Author Archive

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose (the more things change, the more they stay the same)

Michael Slattery | KF17 | Togo

Is Togo much different from what the 1969 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica has to say?  Agriculture still dominates the economy, people still haul in the fishing nets by hand on the beach in the morning, pagnes are still sold in the markets, and animism is still practiced — though not as much as before.  Pictures don’t define a nation, so read on.

Dusk in Lomé is a special time when people leave their offices and head home for the evening. On street corners and along avenues, evening vendors lay out their wares. Charcoal fires are stoked in old oil drums or large metal basins to cook chicken and beef brochettes — thin skewers of heavily spiced meats — tempting passersby. In these moments when the roar of traffic momentarily silences, a faint muezzin’s call can be heard, reflecting Islam’s lesser presence in these parts.

Sitting on a patio along the boulevard circulaire — the ring of road that girds the city center — I can both see the ocean and admire the rush of speeding motorcycle taxis as they carry their passengers to and from destinations unknown. In the time I have been here, nearly all road and storm sewer work in the core has been finished: the paving stones that make up the sidewalks are falling into place, and even young palm trees have been planted along the medians. The sense of well-being that comes from well-paved roads and proper sidewalks is palpable. And so Lomé la Belle moves further away from the denizen’s local moniker of Lomé la Poubelle (the garbage bin). (more…)

29 May 2012 at 11:52 5 comments

Sweet Deliciousness

Compiled by Michael Slattery | KF17 | Togo

Despite the often upbeat tone of fellows’ posting on the blog, I’ll be the first to admit that the position entails some universal hardships.  There is the occasional social isolation that leaves you Saturday night at home with a book and bottle of the local plonk, despite apparently leading a life of swinging exoticism and sun-drenched adventure.  There’s is a lot of driving around, waiting, driving some more, and then getting told some tall tales by people who look at you like you’re definitely one of those foreign imbeciles that regularly swallows half-truths and thoroughly enjoys the taste.

Kiva Fellow Carrie Nguyen, Peru, delivers on delicious: ceviche made of jungle fish, marinated in lime juice and sliced onions, served with yucca and chifles (banana chips). Cost, around ten soles, or USD $3.50

I’ve also come home and spent a good hour picking black soot out of my ears and my nose, then showered and found the water around my feet an unhealthy, industrial smelling, swirl of charcoal.  (I also associate the smell of burning plastic with Africa, most often first thing in the morning, as dutiful sweepers light fire to the last day’s fallen leaves and dropped plastic bags.)

Not to be outdone, Kiva Fellow Jen Truong, Cambodia, sticks up for the homeland with some fresh crab stir-fried with Kampot peppers straight from the garden, for three happy diners (or one author). Price USD $ 7.50

Fortunately, there’s food.  Blessed food.  Balm to the solitary and bruised soul; and even if the full stomach isn’t spiritual salvation, it is a way to warm the heart, as many a romanticized grandmother may have advised uncomprehending grand-daughters.  Kiva Fellow Chris Paci has pointed out that I can eat a lot of food in a given day, which is more or less true, so I thought to spread the love and identify who among my colleagues are the true foodies.

Straight from the Bosphorous to your chest–err, hips–Kiva Fellow Kim Strathearn, Turkey, gives us Sekerpare, semolina sponge cakes soaked in syrup and hazelnut, presented with chopped pistachios and a sprig of mint. The author says, send him to Turkey, Kiva, and let him rot his teeth.

Kiva Fellow Jamie Greenthal, the Philippines, says, take that land lubbers: fresh sea scallops shucked and served raw on the half-shell, pulled from the Philippine sea, on Calituban Island. Price, free. Because Jamie is a pirate. Arrrgh! And takes what he wants! (Actually, the scallops were a welcome gift from borrowers in recognition of his arrival, but hey, who said stories had to be true? Estimated price in a restaurant, USD $5 to 7).

