Fri, 26 Jul 2002
Last week I told you about a funeral in my neighborhood.
The Chief of prayer for Bafilo died and I went to pay my respects. While I was there, a fight broke out between two
groups of people on the lawn of the bereaved, and so I left. I had no idea how big of a deal this was until exactly
one week later, this Tuesday morning, when my friend, Safiou, came over. He looked like hell. He asked
if I'd heard about the conflict. No. So he told me. Apparently there is a feud between my Quartier (the
family that makes up my neighborhood) and the Mayor of Bafilo's Quartier. The mayor's family came down to pay their
respects to the dead chief and were turned away. Insulted, the mayor went to his friend Stevie (this is PCs nickname
for the man whose been leading the "democratic" "republic" of Togo for the past 35 years). He told Stevie that my Quartier
supports the opposition, who threatens to take over come March 2003 elections (unless Stevie manages to change the constitution
before than). The next day soldiers came in and beat many of the men in my Quartier, imprisoning 31 of them (including
the chief of my Quartier, the gentle old man who named me Mariama).Guards were posted at the Mayor's house, but kids in my
neighborhood got a hold of his wife and beat her into a hospital bed. There is now a 9pm curfew in my Quartier, enforced
by soldiers who wandered the streets with guns. Safiou and most of his family had been hiding, afraid that the soldiers
would come back. That afternoon, nobody showed up for a meetingthat was to be held at my house, I assumed my co-workers
were avoiding my area. The next morning, Wednesday, my French teacher confirmed Safiou's story. She also told
me the jail sentence was 5 years. Which means my chief will likely die in jail. I went to talk to my co-workers,
and they canceled the projects we had planned for the week. At this point I decided to call Peace Corps. My director
is in DC for the week, and the man I talked to asked me a million questions and went to talk to the embassy. That night
I noticed that the normally lively night sounds of Bafilo were non-existent. It was like a ghost town, and the uneasiness
hanging in the air made me wonder if I should get out. Thursday morning Josh showed up. Refugees from my town
had been camping out in his village and he wanted to know what was up. Also, he had just been robbed, probably by his
host family. He has two weeks left in this country. We exchanged stories, and then decided to get out of town.
So now I'm hanging out in Kara, waiting for my director to get back so I can talk to her, and feeling quite helpless.
I don't know what will come of this, and there is nothing I can do. Maybe it will blow over. Maybe I'll be moved.
Who knows. It feels like the beginning of a tough time leading up to March elections, and if it is, I can't see PC staying
in Togo. But perhaps I'm over-reacting.
I considered not telling you all of this.
I'm not sure how it sounds to someone whose not in the middle of it, and I don't want you to worry. But I promised in
the beginning to tell as much of my story as I can. That and I think we need your prayers right now. With
respect and gratitude,
Mon, 29 Jul 2002
Thanks to everyone whose responded this weekend
with prayers and concern. It seems things are chilling out a bit over here.
I finally talked to my director this morning.
She seems to think I've got the best point of view and should be able to judge whether or not Bafilo is a safe place for me.
So we decided that I would go back, keep my eyes open, and keep PC posted. In the meantime, the embassy is checking
things out, and if they hear anything they'll call me. My main concern is for the people in my neighborhood who got
caught in this political nonsense. My neighbors are always telling me how lucky I am to be American; that Togo is bad
and America is good. I tell them that things in the US are stressful, expensive, and more difficult than they imagine.
They should enjoy the peace and slowness of life in Togo. I must sound like an ignorant flake. I know that
only a very lucky, very rich, very successful Togolese has a chance at making it to the US, and then he or she (most likely
he) will live in a leaky one room apartment and drive a cab 20 hours a day just so they can send 50 dollars a week back to
their family in Togo who believes that they have become a rich, successful American. They know that in America the government
won't break into your home, beat you, and throw you in jail just because of hearsay in the political rumor-mill. We
all choose the road of selective knowledge as the whole truth is just too much to process and leaves little room for hope.
So we decided that I would go back to Bafilo.
Then, perhaps serendipitously, my medical officer told me to come down to Lomé so he can re-hydrate me via IV (been a bit
sick lately and can't seem to keep stuff in). I'll likely be there all week, at least until Holly arrives from Kenya
on Sunday. Then, if all remains calm, its back up to Bafilo to spend a couple weeks as a tour guide, keeping one eye
on the stability of the environment, and one eye on the beauty of Bafilo that I so want to show off to my friends.
