Sorry it's been such a long time. And now that the internet is (finally) working, I have writer's block. Lacking anything more exciting to tell you, I'll recount what I've been doing to fill my solitary time since Kate (Welcome back to France!) and Mark (Welcome back to the States) left.
Back to School
School started back on the 15th, which has been a source of hubub in my family. For one, Latifa (yes, little Latifa) began classes. And for two, I am paying her cousin Salifa's school fees so that she can go to school, too.
I have to admit, I was really reluctant to give any villager a gift, even if it was a gift of schoolfees. It definitely runs counter to our program of Sustainable Development to give gifts that won't be continued after we are gone. However, I feel that some people fall through the cracks of any helping-you-to-help-yourself organization. That is, the most vulnerable sector of the population can't even start to help themselves.
Salifa definitely fits that description. She's around 10 years old and lives with her grandmother Safia. There are several other youngest children whose parents (Safia's adult children) have left them for their grandmother to raise. Safia's parents are supposed to be in Benin somewhere working. The misfortune for Salifa is that there is no one to pay her schoolfees--her parents aren't here, so she is practically an orphan, and her grandmother is poor.
There are definitely some culural problems with my giving money to Salifa--why am I paying her school fees and not those of other girls? Why have I refused to give other people gifts?--so I have a system, which I admit is imperfect. Salifa became my "laundry girl." I put aside 500 francs (as much as an adult man would earn for a day of fieldwork) per load for her schoolfees. Even though that is less than a dollar per load, it is a very good wage for a child under any circumstances, and she should be able to save up all her fees for the rest of primary school before Christmas. The plan was that two girls would be able to pay their schoolfees before I leave Togo, but Fauzia seems to have been sent away to Nigeria while I was in Lome. (For the record, I do NOT like the sound of that. They say her parents are there, but Togo-to-Nigeria is a child trafficking route, so I am worried about her. Plus, I really didn't like my neighbor's explanation that she was sent away because she "had a clairvoyant." I am not sure what that means (it makes as much sense in French as it does in English), but I'd like to get some more answers.)
As far as my villagers are concerned, I've covered my bases; I am paying the fees of my laundrygirl and finally have help with my laundry, which they have tried to get me to hire all along. It's mainly my cultural sensitivities that bother me. Most prominently, I am using child labor. I mean, my parents made us do chores, but I'm not one of her relatives. I wish that there were some adult who wanted Salifa to go to school so badly that I could hire him or her to do my laundry in exchange for the schoolfees. Unfortunately, the grandmother probably wouldn't want to spend laundrymoney on that because she probably won't live long enough to reap the benefits of having an educated granddaughter. Salifa is more help to her walking around the market selling toothsticks (used as toothbrushes) from her headpan than sitting in a classroom learning French. And less prominently, I am independent, darn it! and not at all the kind of person to hire people to do her work. I can't bear to give Salifa the hard stuff--sheets, towels, denim, or anything terribly soiled--but it feels awful handing over even t-shirts and things to someone else to do just because I think my time is so much more valuable than hers. I'll get over it, or at least accept it as a global injustice that I can't fix all by myself. All I can do is do what is best for this one child, and that is clearly to let her do my laundry for six months in order to pay for six years' worth of education. And, as for my last moral dilemma, that of not quite complying with the Peace Corps goal of sustainable development, I suppose that any sort of education should be regarded as sustainable development because she should at least be able to help her kids with a little French later on.
Anyway, this decision has brought out even more (admittedly unwanted) motherly duties for me. I have been school shopping--notebooks, pens, a small chalkboard and chalk, a backpack--and even walked hand-in-hand with Salifa to the school to enroll her. Maybe I just jumped through the whole stages of motherhood really quickly--first there was the added laundry of Roukeyatou peeing on me all the time, then the stage of waking up to Latifa's screaming, and suddenly, I am enrolling a child (albeit a ten-year-old) in kindergarten. Salifa's classes start this week, which means that I expect to do homework checks and help her learn French. Having seen the grueling learn-to-count session that I put her and Latifa through last week, I feel desperately sorry for any offspring my beloved sisters Jennifer, Severine, Lucille, and Anne-Lise may have (sorry, Mom and Dad--I'm still NOT having kids). Aunt Phynessa/Rahamatou is a slavedriver!
She is good at other things, though. Auntie Rahamatou threw a party for little Roukeyatou's first birthday on September 18. We had fufu with chicken in the sauce (I just paid for it--the Mama prepared it all), and then I made two coffee cakes for the family. Roukeyatou cried when I came out, oven-mitted and singing in a weird foreign language (English) with a candle in the cake, but that's understandable because lots of people cry when I sing. I'm used to it.
This weekend, I just had the second of two wonderful missionary retreats. Last weekend, a group of PCV women went to Celeste's house for two days of singing, prayer, and Bible study (we read through 1 John). It was fantastic, and was an excellent way to ease back into village surroundings after my guests had gone. We all had such a good time and great fellowship that we are planning to do the retreat on a tri-monthly basis.
Then last night, a few of us girls got together to hang out with the Church of Christ missionary women. We had a great time and they (all just a few years older than us and all married for 7-9 years) loved telling us what's great and what's hard about marriage. I think several of us are still not sold on the whole idea, but it was lovely to hear their take on it.
And, other than that, I am just cleaning up my house, trying to learn to read music, and answering any responses to my (rhetorical) question: WHAT am I going to do when Kate and Mark leave? I was quite worried that living alone again after two solid months of being around someone (Kate, then French family, then Mark) would be difficult. Well, it was, but I am fine, high-spirited, and very, very grateful that they came to visit.