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For more updates on what we’re up to here in Mango, check out:

http://www.CampEtoilesTogo.wordpress.com

Thank you to all of you who read my blog while it was still alive!

Well, let’s call a spade a spade and admit that my blog officially died. It was never really alive and well, but since April 2010 I really did let it die. I’m not going to attempt to reinvigorate it–I think I’ve realized that I’m not the blogging type. However, for the sake of continuity, I will summarize the last 14 months in a paragraph before directing you to a website with a more specific purpose.

To put it simply, the last 14 months have been wonderful. Aside from the heat, Mango has been a very enjoyable place to live, and I’ve come to really love my friends here. I’ve continued to enjoy my work life, which has included radio shows related to education, educational talks with various youth groups, an extensive project related to hygiene in Mango’s primary schools, a training of a women’s group in a nearby village, and peer educator activities with students and apprentices in Mango. My main project for my remaining 5 months is a career development camp for girls in 9 villages of the Oti Prefecture. I won’t write much here because there is more information on my new blog, which I created exclusively to provide updates on Camp Etoiles du Nord. So, please visit the following website if you’d like to hear updates on what we’re up to here in Mango!

http://www.CampEtoilesTogo.wordpress.com

I’ll finish my service in November and will return to the States in December after a vacation with one of my Peace Corps friends. It’s truly amazing how quickly time seems to have passed!

Participants in one of the radio shows about girls education that I helped organize

No real story behind this one. Just some cute kids in action on May 1st, Worker's Day, which I celebrated with the staff of all the NGOs in Mango

Cute kid in an Obama shirt. Obama's name and face is everywhere in this country!!

Sunrise backed cloudscape on the way to the dam where the hippos live

Girls from Mango's Muslim school marching on Togo's independence day

My wild little pup!

The colorful market in Mango

Kotokoli knife ceremony/dance during Mango's parade celebrating 50 years since Togo's independence (see blog post for further explanation)

Knife ceremony again, but notice the man in the background referred to in my blog post

Members of a women's association in Koumongou who will be participating in our "training of community educators" next weekend (see post)

Every year several men on camels pass through Mango on their several month long expedition from the Sahara Desert in Burkina Faso down to Southern Togo and back up again. Since the only wildlife left in the region are the hippos, the visit from the camels was very exciting.Meeting with participants in our small enterprise program under the mango tree

I’ve once again failed at sticking to my goal of monthly blog updates. When this happens, the task of “updating my blog” becomes more and more daunting, as the experiences I’d like to share become jumbled and excessive. So, instead of attempting a recap of the last few months, I’m just going to call those the “lost months” and start with this week.

Today is Thursday, April 29th. I have officially survived “hot season”. The rains have started in Mango, and the cool weather that accompanies the rain is absolutely divine. A few weeks ago, my site-mates measured the temperature around midday at 121.6 degrees in the sun, and about 105 degrees in the shade. A book written by a Togolese doctoral student about the Anoufo described Mango during the hot season as “hell without a cover”, and I wholeheartedly agree!

I spent today with my colleague Moustafa putting together a lesson on Child Trafficking for a “Community Educator’s Guide” we’re creating, which needs to be ready in time for a training we’ll be holding in 2 weeks. My counterparts at the NGO ABEF and I have received funding for a 4-day training of 10 community educators in Koumongou, a large village about 25 km southwest of Mango. Several months ago, a women’s association/collective in Koumongou came to ABEF to ask for help organizing awareness-raising campaigns in their community about the importance of sending children to school, the dangers of child trafficking, and the negative effects of forced marriage. During a needs assessment with the women’s group, we identified several other issues that they were interested in learning about, including family planning, HIV/AIDS and STIs, and gender equity. I think it’s great that the idea came from these women and that they took the initiative to come to an NGO and ask for training. As mothers, they are well placed to communicate effectively with both parents and children in the community. The sessions will be led by the nurse at Koumongou’s clinic and by Moustafa and Madame Nanakan, my counterparts at the NGO ABEF. I’ll be co-leading some of the sessions, but everything I say will have to be translated into Anoufo, as the majority of the women don’t understand French. After the training, the women will hold “sensibilisations” (“awareness-raising activities” seems to be the best translation) 3 days out of the month—1 day with students, 1 day with parents, and 1 day with apprentices. We’ll be going out to Koumongou once a month for 6 months to provide any needed support and to encourage the women to continue their activities. This project is full of new experiences for me, but thankfully Moustafa and Madame Nanakan have carried out similar projects throughout the past several years. These next 2 weeks are going to be incredibly busy, as there is still much to be done and organized before the training starts on May 14th.

