Sunday, December 5, 2010

Settling In

Hey all, so I’m back in Lome on a quest to create a website for my groupement and get my laptop fixed. Thus far, I have in a way failed to do both those things but hey, that is Togo. The website (google the words ‘GAP Union Fait la Force’ if you want to check it out) has been difficult to organize even with the ‘faster’ connection at the Peace Corps office. My laptop, which managed to break the first week I got here after I bought a new external hard drive and new battery, has now been cleaned up and scoured by the owner of a sketchy looking photocopy booth on the side of a dirt road here in the Kodjavakope quarter of the city. He basically took it all apart, removed all the dirt and hairs (remember when I had long hair?), and called his friend to find out that we wouldn’t be able to get ahold of the random part needed to fix the computer. Sigh… Now the thing works, thanks to his cleaning and tightening of bolts, but I have to be very, very gentle with it. That should get interesting when I climb in the back of a bush taxi to head back to Anfoin this afternoon.
Life is beginning to take on a little more normalcy for me in my village. I’m getting used to not having some of the pleasures of life in the states. No electricity means no lighting and no fridge, which means I either need to get creative at preserving food or lower my quality standards and risk contracting one of the many diseases mentioned in our Safety and Health In Togo book (can you see the acronym…). Friday night getting into the hotel in Lome, which costs only 5000 CFA or $10, I imagined when I stepped under the rusted showerhead to wash all the dirt and grime off that it was a tropical waterfall, kind of like when I try to imagine that I am being buffeted by waves off the shore of the Outer Banks when in reality I am getting bounced around by a bush taxi. However, doing without makes things better when I actually get ahold of them.

I’ve developed a routine for the mornings now. I get up at 5:30AM with the sunrise and take my daily constitutional in the latrine. I bought a toilet seat to set up on the concrete blocks to make the experience less painful, and I have a bag of wood ash from our fire to pour down the hole and cut down on the smell. Afterwards I make my way in my flipflops (we call them tapettes because of the tchwack noise they make when they hit your foot) back to my room while my homologue’s children sweep our dirt courtyard and stare at me like I’m from another planet. I then grab my pagne (the name of cloth here) and my bucket. From our deep well I pull up water filling the bucket and head for the shower. When I first got here I bleached the shower to try and kill the bacteria that grow on the floor, but there is still an interesting looking green algae that manages to survive my continuous antiseptic attacks. The first ladle of cold water wakes me up pretty well, and if the first one doesn’t do the job the second follows close on its heels like an electric shock. I scrub myself with a rough sponge to wipe off the grime from the day before and then hang the pagne on the line to dry. I found that I attract more bugs if I take a shower in the late evening.

I take off to go running after my shower because I’ve found that if I can heat up my body and sweat immediately after cleaning myself my dry skin problems go away! In fact, I haven’t had any problems with my dry skin since I’ve arrived in Togo because the heat kind of assures that I sweat continuously.

During my runs, which at the moment are enormously entertaining for all the people in my village because exercise by a white person is just hilarious, I try to run by the houses of members of our groupement and by the local lycee so I can say hello to the students. When I begin working in the schools, hopefully at the beginning of next semester, I’m going to start at the lycee because the students there have already mastered French. In the elementary schools the local language is a lot more effective. There is a dirt track next to the lycee and I do a few laps before turning around. Some days on my runs I’ll take off on random unexplored dirt roads and surprise people in small villages who have not yet found out that a Yovo (local name for a foreigner) has moved in nearby. I found this great hat to wear at the marche that somehow made it’s way there from the Hard Rock Café in Dubai. On the back it says ‘Love all, Serve all’ which I think is a pretty peaceful slogan.

I’m finally beginning to run again after recovering from my knee injury. The flat dirt paths that wind through the manioc and corn fields and mud hut villages in Maritime are great for this. I’m beginning to consider going to Ghana for the marathon next year if this keeps up. It’s fun to run when everyone say hello to you and there are chickens and goats always scurrying across the paths.

When I get home I usually wipe all the sweat off, hang more clothes on the line to dry (the heat of the sun really helps to get the odor out), and go on my bike into town to buy food for the day. I get bread from a lady behind the thatched wooden shelter where guys with motos hang out waiting to ride people to nearby villages. The word for bread in Mina is ‘kpono’ and I eat it pretty much every morning for breakfast along with citronella tea and hot chocolate. I also eat tons of fruit: papaya, oranges, pineapples, bananas, and the list goes on. However, the other day I bought a couple of apples and they were real expensive because no apples are grown locally. A lot of my fruit is going to eventually come from the trees near our house and from my garden, but that’s a while in coming. I also buy hot peppers, tomatoes, spices, and other things from the ‘marche mommas’ sitting under umbrellas with the vegetables in piles in front of them on little round wooden tables.

After I get done with that I bike back to the house for breakfast and I have time to work in the garden or do something else productive. My homologue, who is my connection to the community and who I live right next to, goes on weekdays to the mud walled school he helped to create over the course of the last 10 years in a nearby village. They are now in the process of finding funding to construct a real building for the school. I’ve been welcomed by the directors at every school I’ve gone to so far except his, where the director insists that I need official papers even to introduce myself to the students or sit in on classes. This is pretty frustrating because I’ve been there twice now and want to get to better understand how teachers teach in this country, but I will get these papers and everything will smooth over.

During the middle of the day, from about 11AM till 3PM, everyone lies on straw mats in the shade and tries not to move in order to escape the heat. Right now we are just beginning the dry season (la saison seche) which people also refer to as the dead season (la saison morte) because it is hard to do anything. Without rain and water cultivating crops is very difficult. For the garden we are going to do only 2 sunken beds for the dry season because to water them I will have to pull water up the same long well I get my shower water from. I’m beginning to get more used to the heat, but I still sometimes have trouble sleeping at night and am always, always drinking water.

We also have started a compost beside the garden, and whenever anyone will listen I explain the structure of compost and its benefits to soil and crops. People in my town spend a large portion of their income buying chemical fertilizer for their fields, and if I could help them find a way to not buy so much they would have more money to spend on things like sending their kids to school. When we finish the fence for the garden, I am planning to start growing basil and tomatoes in one bed (oh Italy) and peppers and onions in the second one. We’ll see how it goes since I have never had my own garden and have thus far little experience with agriculture in general (except for the end part, eating).

Other than that, I study the local language by candle light at night, sleep at night under my mosquito net on a hard cot called a ‘lit picot,’ and am trying to cook more things other than just spaghetti or rice and red sauce for every meal. I have been talking with one of our trainers from my formation in Gbatope about a big reforestation project for the region, and I am pretty excited about starting on that. Every day the women from the groupement pass by on their way to or from town, take whatever they are carrying down from their heads, and say ‘woezoo’ to me, which means welcome. Their smiling faces give me hope for my service and for the future.

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