Friends of Korbongou: Benoît

As the end of my full year in Togo is nearing, I am hit with a sad reality. I have been in Togo long enough to build an amazing support system: people I call my best friends and even my family. But no matter what happens, it is unlikely that my family back home will ever get the chance to meet these amazing people. So, for the first of many, I want to share some of the people that mean the most to me in Togo.

I would be amiss if I didn’t start with my best friend in village: Benoît. I mostly inherited this friendship from Matt, the volunteer before me in Korbongou. During my site visit, Matt made sure that I met up with Benoît, but as luck would have it, he was in another village for some sort of training.

One of my students wanted to do a gender equity training in his village. Benoît went with me to help translate some of the tougher words into local language: Gourma. 

Benoît is 34 years old and works as a primary school teacher in a village just a few kilometers from where we live. I have told him time over that if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be nearly as happy as I am here in Togo. From giving advice about what to eat and not eat, to even relationship advice, he has been there for me.

When I first arrived in village, he took me under his wing. I became close with his family and his kids started calling me “grand frère” (big brother). He gave me an open invitation to dinner at his house whenever I want. “Il faut arriver vers 19h, et on va manger en famille.” (Come over around 7pm, and we will eat as a family.)

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This is Honoré, Benoît’s youngest son. 
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Benoît insisted I share this photo and title it “Ti after he eats.” You know, gotta rest and digest.

I asked him what advice he would give a young man once, and he said that he would say it is important to focus on school. “School needs to be a priority, work hard now and relax later.” He told me that kids today want to rush into having families, and are even pressured by their parents to marry young and start having kids. Benoît actually formed a group of young fathers in the community that helps manage problems in the household. For example, I heard a couple next door fighting one night. It actually woke me up and it sounded pretty serious. Me, being a protective person, went outside to see what was happening. Low and behold, Benoît was there right away. He took the husband away and talked to him. He calmed him down and helped to manage the problem between him and his wife. I’ve never met another Togolese man as passionate about the rights’ of children and women as Benoît. When we, Peace Corps Volunteers, stumble across someone actively fighting for gender equality in their respective villages, this person is like gold to us.

What I really love about Benoît is that he is a family man. He has two girls and two boys. His eldest son is in my English class at the middle school. Normally, the boys have certain chores and the girls have separate chores. However, in his household, everyone works together to get things done. He doesn’t divide up chores because “girls need to wash dishes,” or “boys need study.”

I love asking Benoît about growing up. He had several brothers and sisters, but after his father passed, he was forced to quit school to help provide for the family. So he traveled up and down the country working on farms or wherever he could find a little money. When he got the chance to return home, he always brought enough money to pay his siblings’ school fees and all their necessary supplies for class. I’ve put myself in his position before. I have to quit school as a young man to be a laborer after losing my father, being separated from my family, traveling alone without friends, etc. I can’t possibly imagine his strength and love for his family.

Ricïa is sitting in the first row in the blue chair–Benoît is behind her with their youngest son. This was Ricïa’s birthday party. It is truly rare to get people to smile in photos here. 

When he thinks about the happiest day of his life, he says he can’t come up with a single one–there are two. The day he met Ricïa. And the day he married her. Ricïa is from a village about forty minutes away by moto, but she works at the microfinance bureau in my village. That is where they met. They dated for a long time before Ricïa agreed to take him to meet her parents. He bought them local beer and a couple guinea fouls, and they went together to meet her father. Meeting your partner’s parents in the States is pretty intimidating, but here there is a whole ceremony and tradition that needs to be followed.


Benoît wants everyone to know that Togo is a beautiful country filled with wonderful, welcoming people. (I AGREE!) Since his birth, he has never heard of any type of war in Togo. Despite recent political issues, Togo is a peaceful country. He even said, “That’s why Peace Corps has been here since 1962!”

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It is important to me that my friends and family know how much Benoît has helped me. He is easily one of the best people I’ve met in my life, and I hope that you can see this through this brief snapshot of his life.

As always, stay savvy my friends.

With much love,

Trekking Tim

بسلامة مغرب

The traveler was active; he went strenuously in search of people, of adventure, of experience.



