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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Relunctly Coming Home

I'm coming nearer and nearer my time to go home and it just gets harder and harder to actually leave.  I know I've spoken of these difficulties before, but because I can't exactly explain why it's so hard to leave I feel the need to continue to speak about it.  Here's one of the most difficult reasons I find to leave.

One of the kids that I know pretty well from my work at club Espoir during my 2 years here, recently retold a story how, after her two parents dying, and her then being placed with her Aunt, the Aunt then told her daughter, the cousin of the child, that the girl was HIV positive and she should tell everyone at school that she was HIV positive.  Aside from this extreme humiliation, the girl is also called a dog at the house, and is always the last one to be fed, if there is food that remains after everyone else eats that is.  Whenever she brings food home from the NGO that tries to take care of her, the family steals the food and sells it.  She's HIV positive through no means of her own, just simply by being born from HIV positive parents, and completely marginalized as a result of this.  She's only at the junior high level and extremely polite and surprisingly optimistic considering her situation.  Why I should leave and leave her in her situation and return to my comfortable situation just because I was born healthy and in a developed country is the reason I struggle to go home.  I come and I spend two years just befriending her but little to change her lively hood, then I leave to return to my comfortable lifestyle.

I wish I could bring her home with me, I wish I could bring many of them home with me.  Give them the opportunities that are available to them after all the money the U.S and other developed countries have spent on research. But it's not feasible, and it's also not feasible that I can bring this to their country.  As I see it there's not much I can do other than befriending them and telling them how special they are.  So then what happens to that after I leave?  The one ounce of anything I can do for them is removed and I only hope that there's someone else to fill it once I'm gone.  This is the reason I'm having such a hard time leaving.  I know my life is calling me else where for my own personal reasons, but I know I could do so much for a few children's self esteem by staying here. It's a decision I wish I didn't have to make, but it's one I have to make no matter what. The fact is, a cold as it sounds, there will always be suffering in this world, and no matter how much we like to ignore it, or pretend that it's deserved, that isn't always the case, many times it's just innocent children that suffer and there's not much we can do despite our best efforts.  Why a child should suffer through no fault of their own is beyond me, but that just seems to be the way of the world at this point.  I hope one day it can change, but I'm not too optimistic.  In the meantime, I hope we all do what we can to at least alleviate to some degree their suffering.  And for that I'm finding it really difficult to leave this country. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Two Years in Togo

Since arriving in Togo in 2010 I have had friends get married, friends get engaged, friends have babies, friends have miscarriages, grandparents die, parents divorced, family and friends move, and an ex-co-worker commit suicide. I’ve tried to stay in touch with my life back home as best as I could, but it hasn’t been easy and truthfully at times it was emotionally easier to not stay in touch than it was to stay in touch.
It feels like so much has changed, so much of life has passed during these two years. Yet somehow I feel like I haven’t aged a day or changed a bit. Everyone seems to think these two years in a different culture would have changed me, and maybe they have.  But I still feel like the same person and now that it’s time to go home I feel like I’m heading right back to where I came from.  And only now will I truly have to face all those changes that have occurred in my absence.  Part of me wants to stay here, stay in hiding, away from life’s pains, sorrows, and even happiness.  Part of me is anxious to get back and finally be a part of them.  
I’ve had my own life here in Togo, one that I have never been ably to fully explain to anyone not living it with me. I’m not sure it’s even something I can bring back and explain to my friends and family back home.  Now I’m torn with leaving behind what has become of my life to go back to the life I left behind two years ago.  I wish there were some way to merge the two, but I have yet to find the means to do so.  If I can’t merge the two, what was the point of coming and creating this life, only to leave it behind.  I search daily for the ways to bring it back, to mix it with my previous life to create something even better, but to date I’ve come up empty handed.  

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Business in Africa

Business as it’s done in Togo: 
  1. Yesterday I went to buy bread from a vendor on the side of the road. The loaf of bread cost about 25¢, I tried to pay with what is the equivalent of about $1.  The vendor informed me they didn’t have the change, so as usual I told them to go look for the change.  They asked about 3 people for the change, no one had it (at least that’s what they claimed) so the vendor comes back to me and tells me they can’t find the change.  So I tell them to give me my money back, take their bread, and then they tell me to try the vendor that is literally right next to them, selling the exact same bread about 2 feet away.  I ask them if they’re serious that they’re willing to not make a sell because they can’t find change and they tell me yes to go buy bread from the vendor next to them.  I’m pretty sure there’s no word for competition in any Togolese language....
  2. I went to a Bassar, a town in West Kara, for the yam festival.  Being a good little American, I called ahead by about 3 weeks and made reservations at a local hotel for two rooms.  I asked the owner if he needed my name and he said no that he took down my phone number and that was enough, that he’d reserve my rooms.  Friday myself, and at this point 7 other friends, arrive at the hotel to check in to our rooms and see if there are other rooms available for our other friends who decided at the last minute to come to the festival as well.  Upon speaking to the owner we discover that he has given our rooms away (it’s only 3 p.m.) and it’s my fault that he has given the rooms away that I called to reserve. I explain to him that I called him several times and text messaged him to reserve the rooms, his response “oh is that how a reservation works?”.  My response, yes, actually that is how one works, exactly how it works.  His response, “I can’t expect to keep a room available for you, what if you don’t show?” I ask him why he just didn’t call me to see if I was still on my way since he said he took down my number, his response “I’m too full of numbers”.  Yes, good job my friend, blame the client.  
  3. In doing a profit margin analysis with the weavers with which I work I discover and show them that they are making little to no profit on their product.  I tell them they have to increase their price in order to be profitable or find some way to cut down costs.  Their response, “we can’t increase our price, the clients complain already that it’s too expensive, no one will buy if we increase our prices”. My rebuttal, “but your not making any money, in fact you’re probably losing money as it is by selling to them, you’re going bankrupt by selling to them at this price, you either have to cut costs, increase price, or stop producing.” Their only response is that they can’t increase their price, no one will buy if they do...

