Here goes another attempt to share a little more of my life here...Thanks for your patience as I sort through my thoughts, feelings, and emotions on this public internet domain (perhaps not the most appropriate place).
Things have been moving faster and in different ways than I’ve ever imagined and I’m thankful for all your support recently. I am optimistic about my new life in Datcha and very eager to start certain projects. I attribute this change in attitude to many things but largely to the fact that I have received furniture from another Close of Service (COS) volunteer. Now, when I return back to my compound, I feel more and more like I am returning home rather than to a strange, empty quarters. In a place where everything can seem foreign, it is nice- at the end of the day- to return to something familiar (I promise pictures of my new home are soon to come). Another commodity that I graciously inherited and has equally added to my quality of life is a gas stove. It has enabled me to begin preparing meals for myself with a somewhat familiar device (as opposed to the wood/charcoal cook stove that everyone else uses). Those of you who knew my culinary skills (or lack thereof) before, would be proud of some of my Togolese culinary creations. With limited “western” ingredients, my palate has expanded to include many of the Togolese staple foods and spices including, but not limited to: millet, maïs, dried fish, and piement (hot pepper).
I’ve also managed to start some work that I have found very satisfying. I’ve been working a lot in the CEG (the Togolese equivalent to a Middle School) and have made fast friends with many of the students and professors. It started with me sitting in on classes and then gradually gaining courage to help with the English lessons and then, seeing the students passion and excitement for the English language/American culture, starting an English club. My primary goal is to dispel many of the stereotypes of Americans and U.S.A-centric ideas of the English speaking world in general. I have officially had two meetings both of which, in my opinion, were very successful. I had over 100 students at both and was moved and frightened by how easily they accepted exactly what I teach. The first week we talked about Barack Obama, how yes he is the U.S.’s first black president, and yes how his grandmother is Kenyan, and how yes, in spite of how we view those things here in Togo, he is through and through 100% American. The class ended with a grand round of 100 plus Togolese students chanting «Oui, nous pouvons» “Yes We Can!” in French. Perhaps the students left a little more empowered than when they came.
You may be asking why and English club when I am here for Natural Resource management? Well, it is the one thing I feel comfortable and confident teaching…I’m proud to say now, though, through my contacts with the English club, I have been able to lay the foundation for a community garden (all that remains is the rainy season to come, a successful compost cycle, and reliable seeds). I’ve also launched the beginning of what I hope becomes a Moringa tree nursery (for info. on Moringa see previous post’s link). The community members are very excited about the tree’s potential and so, trying to stay true the community’s interests, I have made a trip to the chief’s house to make arrangements. Lastly, and perhaps most ambitiously, I am very interested in beginning a project for public toilets in Datcha. I have talked with health officials from the area who have informed me that is perhaps one of the most pressing public health, environmental, and quality-of-life concerns in the village. Hopefully after careful consideration, community consultation, and Peace Corps support I can begin that work as well.
As the work begins other, less welcoming, things remain. I am in a constant struggle with my stomach here. No matter how much care I take in treating my water and watching what I am eating, at least once a week for a few days I have serious disagreements with my G.I. tract. On a quick culture note: when you are sick everyone knows and will come and visit- for better or worse. They will bring you food, fetch water from the well, and offer any help they think might hasten your recovery. It is a cultural practice that has been comforting. Like many things, I am becoming accustomed to my health problems while at the same time finding creative ways to make myself feel better. One day this past week when I had a fairly high fever and a stomach ache, I was feeling particularly sorry for myself I pulled out my viola and started playing “Nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen” (melodramatic, I know). A few neighbors came to visit and started humming along (thinking that is what their sick Peace Corps Volunteer/friend wanted). I took it as far to teach them the lyrics as well (the CEG students are always eager to learn new English songs). It was therapeutic and I felt almost instantly better after a few choruses…I was hesitant to translate the song, however. In all honesty I have truly not seen nor experienced the troubles of Togo, poverty, etc. like all of my new friends and community members have seen and experienced. Nothing like an old American folk song to put things into perspective.
It is time for me to leave you once again. Since I am still new I hate feeling like I’m wasting opportunities to go see, learn, and talk with/from new people and places. I’ve discovered that you never can predict when you will discover, meet, or observe important things here that will help in your adjustment and work (case in point- my American folk song experience). With that said, I am so happy and eager to hear from all of you and what is going on in your busy lives. In fact, sometimes I prefer to hear about you all rather than to attempt to share all that is going on here. Perhaps, if find any enjoyment at all from these musings, you too will send me news (email or snail mail) of your lives in the U.S. which I miss and think of often.
In closing I would like to leave you with a quote that I have thought a lot about that I ran across when I was excessively analyzing the politics of the church here in Togo. It comes from an essay by Gandhi on service to others. It has become meaningful to me and I hope you will appreciate it too:
It is through service of humanity that I am endeavoring to see God. For it is not in heaven nor below that God lives, but in everyone.