21 October 2008

AIDS Ride Chapter 4: In which Rose reaches new depths of disconcertedness

21 October 2008

Up at 6am again to get beans and gari with piment before heading out for a day of small village sensibilisations. The villages were too small to require 2 groups so we did a bunny-hopping tactic where one group started the village 10km away, and the other group (my group – Team AWESOME) continued straight on to the village 15km away. We met up again for lunch where I received a call from my program director to let me know that I am allowed to teach English at the Mission Tove CEG! I’m really excited about the prospect and I was rather worried and frustrated when he told me on Saturday that because I’m not specifically an education volunteer, I might not be allowed to do it.
After lunch, we split into two groups again, doing a bunny hop – my group took the longer section first, landing at a CEG where the teachers pressured us for t-shirts for all of them– A was very quick-witted and pointed out that we do have condoms for everyone, which was much more important because t-shirts don’t prevent AIDS, but condoms do. Togolese have an obsession with getting free t-shirts that I find bizarre and frustrating. We had t-shirts printed for all the AIDS ride participants and one t-shirt for each village or CEG where we gave a sensibilisation (destined for the proviseur or village chief). In every single place we stopped, people hassled us for t-shirts, I even got yelled at when I tired to explain we only had enough to give one to each chief. It’s not that people desperately need clothing or can’t afford it – you can get t-shirts at the marche for 25CFA. It’s more the association with a yovo organisation or something. I am the first to understand and sympathize with the desire to get free stuff, but the sheer violence of people’s demands for it is frightening.
The rain started falling as we finished our sensib at the CEG so we raced away to get to our final sensib of the day – both groups together. We arrived in Gape Central and were immediately surrounded by waves of children staring at us, coming forward tentatively to touch us or our bikes and then falling back at a look from one of us. M decided it would be really fun to scare the kids away so he started charging at them, inspiring screams and stampedes. But then the kids laughed and pressed even close (although warily giving M quite a respectable bubble of space).
We ended up giving our sensib to a bunch of rowdy primary school students – we cut it practically to a 1/3 of the normal activities (couldn’t do condom demonstrations for 8 year-olds even if they did have sufficient concentration skills) and got out of there ASAP. In the press of people, I accidentally hit a little boy over the head with my handlebars. I felt really bad, but I was unable to stop quickly enough and if I’d swerved any further I would have run over 3 kids on the other side of me. It was scary, but the child was more scared than hurt.
The dinner that night was a feast. Our host (the father of D’s landlord) got his generator going to light up a little outdoor gathering area (with a roof of rushes and benches along the perimeter). The women brought out a table creaking under the weight of bowls of rice, spaghetti, pate, with four different sauces. It was amazing, decadent and absolutely impossible to finish.
Of note: I shared my shower with an overly amorous praying mantis (think Buffy season 1). This thing was huge! It was at least as long as my middle finger and kept leaping at me as I tried to wash. There’s nothing quite so disconcerting as taking a bucket bath in an unfamiliar shower with a big bug determined to treat you like a trampoline. When it landed on me I was so startled that I dropped my headlamp and the batteries fell out, plunging me into new depths of disconcertedness – feeling around blindly in the dark for the pieces of my headlamp, hoping that the mantis wouldn’t choose to jump at me under cover of dark, knowing my poor over-worked heart just couldn’t take it and I would be forced to scream like a little girl.

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