30 June 2010

A tough moment

30 June 2010
A tough moment.
Yesterday I loaned another 5 mille to a high school kid who already (still) owes me 56.000 for the digital camera I had timefortea bring over. I really didn’t want to do it (loan the 5 mille). I felt so yucky about it that I was grumpy to the point of tears for several hours. Of course my aching leg contributed to that malaise as well.
My relationship with money has gotten even more precarious living here where people simply assume that I am rich because of my skin color. This strikes me as wholly unfair while at the same time devastatingly truthful. For most of my life I have been significantly less ‘well-off’ than most of my schoolmates. I’ve worked since I was a pre-teen and I take a lot of pride in being able to support myself with jobs that are bigger in social value than salary. But when it comes down to it, I know I’m making sacrifices. I could be earning a lot of money but I chose to be poor – if earning less than $3000 a year isn’t poor, I don’t know what is – and work in a difficult environment.
So when the little kid who lives at the top of the hill yells out my name as I’m puffing past him on my bike, I turn and say hello cheerfully. But when he follows up my greeting with a “donne-moi cent francs [give me 100 francs]”, I explode. Literally. I guess it’d been a tough day in Tsevie surrounded my mostly strangers and I was looking forward to my village, my own little “Cheers” where everybody knows my name. My anger was over the top. I slammed on the brakes, tires skidding on the sandy road, and demanded, “What did you just say?!”
I yelled out “I will never greet you again if you ask me for money”
“Donne-moi cent francs yovo”

I reigned in my boiling temper and instead of jumping off the bike to practice some of the corporal punishment that my teacher colleagues are always recommending, I remounted and rode off, muttering to myself.

The sheer force of my anger surprised me. I think it was partly based on shock- this is my village, people jknow me, I’ve greeted this kid many times before – where did he get the message that I’m a vending machine? I didn’t see it coming.
I know that a Togolese person would have reacted totally differently. Perhaps she would have handed over the money; if not, she would have made a little joke – “Oh, maybe tomorrow” the red cloud of anger would never have occurred to her.

We looked at average salaries in Togo the other day when I was with the new group of trainees, to help describe the economic state of the country. As a PCV I earn just a little more than a high school professor and just a little less than a state-paid doctor. Both of these professionals support families – not just their own but their whole extended family. With success comes responsibility, a successful family member is expected to take in the children of poor relatives, pay for their schooling, he is expected to take on the lion’s share of paying for family expenses like funerals, weddings, and hospital bills. A typical high school prof’s salary is 100.000, is not sufficient for all these responsibilities, so most teachers in villages have farms, own small shops, and/or offer tutoring to supplement their income. The majority of the population of course, are not professors. Based on GNP, the average amount of money an adult in Togo earns is 20.000F CFA per month. If 100.000 is not sufficient – have can 20.000 even be survivable?
So yes, I’m rich. I have disposable income. But the real reason why I’m rich is because I have an education, training, American citizenship. I can go somewhere else and succeed. A wealth of opportunity.

12 June 2010

Dear Family

9 June 2010
Letter to my family
Dear family,
I’m sitting in my little house, enjoying the cleanliness so much I don’t want to move and disturb it (I had two kids come over yesterday to help me clean). The Country Director and my Program Director came by my house yesterday to interview me for the volunteer leader position. I received confirmation this morning that I’ve got the “job” and I’ll be moving to Atakpamé – a beautiful hilly city in the Plateau region. I don’t know exactly where I’ll be living but there is a house a previous volunteer lived in that is situated on a hill overlooking the city, has floors covered in colorful tile and a succulent lime tree just outside the kitchen window. I’ve got my sights set on that lovely place.

But in the meantime, I’m at home for about another month and a half, in Mission Tové. Fare from the easy-going leavetaking I’d anticipated, I will be running around finishing up a few projects and taking care of a new one – I was just granted the money for a water and sanitation project for which we’ll be building a rainwater-collecting cistern at the junior high where I teach English and have my business club. It’s going to be stressful, but I’m happy to be leaving a physical mark on the community, especially in a way that addresses such a pressing need.

We’re combining the cistern-building with a series of presentations on the importance of washing your hands (with soap) before meals and after using the WC. I’m going to train my business club members to be peer educators so that they will have some investment in the hand-washing element of the project and will hopefully take on some follow-up, making sure the system is used and maintained properly. As part of the workshop, each class will make about 20 liters of liquid soap which should get them through a significant amount of the school year. I’m hoping the combination of better access to clean water and developing hand-washing habits will make a huge improvement on the health of students and thereby their academic (and life) achievements. No small goals here.

Transportation in Togo

9 June 2010
It loomed in front of us, the gasoline truck, sprawled across the highway like a great beast, life pouring from its torn belly. The smallest spark would have cause a fire to blow the asphalt off the road. Horror filled me as I watched tiny children soaked in gasoline running home with jugs of the stuff on their heads; rushing back to fill another container. Men, women, taxi drivers, moto drivers, clothes soaked in gasoline, reached out to take their fill of the precious liquid seeping from the downed truck. The cab of the truck had fully separated from the cylinder; the driver looked unharmed but shaky as he paced on the side of the road, speaking into his cell phone. His apprentice driver was seated on the ground, head cradled in his hands, rocking slightly, still devastated by the shock of such an accident.

