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Becky Binns--Togo News Letter

TNLs #45-49

 

Date: Sun, 1 Sep 2002 03:47:01 -0700 (PDT)

From: becky binns <flutterbyebinns@yahoo.com>

Subject: TNL#45~Einstein, Rainer, and the cat

Hello All,

          Who ever said it was a good idea to get a dog? OK, so maybe it is a good idea for Some people.  I thought I was one of those people, but I've been getting a

pretty clear message over the past couple weeks which tells me that I should stop trying to incorporate a canine in my life. 

          You all remember Einstein, yes?  After receiving mixed messages about whether or not he really did need a home, I finally sat down with the man who's been caring for him in Lomé.  I told him that if he wanted me to take the dog, I'd be more than happy to, but if not, I understood.  It took him all night to decide, and at 6am on the morning I left Lomé, he told me (through tears) that even though Einstein was a financial burden, he was also a friend, and he couldn't give a friend away. 

          So I headed north where I picked up a kitten that Jackie, another PCV, had given me.  Jackie had named the cat Kisses (Kisses sister's name is Hugs), but I

asked her if it was OK if I chose a new name.  She said this was fine after I explained that while she, Jackie, could get away with unbridled cuteness, I didn't think I could write home and say I have a cat named Kisses.  So Kisses became Maya and we headed home to Bafilo.  It turns out that Maya is THE most cuddly cat in the world, which was cute, for like the first two hours.  My feelings for the cat slowly started to disintegrate.  Back in Bafilo, I went to pick up the puppy that a woman had been holding for me in the event that things with Einstein fell through.  I wasn't going to name her until I'd had her for at least a week.   You see, puppies don't always decide to stick around here in Togo, and I figured if I didn't name her, I wouldn't get attached...Problem being I was immediately attached, and named her Rainer before the day was over.  She was just too cool to not have a name.  Her blue eyes and five-star disposition swept me off my feet.  Maya, on the other hand, hated her.  And Rainer was petrified of Maya.  It didn't

take long before my own aversion to the cat was so strong that I decided to get rid of her.  Less than 24 hours after my new PCV neighbor moved to her post, she had a cat.  Meanwhile, Rainer and I had a fabulous week together.  It's hard to believe that it was only a week.  On Tuesday morning she had a bad reaction to her deforming shot, and on Wednesday night I watched her take her last breath.  At which point I decided not to do this anymore.  No more dogs.  No more cats.           I've spent 8 months alone in my house in Bafilo.  I can do 16 more.  Besides, part of the function of a pet is to keep you company, and I'm not sure that I've ever in my life felt as alone as I felt on Wednesday night. 

          On a less depressing note, I just spent 10 days in my village without seeing another PCV or going to Kara.  This may not sound like very long, but it felt like a year, and it was a record for me.  The time was packed with good and hard and sad and impossible and growing moments.  By the end of it I felt like I'd finally overcome some indescribable hurdle in my relationship with Bafilo, and in my own feelings about my solitude.  (Sorry about the Road of Life Cliché, but) It's a crazy journey, and a bumpy road.  Thanks for coming along for the ride.  Until next time, peace out!                                                                                ~becky

 

 

Date: Sun, 8 Sep 2002 03:00:17 -0700 (PDT)

From: becky binns <flutterbyebinns@yahoo.com>

Subject: TNL #46

To: "Cherie C. Binns, RN, BS" <cheriebinns@cox.net>

Hello All,

          Would you believe I've been crazy busy this week?  No? OK, well maybe not crazy busy, but darn busy compared to my norm.  The two women I work with, Madame Yaya and Sekina, suggested that we go around to all the groups of women in Bafilo and talk to them about sending their girls to school.  I think I may have mentioned this project in a previous TNL.  Anyway, before we started, I asked if maybe we shouldn't talk to the men too, since the men are the ones who make all the decisions.  They said no, no, we should talk to the women.  So we've spent the last three weeks sitting around in Mosques, on porches, and under Baobab trees with groups of Muslim Mamas.  Let me give you a taste of a typical section of our conversations;

WOMAN1: One of our problems is polygamy.  One man has to support 3 wives and 16 children.  He can't send all of them to school.  How do you solve this problem in America?

