First of all I want to say thank you so much to everyone for their messages! I honestly felt so loved when I read them so thank you again from the bottom of my heart. I am feeling much better and almost 100% back to myself J
The story goes… (minus all the disgusting details!)
Wednesday night, after two full days at the Forum with the Ligue, I came home, ate dinner and crashed. I was exhausted! I woke a little while later with a funny tummy but attempted to just sleep it off. After about an hour or so of willing myself not to throw up I decided it would probably just make me feel better if I did. And so started my series of trips to the bathroom that night…
It is worth mentioning my Japanese flatmate at this point, Sayo, as she was absolutely incredible! She got up almost every time I ran past her room, offering me everything from pills to a little cool pack to put on my head. I felt so terrible in the morning when she had to go to work knowing she really mustn’t have had a lot of sleep.
Thursday morning I felt like I had been hit by a bus. I had absolutely no energy, my head spun in circles when I stood up for more than a minute and I could only fight the urge to throw up if I lay in the foetal position. Around 7am my Togolese Mum came into my room to check on me. Sayo had told her I wasn’t well and so she made me some-type of rice soup and tea. Unfortunately I really wasn’t in the mood for anything so after a few spoonfuls I went back to my ‘comfortable’ position and dozed in and out. A little after 9am, Happy came in again to tell me that she had called the Director and he would come in an hour or so to take me to the hospital. I didn’t at all want to go to the hospital (I didn’t think I would make it that far…) but I wasn’t in a state to argue.
When the Director arrived I struggled to get changed and then collapsed in the back seat of the car. Luckily the private clinic that all volunteers of Projects Abroad are treated at isn’t very far from my house. I spoke with the doctor, gave her ALL the details of my night, and was then taken for a blood test. The doctor told me it was one of two things; I either had le palu (malaria), which she said, by the sounds of it my symptoms showed, or else I ate something bad the day before. I wasn’t very impressed by the sound of malaria, as I had been taking my pills every morning, not missing a single one! She told me she would start me on the malaria treatment anyway while we waited for the results to come back.
So I was taken to my own private room and to my horror the treatment was a big, fat drip… FOR FOUR HOURS! For most people who know me, you will know I’m not a fan of needles (ok that is a slight understatement, I HATE NEEDLES!) so a needle permanently stuck in my hand was not my idea of making myself feel better. Briefly considered taking my chances with the malaria… (obviously this was a very short lived thought). But to my surprise once I was all strapped in and being pumped with random substances I fell straight to sleep and didn’t wake up until the nurse came in to tell me it was done. I gave her my hand, happy that the drip was done and was devastated when she removed the tube but LEFT THE NEEDLE!! Apparently the treatment is five doses, meaning the needle stays for another 2 days. Fantastic…!
On Friday I felt a little better and was given my results which indicated that I didn’t have malaria which, to be honest, I was relieved by. However, they told me it was necessary to finish the treatment anyway (which I didn’t quite understand) so I sat through both my doses; one in the morning, one in the evening. Super Friday night for me… Date with a drip! To top it off, my wrist started to swell so they decided to change the drip to my left hand. However for ten minutes there was a period of overlap where both my hands were punctured with needles L.
But come Saturday morning I felt a lot better. My fever had gone, the vomiting had stopped and I had a bit more energy. I was even alert enough to be chronically bored during my two doses that day. My doctor came in to check on me Saturday morning and asked me how I was feeling. When she saw I was a lot better she told me, although it wasn’t seen in the blood work, the fact that the treatment had worked meant it was almost certain I had malaria. I do however also think that if it was something I ate, after 3 days, that too would have passed, but I am no doctor and I am honestly just grateful, regardless of what it was, that it’s all fine now.
The staff at the clinic were really lovely, laughing and joking with me, teaching me some éwé and constantly using the Togolese catch phrase “ca va aller” with a few “ca va passer” thrown in! I felt really well looked after and although I’ve never been in hospital before, it didn’t feel any different then if I was sick at home.
One thing that did surprise me however was how my pain threshold had previously been enough to let me walk around Paris for the weekend on a broken leg (I didn’t at the time know was broken!) but the pain of them removing the drip was almost unbearable! Haha thinking maybe it’s slightly in my head J. However I think it is fairly safe to say now, that after having had to stab myself 56 days in a row (with blood thinning needles) when I was in my cast and now having had a needle permanently residing in my hand for the last 72 hours, my fear of them is now more just a great dislike.