The Loss of a friend

        I pulled up to the station and got out of the car, I immediately looked over to my right and saw the line of plastic chairs outside Pascaline’s house with the Chefs sitting out front.  The last time I had seen this sight was the day we buried Chouchou.  My stomach dropped and I immediately knew what had happened yet I held out hope that I was misinterpreting the situation.  I gathered up my bags, paid the driver, and headed toward the house.  By now Jeanne was standing outside and she didn’t look well, yet I still held out my hope.  I greeted her and she gave me the news I already knew but was hoping wasn’t true.  During the night Jean, Pascaline’s husband and Jeanne’s brother, had passed away, leaving behind his wife and 4 children. 
The week prior Jean had been complaining of headaches, as always I immediately suspected dehydration and asked how much water he had drank that day.  Of course it wasn’t much, if any, and I told him I don’t know what’s wrong with him, I’m not a doctor, but usually here when it’s so hot if I have headaches it’s because I’m dehydrated, drink more water, lots of water, and see how you feel the next day.  It didn’t seem to get better and soon he was complaining of a fever and went to the hospital.  I was glad to see he went to get medical attention, all too often here one avoids going to the hospital due to the fees and when they do finally go it’s too late.  He was able to walk himself to the hospital so I figured he was going early enough.  A week later he was still in the hospital with no one quite knowing what was wrong with him and his family was refusing visitors, for at this point in Togo one never knows who is good and who is bad and wants to put a curse on the ill.  
I dropped by the hospital one more time before my overnight trip to Kara for a meeting.  This time Jeanne and Pascaline let me in the room and I was able to view Jean in his bed.  He was the sickest person I have seen to date and while Jeanne and Pascaline held out hope that he would get better all I could think was that this man was going to die within hours, there was no way he could survive, he looked like a skeleton under the sheets, how could anyone recover from that? 
The next day as I was preparing to leave Kara my friend tried to convince me to stay one more night.  I was tempted, I had a lot more work I could do and with the rain threatening to arrive soon I had no desire to get in a taxi and head home, yet something was telling me I had to get home.  I got in the taxi and headed home, and upon my arrival was glad I was able to make it home when I did.  
After I had received the news of his death and immediate burial I informed the family I would head home to drop off my bags and would return immediately to the house for the funeral.  To this day, walking the road to my house in the opposite direction of my entire village coming from the burial has been the hardest thing I have ever had to do.  But in true Togolegese fashion, everyone greeted me, asked how my trip was and informed me of the bad news.  I accordingly greeted them and informed them I would be back at the house shortly for the funeral.  I eventually made it home, dropped my bags off, changed into some clean clothes, attempted to clean myself up and forced myself to return to the family’s house. 
Despite the fact that I have now been to a few funerals in village, I’m still not quite sure of the ritual for funerals.  It’s the one time that everyone seems to leave me on my own, as if I know what to do.  In most cultural situations here I have a friend with me who goes before me and either guides me in the traditions or at the very least provides me with the means to follow their actions.  In the case of funerals so far I get lead to the funeral and then am left on my own to figure out the traditions.  I have on occasion asked what I am supposed to do, but am only provided with a vague response that leaves me just as clueless as I was before.  So I stumble through the ritual, just hoping to not offend anyone or to at least be excused as a foreigner if I do happen to offend someone.  
This time, I walk into the family’s house, I come here everyday, it’s practically my house, it is my family, and yet I feel so uncomfortable I can’t even explain it.  The courtyard is filled with so many people sitting around, I have no idea who I should greet first or where I should go exactly.  I see some people that I know, I greet them and they inform me Pascaline is on the other side of the courtyard and point in that direction.  I take that to mean I can freely walk to that side without having to greet everyone on this side.  I walk in that direction, noticing several benches filled with either elderly or people I recognize, I begin greeting everyone on the benches as well.  I then am lead to the end of the bench where I find Pascaline sitting on a stool next to the empty spot at the end of the bench where I’m told to sit down. I have no idea what to say to the woman I spend everyday with in village, the woman who is like a best friend, like a mother to me, the woman who has just lost her husband and become a widow with 4 children to raise.  I tell her I’m so sorry, and to have courage, I want to hug her, I want to give her a giant hug, but knowing hugging isn’t a part of Togolese culture I resist.  So I sit there next to her not knowing exactly what else I’m supposed to do.  I now realize I’m a part of the receiving line, as more people come in to give their condolences they give them to me as well.  It makes me uncomfortable and I have no clue how I should react.  Yes I consider myself a part of the family, they are my family after all, however, I feel that I don’t deserve to be a part of this, I feel like I’m stealing something from those truly affected by Jean’s death.   
With time everyone starts leaving the house, and eventually I announce my departure.  I say my goodbyes and head back to my house desperate for things to just go back to the way they once were.  
Jean died of malaria, falciparum malaria, which is completely curable had it been caught within the first 72 hours and preventable had he been on malaria prophylactics. I know volunteers who have fallen ill with the same severe type of malaria (it is the most severe type), but because we have access to our medical unit 24/7, they have been treated and cured in a timely fashion with no problems.  However, the average Togolese don’t have this option and as a result lose their lives because, despite the fact that there is the science to cure or prevent this disease, it’s not readily accessible to those who need it if they can’t afford it.  It’s quite possibly the hardest thing I have ever done, living and watching people die from diseases that I know are preventable and curable.  Watching mothers lose their children, husbands lose their wives, wives lose their husbands and become widows in a life that was hard enough before they became a widow.  