I am finding myself unprepared to write this last blog post. I have to say that I have grown to love change, so I am looking forward to traveling to Paris and Canada before going home. I am also so excited to see all of my family for the holidays. However, I am not ready to leave. I don’t want to say goodbyes, to pack my bags, or to cry my way to the train station.

I can’t thank Morocco enough for giving me so many amazing memories. All the way from my very first beach experience in the Mediterranean to riding a camel through the dunes of the Sahara. I am even thankful for the not so good parts of my time here. From my first time using a not-so-clean squatty potty along the highway in the South to being crammed into a bus of car sick exchangers flying down the mountain roads of the High Atlas Mountains, I have taken something away from each of my experiences.

Today I will clear my last final (French) and finish my last essay for Dr. Shoup. Then I get to spend the week making memories with my Moroccan friends whom I won’t see for a while. I have already been having quite the adventures with my friend Jordan and her mother who is visiting the tail end of our semester abroad.

We have been to play with the monkeys in Cèdre Gourard.



We have explored the Medina in Fes and ended the night with dinner in Borj Fes.


We have tried hailing a petit taxi among the crowd.


And we said farewell to our third member of the trio.


On top of all these amazing things I have been doing to wrap-up my time here, I threw a Farewell Potluck for my fellow exchangers. I got a room reserved through the university and invited everyone to bring some cheap snacks. The snacks ended up being phenomenal. Strawberry/Chocolate cheesecake, fruit salad, msemen of every flavor, and mixed nuts. I made a video for the group of all our photos we have taken around Morocco. I, unfortunately, wasn’t able to upload it directly on this blog, but if you’re interested in watching it, here is the youtube link:

Above all, I have to again take time to thank my incredible family for all their support in my travels. Distance really does make the heart grow fonder. I also should thank the Dean’s Office in the Eberly School of Arts and Science for providing me with a generous scholarship to use while I am here. It has been a dream.

Shoutout to my dear friend Salim. Salim has been such a great friend to me here. He encourages my questions about Islam and is always an inspiring person in my life. Congrats on your awesome thesis defense, Salim! I hope to see you soon. In Germany. In Morocco. In the States. It doesn’t matter to me, my friend.

Morocco, I will see you soon. But for now, stay savvy.

With much love,


The Beauty of Madrid

This past weekend, my friend Jordan and I packed our weekend bags and set out for Madrid. In order to get there, we took a petit taxi > grand taxi > train > grand taxi > plane > metro. As you can see, it was quite the journey, but well worth it.

If you’re on my facebook, you probably already know that my iPhone was stolen at lunch one day. However, I didn’t let it ruin my trip. I have decided to dedicate this post to all of the other beautiful things that I did/happened on our trip to Spain!

  1. Our hostel we stayed in was great!
  2. Jordan turned on the lights when we first got there at 3 am, waking everyone up. “The Americans have arrived!” : P
  3. Then she fell down the stairs, making everyone we just woke up giggle.
  4. We met Ali from San Fransisco
  5. We took a walking tour where we saw the World’s Oldest Restaurant, the Royal Palace, etc 11013479_1084512178250437_4311184078379104672_n11990562_1084511804917141_1620735210079529231_n
  6. I got to play a Spanish king known as the “lazy king” in front of our tour group 12191595_1084511908250464_596218140023779615_n
  7. We ate paella almost every day
  8. We saw a temple donated to Spain by Egypt IMG_5223
  9. We spent time in a gorgeous rose garden
  10. We listened to street performers 12047081_1084512598250395_3929082080662056145_n
  11. We took pictures with the famous bear statue
  12. We indulged in a taste of the West with Dunkin’ Donuts
  13. Spent time in Buen Retiro Park
  14. Ate tapas on a tapas tour of Madrid Taberna-del-Chato-08
  15. I drank tons of XXL Sangria, my favorite
  16. I tried ordering food in Spanish… and accidently ordered two of everything
  17. Ate some great Thai food (I miss Chang Thai!)
  18. Visited the “Museo de Jambon” ate tried expensive hams MuseodeJamon-01
  19. Found some great gifts for my family and friends
  20. Made it home safe and sound

I recommend Madrid to anyone that wants to visit Spain. As one of my favorite professors told me, Madrid is great for getting lost to the city late at night. It was so refreshing to walk around late into the night, exploring the beauty of the city.