As I write this, my 3-month-old puppy is laying on my feet. This is a very rare occurrence. The majority of his life is spent running around biting at everything he sees (toes, legs, sandals, bike pedals—you name it). I’ve named him Sawari, which means “patience” in Anoufo. The family I share a compound with has a dog as well, and he and Sawari have become great buds. I’ve managed to teach him “sit” and “down”, but every time he descends into the down position he does so with an air of teenage insolence, throwing a paw in the air as he reluctantly lowers himself to the ground. Speaking of dogs, a rabid dog came through my neighborhood today and attacked my next-door neighbor’s puppy. A group of men beat it to death with long pieces of wood, and then proceeded to discuss whether or not they could eat it before informing the owner. They concluded that he who kills a rabid dog has the right to eat it, and the crowd dispersed. Never a dull moment! J

This Tuesday, April 27th, was the 50th anniversary of Togo’s independence. Mango celebrated with a large parade down the national route. It took a bit of patience to make it through the first two hours, which consisted of thousands of students in identical khaki uniforms and the countless associations and unions in Mango performing a military march. The end of the parade—the “folkloric groups”—was well worth the wait. Traditional songs and dances from multiple regions in Togo were performed, the highlight of which was the “knife ceremony” of the Kotokoli ethnic group. Traditional healers, or “fetishmen”, prepare a magical solution that is allegedly capable of protecting the body from the knives that are used in the ceremony. The men rub the solution all over themselves before the ceremony starts. During the ceremony, the men take off their shirts and violently attempt to stab and cut themselves with knives and machetes, but the blade apparently doesn’t affect them. The men enter a trance before starting to “stab” themselves, and this trance can be passed to other men who are in the presence of the ceremony. During the parade, an older man was taken in by the trance and started taking off his clothes so that he could stab himself too, but he was stopped by those around him (see picture). Apparently, the “goal” of the ceremony is to show the spiritual power and skill of the traditional healers or “fetishmen” who prepared the protective solution. Every March, the Kotokoli have a large festival, the focus of which is the knife ceremonies. I’d really like to go next year, and I’ll admit that it’s partially because I want to see if there’s some “trick” to the ceremony. It’s very hard for me to believe that it’s really a magical liquid that’s protecting them. Are they just pretending to use a lot of force? Are the blades dull? My mind that is so enamored with rational explanations cannot accept “magic” as the answer. Several friends have promised me that there’s no trick to it. It’s “African magic”, they say. They’ve seen it with their own eyes, up close. They’ve felt the blades. I’ll just have to wait and find out for myself next March. The mélange of traditional beliefs with the predominant religions of Islam and Christianity is fascinating. The vast majority of Mango’s population identifies either as Muslim or Christian, and both religions officially prohibit the majority of traditional ceremonies, visits to the Marabout (traditional healers), etc, but people continue to practice their traditions discreetly. Unfortunately, that makes it hard to learn about traditional customs and beliefs, especially as a foreigner. Thankfully, I have a lot of time!

My plan for the next few months (summer vacation) includes taking a quick vacation to the coast of Benin with some friends from training, working at the recently inaugurated “Red Cross Youth Center” in Mango, which sort of resembles a Boys’ and Girls’ Club in the US, finishing up the micro-loan program with the high school girls, designing summer activities for a group of students who receive scholarships from an NGO called Bornefonden, and being a counselor at Camp Unité, an annual summer camp organized by Peace Corps that’s essentially a training of peer educators on various “life skills” topics. I’ll also continue to go on frequent runs and bike rides, practice yoga, take weekly guitar lessons, take French and Anoufo lessons, read for pleasure, and spend time with friends in Mango. All in all, life is good!

