Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Wouldn't you know...

Last I heard (a couple hours ago), my folks were waiting in Paris for their connecting flight to Lome'. And wouldn't you know, the day they are flying to visit us, much of Europe gets hit with a winter storm that's disrupting all forms of transportation.

Is it too late to wish we'd just planned on meeting them in France for a week, so we could play in the snow too? I bet it's really pretty.

News on the malaria front

Jonathon has had an on-again off-again fever since Monday so I took him to the clinic yesterday. Thankfully he's cleared of malaria or a bacterial infection, so it's a random virus once again. When I took him in, he just had the fever and an upset tummy. By the afternoon he developed a sore throat, runny nose, diarrhea and everything else associated with a bad cold. Figures.

Of course, the first thing considered when a fever presents itself here is malaria. Malaria shows itself differently with every person, every strain and every case, which makes it notoriously difficult to self-diagnose. A blood test after 24-hours of fever is the most surefire way to know (prior to 24-hours you may get a false-negative and require a second blood test, but frustratingly enough, you don't even really need a fever to have malaria).

Ever wonder why malaria is such a tough disease? Yesterday's BBC News article on "How Malaria Dupes the Immune System" shines some light on the subject: malaria parasites can cloak themselves with up to 60 different protein disguises.

Monday, December 26, 2005

On the First Day of Christmas...

Which was yesteday, of course :) The Twelve Days of Christmas song refers to the 12 days -after- Christmas. Just in case you were wondering.

The gingerbread house has been decimated. I suppose razed would be more accurate. However you figure, it's in a shambled pile of odd corners and lefover candy. While opening gifts, we munched on gingerbread trees and sipped hot cocoa. Thank goodness for air conditioning.
The kids were thrilled with all their gifts. Most were group items, like legos, magentix, and puppets. But there were plenty of small individual items too. The girls both received t-shirts that say "I solemnly swear I am up to no good" while the back has "Mischief Managed" which I admit was entirely my doing. The Lego Chess set has received the most attention from the boys, while the movies ("Sahara" and "National Treasure") were a hit with the girls. But like I said, everything was well-received. I look forward to seeing them use the books, games and toys over the coming months.
I did well for Ian this year. A new pen, a new gadget, a 007 movie poster calendar and a new bed pillow. For me, my grandma hand-crocheted a table runner for our home, and Ian got me a shirt with "4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42". Fifty points to the ones who know why.
The best part of this holiday is watching the kids prep their gifts for each other (and for us). The entire past week was filled with activity as they raided their toy chests or busily created gifts for one another. Art books were scrutinized, materials gathered and many a door was shut. And then the sweet anticipation as siblings watched their gifts opened. Not once did Rebecca wonder aloud what she would receive, but repeatedly she said how she had a gift for -everyone- and how she really hoped they would like them. The kids all collaborated on their gift for me, a bar of dark chocolate and a box of cherry liqueur chocolates. Oh yeah, they've got me pegged! But between them, they exchanged a spy notebook (Katherine to Nicholas), secret keeping box (Katherine to Rebecca), homemade airplane (Rebecca to Nicholas), plush airplane (Rebecca to Jonathon), stampers (Nicholas to Katherine) and more.
The kids and their joy of giving add the true sparkle to this holiday.

Friday, December 23, 2005

The weather is changing and like everyone else...

We're busy with the holidays.

The kids are off this week and the next two weeks. This week they've been swimming just about every day, we've painted paper snowflakes, listened to Christmas music, worked on a 1000 piece puzzle, and the kids made and wrapped all their Christmas gifts.
Today being Friday, Ian worked a half day before his 3-day weekend. With the weather wonderfully cool for a change (rumor has it the Harmatan, or dust season, is heading our way), the kids and I spent our morning outside. We played with the dog, then had a soccer match, painted pictures by the pool, and went swimming. Ian came home by lunchtime and we took a break to watch a movie before heading to the Christmas bazaar by the SupeRamco. Parking in the SupeRamco lot (it's moderately guarded), we met Monica with her daughter (Monica is a warden for the Embassy, which basically means she's an American contact in the community with the responsibility of keeping track of a number other Americans, should trouble arise in country), and Linda, the DCMs wife.
The Christmas bazaar wasn't really worth the trip, unless you're in the market for shoes, cheap liquor or cheap toys. After about 15 minutes wandering through, we took to the Artisan road right next door. Filled with wood carvings, batik prints, boubous (those long flowing shirt "dresses") and other handmade crafts, it was a lot more interesting and a lot less hassle than the market had been. Granted, you can't stop long at any one shop because while the shopkeeper is a pleasant person willing to bargain or leave you alone if you walk away, the wandering salesmen with their plates of fake Rolex watches or African baubles swarm in and don't take first 10 "Non, Merci" as serious answers. I feel kinda bad when walking around any streets with hawkers because I intentionally look over their heads and pretend I don't hear them even as they're shouting "Madame! Madame!" Honestly, I feel like a snob. And I do want to check out their merchandise, but if you express interest in anything, it's practically a promise to buy. And if you express interest to one person's wares, 3 others with similar wares will appear at your side to get you haggling with all of them.
Some people thrive off that atmosphere. I am not one of them.
So, I miss out on a lot of the neat odds and ends. Except when it comes to chess. In the market, we saw a chess set, but it was unremarkable. Then on Artisan road we saw a vendor with 2 sets, one wooden, one painted bronze figures. Both had fabulous boards, with a border of pressed leather like I'm familiar with from Niamey, Niger. He wanted 70,000cfa for one set (about $140) but in the end Ian decided he didn't really care for the paint job on the bronze African figures, so we passed. Instead, we purchased a fabulous batik print of village life on the Continent. Now to get it framed. That's an adventure for a different day.
So what's in store for the remainder of our Christmas weekend? Christmas Eve we're off to the Management Officer's house for her winter wonderland Christmas village party. The kids have been promised snow and they're very excited. When we get back we'll ask the kids if they'd like to do some night swimming, and we'll have games and movies until everyone crashes. Christmas Day we'll head out to church first thing before opening gifts and having a light lunch. What do I think the kids will love the most? No clue. This year we went -almost- entirely with group gifts, so I hope the kids won't be too disappointed.
Christmas afternoon we're invited to a small potluck at Rona's house (she's our Pol/Econ officer) and on Christmas Monday we're invited to Dave's birthday party (he's our RSO, Regional Security Officer). Though he's said we can't bring him a gift, I'm sure we'll come up with something, probably edible.
So, that's where we'll be this Christmas weekend. Spending time with our friends here in Lome'. And isn't that they way it should be?
Merry Christmas everyone. We wish we were all together, but in lieu of physical presence, know that you are in our thoughts and our prayers for a wonderful and joyous season.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Eat Taste Heal

A quick note and plug for a book called _Eat, Taste, Heal_. I haven't read it yet, it's not in wide publication yet, but when it is, you should go buy it. Because I said so.

Click on the link and check under Authors. That second guy, Daniel Rhoda, he's my cousin.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Want to play? Come to Togo.

As you've probably read, the XBox 360 is the hot item this Christmas. It has three microprocessor cores, each one over 3 Ghz, a 20 gigabyte hard drive and more powerful graphics than you can find in any personal computer.

There aren't just the standard stories about people spending a day or two in line outside a Target or Best Buy store. First all the pre-orders were sold out unless you ordered a bundle (machine, accessories and games) costing anywhere from $700 to $2000. Then many people can't get their machines even after pre-ordering. Retailers like Electronics Boutique took hundreds of pre-orders as early as July, then only got 20 or 30 boxes on the November launch date. There are a lot of unhappy people.

I'm not one of the unhappy ones. I pre-ordered online at in late September, and received mine about two weeks ago. I'm probably the first XBox 360 owner in Togo. Thanks, Wal-Mart!

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Strike Three

Friday, Nicholas was home all day with a fever. He napped several times over the course of the day. Yesterday he was still feverish with red, watery eyes, yet we had hopes of making it to church this morning. But, Rebecca is up to 39.4C at the moment (102.9F for the unconverted, like Ian), so we have another day at home. Though Katherine has already had a day home last month, it wasn't for this same illness, so I'm waiting for her to get sick. This isn't a good week for it, with the Christmas programs at school. Rebecca has already told me she -cannot- miss school tomorrow. Well, that means a long day of doing nothing but laying in on the couch, drinking lemonade and gatorade and nibbling dry toast.

Oh, Nicholas is still sleeping now too, it's 8:30. It's taking him quite a bit longer to get over this; Jonathon was hit harder but for a shorter time.

Friday, December 9, 2005

Now this is news...

The Tamaki Maori Village is where we attended a Hangi during our New Zealand trip.

Lesson: Do not laugh at the Maori.

Thursday, December 8, 2005

There's excitement in the air, 6 months out.

First round draws for the World Cup being held next year in Germany will take place today. The exciting part: "Among the most intensely interested nations will be those competing for the first time, including four from Africa -- Ghana, Ivory Coast, Angola and Togo. Ukraine and Trinidad & Tobago are also debutants."

#10 on the Togo team has a daughter in Rebecca's class, so it's big news around school too.

Go Hawks! Allez éperviers! Hmm, I think that's right. I need to get a t-shirt.

Another unscheduled day at home

I've been home with a sick Katherine and a sick Jonathon, now it's Nicholas's turn. This morning he came in moaning around 4:30 a.m. By 6:30 he was feeling warm, had a headache, a tummy ache and a cough. I asked if he wanted to stay home, but today is karate day and he really wanted to go to school. As his eyes watered and he lay like a lump on the couch, Rebecca convinced him it was OK to miss karate so he could get better at home. So, I'm hear finishing up Christmas cards, while he slept until 9 and is now snacking on some graham crackers and watching cartoons. Later on I'll have him take another nap.

Ok, who does that leave? Rebecca? Earlier this week she had a headache and felt bad but she didn't tell me until after she came home from school. Maybe that was her day? Let's hope we're done with this cycle.

Did you hear me?

Probably not, because I was on 95.5, Radio Nostalgie in Lomé, Togo. I just got back from a radio interview in French and Mina. (Thankfully, I brought one of my coworkers to translate into Mina.) When I asked for an honest assessment of my French, I got "Not bad, but you sounded American." I guess I can't avoid that.

