 months ago didn't take. Three days ago i bit into my breakfast and felt like someone had rammed a hot poker into my cheek. No good. Luckily the peace corps medical people are AWESOME! They really take care of anything and everything that is wrong with us; sparing no expense along the way (within US governement funding restrictions of course! :) This morning i was driven from my training site to the capitol city. I realised as we entered Lome how in awe i was. I caught myself looking at a gas station and thinking, "Wow! They have a gas station. They don't buy there gas from old Gin bottles from a 12 year old on the side of the street like they do in Adetta."
I need to add a little note here: I hate dentists more then i hate anything else is this world. I don't just dislike one dentist. I don't just not like going to the dentist and having to deal with drills and bright lights and tubes sucking the spit out of my mouth. No. I dislike dentists. All of them. I don't care if you father is a dentist, i hate him too. I hate them.
I had to get that off my chest before i could continue with my story.
I went to the best dentist in all of Togo. I think that in putting on all of his gold chains this morning he didn't realise that you are supposed to wear a shirt under the white lab coat. I had never pictured what a pimp/dentist would look like. Now i know. He basically said that if the medicine he gave me doesn't take care of the infection in one of my roots i'm going to have to get a bridge. NOT LOOKING FORWARD TO THAT!
Other then that my life is wonderful. I love living here. I love the Peace Corps. I might have said this before... but... I don't know why more people don't do this. I am being taken care of 110% (almost to the point of being babied). And i get to live in an amazing place and do real work that will actually do something for someone. Every night when i watch the sun go down i ask myself, "Why do more people not do this." This is truly an amazing place!
Posted by Aaron on 7/21/2005
As i have said so many times before, i have such a hard time sitting down and finding only one thing to write about. I could literally sit and write (although i'd MUCH prefer to talk in person... and have a drink) for hours and hardly give justice to everything that I am doing here.
My dad says, "Chose one story and write about it." How can i chose a single story to write about when last weekend i went swimming in a waterfall, monday I was at the market drinking Chook (i'll explain sometime) with some local friends, or how i'm on a team of 4 who is giving business advice to 2 teens who have their own restaurant. I could literally sit here and write for an hour on the amazing African sun sets (anyone who has ever been in this country will know what i am talking about! There is something different about the way the sun sets here. I'm not sure if it the lush green background, if it is the amount of color that is in the sky, or something totally different that i can't quite put my finger on. I literally sit outside every night in total amazement, not even being able to read my book, at the beauty that is the sun while setting.) Then on top of that there is the amazingness that is my daily life. I catch myself thinking of things as normal (like the lizard i had to chase out of my room last night). There is just too much!!!
This upcoming week I will be at my post in Kara (look it up on google). I am so excited to see the house that i will be living in for the next 2 years (the rent on a 2 bedroom house that a current PCV (peace corps volunteer) lives in with living room and kitchen (no electricity or water) is 12,000 CFA (about $24 dollars) a month. Yes! You think about that when you are drinking your $12 martini, Ben! You are half way there to a new house.)
I just realised that it is almost 7pm! I must get home to eat dinner.
Sorry i havn't sent email. I havn't been able to get into my in box for a couple weeks now. :) Internet is SO bad here.
miss you all!
Posted by Aaron on 7/20/2005
Wow. I can not express the lesson in patience that is getting online here. Wow. I have been in this very hot little internet cafe for the past half. I have not been able to get into my email, have only now opened up the page to post on my blog, and am drenched in sweat. But thus is life here.
First, i would like to say hi to everyone at my old job. Good to know that you guys are all reading my blog! I can't tell you how much i miss all of you (cough cough).
There are times during my travels when I expierence a place or a thing that i can not even begin to describe. I remember that my first day in Israel and my trip to The DMZ were both days that i caught myself saying, "Wow. This is amazing." There was something different about those places. Instead of seeing something from history that was long since gone, or seeing somthing that was put there to make money off of you, you are instead living something real.
Last sunday i had another one of those days...
Since we got to Adeta (the little town where i live) i kept hearing about a "cascade" (waterfall) a little outside of town. Last sunday 8 of us Peace Corps people and a group of 10 - 15 local children guides walked there. To get to the water falls you first turn off the main road (any paved road is a main road... there aint very many of them around here). After turning off the main road we walked for about 15 minutes through a picture perfect African landscape of thick brush with the occasional tree. There is something about the trees here. I'm not 100% sure what it is. They just seem so... i don't know... african. They are all very tall, 20 - 30 feet maybe. The lower section of the trees are bare of leaves and branches. Then towards the tops the trees spread out into a wonderful canopy of leaves spread out perfectly to catch the sun. Love them!
