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Greer Gurganus - Peace Corps Togo
Greer Gurganus - Peace Corps Togo
Greer at Fall Camp.
June 17 2002
We arrived yesterday at 7 pm. We were greeted by the Country Director (Louise Krumm), the P.C. drivers ( 2 or 3) and many, many others. All of our baggage was passed through their new safety device. Louise said it was to impress us with their level of security : ) We then loaded all of our baggage on an army-type truck and packed ourselves into European-type vans, and drive to Mammy's-where we are staying now. There is a large (oh-sorry it's a hostel for P.C.V.s only) living room where there are 21 chairs at the edge, a 10" TV in the corner (where we watched Senegal win their game today in the World Cup-all the cars honked along the street, people were cheering-yes, all of Africa is cheering for Senegal-we are too : ) ) We were given packets for health info and general info before dinner (a rice and meat dish, bread, and bananas). We only drink water out of bottles (Vittel) but have good cold showers and flush toilets. Our room (one of 6 or so we are staying in) has 6 beds. One of my fellow PCTs described them as similar to the scene in the opening of "The Secret Garden" with all of the beautiful 4-poster mosquito-netted beds. We also have three fans : ) Sleeping was comfortable (except for the Correctol-induced diarrhea that woke me up several times). For breakfast we had scrambled eggs, bacon, milk, and bananas/oranges. They are doing an introduction to Togolese food tomorrow so I don't think they are cooking traditional dishes for us til then. We picked out our bike sizes today [smallest - big shock : ) ] and will get fitted for helmets tomorrow. Then we had free time to "walkabout" (Oh, we are given $1.75 US per day for the first 2 weeks as supplemental allowance [ $1.75 US = 678 CFA])
So a group of us went off - actually all 21 of us do everything together-it's kind of funny-but split up as we walked along-so 5 of us (Todd, Erik, Sonja, John, and I) asked the guard at the fire station if we could go up the steps to the water tower to get a view of the city-all in my broken French (aren't you proud)-but they misunderstood and gave us a complete tour of the facilities-trucks, offices and all-culminating in a picture of the 3 of them in front of their newest truck [very nice : )]. They wouldn't let us take the picture until they pit on their fire fighting boots. It was very cool.
Came back to lunch of green beans mashed potatoes, chicken, and pineapple. I ate all of it and it was good! So we decided to take a group trip to the beach and visit the fetish market. Well to make a long story short, we were gone for 6 hours-were late for dinner and lost 2 people along the way. We were jeered at, called yevo (white man) I got called big momma in English (which is supposed to be a big compliment?). By the time we made it back we were tired, dirty, and my knee is messed up still : ( It just reaffirmed the fact that I don't like big cities and Lomé is large!
**It is really fun to see the Togolese try to pronounce Greer-the double "e"s trip them up : )
Several days later in June.
It is 5:30 AM here in Tomegbe. The bells in the city center are rung at 5 AM
every morning so that's when I get up. The first night here was very long
because I didn't get any sleep whatsoever. So I thought I'd write a bit to
tell you how things are going here.
We arrived on Wednesday afternoon and were greeted by the entire village.
There was a brass band, a ceremonial ancestor greeting and about 400 kids.
It was so overwhelming. then we went (were escorted) to the school where a
welcoming reception took place and we met our families. Tomegbe is a large
village. They have 2 churches (but I think I heard 3 or 4 today), a large
primary school, a good sized market (2 times a week), and you can walk
through (of all) the town in about 20 minutes. Tomegbe is situated in a
small alcove up in the mountains but still in the southern part of the
country. (If you can't find it on a map - look close to the Ghana border and
for Kpalime the nearest town where the SBD (small business development)
volunteers are staying. [The brass band just started playing and there are
people singing very close to my door.] Everyone here over a certain age has a
goat (chevre) and a chicken (pou). They bay and cluck all the time and they
roam freely about town.
So about my family - I have a mom who sells petrol and does odd jobs about
the community, several family members who live in the states, 2 big sisters,
one, 20, who I talk the most to, 2 young sisters, 1 older brother, and 2
younger brothers. The older of the 2 sisters has a baby who goes everywhere
with her on her back. The house is pretty open air - I do all things outside
because I can't see in my room without some sort of lamp. The first night
here my mom showed me where the latrine was - there was a huge cockroach on
the "seat" so I made some sort of eew noise which startled her into laughter
followed by her removing her sandal to kill it. As I was using the
bathroom/latrine, I could hear her retell the whole thing to the family and
hear their rolling laughter. Great first impression! Yesterday after I
came back from the shower [concrete slab with a hole in the ground where we
take along buckets of water] there was a baby scorpion on my bed-crawling on
the outside of my mosquito net. I was able to get him into a bag and I took
him to school like show and tell Phanessa said it gave her nightmares ;(
We were assured to know that scorpions here cannot kill only cause lots of
Food: I've eaten spaghetti with egg and onion, sardin salad, green beans with
spaghetti sauce, bread, couscous, mango, peanut butter, rice and various
chicken dishes. I am being fed pretty well.
Tonight they let me accompany them to the river to get water. I carried a
bucket on my head half way. I hope to get the hang of it because they are
very heavy. the family has left me help sweep the compound (sweep the
dirt?!), get water, wash clothes and fix the salad. The kids that hang
around here all try to amuse me and they think it is amusing when I play with
them. (They love the Koosh ball!)
More details from staging. There are 21 of us, 12 NRM (Natural Resource
Management) and 9 SBD (small business development). So far we are all still
in - diarrhea and all. I am going on my third time to have it too! My two
closest friends when we were all still together are in the SBD group and they
live in Kpalime - so I feel a little disconnected from the group - but that
is pretty normal for me anyway.