Wednesday, December 7, 2005

Christmas is Coming, the Goose is Getting Fat

I put the tree up today, which is always an adventure.

Not all our lights are 220, though I -did- think to check before plugging them in. Otherwise I'd be cleaning up lots of little pieces of glass from blown bulbs, or dealing with wires that want to catch on fire. Of our 220 lights, one string tore in two and another works, but when plugged into another string all the lights quit working. Something wrong with the plug there. Only one string of blue lights work, so I nixed the blues this year, which leaves us with enough strings for 1/2 the tree. And each string blinks. I don't like blinking lights, I didn't know they blinked when I bought them, but it's what I have. Thank goodness the tree is in a corner and only needs to be half lit. This afternoon when the kids get home, they'll decorate with ornaments and it'll look very pretty no matter what.
Just about all the Christmas cards are done, just waiting for my last stamp order so they can get mailed out. A bunch need two stamps, which is why they are late, I miscalculated how many I'd need.
In non-Christmas news:
I used my laminator today. Very exciting, my laminator. I've wanted one for ages and ages, finally took the plunge on a no-heat model and it works beautifully. My trial runs were on signs for the library, one about book checkout and one about the encyclopedias. They look so good! I can't wait to use it on the kids' art work, those few cherished pieces I'd like to keep, helping me release all the other ones that are good but not meant for posterity.
We've received all the travel books we ordered to plan our trip to the Baltics, and we've received e-mail from the CLOs at several of the posts, loaded with tips and suggestions that will be invaluable for our trip. In the next week or so, we should have enough information to choose a departure date, and then we can really dig in and plan. We're so excited!
OK, it's going on noon here while those of you on the East Coast are just getting your day going. I'm going to wade through the master bedroom and try to bring it to some semblence of normalcy. It's the staging ground for holidays so currently the table is covered in cards, the decoration boxes are open, the wrapping paper is pulled out, there are gifts laying about. I still haven't finished the laundry or completed the ironing and now that I've largely finished the New Zealand scrabook (keep your comments to yourself) and want to take a break before doing this past summer's trips, I'm debating making quilt squares from all my old t-shirts. No, I've never quilted anything before, but hey, I have nothing but time, right?

Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Happy Saint Nicholas Day!

Did St Nick fill up your kids' stockings or shoes last night?

Last night we read the story of Saint Nicholas (always a hit with our own Nicholas), and our stockings were hung, waiting to be filled.
After the story, Nicholas had some questions. Like, How does St Nicholas get in the house? It's a valid question. Our girls know who plays the role of St Nick and the Easter bunny and the tooth fairy, and in fact the boys know who plays everyone too, but for some reason Saint Nicholas is real to them.
So, how does St Nick get in the house? Through the door of course. "But wait" thinks Nicholas "isn't he dead?" I remind him that the bishop Nicholas lived about 1700 years ago, so yes, he's dead now. The girls chime in with "He's a ghost," which leads to "Then I guess he doesn't need to come through the door because he can just come through the wall."
Nicholas ponders. Nicholas walks over to dad and climbs up next to him. Nicholas whispers to dad "I think I'm a little bit scared of Saint Nicholas, because I'm a little bit scared of ghosts."
This morning, all thoughts of ghosts were banished. The kids got new t-shirts, new goggles (hey, it's like 90 degrees outside), the boys had coloring books from an aunt, the girls had hairbands from great-grandma. But more special than all that is what Ian and I discovered as we played St Nick at midnight last night.
The girls had already come out and placed their own little gifts and candy treats in everyone's stockings. Rebecca had written a card to me:
Dear mom,
Happy sante Nicholas Day! I'm so glad that you are my mom. Thank you for washing my cloes, feeding us, helping us when we are sick. I thingk about Sante Nicholas day I thingk of you in a good way, of how you represent my mom.
Love, Rebecca.
Her spelling is bad, her phrasing is a little off, and none of that matters. Her heart is much bigger than I give her credit for. When I think of Saint Nicholas, I see his giving traits in my Rebecca.

Becca had a great birthday.

Rebecca turned 8 last Friday. I didn't write about it right away because around here we tend to celebrate birthdays for a few days rather than just the big day. Pouch mail arrived today and she received her birthday card from Jeff. She knew it would silly, but did not find "Tu as une queue! C'est vrai!" to be nearly as humorous. (translation: You have a tail! It's true!) It's a long standing joke between Rebecca and Mr. Jeff.

Thursday we spent the evening making mini lemon cupcakes with chocolate chips, covered in vanilla icing. At school, the middle school teacher stopped me and said Rebecca is a remarkable girl. Earlier when he'd asked her what kind of cake she was bringing, she replied she didn't know yet, she had to ask her friends what they'd like, because she knew not all of them liked chocolate. He said "I don't know many other kids with that sort of answer."
Rebecca has grown up so much, even in just the past 3 months, I don't know where to start. OK, I'll start with her relationship with her sister. One evening Ian came home and whispered in my ear "Did the girls fight today?" I replied "Not at home, I don't know how they were at school, but nothing I've seen." He said "This is weird."
And that's how it's been for the past few weeks. It's like she's consciously realizing that Eight is a big deal. Her birthday was so packed with anticipation, fun (I brought water balloons for in the schoolyard, and afterwards her girlsfriends, sister and I played hot potato, Tarzan the jungle man and red light/green light), attention (the entire school knew of her birthday) and gifts, she became totally overwhelmed with making the slightest decision, weeping on daddy's shoulder about all the responsibilities she's not ready for.
But on the flipside, she no longer begs me to help every step of the way with her homework. She has confidence in her reading and generally more confident in herself. She takes pride in her belongings and her appearance. She's a leader in her classroom and, while she has her difficult moments, she's becoming a peacemaker at home. What? you say. Can this be? Well, she's a stickler for rules and the more they are held up at home, the more pleasant she is in general. She's maturing largely in part to her teacher at school, who allows her to take the lead when it's fitting. I do worry a bit about next year when she becomes "low man on the totem pole" in a classroom, but for this year, she's really proving herself and she shines.
She's smart, she's funny, she's beautiful, and she's ours.
I can honestly say, I'm so proud to have her as my daughter.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Happy 3 month anniversary to us!

We've been here three months. Or as Ian says, 1/8 of our tour. No no, really, it's getting better all the time. We have friends to hang out with, our HHE arrived 10 days ago, our consumables arrived today (yay!), the kids are happy and the dog is still around. Heck, I'm even taking a part-time job at the Embassy. Good bye, free time!

But right now, I have more important things to think about. Like finding space in our kitchen for 1500 pounds of foodstuffs, making a cake for our arrival anniversary (did I mention... 3 months!!) and planning the cupcakes for Rebecca's birthday on Friday. Wow, she's going to be 8.

The Natural and Unnatural In the News

The Natural:
Bird flu has struck Indonesia with additional outbreaks in China

Last week there were new earthquakes in China and Iran, while Pakistan and India continue to try to get through the winter after their devastating quake.

In less than a month will be the one year anniversary of the 26 December tsumani that hit Thailand, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and as far away as the eastern coast of Africa.

The Unnatural:
Yesterday in the DRCongo, over 60 people died when a train crossed a bridge and items on the roof struck bridge support beams, throwing the people on the roof off the train onto the track or the into the river below.

For the first time, a woman has been elected head of an African country government. In Liberia, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf beat former soccer star George Weah for the position.

The longest serving head-of-state in Africa was reelected. President Omar Bongo of Gabon has taken his seat once again, and has been there since 1967.

A mine in China exploded. Over 140 have died.

The benzene spill from a factory in Jilin, China has passed the Chinese city of Harbin and is heading towards Russia on the Songhua and then Amur rivers.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Did you Have a Nice One?

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving with family and/or friends.

We went to the Marine House with about twenty other people, quite a gathering for a 2-day prep time, and there was so much food. Individual units brought enough for an entire meal, and we were no exception with mashed potatoes, baked vegetables, a green salad, fruit salad, cranberry sauce, a big pot of macaroni and cheese and three cases of soda. We decided against bringing our turkey which turned out to be the right choice as there were 2 turkeys, pork, beef roast and shrimp. Another turkey didn't even make it out of the oven until dessert time.
It was all very informal without even a small blessing. A few of us looked around wondering how to do it since no one was clearly in charge of the affair, and by the time I had my food, half the people were already eating. Our little corner said a blessing and dug in.
The kids kept themselves entertained playing with foozball, outdoors with sports equipment and upstairs with the xbox and big screen TV. All went well until something disagreed with Rebecca and she lost her entire meal. In the front lawn bushes.
We left a short while later to put her to bed. She's fine now, and thinks she ate too much cranberry sauce and ran around too soon after. I believe it, it was hard not to overindulge on such a spread.
Yesterday we cooked up our turkey and it turned out fabulous, which is not just a surprise for my cooking but also for the local turkey we bought. We have another in the freezer for Christmas dinner.
Actually, I have a confession to make. A few weeks ago, we hired a cook. He comes in two days a week and makes enough food for at least four meals, but earns his pay simply with the green salad and fruit salad he makes regularly, as cleaning and prepping vegetables here is practically and all day affair. The kids love his food and have taken to asking before eating "Did Msr Mois make this?" If the answer is yes, they dig right in. If the answer is no, they start raving about what a good cook he is. Quite a blow to the ego, I must say. But I understand. I am a lousy cook and having plenty of really good food now is a wonderful thing, I don't hold a grudge. He makes a mean mango tart too.
Anyway, he prepped the turkey on Tuesday with herbs and spices and it was in the fridge "marinating" until yesterday's roasting. I did manage to cook it the right length and baste it properly, so I can take a -little- bit of the credit.
The kids still asked who made it.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Another bad choice

Marox is the place to get meats. Last time, we purchased 2 different kinds of sausage, a white that is actually pretty good (if you don't think about what it's made of) and a brown we I cooked up last night. They cooked a little odd, popping the skin where I didn't expect. It was only when the kids cut in that we realized that this was not your typical sausage.

Inside the skin: chopped organs and entrails. It looked bad, it smelled bad. Parts of intestine and stomach with conspicuous cilia.

