23 March 2010

I'm famous

I've recently started up a correspondence with one of my favorite professors from Notre Dame again. She was interested in my adventures and asked me to write up a little summary.
Check it out

Correspondence Match March 2010

Sorry that I've been quiet for so long! I've been both travelling and staying in village - both things keep me far from internet and communication with you. My best friend J came to visit me for three weeks so we went exploring. J spent some time as a child living in Ghana, so the trip here wasn't too shocking for him although it's been many years since he was in West Africa. Unfortunately his trip coincided with the hottest part of the year - it cooled off to 90 degrees at night and soared to unknown heights during the day. We found a fantastic refuge from the sun one day as we were travelling. We met up with my friend R in a city called Kpalimé - cute little
city that's well-known for its attraction to tourists and foreign volunteers because it's in a beautifully lush area full of fruits and vegetables and ... waterfalls!

We took motos half an hour outside of Kpalimé to a tiny village called Wa Me, then hiked up a long barren hillside for 3.5km before arriving at a sweet picnic area and a steep downward climb. At some point someone put in rock steps into the hillside, which helped the descent, but were also rather slippery because of the rain the night before. As we descended, the shade gathered around us, huge palm leaves
diffusing the sun's midday rays. We arrived at the bottom of the canyon and picked out way over and around trees and huge red ants to discover a lovely little waterfall that tumbled gently into a wide pool, sheltered in a cavern-like enclosure. It was a perfect little haven and the water was so cool I got goosebumps! I don't think I've ever had goosebumps in Togo outside of air-conditioned buildings.

Of course, by the time we made the steep climb back out we were hot and sweaty again, but that hour was magnificent.

The Presidential election was on March 4th and the incumbent President, Faure Gnassingbe was re-elected for a second five-year term. There were some security worries but so far nothing more dangerous than tear gas to disperse crowds. I've been completely safe and in fact spent the day of the election having two amazingly
scrumptious meals with local families wishing to show their welcome for my guest, J.

While J was here, I received a package from an International Art Exchange that I'd enrolled my students in. They created art in class - I sent off the 25 'best' (see: most representative and interesting) pieces to an NGO in the United States. We received back 25 pieces from all over the world - China, eastern europe, the caribbean, Montana.
The kids have been so excited to see all the different art- but even more interested to see all the photos of their peer artists from around the world. I'm mentioning it because I think it would be really cool if your school joined in as well. They have two rounds of exchange - one in January and one in May. I'll be entering the May one as well because half of the students I work with didn't get to participate last time, so they wanted a chance. I would highly recommend looking it up!

I hope you all are well. Looking forward to spring break? I have lots of plans, but they mostly involve working - I have to take advantage of school being out to do my non-school meetings.

16 March 2010

Made it through February

14 March 2010
It’s been ages since I posted a blog. Several events came together to inspire this profound silence. First, I had a visitor from Scotland! As you may remember from this time last year when I was hosting the lovely MagentaWings, I also dropped off the face of the internet. So it’s not out of character that TimeforTea’s presence caused a distinct lack of writing as I was able to talk his ear of as a release. He’s very worried about my blood pressure. I assured him that he heard all my vehement complaints only because I’m so used to talking to myself now that I no longer have a filter when talking to other English speakers.
TimeforTea, as is his wont, chose an absolutely ridiculous time to visit. Not only were we in the middle of hot season when there is no water, fruit or vegetables and we sweat through 90 degree (F) nights. But also – he came just in time for the Presidential elections.

I’ve been listening to BBC radio since TimeforTea’s departure; they are currently doing a series of programs about the power of the internet, includihng several profiles of interesting bloggers. It’s been a tough thing to listen to because I feel I could be a very interesting blogger, but my blog is so highly self-censored as to render it about as interesting as warm milk – a nice treat to relax with when one’s brain is tired, but certainly not inspiring and definitely won’t keep one up at night with thought-provoking dreams.

