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Becky Binns--Togo News Letter

TNLs #65-69

meaghanbecky.jpg
Meaghan and Becky

Whattaread whattaread

#65 Girl's Club

#66 Tabaski (sauce)

#67 A Guest Writer (woohoo!)

#68 About The Guest's Visit

#69 oh the war

 

 Sat, 8 Feb 2003

TNL #65

Hello All,

   I opened my door the other day and a lizard who'd been balancing in a sunny spot on the doorframe fell on my head.  Later on I found myself using a playing card to poke the roaches out of the crack in my kitchen table onto the floor so I could step on them (gotta sneak up on um and go for a quick jabbing motion).  And that night, as I brushed my teeth, I counted 4 big, flat, wall spiders in my bathroom: harmless little paintings that move once every 48 hours or so.  It occurs to me that these things have become normal to me, like birds at your birdfeeders or ants in the cracks of your sidewalks.  I know, I know, those things stay OUT side, but, well...enough about bugs, lets talk about work.

    If you are a girl in Togo, everything is decided for you.  If you are lucky, it is decided that you will attend school.  If you are not, it is decided that you will be married off to your Dad's Poker buddy by the age of 13.  Such is life.  From birth to marriage Dad makes all the decisions.  From marriage to death Husband makes all the decisions.  Thus, girls themselves never learn to make decisions, let alone acquire the concept of choices.  If it was as "simple" as education, marriage, occupation, I may leave it all alone as a frustrating cultural difference.  But, the phenomenon dips into the world of boyfriends, who also make the decisions.  And this is a problem.

    Wednesday afternoon was my Séme girls club (equivalent of 7th grade).  The girls had just done some group work brainstorming the decisions they make in their lives (i.e.: "wake up, pray, greet parents" as opposed to "not be a good person") and the decisions other others make in their lives (i.e. "What will my occupation be Dad?").  After 30 Minutes of brainstorming, no one had mentioned boys, and I know at least half of them have boyfriends. So I popped the question to a sea of half-bored faces, "What are the choices you have when it comes to boys?"  Boom! Awake! Stunned! Giggling. Silence...then;  He wants me to marry him, but I want to finish school! He's so wonderful and rich, but I want to get an education so he'll respect me!  He pays my school fees as long as I give him what he wants, but if I get pregnant, what good are school fees? My Dad wants me to marry this man, but I know he isn't faithful and I'm so scared of AIDS.  He won't use a condom because he says Americans injected them with AIDS (common myth), but I love him.  I don't have a boyfriend yet, but its so hard to keep saying no when my family thinks I'm old enough and boys keep asking.  What choice do I have if he wants "it" and if I don't give it to him he'll find it someplace else and then give me diseases once we're married? 

      Sex, AIDS, male pressure, parental pressure, marriage, education, independence; not an easy set of concepts for someone who's never been taught to make decisions for herself. Next meeting we'll talk about how to make decisions.  Until then I'd like to lock them all up in an all girls school on the other side of the mountain.  In a place where the genders need to come together in order to advance, it is often so tempting to separate them.

      Sekina (co-worker) was venting the other day about how tired she is of making three meals a day, cleaning, washing the clothes, and chasing her kids around while her husband sits all day in front of their TV, and barks that he needs water, he's thirsty, NOW.  I confessed to her that it seemed to me that here in Togo, the men would die without the women; but the women would thrive without the men. She giggled, "yes, yes, this is true".  I catch myself.  Aren't I supposed to be encouraging gender equality? When did I become a man-basher? Who am I becoming? Oh, Mariama, when will you ever figure it out?

     So I went home and consulted the lizards; the male lizards that is.  The lady lizards were out back catching flies.  Until next time,

~becky

Fri, 21 Feb 2003

 TNL #66

Hello All,

          Last week was the big Muslim Fete, the sheep fete, Tabaski.  In celebration and recognition of that momentous day (long before the major monotheistic religions parted ways) when Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son but was given a ram to slaughter instead, all the Muslims I know eat sheep.  Lots  of sheep. Very large sheep. 

          Last year, I was out of town for Tabaski and sadly missed all the hoopla (though a few neighbors did save some sheep chucks for me).  This year I had resolved to be in Bafilo (the most Muslim of Muslim towns) for the fete.  Problem being that the date for Tabaski is decided pretty last minute in accordance with the moon.  And I'd already promised my friend Ariana that I'd travel a few hours down a dirt road to her neck of the woods for her birthday.  Birthdays are a priority, so I headed Northwest, hoping to get back in time for some sheep, but realizing I probably wouldn't. 