We ate salad and PB&J sandwiches.

I'm happy we have a dog.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


We're just about unpacked, but for those random piles of junk. Over the weekend we did the bulk of the work and found plenty of humor in the labeling of some of the boxes.

In the Philippines, there isn't an "f" sound in the language. They call themselves Pilipinos. It's not something we think about much and certainly a piece of trivia quickly shoved to the back of our memories. Until we came across several boxes labeled "comporter". I couldn't figure out why we had so many computers, or why the packers misspelled it repeatedly.

Answer: Not computers... comforters.

Heaven Gazing

Check out the heavens sometime in the next few days, you won't be disappointed. Mars is still shining a wonderful orange glow and if you turn right around 180degrees and look about the same height into the sky, you'll have a great view of Venus. If you have access to a telescope, you'll discover the bright Venus isn't "full" but a brilliant crescent. Worth checking out. Saturn is along the horizon but I think it's moving up over the next few weeks. I'll let you know.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Turkey Day approaches (updated)

Initially it was going to be the 6 of us.

Then I invited Emily, the American teacher at school. Then Ian invited Rona, the Political Officer at the Embassy. This evening Rona asked if three Peace Corps friends can come too. I'm happy to give them a place to be with friends for the holiday. We thoroughly enjoy being with Emily and Rona, so having their friends will only make our circle bigger. Now to hope for a miracle tomorrow to get turkey or chicken enough to feed our 5 extra people. Do you think anyone will mind a big pot of macaroni and cheese next to the stuffing?
While I'm thrilled to have the company we're having I assured Ian over and over again that our Marines would be taken care of. It's standard protocol for the Chief of Mission (in this case the DCM since we have no Ambassador yet) to watch out for those "left out" of the holidays, notably the Marines and singles not already accounted for. Well... simply put there are no plans for the Marines. This is a problem.
UPDATE: Well, plans have changed. We're -all- going to the Marine House and it's going to be a Embassy wide big potluck. I still plan to bring the macaroni and cheese.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Trouble in Chiang Mai?

So, it seems that Kenya isn't too thrilled with Chiang Mai's plans for some of its animals.

*Digging Out*

*stretch* *wipe pants* *wash hands* *stretch*

We received our HHE on Friday. Yes, everything that was packed up back in February is now back in our possession, and we've spent 2 days unpacking. So far, the boys' room is completely done. That's it. The girls room needs more work, but it's free of boxes. Our bedroom is just about done, but for the multitude of laundry piles with all the sheets and towels with a musty boxy smell. The den is habitable but far from presentable. The kitchen is free of boxes but the counters are unusable. The living room? Let's not go there. Tomorrow we'll do the last big unpacking, and next week I have Monday-Wednesday to do the major finishing up (refiling papers, organizing books, finding things in the kitchen) before Thanksgiving. We've invited a couple folks over for the holiday so I'd like the place to look neat.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Family Pique-Nique

The Sunday I was feverish, which seems like eons ago, we went to a picnic at the Peace Corps Director’s house.

Although they don’t have children, they invited all the families they know. From newborns to highschoolers, the kids attend the Belgian school, French school, American School, British school and homeschool. Many spoke English, more spoke French, a bunch spoke other languages too.
I curled up in a chair and sipped Sprite while Ian made the rounds, but one gentleman stood with us for a while. His family is from Belgium and they are here with the West African Development Bank. Oddly enough, he’s posted to Togo but there are no WADB projects in Togo, he has projects in all the surrounding countries. Togo could use the help but the local government isn’t interested so… anyway.
Conversations between the newly introduced generally follow a pattern. Because we were at a family picnic, it started with where we’re from, followed by small talk about the families/kids/schools, moved on to what brought us to Togo, and progressed to our previous posts. (Actually, this pattern is common in many informal settings.) Well, they’re from Belgium, I already mentioned, and his two boys attend the Belgian School. They’ve moved every year for the past 3 years and are hoping to stay here for 2-3 years to let their boys settle in a bit. Their last post was… the Philippines. You can imagine the rest of the conversation…. What school did the kids go to, where did you live, etc. Well, the boys didn’t attend ISM, instead they went to the European International School (or something like that). And where did they live? Dasmariñas Village. They lived two streets behind us, and they’re boys played at our playground. I took a closer look, and yes, their younger son especially I remember.
Manila to Lomé between 2004-2005. Can the world get any smaller?

Why do we miss the fun stuff?

It never fails that once you’ve been somewhere, they decide to make it extra cool. Take Chiang Mai, Thailand. A year ago this month we were traveling around Bangkok and Chiang Mai, poking around temples, chatting with monks, visiting palaces and boating down the canals of the former Venice of Asia (no longer since most of the canals have been filled in).

A year later and Chiang Mai is opening their very own Night Safari Zoo, copied from the original Singapore Night Safari we did get to enjoy during our 2004 R&R. Only Chiang Mai is going a step further. Not only can you view the wildlife, but for the Grand Opening on New Year’s Day, VIP guests will be treated to an “Exotic Buffet.”

Anyone ever had a hankering to taste lion, giraffe or elephant?


You wouldn’t think it, but the bird flu is making an impact even way over here. Ian had a briefing yesterday at work on the subject. Here’s a quick breakdown of Embassy plans.

Currently, there is no confirmed case of bird flu in all of Africa. Concern arises with migratory bird patterns and since some crazy birds actually fly thousands of miles across continents and oceans you can figure out the potential problem. A friend of ours in Kuwait said they have a case of bird flu in a migratory flamingo. I’m really not kidding.
So the briefing discussed our options, which are pretty straightforward. This is how I understand it (clarifications and corrections later):
A) Should bird flu in a bird be confirmed anywhere in Africa, our Authorized Departure orders will be drawn up.
B) Should bird flu in a bird be confirmed anywhere in Togo, Authorized Departure orders will be given out. That means non-essential personnel (yours truly and the rugrats) can leave on the gov’t dime if they wish.
C) Should bird flu be confirmed in a person anywhere on the continent, non-essential personnel get Immediate Departure.
D) Should human to human transmission be confirmed anywhere on the continent, essentially the Mission shuts down.
This raises interesting questions of course, as our friends in Beijing are already discovering. They have their Authorized Evacuation papers already drawn up, waiting to be dispersed. Their system is a little different than ours because bird flu has been present in Asia for a while now, and they have the Tamiflu vaccine (edited: Tamiflu isn't a vaccine, it's an antiviral med. It hasn't been proven against avian flu. 28 Oct 2005: "Tamiflu is a prescription pill designed to treat regular flu. But it also seems to offer some protection to people against the type of flu that has devastated Asian poultry flocks and is spreading to birds in Europe.") available to Embassy personnel. If people in China or the neighboring countries fell ill (and falling ill isn’t a joke, there’s a 50% mortality rate in human cases), they’d be under Evacuation orders. Of course, then there are other issues… how safe are the travelers on the planes? What if borders start shutting down? One friend in Beijing is traveling to the States to complete the Naturalization process, another friend in Beijing is traveling to New Zealand in December for her R&R. Would folks be able to leave China or enter the States? Will countries shut their borders if you arrive from a confirmed bird flu country? What if you can’t get back? If people decide to wait it out in-country, they’ll be house-bound, potentially for months.
We don’t have Tamiflu in Togo and goodness knows we don’t have the medical infrastructure here to deal with a bird flu epidemic. Emily is a vegetarian so the bird flu isn’t a great concern to her but yesterday, she told me of some chickens that had snuck into her buildings courtyard. Here’s the thing: bird flu isn’t something to catch from eating cooked fowl or eggs. The people most as risk are those around live fowl. Like poultry farms and processing plants, chicken coups and outdoor market places. Or just walking down the street past flocks of chickens pecking their next meal.
Asia has a problem. So does Africa.
Edited to Add: I flipped through and right after posting this, and wouldn't you know, China has had it's first confirmed human death in a poultry factory worker.

Sunday, November 13, 2005


Tonight the tree next door was filled with flying mammals.

It's eerie when the sky fills up with bats, but even more when one takes a nose dive into a low palm tree in our yard. Bats are not graceful when they're trying to untangle from palm fronds and they aren't pleasant creatures up close.

Wednesday, November 9, 2005

Journal Entry #500

The Mundane

I am fine. I don’t know what the fever was, but it hit hard and left just as quickly. Ian is still suffering from his intestinal issues. After going to work Monday and Tuesday with visitors from Embassy Accra, he took today off and is drinking fluids and sleeping. Katherine’s ear is all better, but now Rebecca has an earache. Jonathon has had two wet bed nights in a row, something that hasn’t happened in a year or more. He’s probably growing again.
The Halloween party went well at the school. We made an awesome cake for the cake walk, the rain didn’t ruin it all, and the Marines scared the pants off kids in the haunted house. Jonathon almost missed the whole party. Just as we were climbing in the car, he decided he didn’t want Nicholas sitting next to him (the drive is all of 3 minutes to the school), so he bit him. Out came Jonathon, and I sent the rest of the family on to the festival.
Well, I was going to simply stay home, but the decision gnawed at me. He’s 4 and he’d been looking forward to the Halloween festival for weeks. Was it fair to have him miss out completely even though he committed a serious offense? After a half hour of solid crying (him, not me) we made a deal. He would have to apologize directly to Nicholas once we arrived, and when it was time to leave, he had to do so without complaint even though he wouldn’t have as much time to play as the other kids did. He agreed, so we set off down the street, him wearing full Spiderman gear. We drew quite a few stares from the folks on the street.
There were booths set up all around for bean bag toss, mini golf, fishing, face painting. Plenty of food to buy, most didn’t get soaked by the rain. Unfortunately, many of the booths were left up to highschoolers to run, with no adult guidance. The cakewalk was one such activity, but it never really got off the ground since we were one of about 3 people to bring a cake. For some reason, ours disappeared behind a piano (the cakewalk was in the music room) and when the kids asked to participate (yes, to win their own cake back), the highschoolers put slices of some other cake in their hands, shooed them out and shut the door. We never saw that cake again and as far as I know, no one actually won it. Hmmmm, where could it have gone? For those wondering, it was a Betty Crocker chocolate dome cake with white icing.
The library is coming along nicely. All that’s left is the section on mythology and poetry. Those books haven’t been cracked open in a decade. Thanks to my dad for sending such awesome library posters!
Sable has her ups and down. I guess dogs go through grow spurts just like people do, right now she’s not eating anything and sleeping all day long. She’s finally big enough to stand on the stop step in the pool, but she still doesn’t like it much. She’s learned the command Sit, and we’re working on Stay, Come, and Fetch. My parents set her a set of her very own tennis balls. Once she’s up and perky again, we’ll give her one to chase.
I thought our HHE was supposed to arrive on a boat yesterday, but it’s now scheduled to arrive on Friday. Friday happens to be a holiday for the Embassy but that’s OK because it will probably take a couple weeks for our shipment to progress through port customs once it’s offloaded.
We took possession of our car last week! We’re so happy to have it here. It drives extremely well even on these roads and it’s a gorgeous car to boot.
Thanks so much for all the recommendations for our trip! They’ve been as varied as South Africa, Greece and Sweden and if anything, they’re making a Final Decision that much more difficult!