Most importantly however I learnt from this experience that if I am serious about this being the work I want to do in the future then I am bound to occasionally end up sick and so I just need to suck it up and trust “ca va aller!”
The Ligue (LTDH)
My first week at the LTDH, despite missing my kids at the orphanage terribly, hasn’t been too bad.
My first day, I arrived with Sarah to find several chairs set up in front of a table with 3 microphones. A press conference, organised last-minute on Friday of last week, was due to be held at 10am (obviously Togolese/African time being 10:30-11am) on the subject of the recent murders of some young women in Lomé… Awesome! Being a young woman myself, not exactly the subject I was hoping for my first day. My superior still had not arrived at 9am and we spent about half an hour waiting for him, only to find him totally distracted and uninterested the whole time I was being introduced. This was however due to circumstances he later explained and further apologised for. Since then he has been helpful and fun to work with. He speaks crazy fast, with a strong African accent, but he is lovely and has a good sense of humour.
The first day, after the conference had finished, it was difficult to find what exactly I was supposed to do, so I just floated around, read reports and some articles in the local newspaper to get an idea of the human rights situation in Togo… It’s pretty shocking! Although there has been progress in recent years and there are several organisations already established fighting for human rights, there is still a long way to go. Seeing actual accounts of violations to peoples’ fundamental rights really opened my eyes and was extremely sad to read.
My second day was my meeting with my superior and was useful in that he explained my role at the Ligue (I am officially a stagiaire) and asked me specifically what I would like to work on. He agreed that a little later I should be able to work on areas regarding children’s rights, which is ultimately the area I want to work in once I (finally) graduate. Just before midday, Atcho, another stagiaire, informed me that we were going to the court at 2:30pm to hear the case of 14 young people who had been arbitrarily arrested. I was supposed to be meeting at the office (Projects Abroad) at 3pm for some cooking lessons but couldn’t turn this opportunity down. We arrived at 2:30pm, early in African time obviously, and were joined by another lawyer who often works with LTDH. Around 2:45pm we descended the stairs and followed the 14 detainees into the ‘Salle d’Audience’. It was literally one room with a few small benches and two ceiling fans to accommodate the 100-150+ hot, sweaty and restless spectators. Atcho had told me the case should be heard by 5pm. At 7:10pm, after nearly 5 hours, the judge finally gave her decision and excused us all. She found 13 of the 14 were innocent and allowed them to go, the last she found guilty and sentenced him to 12 months with a minimum of 6 months in prison. By this time, I was exhausted, hungry and completely dehydrated (hadn’t eaten since breakfast and finished all my water before entering the court) and very ready to head home.
Wednesday I helped post invitations to the invitees of next week’s forums. After an hour or so I summarised a report on the protests by university students in 2011. Some of the human rights violations that occurred during these protests are unbelievable with police open firing on crowds at close proximity with blank bullets and bombs of tear gas. Further, violent and severe beatings occurred often. These were students my own age and even younger being attacked for simply asking for better conditions at their university.
Thursday we had two people come in regarding violations to their human rights. The first was concerning a dismissal at work, followed by threats to his safety (ex-boss threatened to have him arrested). The second concerned the parents of a sick child who had recently had her sponsorship agreement broken for no valid reason (we think it may be because she is sick quite often and the organisation does not wish to pay for her expenses…). I, obviously, took the case involving the child.
And today, Friday, I did a little research on the organisation, putting together a small dossier of the case.
First week down, four to go!
