Saturday, January 17, 2009

Pics While I Prepare My Memoir

I'm coming, I'm coming. Soon People. Just came back from vacay to Ivory Coast and Ghana, great time, etc., etc. I have a whole bunch of photo links from the past serveral months to entertain til I can get thoughts together.

Life in Village (Spring):

Bella's Mother's Funeral (June):

Niger Vacay (October)

I also have loads of party pics but it's probabaly best not to share them. I'll be posting pics from a camp we did over the summer with orphans and vunerable children and World's AIDS day soon.


Thursday, September 18, 2008

Tisa Ott

Me too.

So I'm a flake, I've always been a flake and I will always will be flake. Some, namely me, would argue that it is part of my charm.

I am very tired, having not slept and I am slightly annoyed in general. But I think I know what I want to tell you all and will try to get my act together soon. I am flattered that so many people enjoy reading my ramblings, so thank you, but I have to be honest with you all. Having my shit (sorry, fully embracing cursing - it's charming) online where anyone one in the world can read it at will gives me the heebie-geebies. Like people are watching me undress creepy. I think that at the end of the day I am just not Internet creepy. WAY too self involved for that.

Things are good, thanks for asking. Heroically battling skin damage and french grammar, having to face my own morals, which is completely surreal. More on all this later.

Love you all,

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Development work is kicking my ass

That and giardia, constant demands for money, patriarchy, random 104 degree fevers, omnipresent demands for marriage/ babies, language plateaus, cultural misunderstandings and frustrations, lack of infrastructure, lack of money, lack of patience, lack of champagne, lack of tacos, misconceptions, bad roads, corrupt people, death, poverty, and an enormous sense of responsibility.

But it's not that bad.

I remember one time my mom telling me that People can change. She'd seen it, but it took a very long time and was very hard on everyone involved. That pretty much sums it up. April was a bad month, where I was pretty much slapped around with all the aforementioned things, but luckily May is proving to be much better and I am beginning to see my way through all the muck. Peace Corps is really invigorating, challenging, frustrating, inspiring and depressing at the same time. It is both a wonderful and hard experience. But I'll tell you something, it beats working.

My Ewe name is Amavi. It means little girl born on Saturday. Amavi's have the reputation of being very calm and chill. But everyone in village calls me Natasha and they shorten it to Nata. So for those keeping track, my names are the following:

Natasha (American/ European)
Amavi (Ewe/ West African)
Nakaka (Hawii)

In other news I have decided that when I come back I am going to get my MPH in International Health. And I need money. Please send money.

And decided I don't want to address women's issues in Togo yet. Perhaps another time.

I hope everyone is doing well.


Monday, March 24, 2008

I Have Heat Related Insomina

It is not pretty. Okay, end of February turned into the end of March. All I do is ask for patience. Things are really good. I have a whole bunch of new pictures online, the links are below. In general things are good. Can’t complain. Not a whole lot to say, so I’ll just ramble.

9 Months Down

In the months before I left for Togo I agonized over my decision to uproot my relatively happy life for two years for what seemed like a giant gamble. I would either have the most amazing experience of my life or would be miserable and faced with the potential of having to quit and effectively have gone though all tribulations and sacrifice of getting here for nothing. Needless to say, I was terrified. I was and am extremely fortunate to have so many supportive and encouraging influences in my life at the time, but to be frank there were definitely some people who took me aside and questioned whether this was what I really wanted and if I was up to the challenge. There was one thing that was said that struck me and I still think of to this day. When a friend told a coworker that I was joining the Peace Corp, her coworker replied that I wouldn’t last 6 months. Her coworker had herself been a volunteer in Eastern Europe but had left in disgust over some issue with her local boss stealing money from PC. This 6 month mark became a test of sorts for me on whether I would be able to make it. I can honestly say that I am really happy with my decision to come and with my life here in general. Granted, there are days when homesickness or some cultural difference makes me hide in my house all day, but most of the time I range from content to blissfully happy. It’s kinda’ of weird. I was so prepared for this experience to be hard and difficult that I never really believed that I would enjoy it, regardless of what people said. Anyway, the point is that my friend’s coworker is a stupid hoe who should keep her mouth shut.


