I hope my first ever Togo blog post finds you all in good health, high spirits, and friendly anticipation. My access to internet has been limited/non-existent these first two months but I hope to be in better communication in the next few weeks.
My life here thus far has been very busy. Officially, my days are filled with language, technical, and cultural training. Unofficially my days are filled with scrambling with French/Ewe/Kotokoli, learning about natural pesticides (or the technique du jour), and eating fou-fou (pounded manioc) with my hands and my host mother. My French is coming along and now I have progressed to learning a local Togolese language (one of 40-some) that will hopefully help with integration in my future village. Overall, I am happy, well-fed, and healthy...however, there is a constant sense of overwhelm-dom with what I've learned/experienced, what I still need to learn/experience, and all I want to share with you.
Before I start I would like to offer a general disclaimer/promise for my future blog-posts:
In no way will these public musings be consistently grammatically and/or politically correct, insightful and/or intelligent, nor funny and/or thoughtful, though at times there should be some of each. I am confident, nonetheless, that they can give a glimpse into my life here in Togo or as a 1960s tourism poster so lovingly called it: "L'afrique en miniature."
Take comfort in the fact that as the seasons change in the U.S from cold to colder (especially my boos in Minnesota), here in Togo it is a consistent "really hot & humid." Although I think I have adjusted slightly to the climate I am continually amazed at my ability to sweat through a t-shirt within seconds. The sweating and perpetual drinking of water by the "yovos" (as us foreigners are lovingly referred to here) are always two things that make the locals chuckle.
The end of my training is coming to a close and on December 8th I will officially swear in as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV). Everyday that passes I feel more at ease with life in Ago Nyogbo (my training site village- north west of Lome). The people there know "le corps de la paix" and are friendly and receptive to our mission here in Togo. It will be sad to leave the village not only because of my fellow peace corps frieds, but also because I really enjoy my host family (hopefully soon I can put up photos). I live with a woman who is known around town as "Afrikiko" which is also the name of the local bar she owns. She is a big woman (in size and grandeur) and well respected in the village. In our compound is the bartender (Kodjo), her "brother" (Christoph), two other young girls (Ellie and Evelyn) who do the domestic work (one of which has a 1 year old child Alfredo), and the numerous villagers and/or passer-bys who stop in for a cold drink or a quick shot of the local "boisson" sodabi. Afrikiko runs a tight ship and by tight I mean she won't let me do anything on my own. It was an upward battle to tell her thatI am perfectly capable of getting my own water from the well and washing my own laundry...the more I persisted the more they thought it funny and absurd that I was willing to do the work. I finally finagled ways around her rule by getting up really early to do my laundry or sneaking off to fetch water on my own. Now my family is very excited about my self-sufficient Togolese ways and I am feeling more like a part of the family than ever.
Togolese culture is very different than American. Later, when I hope to have more free time/access to internet, I am planning on writing about the culture here as I have experienced it. The aspect I have become increasingly aware of here is how the relaticely recent history of the country has shaped both its culture and relations/reactions to foreigners. Togo has a unique and complex past (not unlike many African countries), in that it has been colonized by both the Germans and the French...Colonization has forever affected Togo for better or worse- there is absolutely no way around it- and that history will inevitably influence my service here as a white American.
I had my firs serious bout with illness last week . It was not fun. Serious excretion of bodily fluids resulted in a 4 hour stint in my nearby latrine (about 25 meters from my room), followed by a fever and stomach pain. The whole mess didn't last more than 24 hours making me believe that it was just something I ate and nothing long-term or very serious. However at the time all I could think of was "I'm going to die and if not- I want to..." Being sick, even for a short bit, has been one of the hardest things here. Life is emotional and exhausting enough that an illness of any sort s enough to make even the most dedicated of us to say "get me the hell out of here." Nonetheless I am thankful to have experienced my "first time" and now hope that other volunteers in my group who are sick have fast and quick recoveries.
Last week we had a Natural Resource Managment (NRM) field trip all the way up north through the country. The country varies vastly from North to South and it really reinforced the idea that no one peace corps volunteer here in country will have a similar experience in country. In the north something called "harmattan" has just started with the end of the rainy season. The vegetation has become brown and the problem with water conservation and use has quickly followed. We learned as saw a lot including: beekeeping, traditional soap making, grafted mango trees, contour lines (to prevent soil/land erosion), solar cook ovens, and a women's weaving cooperative. All of these technical training sessions are for our knowledge to use in our future posts. One of the most exciting things we have learned about is the moringa tree- please take a look at the link as there is way too much to say about the tree here.
I have barely scratched the surface of my experience thus far but I am exhausted and tired and ready for a repose (rest). Those of you who know me well would be very surprised/astonished to know that here I have trouble sleeping past 6am (due to the animals, sun, schedule, and fact that I go to bed at about 8:30pm). Anyway, my first post must come to an anti-climactic close, without any grand conclusion or poetic flow.You are always in my thoughts and I miss you all. Thanks to those of you who have written to me- letters literally make my day (and take about 3 weeks). Get excited for future posts and leave me feedback (or requests/ questions).
Love and Peace.