Hello friends. I am fine but feeling the crush of my last week in Addis Ababa. I headed down to Awassa and Dilla a few weeks ago. Awassa with 10 volunteers was reelaxing and fun. We stayed on the lake and generally messed around with the monkeys resident in our hotel. Someone even found a giant tortise in their room, hehehe. After this, I decided to break free from the group and pop in to Dilla to see some prehistoric stone carvings. Also, the coffee in Dilla -about 10 km from Yirga Cheffe- was on my list of to dos. I was not disappointed and actually enjoyed the Dilla city quite a bit. Staying up all night sorting raw coffee beans from the junk, and talking with my friend who was working with me, was an experience I wont forget. I even avoided the armed gunmen that stopped our group as they passed through Shashamane on their way to Addis from Awassa. All in all, the trip was amazing. The talent show was magnificent and everyone there had a great time. I have a DVD so give me a shout if you are interested in taking a look. A plan hatched in Awassa led me to depart to the Omo valley the day after the talent show. It was one of those spur of the moment things that ends up being unforgettable and truly life changing. The southwest of Ethiopia is tribal, and I love it - anthropology major in effect. We mingled with tribes in ways that I never imagined possible. Drove around remote dirt roads, met international people, and had major laughs all the way through. What an amazing trip. Our driver, Aliu, was a star. We took a private car rental for 150 USD per day by the way. My favorite was spending the night in with Hamar family and eating the local food (spinach and corn cake), and staying up all night talking. Now I am in Addis again, and hanging out with volunteers. Many of us gathered yesterday for a farewell dinner, awwwwwww. I am excited for my dad to join me on Sunday, his presence will be so welcome here. I am especially grateful to have time to spend together. We are taking a trip on the NOrthern circuit of Ethiopian man-made history, then climbing Kilimanjaro, then saafari, than Zanzibar! Just typing that my heart flutters. Catch you all later. Maybe Ill blog from tanzania, or thailand? I love you all very much.
Where do you begin with transport in Togo? Honestly, it is literally n’importe quoi…!
There are three forms of transport: les taxis motos, les taxis voitures (cars) et les taxis brousses.
Les taxis motos: are the quickest and easiest form of transport. They are everywhere and although usually a little more expensive than the taxi voiture, they will drop you right to your front door. It is however necessary to negotiate your fare BEFORE you get on the bike, I have learnt. I have never been afraid of motorbikes before however I can honestly say that I am still not used to, nor comfortable with, my legs brushing another vehicle as I go by or the absolute worst feeling of the tyres slipping on the sandy roads. Further, when you combine fearless drivers with no respect for lights of any colour (especially red!), congested traffic and shocking roads, it is literally just an accident waiting to happen! But don’t stress out Mum, I have a chauffeur who usually picks me up and takes me wherever I want to go, who is a good and cautious driver and was aware that I was literally clinging on for dear life each and every time for at least the first week. He also makes sure I am wearing my helmet each time (which I do anyway…). My first experience of ‘le double’ had me LITERALLY on the edge of my seat and on the edge of wetting myself. On our recent trip to Kpalimé, which is 2 hours from Lomé, Sam and I had already had a horrible experience with motos that morning and had spent the day trekking through plantations and climbing a mountain in the scorching heat, so couldn’t be bothered to wait in a deserted village for a second moto. However… A steep descent down a mountain with potholes in the road the size of me and barely enough room on the one set of pegs for one person’s feet let alone two, it was not the greatest first experience I could have had. Sam and I spent the whole time throwing each other looks and nervously giggling at our stupidity. I’m still here though!
Les taxis voitures: are not anything like taxis at home. They act more like buses, running on the main roads and picking as many people up as they can fit… and when I say fit, I don’t mean legally fit, I mean literally squash into a small hatchback car. From Kpalimé, Sam and I caught a taxi home and were fortunate (not joking) to only have 7 people squashed into the small Toyota Corolla. I have heard of a family of four sitting one on top of the other in the passenger seat for over half an hour before. And this is completely normal! Taxi voitures are less expensive than motos as they always take longer and only drop you along the main roads. You do however need to be careful as there are two types of taxis, ones you rent which will take you to your door, and the normal, bus type ones. The rented taxis work by you paying for each place in the car and are therefore around 5-6 times more expensive.
Les taxis-brousses: are mini-vans that usually take people outside of Lomé. They would be the equivalent of our Greyhound coaches however are 80% smaller and 100% less comfortable. These taxis are incredibly cheap for the distances they go however again they have no limit of passengers (Sam and I had 15 passengers in a 9 seater van) and require you to wait until the taxi is full before it will leave. Our wait was thankfully only an hour, however sitting in a stationary mini-van in 35C for an hour was definitely more than enough! There are not a lot of these taxis and as they don’t run on a timetable it is a good idea to be there a few hours before you actually need it to leave.