          Sunday afternoon I was greeted warmly in the town of Gurin Kouka by the PCVs who live there and by the Kakumba people who are their neighbors.  Gurin Kouka is a relaxing place to be.  No electricity, no running water, no cars, and it's so hot you have to sleep on the roof under a horizon-less expanse of dancing lights.  I spent two days laying around on the porch, drawing pictures with the neighborhood kids, and wondering if I'd make it back to Bafilo. 

          There's a small population of Muslims in Kouka, and one convinced the 7 PCVs in the area to stick around for a Tabaski fete instead of going back to their villages.  He even bought a goat (sheep are too expensive).  So I too decided to stay.

          A girl named Molly sliced the goat's throat while Ariana (earl's killer) held its screaming mouth shut.  I thought Turkeys bled. Goats are a whole different story.  I think I'll stick to butchering fowl. We feasted beyond our own known abilities. The goat, a guinea hen, and a large amount of veggies and yams were polished off in short order.  After which we decided to wander around town to see if the Kakumba of Kouka knew how to party like the Kotakoli of Bafilo. They do indeed.  We watched some excellent dancing in the center of town before moving towards some other drumming down the road a bit.  Walking towards the pounding beat, we asked who was drumming in the direction we were walking.  It was the Kotakoli! I'd missed my Bafilo fete, but my peeps were here; drumming, dancing and singing like no other.  We jumped into the dust cloud that was their party and were immediately handed sticks and guided into place in the dance circle. 

          The Kotakoli stick dance is perhaps my favorite thing to watch here, and they were letting us join them.  Moving clock-wise in an outer circle of about 50 people, I momentarily watched the inner circle; a crowd of women and children dancing without sticks.  Dancing as if dance were breath.  An older woman, smiling, sang lines that sounded like rap lyrics.  After each line, everyone would sing a response.  My attention was quickly snagged back to the outer circle as we began to dance.  On every forth beat, you clap your stick together with the person on one side of you.  On the 8th beat you hit the person's stick on your other side.  The whole time, the circle moves around and everyone uses the 3 free beats to spin in circles.  Very dizzying, and very fun.   Bumbu dubum budundun BOOM Bundoo dumdun budoombu BOOM.  I was sweating from every pore in the first five minutes, and we danced non-stop for over an hour.  Towards the end I gave up my stick and moved to the inner circle, where I found myself dancing face to face with the caller woman.  She called out her lines, and I called out some semblance  of the response wit the kids.  We danced together until the song was over, and she called me her apprentice. It was awesome.  And it was an honor. 

          Once I was too tired to move through another drum beat, I walked out of the circle, and a young girl ran up to me with my shoes (which had come off at some point).  I may have missed my Bafilo Tabaski, but I found Tabaski in all its glory in the Kakumba and Kotakoli of Gurin Kouka. 

          I've been back in Bafilo recuperating for over a week now, and the drum beat is still running through my head. Bumbu dumbum dadumbu BOOM Dadee dumbum bahdumbah BOOM! Until next time,

~becky

Thu, 27 Feb 2003
TNL #67

Hello All,
   I actually have very little to tell you right now except that I have a perma-grin and am exceptionally, giddily ecstatic about life at the moment as my best friend Meaghan is making fun of my run-on sentences and fixing my spelling, not from RI, but from the chair next to me.
   So Ladies and Gentlemen, let me introduce today's guest TNL writer, Meaghan Martin Kelly...  
 
