Tuesday, March 15, 2011

15 March 2011

I just spent half of a day travelling about 50 kilometers. To say it was terrible, doesn’t begin to describe the feelings I had toward Togo today. I decided to take a car from Pagala instead of a moto, to save money (300CFA or about $.60), and plus I was with another volunteer so it’s easier to take a car. A driver said he was leaving in 30 minutes; he promised. After the 30 minutes, I found the driver, smoking a cigarette, and ask him if we were leaving. He said we’re waiting on one guy at his house and he’s coming soon. An hour later, after a terrifying episode with a mouse running at me and the driver picking it up by the tail and throwing it down on concrete to kill it, we decided to just take motos. About this time the driver comes running out telling everyone to get in the car, we leaving. We pack in. Four people in each row made for three and five in my row, counting a little girl. Start driving, SLOWLY. The driver keeps stopping along the dirt road to ask people where they’re going before telling them no and continuing on. I don’t know why he’s doing this because the only way we’re fitting another person in this car is in the trunk. About 1 km outside of Blitta, the entire car breaks down. Everyone gets out looking for shade to sit under while we wait for them to fix the car. We’re right in the middle of hot season, so shade is crucial. It starts looking like this car isn’t going to be repaired anytime soon and people are starting to leave as motos drive by. Another car finally comes and says they’ll take us to Tchebebe, and we can take a car from there to Sotoboua (final destination!). We arrive in Tchebebe, but the guy doesn’t let us out on the road like he said he would. He drives us back into the market area where we sat for another 30 minutes because he’s changed his mind and decided to go all the way to Sotoboua. Of course he couldn’t leave without finding more people for the car. I was sitting on like an inch of seat with my leg in such a weird position, it fell asleep and wouldn’t wake up! We finally get to Sotoboua 5 hours after we left my house and the driver tries to overcharge. We gave him what he deserved and left with him yelling at us. Just another day in Togo.

Speaking of just another day, I realized all of the things I thought were so strange when I arrived seem so commonplace now. Example, a woman got onto a bush taxi carrying her baby in one arm and a chicken in the other. The chicken kept freaking out and flapping its wings trying to get out. She started getting flustered and a guy behind her said “bring the chicken,” so she gave it to him and he just stuffed it under the seat. We didn’t hear much out of the chicken after that.

Sunday, I went to a savings and loan meeting at 6am and afterwards my homologue invited me to go to two baptisms with him. We just showed up to these people’s houses uninvited and not only were welcomed, but mentioned in the prayer, given spoons with our food (most people use hands), and allowed to sit with the important people in a chair (most people sit on the ground). At the 2nd baptism, they asked us to pray for the child right there on the spot. Talk about nerve wracking! In the middle of all these people speaking local language, going through the usual tradition, someone wants me to say something in terrible French. Naturally, I make the other volunteer I’m with say something, and everyone loves it and claps, and afterwards the father thanks us. Then he let us watch while he killed a mutton for the feast. Being an American in Togo is like being a celebrity. Everyone knows you, everyone reveres you, everyone goes out of their way to please you.

Another funny thing they do in Togo is what the volunteers affectionately called saluer-ing, or greeting. Since they speak French like they speak their local language, saluer-ing is a long process. While it differs by ethnic group (for example, the Kotokoli women squat all the way to the ground to saluer eachother), they all say pretty much the same thing. Good morning/afternoon, how’s it going? And your home? And the family? And the children? And your activities? And the work? And the fatigue? And your courage? Etc. People sometimes call just to saluer. It’s a really endearing thing about Togo.

So, I have this weird obsession with a nomadic tribe that “lives” in Pagala. I put lives in quotations because they really don’t live anywhere, they’re nomads. Anyway, they’re called Fulani and they are awesome. They dress so cool. The men look like they just stepped out of 1977 and the women look like exotic gypsies. They’re all wealthy because they herd cows for a living. One cow can sell for well over 150,000 CFA (over $300!). They also sell milk (obviously unpasteurized) and this cheese called wagash. They have their own language. I really want to do some kind of health formation with them, but don’t have a great person to work with as the Fulani are often discriminated against in a way similar to African Americans were in the US in the 1960s.

Work’s good, life’s good (besides to obvious travel issues today). Miss everyone back home and thanks for all that you do for me while I’m here. I appreciate every letter, call, email, facebook message, and care package that I get! You guys keep me going and I love hearing your thinking about me because I’m always thinking about you. Wishing you all safe, easy, chicken-free travels today!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


2 March 2011

It’s been almost 9 months in Togo, and I’m 7 months into my service. I’m currently in transit from Burkina back to my village, so I’m sitting in the Peace Corps transit house in Dapaong. Now I’ve officially stayed at least one night in every regional capital of Togo. How exciting.

The film festival was really cool! There were so many foreigners there and it was awesome to just sit in a café and listen to all of the different languages. We saw 5 films while we were there, and they were really hit or miss. One of them was the worst movies I’d ever seen in my life and others I really enjoyed. There was one Haitian film I liked, set in Paris, about love but definitely not a love story. It followed the lives of thee women, a teacher who messes around with her student, a woman who is fed up with love and decides to invite the first guy she sees to move into her apartment, and a girl who is confused about life and religion when she starts seeing religious signs. Really well done – well filmed and well written. A few of the movies were hard to follow because they were in another language with French subtitles. Trying to follow fast, French subtitles is not so easy!

Ouagadougou is a little more developed than Lome and definitely has more culture. Several of the films were shown at the “Institut Francais,” a little art gallery, library, and French café. The first night, we walked around the art gallery to see the works of Patrick Singh. I thought he was incredibly talented and you should google some of his work – especially if you want to really understand the faces of West Africa. After the gallery, we drank expresso in the little French café and ate a ham and gruyere sandwich. It was like heaven.

Now it’s back to the grindstone in Pagala for a few weeks. We’re celebrating my boyfriend’s birthday in mid-March, so are going to visit another volunteer who lives near the famous waterfall of Togo. The greatest thing about being here so far has been all of the opportunities to travel. It’s an exotic life I live here in West Africa!