Hello all and Happy Holidays!
First off, I hope all of you have had a good holiday season thus far and that you are all with loved ones enjoying a relaxing vacation. I have taken a few days to celebrate here myself with a couple of other volunteers in my nearby regional capital (Atakpamé) and thus have internet access. I do have to say, however, that it just doesn’t feel like Christmas without freezing windshields, snowmen, and an overweight jolly white man (all of which are hard to find here in Togo). Despite the lack of that “Christmas feeling” I am accustomed to, we gave a valiant effort to make an Americanized Christmas dinner…the menu consisted of a pasta with red sauce (a.k.a canned tomato paste), cheese sandwiches (we splurged on the cheese), salad, and cookies! It was successful but needless to say I overate and got sick (I think it was the cheese- the first dairy I had had in a few months).
I am now at post by myself trying to cope with the many stresses (emotional, physical, and psychological) of living on my own in an African village. My Togolese Village is called Datcha and is actually not as villageoise as most. It is located directly off the route nationale (Togo’s main highway) that transverses the country north to south. Because of its location to the highway and its mere 10 km distance from Atakpamé, it has electricity and the amenities thereof (like cold drinks). Datcha was also once home to a pagne (or cotton clothing material) factory that employed more than 1,000 Togolese and was a relatively stable economic influx for the community. Unfortunately, the factory has since been shut down, and although Datcha has enjoyed some lasting benefits from the factory’s economic development, it has also left certain populations in Datcha devastatedly unemployed.
The integration and familiarization process in my community has been slow-going and stressful but not altogether futile. I have made a few friends and have felt a little more comfortable than when I first arrived. The hardest part of my first three weeks has been the realization of just how hard my service will be (and that realization hasn’t even been completely fulfilled). All I can do is take one day at a time and hope for an eventual successful integration that will facilitate community organizing and development work I am passionate about starting. Another difficulty is the understanding that the work here will not be at all what I’ve expected- in fact, all I can expect is the unexpected. I’ve realized that a shift of what exactly counts as work is in order as well. There will be some days that having conversations with villagers and eating Togolese pâte (corn mush) with my hands will be the only “work” that I am tangibly accomplishing.
It hasn’t been any help that my home is not at all a comforting place to return home to…yet. It is three cement rooms that have the potential for comfort except for the fact that I have no furniture. I have been forced to start from scratch setting up a home in Datcha, Togo. It’s nothing like the U.S. where one trip to target or a furniture mart could make things a little homier. Instead I have to order things from the carpenter, haggle prices, and in some cases help find quality wood for construction. Actually, that is a decent portrait of how things work here in general. Even the most straightforward things (or the most taken for granted tasks) have accumulated numerous steps. For example, going to the bathroom consists of the following steps:
1. A good ten minutes in advance is needed to prepare for the task.
2. Find bucket and make your way over to the well.
3. Fetch a bucket of water from the well and carry 50m over to the latrine.
4. If needed find toilet paper (or the equivalent) for sanitary needs.
5. Throw away toilet paper as the latrine toilet is not equipped for any unnecessary excess material.
6. Do your business…but don’t walk away quite yet.
7. Take the bucket and place over your head and pour, with force, into the latrine toilet to create a flush reaction.
8. Repeat steps 2,3, and 7 until the resulting water in the toilet is clear and sure not to attract out-of-the-ordinary pests.
9. After several toilet visits it is then necessary to burn your TP and other trash you have accumulated because unfortunately it is the only alternative to proper waste disposal (the other being lleaving heaps of toxic waste sitting at your doorstep).
In other, more exciting news, Peace Corps volunteers made an obscure media appearance after our swear-in ceremony at the U.S. ambassador’s house a few weeks ago. Check out the link below and look for me in the picture…I am turning to my left and have short hair (it was way too hot) with a colorful Togolese complet (dress).
Hopefully soon I will be able to put up a few pictures and tell you a little more about my daily life in village. I am still figuring out life myself, however, and once I have a little more of a grasp on things (and emotional stability) I will attempt, once again, to enlighten the masses.
Thanks for all the emails and letters- you all have become my inspiration here in Togo. I love and miss you all.