   I feel famous right now.  For two reasons.  One, because I'm writing a TNL (wow!) and two I'm in a place where almost everyone I pass stares at me, points, waves, says hello, and sometimes comes over to shake my hand.  This would be, as Becky has told you, because I am a Yovo, but I am having a lot of fun pretending it's because I am Jennifer Anniston.  (for the record, I wouldn't want to be Jennifer Anniston for more than a week because it would get annoying, but for now it serves as a much needed ego boost.  I'm a celebrity.)
          Really though, I'm in Africa!  It's amazing here, and more importantly, Becky is amazing here.  How I wish you all could see her here... But I am grateful for the chance to write this, as while she weaves wonderful stories about the life here, she fails to tell you about how phenomenal she herself is in this place.
          Becky picked me up at the absolutely insane airport after way too many hours of flight, and an overwhelming climate change (I was wearing long sleeves, lined wind pants, sneakers, and a vest, but it had to be 90°here - aack!).  I couldn't even focus as I hugged her.  Toto, I wasn't in Kansas anymore.  Before I knew it I was outside and Becky was haggling with a cab driver to bring us into Lomé for 2 dollars instead of 4 dollars.  Now let me tell you two things.  One, Becky does a lot of haggling.  She's incredible, and very good at it, and I almost didn't recognize her when she started it.   And two, she does it all very quickly and in some language that, I promise you, is not French.  I studied French in school for 9 years, and know enough to tell you that one out of every ten words these people say is French, and I don't know what the rest of it is, but Becky speaks it too.  And she's good at it!  Really, the whole thing was very bizarre, and thirty minutes into my trip I was feeling that not only was I not in Kansas anymore, but that my scarecrow had turned into a far-from-cowardly lion.
          After spending the night in Lomé I had the pleasure of experiencing my first (and with any luck my last) bus taxi ride.  And, not even 24 hours into Africa, I was told that to go to the bathroom, I would have to climb out of the window of the taxi (don't be fooled - NOT a taxi) and squat to pee on the side of the very busy road in the middle of a town, while the other 20 people in the taxi watched the ghastly white Yovo do her business.  Oh my.  But anyone who knows me knows my bladder, so pee on the side of the road I did.  But I forced Becky to fake it next to me at the same time. About a million hours later we reached Bafilo and made our way to Becky's house. 
          I won't bore you with two many details about the rest of our week together, but let me just tell you a couple of things.  First, let there be no confusion, this is a third world country, and while some may drink Coke and wear flip-flops, Becky lives on a street where goats and chickens wander through garbage thrown onto the dirt roads, naked children ask her for money, and tired looking women walk around town with babies tied to their backs and enormous bundles of wood balancing on their heads.  It is unlike anything I have ever seen before.  And in this place, Becky walks confidently and securely, greeting people she passes, picking up children and whispering to them, laughing with the people she works with, and speaking earnestly with the teenage girls that she teaches about their lives and decisions.  And from what I can see, the people that she interacts with daily not only like her, but they trust her, respect her, and enjoy her - not because she is a Yovo, but because she is generous, honest, intelligent, and kind. 
          I feel so honored to have had the chance to see Becky in her life here. I really truly wish you all could have a glimpse of this as well.  And I know this
doesn't need saying...  but you should be so proud.
 
Thanks for reading,
Meaghan 
 
Sun, 9 Mar 2003 

 TNL #68
Hello All,
   Becky back at the keyboard.  Hope you all enjoyed my beautiful guest writer. I know I did.  Good for my ego.  Now it's my turn to talk about that fabulous week; Becky and Meaghan Take on Togo.  We've been taking on the world together since shortly before I was given the keys to our family's 86 Buick at the age of 16, (Meg used to steer and watch the road while I, the one with the license, would work the peddles and watch the passing mansions on Ocean Drive in Newport). Our adventures have stretched from the Eastern US, to France, a bit of Italy, and now Africa. 
    Two Sundays ago, I stood at the big glass window in Lomé Airport over the receiving area. Nose pressed against the disease-ridden glass, trying not to blink lest I miss her walking through the customs booths.  There she was! Wearing too many clothes for the equator heat, looking somehow older than the last time I'd seen her, seeming a bit too calm for having just walked into her first 3rd World airport all alone, and clearly wondering where I was.  I'm UP HERE!!! She walked right towards me; looking left, right, not up.  I ran downstairs and motioned her through the people-blocked bars.  Long awaited hug. Ahhh.  She was a little too hot and in shock for an extended sentimental moment.  So five minutes later we found ourselves in a tiny airport bathroom stall; Her luggage on the floor, all the stuff from the top half of her pack heaped into my arms, Meg shuffling through the remaining things for shorts and a tank top, and the bathroom light turning itself off every two minutes, leaving us in complete darkness.  The adventure had begun. 
    The numerous, crazy, wonderful moments are too  overwhelming to recount in a way that will give justice to the week.  
     I did indeed make her pee infront of a hundred ogling Togolese.  Yovos pee?!  I also suggested that we swim at the waterfall in our underwear, which was quite relaxing until I looked up from my sunny spot on a rock above the water to see three farm kids standing over our clothes staring at us. 
 There was also the fact that in order to live with me for a week, Meg was going to have to look at her fear of bugs.  She handled the huge spiders beautifully, the lizards were a breeze, and the cockroaches...well, she sang to the cockroaches.  Djalilou came to the door one night when the electricity was out to ask for matches.  They were in the bathroom.  Meg offered to go get them.  The cockroaches, the 2" long ones, live in the bathroom.  Especially when it's dark.  Meaghan picked up a candle and took off singing.  Djalilou looked confused.  "She doesn't like bugs", I told him, "So she sings to them so they'll run away before she gets there." He laughed.  He liked her.
 Everybody liked her.  She walked through this brand new experience with curiosity, adaptability, humility, humor, and respect.  Her insights and observations were amazing (especially considering the short stay.)  But then, she always has been the most insightful person I know. 
 After five days in Bafilo, we headed south (seven more hours in a bush taxi), and landed somewhat spontaneously at the Sarakawa, Lomé's nicest hotel.  I was feeling completely spoiled by the luxury.  Meg agreed that the place was very nice, but I think she was mostly amused to see how psyched I was about a hot bath and a real mattress, with box springs. 
  We woke up early Sunday morning. I wasn't ready to think about the airport yet. The morning was spent at the huge tropical Sarakawa pool; swimming, relaxing, reading to each other, and soaking up our last few hours. 
 Airport time eventually rolled around. The process was quicker than usual, and she was inside before I knew it.  She told me not to get sad, and to buy my dog a bigger water bowl.  She always been good at adding lightness to difficult moments. 
 It was an exceptional, rejuvenating, memory-packed week.  Meg and I have shared 10 years of our lives,  apartments in Providence, unspeakable amounts of laughter, growth, challenge, life changing experiences, and joyful ones.  It only seems right that we now share Togo in all its heat, bugs, beautiful people, and ridiculous moments.
 
