Thanks to Larry Ward for writing this month's Memory of the Month!
Like Jimmy Buffett says, ...we all got them. What do you do with
them? You can't get rid of them. He's talking about relationships.
In Togo, what everybody had was the critters that found your recently arrived
digestive tract an attractive new home. You learned not too long after arriving
in country that the past, present, and future condition of your digestive
system was an ok topic for polite conversation (at least in volunteer circles).
For me, the realization that my digestive tract was going to be crippled for my 2 1/2 years of service was an eye opener. What was more of an eye opener was the fact that the volunteers in-country (be they Americans or Canadians or French or German or Belgian) were not alone in being struck down by the local digestive fauna. The Togolese suffered right along with us. The end result was everyone functioning day-in-day out at about 60% the efficiency of what we had grown up with back home. That was on the good days. On the bad days, when the bugs were being especially assertive all one was much good for was just sitting around doing as little as possible.
The source of these woes were everywhere. Laying in wait for careless volunteers. Buying a salad from woman who had a stand down the road could be risky. Ice in your gin and tonic were a well known source of amoebas and giardia cycts. These could, with forsight and not too many BB's (hah!) be avoided. Refusing that occasional glass of turbid water from a farmer you were digging a fish pond with was usually okay, no big social or cultural taboos violated. We were strangers and could get away with turning down the occasional gracious hospitality without too much surprise on the part of our hosts. You Americans do the craziest things, I had one carpenter tell me, half in jest.
For me the unrefusable exposure happened during my periodic visits to a small village, located on a remote mountainous plateau about thirty five miles from where I lived in Amlame. I'd spend the morning working with folks and then be invited home for lunch. I was walked to the Mayor's home and sat down in solitary splender while one of the farmer's wives ran for my mid-day meal. Usually cold. Either chicken or some mystery meat in a thin sauce of ginger and chiles and okra with a cold ball fufu or pate on the side and a bottle of warm beer to drink.
I knew I was probably the only person in town eating chicken for lunch. Protein was a scarce commodity, as was testitified to by the skinny kids greeting me as I arrived in the morning on my moto. I also knew that it had been cooked in the morning by someone's wife long before folks headed out to the fields for the morning's labor. That means it had been sitting out for six or seven hours. Festering. Incubating.
The beer tasted good. Warm beer, one got used to fairly quickly. The beer was a luxury too. The nearest store was twelve or fifteen miles away and a climb of 3000 feet to the village. Most folks in little villages like this looking for something other than water to drink drank tchuke, the local millet beer, palm wine, or the white lightening sodabe, distilled from palm wine.
I ate the meal and graciously thanked my hosts after it was done. I knew what was to come later on...
A motorcycle ride home. A few hours of time and then stomach cramps. Hot and sweaty. Spend a few hours in front of the toilet offering up what I'd consumed during the past several hours. That was how my trip almost alway finished up. Not a lot of fun.
This didn't happen once. It happened like clockwork every two or three weeks. Every time I visited this little town. It was something I looked forward to with trepidation. I gritted my teeth in expectation of it. My wife shook her head in amazement everytime I took that ride to meet with that group of farmers. Why? She would ask. I just shook my head. It was just part of what my job ended up being for me. Some people worked with lycee students doubling or tripling for the third time. Some people worked with stuborn oxen or cattle, trying to turn them and their plowmen farmers into smooth-working plow teams. Some worked with cooperatives, trying to ingrain the principles of bookkeeping and networth. Me, I had my village of well-intentioned cooks.
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