Monday, February 24, 2014

the time has come . . .

ok.  the time has come.  since my life has begun to take on new rhythms that are not solely influenced by my Peace Corps service, I think that it is probably time to start a new blog that reflects that.  thank you for your faithful readership over the past 3-ish years.  my new blog can be found at

hopefully i'll be more faithful about updating it . . .

Thursday, February 6, 2014



I woke up this morning to a text from Kader telling me that the chief of Nampoch died in a moto accident.  I first met him when I visited Nampoch during stage.  I did not say a whole lot because he spoke good French and I was somewhat intimidated.  At the time I was doing good to be able to ask where the bathroom was in French.  He said he had three names in Konkumba picked out for me.  I chose Nighan because it was easiest for me to pronounce.  Later I found out that it means "it is good." 

I did not have a lot of personal contact with my chief during my service; our spheres of interest were different.  He was young and energetic so he spent a lot of time involved in the politics of Dankpen prefecture.    That being said though, he was always supportive of my work in Nampoch.  His motivation was one of the main reasons why Nampoch was chosen to be a Peace Corps post.  When I wanted to hold a match for my girls' football team, he got people to go clear the field.  I remember being impressed by how enthusiastic he was about girls education.  Then I found out that his older daughters were excelling in high school. 

The chief was not perfect by any means.  I'd see him at bars in Kouka with his girlfriends and political buddies.  But then I also saw him sitting in his house and comforting his toddler after she freaked out when I stopped by.  I saw him cheering with his family during his twins' naming ceremony. He tried to make his community a better place.

The last time I saw the chief was the day before I left Nampoch.  Kodjo and I went over to his house for my 'official' goodbye.  It was a strange mirroring of the first time I had met the chief during post visit.  I remember thinking there was more gray in his hair then there was 3 years earlier.  He thanked me for all I had done for Nampoch, then told me "Daniel, you will always be here with us in spirit." And I told him, "you will always be with me in spirit too."  Now, from on top of a red Boxer moto, that has become more true. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Unpacking: 2 of some

In which I continue, after a long hiatus, unpacking some of my tamer compositions. this is some prose that I, judging from the notebook I wrote it in, came up with in the late spring of 2011

My cat just touched my foot. His ears whiffed my toes like the sheerest velvet. To add to the cliche, 
his fur felt like silk.  He is a good cat. He tells me,  insistently, when he something.  In this he is better at communication and, quite possibly, inter-personal relationships than I am.  My father says that cats are "the only honest animal."  My cat is honest.  We both know exactly what he wants when he wants it, or when he does not as the case may be. . . . This is more than I can say for most people.  Everyone needs to have a cat for a cat consistently reminds you that you are not alone in the world. Indeed, a cat reminds you that you are, in fact, second in the universe.  The cat being first. This is a realization that would benefit many people. I can imagine a cat saying, if cats could talk, "what the hell are you looking at? feed me." A little humility is good for the soul because it reminds us that there is something else greater than we are.  Even if it only a mass of cat-less humanity.   

 i apparently wrote this on night during hot season when i couldnt sleep

The hot, close feel of a bed that you have laid in too long.  Not the cool feel of tired sleep, or the sweaty, lazy feel after sex.  But the claustrophobia of a sleepless night when the darkness grips you by the throat and the promise of morning brain fucks you as you feel the seconds tick away into some slow motion abyss that claws each moment out of your tossing head.  And all that you feel is that you do feel and it wont stop.

a critique on writing.  one of my tamer ones.  i once counted some 50 books i read in my first 10 months in Togo

Chapter titles are stupid.  Either offer a point of view, like [George R.R.] Martin. Or just number them.  Otherwise, who gives a shit?  Foreshadowing is the mark of a crappy writer-- one who doubts his or her ability to keep the audience engaged. If I wanted to know what was going to happen in a chapter beforehand, I'd flip ahead to the last couple pages and just read those.

i apparently wrote this on an optimistic day.  likely after i had just had my morning coffee and was sitting on my porch watching the world go by during hot season

"the wonder of the life of a Peace Corps Volunteer"