Saturday, July 30, 2011

1 year in and still going!

      Well as always, it’s a been quite a while since I’ve last blogged.  I’m not sure why but I just never feel in the mood to blog.  It often feels that I have nothing to talk about even though I’m sure a lot of what does happen here could be considered interesting.  For me it just feels normal and not all that interesting anymore.  Also there’s just been a lot going on over the last few months.  Since my last blog my closest neighbor early terminated her service, I had my 30th birthday in Togo, I went on safari in Benin, assisted with a women’s conference in Kpalime, celebrated our one year in country mark and with that welcomed the newest arrival of volunteers (can’t believe that was me last year!), helped train the new volunteers for a week and a half, was a coordinator and counselor for Camp Espoir, went to Rabat, Morocco for 4 days, sent two apprentices and one student to camp UNITE, partook in the Evala (wrestling festival) festivities in Kara, and eventually made it back to village after an almost two month absence from my post.  And with my arrival back to Pagouda I feel as though I’ve hit my mid service crisis.  I have little to no desire to do any sort of Peace Corps work and feel that in the years time that I’ve been here I’m managed to accomplish nothing that would actually improve the life of anyone in my village.  So for the last week that I’ve been in village I’ve spent my time working on my house, installing a gutter, getting my gazebo cemented and planting flowers around it, working my field (yes, field! my host family gave me some land in front of my house that I’m planting stuff on), cleaning like crazy, or just sitting around drinking Tchouk with friends in village or reading at the house.  I keep telling myself that tomorrow I’ll start back up on some work, but it just isn’t happening. I’m hoping soon I can motivate myself to get back to work.  I’ve talked to other volunteers who arrived at the same time as me and it seems many of us are all going through the same thing.  So at least I’m not alone! 
We’re also now in rainy season, it’s not raining every day yet, but still raining pretty frequently.  Last year I couldn’t stop praising rainy season for how easy it was to get free water and how it cooled everything down.  This year I’m only seeing the negative sides to rainy season.  Yes, water is easy to come by which is great considering water is often a problem for people, and yes it is much cooler and even “cold” while it’s raining.  However, the roads are just giant mud pits and it makes it really hard to get anywhere, everyone is more concerned with their farms then they are with doing anything with the local peace corps volunteer, mosquitos are out of control, weeds  are everywhere and I have to spend so much time weeding in and around my yard for fear of snakes if I don’t weed my yard, and the electricity cuts off a lot more during rainy season.  And the hardest thing I’m finding with rainy season is that this is also the poor season.  Yes, my village is always poor, but this is truly poor during rainy season.  At this point most of the crops have all finished from the november/december harvest and since the rains only just now started again they’re only just now replanting.  Which means no one has food and the price of food has gone up a lot since there’s hardly anything left at this point (if you actually managed to stock pile well enough you’re doing good!).  Everyone is so concerned about their crops and buying fertilizer for their crops too but they don’t have any money for it.  So now we have the other downside of rainy/poor season, go ask your local white person for money so you can buy fertilizer.  In the last week I’ve had several people come up to me asking for money, where it’s only happened one time during my year here aside from now.  It really sucks having to tell your neighbors that no you can’t loan them money, especially when they make the plea to you saying they need to feed their family.  However, if I do it I’ll have the whole village knocking at my door asking for something.  It just makes even harder too when I’m running around village spending a lot of money right now on Tchouk, snacks, getting work done on my house, etc and I have to tell them I can’t loan them money.  I did tell one man he could weed around my house and his wife could do my laundry and I’d pay them for that work.  So that at least was helping him out some but making him work for it so it’s not just a hand out.  I guess in general it’s just been tough seeing for the first time people in my village struggling to get the basic necessities.  My village is poor but not so poor that they don’t have the basic necessities in life.  Right now though, everyone is struggling and it’s hard to sit by and watch it.  Also the rains started late this year so everyone is worried about how long it’ll be until they get the first harvest. I’m hoping it all works out ok and am just doing what I know best and spending my money in village trying to support our local economy.  
So from an outsiders perspective this probably sounds like a pretty negative blog, maybe you think I’m having a really rough time right now.  I want to assure you all that I’m fine and am still happy to be here.  I actually keep thinking about this time next year when I’ll be packing up to leave and realizing how hard it actually is going to be to leave my village.  I’ve made some good friends here and it is going to be really hard leaving them.  I feel almost guilty that I can go back to America, “the land of the good things”, and have to leave them here.  I wish I could take them with me, or at least give them a much better life.  Best I can do at this point is just enjoy this next year with them.  
And to end things on a better note, I’d like to say I’m pretty proud that in the year that I’ve spent here I’ve only gotten amoebas once, dehydrated once, and one cough/cold.  Other than that no other illnesses which compared to other volunteers I think is quite an accomplishment!  One year down and no malaria! Here’s to one more year of pretty decent health! 

