25 August 2009
During the apprentice camps, which I missed due to California vacation, there was a genuine ethnic conflict situation complete with murders, mass arrests, and protests. * Apparently that was just the beginning of the excitement for Camp UNITE at Pagala.
A very different kind of uprising happened during the boy students camp: the river. The camp site is surrounded on two sides by water – one the major river Anie which flows all the way south to the ocean, the other a smaller stream that feeds into the Anie in a corner just behind the cafeteria/dining room area.
Last year, the rains in Togo were so heavy that the Route Nationale had to be diverted because of broken bridges in three different places. There is still a diversion just north of Tsevie, where cars take an old single lane railroad bridge instead of the original wide bridge. Progress on rebuilding the bridges has been remarkably fast for Togo, this is due to huge investments of both money and labor from China. It’s hard for me to understand the constant racism against people of Chinese descent (or any other Asian descent as all of the Asian American Peace Corps volunteers can attest) considering the amount of good that I’ve seen being produced due to Chinese investments. Flooding last year caused so many people to lose their homes that school started nearly a month late because school buildings were being used to house the flood victims. Because the floods were so surprisingly, catastrophically bad last year, I assumed that they were abnormal and this years’ rainy season would be milder.
But August in Pagala is anything but mild. It rained nearly every day to the extent that we were unable to practice some of the outdoor challenges and games with the camp counselors and just had to explain them with words and hope for sunny days during the actual camps.
On Tuesday afternoon we were all gathered in the big rectangular gazebo known as JFK, so named in honor of John F Kennedy who originally put forward the idea of a US Peace Corps, to follow a session on Gender Equity. Halfway through the session, the rain was falling so hard that even the fabulously dynamic S could no longer shout over the deafening beat on the tin roof. We stopped the session and sang, danced and stomped our response to the rain –
“Le Camp UNITE ne perira pas
Le Camp UNITE dura toujours
(Camp UNITE will never perish/die
Camp UNITE will be forever)
But that was only the beginning. The rain fell hard all evening and all day Wednesday too. The river surrounding us started to rise and the counselors were asked to keep the students from going near it. Finally Thursday dawned bright and sunny – the rain had moved north, sticking to the mountain we could see on the horizon shaded in dark grey.
Grateful for the sunshine, we went about our day until I walked back to my building to grab a book or use the loo or something I don’t remember and I realized that the pool was full. The pool next to the cafeteria has always been empty – a source of amusement for volunteers, especially when a hapless goat gets caught at the bottom and bleats until he is rescued. Who filled it? And why? I started toward the kitchen to talk to the Chief chef of Pagala and noticed my habitual path no longer existed – the river had risen all the way to the pool. The tiny stream that had merrily babbled along behind camp was swollen and bloated with the weeks’ rain and the great Anie River was still being flooded with fresh rains coming down from the mountains.
At their intersection, the flow had been slowed and the river backed up all the way onto the property – cutting off access first to the dining room, then the additional housing for female counselors who weren’t sleeping in the cabins with the boys, and finally the cafeteria itself.
I feel obliged to mention that the fact that this was a boys camp made the situation all the more dangerous. As my co-organizer E put it so succinctly, “boys are stupid.”
They have a tendency to rush right up to dangerous things and then cajole and are each other to get closer and closer until PLOP, SWISH YAHOOOOO! the boy is swept down into the river never to be seen again.
Luckily my vivid waking nightmare did not come true. But not without considerable effort on our part – recruiting the counselors, the guards and even the cooks to be babysitters and make sure the boys didn’t go exploring.
I have to admit that I was tempted to go check it out myself. It was pretty amazing to see and I was almost disappointed when I woke up the next morning to find that the water had receded again and everything was back to normal.
*Although the situation was intense, the organizers and formateurs were brilliant and everyone in camp was totally safe and practically oblivious to the sounds of war drums and gunshots just beyond the tree line.