It took me a whole day to work up the strength to tell you my big news: I'm at home. In Tennessee. Wild, huh? I decided to go home, and a mere 216 hours later, I was here! Amazing how that works out.
You must be wondering why. Well, it would take me forever to explain it all, but the bottom line is that it was time to go home. Togo is a tough place--desperately poor and hopelessly corrupt. I hazard to say that if someone experienced Togo and didn't feel a little twinge of sadness, he or she didn't really experience Togo.
Not to say that there weren't things I LOVED about Peace Corps and Togo. I loved the free time to bike the country North to South and East to West. I relished the ability to communicate with people despite the fact that we shared not three words in a common language. I adored the Togolese people for their determination that ça va aller--the world would keep turning, they would keep putting one foot in front of the other, and they would manage to wrestle an existence out of whatever situation they found themselves in.
But there were things that disappointed me. First of all, that Peace Corps myth that volunteers can integrate totally and completely. Maybe that happens in Eastern Europe, maybe in Latin America, but it doesn't happen in Togo. To keep my bitterness at bay, I should modify that last statement to reflect that integration does not happen to many volunteers in Togo, or at least I fell short of making it happen. And there's a crushing sense of failure to spending a year and a half carrying water on your head, only to realize that most of your neighbors will never, not after two or twenty or fifty years, see you as just another neighbor. I would always be white and wealthy--not a real person, but a skin color and dollar signs.
So at some point, the frustrations all made it obvious that it was time to do something more productive. That day I was trying to rush Marthe, barely conscious from the malaria fevers that kept sending her into seizures, to the hospital, the taxi union chief decided that he could profit from my situation. He decided that I couldn't take a car for the normal price. Actually, he decided that I couldn't take a car for twice the normal price. I was a foreigner, white and therefore rich, and since he had control over this one little aspect of society, he planned to show all of Bafilo that he was more powerful than the rich white lady.
Now, I started off diplomatic, refuting his point that it costs more to take sick people to Kara than well people by explaining that I had been in cars when they had taken sick people for free to the hospital. Furthermore, it was not my child who needed to go to the hospital, but one of his countrymen (or countrychildren), whom his society's communalism required him to help. And finally, the integration card: I came here to help your people; I live in a mud hut without much money in order to do so; and I deserve the normal price, especially when I am only trying to help. His response: "Then you just might not get a car." My counter-response, "It is disgusting that you'd rather watch that child die than miss an opportunity to cheat me."
As you can imagine, that incident caused some ripples. As soon as we left the taxistation, a fistfight broke out over it. The taxi syndicate took me to the police station en route to the hospital, leaving Marthe in the car, and failed to convince the police to arrest me. They threatened that if the police failed to lock "that little girl over there" up, that they would sue me in court. The policeman told them that they were perfectly welcome to take me to court, but that they advised me to countersue for obstructing medical care of a sick person, a much weightier charge (especially if she died before we arrived at the hospital) than the assault charge they planned to launch against me.
All in all, everything turned out wonderfully. Marthe lived, despite the doubts of every nurse in Bafilo and Kara. The police stood beside me all the way, giving me legal advice and even showing up off-duty at my meeting with the Prefect to make sure he got the true story. And the Prefect assured me that, "during the month of Ramadan, all one has to do is ask forgiveness and it will be granted. I had asked the syndicate leader for forgiveness over my anger, and if he failed to forgive me, the issue was between his soul and God." The Prefect promised me that the issue was closed, all hands were washed of it, and urged me to keep carrying on Peace Corps work in his area.
Which is what I probably would have done, despite the fact that I was disappointed a lot of the time. I wanted to stay at least until March, when my last scheduled visitor was planning to leave. You see, I was way too stubborn (I am a McCurry, after all) to give up out of my own self-interest. I said I would stay two years, and planned to do so (darn it!), despite my months-long futile search for work, regardless of my disgust over Togo's corruption, notwithstanding my failure to master Kotokoli, and no matter my sad discovery that integration was a myth. But none of this turned out to matter, because a Peace Corps friend found out how angry and bitter I had become over the incident and told me she thought I should leave. She made a lot of sense. My project was finished; I could make a lot more difference in the workd by moving on to the next step of my life.
So I left. I wish I could report that it was like tearing my own skin to leave, but it wasn't. It was more like digging the talons of a hawk out of my heart, where they had become more and more embedded with every day that I had to put up with things I hated and could not change. Sure, leaving the kids in my village was like severing a limb, but it was my love of one of them that effected my hasty departure in the first place. I admit that it would have been better to find a fully diplomatic way to manage that taxi-syndicate incident (as in, one that didn't divulge into a fistfight) but I will also admit that I would do everything the same again, regardless of the consequences, if I couldn't find one.
And that brings me here, to Tennessee, to the loving embrace of my family. I have appreciated your support over the past year and a half, and I hope you'll give me a call to touch base.