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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!


Anonymous said...

So happy you liked our little bit of Christmas we sent to you.
Love you lots. Geneva Dad and Prada Bella

Anonymous said...

what an adventure, kristine! the bus ride sounds crazy! I enjoyed reading all of the little details you included. -Danielle