With much love,


The Truth About Ti


What if I admitted that I am actually a big scaredy cat? Can we call it a lion, though…? A big scaredy lion — like the Wizard of Oz.

I can’t explain enough how deeply this picture speaks to me. I am young, just 21 years, but I’ve learned some of the most beautiful things about life through traveling.

To my friends and family, it may seem that I embrace change easily. The truth is that I actively try to embrace it. It doesn’t come naturally to me, but over the years, it has certainly become easier. I think that as creatures of habit, we are wired to not stray far from our daily routines. As humans, we seek easy, good, and more importantly, the comfortable. We are inherently programmed to associate comfortable with good, right? Right!

My comfort zone is quite small. I don’t like to act, yet one of my favorite things is teaching. I don’t like to dance, yet I am never a wallflower. I don’t like to study, yet I am intellectually curious.

With that being said, I have decided to dedicate this blog to reasons why your comfort zone isn’t a safe zone.

Your comfort zone is nothing but a belief. A mere reflection of your thoughts. You desire something better, yet you fear change. Self doubt will bind you there. Belief is all you need.

  1. Your comfort zone limits


This is the number one reason why I detest comfort zones. Maybe it is because I am a literature student — I always feel the need to grow in many different directions. To learn about new things, people, and customs. I can’t tell you how many times I would have preferred to stay inside in my warm pajamas while sipping chocolat chaud than face the harsh québécois winters. My comfort zone was fireside reading a book — not outside where my scarf froze around my face within minutes.

Nonetheless, if I would have chosen the easy route — the comfort zone route — I would have never experienced dog sledding. This picture was taken in Québéc City, outside the Information Touristique, waiting for our bus. This experience is at the top of my list of most magical experiences of my life.

Personal growth is something that should ever stop being important. Don’t let your comfort zone limit you from growing!

2. You’ll never see the world 


Every new adventure brings new lessons to learn about life. Traveling is stepping out of your comfort zone. As I said goodbye to my aunt at the Columbus Airport, I was so excited that it numbed my fear. But it was still there, my comfort zone told me that I should be scared. I had packed up my life in under 50lbs and was moving to the other side of the world. It is challenging, but each new day brings more reasons for me to be grateful. I have been living without a cell phone — it’s so great. I love it so much that I would like to downgrade from a smart phone. I rarely have a connection to the wifi. If I am lost, I can’t google, I have to ask. I have never favored the argument that technology is handicapping my generation. From living without my cell phone and constant connection to the world wide web, I’ve realized it is just apples and oranges. It is two different lifestyles that fit people differently.

Seeing some of the world has always taught me some lessons about money. I know so many people who are constantly concerned with their money that they don’t even get to enjoy the things that they buy. I would much rather spend my money on experiences rather than material items. OKAY, OKAY, books are the exception. 

3. Eliminate the What-ifs and regrets 


Because your comfort zone tells you to stay home, after a while all that you will have are what-ifs and regrets. Nobody wants to live a life thinking, what if I would have taken that opportunity, or what if I would have joined my friends on their road trip.

One of my good friends describes change as a kind of medicine or vegetable. It is something that she would never really choose for herself, but in the end, she leaves healthier for having had it.

One of the biggest changes that I have had to make while being abroad is the realization that time is not money everywhere like we are cultured into believing in America. People elsewhere like to enjoy life, take their time. I am often the only student in a classroom four minutes before it starts — the teacher often isn’t there as well. Even though punctuality is still something that is important for me, I challenge you take a walk on the other side for a day or a week. It will change the way that you see things. That I promise. 