ME: Polygamy is illegal in America.

WOMAN1: Well then, what do your extra woman do?

ME: In principle, there's a man for every woman and a woman for every man.  (hysterical laughter follows.  I might as well have said that our extra women marry aliens from outer space.  The women speak in Kotakoli for a while, and then someone translates another problem into French for me.)

WOMAN2: Also, we find that when we educate our daughters, they run away to other countries to make money. 

ME: Well, um, yeah, I see this is a problem...wait, don't your sons do the same thing?

WOMAN2: Yes.

ME: So...(at this point I realize that when girls run away, families lose out on the bride price that her marriage would have earned them, there is no such financial loss if boys leave), hmmm, I see this is a problem.

WOMAN2: Don't you have this problem in America?

ME: Well, no. In America men and women are equals.  (blank stares) And marriage is not for money. It's for love. (laughter, then more talk in Kotakoli.  Towards the end of the 2 hour session, I ask them if this kind of discussion is good for them.)

WOMAN3: Yes it is good.  There is already change happening just because a white person is sitting among us. (This kind odd hospitable compliment makes me cringe, but I thank them anyway.)

ME: Thanks, but, if it's  good for you, you should talk about it all the time because that's how change will happen.  Talk to each other and to your children.  Talk to your husbands...(At this point, hysterical laughter breaks out.  The women laugh and talk in Kotakoli until they are all on the floor with tears coming out of their eyes.  During this time, I wonder what I am doing trying to give advice to a culture I know so little about.  Finally, Madame Yaya turns to me, trying to compose herself, and explains  in French what they've been saying.)

MADAME YAYA: It's the men.  Always a problem with the men.  They make all the decisions, but they never listen to us.  Maybe we should try talking to the men.

ME: Gee, that's a Great idea Madame Yaya.

          So that's a typical meeting.  Friday morning I had a not-so-typical meeting.  The women started to explain their problems to me very seriously; "My daughters work so hard to earn money so my sons can attend school", "I am a third wife and only the first wives sons go to school", "I'm scared that if my daughter doesn't go to school, she will be an uneducated mother just like me...".  Silence.  I

looked up and noticed that all 20 women in the room, including Madame Yaya and Sekina, were crying.  Now, Togolese don't cry much.  I've even heard them criticize each other for crying at "unimportant" funerals.  Finally, Madame Yaya looked up at me and said we should go talk to the Prefect (governor) and ask him if we can talk to the men.  So we did.

          The three of us and three men, including the Prefect, sat down in his office to talk.  Now, when I left Bafilo with all the political turmoil last month, Peace Corps sent someone to talk to the Prefect before I came back.  So After we all greeted each other, the Prefect turned to me and said,  "So I hear you had problems with Bafilo and didn't come talk to me about it."  I told him I was here to talk about something else; and he turned to the rest of the people and told them that I got scared and told my parents that Bafilo was a dangerous place to be and ran away to Lomé without even talking to him, the Prefect, first.  I was shocked and speechless.  If the man spoke English, I'm sure I would have gotten myself in trouble.  Looking him straight in the eye, I crossed my legs (a subtle but significant sign of disrespect) and told him I was here now and I wanted to talk about something else.  Madame Yaya and Sekina cringed.  We were supposed to be asking a favor of the man, not insulting him.  I know my disrespect was self-centered and immature, but at the time, I really didn't care.  The Prefect listened to us and then told us our project wouldn't work, but we could try and find out for ourselves.  On our way out, I thanked one of the men in the room who had been smiling at me sympathetically.  He said that if I have any problems I can come to him...at his house.  Then whispering, he asked me to give him one of my rings.  I spent the rest of the day acting like a dejected 13 year old, trying to continue my work and keep the anger and frustration under covers.  Now that my faith in Togolese men has taken another serious blow, I get to work with them directly.  Maybe it'll be good for me.  Even though I was the one pushing for us to talk to the men in the first place, I've just realized that the idea intimidates the heck outta me.  If we can pull it together, I'll let you know how it goes.  In the meantime, be well, be happy, and send your daughters to school.  Peace Out, ~becky