One point that the stupid hoe coworker did get right was that sometimes there are issues with money in this field of work. It is what we here like to call “bouffing”. Bouffing is franglais for taking a little of the top. Say for instance, you are a nurse at a state-runned (keep in mind, state-runned does not mean state-funded) clinic and he received some grant money for medicine to start a pharmacy. My thinking would be that they could use the profits to buy new meds or save for other addition to their clinic, such as lab equipment. However, the Nurse has other ideas, and decides to buy a motorcycle and camera phone. Now, in the states if this was to happen, the nurse would be fired and probably have a large fine or prison time to serve. Not here. He gets to keep his job and few if any regulations are placed on him. The problem is that there is no one to replace him and he (most nurses are men here) is just too important to lose, too valuable because there are so few people with his level of education and training. Here, it is accepted because if you are poor and have the opportunity to profit a little who can blame you? The problem is that it is rarely the truly poor who profit.

The other side to this is the perception of aide money and that is that it is like a gift from Yovoda (Ewe for “white person land”) where there is plenty of money and they don’t need it. So if someone bouffs some aide money, they feel they are taking it from rich people and it can easily be replaced. Yet, when I find out someone is bouffing money, such as from a pharmacy, I see it as if they are stealing medicine from sick people. This is one of the many cultural differences that we struggle with, our different ideas of accountability, right and wrong.

To put this in a larger context, think of the hundreds of billions of dollars that have been pumped into Africa as aide with so little effect. I can testify that many of the people in Togo live a way of life that has not changed for centuries while a handful life a life of excess. Or perhaps this is just in comparison the endless poverty. By the way, why did no one tell me that West Africa was the poorest region in the world before I left?

The point is that it is hard for some people to know this is happening and having to work around, in it and through it. That said, there are countless reason why the work is worth it, why the people are worth it that I can’t get into right now as I have to wrap up.

Women in Togo

A while ago, my sister Emily asked me about the role of women in Togo I wasn’t ready to answer that question then and I am not quite ready to answer now, though I am getting closer. It’s hard because I want to paint a portrait that is fair and I find that whenever I am about to start talk I can think of is the most disturbing stuff and I think it is important to give a balanced perspective. So I am going to try for next time.

Quick updates

*Have been interneting all day instead of working. I blame my friend Tom and his facebook photos from Halloween. It sent me deep into email/ Internet stalking mode.

*Am unexpectedly surprised that my love of tie-dye can be fully realized here.

*Have been marveling over how much better Peace Corps volunteers look in the states. One time I was sitting next to a volunteer who was pretty but didn’t really stand out to me. She showed me a picture of her from the states and she was drop-dead gorgeous. I mean, it could have been the make up.

*I just wanted to put out there that I haven’t worn tennis shoes for 9 months.

*Children who once ran away screaming now LOVE me. I’m like a rock star.

Picture Links:


Thursday, February 14, 2008

Can't update right now

I had planned to send out a long update to supplement the one I had sent out last week but then I become swamped with a project, had my cell phone, rechargeable batteries and thumbdrive stolen, and came down with a really bad case of food posioning and have been in the med unit recovering. So now I am going back to post a day late and woosy and with no update for all of you. I will see if I can get somethig out by the end of the month. I also have a lot of pictures and I am going to post but witht he computers here it will be really hard to do this with out my thumbdrive. So I will do the best I can. Once again, I hope everyone is doing well and for those of you one myspace I have been trying to update my page but the connection is so slow that it takes a while and many times it is difficult to sign in. So I will get to you eventually.


Monday, February 4, 2008

8 months down, Part 1

Hello Everyone. I would like to begin by clarifying something from my previous post. I do not mean to seem greedy or unappreciative to those who have sent me packages, letters and emails. Packages are wonderful, but all I really need is for people to keep in touch with me and send me the occasional email or well wishes. I understand that this may come across as hypocritical due to the fact that I have not been able to update as much as you or I would like and that I may not have be able to give a complete picture as to what I have been up to. Suffice to say that the Communication Age has not reached Togo and god knows it will probably take me years before I relate all that has been happening. I mean don’t worry, a lot of it is good, it just that whenever I try to think of what to tell everyone back home it makes me aware of how far away I am from whatever common ground I once existed that I do not even know where to begin. So I will segue that way I always do, with my hair.