One month left in Togo and I’m counting down the days until I travel from A to B in comfort and without fearing for my life!
I am already three weeks down, meaning close to half way and therefore close to changing projects (I am moving to a Human Rights NGO in my second month) and I thought it was necessary to name each and every one of the little ones whom have stolen my heart and whom I cannot imagine leaving…
In my orphanage there are currently 24 children, les 16 filles (girls) and les 8 garcons (boys). Unfortunately, of these 24 only one speaks French, which makes communication with the rest limited to gestures and funny noises. The majority of the time I find myself wishing that there was some better way but Iréne recently taught Sam and I a few necessary words in Mina that when we used for the first time caused a wave of silence through the kids followed by hysterical laughter! Apparently, this might just work!
Alors, mes filles…
* Sophie – Is the eldest at 12 years old. She is super tall, super skinny and SUPER stunning! When she smiles her eyes literally light up. She is generally kind and patient with the others and is often one of the ones left to clean up or finish the chores. She gets embarrassed easily yet loves to pose for photos.
* Patience (Passi)– Is the next eldest. She is quiet and kind but often just sad. I think of all the children, life in the orphanage is toughest on her. She does not understand French, usually responding to all questions with ‘oui’ which means we often have no way of knowing what is troubling her. A few days ago she was bitten by an ant on her knee, which subsequently became infected, spreading all the way up her leg from her hip to her toes. But thankfully she was finally taken to the doctor after three days and once having taken antibiotics and anti-inflammatories she was running around.
* Elie – Is literally skin and bones! She is tall, but there is just nothing of her. Her waist is probably the size of my arm however she is surprisingly strong! She too is quiet, happy to sit back and watch the others and on very rare occasions says one or two words in French.
* Iréne – Is the leader of the group despite not being the eldest and is the most advanced in her studies. She alone can speak and understand French and Sam and I therefore spend a lot of time getting her to translate what the kids are saying and what we want them to do. She is often stern with the others but has the respect of each of them. She basically does as she pleases and appears to be quite content with her life in the orphanage.
* Huguette – With a personality that changes every day. Some days she is one of the loudest in the group, other days you wouldn’t even know she was there. She is cheeky, but often in a way that means you wouldn’t know it was her and she absolutely loves to pose for photos. She refuses to be pushed aside when there is a camera around.
* Victoire (Rina) – Is beautiful and the majority of the time fairly quiet. She is not really the same age as any of the girls and therefore floats between the older girls and the younger ones. She has her moments but is usually well behaved.
* Merveille and Parfaite – Are the sisters of Iréne and probably the cheekiest of the lot, each with their own attitude. Having Iréne as a sister has its advantages; they often get handed the biggest plates at meal times and they usually have the support of the leader when disputes occur. However they are both adorable and their cheeky smiles/laughs often make you forget why you were angry in the first place.
* Rosa – Is my girl. She is the newest to the orphanage, arriving only a couple of days after me. She was thought to be 3 years old (doesn’t have a birth date) but comparing her to the 3 year olds we have she is definitely four or five. The first few days were hard on her and I found her several times crying silently on her own. She is however incredibly intelligent and knows that if she pretends to cry now she will often get her way. When she arrived, the school refused to take her cause she arrived after the school year had begun, however they have since relented and yesterday she went to her first class. According to her (estimated) age she should have started in La Maternel, however she was too advanced and was therefore placed in CP1. I was so proud of her but come Monday there will be a huge gap in my day without her. She was also obviously pleased with herself and kept repeating CP1 to me and Sam for the rest of the afternoon.
* Emma – Is the sassy one of the group. She walks with the biggest strut I have ever seen, with her shoulders going and everything. She knows what she wants and sulks if she doesn’t get it. She is a stirrer and often winds up the others but doesn’t like to be wound up herself. She is however hilarious and her smile literally takes up half her face.
* Alida – Is a little angel. She is so tiny that each time I touch her I feel like she is going to break. She loves to be cuddled but will sit back while the others grab the attention. She has an adorable little giggle that is as timid as she is. When I arrived it took at least a week for me to see her smile. Of the little ones, life at the orphanage appears to be the toughest on her. She too often cries silently for no reason that I can see.
