Monday, March 27, 2006

The Apoca-eclipse

During a solar eclipse, animals tend to go to sleep and flowers close their petals. In ancient times, the eclipse brought fear to bystanders who thought that it was the work of angry gods. Here in Togo.. well, things move slowly here.

As some of you might know, there is a total solar eclipse occurring on the morning of March 29th. It will pass over West and Central Africa, with the best viewing spot in the Libyan desert, before moving on to Eastern Europe. Since the Libyan desert isn't our idea of a fun getaway, we plan to stick right here and look at it. It passes over Lomé at about 9:30 a.m. We've got the solar filter for our telescope, and we're ready.
The Togolese government is ready too. Not being entirely oblivious to the outside world, they knew it was coming and ordered over a million pairs of mylar-coated paper sunglasses, called "anti-eclipse glasses" here. They're pitch-black, you can't see a thing through them in normal light. The name should give you a clue as to the Togolese disposition regarding the eclipse. Although the government last week declared the morning a public holiday, stories in every paper every day warn the Togolese public against looking at the eclipse. Not just before and after totality, but during the entire thing. Don't look at it, they say, you'll go blind. Better yet, don't look up that morning. You know, it's best just to lock the children inside. Really, lock them inside. They might look up. (Who knows what they think about the dangers to children the other 364 days of the year.) Although about 700,000 pairs of glasses have been sold, for the equivalent of about 75 cents each, there's little danger they'll be exposed to the sun. Our cook doesn't have them, and said he was worried about the whole ordeal. He plans to stay inside all morning.
But sure, you think, a domestic helper isn't exactly the best representative of all Togolese. Surely they're more savvy! Well, then let's take my five local employees in the consular section. All of them have a baccalaureate degree, uncommon for Togolese, and extremely so for Togolese women. Most of them have university degrees. All of them speak at least three languages. How will they spend the afternoon? "Yes, we'll stay inside." But what about those glasses? You bought glasses! "Yes, we'll wear them. In our rooms. Inside."
The only people who don't seem to be concerned are the voodoo practitioners. One American here said she's heard a lot more drumming lately. I'm sure they're making good business. We don't plan to go anywhere that morning either; we'll just stay in the backyard with the telescope. It's not just to look at the eclipse. I don't want to drive anywhere in case some brave soul tries to drive to work -- with his glasses on.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

What time is it anyway?

AAAAhhh. I know that right now, right here, it's 5:30 p.m. But elsewhere in the world, times are a changin'.

In 1996, the EU nations agreed to have a "summer-time period" from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October. Essentially, they have daylight savings, just like the United States. But the U.S. shifts the first Sunday in April and then back again the last Sunday in October. Starting in 2007 though, the entire U.S. daylight savings shift will move to the second Sunday in March and then first Sunday in November, adding about a month to daylight saving time.
We, being so close to the Equator, do not shift at any time of the year.
So, to give you an idea of what we're dealing with, let's take the example of 5:30 p.m here. Yesterday, it was the same in Greenwich, UK, but 6:30 p.m. in Germany, and 12:30 p.m. in Virginia, U.S.
Today, it's 5:30 p.m. here, 6:30 p.m. in the UK and 7:30 p.m. in Germany, but still 12:30 p.m. in Virginia.
Next Sunday, at 5:30 p.m. here it will be 6:30 p.m. in the UK, 7:30p.m. in Germany and 1:30 p.m. in Virginia.
Next year, everything will shift at different times.
But you know what the real problem is? Our AFN TV schedule only covers two hours, and with the 2 hour time difference now between us and Germany... ARRRGGG.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

In honor of World Water Day

This is almost too simple to be real. And it makes you wonder... why did this take so long?
(entire article behind cut tag)

Using the sun to sterilise water
Tanzanian villagers have begun using an energy-saving method to sterilise their drinking water - leaving the water under the sun.
The piped water supply to Ndolela village in the central Iringa region is intermittent and even when it does it flow, it is not clean enough to drink.
When the pipes run dry, villagers get water from a dirty spring.
Mother of five Rose Longwa says the new process has changed her life.
"We no longer suffer from stomach illness. That's because the water is clean and safe."
Like many other people in rural Africa with no access to safe drinking water, she used to sterilise her water by boiling it.
But she says the smoke from the firewood to heat the water used to irritate her eyes. She is also glad she no longer has to go to fetch wood from the bush.
Ultra-violet rays
About 40 houses in Ndolela are using solar purification.
Mrs Longwa says the process is simple to follow.
We need to educate the people
Daudi Makamba
Plan International
"I fill the plastic bottles, put the lids on, then put them on my black-painted roof where they stay for a whole day."
The sun heats the water, helped by the black roof, which helps to absorb the heat.
Solar radiation means a combination of ultra-violet rays and heat destroys the bacteria which cause common water-borne diseases like cholera, typhoid, dysentery and diahorrea.
After eight hours in the sun, it is ready to drink.
If the water reaches more than 50C, it is safe in just one hour.
Pastor Moses Kwanga from the Diocese of Ruaha is behind the project:
"The technology is very easy, but up to now people have not been told about it. We can use old pieces of roofing to put the bottles on. It is also very cheap, so is accessible to everyone."
Up to now, the number of people in Tanzania purifying water using the power of the sun is limited to a few villages like Ndolela, where small-scale education programmes are underway.
Daudi Makamba is a water expert for the aid agency Plan International, which is considering whether to introduce solar purification across the country.
He says it can be difficult to persuade people to use the technology.
"The big resistance from the community is cultural beliefs. People believe the water will be contaminated, or an enemy will put something bad in it, so we need to educate the people."
The technology is working well for at least one community in Tanzania but more work is needed if more people are to taste the benefits.

