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.