Saturday, March 14, 2009

Here are some photos from the trip.

I made a kid cry at the clinic.

This is Alex, the birth assistant's nephew. I used to make him cry, but we're friends now.

From (l-r): Zaratou's husband, Maliki and some guy I don't know.

Zaratou lounging in the family courtyard.

Zaratou's courtyard with sheep.

With Maïmouna.

Maïmouna said, "This is Aziz's (her son's) future wife. Take her photo."

It's funny when the kids ride donkeys, except for when they beat them.

Izaïfot and Hanatou on their way to get their hair done.

Standing outside Dapaong feels like being in the middle of nowhere.

Quiktrip to Savanes

Isn’t it funny that when my access to technology increased, my updates decreased?

Last weekend, I went back to Savanes – two days of traveling, two of visiting. Actually, there was traveling involved every day. On Saturday, I took the Lomé Limo, a 15-place van hired by Peace Corps to go round-trip from Lomé to Dapaong twice a month. I got off in Mango, spent the night, then went to Sagbiebou for a short Sunday visit.

When I walked into my compound, Hanatou, the younger of the neighbor girls, ran up to me, completely naked as usual, and hugged me. I almost started to cry, it was so cute. I didn’t even care that she had food on her, as usual. People all seemed happy to see me again, although I guess I did a poor job of explaining where I went. A third of the people I talked to thought I’d gone on vacation to the States and others thought I’d left for good.

On the trip up, I’d bought bananas and bread to give to people, because when you travel, you’re supposed to bring something back – bread is very popular. But in Mango, Laura’s cat attacked my bread bag, and even after we put it in the pantry, it managed to crack open the door and remove a noticeable chunk from one of the loaves. So I had one less bread to give.

I toured the village, distributing my bread – my house, the clinic and finally, Maïmouna’s house. Together, we went to Zaratou’s, where we stayed for about an hour, chatting in the courtyard and eating soy. I met Maïmouna and Zaratou by the roadside where they sell yams, watermelons and mangos (seasonally, not usually all at once). Maïmouna is the one who hennaed my feet in September 2007 and Zaratou paid for it. They were my favorite women in village.

While sitting around at Zaratou’s house, a woman I know from the market came over, shouting about something. She ranted for a long time and eventually sat down on the porch with us. Zaratou’s husband explained that their sheep had wandered over to her house, where she was drying millet. The sheep, spying a tasty snack, ate the millet. Zaratou gave her a bucket of millet to replace what the sheep ate, but the whole scenario was so typical – why leave your millet out when you know that animals roam the village and will eat anything?

Maïmouna and I went to the market around 11, where I bought small, sad, pre-mango season mangos. Then we went to my house, which was all locked up, and took naps on my landlord’s porch. She passed out – she’s about seven months pregnant – but I couldn’t sleep in that heat. The whole day, I kept thinking, “HOW did I do this last year? It’s so hot!” My water bottle was empty by noon, and all I could think of while trying to sleep was cold water, swimming pools, juice and glass bottles of icy Sprite. I got a tan from walking around for a few hours in Sagbiebou.

Eventually, I gave up and went to the market to buy juice. The women make lime juice and juice from hibiscus, which they sell in bags. I bought some to share, went back to the house and sat with the neighbors until Maïmouna woke up. Then I went to Dapaong.

I had no real purpose in going to Dapaong, beyond seeing my volunteer friends and picking up the last thing I’d ordered from the tailor there. I wanted to be back in Lomé by Tuesday night, so I decided to leave Monday, go to Kara, and take the Kara-Lomé bus on Tuesday, which is more reliable than bush taxis. Forgetting what a trial it is to get from Dapaong to Kara, I only left around 4 p.m.

I’m not sure if I’ve described enough in my updates just how frustrating bush taxi travel is. The drivers stuff passengers in the cars – there are ALWAYS more people than seats – and then they let you sit there until they’re ready to go. They make frequent stops for no clear reason and leave you steaming and squashed in the car. If you get out and dilly-dally, they yell at you. Taxi drivers are some of my least favorite people in Togo.

This Dapaong-Kara ride was no different. I waited for maybe half an hour outside Dapaong (I like to wait by a technical school outside the city so I don’t have to deal with the men at the taxi station). Finally, a decrepit nine-placer heading to Kara rolled up, and I climbed in, sharing the back seat with two women and a baby. We drove four kilometers out of Dapaong, where the driver left us on the side of the road while he went back to Dapaong. He returned about 20 minutes later with more junk and more passengers in the car. I almost refused to go, thinking I’d just put myself through a Dapaong-Lomé ride the next day, but I really wanted to catch that bus. So I squeezed in, this time on the front bench, with the mom and baby and two guys. I got the pleasure of riding on the edge of the bench, perched right on the exposed metal hinge of the seat and seat back. For three hours, from Dapaong to Kanté, I sat with this metal bar tattooing my tailbone. I even got out my towel and used it as padding, but it still hurt. In Kanté, the woman got out, and I switched to her window seat next to a pane-less window (ok, that was not meant to be a pun. The window had no glass! But it was also less painful than the metal bar).

I spent the night in Kara and got up early to pay for my bus ticket. While waiting to check my bag, Fortune smiled on me and the head of PSI’s military outreach program sidled up to me.

“Hi! I have to stay in Kara today, but the PSI car is going to Lomé. Do you want a ride?”

And that’s how I got a free, air-conditioned ride back to Lomé.

I have some interesting work coming up in the next few weeks, both in Lomé and back in Savanes, if all goes as planned. I expect that will give me something to write about; I’ll aim for more than a monthly update.

Finally, and this is very late, but for all those who helped Liz McCartney of the St. Bernard Project win CNN Heroes 2008, here is a Thank You letter from Liz.

Happy St. Patty’s – we don’t celebrate that here, but I fully expect any able bodies to have a beer in my name, or at least catch a cabbage.