So there it is. I'll be in touch
sometime next week. In the meantime, thank you for your prayers and peace be with all of you and all of yours.
Wed, 31 Jul 2002
TNL#42 Another one! Already?: Med Unit Memoirs
7am: Wake up, pack bag, and find taxi to Lomé. Perpetuate rich American stereotype by paying 50 of
your hard earned tax dollars so I can have the whole car to myself with no stops or detours. Spend six hours stretched
out in my own backseat sleeping until I arrive in Lomé.
2pm: Get checked out by PC medical staff who have recently looked at some stool samples I sent down
last week. I'm told I have four harmless parasites and one harmful one. Hence the reason I've been puking my guts out
all weekend (sorry). They ask me about my water filtering process. I don't tell them I stopped filtering my water
in January. I do tell them I will be much more diligent about it from here on out. Which I will. Really.
They give me a room with a big comfy old hospital bed, some heavy duty-parasite-destroying medication, and lots of Gatorade.
I am told I have a day to re-hydrate myself orally or they'll have to do it via IV. Are you all aware of my fear of
needles? Especially IV needles?
2PM-4PM: Drink 3 liters of Gatorade.
5PM Eat soup. It stays. Good sign.
6PM: Realize that med unit (aka Club Med Unit) has hot water. Can't decide between hot bath or
hot shower. Take one of each. Drink more water. Curl up in big bed with book. Take meds. Pass Out.
For about an hour. Enjoy night of insomnia.
7AM Wakened (right after having fallen asleep) to go to PC office for important meeting.
730AM: Was told that a man who has my TNLs forwarded to him (and who will remain unnamed) has
written hate mail to PC Washington about my situation. This is big. And so I have a serious request to you all.
Because I want to continue sharing my life uncensored, and because I have a lot of respect for PC Togo, and because I like
my job, and because I am what some may consider an adult, PLEASE direct any concerns you have about me through me. Triangulation
is a dangerous thing. And that is a terrible understatement. I know 99.9% of you do not need this request.
It's a bit obvious, but it feels serious enough to mention. Also, please know that my situation, if I am honest,
sounds worse to you than it is, as you hear it out of context. And giving you all the context needed would mean writing
a book a week. Thanks.
930AM: The smoke coming out of my ears thinned out enough to go out in public, and I decided to come
Peace Out All,
Thu, 8 Aug 2002
I just left Holly and Rashi at the pool
so that I could come write a TNL. I think they think I'm an addict. We emailed for an hour yesterday, and they
didn't want to come back with me. It may also be because the French key boards made them want to throw the computer
out the window. So I left them basking by the sunny Hotel Kara pool, and as I walked away I tried to figure out what
the heck to write to you all. There is just too much, so I think I'll have to summarize many things again, which means giving
up some entertainment value in lieu of informational value. I think we'll be OK. Ready? Here we go.
On Monday morning I met with my country director
and a Togolese program director who had spent his weekend talking to EVERYONE in Bafilo. Things have calmed down significantly
and even the people who were being directly effected have regained their sense of security. So I returned to my house
on Tuesday with Rashi and Holly. Things feel good around town. You wouldn't know there was turmoil unless you
knew there was turmoil... I'm safe, but much more on guard than before.
After two years of service, my PCV neighbor,
Josh, is closing his service. Tuesday night Holly, Rashi, and I went out to a going away fete in his village. It was
an awesome gathering with hours of drumming and dancing. Holly and Rashi (who are PCVs in Kenya) were surprised to see
the traditions that have held strong here, while they've faded in East Africa. As Josh's village gave speeches and gifts
to their departing PCV, I realized that I was both completely jealous that he was done, and grateful to the point of relief
to still have over a year. Which urge was stronger? Depends on the hour.
Many of you have congratulated me on the adoption
of my dog, Einstein. I should tell you that I don't have him yet. I seem to be in the middle of a custody battle,
and trying to discern if its worth it... The PCV who left Einstein in Lomé at the PC hotel told the man there that he was
returning. He is not. The man doesn't want to give the dog up. This man is very nice, but strangely obsessed
with keeping Einstein. Problem being, he doesn't feed Einstein. I'm about to email the ex-owner and ask him to
write me a permission slip to take his dog. In the meantime, I seem to have fallen pretty hard for this brown and white
mutt. I'll keep you posted.