The problems of a Volunteer's life in Togo are easier to think about . .  children shouting "yovo yovo anasara bon SOIR" in unison.  Stomach problems.  Heat rash, that I suffer from writing this.  But when else in life am I going to have what I have now?  I problem solve on a large or small scale.  Read books all day if I want.  Every day can be a new experience. Not always a good one.
The hazy, dusty landscape stretches away before my eyes, not to the known, but to the unknown.  When I ride my back past children coming home from school, they all smile and wave.  People may laugh at what I say, or blow me off, but they listen just because I am here.  I can stand in a crowd and not understand a word being spoken around me . . . What is so good about the life I left behind? Here, people randomly drop dead, children get polio, noma, and worms.  Everyone gets malaria.  Traveling takes days.  Eating takes planning.  But I get to where I want to go . . .  We live in little capsules of America here.  We have most of the creature comforts of the US  . . . But unlike the US where our sense are bombarded by minutia and noise, here the next horizon is there if we look up.

the following are some selections from my black notebook, aka my later/cynical phase

My stumbling quest for something brilliant, earth shaking, or intellectually arousing to say leads me to vomit words on paper.  Much like throwing mud on a wall.  To see if something will stick.

Does time exist where there are no watches?

Of course, the only constant in life is entropy-- the entropy of self.  The entropy of ideas.  Of ideals. Of promises.  This constant spiral towards disorder fascinates me.  Or maybe disorder only of the perceived previous our thoughts were once in. 

The best part about life is that it doesnt make any sense.  And, in that, there is truth.

Truth is like a weed.  It grows in the cracks of all our bullshit.  Very well. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Happy Pre-Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving! I guess technically it is currently Thanksgiving since my computer tells me it is 0:32.

Why the HELL am I being deluged with this Black Friday bullshit?  Either I developed extremely selective amnesia in Togo, or at some point the commercial world suddenly decided it cared more about the day after Thanksgiving than the holiday itself.   Seriously, its like Thanksgiving just became Christmas Eve.

This will be my first Thanksgiving in the US since 2009.  As well as the first time I will see all of my siblings in one room since I don't know when. 

The UP was a lot of fun.  We stood on the shore of lake michigan at dawn.  It was one of those dawns when the sun didn’t bother to come up and the water and the sky interlocked on the grey slate horizon like angry lovers.  Whitecaps crowning roiling swells boiled on forever. The wind blew like we weren’t there, pelting us with bits of frozen spray and not even deigning to laugh as it went past.  I stood there on a bit of sand, squinted into the wind, and saw the end of 10,000 worlds echoing in the mist between water and sky.

Now it is cold.  I have spent a lot of time splitting wood for our wood stove because I dislike being cold.  We are borrowing a log splitter.  It is a nice machine.  Makes life a lot easier.  I can almost imagine a west African's reaction to seeing one in action.

Its been snowing off and on.  Nothing to major yet.  I love watching snow.  I forgot how blowing snow in car headlights can give you the feeling of utter isolation.  It is nice until you remember that you are going 50 mph down the road and need to watch out for stuff. 

It is the time of year when ragged clouds scurry across the face of a depthless sky on a harsh north wind like the hounds of a thousand frozen hells are nipping at their heels. 

I enjoy the feeling of getting things packed up for the winter.  Dad and I power washed the combine, cleaned it out, and stowed it and the rest of the machinery away in the barn.  Power washing in 40 degree weather sort of sucks.  And the combine has 10,000 nooks and crannies that collect dust, dirt, oil, grease, and other assorted crud.  Now at least it looks more yellow than brown.  When we were done, I closed up the barn, probably until spring. 

In Togo right now, it is Harmattan, when the trade winds shift and blow north to south and cover much of sub-Saharan Africa in a blanket of dust.  People there are harvesting, and stowing their produce in anticipation of the hot season, when nothing grows and all you want to do is sit under a mango tree and dream of rain.  Sort of like it is here, except you want to take clothes off rather than put them on.  They could never dream of being this cold.  Imagine having no idea that the ground freezes.  Or what an icicle is. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Pines and leaves

I am sitting in the UP of Michigan watching the rain stream down lichen-crusted pine trees.  This is the kind of forest that, when you stare into it, you think it stretches to infinity

The problem with this rain means that there are tornadoes plowing through the lower Midwest.  I can say "lower" Midwest since I am in the UP

Harvest is done.  Finally.   We are still tallying the results.

Togolese farmers, around the new year, develop this vacant stare that bespeaks too many cotton rows in their near past and future. I've felt my face collapse into this expression frequently the past two months.  The constant roar of machinery dulls the senses.  The constant repetition required for successfully operating said machinery numbs the mind.  Life is reduced to the single pursuit of slugging golden grain into the elevator. 