Friday, March 11, 2011

The last few months in Togo

So again I've failed to update this regularly, I think I'll just stop apologizing and admit that, well it's probably just the way it's going to go from here on out. 
Well since my last update the holidays have come and gone.  And despite the weather and lack of any sort of holiday spirit floating around, I actually really enjoyed the holidays.  For Christmas eve I had 3 of my closest neighbors over for dinner and we all cooked dinner together, made spiced wine (well as best as we could), and listened to Christmas music together.  It actually felt a little like the holidays.  My friends stayed at my house after dinner while I decided to make the trek across town to go to the midnight mass at the catholic church.  It took everything in me to not fall asleep during the mass and actually make it to the end at 1:30 a.m.! The next day we had a great breakfast of french toast and scrambled eggs together before everyone slowly started heading back to their own villages. Once they were all gone I had lunch at my friend's house, then just meandered around town handing out these chocolate peanut clusters I had made to the people I'm closest with in village.  Then that afternoon there was of course camu (traditional dance). I was told it was to start at 3 p.m. at the catholic school.  My friend called me around 3:30 asking if I was going to the dance and I told her I was on my way. I arrived around 4 p.m. and there was just about no one there.  Worried I had missed it, I called my friend back asking where she was and confirming that I was in fact at the catholic school.  I was in the right place, and yes it was in fact starting late, very late.  So waiting for it to start I took a seat at a random bench that was sitting there and naturally a calabash of Tchouk appeared in my hands within minutes. After a few minutes of waiting several groups of dancers started arriving from all different directions. Then before I knew it, camu was in full swing! For a little over an hour everyone was just dancing in a circle around the drums.  To my surprise the women were dressed as men and the men were dressed as women.  When I asked why this was the case I was told “because it’s Christmas, we do the same for New Years, you’ll see”.  When I then asked why so many people were carrying suitcases I was told “because they’re old suitcases, don’t you see”.  After a calabash or two I was eventually persuaded to join the dancers and was immediately given a pair of castanets and found myself dancing around the circle with my friend from the micro-finance office clanging my castanets and completely surrounded by a herd of children. Once the dust became too much my friends and I decided to all start heading home and thus was the end of Christmas in Togo! 
For the next few days not much really happened.  I met up with a few friends in Kara the day after Christmas and spent some time at the pool but other than that it was basically just waiting till New Years Eve.  For NYE I once again stayed in village my closest neighbor Joni came out to spend the evening with me.  We had dinner at my house, hung out a bit and then headed over to the hotel for their NYE party. I was told the party started at 8 p.m. but to not get there till 9 or so.  We ended up arriving around 10 or 10:30 and were about the 3rd and 4th people to arrive.  We grabbed a drink and sat down and watched as a 7 year old girl just took over the dance floor by herself.  She was adorable and quite a good dancer.  I grew attached to her and later in the night met her dad and asked him where she learned to dance and he told me from watching t.v.  She fell asleep in my arms at the end of the night and I wanted to take her home!  But before all of that, after we watched her dance for a bit my friend in village showed up and told us we needed to go have a drink at another bar that was near by and then we’d return to the hotel’s party.  It was at this point 11 p.m. so it seemed a little odd to leave our new years eve party so close to midnight, but we obliged and headed over to the other bar.  Turns out it was a bar I had no idea even existed in town and is a pretty cool place.  We wound up doing our midnight countdown at that bar, and by we I mean Joni and myself, and once we finished our drinks went back to the hotel.  We stayed at the hotel for quite a while and eventually made it back to my house.  The next day we went over to my friends house and had lunch, after which Joni headed back to her village and I just roamed around town greeting people, participated a bit in the New Years camu, and eventually wondered back home and hung out with my host family that evening.  And thus the holidays in Togo came to an end.  All said and done, I’m glad I stayed in village for both holidays, it may not have been what I’m used to and what I love in the holidays but it was a good time nonetheless and everyone welcomed me into their homes without any hesitation.  
Since the holidays my schedule seems to have finally calmed down a bit and I feel like I’m finally starting some bit of work.  At the end of January I started my women’s group which will meet once a month and I’ll train them on a new topic every month and we’ll also discuss women’s rights and how we can help the young girls in the schools.  The first meeting I went over feasibility studies and we discussed some of my ideas for reaching out to the young girls in school.  I’ve also just started my computer classes for the teachers at the high school and my adult english lessons.  I’m still continuing my English clubs in the schools, but for the middle schools the attendance is little to no one so I’m getting rather frustrated with them.  Aside from that I’m still working on compiling information on Togo to make a country guide and am working with club espoir in Kara once a month.  We have a couple of camps over the summer that I’m now trying to apply for as I want to participate as a counselor and also trying to find participants I can nominate from my village. When I actually talk about what I’m working on it never seems like much, yet some how I always feel so busy and like I never have enough time to do anything that I need to do.  I do however spend a lot of my time doing housework between boiling water, hand washing my laundry, washing dishes, sweeping, washing the floors, dusting, moving water from one bin to another, washing out my water bins, etc.  Being here really does make you realize how much time we gain by having machines do so much for us and just by having running water even.  
