March 24, 2004: Headlines: COS - Togo: PCVs int eh Field - Togo: Daily Breeze: Visit with daughter in Peace Corps in Togo offers a look at a different world

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Togo: Peace Corps Togo : The Peace Corps in Togo: March 24, 2004: Headlines: COS - Togo: PCVs int eh Field - Togo: Daily Breeze: Visit with daughter in Peace Corps in Togo offers a look at a different world

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Visit with daughter in Peace Corps in Togo offers a look at a different world

 Visit with daughter in Peace Corps in Togo offers a look at a different world

Visit with daughter in Peace Corps in Togo offers a look at a different world

Visit with daughter in Peace Corps offers a look at a different world

Mar 24, 2004

Daily Breeze

My daughter was putting the U.S. Peace Corps' motto, "the toughest job you'll ever love," to the test as a volunteer in Togo, West Africa. After a year and a half of monthly telephone calls, I decided to visit.

Togo is a long, narrow sliver of a country on the Atlantic Ocean's Gulf of Guinea, sandwiched between Ghana and Nigeria. An easy overnight flight from New York via Senegal and the Ivory Coast put me into Lome, Togo's capital, early the next evening.

Stephanie, my daughter, had arranged for us to spend the night at "Mami's," a pleasant French colonial house turned hotel in the city's center. Mami is a Vietnamese woman who inexplicably found her way to French-speaking Togo. Le Gallion, her hotel, is a refuge for Peace Corps volunteers on leave from their up-country posts.

Lome is a busy metropolis of some 500,000 people. Cars, taxis, mopeds whiz by at dizzying speeds. The boulevards are wide and paved; the dirt side streets shaded by leafy trees. Although there are a few high-rise hotels, the city's architecture primarily reflects its colonial past -- low two-story, multicolored stucco buildings with heavy shutters.

An independent country since the 1960s, Togo was both a German and a French colony earlier in the 20th century. Germany's legacy was good beer and a railroad; France's was the French language and rule of law.

During the 1990s the country saw a great deal of political unrest and disturbance as a fledgling democratic movement struggled for recognition. Lome, when I visited, was under a heavy military presence due to a general strike. For safety reasons, it was necessary for me to register at the U.S. Embassy before departing with my daughter for her village.

Despite the crush of people, the bustling square where we caught our bush taxi was quite orderly. A dispatcher took care of assigning passengers; and only when a vehicle was fully occupied, did it leave.

We shared our taxi with a village chieftain and his entourage. The chief was identified by his cap with its authoritative symbols and his flowing grand boubou (a printed and heavily embroidered robe). The women with him wore pagnes (full-length wrapped skirts topped by a blouse).

We headed north on a well-paved, two-lane highway. Our destination, Agbelouve, was a little more than an hour away. We passed through several sizable villages clustered along the road; numerous dirt roads jutted off the main road into the distance. The chieftain and his party got off at one of these intersections. Our stop was not long after.

Agbelouve is a village of 3,000 people. As the taxi entered the outskirts, we passed a pharmacy, the train station, and several cement block houses with corrugated metal roofs. Small wood-framed booths selling food, clothing, and tailoring services lined either side of the main road. Women with baskets balanced effortlessly on their heads walked alongside the road. Then we, too, were left off at a dirt road intersection.

We walked about a hundred yards past well-tended fields of corn until we reached five or six small one-story houses clustered back to back and next to each other. Stephanie's house had a large covered porch that served as her kitchen and gathering place for the neighborhood children. Indoors was a large sitting area; a small bedroom opened off of it. An enclosed shower room and latrine were outside and around the corner of the house. There was no electricity or running water. Kerosene lamps provided light; water was pumped from a nearby well and stored in a huge, clay jar on the porch.

Her neighbors came rushing out to greet me; as curious about me, as I was about them. One neighbor, dressed in her best, hugged me and called me "maman" (mother). She'd been practicing. Most of the women in the compound did not speak French, only Ewe, one of Togo's numerous ethnic languages.

The day ended with Stephanie and me enjoying a spaghetti dinner on the porch. I was surprised how easy it was to cook pasta and sauce outside on a Hibachi. Our 8 p.m. bedtime came quickly. I mastered the latrine, water bucket showering and brushing my teeth over the porch railing, and then settled down in a bed veiled in mosquito net with a book illuminated by lamp light.

My daughter's Peace Corps assignment involved health education issues and, in particular, guinea worm eradication. The guinea worm is found in much of Togo's standing water and when consumed, results in an insidious and debilitating illness. Her job was to educate and organize local health volunteers in surrounding a affected villages to promote, demonstrate and sell the simple monofilament cloth filter through which drinking and cooking water should be poured.

These efforts put her in touch with many of those in authority in the village. Mr. Woedzro, director of the junior high school, was one such person. During my visit, he asked us to dinner. We arrived at his house in the early evening while it was still light, but as we ate it grew darker.

We hadn't yet lit any interior lamps when I heard fluttering. Small bats were coming in for the evening; roosting in the ceiling of the living room. Judging by the others' lack of concern, this was a nightly occurrence.

As we walked home under the bright stars, I heard a distant drumming. Stephanie explained it came from a small voodoo village about a half-hour walk from her house.

I was curious to learn more about her distant neighbors. Our walk there the next afternoon took us past a quiet sheltered glen. Oblivious to any passerby, a father, finished with his day's work, was dutifully teaching his young son of 6 or 7 to drum. Fingers tapped an age-old rhythm.

Marilyn Litvak is an 18-year Palos Verdes Estates resident and a former owner of a travel agency.

When this story was prepared, here was the front page of PCOL magazine:

This Month's Issue: August 2004 This Month's Issue: August 2004
Teresa Heinz Kerry celebrates the Peace Corps Volunteer as one of the best faces America has ever projected in a speech to the Democratic Convention. The National Review disagreed and said that Heinz's celebration of the PCV was "truly offensive." What's your opinion and who can come up with the funniest caption for our Current Events Funny?

Exclusive: Director Vasquez speaks out in an op-ed published exclusively on the web by Peace Corps Online saying the Dayton Daily News' portrayal of Peace Corps "doesn't jibe with facts."

In other news, the NPCA makes the case for improving governance and explains the challenges facing the organization, RPCV Bob Shaconis says Peace Corps has been a "sacred cow", RPCV Shaun McNally picks up support for his Aug 10 primary and has a plan to win in Connecticut, and the movie "Open Water" based on the negligent deaths of two RPCVs in Australia opens August 6. Op-ed's by RPCVs: Cops of the World is not a good goal and Peace Corps must emphasize community development.

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Story Source: Daily Breeze

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Togo; PCVs int eh Field - Togo



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