Sunday, November 6, 2005

Here's an interesting story

From CNN:

MEGIDDO PRISON, Israel (AP) -- Israeli prisoner Ramil Razilo was removing rubble from the planned site of a new prison ward when his shovel uncovered the edge of an elaborate mosaic, unveiling what Israeli archaeologists said Sunday may be the Holy Land's oldest church.


I haven't had a more miserable day since July 4th, 2003. Yesterday I was sick with a 102 fever, chills, headache, sore throat, earache and back ache. The fever finally broke last night about 8 p.m. and a couple tylenol PM helped the headache and earache stay away enough to get a fairly decent night sleep. This morning, the worst has passed and I'm down to one ear aching every time I swallow. Katherine has an earache as well, Ian and Nicholas have tummy/intestinal issues. So far Rebecca and Jonathon seem to be OK.

For everyone out there screaming "Go to the doctor! It could be malaria!!" don't think I haven't read up on it. If I was still miserable today, I would have gone first thing. But there is a fever going around so I think I'm one of the unlucky to have caught it. If the fever comes back, I know to get myself to the clinic ASAP.

This has actually been a busy week. I'll go into it more later, but Tuesday and Thursday were holidays for Ian. Wednesday the Regional Consular Officer (RCO) was in town and on Wednesday we received our car. Thursday and Friday were 1/2 days for the kids. Friday was parent/teacher conferences and first quarter report cards. Friday we also invited Emily over for pizza and a movie. Saturday was the Marine cake cutting for the 230th Anniversary. Sunday we went to a picnic thrown specifically for families by the director of Peace Corps.
Of course there's more to say about each of these things, but right now I'm chugging water and thinking about heading back to bed now that Ian and the kids are off. Ian would have called in sick today but he has consuls from Ghana coming to the office this afternoon. The kids are doing painting after school so I have until 3 p.m. to get all the laundry washed and dried, depending on how I feel folded too. And the dishes need to be washed. If I get those 2 things accomplished, I'll consider the day a success.

Saturday, November 5, 2005

Hi, we're back.

Our modem got fried earlier this week, so now we have a new one and a stack of e-mail to respond to. Hang tight :)

Monday, October 31, 2005

That Time Again

It’s that time again, time to plan our R&R trip.

We have several ideas tossing around our collective heads. The one we’ve considered the longest is heading to Italy, though now we’ve also begun considering Norway, Finland, or Scotland. We’re planning to head out early June and travel for about 3 weeks. What we want is a relatively family-friendly itinerary.

Since every place has Pros&Cons, the only way to decide is to make a list.
Pros: Rome! Pompeii! Venice! No matter where you start or which direction you go, there are amazing things to see, do and most importantly eat.
Cons: The summers are getting worse in Europe, and we’re really going to need someplace with a different temperature than Togo. The cost of staying in Italy is fear-inspiring. Starting in Rome means heading North or South, not both. There’s that language thing too.
Pros: Definitely cooler than Togo with average June temperatures about 17C. Fjords!
Cons: Again with the language. Same concerns with the cost.
Pros: See Norway. But also, we don’t know anyone who’s been to Finland, and it’s somewhere, well, not everyone goes. Which would be great! There’s a cool castle outside Helsinki that looks like fun.
Cons: See Norway.
Pros: I’ve never been. No language problem, well, not really. Not too bad… right? We might even find a leprechaun in the Emerald Isle.
Cons: There are cons to visiting Ireland?
Pros: It’s gorgeous, and who wouldn’t want to tool around Scotland?
Cons: I’ve been to Scotland already. Haggas.
But those are all just fun ideas at this point. What we’ve really been considering and thinking about and hammering through is this:
Fly to Helsinki, Finland
Ferry to Tallinn, Estonia
Train through (stops along the way) Latvia and Lithuania
End up in Poland
See Warsaw and Krakow
Fly home
There’s a chance we’ll meet up with my parents. We might be able to convince Jeff to meet up with us. Maybe folks we know will be in the area. And even if all those things don’t pan out, sounds like a blast of a trip to me!
Whadja think?

Thank you AFSA

Consumables Update:

"Mr. Hopper:
I just wanted to provide you with an update as to the status of your
shipment moved in error to Chennai. The Transportation Division has
contacted Peapod and placed a duplicate order which you originally
placed with them. They will advise once they have the shipment ready
for pickup. I will have the shipment export packed and moved via AIR
to Lome. Once I have received shipping info, I will advise post and
yourself. The Transportation Division will absorb the cost of the
consumables and shipment via air. Please let me know if you have any further questions.

Dave Anders
Chief, Transportation Advisory Section
Travel and Transportation Management
U.S. Department of State"

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Mars Shine

While in Virginia, Ian ordered an Orion Telescope on the suggestions of Scott (an Astronomy fan) back in Manila. We knew we were going to Africa and there are few better places to have a clear view of the heavens than here. For Ian, I subscribed to Astronomy magazine and I read through the latest issue last week.

Then, last night, Ian and I were sitting outside, looking up. Bright, orange and high in the sky, Mars was looking back at us, so out came the telescope. We finally aligned the viewfinder and the lens and discovered its beautiful shine. Wow, I can’t wait for November 1st when it will be at its peak viewing state, not to be matched again until 2018. Now of course we feel the need for better, more powerful lenses, but even what we saw with the starter set was impressive. Round, orange, with some shaded areas, it’s my first ever personal view of another planet and I can see why folks become fans of the hobby. Later on in November is a meteor shower (the Leonids?) and we’re looking forward to it.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The kids

Katherine has her own e-mail address and would love to get mail. You can reach her at and I promise that she will start checking her mail weekly from now on. We’ll try after school on Mondays, so if you write to her watch your inbox for a reply.

Last week out-of-the-blue we received an e-mail from her 2nd grade teacher at ISM, Angie Bayly. Ms. Bayly is the best teacher Katherine has ever had. It got me thinking about all the teachers she’s already been within 4+ years of school. She started with ½ a year at a co-op preschool in Silver Spring, MD. Sadly, I forget that teacher’s name. Kindergarten she began at King Elementary in Woodbridge and had Ms. Crouch, affectionately known as Ms. C, followed by first grade with Mrs. Childress. We moved ½ way through 1st grade to Manila, so she finished 1st grade with Ms… hmm, who was that?. Second grade at ISM was the wonderful Mrs. Bayly. Third grade split between Mr. Gascon at ISM and Mrs. Knisely at Arlington Science Focus. Now she’s at AISL with Mr. Naylor. If we stay with AISL next year, she’ll probably have Mr. Naylor again, but if we switch to the British school she’ll move on to teacher #10.
Rebecca isn’t doing much better with regards to number of teachers. She had Ms. Jen Cater for ECLC (Kindergarten, Jen is a Marymount Alumni as well) at ISM, 1st grade was split between Mrs. Rodriguez at ISM and Ms. Riverson at ASFS and now she’s with Ms. Emily Gilkinson at AISL. I know this is a side effect of moving every couple of years.
Katherine is doing well at school, currently working on a book report for her teacher, but also doing American History at home, and will start Algebra next week, also at home.
Rebecca’s handwriting is improving quite a bit and her spelling is coming along slowly. I gave her a “pretest” last week of words that should be known by 2nd grade and we’ll go from there through the practice workbook. She’s adding and subtracting with borrowing and carrying.
Nicholas is turning into a whiz at math and writes prolifically in his school journal in the “beginning of Kindergarten” way. He can dribble a ball and is learning the French way of script writing.
Jonathon can write his name and he is most definitely a lefty. They learn loads of songs in preschool so he is always singing at home, either to himself or for an audience. It’s amusing what he comes home with after being taught by a Togolese:
-This is the way we brush out teeth, brush our teeth, brush our teeth. This is the way we brush our teeth, ellie in the morning.
-My bunny lies over the ocean, my bunny lies over the sea…
-Clap clap clap your hands, clap your hands togedda.
There’s one little girl in his class, I believe Yasmina is three. Yesterday I asked him if he liked her. He said yes. So I asked if she likes him, and he said No. No, because she doesn’t want to dance with him at the Halloween party disco. I would have laughed right there if he hadn’t been so serious.
Saturday is the big Halloween festival at AISL, the biggest (and only?) fundraiser of the year. There are games, food, face painting. I believe the Marines are doing the Haunted House. You know where –I- won’t be, Marines can make a terrifying Haunted House. *shudder* In fact, I’ve stayed out of just about all the Halloween planning as it’s my least favorite “holiday.” The kids keep trying to volunteer me for everything, and while I know I’ll take them and buy raffle tickets and purchase food and help play games, no one is going to outright ask me to participate (well, aside from my kids) because of how much Ian and I both do already for the school. That’s fine with me. And were it a Thanksgiving celebration in the class, or a project about local customs or just about anything else, I would volunteer. Even a fall festival would be great, I adore fall with pumpkin patches and hay rides and apple cider. But I don’t like Halloween and I don’t feel bad about not pitching in this time.
The party is broken up by times, the younger kids go first from 4-6p.m., then the older kids from 6-8p.m., then the big kids and disco from 8-midnight. Back to Jonathon’s comment about Yasmine, I haven’t had the heart to tell my kids yet that the disco isn’t even for them.