We eventually entered the jungle. I was in the true African jungle. The entire time we were there i kept asking myself, "how the heck am i going to describe this in my blog (i'm a talker. Not a writer... anyone who knows me will understand that.)" Imagine what you think an african jungle should look like: stream running besides you, plants thick all around, tall trees with vines, a heavy moist air, green everywhere. Your perfect image is exactly what it was like. I need to go back because i missed so much. I felt like as soon as i would focus on one thing and soak in one sensory expierence 10 more would be distracting me (and i get distracted in DC when a bird flies by!). It was truly amazing. We finally walked into a clearing with the first waterfall. I can't even tell you how amazing it was to stand on the rocks around the water and watch it fall the 30 or so feet to the ground. It was amazing, beautiful, wonderful, breathtaking, EVERYTHING all wrapped into one. Our tour guide friends all stripped down to their underwear and jumped in the cold water. Scared about getting Shchisto (look it up online. They scared the CRAP out of us the other day at a health presentation. It's one of the many many fun tropical diseases that i could get. There are TONS of them!) we didn't get in.
After the first water fall we climbed to a second that was higher up on the moutain. This one was even more amazing rising probably 50 - 70 feet in the air. I can't tell you how amazing it was to stand there and watch the water make its long fall down. It fell so far that by the time it was close to the ground it had turned from a solid droplet to a fine mist.
I was somewhere real. This wasn't for tourists, this wasn't something that existed in the past and is now a shell of its former self, no. I was somewhere that was alive. That is the reason i travel.
Posted by Aaron on 7/15/2005
This was something that i wrote on another computer, put on a floppy, and meant to use as my first post. I have only now remembered to bring the desk with me. There might be things that I have already talked about. But in the end i wrote it, so i'll post it. Enjoy...
I am so sorry that it has taken me this long to update my website. The internet situation here has probably been the biggest shock (seconded by the dirt roads in Lome. I never thought I would see major capital that had sand as the main street building material.) The internet cafes here are usually about 15 computers made from parts from the mid 90s all sharing ONE 56k dial-up modem. To put that into perspective, in my old house I could get download speeds of around 400k. The internet cafes here are getting 1.4% of that. And then imagine that being shared between 15 people. It took me 30 minutes just to read my first email. I hope that explains partly why it has taken me this long to update my page.
I am in training at the moment. The Peace Corps does an AMAZING job at making sure we have all of the tools we need to do our jobs. My first three days in country were spent in health sessions. We covered everything from malaria to water filtration to diahreaha (the nurse giving the presentation said diahreaha 42 times in 20 minutes. I kept count.) After my first three days in Lome (the capitol) we took a bush taxi (the main mode of transportation between any two places in Togo. Usually consists of a car or van being held together (sometimes literally) by a piece of string and then crammed with 3 more people past the point where you couldn’t fit anyone else in) to a town where we will spend the next three months in language, cultural and technical (job related) training. After those three months we will all go on to our separate postings around the country.
I am currently living with a Togolese family. The Peace Corps decided that it was better to have each of us live with a family, speaking only french and Eve (the local language we will be learning), instead of all living together (22 Americans living together don’t speak much French!) While it isn’t the easiest of living, I love it. The family that I am living with is probably considered upper middle class by Togolese standards. They have electricty, a tv, and a scooter. I can’t tell you how much you come to apreciate being able to walk into your room and turn on a light at night (or even more, walk into my outhouse/bathroom and turn on a lamp. That’s the big one!) Even though they are upper-middle class my host mother cooks in an outdoor kitchen on the ground.
Living here reminds me a lot of camping. Every morning I wake up, pull my mosquito net away, stand next to my screen door and smell the morning dew smell mixed with cooking fire. Whenever I want to go to the bathroom I have to go outside (with a flashlight if it is late at night) and go to my own little outhouse. My laterine is two small rooms connected to each other. Each room is about three feet by three feet. In one room is a concrete "toilet" where I do my buisness. It’s amazing how it really doesn’t smell bad at all. Showering is actually quite an expierence as well. Whenever I want to shower I ask my host mother for hot water. She fills my bucket (they told us to bring our own buckets) with warm water which is then carried by one of the children (there are TONS of little children running around! Even though my host family only has 2 little girls, there are always at least 7 children in and around our house) one of the girls then carries my water to my shower stall. When the warm water is ready I remove all of my clothes in my room and rap myself in a Panye (a two meter piece of beautifuly colored cloth) and walk to my shower. I then dump the water on myself one cup at a time, get good and lathered with soap, wash my hair, and rinse off. It’s amazing how I don’t even go through an entire bucket of water and get a very nice shower. I wonder how many buckets of water I use when I take one of my long 30 minute showers at home?
I could literally go on for pages and pages about all the little details of life here. I will end now as my host mother will be getting dinner ready for me soon. Hopefully I will be able to write more later.
Posted by Aaron on 7/07/2005
Just a quick update...
First, thank you so much for posting comments! I can't tell you how wonderful it is to know that there are still people out there. Sometimes I feel very far away from everything. It is always wonderful to get a little hello.