People Touching my Hair

As some of you will remember from a previous post, when I was leaving to come to Togo my precious Deep Moistening Conditioner was confiscated in the name of International Security. I was understandably furious and feared for the future of my hair in the hot, tropical, African sun. Luckily, my hair has been holding up relatively well, though a little lighter, but I have not brought this up to set everyone's mind at ease. It is important for everyone to know that the Togolese freaking love my hair. LOVE IT. They like to touch it, pet it, braid it, comb it, brush it out of my face, and talk about it. Women ask me how I made it so smooth and they want to know if I can do the same for them or even better give my hair for them to use. Since I have arrived in village, I have seen more and more hairdresser hanging long, straight, golden-light-brown hair outside of their shops to sell. In the days before I left for Togo while I was doing a lot of last minute shopping, a “friend” mercilessly teased me because I was indifferent to everything I was buying except for my shampoo and conditioner. That I spent a good 30 minutes comparing, analyzing and debating over different brands. Now, as I recall that memory, I can only say that I was absolutely in the right and that my “friend” lacked the international savvy that I displayed that day.

This is a slight tangent, but I recently discovered that within the market of my small little village are bottles to lighten dark skin. This is just something to ponder.

Irrational Fears

After a month or two in Togo, I realized that I had suddenly developed acute fears of some of the everyday things I was experiencing. They usually feded and were replaced with another, sometimes more bizarre one. I will list some for you:

Latrines - I am a little embarrassed to admit this, but when I first came to Togo I had so idea what a latrine was. People explained that they are the same thing as Outhouses but I didn’t really understand what an outhouse was either. Nevertheless, I soon found out. Now, I should preface this by saying that I have been fortunate enough here in Togo to have only lived in houses with flush toilets. I don’t know how this happened as this is rare for volunteers, but I’m not questioning it. Though I am okay now, in the beginning I would avoid Latrines at all cost. It is not just that they smell bad, or that they maybe snakes and definitely a wide an assortment of insects (spiders, giant spiders). It was something about. I swear to you, the herds of flies and cockroaches that lived in the latrine charging towards my delicate ladies parts that I couldn’t swallow. I believe the defining moment for me was when slightly drunk in the afternoon (Togo is a drinking culture. Do not judge me) I made my way to the buvette’s latrine, took one long look at it, and decided to pee next to the latrine. Yep. Since that day I have made a lot of progress and am no longer afraid of Latrines, but then again I don’t have to use them.

Children- I should specify that I do not mean all children. Being here actually has awakened a long dormant love of children and reminded me of how much fun they can be. When I say children, what I am actually referring to is the disease-spreading side of their nature. The children I feared were the ringworm- headed, open and infected sore sporting, unwashed and latrine avoiding (can’t blame ‘em), handshaking, TB cough in your face, enthusiastic and happy to meet you children. Now I understand how much work is put into us when we are young to develop good hygiene and general self-care habits because here outside of the city you are at square fucking one. I should also mention that children generally become self-sufficient much quicker than U.S. and is it interesting to compare the difference between the hyper concern and insecurities of mothers in the states and nonchalance to indifference some mothers in Togo display. However, I will be completely real with you that the first time I saw a gang of 1 year olds running in front of a motorcycle or a 2 year old playing with a kitchen knife I was completely alarmed. Now I hardly notice it.

Mice- For 2 months, I was involved in a contest of wits with a family of six mice and a rat. I know how many because that is how many I killed. In all actuality, I did not really fear the mice so much as I feared their lack of fear of me. They would run over my foot, perch next to my head while I was eating, and ate all my food. They had to die.

