This month has been one of the most fête-filled since I've been in Togo (the word fête is used interchangeably for holiday or party, both of which are appropriate in this case). It started off with the Muslim holiday, "Tabaski" the first week. Then, the new PCV Swear-In and PC trade show took place mid-month. And of course, the month finished off with the good old celebration of American Thanksgiving. 

Before Tabaski, I was only been present for one of the three major Muslim holidays here. The first was celebrated by eating lots of food for the end of the Ramadan fast. Similar to this, Tabaski is celebrated by eating but specifically meats like cows, goats, lamb or sheep (depending on the budget of the family). 

Tabaski commemorates the faithfulness of Abraham, who was commanded by God to kill his only son Isaac. Just a few moments before the sacrifice, God replaced Isaac with a ram. So, the Muslims in my town celebrate by eating an animal representative of the ram that was slaughtered instead of Isaac. 

During my post-visit week of training, the volunteer I replaced told me there would be blood running through the streets for this holiday. Being a vegetarian, I was a bit concerned for my emotional health and planned to stay at home for most of the day. My homologue (local counterpart) also planned a vegetarian celebration for me with a few other people I work with in town. This celebration was held at a local bar though, which meant I would have to cross the streets afterall.

To my pleasant surprise I saw no blood running in the streets, though I did walk by a few small puddles and the sight of many slaughtered animals. I also saw a lot of young boys and men huddling over holes in the ground, where they deposited the animal innards.

For me, the worst part was the days leading up to the holiday. In preparation for the meal, families began tying their future-meal animals outside their homes days before. Sometimes this was weeks in advance; some wanted to buy cheap and fatten the animals up themselves. 

It was hard for me to know that the animals, especially pretty cows, were waiting there to be killed. The thought of letting them go the night before the holiday crossed my mind but, I never cut the strings. Fortunately, Tabaski was short-lived and I had a great time at my vegetarian version.

Once the three days of celebrating finished in town, I immediately got back to work. The second annual PC Togo trade show was less than two weeks away. So, my weavers and I spent the time touching up last minute details. The trade show was also timed to coincide with the new PCV Swear-In, which was great for sales. It was also a great double-motive for me to make the seven hour trip down to the capital, Lomé.

Though I missed the Swear-In Ceremony because I was at the trade show, I made it a point to attend the Swear-In party. Rather than for the party itself, I came to check out the items being auctioned. Among which, were: a guitar, lots of radios, yoga equipment, and knitting materials/how-to books. By the end of the night, I made a 2,000 fCFA (roughly $5) investment in the yoga and knitting materials and a pocket sized day planner. This was definitely one of the best deals I got from the almost 60,000 fCFA four-day trip in Lomé.

The trade show also wrapped up pretty well for my weavers. They made enough money to cover the costs of the trip, and even came out with a small profit. I think the most valuable part for them was to see the work of other artisans. A lot of the things my weavers make are dark, masculine colors and designs. At the trade show they got to see the interpretations of women weavers who contrasted their styles with bright, lively colors. 
 
The target for the trade show was a very western audience. Other than PCV's, Embassy workers and tourists were the main clientele. This month, my weavers will also be attending another trade show, which is more Togolese/West-African focused. This one will be the joining of two normally separate shows. One of which, called Togo 2000 is held exclusively in Togo each year. The other, ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) travels to a new West African country each year. I am really looking forward to this one to see what the international artisans bring, and see what sells to local buyers.

Before preparing my weaver group for the next trade show, I got to take a small break to celebrate an American holiday. In Togo, PCV's planned several separate get-togethers, and I chose to attend one centrally located. This dinner was probably one of the biggest among PCV's in-country, and was meticulously planned. The menu was a mix of the Thanksgiving classics: turkeys, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, stuffing, pasta, with both apple and pumpkin pie for dessert. Several PCV's had been planning all year for the meal and got ingredients sent from the States (like canned pumpkins). The food and PCV company were great, and everyone left at the end of the night with a full stomach. Many of us also ate the wonderful left-over pie for breakfast the next morning.

On my way back up to post from the Thanksgiving dinner, I also stopped to visit one of my fellow stage-mates (from the same training group). I enjoyed seeing her post, and talk with her homologue, who was also an artisan at the trade show. He makes what is called batik. Basically, a white cloth is stamped with wax and then dyed with various colors. The part you stamped remains white, while the rest of the fabric becomes colored. It is kind of like a local version of screen-printing, because he can make any designs, pictures, or words by request. 

Her homologue has worked with my weavers through the volunteer I replaced, and I hope to renew that partnership again. He also offered to let me come custom make some things there, which is another offer I want to take up.

Though I did not get to have an authentic American Thanksgiving (with Black Friday shopping included), November was much more interesting than any other I had in the U.S. I know December will be just as interesting, with another trade show, Christmas, my birthday, and New Year's coming up!

Wishing everyone at home happy holidays!

À la prochaine
Until next time
After spending a week away from my post at In Service Training (IST), I came back with lots of knowledge and was inspired by the work of other PCVs. The nine-week training prior to being placed in our villages focused mainly on language skills and the overview of our PCV life/work. IST provided a supplement to this with more specific, and in sometimes step-by-step examples and templates for project designs. Being at post for almost three months also helped to better contextualize the information and come prepared with questions. My stages' IST also happens to coincide with the post-visit week of current PC trainees.

Each year, two sets of trainees (stages) come to Togo. After the first stage (which arrives in early June), the second comes in a few weeks later, around September. The work sectors for the second stage are Girls Education Empowerment or Environmental Action and Food Security. Two people from this group will be posted near me so I wanted to pay them a welcome visit before I left for IST. I only had enough time to visit one personally, but I made and delivered brownies to both of their sites. They will be swearing-in to become official Volunteers in mid-November.

During IST I was reminded of what life during stage was like. Our schedule was carefully planned but this time coffee/tea breaks were scheduled in, which made us all feel fancy. 

Rather than staying with host families though, IST was a college-type atmosphere. We found ourselves staying in dorm rooms and a small cafeteria-like dining area for meals. Though I cook a lot for myself at post, it was great to have someone do the cooking and wash the dishes for me. This was compounded by the fact that they treated us with mostly American/Togolese meal mixes and used some of the yummy, though hard to find ingredients in Togo, like shredded cheese. A lot of the meals were similar to what we were given during our first week in country but now—five months later—they tasted so much better.

I personally came to IST hoping to learn more about working with artisans and how exactly PCVs plan for and conduct meetings here. By the end of the week, I learned these things and so much more. A lot of our sessions were led by PCVs themselves, who explained not only the successes, but things that didn't work, and how to avoid the same problems. We were also given a lot of digital resources which include the specifics of projects including lesson plans, budgets, and hand-outs for participants. 

I will be putting these things to practice almost immediately too. I entered a group of weavers here into the PC trade show, which will be held during the same time as the new stages' swearing-in ceremony. Until then, I will be working with the weavers to determine what selection of products,colors and designs to bring. I also signed up to teach an ICT course for the artisans, so I'll be working on that too with another PCV. 

Outside of work related things, I recently decided to make a garden at my house. When I hired some help to “cut” the weeds growing in my yard, they informed me that there were already several tomato and Gboma (local leafy green used in sauces) plants, mango seedlings, a lemon tree, peanut and s cashew plant there as well. I use the word “cut” loosely, because this actually turned out to be using a shovel to literally reverse the ground. Absolutely no cutting involved. 

Since then, I have also planted a few onions and flowers with the help of a child that randomly comes to visit me. However, all these plants are strewn throughout in my lawn space, so I started working on a garden to keep them more centrally located.

My idea was originally to use a small 6' x 5' area, now that has grown to a space about 20' x 10'. So far, I've only cleared the space and created the borders for the garden. Soon, I will begin making the rows and start planting the seeds (some of which I will have to create a small nursery for first). I will be adding carrots, potatoes, lettuce, bell peppers, cucumbers, corn, beans, and maybe strawberries to the mix as well. 

We will see how it all works out though because dry season just started. I will definitely be doing some consulting with the new Environmental Action and Food Security Volunteer near me for tips and advice. Next on my at-home project list will be a small, straw gazebo!