Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The last weeks in village

13 Nov 2008

I’ve been procrastinating on writing updates. Then I realized that once I move to Lomé, I will probably have less interesting stories to tell. Now it’s time to play catch-up.

The World AIDS Day presentation the peer educators prepared went… it happened. It was at the elementary school, and our crowd consisted of students, teachers and a few random men. I invited a guy who’d helped train the peer educators, hoping he’d bring other men and women from the village. Instead, he commandeered the presentation, interrupting to explain and add information, then telling a dirty joke he told at my party at the end of the talk (it’s not even funny a joke). I just sat back and let things proceed, interjecting only to transition themes.

I thought it would be fun to have freebies, so I requested t-shirts, caps, key chains, bottle openers and condoms from PSI. This was actually a stupid idea, because it perpetuates the idea that if you go to a talk, you’ll get something. And everyone mobs and scrambles to get their “gift”, which can be disruptive. Then they complain when they get nothing. I gave t-shirts and hats to peer educators and certain people who helped prepare the activities. Peer educators who rarely attended meetings and were absent both at stuff-distribution and for World AIDS Day got nothing. They were very upset (“But we’re peer educators!”). Strangers are still asking me for key chains.

Further evidence that free stuff draws crowds: last week, the Togolese government held a mosquito net campaign and the women came in hordes. The nets are free for anyone with children age five or younger. The children get a vitamin A pill and a pill for parasites. But the women are all there for the nets. We have nets for sale at the clinic, but who comes then? If they’re free, though, women will stand in the sun all day and push, wrestle and yell to get a net. I was at the clinic from 8 a.m. until 4:50 p.m. on Tuesday, feeding kids pills, something children love eating. The clinic staff had to beat people back on multiple occasions.

On Wednesday morning, we ran out of nets around nine. Staff told women to go home, and some did. But when a truck arrived with more nets, I looked outside and could see women with their children running from the huts, paths and the bush surrounding the clinic. It was insane.

After World AIDS Day, I organized reproductive health talks at the middle school. I persuaded four other volunteers to come to Sagbiebou and help me. We each had our own classroom – four rooms of boys and one for all the girls (83 of 363 students). We talked about reproductive organs, sex, contraceptives and alternatives to sex. With a teacher’s assistance, I went into more detail than I feel I could have comfortably gone into in an American classroom. My theory is that French acts as a barrier and I’m more comfortable with certain subjects because it’s not my first language. Or perhaps I just have no shame.

Today I took my neighbor, Alima, to the Gando market (Gando is 17k away and home to my closest neighbor, Andrew). She’d never been, so I said we would go before I left. I imagined strolling around, looking at cloth, maybe having lunch. We arrived, went to Andrew’s, then hit the market. She shopped for a mat until she found an acceptable price, which took about 10 minutes.

“Ok, do you need anything? I’m finished.”

I tried to do the stroll-and-shop thing, but it was almost impossible to walk through the crowds. So I got what I needed and we left. I think we spent maybe two hours in Gando, max, including the wait for the car. But now Alima can say she’s been to the Gando market.

I move to Lomé on the 22nd and am already nostalgic for village. When I catch myself thinking, “How can I leave?” I respond by reminding myself of heat rash, peer educator meetings, overbearing mothers at the clinic and the wildlife just waiting to take over my house. But I’m still eyeing the calendar for three day weekends when I could come visit.

Please send any mail to the original address in Lomé. Email me if you don’t know what that is.