In mid February after club Espoir I headed down to Lome with Mary, a volunteer about an hour north of Kara who came in country the same time as me and is one of my closest friends here. I had to have a few tests run (nothing serious!) and also just wanted to get back south to visit Tamara and my host family in Tsevie.  A big group of us wound up being in Lome together so a bunch of us went out for valentine’s day together and splurged on some really good pizza and mediocre wine. That afternoon though, Mary and I took advantage of the Ambassador’s open invitation to PCVs to come and use her swimming pool.  It was an awesome pool and we had it to ourselves. It was the perfect temperature and so clean, it was great!  We also found strawberries and excitedly bought a demi kilo, not really knowing how many strawberries that would be.  We paid too much for them but it’s funny what becomes a splurge when you give up so much.  We very excitedly brought them to the pool with us thinking this was going to be the best idea ever.  As I pulled them out and was just about to bite into the first one I realized we hadn’t washed/bleached them (as we have to do with all fruit you don’t peel).  We weighed our choices of risking getting sick or enjoying our expensive strawberries and very sadly wound up putting them up and deciding we’d try to figure out how to bleach them back at the hotel.  We wound up just having to take them with us when we left Lome the next day.  She was headed back to Kara and I was headed to Tsevie for a few days.  So thankfully I only had to wait one day to finally enjoy my delicious little strawberries.  
I wound up spending 3 nights in Tsevie where I was able to catch up with Tamara and spend an afternoon with my host family.  As always it was great to see them all and I had a great time.  I got to see a little of the work Tamara is doing and got some of my own work done as well as relax a little.  I also unfortunately/fortunately received the news from some tests done in Lome that I had Amoebas.  Good news in that I know something was in fact causing my diarrhea and I could now take medicine for it.  Bad in that well Amoebas I had been told are no fun.  It hadn’t been as bad as other people had described it so far, so I wasn’t too concerned though.  I was originally planning on leaving on Thursday so that I could make sure I was back in village by Friday night at the latest since I had my computer classes starting on Saturday morning.  And since one never knows how long a bush taxi is going to take it’s usually best to give yourself more than enough time to arrive and in my case since getting to my village from Kara after about 5 p.m. can be tricky it’s best if I give my self an extra day in case I have to spend the night in Kara.  However, I talked myself into staying Thursday night and leaving extra early on Friday taking a chance that I would get a good bush taxi and make it home before dark.  And thankfully I did for once get a fairly decent bush taxi.  It was never too crowded and didn’t make too many stops between Tsevie and Kara and I wound up making it to Kara by about 3 p.m.  Unfortunately though, on our way up the mountain in to Kara we passed two big semis that had tipped over and sadly with the second one we came across the man I assume to be the driver was lying next to the vehicle dead with just a t-shirt put over his face.  It was the first dead body I’ve seen and it was rather creepy.  Yet I found my self not being as shocked as I feel I should have been and I couldn’t stop staring at it as we drove by it ever so slowly. 
I happily arrived back in village before night fall, had time to catch up with a few of my friends in village, unpack, relax, and go to bed at a normal hour.  Early the next morning I got up, packed up my stuff and biked out to the high school to start my computer classes with the professors.  Much to my dismay they didn’t show up and the director of the school told me to start my classes the next week.  Frustrated that I was so stressed the day before about making it home in time for the classes only to have them cancel on my without notice I was discouraged from doing anything else the rest of the day and pretty much did nothing the rest of the day.  Sunday evening was then to be the start of my adult english lessons.  And yet again to my dismay no one showed.  So needless to say I was in a very discouraged mood and had no desire to work the whole week following and honestly did very little for several days after that other than personal stuff.  I visited Madjatom’s monday market which is the large market on the border of Togo and Benin.  Wound up spending all day there on Monday and on Tuesday I went to another border town for the second part of a funeral for my friend’s mother’s husband.  Upon returning from that around 12 on Tuesday I was then invited to go back to that general area for another funeral.  Since I wasn’t in a mood to work, I accepted and headed back to the border area to see another funeral.  Unfortunately they weren’t doing any big celebrations that day (it was an 8 day event since it was for a Chef), however, just before we left I did sit down and watch them slaughter a giant cow that had been killed before our arrival.  I watched in amazement as they cut up every single piece of the cow and divided it amongst the various elite of the village.  I reflected back on my first time in France when at the age of 17 I watched my host family slaughter and skin a sheep in front of me with complete disgust and wanting nothing to do with watching that.  And here I now was 12 years later willingly watching as these men were not only skinning the cow but cutting up all of it’s parts and even cutting open the stomach and intestines right in front of me.  
Within the last month I also had my dog neutered.  When I talked to the vet about it, he said he’d come to my house to do it but to make sure that I had two strong men with me to hold my dog down.  I told him I didn’t know how to ask two men to come do that for me so he said he’d bring two.  He wound up not showing up on the day he was supposed to come but came the next day instead.  His reason for not showing the day before was that his son had been kidnapped to be brought to Nigeria.  They had thankfully caught him and the son was returned but he was busy with the police all day.  I couldn’t believe he was still showing up at my house so soon to do the operation and I had no idea what to say to him.  He was so nonchalant about it was strange.  But apparently since we’re a border town that happens a lot here so I guess they’re not as shocked by it.  Anyway, with my dog chained up and the two men holding him down I stood there and watched as they neutered my dog.  I don’t know why I watched and I don’t know why I wasn’t more disgusted by it.  
I think it’s now clear I’ve become too desensitized and perhaps a true PCV.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Farewell Soeurou...Pagouda won't be the same without you