Kiva Fellow David Gorgani, the Dominican Republic, shows us how island living really works. Please support his application for Survivor: Paul Bocuse’s Kitchen.

End result of the Young Man and the Sea: fresh fried fish with tostones (fried plantains). Price USD $8-10 depending on the size of the fish.

Intermezzo: time for a cold one to wash down the previous delicious meals. Kiva Fellow Jen Truong, Cambodia, refreshes us with sugar cane and orange juice. Price USD $0.50.

Kiva Fellow Devon Fisher, Kenya, brings us some coastal Swahili delight from Mombasa: fresh fried fish. Say it all together: samaki hii ni utamu sana! (Kiswahili for this fish is delicious!) Price, delicious.

Kiva Fellow Micaela Browning, Mozambique, keeps the fish theme alive with xima (a paste made with casava flour) and little delicious fishes. Price, delicious. (Micaela, by the bye, pays her student fees by hand modeling).

Kiva Fellow Jen Truong, Cambodia, does the delicious hat trick and three-peat all at once: fried fish, fried chicken served in unusual but delicious fashion, and stir-fried morning glory with a side mango salad. Price, USD $10 for all three.

Kiva Fellow Adria Orr, Samoa, destroys the seafood delicious fest with the ultimate in deliciousness: the roast suckling pig…for the office lunch “feast” to welcome new loan officers into the fold. Price, pirate discount. Island love is high.

Kiva Fellow Ryan Cummings, Liberia, gets us back to rice country with his typical lunch at the office: served with a piece of chicken and eggplant. Simple yet elegant delicious. And not a roast suckling pig.

Kiva Fellow Philip Issa, Palestine, paves the way to increased rice delicious sophistication: Eggplant Msaq’a (مسقعة باذنجان), which is eggplant and beef in a tomato sauce, garnished with pine nuts. Not featured is the accompanying yogurt.

Getting in his ten cents of deliciousness, the author shows today`s lunch: a hither never seen before dry fufu desi (sauce) made of fried fish and some kind of vegetable. Price 800 FCFA or USD $1.60.  Savour the deliciousness in life.

As ever, my thanks and recognition to the other fellows.

Michael Slattery (KF17) is serving as a Kiva Fellow with WAGES in Lomé, Togo. He’s pretty sure that one day he will have a coronary bypass and a large stock holding in an antacid producer.   Find a borrower in Togo and lend today!

4 May 2012 at 12:08 2 comments

Down the Hatch

Michael Slattery | KF17 | Togo

My favourite breakfast at the commonplace street-side caféteria. A three-egg omelette made with shallots, tomatoes and spicy green peppers stuffed into a baguette. The café au lait is prepared using instant coffee and sweetened condensed milk. French influenced and yet distinctly West African. Price, 450 FCFA for the sandwich and 150 FCFA for the coffee, or total USD $1.20.

For those who love to eat as much as I do, I salute you and call you henceforth my brothers, my sisters, my true fellow companions in life.  Eating is a passion of mine; I’ve had a good run thus far and hope to have many more good days ahead of me. When I worked planting trees in the aftermath of Canada’s logged bush, I would consume absurd amounts of food every day, and find myself hungry only half an hour after having eaten an amount of food that, verily, makes me now a bit uneasy.  Subsequent to that uniquely terrible and beautiful occupation, my metabolism has never been quite the same, and eating has consequently taken on a different, more epic quality that — like the tide — rises and falls relative to my phases of activity.

An average lunch: veilli (black eyed peas), moulu (rice), pasta, amadan (fried plantain), a boiled egg, some diced carrots, potatoes, and tomatoes, and all lathered with a beef desi (sauce), a spoonful of mayonnaise (thank you, France) and, again, a dollop of hot pepper paste. Price, 500 FCFA, or USD $1.

