The Village of Waiting
by Tom Packer
This is the only book I know of by a former PCV about
Togo. Too bad. Although Packer has some talent as a writer, his vision of
Togo is ugly, even repulsive. Where many of us saw a nation with both flaws
and charms, Packer goes out of his way to describe even the most benevolent
scenes in a negative manner. Here are a few example:
- On Peace Corps training: The idea of training was
essentially futile. College graduates without a word of French or a day's
teaching experience had ten weeks to learn French, something of Ewé
or another local language, and English instruction within the French West
African educational system before being packed off alone to teach in a
village school. This while suffering from heat and dysentery, pining for
letters from home, and wondering if we hadn't been flown to the wrong planet.
- On farmers going to their fields: Farmers, like
columns of ants after a rain, emerged from shade and torper and began going
to the fields every day.
- On the children of Togo: Nothing was more unnerving
than the children.
On trips to the Atakpame market during staging: These
were occasions of terror.... We were like a herd of prisoners being brought
out in a cage for public inspection, looking through bars at the world
around us and unable to make any sense of it, or to get away from its sights
and smells. A hundred black eyes stared back in.
- On a gift of fufu from a neighbor: The next night
the glob of fufu sent over was the size of a monkey's skull.
A monkey's skull? If anything in the book reveals the writer's sophomoric
attempts to project his own inability to adapt to Togo on his surroundings,
it is this comparison. Of all the things a ball of fufu could be compared
to in order to give a sense of its size (a cantelope, a round loaf of bread,
even a bowling ball) the comparison to a monkey's skull is both absurd and
It should come as no surprise to the reader of this book that Packer quits
his assignment before the end of his two years, for no reason he cares to
articulate. It's a dirty trick for a teacher to abandon his students, but
in Packer's case my guess is that they all breathed a sigh of relief. You
may want to read this book because it is about Togo, but be prepared to
be turned off by the writer's nasty attitude. My rating: ** (out of ****).
This book is (thankfully) out of print, although you may find it at larger
libraries, especially at universities.
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