 

PS If you want to reply to this email, don't hit "reply" unless you want to talk to my mom.  Instead hit flutterbyebinns@yahoo.com.  Thanks.

 

PPS  I finally have my own mailbox in Bafilo, which means I have a new address;

Becky Binns

BP 39 Bafilo

Togo W. AFRICA

   I'm so exited about someday receiving mail in this new box, that I am hereby promising immediate three page letters to the first 5 people who write to me here.  I'll even include Togo soda labels or leafs from my yard or something.  Do I sound desperate?

PPPS To answer some common questions: Yes I'm filtering my water. Yes, my health is absolutely fabulous right now (never felt better).  And Yes the political situation in Bafilo is much chiller.  Got my eyes open, but not so worried. 

PPPPS  For those of you who have asked what you can send to Togo to help with my work, here's your chance. There's a girls scholarship program that has been helping girls go to school in Togo for about ten years.  It was started by the parents of Karen Waid, a PCV who dies in a car crash.  Right now it supports 178 girls, but its running out of money, and we've promised to see these girls through graduation.  Working through DC has been an impossible headache, so we've decided to ask friends and family directly for the money.  This means its not tax deductible, but it's all we could come up with.  My friend Kyra is collecting addresses of interested donors, so if you're interested, let me know and I'll give her your address. It would mean getting a letter from Togo requesting money once a year for five years (but you don't have to give more than once).  If you have

questions let me know.  THANKYOU!  Peace out and beaucoup de gratitude,

~becky

Date: Sat, 14 Sep 2002 02:55:33 -0700 (PDT)

From: becky binns <flutterbyebinns@yahoo.com>

Subject: #47

To: cheriebinns@cox.net

 

TNL#47

Hello All,

            The smell of a street in a sewer less city is one of the most distinct (and I use that word on purpose)smells I've ever experienced.  First time it filled my nose, I looked at my friend and she looked at me, and I think we both considered running away.  But instead she dragged us all through new streets and pointed out the smell of baking bread weaving its way through the stench.  When the 67th person asked us for a dollar, she smiled at them, and looked at us as if to say, "None of YOU look like a walking dollar bill.  Do I look like one?".  And we all laughed (though we were aware that we could just have easily cried).  And we danced with the locals and slid down waterfalls and contemplated the great mysteries of poverty and wealth and life.  We'd never even heard of Togo (isn't that an island in the South Pacific?). 

            She called me on her birthday last year (because she calls on her birthday, and on my birthday, and on your  birthday, because she loves birthdays even more than I do), and I told her I'd go to Togo and she told me she'd come to visit and breathe in the streets with me  (a smell which has become nostalgic).  So on this, her birthday, I don't feel like talking about Togo so much as I feel like celebrating Dena Marie Reinstein  (September 14, 1978 - November 5, 2001...but those were just her earthly days.) Anyone who feels like celebrating with me (and who would want to miss out on an opportunity to celebrate?), all you gotta do is call a friend out of the blue, listen to Disney music (especially the really old Disney music that no one knows anymore), and look for the smells of baking bread and flowers weaving their way through your day.

