A Day in Togo…

By Elizabeth Greenlee

The alarm goes off on Zach´s phone, but my body doesn’t want to wake up or get out of bed. I slowly open my eyes and can´t help but think…¨I´m in Africa!!¨ The sound of birds galore and a rooster, who thinks it is his job to announce what time of day it is at random intervals throughout the day, is how each day starts out here. The coffee pot, which is just as vital here to our survival as it is in California, starts to gurgle. The kids slowly wake up and make their breakfasts. Cereal and milk here are just not the same as back home, no matter how hard they try to close their eyes and pretend that it is. You can actually keep milk out of the fridge until opened. I’m not even kidding. We do have the option of making powdered milk, but none of us are really up for that taste bud adventure yet.

We all do an ant check of the floors and counters. Ants here are ferocious. They can take over quickly and in big numbers. And their bites hurt like the dickens! Once the perimeters have been secured, we reload the ant poison spots if needed and move on to the next chores. The water cooler needs to be changed, which means rinsing the big thing out and replacing the previously frozen water bottles used to chill our water for us with new ones from the freezer. We do this because we don’t have an ice maker and only two ice trays. This makes having cold drinks all day long a little less of a challenge…so we’ve Macgyver’d it and reuse milk bottles as ice jugs.

Once the water cooler is filled and the ice trays emptied and refilled, it´s on to figuring out the meals for the day and prepping accordingly. Mondays are usually bread making,fruit and veggie buying and washing, and laundry days. Actually, everyday is laundry day since it takes about 2 or 3 days to get laundry dried here during the rainy season.

Making bread from scratch has been a fun challenge as I try out recipes and see which ones work best in this EXTREMELY humid climate and with all the new kinds of flour and yeast they have here! I have experimented with the Irish Soda bread, which unfortunately came out looking like a blob that resembled Jabba the Hutt, it tasted more like biscuits than bread. Tried my hand at potato buns, but potatoes here don’t seem to cook all the way through no matter how long I cook them so they didn’t come out look anything like the picture or tasted like the ones we get back home but were good nonetheless. The most success I have had was with french bread and white bread. It seems to turn out the best and last the longest, but once it has sat out for 10 minutes the all powerful African Humidity has sucked out all crispiness from the crust…humidity is unlike any kind of humidity I have ever experienced!

It blows me away how humidity causes so many challenges here. For instance, humidity makes your salt clump up in the shaker to the point that you have to whack it like the Blue Oyster Cult striking a cow-bell. Out of convenience, we have resorted to putting it all in a tupperware. The glue that holds the green scrubby thing onto your duo-sponge for washing dishes falls apart after a few days in this climate. The spices need to be ¨de-clumpefied” with a knife so they too can shake out of the shaker. Every cereal, cracker, chip, cookie, pretzel bag once opened needs to be placed inside a ziplock bag or else it will become soft and gummy! Let’s not get into what the humidity does to our hair and skin.

On Mondays, at around noonish the Veggie lady comes to our compound to sell her produce. It saves us the crazy trip to the market on days when we don’t feel like experiencing the extreme chaos of the market or if we cannot make it to the market we won’t be without produce for the week. I take my large basket, my purse, and a notebook and pen which I use to write the items I purchase and their cost so I can come up with a total…she doesn’t have a cash register or scanner to keep track of this for me. Fruits and veggies here, are as Jerry Seinfeld says “ Fruit’s a gamble. I know that going in…” when you buy fruit you never know how long it will last, if it’s actually ripe, or if it will have critters crawling around in them! I have had my fair share of live beetles in my avocados, that each time I cut into one I’m afraid I will see the dancing legs of a beetle wiggling up in the air! The fruits and veggies available from the veggie lady are onions, beets, pineapples (long white fleshed ones that taste almost like candy), apples (tiny green ones imported from south africa), green peppers (small and not always available), eggs (which are sold in a plateau, which is a flat of 30 eggs for about $4-5 USD), cucumbers, zucchini (which is the biggest gamble since these tiny white worms seem to go crazy over zucchini), tomatoes (which are tiny, weird looking, and just don’t taste as flavorful), lettuce, cabbage, carrots, and potatoes. Once purchased all my produce is off to get washed. I fill two sinks with water and two capfuls of bleach for 20 minutes and then rinsed, chopped up, and stored in the fridge.

Once that’s done, off to laundry mountain I go! A single load of laundry can be a week-long process during the rainy season. Without a dryer the clothes dry inside on a rack or outside when the sun shows it’s face…but you have to be on your toes and ready to run outside to retrieve your laundry at a moment’s time! The washing machine takes a toll on your clothes. Underwear and shirts come out a bit crooked looking and get a little more threadbare with each wash, but c’est la vie en Afrique! The machine, once it is filled sounds like it’s a rocket ship about to blast off into space!

In the middle of all these chores, school is also in session at our dining room table. We start each morning all together and do a bible lesson followed by a French lesson, which I didn’t anticipate being this difficult! Once we have finished with these two Liam, Owen, and Maeve each start their grade appropriate lessons. The boys are pretty much self-sufficient and only need me when they don’t understand something. But Maeve will usually stay in the dining room and do her work while I bake or prep for all the meals for the day. Homeschooling for more than one child and three different grades has been a challenge, but after three months we have a groove going and it goes pretty smoothly for the most part. School starts at 9am so I can have my own bible reading time and enough time to prep for the day. Lunch break is around 12 and lasts until 2pm here. I have embraced this wonderful lunch break, especially on the extremely humid and hot days! Once lunch is eaten and all the many dishes are washed we finish up whatever school work we have left then it’s off to prep dinner. The thing I learned very quickly here is that you need to plan ahead early in the day what you want for your meals that day or else you will be eating spam and crackers for dinner…or in our case lots of backpacking meals, which were provided by our generous supporters! These have come in handy so many nights where the exhaustion has gotten the best of us all and we don’t feel like making a meal from scratch or washing tons of dishes!

Washing dishes three or four times a day has gotten old fast but has made us closer as a family. The kids take turns washing and drying the dishes, and have realized how much work it is to run a household here…and I think I will not have anyone complaining when I ask to fill or load the dishwasher when we return home. We learned on day one that you cannot leave dirty dishes on the counter or in the sink to wash another day because you will have a copious amount of bugs parading in the kitchen enjoying the feast you left behind for them. I swear these ants smell a crumb of food from a mile away!

This wild, crazy, and super hard experience so far has challenged all of us in so many ways. The days are long and this was just a little taste of what a “normal” day is like here. Some days are extremely long and hard while others go by so fast it’s hard to believe the day is gone. But each day God is working in us and strengthening us through these hard times. It has been an emotionally hard four months and some days I just want to pack up my bags and come home, but then something amazing will happen and God reminds me that I’m here to serve Him and to see his name glorified in the good and hard times. I’ve realized that i’m a lot stronger than I thought I was and that His promises to give us strength and be right by our side through it is the only way I have gotten through this time in Africa. Thank you for all your continued prayers, letters, packages, and emails it has helped us immensely through the hard times.

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