Time in Togo teaches much: Peace Corps volunteer back home in Hastings after 26 months in Africa

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Time in Togo teaches much: Peace Corps volunteer back home in Hastings after 26 months in Africa

Time in Togo teaches much: Peace Corps volunteer back home in Hastings after 26 months in Africa

Time in Togo teaches much
Peace Corps volunteer back home in
Hastings after 26 months in Africa

Hastings Tribune Despite the many differences between life in the tiny village of Tidonte, Togo, Africa, and life in Hastings, it was the similarities that most impressed Amy Tripe.

After more than two years of service in the Peace Corps, Tripe, 25, arrived back home in Hastings Dec. 9.

"The biggest lesson I learned while I was there was that we're not all that different," she said.

"I expected to see the differences and at first I did. Then I began to see where we are the same. What people care about most -- family, survival, dreams, goals -- they just aren't that different.

"If we're free to dream, we dream for the same things: peace, happiness and love."

Tripe, a Hastings Senior High School graduate, has a bachelor's degree in journalism with a minor in geology and conservation studies from the University of Missouri.

The idea of joining the Peace Corps goes back to her days at HHS. She credits a teacher there for planting it on her mental list of possibilities.

"My French teacher, Elaine Lamski, was in the Peace Corps in Nigeria and Chad in the '60s, I think," Tripe said. "She told us about it. So it was always in the back of mind."

After graduating from college, Tripe worked for 18 months as a writer for the Illinois Agrinews, a weekly newspaper for agricultural workers. But the job wasn't as exciting or fulfilling as Tripe wanted.

"I wanted to travel, to learn, to change, to make a difference," she said. "I know it sounds a little silly, but the altruist in me really does want to make a difference."

The Peace Corps seemed like a good alternative. So, after a lengthy process that included a written application, references, medical clearance and security clearance, Tripe left for Africa in September 1996.

"They choose where you go," Tripe said. "I had four years of French in high school. French is the primary language of Togo. There was an opening there. So I ended up in Togo."

She and her fellow volunteers flew into Lome, the capital of Togo, a small country on the west coast of Africa where the coastline turns east to form the Gulf of Guinea. It's a long and narrow country with a small coastline on the Gulf.

Her service there began in Lome with three months of intensive language training, some technology instruction and preparation for the program she was expected to implement in her assigned village.

"The Peace Corps has been in Togo for 35 years, but our program is new," Tripe said. "We were only the second group to work in this program in Togo."

After her training she was transported the 435 miles inland from Lome to the village.

Tripe said the Peace Corps traditionally determines what is needed to improve village conditions, then Peace Corps workers do whatever is necessary to help make those improvements.

"For the new program, we go to a village and do a needs assessment," she said. "We find out what they see their own needs to be. We do not tell them, 'This is what you need.'

"Then we help them organize themselves to solve their own problems. We try to help them recognize their own assets, what they have available to them."

At first, Tripe encountered some problems.

"The first village I went to didn't work out," she said. "They did not want to change how the Peace Corps worked with them.

"So I got on my bike and went out to find a new village."

After her superiors approved, she began her work in Tidonte, a village of about 200-500 people, where she lived with a family in their compound.

The size of a village is hard to determine, she said, because there are no boundaries and huts and compounds are gathered loosely into villages.

Life in the village was simple, she said.

There was no electricity and no running water but Tripe had her own private mud hut. To get her mail and to purchase some fresh fruit and vegetables, she road her bike weekly 15 miles out and 15 miles back to the town of Dapoang, the regional capital.

"For the most part, there was enough food. We ate what they call 'pot,' a corn or millet flour mush that gets hard. They break it and dip it in sauces. They eat with their fingers. It's very different."

The villagers had meat only occasionally. It usually was smoked or dried.

"The meat would be beef, pork, chicken, donkey or dog," Tripe said. "I tried donkey. It wasn't bad.

"I know it sounds awful to Americans. But what we get our tail feathers in a ruffle over here seems really silly over there. It's a matter of survival for them."

Her needs assessment determined that the people believed their most pressing needs were in the area of health issues.

"So I taught them some very basic health concepts," Tripe said. "I taught them to wash -- themselves, their hands, their kids, their clothes."

When her time there was up, she and another volunteer rode their bikes back to Lome. The young women rode about 600 miles because they took the back roads from village to village, Tripe said. Villagers along the route gave them a place to stay, brought them water and usually fed them, she said.

The trip took about two weeks.

Did she make the difference she wanted to make?

"I hope I did," she said. "But I definitely got more than I gave. I learned more than I taught.

"If I could combine the simple life I learned in Africa with the needs and opportunities here in America, I could be very happy."

Tripe isn't sure what she wants to do next. For the time being, she's going to "take it easy and enjoy the holidays" in Hastings with her mother, Dixie Tripe, and brothers, Nick and Chris. Her father, Jim Tripe, lives in Colorado.

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Story Source: Hastings Tribune

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