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.