To balance the depressing stuff...

Parent teacher conferences are Thursday. Third quarter has come and gone. It's the same old thing with Katherine's class, but I did want to say how well the boys are doing. Nicholas is now reading simple books. Not just the ones he's read a hundred times in class, or ones we've read dozens of times at home, but ones he hasn't heard before. He's doing great.

Over the weekend Jonathon was spelling and reading 3-letter short vowel words, which took me completely by surprise.

Oh, and Katherine has begun cooking dinner once a week. Actually, this being her first week she has made two dinners. The first night was a pasta dish, the second was eggs baked in sliced chicken cups. Both meals turned out very well. She's already picked her menu for next week. Sloppy joes!

Not much to do at school now.

I found myself bored at the school today, which hasn't happened in forever.

Finally, the new 2004 encyclopedias arrived and are on the library shelf. I bought a library set of World books off ebay. I'm awaiting a few other orders of books, but really, it's very quiet now. I do a lot of reading as I work through the Pendragon series.
The director of AISL has hired a music teacher. So far she's teaching the same 2 classes for the same hour. Yeah, I'm a little disappointed. Not sure I am surprised though. While I have always been on civil terms with the Director, Ian hasn't and I don't know how much personal feelings are playing in her decisions. I'm sure that our involvement with the loss of the State Department grant and ensuing loss of Embassy support hasn't made her friendly to us either.
I can only hope that next year will be better. We are switching all the children to the British school as soon as the paperwork goes through our Management Office. I'm hoping it will be soon. I need something positive to focus on with regards to the school.
And since Ian's accident, he's put in a request to move residence to be near the British School and new Embassy complex. The less he has to drive, the better. He just gets angry any time he has to drive anywhere. Being close to the school is a definite plus for me. We'll probably lose our great yard and pool, but there will be compensation in the form of the British School Club.
It's hard to believe we've only been here 6 months.

How can life be boring and so-far-from-boring at the same time?

Last week Ian was in an accident. Sadly, it's not an uncommon occurrence here and I guess after 6 months we were due.

Ian was idling at a stoplight when he was hit from behind by a moto that had glanced of a taxi, rammed into our tail end and slid under the car. We've ordered a replacement tail light and the bumper will require some hammering. One other piece of moulding popped off and we're attempting to order a replacement for that as well.
Having an accident is never good, no matter where you are. It's costly, it's nerve-racking and of course it can cause injury or even death. Beyond those worries, here in Lome' we face the additional threat of "the mob." See, anytime there's an accident, no matter where you are or who is at fault, within seconds the scene is surrounded by up to hundreds of people. They aren't there to see that everyone is fine, they are there to keep anyone involved from running off. Ian had to wait for the moto to be pulled from under the car (it was totalled), but when he tried to pull our car to the side of the road, the mob started shouting and getting angry. They thought he was going to leave. To understand how quickly this sort of situation can get out of control, last month another Embassy person had an accident with a moto and the mob surrounded her tires with huge rocks. When she attempted to move her vehicle, they began pelting the car with stones, shattering her windows and injuring her as well. All this in the matter of minutes until the investigators arrived from the Embassy not five minutes away. The mob is not to be taken lightly. As for Ian, he made it clear enough he was simply getting off the street and they did let him move.
Yesterday we learned more about the moto driver via the Embassy investigators (anyone else find it a little ominous the Embassy has its own investigative team? I'm thankful of course, but a little creeped out). So, the investigators reported back that the other driver is currently in prison. He was taken in by the police once they realized he was high on cocaine and needed time to come down and become coherent. Can you believe the driver didn't have insurance? I'm shocked, shocked I tell you. Supposedly his family will be held accountable for paying for our repairs, but I'm not holding my breath. It doesn't matter, really. We will fix our car, and pray that this is the last vehicular mishap.
There's a humorous side to this story. Our car is quite recognizable in this town, and more than a few head turn when it's out. It's simply a matter of being big, blue and (practically) brand new. Our vehicle is rare in a country like Togo. Ian said the motorpool supervisor and the Ambassador's driver seemed more upset about the accident and damage than even Ian. OK, that's not the funny part. The Ambassador's driver is upset because he was hoping to buy the car from us when we leave post. That moto driver hurt his hopeful future carbaby.