I diverted onto this train of thought as a mild explanation for why I have not and will not say much about the Togolese Presidential election on my blog. As a Peace Corps volunteer there are certain things in which I am specifically forbidden to get involved – politics is the most obvious one, closely followed by mob activity (generally more relevant in eastern European countries).

So in a warm milk type of summary that deals only with my personal perspective: in order to keep a good handle on the safety and security situation, all PCVs in Togo were told to stay in their village for the week prior to and the week following the election, this is called “Standfast”. Originally the election was scheduled for the 28th but it was moved to the 4th. Various rumors of bribery, blatant defacement of opposition party posters, and use of security services and civil servants to campaign call for some inquiry into the validity of the voting process in some peoples’ minds.
Personally, being a good a-political volunteer I was mostly worried about TimeforTea’s safety. The Friday before we went on Standfast TimeforTea and I went ot visit my friends in the nearby city. We got a late start because I had a meeting and TimeforTea had a “case of the Togos” (tummy trouble, headache, etc.) So by the time we got on the road on two motos fort he 30 minute voyage, it was already getting dark. The dirt road is so dusty that my driver was still wearing sunglasses even though the sun had already set. Worse, TimeforTea’s driver seemed to want to race the sun to our destination.
Maybe he was scared of the dark? In any case, he certainly scared me! TimeforTea knows very little French and his driver knew even less. I tried desperately to get my driver to signal the other one to slow the f__ down! As we flew over rock sand hidden gullies, around puddles and fallen branches. I was angry and ready to chew out both drivers as soon as we stopped.
Then we did. Stop, I mean, but not at our destination. We ground to a shuddering halt faced with a huge crowd of people chanting political statements and wearing identical t-shirts. Cars sporting political posters filled the dirt road so we couldn’t get past them. We turned around and took an alternative access to the paved road that we needed to reach to get to the city. We successfully got on to the road but had to ride along the edge, narrowly avoiding side mirrors and opening car doors until, once again, we were stopped. What is this? I looked up and saw a huge truck full of soldiers. No – not just soldiers – some of the biggest guns I’ve ever seen, even in movies, huge round of ammunition, and an air of foreboding.
The road was blockaded, we had to go on to a dirt path again, taking a right off the road and continuing north on what in the states we’d call a “frontage road”. In Togo’s it’s more like a bike path through the fields. TimeforTea’s moto turned and started going. The gun truck followed them, cutting off my moto. Then a second smaller all-terrain vehicle followed the truck, a soldier standing up in the back seat manning a machine gun. We followed the jeep and I briefly caught the eye of a soldier directing the trucks. His expression and double take upon seeing me, a white woman, making my way through the fracas sent a wave of bile rising into my throat. Why does he look so worried at seeing me? Where are these trucks going? Where the hell are TimeforTea and his driver?
It was an agonizing ride through underbrush, tyring to get around the trucks, ahead of them to find TimeforTea, my breath shallow and my heart beating like a birds’. We had to turn around twice after taking paths that led to someone’s house rather than a way through. The absolute darkness outside of the thin, faint stream of light from the moto’s beam filled, in my mind, with more soldiers and innocent bystanders. Visions of massacres in Rwanda and Nigeria flashed through my adrenaline-jumped brain.
Finally – we saw a moto ahead, waiting on the edge of the path. But no passenger! I swallowed my heart as I spotted yet another moto 100m further. Thank goodness. We found TimeforTea and continued on, avoiding the road and arriving safely in front of my friends’ house where I paid the drivers, sent them away and promptly burst into tears and had to be revived with a glass of Grand Marnier and a cigarette.
All of my fears and visions were thankfully unfounded. It was the most scared I have ever felt in Togo, I am glad it was all in my head. Roadblocks were up along a small stretch of the road because the President’s appearance at a political rally. The weapons we saw were not used and everything went off quite peacefully in the lead-up to the election.