I sat outside this evening while the kids were getting ready for bed. Just me, petting the dog who wasn’t trying to bite my fingers off, listening to the bats chirping and the pool bubbling, and enjoying the perfect weather.

Life is good.

Update on our consumables: It will be “imported” and then re”exported” on another ship to Lomé. Of course, it’s still on its way to India, then it’ll sit there for “approximately 25 days” to get through the Import and Export paperwork, and then however long it takes to go from India to Togo. We MIGHT see our $2500 worth of consumables by Christmas.

Friday, October 21, 2005

It's like an old Western

The good: Ian’s press conference on Tuesday went very well. Loads of people heard him on the radio and some saw him on TV. You can read his statement at the Embassy website. Nicholas read his first phrase on his own without prompting: Keep Off. The library has been reorganized to the best of my ability, aside from the poetry, mythology and plays. We received several boxes from my parents today, one held reference books and a Rand McNally “Explore America” CD which is greatly appreciated, and we received our orders for the dog (though the puppy harness is too small, drat). We’re watching Lost #3 and CSI tonight!

The bad: Our water storage tank is overflowing. Our phone lines have been down for a several days. The boys keep losing at poker, resulting in chip stealing and many tears.

The ugly: Our consumables shipment has been located, the order that was placed the end of July and actually picked up for shipment 13 September. It is in transit to post and should arrive the first week of November.

Too bad it’s en route to David T. Hopper in Chennai, India.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Today, part 2

I never went back to sleep. After logging off, I washed dishes, cleaned up the dining room, unpacked some boxes and generally puttered around. Even some ironing was done. We had lunch at L’Okavango (I had sole in hollandaise and Ian chose baracouda, while Katherine went for avocado & crab and Nicholas had shrimp provençale, it was all so delicious, the others shared spaghetti as usual), and finally about 2:30 I crashed for a short nap.

Our first guests arrived just after 4 and the last guests departed shortly after 9, with snacks and a game of Cranium in the middle. It was fun, but I know what to fix for next time. Now, I really am tired. Wish me luck for a solid night sleep.

Friday, October 14, 2005


It’s 3:30 a.m. I should be sleeping but I’ve gotten into the habit the past week to wake at some hour in the middle of the night and unfortunately have a really hard time falling back asleep.

This has seriously messed with my nights –and- days. Sable is the cause of the interruption, but she stayed outside tonight (the piddle pads haven’t arrived yet and the morning mess from her staying in at night was getting to me, it’s what happens when you have a 6-week old puppy in the house) and yet here I am, still awake. I should be more tired. Actually, I am tired, but my mind races for about an hour after I wake, so I’m hoping that putting up a quick post will derail that and let me fall asleep again.
WARNING: The following is not for animal lovers or those with weak stomachs.
I had to get up though, and check on Sable. It’s her first night outside by herself and I worry about her drowning in the pool or being carried off by a bat. There is a fence around the pool, meant to keep out humans but with enough clearance underneath to allow a little puppy through. She discovered yesterday while the kids were swimming that she can squeeze under and at a couple spots can climb onto the pool ledge. Joy. The bat thing isn’t off either. Two nights ago Ian and I were outside checking on things when we heard a horrible shrieking sound. At first I thought someone was beating a creature in the street, and actually that wasn’t far off. We searched out the guard and found him poking something with his shoe, and that something was shrieking in reply. A bat with a foot long wingspan. According to the guard, this bat swooped into the guard house and tried to bite him (I’m not one to doubt, he was sitting inside a well-lit guard room and bats are really fast so it’s not like a) he went out looking to whack a bat or b) he was sitting outside in a dark spot and the bat mistook him for food). He whacked it with his baton and broke both its wings in the process, leaving a trail of blood where the mangled body had hit the ground and was unceremoniously kicked to the side. The guard said it was a fruit bat, but it looked a little small and a little too vicious so I’m thinking it was an insectivore. Doing a search in Google for “West African bat” doesn’t yield much useful information.
Bats are ugly. Any impression I had before that they were kinda cute is all gone. They’re really ugly and really mean. And this is why I fear leaving Sable outside all night, though I do take comfort that her favorite place to sleep now is the four inches between the glass door and protective gate.
*yawn* It’s 4 a.m. now and I should be more tired from the unpacking we did yesterday. Our boxes from Arlington were finally released from the port and it’s so nice to have the den shelves filled with books, movies and games. We have some bathroom supplies, cleaning supplies and even some food items. The kids have school books! Only one picture frame broke, which is amazing because I have never seen a worse packing job and a bigger attempt at breaking everything in the inventory. The most obvious infraction was a box with only two items in it: the fragile wooden birdcage we bought in Hong Kong and the 2004 Mosby’s Drug Guide, a book that is 3 inches thick and weighs approximately 10 pounds. The broken frame had been placed on top of an open box of random computer parts. Our DVDs and books were dumped unceremoniously into boxes, with a single piece of packing paper laid on top before sealing. Food boxes were mangled, even cans arrived dented. Just about every box was crushed to some degree, some where the tape had popped open, others had simply been crushed so badly the sides ripped open. If you have the choice, stay far away from Paxton Van Lines packers. Some part of this is our fault, of course. We were there for the packing and missed what a miserable job they were doing in order to not be in the way or hovering while they worked.
Now that I think about it, might be the Chinese food we had for dinner. The food was surprisingly good (since we were the first to arrive at China Town Restaurant, the owner put in A Bug’s Life, dubbed in Chinese, for the kids) and Ian’s thinking if we go in a few times and ask for carry-out, we might be able to have China Town deliver just like the pizza place.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

"Busy" days

Time passes quickly when I look at the dates of journal posts. It’s really been 6 days since the last one? That happens with spotty phone service. No phone, no dial-up. And with scheduled outages like Saturday night’s attempt to calm the country by taking out the phone and the power, it’s no wonder I don’t get posts up more often.

I’m happy to say that we’re chock full of news. Of course, this is Togo, so my chock full equals about an average full for a stateside family.
First off, the pool is fixed. Not just patched or “we’ll make do” kinda fixed, but fixed with a new pool filter and completely new wiring to the pool house. As Anakin would say, “IT’S WORKING!!” The kids have enjoyed swimming just about every day since.
Saturday, they didn’t swim in our pool. We (along with the rest of the Embassy) were invited to the DCMs house (DCM=Deputy Chief of Mission, who is currently the Chargé as well because Ambassador David Dunne hasn’t been sworn in yet) for a low-key get-together. I finally met several people Ian has mentioned, one being Barbara Martin who served in Kinshasa in 1979-1980, the same years I lived in (former) Zaire. Of course I was 5-6 years old then so most people she rattled off I had vague memories of, if any. It was nice to chat with her and you’d think it wouldn’t be this hard to see people, but I don’t go to the Embassy unless I have to and no one has been to our house yet. That will hopefully change on Saturday for our first game night.
During the DCMs party, Togo played Congo in the World Cup qualifying match. Togo won 3-2 just as the skies opened. The rain didn’t stop the entire city of Lomé from pouring into the streets, soaking their yellow Epervier (Hawks) shirts and bandanas and spontaneously creating parades and block parties. This is Togo’s first ever entry into the World Cup (played next year in Germany), so President Faure Gnassingbe proclaimed Monday a holiday. While I’m glad Togo won, I fear what will happen when the team finally does lose. No one I’ve spoken to have any real hopes they’ll win the finals.
Monday was a holiday for the Togolese and Columbus Day for Ian yet the school was still open. Our gardener didn’t show up to work and neither did several teachers, but the stores were open so Ian and I took advantage of child-free time to do grocery shopping at Champion, Marox and SupeRamco. Each store has wildly different items. Champion has a wide variety of boxed and canned items (though we’ve sworn off the canned foods), Marox is the meat place, and SupeRamco has just about everything else including a good refrigerated section for yogurt, cheese, cream, etc. Since Champion and Marox are across the road from each other and at the outskirts of the Grand Marché, we bought vegetables at the market. Ian mentioned a fishmonger a while back. He hasn’t visited her yet, but I look forward to fresh fish too.
Eventually we’ll get our stuff, including our consumables shipment. Can you hear the resignation? It’s just reality. So far we’ve tried canned peas, canned Brussels sprouts, canned lychee, canned kiwi and canned fruit cocktail, none of which have been good. Fresh or frozen is definitely the way to go. I’m looking forward to having our own food arrive. I have no idea where in the world it is though we did hear that our sea freight from Manila is in Antwerp awaiting space on a cargo ship headed for Lomé. It’ll be just like Christmas when it comes. Or as Jeff aptly noticed, it may BE Christmas when it comes. How many ships leaving Antwerp have Lomé on their port list? Our sea freight from Arlington is still waiting to clear customs here. It’s been in country for 10 days so far.
So, in the meantime we’re keeping ourselves busy with Sable, our puppy. The home visit vet came by last night and declared her relatively healthy. She is just shy of 6 weeks old, so she received her first shot (a four vaccination cocktail), has daily vitamins and antibiotics and another visit scheduled in 3 weeks. Last night I only woke up with her at 2 a.m. and that was my choice, she hadn’t made any noise. The vet thought her name was hilarious, as sable is sand in French, the color of her fur and also recalling where we got her. Under description in her vaccination card, the vet had to come up with another name. She’s listed as “beige.” Oh, and yes, she’s a She. I never would have made it through veterinarian school.
As for the rest of the crew, they’re all doing well. Nicholas still enjoys dressing up whenever he can. It’s not unusual to have him off to school in dress pants and a button down shirt. Jonathon is the oldest in his class, some by a couple weeks others by a couple years. He has the greatest issues with the 2yo. Not only does little Andy bite (Jonathon has the marks to prove it), but Andy doesn’t color in the lines either. Ian and I had an early conference with Katherine’s teacher last Friday and we’ve outlined a plan for challenging her more, with word problem math and a self-led (mom guided) course in American History on top of her in-class World History. Rebecca has connected with the puppy. She’s always been a bit of an outside with her siblings, so I think the puppy will be great for her. Someone she can complain to as much as she wants when life becomes totally unfair.
All together, they’ve been swimming, building lego villages and putting on plays at home. The plays are elaborate affairs with each child taking on two separate roles, complete with costumes. The show with the Nicholas-dragon was particularly impressive.
So that’s the update from here. We saw on the news the earthquake in Pakistan and India. With another 30,000 people believed dead, the past year has been a horrible one for natural disasters.

