Wednesday, January 28, 2009

photos of my new home

Here are the photos I meant to post with the last entry. I hate the way this thing does photos and can't figure out how to make it look better. From now on, I'll be posting in Facebook and providing the link.

JT makes pizza and rarely wears a shirt; and our awesome porch.

(from top to bottom) My bedroom, the guest room and the living room.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Expat Life and Office Hours

Life in village seems so very long ago and far away.

Last week, JT and I got monthly passes to the outdoor pool at the British School of Lomé. We went twice last week, and this week, we got up early on Monday, Wednesday and Friday to swim before work. JT swam on swim teams and can give me tips, which is very helpful. Beyond the breaststroke, I feel like a drowning person, but my freestyle is already getting better. I swim now to get my exercise, since biking around Lomé is stressful and I’m still giving my knee a break from running. I think another three months should do it.

Despite the traffic, I have been riding my bike, mostly to the pool and work. Sometimes I’ll ride it to the Peace Corps office. Traffic is scary and is a huge change from the two-lane, empty national highway up north. I’m getting used to it and just have to remember to pay attention.

Last night, we saw Thierry Nkéli Faha in concert at the French Cultural Center (FCC or CCF, in French). He’s Togolese and sings in local languages and French. He’s been on tour around Asia and will go to Europe after he finishes his Africa tour. I haven’t been to a concert in I-can’t-remember-how-long, so I was excited about this opportunity. The FCC is a like an entertainment goldmine. They do movies, concerts and lectures, and they also have a library.

Lomé also has other great things, like cheese. The supermarkets here are expensive for Peace Corps volunteers, and so is cheese, but I bought some last week. JT made quiche and pizza. I cook, too, but less ambitiously (think pasta salad and pancakes).

Work is still pretty slow, and I’m still working on that pamphlet. It’s in its final stages, though. I wrote three summaries for it, and when I gave it to a co-worker, the paper came back bleeding blue. It wasn’t even French corrections, just the way I’d written it. She told me we needed more active verbs and journalistic style, which was all true. I haven’t written much in French since college, so now, I can’t even write a sentence without looking up a word. I wanted to say, “I’m a good writer! Just not in French.” Next time I’ll pay more attention to my active voice.

I’ve run into a few Togolese-style incidents in the last few weeks. At work, our hours are 8 to 12:30, then 2:30 to 6. One would think that if someone worked through their two hour lunch break, she could come in an hour late and leave an hour early. Our Peace Corps predecessors warned us that this creates office tension. Apparently, our co-workers don’t like people leaving early, which I can understand but not completely, since you’re working the same hours. I noticed the time thing the very first day, when I packed my computer up at 5:45, forgetting that quitting time is six, not 5:30.

“You’re going home already? It’s not six yet,” the guy who shares my office said.

“Oh,” I replied, looking at my empty desk and saying in English, “but I don’t have anything to do.”

So, despite his permission to go home early that day, since it was my first, I restarted my computer and chatted online for 15 more minutes.

Today at the bank, I thought the bankers would withhold my money because my withdrawal slip signature didn’t match my ID signature. On the ID, I signed on one line. On the front and back of the withdrawal slip, I signed my last name under my first. Don’t ask why, I just did. They asked why. Then they compared the signatures long enough for me to worry about whether I would get money today.

It’s good to have these run-ins to remind me that despite cheese and concerts, I’m still in Togo. Because the unpaved streets and cries of “Yovo, yovo!” are sometimes just not enough.

Thanks to everyone who’s been sending mail, especially all the Christmas cards from the Anadarko folks! Merci beaucoup.

...I was going to upload photos, but it doesn't look like it's in the cards today. Maybe next time.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

There's No Escaping the Gloom and Doom

My first week at work was uneventful. I got two tours of the office, went to two four-hour meetings in the same day, halved the amount of email in my inbox and on Friday, actually got some work to do (designing a pamphlet about PSI’s World AIDS Day activities). It was depressing and made me wonder if I didn’t make a mistake leaving village. Once things pick up, I think I’ll be fine.

Since we’re on depressing topics, let’s talk about the cloud over the week. On Tuesday morning, my host father from training, Daniel, called to tell me that Esse, my host mom, died. They anesthetized her for a Caesarean last Saturday, and she never woke up. The baby, a girl, is fine.

So yesterday, I went to my first Togolese funeral. Except I didn’t really go. I left Lomé in the morning with Trace, the Savarys’ other trainee, and his wife (they were in the training group after me). When we arrived in Agou Nygobo around 10:30, the ceremony was just ending. It was in this huge, unfinished church, with woven palm-leaf shelters providing shade (it’s really just a shell of a church – no roof, no walls). Two other people died in the village that week, so they combined the three ceremonies. I saw the three caskets come out, and then Daniel found us and we went back to the house with him.