Growing up with a Chinese mother, you luck out in the food department: a lot of spices and varied ingredients result in a large number of dishes. Food preparation is diverse, eating style is communal, your olfactory system gets used to a range of tastes and, especially, many food textures. Fufu is a West African staple, made of cassava that has first been peeled, cut into chunks, boiled, and then is pounded in a wooden mortar with long, thick, and heavy shaped wooden staffs only somewhat shorter than the holder. Small amounts of water are added during the pounding process to lubricate and add moisture to the product. After a few minutes, what’s left is a velvety, moist, gelatinous and tacky substance that gets eaten all the time at any time of day. (more…)

25 April 2012 at 10:00 12 comments

Watership Down and the World Happiness Report

Michael Slattery | KF17 | Togo

“The does, who had never dug in their lives before, enjoyed the work. Both Hyzenthlay and Thethuthinnang told Hazel that they had no idea how much of their frustration and unhappiness in Efrafa had been due simply to not being allowed to dig.” (Watership Down, Chapter 41)

This past week, a paper called the World Happiness Report came out.  According to the report, Togo came in dead last in happiness among all the countries of the world.  By no means a wealthy country, the Togolese seem for all intents and purposes like an outwardly happy people, much more if not more so than the average Canadian.  Perhaps it’s because I hail from Toronto, whose denizens purportedly live only to work, that makes me say that the Togolese I’ve met and see day to day are happier.  Despite anecdotal evidence, Canadians have it far better than those here in Togo according to accepted economic indicators.

The Happiness Report isn’t about happiness per se; rather, it’s about including factors beyond the usual economic measures to evaluate a nation’s relative progress.

Here indeed people smile and laugh through the best of times and the worst of times, which may have to do with the tropical climate, and certainly there is little to commend supposedly smile-inducing Canadian winters by comparison.  But like the sad clown, smiling doesn’t always reflect happiness; it may just be the surface expression of a cultural trait.  Likewise, happiness in the Report is just a way of saying social-economic indicator. (more…)

11 April 2012 at 10:00 12 comments

This Sporting Life

Michael Slattery | KF17 | Togo

Football: what more needs to be said?

For the past number of weeks I’ve been training with my microfinance institution’s football club, WAGES FC.  Early on in my stay, I found out that most of the male loan officers I was spending my days with were members of the team.  This didn’t surprise me after a certain point: the MFI was interested in placing me with their best agents.  Well-rounded people are generally active in various areas of their lives, and this includes sports.  When I expressed some interest in the team, I was invited out to train with them, for fun, as they said, at 6:30 am, every Saturday.

(more…)

28 March 2012 at 08:00 12 comments

Who are these handsome devils?

Loan officer AMETEPE Kafui, who waited patiently for the foreigner while he made pretenses to know what he was doing with the camera.

Previous to the Kiva Fellowship, I worked for the Canada Revenue Agency, Canada’s federal tax department.  It was the only job I’ve ever had where I was reluctant to tell people what I did for a living.  While working for the Agency carries with it a certain stigma, the job itself can be described as people management; you learn to understand and quickly read your fellow citizen and how best to communicate with them, all the while recalling that you’re there to serve their best interests.

(more…)

14 March 2012 at 10:00 15 comments

The Sums of a Social Performance Certificate

Michael Slattery | KF 17 | Togo

Early on in my stay in Lomé I presented the Social Performance badge certificate awarded by Kiva to my microfinance institution WAGES.  I made enquiries and had a gilded frame made for the certificate at a local photography shop, and presented it to the Director of Women and Associations for Gains for Economic and Social (WAGES), Monsieur NASSIROU Ramanou.

Here we are at WAGES' headquarters in central Lomé. From left to right is M. AFO Kossi, Program Director, then M. NASSIROU Ramanou, Director General of WAGES, M. HOFFER Carine, Kiva Coordinator, the author with Canadian winter tan, and M. ASSANI-BENTHO Nasser, Projects Manager.

The certificate reflects two badges awarded earlier this year, Entrepreneurial Support and Facilitation of Savings, which recognize the services provided to WAGES’ clients that have specific social-economic impact.

(more…)

4 March 2012 at 04:12 6 comments

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