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.