My stomach writhed and my heart thundered as we slowly passed between the gushing cylinder and the truck cab. One rock kicked off by our wheels, one piece of glass magnifying the equatorial sun, and we would all die… very painfully. My palpable fear was a strange counterpart to the sheer joy in the faces of the women rushing toward the truck with the big bowls usually used for collecting water. Shiny, happy people. Shiny with the slick shimmer of gasoline. The bright smiles on the kids’ faces made me shiver with visions of horror. But to this tiny, lucky village, this accident may prove to be their main source of income for the next six months. One liter of gasoline sells for 500-600FCFA. Each jug I saw carried away contains about 20 liters. One jug is enough money to travel from the ocean in Lome to the northern border with Burkina Faso. Is this the silver lining?

Automobile accidents are common here – we like to joke that when cars die in Europe, they’re sent to Ghana to rot; when they are finished in Ghana, they arrive in Togo. And the roads are bad, especially during and right after rainy season. An aspect that I’d never really picked up on until recently is the state of the tires. At Camp UNITE this year, we started a new “challenge” – a team-building physical/strategy game – that involves three tires per team. So we sent out one of the organizers to buy some used tires. He came back with 6 tires that were completely bare. Every single one was as smooth as a baby’s bottom. Who had these things on their car long enough to end up in such a state?! I’ve started looking at tires more often now. I noticed that on trucks, if a tire is really worn down, they won’t stop using it – just put it somewhere in the middle, so I guess at least it’s not responsible for steering? Yikes.

06 June 2010

a close of service musical

I've tried and tried to get the video of this musical uploaded but it's a little too big for blogspot (127 meg) and I can't get a good enough connection to upload to youtube :(

Narrator: In the summer of 2007, Rose Lindgren applied for the Peace Corps. Let’s listen in on her interview, shall we?

Nikhil: I can show you the world
Shining, shimmering, splendid
Tell me truly now when did
You last let your heart decide

I can open your eyes
Take you country by country
It’s the toughest job that you’ll ever love I promise you

A whole new world
Escape from parents, books and jobs
No one to tell you no
Or where to go
Or say you’re only dreaming

Rose: A whole new world
A dazzling place I’ve never known
When I’m a volunteer
It’s crystal clear
That I will save the whole wide world with you

Narrator: Rose received her assignment a mere 12 months later… she was heading for a tiny little country called Togo.

Rose: From the day I arrived in this country
And blinking stepped into the sun

Taylor: There’s more to see than can ever be seen

Heather: More to do than can ever be done

Rose: There’s far too much to take in here

We’re following the yovo, the yovo, the yovo
We’re following the yovo, wherever she may go

Narrator: The first step is stage…

Whitney: Let’s get down to business to defeat poverty
Dig your hands right in there and get dirty
You’re the prissiest bunch I’ve ever seen

Stagaires, I’ll make volunteers out of you

Narrator: Rose was posted in a small village…

Rose: Little town, it’s a Peace Corps village
Every day like the one before
Little town full of Ewe people waking up to say

All: Bonjour, bonsoir, bonjour yovo bonsoir

Good morning yovo
Good morning Madame
Where are you off to?
The market
Don’t forget to bring me some bread!

Look there she goes that girl is so peculiar
I wonder if she’s feeling well (diarrhea?)
With a dreamy far-off look
And her nose stuck in a book (and it’s not the Bible!)
What a puzzle to the rest of us this yovo

There must be more than this villageoise life!

Now it’s no wonder that her name means “whitey”
Her looks have got no parallel
But behind that fair façade
I’m afraid she’s rather odd
Very different from the rest of us this yovo!

Just watch I’m going to make her my wife

Narrator: Daily marriage proposals started to get Rose down, luckily she had some good friends who taught her an important phrase:

Heather: Du courage what a wonderful phrase
Du courage ain’t no passing craze
It means no worries for the rest of your days
It’s our problem-free philosophy – du courage!

Taylor: Here! Have some pate with fish sauce – and drink this, it’ll help with the digestion.

Les poisons, les poisons, hee hee hee ha ha ha
With the coupe-coupe I hack them in two
I pull out what’s inside and I serve it up fried
Jesu, I love little fishies, don’t you!

Narrator: Rose woke up the next morning with a hangover, giardia and covered in heat rash. She started to wish she could go home and have air-conditioning, pizza and cold beer.

Rose: I really miss America
Nikhil: How can you say that? Everything you need it right here!

Rose: Maybe he's right, maybe there is something the matter with me. I just don't see how a world that makes such wonderful things could be bad.

I wanna be where the Americans are
I wanna see, wanna see 'em dancing... not like that!

Walking around on those what do you call em? Streets

Riding a bike you don’t get too far
Cars are required for shopping, road trips
Cruising along down a
What’s that word again… street!

Up where they drive
Up where they date
Up where they worry about being late
Wanderin’ free wish I could be
Part of that world

What would I give if I could live out of this mudhut
What would I pay to spend a day down at the mall

Betcha out there they wouldn’t stare
Bet they won’t care that I’m not married

Bright young women
Sick of swimming
In my own sweat

And ready to know what the Internet knows
Google my questions and get some answers
What’s a real job and what will I…
What’s the word?


When’s it my turn
Wouldn’t I dare, dare to explore that world over there

Out of Togo
When can I go
Be part of that world