Thursday, October 6, 2005


Today, I’m not at the school. Tuesdays and Thursdays I stay home to do home “stuff”.

By 10:30 this morning I had cleaned the dining table and swept the dining room floor, washed the dishes and cleaned the kitchen counters, picked up the living room, folded all the clothes I washed on Tuesday, and ironed Ian’s and Nicholas’s shirts. I’m still thinking about my project though, so here is my current wish list:
Magazines: Especially trade journals or topical magazines like Smithsonian, Scientific American, Astronomy, PHOTOgraphic, etc. Children’s magazines like Discover Kids or National Geographic Kids would also be valuable. When you or your kids are done reading, if the magazine is still in good shape and from the past year, please don’t throw it away.
Encyclopedia CDs: Often when people purchase new software it comes bundled with other software like card creators or encyclopedias for free. Could you check around your home and office?
Posters: Library posters, community posters, environmental posters, respect/manners posters, book posters, maps. Do you have any collecting dust on a shelf, or ones being replaced in your office or school?

This would have been posted last night, but...

Our phone was out. Which means our dial-up was out. Today it's still flaky, but eh, what can you do?

Frustration: frus•tra•tion \,frs-`trâ-shn\ n. disappointment, defeat
[I couldn't get the little upside down Es into moveable type, sorry]
The actual definition makes the term “frustration” seem too strong. We aren’t defeated, far from it, but we are disappointed in many things. We came to Lomé under the assumption “Africa watches out for its own” (meaning withint the Foreign Service family, it's something we’d heard time and time again) and that those who choose Africa posts enter a sort of one-of-a kind club. We expected life here to be very different and we expected to run into and work alongside folks who have a wild or unpredictable streak in them. This is, after all, Africa. I’ve heard enough people tell me straight to my face they think we’re nuts, or better us than them, and that’s fine. We knew it would be different, hard, challenging.
What we didn’t expect was that the different, hard and challenging would come from our own little community. We didn’t expect that not only would our outside world be a new adventure, but so would maneuvering through daily life in our “comfort” zone. We’ve found ourselves struggling not just out and about, but in work, school and home. Our home, devoid of many personal items, isn’t a welcoming relaxing place. Ian is having difficulties finding satisfaction at work. You’ve already heard plenty about the school.
But, I’m not going to rant about that stuff in this entry. I’m determined, and WE are determined, to get ourselves to a better place emotionally and mentally. That starts with searching out every positive we can find.
Birds, frogs, and bugs, oh my! Yeah, there are lots of tropical creatures around and I’m sure we’ll see more as time passes. Last week we played hide-n-seek outside waiting for Ian to get home. I started in to check on dinner when Rebecca and I saw a little orange bird standing by our door. It was small, not more than a few ounces, rust colored with an inch-long bright orange beak. I tried to skirt by it to reach my camera, but no such luck. It flew off into the tree, and with dusk falling there was no way to find it. That same evening I spotted a large frog in our yard and later when the kids wanted to see the frog, we found what appeared to be a 2-inch long cockroach, only with huge pincer jaws. The kids also enjoy seeing the bats come out. Huge flocks (?) of them set out at dusk each evening. Night creatures are alive and well in Lomé.
In other creature news, we checked on the puppies on Saturday. They’ve been moved from under the walkway to a small blocked off patch of grass. Unfortunately, the bugs in the grass combined with puppy waste equals puppies with sores and maggot infestations. Now, I’m not trying to lessen how gross this actually is, because it is plain gross, but the infestations aren’t actually dangerous. Most likely they are Tumbu flies, which burrow, grow and then leave without causing permanent damage to the animal. Of course, internally the puppies probably have worms and other issues, but they’re still too young to be treated by a vet (four weeks old this past weekend), so we hope and wait for them to be fixed up. Ian wanted to grab a puppy now and care for it at home, but there’s little we can do without having it treated and vaccinated first. I’m not going to let a sick puppy in the house, and I’m not going to let the kids play with it, nor do I want to take a still nursing pup away from its mother. We will wait the additional weeks until it’s old enough to leave home and old enough to be treated properly. We’ve ordered puppy formula and a harness collar for the pup and will be purchasing vitamin supplements as well. And guess what, Ian spoke with someone who adopted a dog from a departing family, and asked about his vet. His vet makes house calls! We’re getting his number.
We went to Coco Beach on Saturday in order to catch a later Mass on Sunday. There’s no reason for us to get up for an 8 a.m. Mass, so we opted for the 9:30 instead. Boy was that a mistake. Usually, the masses run right up against each other. The 8 a.m. gets out at 9:30 and the 9:30 people cause a jam at the door. This Sunday, we arrived for the 9:30 Mass at 9:20. At 10 a.m. we were still outside waiting. By 10:15, the 9:30 Mass was underway. Not only was the Mass half in French and half in Ewe, but by 11 a.m. we’d only reached the end of the homily. Unfortunately, our driver was waiting outside because we thought that giving 1 ½ hours for the service would be enough. Since our drop-off and pick-up were scheduled around his morning runs to the airport, we had to leave. I will say this, the Mass may have gone on forever, but the music was very lively with clapping and hand-movements and plenty of swaying from the choir. This coming Sunday we’re attending the Confirmation of one of the Embassy kids.
I think we’ll go to the German restaurant afterwards. One thing Lomé has plenty of is great restaurants to try. I had the capitaine at the last place and it was amazingly good. I suggested to Ian that each weekend we try a new place. We’re also going to start making our own fun, starting with a game night soon. More details as that develops.
Guess it’s time for a pool update. Well, after turning on the pump on Saturday (the kids –really- wanted to swim), the power cut out to the pool house. Sunday morning, the pool had flooded. Sunday afternoon, the house had no water. Sunday evening, the plumber came out and told us that if we turned a particular valve in the pool house, the city water is diverted from going into the water storage tank, directly into the pool. Oops. Closed that valve, set the tank to refill and told the guard to drop the tank floater back in after midnight. Monday, the pool was flooded again, even with ALL the valves shut off. By the afternoon, there was no water in the house again and the day guard told me about an electrical problem in the yard. I asked if there was any smoke. Yes, he said and showed me an area where an underground wire had been exposed, the wire had been slightly cut (by something in the past) and where it had most definitely been smoking. We called the electrician and currently the entire wire from the electrical box to the pool house is being replaced and sealed in a solid cover. So, I then checked the water tank and the guard never dropped the floater back in. I did, an hour later the water was running in the house and the pool stopped spilling over. This evening, the a/c in the dining room and our bedroom wouldn’t turn on. Ian went outside and saw that a fuse had been tripped. He reset it and the a/c works again. While he was out there, he checked out the pool house. There is a brand new pool filter installed. See, told you there was good stuff to tell.
With Saturday’s swimming time, it has come to our attention that Jonathon is teaching himself to swim. He stays on the steps the entire time, but he has started pushing off the last step, taking a stroke or two, then turning around and coming back to the step, all under water. We all know how stubborn he is, this is probably the best way for him to learn.
We even received the last two mattresses for the boys, and they arrived the day after we received the box from my parents with their very own sheets. So far, so good with regards to bug bites. I’m still looking for some safe mattress bug killer though, since I’m not sure how “new” these mattresses are.
We’d ordered from Amazon, received boxes from my parents, and had surprise packages from Jeff, Laura&Ryan, and an on-line friend, Amy. Getting real mail about once every couple weeks is such a highlight for us, you have no idea. Our family and friends have lifted our spirits so much, Ian’s face simply lit up when he saw extra chunky peanut butter. Jeff sent some Louisiana favorites. Amy sent stickers for the kids. Laura and Ryan sent a game and Halloween candy.
We’re working our way through Season 1 of “Lost”. Wonderful show, really enjoying it, can’t wait for Season 2 to end and come out on DVD. We get “Lost” on AFN, but they’re currently still showing Season 1 at a really unfriendly time. I think it’s 6 p.m. on a weekday.
See it’s not all endless frustration. Last Friday we reached our one month anniversary in Togo. No kidding, we’ve been here a month already. We made a chocolate cake to celebrate.

Monday, October 3, 2005

Dr. Carney's Visit

The big excitement for our weekend was meeting with Dr. Joe Carney, the Office of Overseas School representative for Africa.