Second, I have to comment on my situation right now. I get online from an "internet cafe" through an ONG (NGO in English... the French mix up all their acronyms) that is actually right up the street from me. I am sharing a 26k connection with 6 people. You have NO idea what slow internet is until you've tried this!
I think i mentioned it in my last post, but, during my travels there are times when i look up and say, "Where the heck am i?" Right now I am sitting next to my new friend Christopher (who is an artist in town), talking (in french) to two really cute French girls sitting two computers down, and listening to slow dance songs from my middle school dances that the guys who run this place decided to put on. Every time our music fades from song to song I can here the African dance music coming from the bar accross the street. I can't help but smile at how many cultural, old memory, and random things can mix to form a single sensory expierence. Truly amazing.
Other big news!
I FINALLY got a cell phone. After me being stupid and throwing out 5 phones when i moved out of my place, trying to unlock my old phone and use it (Ben, it didn't work! For some reason my phone refuses to pick up a signal now) i FINALLY got a phone. Please feel free to call me at any time! My number is 011 228 919 4830. The 011 is used to call out of the US, the 228 is the country code, and the rest is my number. Please feel free to call any time (i am 5 hours ahead the US... I think). You could also try sending me text messages.
Again, it was wonderful hearing from everyone! Please keep up the contact. I miss you all very much.
Posted by Aaron on 7/06/2005
Wow. Every time i sit down to write an update I have a hard time figuring out where to begin. My life here is SO amazing with SO many stories to tell that I get overwhelmed.
I will start this update by answering a few questions. Please use the comment feature of my blog to leave questions and comments on what i write! It's nice to know that there are people out there reading this. :)
Kate asked about books that I might like. First, so nice hearing from you Kate! I miss you guys so much! Second, I am reading like a banchee (not sure if that saying works here... you get the point.) I have read around 1500 pages thus far in 4 and a half books. I thought the 3 books i brought with me would last at least the first month. They lasted 10 days. As soon as i cut tv and internet out of my life i found hours and hours of wonderful reading time. I'm now reading a book written by a Harvard Prof about causes and sollutions to poverty. AMAZING book! I never thought i would call an econ book page turning. This one is. Please send me whatever book you think i might like. Send me your favorite book, send me a book you've always wanted to read, send me a book you've never wanted to read, send me anything. I will read it. After i read it i will send you a letter telling you everything that i thought about it. Just send books. I'm tearing through them!
Dad asked a couple questions... Let me see what i can do.
IN TERMS OF FOOD: Dr. Atkins would HATE my diet. The Togolese (and i think a large portion of Africa) eat carbs, and lots of them. Food in africa is a large portion of carb filled, stomach filling, starchey stuff and a sauce. At any given meal I will have a plate full of: rice, fufu, pate, cooscoos (sp?), or pasta. Next to my plate I will have a bowl with a lid. Opening this lid is always a source of excitement. The sauce inside this bowl is always green or red (red being tomato and green being somthing green.) Mixed with this sauce is my only source of protein in the form of small chunks of the meat of the day. I find myself craving anything with protein. Yesterday during a class on micro-finance someone was passing around a jar of peanuts. After a few minutes I realised i had finished about half of the wonderful wonderful protein filled jar.
How does one explain fufu? Imagine a ball of uncooked pizza dough that you eat with a light sauce. Fufu is made from manioc or ignam (Yam). They take one of those two roots, cut it into smalish pieces, boil it, then (in French) "pile" it. To "pile" something is basically using a giant mortar and pestal to grind it down and make it into a dough of sorts. In all the markets you see groups of four women standing around the two foot tall "pestal" pounding it with 3 foot baseball bat type things. It finally turns into the dough like stuff. It really isn't all that bad. In some ways it tastes like dough. In another way it really has no flavor. It is a stomach filler. At that job it does wonderfully. It is eaten with the right hand (NOT THE LEFT! My first time eating it i reached with my left and got scolded by my family.)
This update is already going on much longer than i had intended! There is just so much to say and so little time to say it.
A few other updates:
I found out that I will be posted to Kara. It is a city in the Northern portion of the country where The President of Togo (who is also a GW Alum) was born. I am SO excited to get there and start working!
All that stuff I said before I left about me not having electricty, living in a tiny village and having a mud hut. Ya, that was crap. It turns out that I am the first IT Peace Corps Volunteer to Togo. Kind of funny that no one mentioned that to me until i got here. At first i tried to fight it. I really wanted my village. After thinking about it and talking with the wonderful staff here I realised that I was brought here by the Peace Corps because of the skills that I have. As much as i want to run from it, my skills are with computers and IT. It is there that i can do the most. So it is there that i will work.
I'm going to end here. Today was a very long day with a wonderful hike up a moutain, a couple hours spent at my host fathers mechanic buisness watching the rain fall, and an amazing meal of chicken (PROTEIN). I must be off to take my bucket shower and sleep.
Please, keep asking questions and sending books. I miss you all so much!
Posted by Aaron on 7/02/2005