Friday, March 17, 2006

My abbreviated BCC journal is on-line

If you'd like to see the week by week progress and read about BCC, let me know and I'll send you the link.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Hello, Bonjour, Buenos Dias

International Day, all 3 hours and 20 minutes of it sitting in the heat on plastic chairs and wooden stools, was a success. From youngest to oldest, each class or cultural group performed.

The presentations began with the student drummers. As odd as that might sound, the school offers weekly African drumming lessons. Some of these kids (age 6-16) have been learning for several years and they are quite good at intricate drum rhythms.
Then it was my little group's turn to sing "Hello to All the Children of the World". The kids did great, I'm still impressed by how they enjoy singing, though I noticed from the tape that the "music instructor" needs to cut back on her own volume. We were followed in quick succession by the preschooler introductions, then the 3/4/5 class which put on a native American vs. colonists play. The kids made their own costumes and wrote the play. The rest of the morning was broken up among the various Teams... Team Arab, Team Korea, Team America, etc. Team America consisted of Nicholas, Rebecca, and Miss Emily as they gave a brief history lesson, explained the flag, currency and lack of national costume.
As the morning wore on, the international buffet appeared. Our donation was homemade fudge and a package of Oreos. How much more American can you get? OK, OK, I admit I chickened out of spending my previous evening baking apple pies and making chocolate chip cookies like a good American housewife. Next time.
But here's a tip for all those heading overseas for the first time, or the first time with kids. There is always an International Day at the school, and you as a parent will always be asked to provide something from your home country. Apple pie? Snickerdoodles or Chocolate Chip cookies? Sure. Though, don't forget the easy stuff like rice krispie treats, slices of watermelon or corn on the cob. My kids actually wanted to bring a big pot of macaroni and cheese. OK, but here's my tip for before you even leave the States: Buy those American flag toothpicks/napkins/stickers; get red/white/blue paper plates; put powdered lemonade in your consumables shipment; bring M&Ms and chocolate chips. In other words, purchase all those items you'd usually only pull out for the 4th of July. You'll thank me for it later.

Thursday, March 9, 2006

International Day looms.

Tomorrow is a big day at the school, the yearly international day. All the grades have split up to combine ethnicities and cultures. It will take all morning, culminating in a potluck of foods from around the world. I've been asked if we'll be bringing "American" cookies, so I guess I know what we're doing tonight! I think we'll make some fudge too.

Emily's K/1/2 class will be singing "Hello to all the Children of the World", not "Kingston Market". Should be fun!

Saturday, March 4, 2006

Scar update, cause I know you wanted one.

Scab #2 fell off today, and the raw, unfinished area underneath has shrunk once again. I figure at this rate I have 1-2 more scabs to go before there is all new skin at my surgery site. *happy dance*

Thursday, March 2, 2006

School today went quickly.

Thank goodness tomorrow is a holiday. The heat is getting ridiculous, though I'm thankful for the rains because today was actually pleasant in the shade with a wonderful cool breeze. We couldn't figure out why we slept poorly last night until we learned quite a storm had blown through with wicked rains and lightning, which had subsequently knocked out power (no a/c!) for a while. Well duh, we didn't get any rest.


A 22 year old student graduated from correspondence course AISL this morning. It's a long story. It was a nice short ceremony though.
My second day as "music teacher" went well. The preK kids learned several verses of London Bridge complete with motions, but I have to seriously watch how I approach the class. Today went better than Tuesday, but I still plan by what Jonathon understands, what Jonathon can do, and what holds Jonathon's attention. But Jonathon is the oldest kid in the class and the only native English speaker. Add to that he's a very out-going, excited kid who loves to do just about anything... well, the other kids aren't what he is. How do teachers find teaching methods that hold everyone's interest and keep everyone engaged? And I only have -4- preK kids!
The K/1/2 class practiced a new song called "A Rat and a Cat" with a verse in English and a verse in French. We stretched, warmed-up, went through the words and melody and put it all together. I even managed to play with a simple accompaniment. It was a good test for all of us. For me to see how I can lead the kids and for the kids to see what I expect. Well, once I figure out what I expect, right? I'm no teacher so I'm making this up as I go.
Since next Friday is International Day, we'll learn the song Kingston Market in the K/1/2 class, and continue with London Bridge for the preKs along with The Ants Go Marching. I would love suggestions for simple songs that would fit the International Day theme. Since few of the kids speak English, or speak it well, I stay far away from songs that have odd pronunciations or bad grammar. Ideas?
The soccer final was today at 1:30. For several weeks the various teams played lunchtime matches and Katherine was matched up with another ES kid, a MS kids and a HS kid. All the teams were mixed and matched to make it fair for all. Katherine was very lucky to be put with some excellent soccer players. Katherine isn't the most gifted of team players, but she loved playing and was thrilled to make it to the final with her team. Today they played two 10-minute halves and after leading 7-2, her team squeaked a 7-6 win. It was an exciting game and when she got home she made a celebratory t-shirt.