On Jan. 5 a woman in village passed away after being sick and in the hospital for a few days.  I'm still not sure what exactly she died of, but it was sudden and it a bit of a shock to us all in the community.  She was such a fixture in village that it's going to be weird without her.  She always walked around in a manner that I was never sure if she was crazy, drunk, or a little of both.  When I once mentioned that I thought she was a little crazy everyone laughed and said "I can see how she would think that". So apparently she wasn't crazy, at least not officially. She would often be found just dancing down the street and everyone would be laughing at her.  Every time she saw me she'd address me by saying "mon fils" (my son), I'd then remind her that I'm a girl and explain that it should be ma fille, not mon fils as I'm a girl and not a boy.  She'd then seem confused and in English say "my baby" and point at me. We had this same exchange more times than I can count, yet now I'm going to miss it and miss her and all her crazy antics.  
Last night we had the wake for her and it was my first wake to go to in Togo.  We stayed up till about 11 p.m. with everyone saying prayers, singing, telling their stories about her and so on.  At some point this other woman in village, who was drunk, came walking up to the front dancing in front of everyone while the band was playing and people were going around collecting money to pay for the funeral.  People were laughing and commenting on how this woman was replacing the one who had passed away, as that sort of spectacle is exactly what the deceased would have caused. Then today we had the burial for the woman.  We again met in the same place just outside the Chef's compound where everyone gathered and there were more prayers and more music (I was fortunate enough to have the trombones right behind me!) and we all eventually walked to the cemetery following the truck carrying the casket.   As we walked up to the grave site I noticed that many people stopped early and hung back, while others went up to the grave site.  Then as it was explained to me that the women don't go up to the grave and I realized it was all the women who had stopped early and it was the men that were surrounding the grave.  When I asked why this was the case it was explained that they think women don't have the heart to handle being by the grave and that they might fall.  But apparently a woman can go around the grave if she so chooses.  Then while we were all gathered around grave as the casket was being placed in the ground, the same woman from the night before comes walking in to the cemetery wearing the hat of the deceased and creating quite the spectacle.  My first thought was that she was either drunk again or just acting like the deceased in order to say she was some how possessed by the deceased or something like that.  It was then explained to me that the family gave her the hat and asked her to act like the deceased. So that's exactly was she was doing, walking around crying out during the burial, yelling at people, and just stumbling around.  Apparently this is very common to have someone act out as the deceased at the burial.  I just found it odd, distracting, and a little eery as she did an amazing job at acting like her and it really seemed like the deceased was walking around at her own burial.  She also continued to walk around and act like the deceased for the rest of the day.  It was eery.  
One thing that always strikes me here is how different their views on death are from ours.  But I guess in a country where death is so common, it's not that surprising that they accept it and deal with it a little better than we do.  I believe they said that within the last 5 months this family, which is the Chef's family actually, has lost a total of 8 family members.  Even though here that would include very extended family it's still just crazy how frequent death is here.  

