Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Bienvenue au Togo!

I was the victim of bureaucratic corruption within minutes of stepping off the plane.  That, coupled with the immediate stifling heat, meant that Togo wasn't exactly making the best first impression. After I passed my bags through the scanner, a security guard told me that I couldn't leave the terminal until I gave him a gift.  I faintly remembered hearing about having to pay some sort of exit tax to leave many developing countries and I saw a man next to me slip the guards a $20. In my defense, my confusion stemmed from the fact that he was demanding this "gift" while simultaneously stroking my hand and asking if he could take me out for coffee.  Mixed messages. So I got flustered, and was so tired of being in Airport World that I consented and slipped him a $20 and sprinted out of there. I knew exactly what was going on, I knew I was being scammed, but at the same time I was just too tired to care.  Pick your battles.
 I was wrong about Togo, I love it. My first real impression of Togo was Lome,  the capital city and kind of a large-scale village.  Everyone and their grandmother has a motorcycle, which they drive recklessly, including the grandmothers. Also I know I had seen it in pictures before, the extraordinary daily balancing acts of women with huge baskets on their heads and babies on their backs, but let's just say it's not as easy as it looks. I tried and failed, but don't worry I kept the baby safe.  We arrive in Kpalime and Ashley takes me to my homestay and to meet my “Mama and Papa” and their relatives/ all of the other people who live in the house. I counted and I think it’s around 15 or 16. My favorite is a 2 year old named Gad, who has so much personality. He sees me in the morning and a huge smile lights up his face and he says “Ta Ta Julia.”
The scenery here in Kpalime is beautiful.  When I pictured myself in Africa I didn’t picture myself in the tropics, but that is where I am.  All the roads are this pretty clay orange color and they are flanked by palm trees, greenery and mountains.  Some locals here and other volunteers have told me that there is an amazing butterfly sanctuary in the mountains, as well as tons of beautiful waterfalls, an German castle and other great day trips.  I can’t wait to go. We went to a waterfall in Wome the other day and it was so beautiful.  I know I naively pictured an arid landscape before I came to Africa so to see all of this lusciousness has been pretty amazing. 
Our days are pretty slow, and it’s been difficult for me to get used to this leisurely pace with all this time on my hands.  I thrive off of being busy, of always having plans and an agenda on my hands, so this has been a difficult transition.  So now when I’m not at Chantal’s or Ashley’s working, which does take up over half the day, I’m either reading, working, or playing with Gad. Kpalime is known for its artistic tradition, which is on display twice every week at the market. We went this past weekend and I bought three pahne (non batik fabric that comes from Dutch wax printing) that I'm going to have Chantal make custom clothes for me that are pictured below. The market is thriving, tons of fruits and vegetable stands, craft stands, random item stands, and people everywhere. It's a hidden maze of wonderment. We are also going to Lome this weekend and they have an even bigger market there so I can buy more fabric, which I'm really excited about. We're also going to go to a fetish market which sounds so interesting. I'm not really sure what to expect for that one but I'm hoping there's some sort of voodoo involved.
            Currently with Chantal we are working on business expansion, product development, quality control, pricing and community audits, funding proposals, lookbook catalogs, and her apprenticeship program so it’s nice to be busy!  Today we watched them making some batik, I gave them my idea for using recycled scraps of batik to make friendship like bracelets than can be used for either bracelets, purse straps, belts, or a place mat (which seems a little ambitious).and the women loved it! Funny how what I learned at summer camp however many years ago is useful in my summer fellowship.  But it's a good way to incorporate more recycling into the production process! Also I spoke with Chantal this morning for like an hour and a half finalizing details about her apprenticeship program that she wants to start up. Her apprenticeship program will ideally offer apprencticeships to Kpalime’s large population of orphans or disadvantaged youth. Many children are taken in by willing households, but still receive little financial support for their education and development. They are most often found doing domestic work for the family that took them in, but as a result they become dependent on others and have no opportunities for their own professional advancement.  While there are apprenticeships in a wide range of crafts at private and public training centers available, they are expensive and beyond the means of an average family that supports itself on $2 a day.
            Chantal aspires to have a training center and batik workshop that would grant free apprenticeships to orphans and give them an opportunity to learn a trade and support themselves.  While she has invested in a plot of land for the construction of a training center and storefront, complete with lodging for new apprentices and workspace and has developed a detailed budget for construction, she still lacks the necessary funding.  A portion of the revenue from the sales of Aklala’s products would help finance the housing and training for these orphans and underprivileged persons to aid in their independence and development. Once they have completed the training they would be offered paid positions with Aklala Batik that would allow them to support themselves and find permanent housing elsewhere.  The available lodging would then be open to the next round of orphans and individuals.  In addition to providing technical expertise, Chantal and Nest will also work with the women to provide supplementary education with respect to financial skills and management through Nest’s own curriculum.

Product Pictures and this weekend in Lome to follow!

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