4. Change teaches.


Maybe it is just me, but I have come to realize that change makes you more resilient — it makes us flexible and teaches us to think positively. Until recently, I hadn’t thought about how I have incorporated change into my life every day to use is as an avenue to learn. My best friend taught me this through a letter she wrote about me:

Coming from West Virginia myself, just like Tim, I know how sheltered of an environment this region can be. However, it has only stimulated Tim to be outward-searching, never afraid of meeting new people from different cultures, intimating himself with foreigners and cultivating an understanding of those whose backgrounds were vastly different from his own. If anything, Tim is actually more at home with people from different countries as he so greatly enjoys the life lessons he learns from others.

I can’t tell you exactly the best way to leave your comfort zone. What I can tell you is that even if you’re a big scaredy lion like me, you’ll never, ever regret seeking the new. 

With much love,


Ce que j’ai fait cette semaine!

Stars when you shine, you know how I feel
Scent of the pine, you know how I feel
Yeah, freedom is mine, and I know how I feel.

~Nina Simone

It seems like it has been a while since my last updates. I have been combatting senioritis and playing some big-time catch-up in some courses that I let fall to the side in order to travel. Have no fears, I will still pull out that 4.0! In an effort to get back to my regular postings, I am going to go back to posting on the weekends before Sunday evening. Because it has been a  while, I have decided to just fill you in with some great highlights.

I have visited two amazing places this past week–here’s their stories.


Tarmilat is a very tiny village just ten minutes away from campus via car. The families in the village originally settled there because the men were brought up in this area to be shepherds. The kids and other family members collect materials from the garbage dump near their homes, they sell what they are able to recyclable. With other materials they find, they use them to make their homes (flattened out powdered milk cans and such). About ten years ago the AUI (my university here) club Hand-in-Hand wanted to help the community and rather than giving them a donation of money they raised money to buy them a few looms. Students found one woman who was really good at weaving and had her teach other women in the community. AUI students also helped the women learn to read and account for all of the material costs and sales income. Often, you can find handmade items that they are selling that have typos on them. This makes these items even more special to me. I can appreciate the genuine heart they have while making these beautiful pieces of art. The women now sell woven carpets, purses, coasters and such and as they are able to generate their own income they have reinvested in solar panels for their community. So although the prices are a bit higher than what you would find in a medina and there is no bargaining, it is awesome to find the woman who made your carpet, hand her the money directly and know that it is going to make a difference in her life. I did buy two carpets which were about 40 USD a piece. Unfortunately, neither of the women that made my carpets were present, but I got to meet their sisters and daughters. It was more than a treat for me.

"Chickens and Teapots"
“Chickens and Teapots”
Each carpet has a short bio and photo of its creator. After you choose which one you want, you find the lady pictured and pay her the money.
Each carpet has a short bio and photo of its creator. After you choose which one you want, you find the lady pictured and pay her the money.

After purchasing our carpets and handing out some suckers that my friend Aimée purchased at the marché, we were invited into their homes (the same ones that they made out of found items). They served up delicious freshly baked bread–some of the best bread I have ever had. They also served us chicken. It is traditional here to use the bread to tear off pieces of the chicken. It is also covered in a delicious sauce, so you can dip your bread and chicken in the sauce before eating for the best tasting meal you’ll ever have. One of the ladies could tell that none of us were really that experienced in dining like this, so she came over and tore all the meat of the bones for us. HAHA! As she was doing this, I whispered to the group “you can tell she’s a mom.” After we were full on chicken and bread, they brought us couscous and vegetables. No matter how full you are, you simply just don’t turn down couscous. ESPECIALLY the kind that is home-made is tiny villages. So, we started what seemed like a second dinner and ate ourselves into the best food coma I’ve ever had.

The chicken dish with an amazing sauce.
The chicken dish with an amazing sauce.
Here are the kids enjoying their suckers and watching us as we chatted before eating.
Here are the kids enjoying their suckers and watching us as we chatted before eating.
You have to cheers to couscous!
You have to cheers to couscous!