* Noelie and Vivianne – Are BFF’s. They do EVERYTHING together! Including crying and playing up. When the two of them are together (which is most of the time) they are the terrible two. Noelie is usually the worst, rarely listening to what she is told, with Vivianne just following along. Crying/screaming is a favourite pastime and usually continues for minutes on end. However both are incredibly generous, usually finishing last at meal times and handing out their last pieces of rice/pasta to the little vultures circling them and they are so cute that you can’t help but love them.
* Clarisse – is the quiet one. And we all know what they say about the quiet ones… It’s them you need to watch! She is adorable, with a tiny little attitude that at first you don’t even realise is there until BAM one day there she is with her hand on her hip, staring you down. She is the same age as Noelie and Vivianne and is basically the third wheel to that little duo.
* Sylviére – Is the baby that is no longer the baby. She is about 2 years old and craves attention! She is always close by, if not on top of you and her small whimpers can usually be heard during the day, just so you don’t forget she is there! When she is content however she doesn’t stop chatting away in Mina even though Sam and I don’t understand and she often makes us laugh with the silly little things she does. Thursday morning while Sam and I were doing the washing, Sylviére and Rosa were pretending to help and as we turned our backs to hang up the clean clothes, Sylviére leant forward too far on her chair and toppled straight into the basin of dirty water. I know we shouldn’t have but Sam, Rosa and I were in stitches which made Sylviére even more unimpressed and she continued to sulk for a good 10 minutes.
* Marie-Felicité – Is the baby of the orphanage and she knows it. All attention is on her. She is about 18 months old and has a vocabulary of maybe 3 words, a natural turn out that would make a ballerina jealous, a bigger appetite than me but the bladder the size of a pea! She is not yet able to walk although she is so unbelievably close. She crawls on her hands and feet with her bottom in the air. I’m hoping that before I leave she will take her first proper, unaided steps.
Et puis mes petits garcons…
* Ebénezer – Is the eldest boy and is fairly reserved. It took him a while to become comfortable around me and Sam but now he attempts to communicate things to us. He is helpful yet shy but will often smile and then quickly avert eye contact.
* Innocent – Is mischievous and loud. He is the clown of the boys, often stirring the little ones and is normally the reason the boys won’t sleep at siesta time. He has a cute smile despite his half-grown front teeth and I think is quite a bit smarter than he lets on.
* Felix – Is another quiet but mischievous one. When he is with Innocent you can usually guarantee they are up to something. Although I can’t be sure (because I don’t speak Mina) I think he speaks with a slight stutter, unless he just likes to repeat himself several times, which is also quite possible when you are attempting to speak over 23 others.
* Theophile – Is exceptionally shy and sensitive. He will be a little heartbreaker when he is older cause he is gentle and kind and loves to be hugged. He is rarely the centre of attention but instead more sticks to himself. At the end of each school day however he runs from the other side of the playground with a smile on his face and throws himself at me. Then walks quietly the rest of the way home…
* Daniel – Is Sophie’s little brother and is also shy and generally keeps to himself. With the exception of when the camera is around! Then it is the Daniel Show with him showing off whatever object he happens to be holding or is able to find. Otherwise he will strategically place himself in the way of the lens in order to make sure he is in the photo.
* Emmanuel – Has the most adorable, round face in the world. His smile is just too big for him although he cries the most out of the boys. He loves to ‘read’ (although he still can’t read French) and colour-in, taking his time to pay attention to every detail. Afterwards he holds up his work like it is a world famous masterpiece.
* Kossi – Is tiny with no front teeth and always seems to be sick. He has had a raging fever three times since I arrived and wears jeans and a jumper despite it being 35-40C every day. He is timid at first but enjoys to be part of things even if he isn’t the centre of attention.
* And finally Jacques – Is the bubba of the boys. He always has a snotty nose and is very easily entertained, even by himself. He loves clapping games, singing and dancing (really anything that involves music or noise) and point blank refuses to stay in bed during siesta. If anyone desperately needs to pee 4 times in the hour between 1-2pm every day like this boy does, I will pay them.
