Janet Sebastian Coleman (Togo 2023-25)

I woke up this morning to rain on the roof. It was nearing six a.m., which is usually the hour Zorro, my puppy, begins to make sad little whines and stares at me through the mosquito net. As the rain started Zorro got up, walked over to a more secure corner of the floor, and curled himself up into a little ball. I rolled over and let the rain ease me back into half-sleep.

I love how slow a rainy morning is. Certainly no need to leap out of bed. And when the sound of rain on the roof softens, my body is still so relaxed that climbing out of bed is a long enjoyable stretch. The plans for the day haven’t yet set on my shoulders.

This slowness is especially luxurious after a few months during which time seemed to grow faster by the day. I’m stunned to even be writing about “April Showers” — surely it’s only part way through February, now?

I was talking to a friend (fellow volunteer) yesterday about this speeding up of months, these days slipping by. Both of us had thought Peace Corps would be a period in our lives with a healthy amount of boredom, which would lead us to pursue creative projects left on the back burner during school and other jobs. Instead, we’ve found ourselves completely busy some days, utterly exhausted others, and often both. With another friend a couple of weeks ago, we lamented that we have hardly been reading lately, and we’re looking forward to rainy afternoons to catch up on our reading.

Likewise, you can thank the rain in northern Togo this morning for allowing me to send you a letter home. I am learning how much of my time here is a steep climb — for my job(s) in village, for my commitments to Peace Corps as an organization, for my language skills, for my cultural integration, and for knowing myself and becoming who I want to be. While climbing up this mountain, there have been moments with lovely views; but I have not yet reached a vista that allows me to look down and see the path I’ve climbed. I look forward to that vista. I look forward to the mountain top — if there is one.

Progress is being made on my projects in village. I’m often hopeful that things are moving along. The first round of my personal garden is winding down, but I’m beginning to plan for the next phase. I’v been collecting seeds from favorite peppers from the market, as well as from my own tomato plants. I may try sticking some cloves of garlic into the ground while I’m at it. I was given marigold seeds, and I’m very much looking forward to having a plant simply for the sake of its prettiness.



The school garden has been planted. Tomato seedlings are coming up well, along with some chiles and basil, but much of the rest seems to have disappeared while I was away at the end of March. A bit disappointing for me, but more concerning were my students reactions to this loss.

Some of my most engaged students were quite discouraged. During my first couple days after returning to site, but before getting a chance to check in on the garden itself, I bumped into those students who said, “Madame . . .  Le jardin . . . il y a les problems”; “chez nous . . . Ca ne marche pas”; and “c’est seulement les tomates . . .

With sad looks and sighs — this sense that there are so many problems in the garden, and gardens can’t work here, and there’s only tomatoes coming up — I was worried I’d find a desert with a few tomatoes in the garden.

In fact, it was not the end of the world. My eldest students and most engaged students from both my classes had been diligently watering and taking notes for our gardening journal. Not everything was growing, but plenty was off to a good start.


For the next couple of weeks, I’m focusing my lessons around problem solving: how do we understand a problem in order to find a solution? how do we work together as a team? what to do with disappointing results? Most of all, I’m trying to make my students celebrate what’s working. We are going to have so many tomatoes! Delicious tomatoes! Pretty red tomatoes to bring home and show your parents and cook some sauce!

New projects are coming along as well.

I’ve been talking to leaders in a neighborhood who seem very interested in working together, so I toured the neighborhood to look at the state of chicken coops and goat and sheep pens. I offered some basic advice and plan to return soon and promote improved housing and care for animals.

Katja (a friend and fellow volunteer in a nearby village) and I have begun a series of talks we are calling “Tchilalo Chats.” We were both given the same local name, Tchilalo, which seems to be an endlessly funny thing to people in both our villages. In each talk we share information about a nutrient or aspect of health and how we can use agriculture to access that nutrient.

These have started off pretty well. There are challenges in having folks come or come on time. But for the people that do arrive, they are engaged and interested in the information. We hope it will continue to grow over time. It can be tricky to have people come to us, so we may soon start going to the people, and finding a ways to share the information directly with households.