I thought it was bizarre that we didn’t go to the internment, but he told us that it would be too difficult for him. Everyone we talked to seemed disappointed that we hadn’t arrived earlier to see the open casket. Apparently Esse was dressed in her best pagne. But she also died a week ago, and this is Africa, so I’m glad we missed the viewing. I would have liked to go the burial, though.

We sat inside the house with Daniel, making small talk and eating lunch. After lunch, we went outside to make room for others in the house. We sat under a mango tree and waited. George, my host brother, came back from wherever he was. Daniel said George understands what happened, but he seemed ok, still mischievous and spoiled as ever. I gave him my camera and let him run around taking pictures until the battery died. Then he refused to give it back, discovering that if he turned it off and on again, he could take at least one picture. I finally got it back and asked him to take us to see his new sister, Grace.

For now, she’s staying at a house just up the road from the Savarys’, with the woman who will nurse her for the next six months. When we arrived, she was sleeping alone in a full-sized bed, separated from the rest of the room by a hanging sheet. She looks just like Esse – same crinkly eyes, same flat face, same nose. We took turns holding her and told George that as a big brother, he had to take good care of her. It will be interesting to see where they are as a family in six months.

I left for Lomé shortly thereafter. I’m doing ok, but am still having a hard time, mainly when I think about it (so after writing this update, I don’t plan to think much about this again). It’s unreal. Esse was maybe 32 and healthy. She was my first Togolese friend, and after all she did for me, I wasn’t a very good friend to her. I hadn’t called them since October. I kept thinking that I should, to find out about the baby and tell them I moved to Lomé. And now it’s too late.

C’est la vie. And sometimes la vie is rotten.

With Esse at swear-in, August 2007.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Happy New Year

It’s very exciting to write “2009” because this is the year I finish my service and come back to the States, for however long. Happy 2009!

I moved to Lomé on December 22nd. Peace Corps paid for me to rent a car to move all my belongings, and I called the guys that drove the chase car during AIDS ride. The apprentice brought me a bag of carrots as a gift. The journey down was typical – we broke down for two hours before leaving the Savannah region, then ran out of gas in Lomé, about five kilometers from my house. All was well once we arrived, and I even did a happy dance after I got the house tour. Three bedrooms, two bath, kitchen, big living room, great porch – I’m in Posh Corps now.

I spent that night at the house, then left the next day for Ghana. I almost didn’t go, because we were only staying for about two days, and the trip to Green Turtle Lodge can take more than 10 hours. But the lure of Christmas on the beach, away from Togo, beat any financial concerns.

As expected, the trip was long, but travel in Ghana is so much easier than in Togo (unless you and the taxi driver misunderstand the agreed-upon price and get into a screaming match). We arrived on the 24th, spent a restless night in our tent, thanks to mosquitoes, then spent most of Christmas Day in the water, swimming and floating beyond the surf. We had to cut the stay short, due to elections in Ghana, so we left early the 26th.

Peace Corps staff told us the border would close at 6 p.m. on the 26th (the borders close for elections to prevent non-Ghanains hopping over to vote). At the lodge, someone told us they’d been closely following border activity and that it wouldn’t close until the 27th. We decided not to take any risks, but just outside Accra, my dad called to say the internet said the borders were closed. So we got out in Accra, called a bunch of people, ate lunch, called some more people, went to Peace Corps Ghana’s office, and ended up in a hotel for free (the same hotel where I stayed on my way back from South Africa. Except I didn’t know then to announce myself as Peace Corps and paid too much money for a room).

And thus began our vacation from our vacation. We were exhausted from all our Christmas fun and traveling. In Accra, we recovered by doing nothing but walking around looking for our next meal, eating too much (Indian food! Pizza! Smoothies! Soft-serve ice cream!) and watching movies in our room. When the borders reopened Monday, I was ready to go back to Togo. Ghana is expensive, even when your hotel is free.

Since then, I’ve been settling into my new home, and getting to know my new roommate, JT, and my new dog, Manu, short for Emmanuel (he loves JT more, which is ok, except for he won’t let me walk him unless JT’s there). JT’s been here for a month already, and he has Togolese friends. They cooked us a huge meal last night, and also took us dancing on New Year’s Eve. So all is well. Work starts Monday, and I’m ready. All this free time in the big city means I have no routine and end up with a very bizarre sleep schedule.

I want to wish you all a happy new year again, and thank everyone who keeps up and puts up with the blog and my rambling. Only eight months left - enjoy it while you can.

I believe you can see Ghana photos here: