In September my calendar was filled with projects and activities. Not to mention, they were scattered all over the place—up and down the country and even across the border to Benin. I was definitely ready to be back “home” after these trips, but my time away from site was extremely valuable. I came back with new work ideas, collaborated with other PCVs, and got a bit of time away to just decompress.

First, I visited the capital city, Lomé, for a meeting with one of the committees I serve on (Gender and Development). This coincided with the swearing-in ceremony, when 39 new Volunteers took their oath of service. It was a particularly special occasion, because 2012 marks the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps in Togo.

My training host brother, mom, PCV relatives.
The event was held at an event much larger venue than the previous two swear-in’s I’ve been in Togo for (one being my own), and included new spectacles like traditional dancers, videos, and a small trade show. 

This created a great memory for the last swear-in I’ll attend in Togo, unless I end up extending, which I do not foresee.

Next, I visited a neighboring country, Benin, for a cashew conference. The conference was organized by the African Cashew Alliance (ACA) and is considered the largest cashew gathering in the world. 

Three other Togo PCVs were invited to attend, but I was the only one who accepted the invitation. Among the more than 500 other participants, I was joined by three PCV’s from Ghana.

Grafting cashew trees.
We were given free admission to the otherwise $800 event, in exchange for a bit of work. Sometimes this was taking photos or videos; sometimes it was taking notes on sessions, and other times it meant printing name tags or copying files to 500 USB keys.

What I enjoyed most from the conference was attending informational sessions. Experts from different sectors of the cashew industry shared the current information about the economy of the industry, climate change, farming techniques, and health benefits of the nut and cashew apple. I also really enjoyed talking with the other PCVs about their work with cashews in Ghana.

I didn’t have much time during the conference, but I tied to capitalize on every spare moment I had to see Benin. The day before the conference, I went with the Ghana PCVs to a python temple in a nearby city. Early in the morning on the last day, I went to the beach.

At the python temple.
Immediately after the cashew conference, I went back up country for an event with the U.S. Embassy. Since March, they have been working with a group of female university students who serve as mentors in high school girls clubs. To provide 20 of these mentors a platform to share best practices with one another and learn new ideas for their clubs, the Embassy decided to organize a three-day workshop.

However, the Embassy offices are located in the southern-most region of the country, and the mentors reside about seven hours up country. My site is just 20 minutes away from the mentors, so I was asked to help coordinate the event logistics. Basically, this meant keeping both the Embassy and mentors on the same page when decisions were made from either end.

An activity during the workshop.
Both organizing and participating in this event was a great experience for me. I met 20 young, educated Togolese women, which is a rarity at my site. Most of them were my age or close, and are what I consider the best Togolese friends I never had. I definitely have friends in village, but I do not feel as if I can relate to them as much as I did with these girls.

I also really enjoyed meeting and working with the representatives from the Embassy. Aside from the American government agency connection, it usually seems like we have little else in common. 

The Embassy is based in and mainly does work in the capital, which to PCVs is just “that even more foreign place of Togo with things like pizza and ice cream.” Foreign Service officers also have actual salaries and thus higher living standards and their work often includes more funded projects/activities. Conversely, PCVs work in small cities or villages throughout the country, have no individual office space, live on about $200 per month, and generally do small-scale non-funded activities.

While these differences remain, doing the workshop together made me realize the power of cross collaboration between us. It was great to connect our experiences, especially combined with the opinions and ideas of the Togolese mentors. Every decision that was made reflected a wonderful trisect of ideas from the Embassy, PCVs, and the Togolese mentors.

I only spent a few days at site before heading to my next activity, editing articles one of the Volunteer created Peace Corps publications. However, September has been what I consider the greatest period of my service to date. I felt productive, learned new things for myself and my community, and made lots of great connections. I hope things only go up from here!

At the top of a mountain we hiked on the last day--success!