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Becky Binns--Togo News Letter

TNLs #40-44

 Fri, 26 Jul 2002

TNL#40

Hello All,

          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,                                                 ~becky

 

 

 Mon, 29 Jul 2002

 TNL#41 Update

Hello All,

          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.  peace,

~becky

 

 Wed, 31 Jul 2002

TNL#42 Another one! Already?: Med Unit Memoirs

Tuesday

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. 

WEDNESDAY

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 email.

Peace Out All,

~becky

 

 Thu, 8 Aug 2002

 TNL#43

Hey All,

           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.

 

BAFILO

          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. 

 

JOSH'S DEPARTURE

          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.

EINSTEIN

         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. 

WORK

          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,

~becky

 

 

 Fri, 16 Aug 2002

 TNL #44

Hello All,

           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,

~becky