Many of you have asked about my work.
"So Becky after that project you did in April, um, what exactly have you been doing work wise?" Well, my job IS two
thirds cultural exchange...kidding, I work, really I do. Basically, my job is to start programs with Togolese people
and then make them do all the work and go away once they seem to be doing it. This is called sustainability. Sustainability
is a wonderful way of saying I get to be really lazy. My most recent endeavor consisted of a three week tour to all
the women's groups in Bafilo. My three counterparts and I would show up at a women's meeting, I would give a five minute
spiel in French which someone translated into Kotakoli, and then my counterparts would take over in Kotakoli while I drifted
off into daydream land while maintaining an interested facial expression. They basically asked the women what their fears
are about sending their girls to school, and then brainstormed on how to solve these problems. I've lucked out in the
fact that my Togolese co-workers are great. My job is to basically light fires under them, and then show up at stuff
as decoration. As they explain it to me, people will take them more seriously if they have a foreigner with them.
I don't know how I feel about this, but for now, its helping to get the messages out. Unfortunately, the events of the past
couple weeks have postponed about half of our meetings, but they will commence in a couple weeks. And then we're into
the school year, and I will work in the Jr. High. Doing What? I'll tell you in September.
Until next time, peace out,
Fri, 16 Aug 2002
Josh, Rashi, and Holly just got in a taxi
and drove away. And I am suddenly very alone. Josh just COSed (Close of Service) and is flying out of Ghana tomorrow.
Holly and Rashi accompanied him across the border to spend a week in an English speaking country with just a bit more to offer
than Togo. Holly and Rashi were my first visitors, and I've come to the conclusion that visitors are a very good thing.
Holly and I have been friends forever, and I just met Rashi. They are PCVs in Kenya. Therefore, the bush taxis, bartering,
street food, waiting, and general challenges of living in Africa were nothing new to them. There were however, some
language barriers. For example, they claimed that they spoke English. I'm sure they used to. Now they speak
Kenyan. Some useful information for Holly's other friends reading this; "Nini" means "thing", and a hair-elastic is
actually a hair nini, a fingernail clipper is a fingernail nini, and when she comes home in a few months, you can take her
out for a coffee nini. Also, if you cook her a meal and she tells you it's "Just OK" or that it's clear that you "Really
tried" while preparing it, you should know that she is actually complimenting you. Bizarre, I know. Among the
other language complications was the fact that I was suddenly the only one who spoke French. This meant I had to speak
it, understand it, and create a convincing facade that I was translating it correctly. Miraculously, my French has improved
greatly over the past couple weeks.
There were many benefits to their stay also.
Rashi, who has a degree in engineering, fixed the three broken lights in my house. One of them was actually wired to
itself as opposed to being wired to the electrical source. Not surprising considering that Yacabou was the last electrician
to work on the house. It was nice to split up the cooking and cleaning with these two temporary roommates. And, of course,
it was awesome to catch up with an old friend. As soon as Holly returns to Kenya, she will be attending her Close of
Service conference. It seems to me that it was just the other day that I was sitting on her bedroom floor in North Smithfield,
RI, packing her bags for her as she talked about how long two years was going to be. Of course, that's just my point
of view. If you ask her she'll probably say that it feels like ten years since that September 2000 afternoon.
Ahhh, it was a good vacation, for me anyway,
and I hope for them also. But now its time to head north again and try to resume life as usual (whatever that means).
It seems like it's been weeks since I was living my normal routine. But then, I guess it has been. It will be
good to get back to Bafilo.
I want to welcome Fiona and Josh to the TNL
list. Now that you've returned to the land of bagels and Mocha-chinos, you can still experience a little taste of Togo
every week for the fee of just cent franc, cent franc. Oui bien, you could just send me M+Ms every once in awhile.
Ok, so the TNL is free, but I still wouldn't send the M+Ms back...
Mail Update: Quite a few of you have said you've
sent mail since my visit, but all I've received is parental letters and some fabulous photos from my godparents. Crazy
international postal system. And my last Mom-letter got here in FOUR days. There is no predictability. I
promise to respond as soon as I get stuff. With that, I am off. Peace and Blessings,