This Sunday my friend Moustafa taught me how to make peanut sauce, a Togolese specialty (it’s also a Ghanaian specialty). It was incredible, and much less complicated than I had imagined, so I’m posting the recipe for you to experiment with. If you do end up making it, let me know how it goes!! I do have to warn you though—all of the measurements are guesstimates, and I wasn’t sure what some of the spices were…so if it’s not delicious, just come visit me in Mango. We made the dish using smoked fish, but this would work with any protein source—tofu, chicken, fish, etc. It’s also up to you to choose how you want to prepare it—stir-fry, grill, boil, etc.—because you’ll just be putting it into the sauce for the last 5-10 minutes. Smoked fish in Peanut Sauce with Rice Balls (Poisson fumé à la sauce d’arachide avec la pâte du riz) PEANUT SAUCE (3-4 people) Ingredients: 2 cups Spinach (I used adult spinach but baby spinach would probably work just fine) 8 fresh hot peppers (they’re light green and about the size of a quarter…kind of circular but lumpy…I’m sure any variety of hot pepper will work) 4 medium-sized tomatoes 1/2 cup peanut butter 2 onions 2 cloves garlic 2 chicken or veggie bouillon cubes Spices: ginger powder, red chili powder (maybe cayenne pepper?), salt, pepper, and several other spices but I have no idea what they were (my friend and the ladies in the market only knew the names in Anoufo) 1) Put spinach in a small amount of water (enough to nearly cover the spinach) and bring it to a boil. After about a minute, remove the spinach from the water and set aside. 2) Prepare your protein source with ½ of an onion, 1/3 of the bouillon cube, and 2 cloves crushed garlic. In our case, we boiled the smoked fish in the water we had used for the spinach for about 5 minutes. (Smoked fish is already cooked). When it’s ready, set aside your protein source. 3) Chop tomatoes into small cubes. Put into the pot you’re going to use for the sauce. Mix in all of the peanut butter and add spices to taste (ginger, pepper, chili powder, get creative and add some other spices maybe?). Mix thoroughly, and then add about 3 cups of water. Mix this VERY well, and then put it on the burner. Use your own judgment and add more water if necessary. Or, if you think the sauce is too thin, add more peanut butter. Bring the mixture to a boil, add the rest of the bouillon cube and add salt to taste. If you have leftover water from preparing your protein source, pour it into the sauce to add flavor. 4) Cut up the boiled spinach into bite size pieces, cut up the remaining 1 ½ onions, and crush the fresh hot peppers in your hand. Don’t crush them completely, just squeeze them in between your fingers so that they crack a little bit. 5) Let the tomato/peanut butter mixture boil for about 15 minutes. Then add the veggies (spinach, onions, peppers) and your prepared protein source. Let that boil for about 5-10 minutes and you’re done! You can, of course, add any assortment of veggies…bell peppers, broccoli maybe? Whatever floats your boat. Now, for the rice balls… PATE DU RIZ (mushy rice balls) This is a very easy recipe. You simply add extra water when you’re making your rice. I can’t say exactly how much extra, but enough so that you end up with really mushy rice. You want it to become like a paste. When almost all the water has been absorbed and it’s nice and mushy, you’re going to use a thick spatula to mix the rice vigorously and sort of pound the rice with the spatula as you’re mixing. When it’s nice and pasty (not liquidy, but pasty!), wet down a plate and scoop big lumps of the rice paste onto the wet plate. Try not to let the lumps of rice touch each other. Let the rice lumps cool for about 10 minutes, or until they’re fairly firm, and voilà—your rice balls are ready to go. The ideal would be to make perfectly spherical balls of rice paste, and they sell a special tool here to do that, but I wouldn’t know what to tell you to buy… The difference between your rice balls and the Togolese rice balls will be purely aesthetic, so not to worry. All that’s left now is a few tips for eating your delicious feast. I encourage you to eat with your hands, as is the custom here! I’m still getting used to this…I usually end up with sauce dripping down my chin, but I’m getting better all the time ☺ Use your fingers to pull off a chunk of the rice ball, roll it around a little bit so it’s sort of a ball-shape, dip it in your sauce, grab a piece of fish and some veggies as you dip, and chow down! Bon appetit!!!

Last of the photos

Having lunch with my counterpart and her sister at a restaurant near my house

The oldest siblings of my host family, Rafioe and Azia, at the dam near Mango where we biked out and saw the hippos

A beautiful, tranquil space near the dam with the hippos where I spent several hours reading

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