We began preparing our garden beds for cultivation using machetes
(coup-coup) and hoes (le hoe). It was very hard work and I have a blister the
size of a dime on my hand, but it was fun! We have classes Monday through
Saturday afternoon, then Sunday off. I went to the Presbyterian church
yesterday. The choir wore graduation regalia - silly hats with tassels and
all! Very confusing but very interesting.
Also - we make $4000/week and stamps cost $500 for one letter. Exchange ratd
$1 US Dollar=$670 CFA (Central African Franc)
So my family is nice but I feel like they wait on me hand and foot. They
stare at me a lot too. It is kind of strange. I am already looking forward
to living alone at post! We should find out in 3 weeks where we are going to
be assigned. Having this many people surround me 24/7 without being able to
communicate or violate social norms is frustrating.
I don't think that ti actually set in that I was in Africa until the first
night in Tomegbe when I blew out my lantern and instantly realized I had to
use the bathroom and didn't have any matches. And since the darkness isn't
my favorite thing anyway, I stuck it out through the night.
6 July 2002
It has been a beautiful day here in Tomegbe and in Kpalime where we biked this afternoon. Because we are in the mountains - we have to trek across the mountains to get out. So some other PCT's [Ellen's note: Peace Corps Trainees] and I biked to Kpalime for a shopping/e-mail day after morning classes were done. I bought a pair of shirts [Rio de Janeiro ], a toothbrush (to clean my water filter) and a coke - yes, big spender! But the clincher was the 800 CFA I spent on 45 minutes of Internet. I had a fabulous letter all typed and ready to go when the Internet crashed and lost everything I was working on - so looks like you are getting the real thing from now on . It also gives me something to do at night when I've already exhausted all of my French skills for the day! Actually French classes are the classes I dread - I had to stand up during class today because I couldn't stop falling asleep. It was like I had ADD and couldn't sit down. And I am a dunce in class even though I can communicate with my family decently - though they aren't quite sure why I make so many face and joke around so much. (But who is really). In technical class we have prepared, planted and transplanted our own garden beds - it's hard work! We just this morning - started a compost pile (huge) and starting Monday we rotate chores with the chicken coop - which I think we'll be doing more of (small animal husbandry).
So something I wanted to know from PCV's [Ellen's note: Peace Corps Volunteers] before I came was what a day here is like. So here goes (just keep in mind I am in the training not actually at post yet). The bells in the city center start ringing at 5:00 AM or there abouts - so I wake up and fight the urge to scurry across the compound to the latrine until around 5:30 when more bells ring and I give in. At 6:00 the women in my family and all over Togo, I reckon, sweep (ballait) their compounds (dirt) and rooms. I helped on the first day but they have determined that I am incompetent and appreciate my looking on more than my help. At 6:30 my mother hands me 2 buckets of water (1 hot, 1 cold) so I can take a shower. At 7:00 I eat breakfast - loaf of bread or some extremely oily mass of eggs which I cannot stomach sadly. Class begins at 7:30. It is either 2 hours in the garden working on some project, or sitting in class fighting the urge to sleep [A-haa is one of our professor's favorite phrases ] We have a half hour break (sometimes) from 9:30 - 10. At 10 till Noon we have French class. Sit in a room and go over vocab, grammar, you name it - we cook, dance, role play (depending on the teacher - they rotate). At noon we go home for lunch - generally a massive bowl of rice/couscous/spaghetti with a sauce or bread and water. Sometimes a piece of fruit. (Maggie the squeezie orange thing is alive and well in Togo too!) Class doesn't start again till 2:30 so we are supposed to nap - I think because the Togolese do - but I end up doing my laundry - no competition at the river or the water pump We are supposed to let our clothes dry for 3 days before wearing them - so I do small loads quite often (I would have brought more shorts had I known) So at 2:30 we generally head up to the Tech house (classroom) for instruction in cross-culture, health or diversity till 5:30 when we are free. At 5:30 we head home, hang with the family, read, discuss till around 7:00 when we eat - actually I eat and my family eats around 9:00 - lately after dinner we all meet at the Buvet (Bar) our only place to get together in Tomegbe till around 9 PM when it is completely blackout (though that is true at 7 pm also! Bottles of coke/fanta/sport actif [grapefruit juice only made in Togo ] cost 250 CFA small and 350 CFA large (350 = 50 cents) and you have to return the bottle - yeah, recycling is alive and well (at least in some form) in Togo! Bottles are prince commodity too (plastic) - if someone sees you with a water bottle they always ask if they can have it when you are finished. So I kind of got sidetracked - sorry - But that's pretty much my day - I return from the Buvet - unlock my door - grab the toilet paper, lantern and key to the latrine - go - come back, write in my journal and go to sleep by 10 pm.
So I've made a lame discovery - ready - here goes - hurricanes start up in Togo! It's true Yesterday we had an open hour from 11 - Noon so Becky and I decided to go for a bike ride - it was only sprinkling off and on so by the time we'd gone half way to Kpalime to the gendarme's station we turned around - so a little sprinkle opened up into a downpour with lots of wind which has been unusual here. We slid down the mountain with full brakes until we hit town where huge gullies/rapids were forming everywhere - the thatched palm roof to one of the stands blew off as we drove past - it was so much fun - but I was completely soaked and filthy. ;)
Tomorrow we may take a bike trip to Ghana - only 7 km west of here - check out the border and turn around