 

With Peace and Gratitude,

~becky

"We have been around the planet and I think really only one challenge has yet to be unfurled; That is, now that the world has changed us, how are we going to go about changing the world" ~DMR

 

Note from "Mom" Binns:  For those of you who have joined this list prior to Dena Marie's untimely death, I am adding the TNL that Becky wrote when she was told.  It will add dimension to what has just been said that that will give you cause to meditate on this for the next week.  Thank you all for your support of her during the grieving processwhich is clearly ongoing.  Bless you all and be sure to let someone know that they are truly cherished today.  That is the best way to honor Dena and her special relationship with Becky.  Peace to all,

~Cherie

 

 

 

 

----- Original Message -----

From: "becky binns" <flutterbyebinns@yahoo.com>

Sent: Friday, November 09, 2001 4:46 AM

Subject: Dena Marie

 

To those who love Dena, and to my family, roommates and Wyn, I just spent 45 minutes typing to you all and then lost it right before hitting send, so this one will be shorter.  I can't tell you how much it hurts right now, I'm sure you know.  I wish I could pray myself into your physical presence.  Thanks for working so hard to get word to me. I love and miss you all like crazy. I wrote a letter yesterday, which I had no intension of sharing, but I need to do something to to feel close to you right now, so I'll share parts of it.

 

Dearest Dena,

 I'm sitting in a hotel room in West Africa, and I've just been told.  The nurse was mispronouncing your name, and I realized who she was talking about at the same time that I saw the word on her paper. "died". What a horrific word.  I keep waiting to wake up from this horrible larium dream, but I can't force myself

out of it.  The hum of the air conditioner, the chill of the room, the tremble in my hand, the congestion in my head...it's all too real.  But it can't be.  It's an impossible reality.

I think about the last email you sent me.  The capital letters enthusiastically announcing your acceptance into Americorps; your statement "Becky you go save the world, I'll work on the US";  I laughed at the idea that you'd chosen the bigger challenge staying on that continent. You asked me to stand for you in your wedding, and I laughed because there was no groom yet.  But I felt honored because I knew you meant it.  You once told me that sometimes in life we find someone who is instantly more than a friend, someone with whom you feel a sisterly connection of a higher level.  I felt so special when you said you found that in me, and I don't think I ever fully communicated that I felt it too.

You do that to people.  You put them at the center of your world, make them feel important, loved, worth traveling across country for.  I can't imagine the culmination of pain and grief of all the people who love you.  You are so easy to love.  How can you not love someone who will stand in front of a room full of peers and tell them about her tragic past? How can you not love someone who will fly cross county to spend New Years with you just because neither of us had anything else to do?

I've spent the last hour replaying our friendship in my brain like some old home movie.  I keep stumbling upon moments when we were dancing and laughing.  You are so good at those two things.  You taught me to love dancing.  Your passion for it is so very contagious.

I remember our last conversation.  We were bummed that your plans to come to RI before I left fell through.  But you promised me you'd come to see me in Togo.  Quite a few people have said they'd come, but you were one of the one's I completely believed.  You have that kind of follow-through that transcends all obstacles.  It's always amazed me about you, how good you are at putting quality time with friends above all else.  You once told me that there are selfish motives to this, that you have what you consider to be an unhealthy need to be a best friend to all of your many favorite people.  You want to be the one who remembers birthdays, calls, writes, visits, understands... You pursued that goal with vigor and love, and if one were to be guilty of selfishness, there's no nobler way to be guilty.

At some point today I will call home and find out what has happened to you.  At some point I will go back to the house where I live and I will look at pictures of you. At  some point I will email our friends and my family and I will talk about you, about this loss.  At some point this will become real.  At some point I will be able to utter your name with out feeling like I've just been slapped across the face by the worse form of reality.

I am so far from home right now, so far from our friends, so far from you.  I can't fathom not seeing you again in this life.  I can't fathom not visiting you when I come home.  This can't be real.  There has to be some mistake.  What I wouldn't give to go back to the reality of two hours ago when you were home in Idaho.  I wonder if you've been reading my emails, if you know how life is here.  In adjusting to this new place I've thought about how much you'll like it when you visit.  When you visit.   I feel so far away.