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Traveling around Togo Style

So I’ve been meaning to blog for a while because November has just been crazy, but for whatever reason I just haven’t sat down to do it.  So now I will try to recap the last month for you all.  
So after my training in Pagala I returned back to village but not for too long.  I was in village for about 2 weeks then I headed down south for the swearing in of the newest training group that arrived in Sept.  I took the post bus down south and was able to meet two other volunteers on the bus who were coming down as well but who live further up north than I do.  So the three of us were together on the bus.  Now the post bus is the bus the govt. recently put in place through the post office and is pretty much the best option to get anywhere in country on the main route comfortably.  It’s not much more costly than a bush taxi, you get your own seat, it’s air conditioned, and you get a croissant and bottle of water on the bus.  Pure luxury in Togo! However, this trip on the post bus turned out to be a very Togolese experience.  Things first started looking bad immediately after I boarded the bus and was informed by the two other volunteers I would be traveling with that the 3 people surrounding them had been throwing up the whole trip so far.  Shortly after we left Kara the drivers assistant had to stand up and make an announcement to the group that went something like this. 
We have a problem with vomiting.  Please do not eat any of the fish that you might buy or have boughten between Mango and Kara.  If you do buy any fish for the remainder of the trip please wait until you get to your final destination before eating it.  If you do have to throw up please inform the driver and we will stop.  
So apparently it’s the fish causing the vomiting and not the gigantic pot holes in the road, the constant swerving of the bus, or the fact that the A/C stopped working and it was just getting hotter and hotter.  But I digress.  So even after that speech was made, the people surrounding us continued to throw up for the remainder of their trip, never once asking the driver to stop.  So at this point the trip has already started off on the wrong foot.  But I’m still in good spirits, after all this is Togo and this is still better than a bush taxi and I’m amongst friends.  Then I realize we were never served our croissant and bottled water.  I hadn’t brought any water with me on the bus since I was supposed to receive it upon leaving from Kara.  No worries I think though, I’ll just grab a water sachet in Sokode.  Well we arrive in Sokode and I can’t find water anywhere for some odd reason. Usually it’s being shoved in my face every where I turn. I go ahead and get back on the bus assuming I’ll just find it the next time we stop for a quick break. So away we go again vomiting passengers and all.  We get pretty far without any events, but unfortunately this was just not our travel day.  About 8 km north of Atakpame our bus pulls to the side of the road, our driver gets out and doesn’t say a word to anyone.  Danny the friend I was traveling with decides to jump out to stretch his legs so I follow and we see the driver opening up the engine.  It appears we’ve broken down but the driver has decided not to tell us.  So I go in one direction over to a boutique I see to see if they have any water while Danny wonders off in the opposite direction to see what he can find.  We’re in a very small village that you’d pass in the blink of an eye, but seeing as there is a boutique there I’m hopeful.  I’m informed by the boutique they don’t have any water but to go down to the bar a little further down the road.  I started walking that way and run into Danny.  He was informed “there’s no water in village”.  Still hopeful I go to the bar I see and ask them if they have water.  Nope, beer, apple juice, or sodabe (locally mad alcohol).  Danny opts for a shot of sodabe while I wait then still optimistic I have him cross the street with me to see what’s on the other side of town.  Still no water, but we did find Tchouk.  Seeing as the bus at this point showed no signs of leaving any time soon and I couldn’t find water I figure the only way to make this situation bearable was to sit down with a calabash of Tchouk, naturally!  And what did I find just in front of the Tchouk stand, tofu! Things were starting to look up again.  So with my Tofu and my Tchouk we sat down to make the best of this break down.  Michelle, the other volunteer, came over to join us and from the Tchouk stand where waited out the break down through several calabashes.  Unfortunately by the time we had gone through our fill of Tchouk the bus was still nowhere near ready to leave.  We sat around the bus waiting for a bit, then Danny and I noticed two guys dancing on the other side of the street to some music coming from a straw hut.  So of course, the only thing we could do was to go over and dance with them.  Michelle came over and joined us as well and before long I’m pretty sure the entire village was surrounding us watching the yovos dance.  Being white/foreign we’re a spectacle anywhere we go, the smaller the village the bigger a spectacle we are.  Put more than one of us together and that’s an even larger spectacle, so I can only imagine their excitement at 3 white people dancing on the side of the road in their tiny village.  We must have danced for at least an hour, it was probably the most fun I’ve ever had in Togo.  However, it naturally had to be ruined by people then starting to ask us for money.  At that note and because I was so sweat covered and tired by that time I decided the dance party was over and went back to check on the bus.  Still no signs of being ready to get on the road again.  At this point it’s now dark (we’re not supposed to travel at night) and the regional director for the post office has come out to access the situation.  He’s also brought out some water sachets after a group pitched a fit about not having received water or a croissant on the bus.  So now at least my thirst is quenched. For the next 1 to 2 hours it’s just a lot of arguing with the director and him insisting the bus will be fixed in 10-15 mins and there’s no need to call in a new bus.  Back to the fact that we’re not supposed to travel at night and it’s now   8 p.m. and we’ve been sitting there for 4 hours.  Michelle calls our safety line to see what we should do, whether we should get motos to Atakpame and stay at the Peace Corps house there or wait out the bus.  Ultimately they decide we should stick with the bus and that’s probably our safest option.  So we continue to wait and wait until finally the bus is fixed and we’re on our way again, 5 hours after the break down.  I finally got to Tsevie at about 11 p.m. where I was going to spend 2 nights with my friend Tamara before heading down to Lome for the ceremony.  Michelle and Danny continued on to Lome and didn’t make it there till midnight.  As I always say, everything is an adventure in Togo!  