Thank you Meaghan, for you are an (exorbitantly) exceptional gift.
 
Until next time,
~becky


Sat, 22 Mar 2003 
TNL #69
Hello All,
   No stories today.  Instead I figured I'd give you a brief picture of what this war looks like over here.  No, I won't go on and on about my views (which are honestly a bit incomplete), or about how saddened I am by the decisions of my government.  I'm sure you all know the frustrations ten-fold.  But you may have questions about an American living in a Muslim neighborhood in West Africa during such a war with such religious involvement.  Bottom line: I feel safer here than I would over there.  The other day my friend Sekina started tearing up at the idea of a war involving my home.  She insisted that my family come here to stay, where they will  be safer.  I told her that if my family lived in Iraq, I'd take her up on that.
    Sitting on a porch at the Jr. High the other day, I was listening to the radio with a group of teachers.  We were all very discouraged as we heard about the first attacks.  I said that it was a complicated situation, but that most of the Americans I knew were opposed to the war.  One teacher turned to me and said,
"You mean the Americans aren't happy with this war?!" NO! "But, I thought that America was a democracy!".  Hmm.  There was one teacher who thought the war was good because it was necessary revenge after the September 11th deaths.  After I explained that Iraq wasn't the one in the cockpit of those planes, she changed her mind. 
     I haven't once felt as if anyone connected me personally to the responsibilities of this tragedy due to my Americaness or Christianity.  They only feel sorry for the dangers my homeland may face themselves. And they are sad that children in Iraq will likely die.
 As far as what Peace Corps Togo is doing to keep us informed, I am well cared for.  Last week, 16 PCVS met with our Security officer and Director for a two day seminar.  During the seminar our Emergency Action Plan and our communication network were strengthened considerably. The 16 of us were given cell phones so that we can be reached any time by Peace Corps.  Each of us can then get in touch with a handful of other PCVs in our area in a matter of minutes or a couple hours.  In the past week, the Director of Peace Corps Togo has called us all twice to give us news updates and ask how things are going.  No one anticipates any Anti-Americanism here, but we are watching for it anyway.  We are also all glued to the BBC. It's always good to hear news from the British point of view.
 Back to the cell phone thing; yes, I finally have a cell phone (grrr).  And in Togo none-the-less:)  Calling Togo costs about 5 bucks a minute if you don't have a calling card or int. calling plan, but feel free to call me anyway if you so have the urge.  Calling cards can be found on line for 20 bucks for an hour and a half...but I forgot where that site is.  Anyway, my number is 011-228-919-9761, and the best time to catch me awake and in my house is 1pm-4pm your time.  Though I do have the phone with me 24/7. Oh, and when you guys change your clocks, that gets moved up an hour.
    That's about it.  Sorry about the dry topic today. This war has given me writers block.  Peace to you all.  And Blessings.
~becky