Today for my Arab Society class taught by Dr. Shoup, we traveled to Meknès to interview people on whether or not they consider their neighborhood a “functioning” one. We divided into groups to make sure that each one had a Moroccan student that could speak Dirja (Moroccan Arabic). We decided to go to a neighborhood called Touta. These neighborhoods aren’t like what I would have normally imagined. They are only about 150 meters long. So it is just along a very short street. Ours was in the medina which meant that we had to go through a huge maze of narrow streets lined with small shops on either side. We interviewed a lot of people on the street about whether or not the used the public oven (They all do, women prepare the dishes in their homes and then take it to the oven to be cooked. Usually, they send their kids to pick it up. During this time, the women get together and gossip. It is sorta like a daily meeting time. It should be noted that they all use the public oven because they live in such close quarters that having one major oven helps reduce the risk of fire), where they do their shopping, which mosque they go to, etc.

Our goal was obviously to learn as much as possible. However, the last door we knocked on was a true treat. This little old lady answered the door and had the biggest smile. We explained that we were students from Ifrane wanting to learn more about Touta. She invited us into her lovely home and served us tea and biscuits. Her home was absolutely amazing. It was definitely one of the most gorgeous homes I have seen…maybe ever. She was the sweetest too. In many ways, she reminded me of my grandmother. As she served us mint tea, she told us stories about growing up in a different neighborhood, studying in Rabat, how her mother was always mistaken for an American, her time as a principal at a school and how she spends time with her grandchildren. She told us about how she has watched the neighborhood change since the many years that she has lived there and explained that she allows the neighborhood kids to play in her home with her grandchildren. Before we left, I asked the translator to tell her how wonderful the experience was for me, and how being around her reminded me so much of home–a beautiful gift. She invited us back to her home anytime we wanted and gave us big good-bye kisses. ❤

I was listening intently even though I could only understand that thrown in French during the conversation.
I was listening intently even though I could only understand some thrown in French during the conversation.
Panorama of the salon.
Panorama of the salon. Notice the gorgeous tile on the walls.
You can see here the upstairs of her home where her son lives. You can also see that this entire area is lit by a sky light--natural lighting.
You can see here the upstairs of her home where her son lives. You can also see that this entire area is lit by a skylight–natural lighting.

I’ve been making some more amazing memories and continuing to meet wonderful people that touch my heart. It’s been an amazing week for me. I’m thinking of all my friends and family back home and sending love and hugs!

( NB: I used my friend Aimée’s description of Tarmilat with my own little twist. Thanks for organizing the trip Aimée! ) 

With much love,


Volunteering Abroad


This weekend is so packed with homework, essays, and readings. In fact, I am feeling a bit overwhelmed. I will be leaving soon to trek in the Sahara Desert, visit Marrakech and make some more great memories. That’s the true reason I am so booked — I have to stay caught up around my travels.

Nonetheless, today I had the beautiful opportunity to volunteer at an orphanage in Azrou. One of the things that I promised myself I would do is find time to volunteer to be able to see some of the real Morocco. I have yet to make a better decision on this trip than to visit those kids today.

Volunteers don’t always have the time to do things like this, but we make the time because it is more than worthwhile. Today, I helped with English lessons during study hours, got completely SCHOOL’D by some incredibly talented eight-year-old soccer players, and helped straighten up a cramped storage room.

Cue the shameless plug:


If you are not already aware, there’s an amazing campaign going on at WVU right now called the Million Hour Match. In an effort to show residents of WV how Mountaineers embody the Mountaineer Spirit, the student body is inviting WV residents to complete one million hours of service my 2018! Volunteering is an amazing way to leave your mark on the community. Every hour of service is an hour of learning. 

The Do’s and Don’ts of Volunteering Abroad

  1. DO match your skills to the need. You want to be productive while volunteering. Pick something that you’re good at so that you can help in the best way — while having fun!
  2. DON’T pick a service project that will take away a job from someone in that country. While our intentions are good, this one can sneak up on us without knowing it. Be mindful that your project might actually be a source of income for someone else.
  3. DO choose a project that will help a local endeavor. No matter how big or small, do something that will impact the residents in that particular community. Always support local! (;
  4. DON’T wait for the right moment to volunteer. We will always be busy — it’s in our nature. Especially for study abroad students, finding time to rest is rare. However, this is what being abroad is about. Meeting new people. Learning as much as possible. Making a positive impact. As my dear friend Esmerelda told me before I left the States: “Do everything! Even if you don’t feel like it. Try it all.”

With much love,