Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sights and Sounds, and an Ewe lesson

Favorite Togolese Quotes

“You are going to give me your outfit.”

“[The Germans] are the owners of our language.”

“God made whites before he made blacks.”

“Do you have the sun where you’re from?”

“You don’t have grigri where you live? But where do you find the powers to build lightbulbs and cars?”

“Oh, no, it’s never impolite [to refuse a drink]. They just might think you don’t like them.”

Most Amazing Things I’ve Seen in Togo

A five-year-old girl sporting a wig.

A six-year-old at the top of a tree that has no limbs. Holding a machete.

A village elder wearing a pimp hat.

A baby clinging to its mother’s back (not held there with a cloth) as its mother runs with buckets of water to put out a bush fire.

A guy gargling sodabi [hard alcohol] before swallowing.

A guy eating fufu with a spoon.

A mother pulling down her six-year-old son’s pants on the street to show the neighbor his penis.

Harry Potter pagne [printed cloth].

Best English-Language Shirts

Front: “Bomb squad specialist”; Back: “If you see me running, try to keep up with me.”

“Bald is sexy.”

“Damn seagulls.”

“Boy, am I enthusiastic!”

“My invisible friend created me.”

Front: “This is what I learned from the little bird [picture of bird saying “yak yak yak yak yak…”]; Back: “KBG 2004”

And as a holiday bonus, here’s a lesson in Ewe language:





Gba=to break

Kpa= to peel

Kpa=to close

Kpa=to make (a table)



Akpa=too much

Akpe=thank you

Akpe= one thousand

Akpe akpe=one million



Gbe=to neglect


Gbe=to forbid, to refuse







Kpe=to invite

Kpe=to meet





Da gbe=to cure








Gbogbo=a lot of

Gbugbo=to suck

Agbo=large ram




Kplo=to accompany



Kpo=to receive



Gbo=at the house of

Gblo=to say

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

I'm home

To those who haven't yet heard, this is to inform you that I have returned from Togo for health reasons. I am currently on a medical evacuation but am set to be separated. I'm living back in Colorado with a new cell phone number, (303) 246-2200. Please call or write if you feel inclined and look for at least one more post on this blog with more reflections from my trip.

Best wishes,

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Sounds Too Humid for Me

My neighbor has been calling her village "large vagina" for 11 months. The correct name is "Kologan," not "Kologan."

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Ummm, I'm in the NYTimes (cont'd)

OK, the story's up, and here's the full link.

Editors changed the article of course, and here was the most interesting part: we learned that if a village wants the government to bring in electricity it must pay 100% of the cost, new transmission lines and all. And STILL, electrifying the village with solar would cost more by a factor of 10. That's the seemingly "insurmountable cost barrier."

But that's assuming full electrification. Solar's advantage, which the article does hint at, is that it's fully scaleable. In other words, it can be used in more prioritized applications, like health centers and schools.

And the microfinance idea comes from a friend I'm working with in Kpalime whose dad owns a solar company in Pennsylvania and who's started a non-profit trying to make it accessible here. Claude Amouzou-Togo is the guy I work with in Kpalime, too, trying to get his solar business on its feet.

Clarification on the last post: Jeff is the kid I was traveling with in Ghana. He's also the author of the above article. He's a freelance contributor to the NY Times' "GreenInc" blog. (One day he was reading the paper and said to himself, anyone could do this. So he started doing it, and sending it to the Times and other environmental mags, and now he's a semi-permanent contributor.)

So check out the greeninc page later this week for the rest of the stories from Ghana! (You won't see me in the photo credits, despite my professional skills, b/c Jeff quoted me in the Togo article--seemed like that wouldn't fly.)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Ummm, I'm in the New York Times

Check it out starting tomorrow morning at

I've been traveling in Togo and Ghana with Jeff Marlow, a friend from high school now doing a fake grad program under the Marshall scholarship before he goes back to the US do his his real PhD. (In the geobiology of Mars.) I'm now pretending to be his photographer as he interviews kings, presidential candidates, billionaires, etc... I get the impression that he's pretending to be a journalist too (hi Jeff! no offense. "What is this king's tribe again?..."); it's just that he actually gets published in the New York Times and some major environmental magazines.

I had to practice in the hostel to make sure I new how to use his camera. I accidentally smudged the lens a couple times. African farmers don't walk around village with dirty toenails; Ephrem has scheduled to clean the mud off my bicycle. I can imagine how kings and presidential candidates appreciate my mod-spotted canvas bag. Having shaved at home with no mirror, I missed a spot. For the best--evidence that I'm at least 15.

More to come...

Friday, August 7, 2009

See the Fascinating People

"See the fascinating people."
--Lonely Planet Africa, on West Africa

Thursday, August 6, 2009

A Day in the Life...

The other day I was supposed to go to the farm but it fell through, so I had the chance to walk around the village with Ephrem as guide but most of the other men gone to the fields.

Upon visiting Ephrem in the morning I was told we weren't going to the farm and was instead invited into a ceremony during which Ephrem and some others talked to his older brother, who died in a car accident years ago, via a woman who claimed to be the incarnation of said brother. There was one candle, and beer and cigarette butts were spilled on the floor. Occasionally the woman would tremble, or pick up four shells and drop them again, presumably looking to see how many landed upside-down. Afterwards she gave me two pieces of chalk to eat, for protection.

I went home and came back again to eat with them. The woman now was herself, and greeted me as if she had not seen me in some time. After a meal spotted with no less than 20 consecutive proposals to marry her and bring her back to America, she asked when I was going to give her a gift.

On the way home, we passed a wailing old woman who had just learned that her son-in-law died. We offered our condolences and continued walking.

We also passed my favorite old guy, a former forest agent who now has Alzheimer's (presumably). We talked to him to arrange a forest tour for my friend's visit on Saturday, which he wrote down on a scrap of paperboard and remembered the next day. After parting Ephrem explained to me that forest agents are evil, and that's why the man is now sick--instant karma, African-style.

In the afternoon I was invited to participate in a once-a-year cat-eating ceremony. Not much of a ceremony, just a group of guys who pitched in to buy an old lady's cat. I paid for the head such that I would be protected from dying before returning to my home country.

In the evening the Gendarmes (army police) newly installed in Adame called Ephrem in. Ephrem thought they suspected him of growing drugs, so he asked me to come testify that he was not a bad person. (That was not at all what they called him for.)

At night I ate the rest of the cat. The meat was decent, but the head was tricky. The face was stuck wide open in a howl. The skin and ears were all right, and the tongue was nice and chewy. But unlike fish eyes which are also chewy and good, the cat eye exploded in my mouth with a tasteless yet repulsive liquid. I couldn't figure out how to get through the skull to the brains if I wanted to.