Sensibilsations - I refused to give what in French are known as, health lectures based on not being strong in the language and that it was just another example of one of the biggest problems in development world. Basically white person comes, tell local population how they can live a better life, white person gives gifts, t-shirts, candy, and/ or money to locals. White person leaves, never comes back, and feels good about role in universe. Local person, wearing t-shirt, continues living life the same way as before, and the next time White person comes asks for t-shirt. Not interested. There is this psychology to poverty and development work that seems to prevent sustainable progress. Granted, there are many ways to gauge progress and I am young and inexperienced in this field and cannot see the whole picture. However, at a local, grassroots level I can say what is not going to work for me and my village and I am not going to do work that a local person should do himself or herself, such as a Sensibilsations. It’s is about sustainability. Luckily, my director agrees, so now I have to find away to convince my village it does not actually need me. Does that make sense? It will.

Premature Aging- When the hell did I become 27? I was just 24. Ultraviolet rays have never seemed so threatening. I have found myself closely examining every winkle and smile line and have found another gray hair. For those keeping track we are now up to two gray hairs. I understand that fixated on aging is silly, especially when one is still healthy and fully enjoying their twenties, and that years from now I will laugh at my vanity. But not yet…

Gastronomical Delights

Since my goat jaw story was so popular, I have another one for you.

The President of my Village's Community Development group had invited me over for lunch and he had his wife prepare a feast for him and me to share. Eating here is like a test of endurance, you have to be in it to win it. It is almost impolite to not ask for more and if you want more at someone else’s house you better believe that is going to be brought up. Anyway, Mr. President is pretty well off, he has 3 wives, 17 children, 3 homes, and a degree in Russian Language from University of Lomé. This meal had many courses, was served on table with a tablecloth and silverware (most people eat on the ground, out of a common pot with their hands) and I almost ate myself sick. I was digging into some fufu with goat when I come across a piece of meat that was all bone. Here whole animal is used here so I am accustomed to picking meat from leg bone, arm, rib, spine, I’m on it. Therefore, I figures that might be some juicy goat meat hidden within this mass of bones. Sure enough, I cracked it open and found what looked like a nice chuck of something still attacked to the bone and began to inspect it. I did not really like the texture, which was rubbery when I squeezed it, and it felt like might be full of fluid though its shape looked like it would be perfect to pop in my mouth. Mr. President asked if I interested in the meat since I was hesitatingly squeezing instead of eating. I confessed I did not know what it was and he explained that it was the eye of the goat. My own eyes got wide, I quickly flipped the piece over, and sure enough, the skin I had already decided against was in fact goat cheek and eyelid. I gave him big smile, picked the goat face out of my plate, and dropped it in his own. “C‘est pour vous” I explained. “Deui Merci” he responded and popped the eye in his mouth.

Quick Updates

*I suspect I can control the Togolese through music.

*People, men especially, when I express gratitude for something tend to respond that it is because I am “so beautiful” that they felt compelled to help me out in some way. I could see that. Please send sunscreen.

*Was given a cat by the aforementioned Mr. President after complaining about the aforementioned mice. I think he has a dark soul. His name is George or Georgette after Mr. Pres. We’ll soon find out.

Okay folks that is all for the moment. I will be sending out another update this weekend with pictures but wanted to get some of this mammoth entry out as it has already taken a month and a half to get it all together. Thanks to everyone for their Birthday well wishes and I hope to hear about everyone else’s life soon.

Sunday, December 30, 2007


Hello, hello, hello,

As I have recieved absolutely nothing for the holidays, not even a letter and might I add only two Merry Christmas on Facebook, I can only assume that I, unlike my friends who recieved boxes of tangiable love from their friends and family, have been forgotten. I light of my birthday on the 9th of january I have decided to not be ignored. I have decided that perhaps you all simply need some encouragement. You can send me the following:

Snazzy, cheap earrings
Easy Crossword puzzles
National Geographic
Hybrid Rechrargable batteries - Rayovac (AA and lot's of them)

Or who could simply send a email my way and say hi. And Carol, if you do not start to respond to my emails I will cut you out of my life.

Happy Holidays!