I forgot how much the weather changes. This is the time of year when cold air washes over the landscape cackling its way south.   Sheets of clouds tumble across the horizon in its wake. The sky is capped with grey shrouds and girded in a bitter wind that spits in your face and pricks your lungs with ten thousand icicle fingers. 
Flaming red trees blossom out of the early morning mist when the sun comes out.  Frost rimes everything you can see and then vanishes like so much smoke.  And then sneaks back again when Jack Frost dances his chill midnight waltzes 

I am glad I'm back to see another fall.  I love seeing maple trees belching yellow and gold in the fall fog.  It is one thing that west Africa lacks

Sunday, October 13, 2013

welcome, dear reader, once again

I've discovered that my blog has been in semi-hiatus while I farm.  This is because, when I drag myself inside about 19h00 every day, I find that I am to brain-dead to do much besides fiddle with my fantasy football settings.  Apparently shepherding 25 tons of grain up and down roads all day is mentally draining

I just got done with a bike ride.  9.7 miles in 45 minutes.  Biking here is much easier than in Togo.  it is at least 20 degrees colder here.  The land rises in short bumps, rather than long, slow swells that crest on the horizon.  And the roads are, mostly, paved

Today is one of those gorgeous fall days that I missed when I was in Togo.  Until I realized that most days in Africa are like this.  Only a lot warmer.  The sky is clear blue that shows you infinity.  The sun embraces you and the land laughs when you go by

The one difference being that today most of my bike ride went into the teeth of a north wind that grabbed my lungs with chilly fingers and snickered

I feel a lot further from the sky there though, than I did in Africa.  I cant figure out why

One thing I have been having a hard time with here are dogs.  There are three houses within a mile of mine that have a set of dogs that come running out to confront someone, like me, when he is walking/running/biking down the road.  I find that I dislike being confronted by barking dogs immensely.  When this happened to me in Togo, the dogs' owner would immediately smack the shit out of them.  If not, it was perfectly sociably acceptable to do it yourself.  Of course there dogs are usually politer, or more cowed, probably due to some innate knowledge that one social misstep too large and it would find itself on the menu for the next fete.  Here, though, people think of their dogs like their children, and of course its taboo to chastise someone else's wayward child.  Even when that child is running at me with a bristled ruff and blood in her eye    

We are about to start harvesting corn.  Each load I take into the elevator is about 850 bushels, on average.  I will take in at least 3 loads a day.  Hopefully. The average corn consumption per capita in Togo is about 137 kilo per person.  Or 302 pounds.  Which works out to about 5.3 bushels.  So every day, I will take enough corn into the elevator to feed 481 Togolese for a year.  Which would be about 1/3 the population of Nampoch. Assuming we produce at least 20,000 bushels of corn this year, we could feed 3,7775.5 west Africans.  This is not counting our soybean production

Of course, though, if we are going by the US national average, 38% of our corn production will go to livestock feed.  It takes 6 pounds of corn to produce 1 pound of beef.  It takes an average of 80 bushels of corn to raise a steer from infancy to slaughter weight.  That amount of corn could feed 14 people in west Africa for a year.  Think about that next time you're looking at a T-bone steak in the supermarket

dance! sometime in the hot season or harmattan


Wednesday, October 2, 2013


Since my return from England I have been playing farmer boy.  Or, as my Linkedin account says, acting as an International Agricultural Specialist. 

I have two main jobs.  The first one is washing the windows on the cab of the combine, so my dad can see what he is doing.  The other one is taking loads of grain to the elevator. 

This means that I drive a tractor, two wagons, and roughly 25 tons of soybeans 11 mph down the merrily down the road, dump, and come back at 20.6 mph.  That is the fastest the tractor will go. 

In the elevator, my grain gets weighed, tested, and dumped in a highly systematized process.  My main concern is getting my wagons into the dumps (I have about 4 feet of clearance.  total) and not running over anyone.  The nice part about the whole process is that the only time I have to leave my tractor is when I run over to the office to get my scales ticket. 

I, or my dad, makes more money on each trip that I make than a Togolese farmer makes in a lifetime.  Or in a very long time anyway. 

My dad harvests, threshes, and cleans more grain in an hour, or less, than my host dad in Togo does in a year.  My friends in Togo used to tell me they want a tractor to help them farm.  What they really want is a combine because that would save days of labor. 

Still, whenever I am rolling to the elevator, holding up traffic and listening the radio, I often space out and have visions of lines of women walking home in the dusty evening with basins of soybeans on their heads. 

The radio plays 95% of the same stuff it played when I left for Togo.  so much for "new-rock alternative".  It has been an interesting re-education though.  I am re-learning all the crappy bands i listened to in high school.

since this post kind of sucks, here are some pictures from farming

Ntifoni picking cotton.  It was about 115 that day

threshing soybeans