The next day in Tsevie I hung out with Tamara some and then the two of us went over to visit our host families.  We stopped in to visit her host family first just to say hello.  It was really great seeing them again and seeing how happy they were to see me again.  From there we went over to my host families house for lunch.  They were so excited to see me and it was great seeing them again.  They gave me a wonderful welcome and as expected were very excited to see how much weight I had gained. So much so they pulled people over to see how fat I was and continued to comment on my weight gain all while I was eating lunch.  Really glad I made them so proud, but not so happy about my weight gain.  After lunch I just hung out with my family some catching up and then went over and visited some of the other host families and current trainees.  That night Tamara and I went back to the bar we always visited all during training and it was just really nice being back there.  
The next morning we got up and went to Lome for the swearing in ceremony for the newest volunteers.  While it was great seeing so many volunteers again and being able to shop in Lome where I can get just about everything I’d want or need and get really good food, I realized I love Kara, I love Pagouda and I despise Lome.  I was very thankful that Kara is my regional capital and not Lome.  Lome is just overcrowded, filthy, and way too expensive for our salaries. So needless to say I was really excited to get back to Pagouda. For the way back I was able to hop in the bush taxi taking the new volunteers to their posts which Peace Corps rented so it was a fairly comfortable ride.  However, as I said before, everything in Togo is an adventure and the return trip had to live up to that rule.  We were probably less than an hour from Kara when we were forced to pull to the side of the road and sit there for at least an hour while they closed the road since the President was coming through to take a look at the construction project that was just in front of us.  So unfortunately after that delay we wound up not getting to Ketao until almost dark, but thankfully I was still able to find a car back to Pagouda and make it back home that night. And that was the end of that adventure.  
After this trip I was really only in village for about a week or just shy of a week before heading out to celebrate Thanksgiving.  I left on Wednesday night and went in to Kara to cook my apple pies at the American Missionaries house.  I had dinner with them, a great dinner as always, made my pies (which turned out great!) and the next morning met up with a few other volunteers in my region and we grabbed a car and headed down to Adjengre which is the town of another volunteer.  Justin put together the Thanksgiving dinner at a hotel in his town and about 43 volunteers all gathered there for the celebration.  We had 4 turkey’s, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, pasta salad, 7 or more pumpkin pies, 5 or 6 apple pies, pumpkin muffins, brownies, cookies, everything! It was delicious and lots of fun.  The next morning we got up and headed back to Kara.  Tamara came back with me and spent the next 3 days with me in my village.  Then her and I turned around and headed back down to Pagala for our second and last round of training.  For this training we brought along a Togolese counter part with us.  I invited a woman from my village that I find to be very progressive and intelligent and someone who has a lot of potential.  I’m not sure how I’ll work with her yet, but I definitely want to work with her on some projects in some way so that’s why I invited her.  Overall training was fun, as always it was great seeing everyone again and it wasn’t as awkward as I thought it might be having the Togolese counterparts with us.  
So that pretty much brings me to where I am now.  I’ve been back from training for almost a week now.  Since being back I’ve started up my English clubs and have just been working on my house.  I’ve now somehow committed myself to 5 English clubs, with 3 of them being back to back on Wednesdays!  I’ll start Wednesdays at 3 with the 6th and 5th levels (beg. English), then at 4 take the 4th and 3rd levels, then I move to the high school and do a club for the high school students starting at 5.  Then the next week I’ll go and do my club at the neighboring town’s intermediate school.  Thursdays I go to the other intermediate school in my town and do a club with them.  It’s a lot of English club and more than I wanted to do, but that’s what they’ve asked for and I’m here to do what they need not what I want to do. So now that brings me to today.  Tomorrow I’m heading in to Kara for the day/night for a Christmas cookie exchange at the missionaries house.  I’m pretty excited as that will pretty much be my only taste of a traditional Christmas and well I always just enjoy going and visiting with them.  It’s been kind of weird this holiday season since this is the first holiday season I’ve been through where I haven’t been surrounded by holiday decorations.  Never realized till now just how much all the decorations really do help set the holiday spirit. I’ve been through warm Christmas’ before, but being warm and no decorations makes it really hard to remember it’s the holiday season. But thanks to several packages from home I do have my little Christmas section in my house.  
Well happy holidays to you all!