He’s doing his tour of schools, starting here in Lomé and then Abidjan, followed by other post schools including Nouakchott, N’Djamena, Niamey and others. He checks to see if the schools are meeting educational standards and investigates their usage of yearly grants. He also visits other schools in the area to see the “competition”. Ian spent most of last Friday with Dr. Carney touring the British school, having lunch at a German Restaurant, accompanying him to the teacher’s meeting at AISL and then attending the General Assembly on Friday evening. Saturday morning was the Board Meeting at AISL and dinner at Les Nuits D’Orient across from our house. Monday, Dr. Carney spent the day at AISL observing each class.
Visiting the British School was eye-opening for Ian. He was impressed by just about everything: the campus, the computer lab, the classrooms, the pool. There are really too many differences between the two schools to compare them at all. The big question that pops up then, is why doesn’t the State Department consider the British School a viable option for its American pupils (in other words, why won’t the State Department pay the British School tuition)? One primary reason… accreditation. BSL is not accredited and it has no desire to become so. It has a healthy 160 student population, with fine grounds/buildings/equipment, boarders from a variety of countries with a higher tuition and a BSL club to cover all its costs. It doesn’t need accreditation to flourish so it won’t spend the money to change its status. Technically, AISL is accredited. It earned its status in the 90s, and it’s good for 10 years. But Dr. Carney plainly said that if an accreditation board came today, the school would not pass. The only way the school stays afloat is via the State Department grant, which Dr. Carney issues and Lomé is one of the few schools to receive the maximum allowance of $50,000/year. The grant is supposed to be ear-marked as a supplement, to upgrade the school. In fact, AISL and all American Schools overseas should have a surplus buffer budget of $150-$200K. With this school’s finances as they are, this is not the case. The teachers as of last Friday had yet to receive their first paycheck.
Dr. Carney and I had plenty of opportunity to speak when we took him to dinner on Saturday night and when he visited the school on Monday. Saturday’s dinner was just with our family. As the only Embassy family with students at the school (from our Embassy or any Embassy) we’re in a unique position to ask him direct questions about Lomé and other American or International Schools in the region, both to figure out what we’re going to do here and what we should look for elsewhere in our next post. Right off he suggested heading to English-speaking Africa. We’d like to stay in French-speaking Africa, we told him, and our options became quite limited, but he strongly suggested Dakar, Senegal as the best school in the region, with Nouakchott, N’Djamena and Lomé at the bottom. I can’t remember which school he suggested after Dakar, I need to ask Ian. Update: I asked Ian... Dakar is alone at the top of good schools in West Africa according to Dr. Carney.
At the General Assembly on Friday night, Dr. Carney was blunt about the future of AISL. The American Embassy is moving north along with the Embassy housing. To remain in operation, the school must find land and build a new school in the new area in the next couple years. If the school stays in its current location, no American students will attend, the State Department will withdraw its support and grant money, and the school will fold. It’s all in the hands of the Board, as the Board runs the school.
On Monday, after everyone had spoken with everyone else and Ian and I had talked about our future options for the kids, I told Dr. Carney that the future didn’t look good for our school. He replied not that it didn’t look good but that it would take quite a bit of determination and organization from the Board to make it happen. And then he said he didn’t have high hopes of that happening. So… it doesn’t look good.
I will note: Should the American School close at any point, BSL would be listed as an adequate school for post children and the State Department would pay for enrollment. The school would receive no additional support from the U.S. Government, but there would be no out-of-pocket cost for Embassy families to attend. Currently, AISL is considerably cheaper than BSL, so State would pay only up to the AISL rate and any balance would be up to us.
We spoke about the current state of the school. Both the library and computer lab are sub par and I don’t even know if there’s a science lab. I showed him books I pulled from the high school shelves, early reader books on space from 1965 discussing the future dreams of a space station. History doesn’t change, I know, and while the beginnings of many books are background and still hold true, it’s the “current” information that is lacking. I have moved shelves of books from the middle/high school room to the elementary room because of the reading level. Dr. Carney asked what that left in the high school room. The answer is simple: Not much. The most recent encyclopedia set is dated 1994. American history from the 60s and 70s discuss the nature of the Indian “savages”. President biographies only reach Richard Nixon. How Cameras Work from the 1950s, most recent sports stars Micky Mantel and Nadia Comaneci, country studies from the 70s and 80s. These fill the shelves, but they are not useful books. The only ones still reliable are the biographies and those have been so neglected they are browned, dusty and moldy.
The quickest fix was the magazines. Gone are the TIME and Scientific American from 1992. We donate our magazines and have asked the other Embassy personnel to pass on theirs. The Economist and PCGamer are very popular.
On a more personal note, Dr. Carney asked what we were doing at home to supplement the kids’ education. I told him what is coming in our shipment and my plans for teaching American History, pushing math and literature and how my biggest concern was Katherine’s work. (As an example, Katherine wrote a couple story paragraphs about her allowance last week. Her teacher thought it was good enough, so last night he gave her no homework. Anyone who knows Katherine knows this is NOT the way she works. I opened up an American History text and we started with Chapter 1.) He strongly urged me not to withdraw the kids from school, and I agree. They need the friends and the activities of art and music, P.E. and French. He also urged me to look into the Calvert homeschool materials for supplemental textbooks.
I think that said more about the quality of this school than anything else.
You know, I’m sure I’ve forgotten a bunch of other stuff, but you get the idea. One word describes our time here so far: Frustrating.
But then, we had a fabulous dinner out on Saturday night, the kids were well-behaved and Dr. Carney even came away with an anecdote. We instruct our kids to call adults by Mr./Ms. Surname, so of course, “Dr. Carney.” For some reason this bugged him and he told Jonathon his name was Joe. So when Jonathon piped up with “Mr. Joe…,” Dr. Carney was tickled.
Dr. Carney is scheduled to retire (again) in the next year or so.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Bein' Bugged

Four days later and you’re thinking “Well…. WELL??”

Bug bites.
The official verdict, after much hmmming and generally looking at a total loss, is bed bugs. Not Bed Bugs, aka blood-sucking, egg-laying mites, but some other sort of vermin in the kids’ mattresses. I’ve taken a look at the mattresses and box springs. Nothing is obviously visible, but that doesn’t mean anything. So now we wait. Either the mattresses will get a heavy fumigating all their own or we’ll get new ones. Rumor has it there are two new twin mattresses coming our way, but we haven’t seen anything come of that. And no sign of fumigators either. In case you think we’re lax parents letting the kids sleep on their beds anyway… they’ve been camping out in their sleeping bags on the living room floor. A fun thing for the first two nights. Now that we’ve had day three and looking at day four unless someone comes today, suddenly it’s not so much fun anymore. The mosquito nets and frames are being put up as I type so once we can keep the crawly no-see-ums off the kids, they’ll be guarded from the flying no-see-ums too. Until then, they stay on the floor. The huge ants that come into our house thankfully die soon after making their way in. Gross for cleaning up purposes, but little chance of them making it to where the kids are too.
But they’re all getting better. With bacitracin on the spots and a Hibiclens soak in the tub, the spots are fading without new appearances, so all is good there.
Yesterday, I was at the school library. The elementary section is up and running, now I’m on to the older kids section. The one with the most recent encyclopedia set dating 1994, and the half dozen other sets happily living out the 1980s and yes, the 1970s. The atlases go back as far as 1964.
Sure, in this day and age most information can be found via the WWW. Some wonder about the value of paper encyclopedias at all anymore. Listen. We’re in Togo, the land of flickering electricity, doubtful internet connectivity and a school with one truly functioning computer (in the Principal’s office). The computer lab has 6 stations, one without a working monitor, two without functioning hard drives, and all more useful as virus breeders than work stations with their pirated software and passed around disks.
So I asked the woman who’s been handling the library around her ESL teaching, how often are the encyclopedias cracked open anway? The middle schoolers do every once in a while. High school, never. Don’t these kids do research? Write papers? The sad truth, most of the kids in the school don’t know how a library actually functions or what its purpose is. I’m determined to set it straight, and that will most likely include scrapping most of the reference materials in there.
There has been some progress. Ian is looking into what can be purchased to bring the school computers up to a decent functioning level. He’s also asked the Principal to cancel their web/computer “tech” guy and will volunteer his time for the next two years. Actually, once the computers are working, I’ll see what I can do about building the school’s website. I’d like to provide something that can be easily updated by someone on the premises.
In the library, I’m checking out 2005 or even 2004 encyclopedia sets. Notices will go up in the library to keep the windows and door shut, that the A/C can be on while kids are having class in there and on Fridays I will be in the library to teach the kids how it works when they take out books. It’s all pretty basic, right? It’s all an uphill battle.
Tonight, Dr. Carney from the Office of Overseas Schools arrives in Lomé, for a weekend of meetings and school visits. As a board member, Ian is at AISL this morning for last minute preparations.
Me, I’m at home with mosquito net guys and distiller fixing guy, waiting for GSO warehouse storage guys (they’re using our extra buildings for Embassy furniture storage… don’t ask), waiting for mattress delivery guys (wishing, waiting, hoping) and fighting off my second UTI in 9 days. Which is quite a problem without a working distiller. I can boil water as easily as the next person. It’ll kill the bugs and germs, but the tap water so close to the beach is salty… ew. That’s not encouraging for the 2+ liters I should be drinking.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Hunting and Gathering

So, since we're still carless, it's a real pain getting food. We have to send a memo to get a motorpool car to go grocery shopping, so I do some shopping while I'm here at work.

You see, we at the Embassy surrounded on all sides by the city Marché. The Grand Marché is down the street, but there are tons of stalls on both sides of the street for blocks and blocks around. It's not just a security nightmare, but a traffic one as well. Every morning, cabs and motorbikes are dropping people and their goods off to sell. When it rains, as it did a couple of days ago, the already terrible roads get worse with huge puddles.
However, down the street from the Embassy is the only respectable butcher in town, Marox. So, for the second time, I walked down there this morning to get meat. They have a pretty good selection... I picked up some chicken breasts, steaks, and two types of sausages. There's a white sausage, which looks like bratwurst but really isn't, that we've tried before and liked. Then I got a package of "saucisse au curry," which doesn't really say anything at all about the sausage, other than it's probably spicy. Anyway, I got what I needed and went to pay.
One of the two cashiers is run by a nice French lady, who, since she's the only white face is the place, probably runs the store. It's not a nice generalization to make, but unfortunately it's usually true. I'd love to find a store actually run by some Togolese, or even regional Africans, but it's all Lebanese or French. She rang up my stuff, then I asked here where I could find some fish or shrimp. It went like this:
"Avez-vous du poissons, ou des crevettes" (Got fish or shrimp?)
"Desolé. Mais il y a une poissonerie la-bas. Elle peut la preparer aussi." (Sorry. But there's a fishmonger over there. She can prepare it too.)
"Ou? C'est loin?" (Where? Is it far?)
"Non, c'est peut-etre 50 metres. Tout-droit, a gauche, dans le marché." (No, it's maybe 50 meters. Straight ahead, to the left, in the market.)
[-- At that point I was thinking about going. Thinking, sure, I could do this. I could buy fish. Then, as I'm leaving, she says to me... --]
"Ne laissez pas la femme vous tromper!" (Don't let the woman fool you.)
So that's what I had in my head as I walked out, went toward the Embassy to where she said to turn left, and saw the writhing sea of marchandeuses in the muddy, puddle-filled market.
So I chickened out. We can go without fish for a while longer. I didn't feel all that cool about wading into the market alone. Much less after a warning that they'd test my fish-picking skills.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

2:30-3:00 a.m.

I can’t sleep.

I could simply blame mefloquine for my racing brain, but I won’t. I could blame the air conditioner in our room that doesn’t actually cool the room, but I won’t. I could blame a too small bed, but I won’t.