I officially have 1 week left with these little munchkins and it will never be enough time. I do however plan to still go each Wednesday and Friday afternoon after work so there will still be plenty of stories to add later J
Two weeks after arriving in Lomé, I was fortunate enough to be invited to the wedding of my host sister’s husband’s sister. It was a Sunday morning ceremony that involved me being ready and at the church by 8am. However, after 4 and a half hours of what I would in fact call a ‘performance’, we finally left the church and headed for the reception. Despite the combination of heat and no water at all during this time, it was AMAZING!
Starting at the beginning, on the Saturday before, I ventured alone to the Grand Marché to buy a dress. I didn’t want to stand out… haha let me rephrase, yovo didn’t want to stand out more! So 2 hours after walking around in the scorching heat and being followed around by two guys who really wanted me to buy dresses from them, I found an African dress that was cheap enough (under 10 euro) and that didn’t make me look quite as much like a sack of potatoes as the others.
The next morning I woke up at 6:30am, giving myself plenty of time to actually apply the make-up and use the straightner that have been sitting in my room since I arrived. I even made the effort to semi-curl my hair (it was too hot to actually curl it all! Only have one power point in my room and that is 90% of the time powering my fan). At 7:30am I came out onto the terrace to find my host mother, host sister and her husband. My host mother looked fantastic in her gold wedding outfit, very sophisticated. My host sister, who is 7-8 months pregnant, decided not to join us. A little time later, little Zeeko and Mama Zeek came out of the house. Zeek, who is obsessed with shoes, came out in his brand new leather shoes and was prancing around like a peacock, so pleased with himself. We waited for my host brother and his family to arrive and then we packed into two cars and drove to the church.
When we arrived I found the church was open, with no walls and there were places for way way more than a few hundred people like the weddings I am used to. In fact, I have been told that an average wedding here will have 1000 invited guests, plus the 500-1000 guests who invite themselves. This one was definitely on the larger scale, my estimate is between 1,700-2,000 people. We arrived a little late, around 8:15am, however nothing really, other than the choir singing, happened for about an hour. Around 9-9:30am, my host brother-in-law came and got me. He took to me to the entrance of the church where they were getting ready to bring in the groom. Dozens of people were lining the aisle, waiting. First, a marching band played random tunes, followed by a group of dancers who to me looked like they were dressed as fancy waiters. Finally, the groom and his best man danced down between the gathered crowd. He was incredibly timid and kept his eyes down the majority of the time. He was dressed in a suit with white gloves.
Once he reached the centre of the church he stood while the band continued playing their random songs (including I believe I can fly), and after about an hour or so of music and the whole congregation dancing it was time to welcome in the bride.
Again, the marching band led the way, followed by the dancers. Then she slowly danced her way down the aisle, with her maid of honour next to her and her two bridesmaids following closely. Unlike her future husband, she was not timid in the slightest and beamed the entire way to the centre of the church.
Once both entrances had finished, there was some singing and then the marriage ceremony started. The ceremony was conducted in both French and Ewé (the local language). It was often hard to hear as the translators took it in turns to yell over the other however I gathered that the first vows were in fact taken by both sets of parents. Both agreed to support the marriage and to essentially give their child away. There was then a sermon/message given that went for at least an hour, maybe an hour and a half. My host brother translated in French for a woman minister who was hilarious! She had the whole church in stitches many times. After the message ended there was more singing and then finally it got to the vows of the couple. By this stage, we are well and truly past 12 noon.
The couple repeated the vows in Ewé after both the French and Ewé translations were given. The groom however made everyone laugh when he spoke his vows so quietly that no one past the front row could hear them. After each vow was spoken there was an eruption of applause and whoop whooping and at the moment they were pronounced husband and wife and he kissed the bride, I swear the noise could be heard from kms away!!
After the ceremony is finished, the whole congregation split into groups to take photos with the newly wedded couple. I was obviously in the group with Mama Happy despite my reluctance to intrude on family photos. Apparently, I am family now J
At around 1pm we left the church to head for the reception.
The whole event was unforgettable and I feel so privileged that I was able to share such an incredible experience with my host family. It made me want to get married in Togo! The only word I can use to describe it is joyous. There was not a person in that church who was not singing, dancing and smiling from ear to ear, including myself.
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