So, at 2:30 in the morning I’m up and about. My eyes are heavy, I really do want to sleep, but if I lay down it’s seconds before my eyes pop open and I’m reduced to tossing and turning, adjusting covers, checking the a/c, staring at the ceiling, all while thinking thinking thinking.
Most of what’s causing my insomnia relates to the kids. Three of the four have a large number of red spots on their lower abdomen. A few of the spots are sprinkled further up on Katherine, a dozen or so are on the upper legs of Rebecca and Jonathon. A few of them hurt, most are the size of pencil erasers with some quite a bit bigger, a scattered few quite a bit smaller, and many have a hard white dot in the middle.
I’ve looked up shingles/chicken pox, schistosomiasis, Tumbu fly myiasis and boils. Doing a search for “red spots” doesn’t come up with too much useful, but even so, nothing matches what they have, and absolutely nothing matches to the specific location. I thought, maybe I did something weird in that wash cycle since the spots are just about all covered by underwear. But only the front side? And if it’s to blame on the wash, why isn’t the same thing happening on feet or backs, since I wash underwear, socks and t-shirts all together. And why not all six of us since I wash all our clothes together? I recently washed the girls’ sheets, but I didn’t do Jonathon’s at the same time. The only thing the three of them have in common is the placement of their beds with Rebecca by the outside door and the other two by windows. Could something be creeping in, climbing under the covers and PJs, straight to their tummy? Seems unlikely. Last week they asked for a bath. Jonathon, Nicholas and Katherine shared one, followed by Rebecca. We were at the beach last week. Could it have been something in the water? No one laid in the sand, and the kids promptly showered off and changed back into dry clothes, and they all used dry towels. Could it be something from touching the puppies? They didn’t have puppies on their stomachs. And wouldn’t there be something on their hands instead?
And the biggest question of all, why does this stuff always creep up on the weekends?

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Nous parlons...

Is there anything cuter in the world than hearing a 4yo singing to himself down the hallway…

La tête…
La jambe
Les pieds
La jambe!
Les pieds!
Don’t ask me why they didn’t teach knees instead of leg. Maybe “le genou” just has too many syllables.
So, Jonathon comes up to me while I’m sitting on the couch.
“Mom, this *points to back* is “le dos.” And this *points to eyes* are “les yeux.” And this is “la bouche” *pointing to mouth*. And “l’oreille” *ear pointing*. And nose is “le nez.” We are learning the 5 senses. Eyes, ears, nose, mouth….”
“And?” I ask.
He wiggles his fingers, “and hands!”
Then he bops away to start tormenting someone or other, not knowing he just floored me.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Des Animaux

We all slept well last night. Amazing. No nightmares for Nicholas, a solid night’s sleep for me. Rebecca said she slept well too. We woke up feeling good.

With some sleep behind us, I’d like to say a little something about animals.

In the past few days, we’ve dealt with another lizard, disposed of a worm, seen a pig and monkeys and puppies.
The lizard… another male fell out of the palm tree and was sitting on the bottom of the pool. He was pretty too, bright yellow head, red and green tail. One time when I can sit outside quietly by myself, I’ll take the camera and snap some photos of them. The big ones grow to about 8 inches long.
After a mad dash through the Leader Price grocery on Friday (they close at 1 instead of the standard 12:30, but more than that, they stock puppy food!), Ian purchased a pile of tomatoes from a lady walking by the car. I diligently soaked them in a diluted bleach solution to clean them (Clorox is a great cleaner, even for vegetables, because the residue is plain salt) and when I rinsed in distilled water a worm floated in the pot. The tomato with the worm hole was summarily tossed.
Saturday we walked to the Coin Chaud bakery to purchase baguettes and some pastries. On the return trip, we passed a woman and her car filled with campfire wood. She was in the process of tying the legs of a shrieking pig before tossing it in the trunk with the wood. I know what was cooking last night.
Today we went back to the Coco Beach resort (story about that later) and next to the wall is a small grove of trees. Two long-tailed monkeys were playing on the rooftops and tree branches. They were actually kind of cute.
Since we were there, we checked on the puppies again. They’ve graduated to mobile sausages. Snuffling, peeing, roly-poly sausages.
So, we didn’t actually intend on going to Coco Beach today. Not too far away is Lomé Rivage, a nicer beach but with rougher waves since it doesn’t have that old road playing the role of breakwater. We mentioned our destination to the Embassy Driver and he was surprised we wanted to go there. The story… someone was pulled out to sea, and the resort was destroyed.
We went to find out the real scoop.
The resort was indeed closed. The place wasn’t destroyed by waves or storm, it had been torn apart by the military just last week. The someone who was swept away was related to the President. The story from the resort was about Eyadema’s niece. Later we heard it was the current President’s nephew. Whomever it was, apparently it was the resort’s fault that Mother Nature has given the Togolese coast a wicked undertow, and it was the resort’s fault that he or she went swimming in it. And so, one of the two successful beach businesses was intentionally destroyed. Seems a natural consequence doesn’t it?

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

How the work's going...

thought I might give an update from work on how we're settling in.

One of the biggest things I've noticed here is how thankful I am for going from a big Post where everything ran right, to here. Even after two weeks on the job, I still get daily heart attacks when I notice how things are done (or not done), or how long it's been since a database was updated, why the wall next to me is sticky...
Yes, it's an old Embassy. But it's also run-down, humid, musty and just generally unpleasant. This is, not surprisingly, the worst part of the building. It's like a cave down here. I keep reminding myself that the new Embassy opens in a year.
It's also suffered from untold years of brand-shiny-new Consular Officers fresh out of Washington who are here for all of one year, then move on to allow another newbie step in. Sure, the Post may be relatively sleepy, but I can't stand the lack of order. That's how I'm spending my days, bringing order from chaos. Since I'm only doing about 30 visas a day instead of the 100 or so in Manila, at least I have some free time for that.
I'm also not sleeping well, although everyone here also thinks it has to do with the Mefloquine. They say it gets better, but it's never quite good. But I just can't fathom having the whole family down a pill every day, which would be the alternative to taking Mefloquine.
I think things will improve. I certainly hope they will. This transition has already been many times more difficult than it was to Manila. We figured it would be harder, but I don't think we anticipated this. Yet again, I don't know how we could have made it better, since the basics (no stuff, no car, little infrastructure, lack of sleep) are out of our control. We'll see how it goes.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Out and About

Our temporary Ambassador departed last Thursday now that the new DCM/Chargé has had a few weeks to settle in.

The Embassy Americans gathered last Tuesday at the Baracouda Restaurant on Beach Road to bid farewell to Ambassador Twining, and all told we took up 32 seats. A far cry from Embassy gatherings in Manila, to be sure.
Ambassador Twining sat opposite me, so we had the opportunity to chat over dinner. He raised his children in West Africa and spent time in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. I asked him which years he spent there as DCM, and learned that from 86-89 his boys attended ISO. I was in Niamey, Niger from 86-88 and had traveled to Ouaga for swim meets. When Carol Beckwith spoke at ASN, he and his family came to Niamey. Later I asked my dad if he remembered DCM Twining, and wouldn’t you know…
The world is so very small. Or maybe it’s just the world in this line of work.
On Thursday night, we walked over to the school for Open House. The school is a 10 minute jaunt from our house on relatively safe streets. I wouldn’t do it by myself, and I had reservations about walking back in the dark, but the streets are busy and we felt OK. Not meandering, mind you, but getting where we needed to go.
The Open House was actually informative. Rebecca and Nicholas have Emily Gilkinson an “independent learning” teacher. She arrived on August 18th and really worked to get her room together so that it’s bright and busy, full of books and hands-on materials. She’s is on top of the differing needs of each of the 7 kids in her class. She sent home a handwriting workbook for Nicholas to do at his own pace, and except for being able to read, he is doing several areas of first grade work. I’ve also asked her to send home worksheets for Jonathon to do. He can do most Kindergarten work and right now he’s bugging the other kids when they’re trying to do their homework. He’s excited about getting his own papers to do.
Mr. Naylor, Katherine’s teacher, has a long way to go with getting his room together. At the moment it’s a gray and bland classroom. I worry about Katherine’s education over all with the “fun” teacher who gives Create Your Own Word Search as a homework assignment, but once we receive our belongings I’ll take on a much bigger portion of her schooling. AISL will be good for French class, Art, Music, P.E. and friends, but she is well beyond the assignments she’s currently bringing home.
Tomorrow I’ll be at the school all day to check out the library, make notes, and dive in with reorganizing and filtering out ancient books. Should be fun.
Saturday, we walked down the street the opposite direction to a restaurant called L’Okavango. It’s a charming outdoor establishment with an aviary in the center and a small herd of deer that roam around. The tables are tucked under thatched roof cabanas with a view of the aviary. The food was pretty good too, and they even have a child entrée of chicken and fries.
It’s best to stay away from beef here. Not a lot of cows around.
On Sunday after church, we returned to Coco Beach to check on the puppies and let the kids play in the sand and shallows. The pups have grown quite a bit, as puppies do, but are still blind little sausages. We’ll go back in a couple weeks and check in on them again. The search is on now to find puppy food and supplies for when we bring one of the rascals home. It seems the overwhelming recommendation to choose a female, for the slightly smaller size and less aggressive/alpha tendencies.
Nicholas didn’t last long in the water. He has very sensitive skin and something keeps causing odd rashes here and there, so the water and sand irritated him too much to stay in. The others had a good time splashing around with the dogs and finding shells.
For lunch, I had avocat crevette again. So yummy and reminds me so much of the shrimp dip my dad used to make, and it really is the perfect beachside lunch. Rebecca and Jonathon shared quiche lorraine and Katherine and Nicholas shared grilled gambas. I could get used to this. Oh wait, already am.
As an aside, we took our mefloquine on Saturday again, no problem. But it seems that some of us are experiencing side effects. Nicholas is having nightmares, which he never had before, and I cannot sleep. I wake time and again at night, knowing I should be tired, but my mind races. Today I tried to take a nap, but couldn’t. I just keep thinking and thinking, about nonsense mostly, and then when I do doze I have vivid emotional dreams. I’m tired, I know I’m tired, but have no desire to sleep.
Oh, and our consumables? They were shipped… today. We set the order in July and told them our departure date of 29 August. Why was it shipped… today?