There will be a service of course.  I hope everyone can be there.  I wish I could be.  It will be so hard.  So many people will be there, so many people love you.  There will be some wonderful stories to share. There should be many more.  You've got a bunch for just 23 years, but you were supposed to have volumes. We talked about retiring together in rocking chairs on a porch on the ocean, and gossiping about the old men, and telling anyone who would listen about our life time of travels.  You were supposed to have a lifetime of travels.

I'm knocked right the hell over by the fragility of life.  How can this be real?  Dena Marie Reinstein, how can you be gone from my world?  How can life keep going on as if a great tragedy hasn't occurred? A great tragedy.  A phenomenal loss to so many.  An immense loss to me. Our group will never be the same.  We've never had to gather without you before. Your absence and your presence will always be felt.  You were always so present.  You've been the instigator, the cheerleader, the pursuer of our times together as a group.   Who will push the hesitant traveler now?  Who will hold the rest of us accountable? Who will say "Becky in 10 years you won't miss 300 dollars, you will miss the fact that you weren't at Kirby's wedding"?  Who will do that for us? There will be a great emptiness.

You told me some months back that if you didn't get into Americorps and I didn't get into the Peace corps, that we would pick a city and live there together for a year.  What I wouldn't give for that year now.  I think we both knew we'd succeed at our endeavors, but it was a golden back up option.  Golden.

I think if I concentrate hard enough I could turn this into a dream; I could accept it as such and wait till morning.  Nothing about this moment is connected to my known reality.  But the hum of the air conditioner continues, and my hand hurts.  It's too surreal, it just can't be.  Dena Marie, you will always be in my heart.  Missing you more than peanut butter misses jelly has always felt like an understatement, now it just feels ridiculous. I love you my sister,

 ~Becky

          We have lost a poet, a fabulous gift giver, an adventurer, a comforter and understander, a laugher, a dancer, a master friend, a beautiful presence. I pray that we can somehow find a sense of peace in this loss.  I pray for each of you who love Dena, and especially for her family.  Peace.

 

Date: Sat, 21 Sep 2002 07:38:20 -0700 (PDT)

From: becky binns <flutterbyebinns@yahoo.com>

Subject: TNL #48

 

Hello All,

           I just spent the week living in a mud hut in a very remote village where no one even spoke French (not much of it anyway, which says a lot coming from an

elementary French speaker).  When I told my Dad where I was going, he asked if it was some sort of retreat; a time for meditation and reflection.  While that wasn't the original purpose of the week, it turned out, in many ways, to be just that.  My actual purpose was to help wipe out guinea worm.  What is guinea worm? It's a three foot long parasite that breaks out of the skin and lays eggs when its host goes in the water.  The eggs are then eaten by water fleas and the

water fleas are consumed in drinking water.  Once in the intestines, the water flea pukes up a tiny worm which, over the course of a year, reaches full length and breaks through the skin to lay eggs completing the cycle.  When I say it breaks through the skin, I mean it explodes and oozes and creates a gruesome and painful battlefield on some part of its human host. Now, transmission can only happen in still water, and the presence of water fleas are necessary, and water fleas are visible to the human eye and thus easily filtered out through  a piece of cloth.  In other words, its exceptionally easy to avoid, and yet remains a huge problem.  So 6 of us went out into different villages in northern Togo to pass out filters and educate people on avoiding guinea worm.

          As the Land Cruiser got close to my village the dirt road turned into a river, which turned into a footpath, which eventually led to a small cluster of huts, which turned out to be the chief's compound where I would be staying.  The chief didn't speak French. Neither did his wives or their kids.  But there was a man assigned to work with me who claimed to speak French...Luckily he had been to a guinea worm training, so he knew enough to pretend-translate pretty well.  Each family compound in the village was situated in the middle of about 10-20 acres of land.  Thus, we spend about 80% of our time walking through cotton fields, swamps, corn, and 10 foot high grass that made me feel like I had stumbled onto the set for "Honey I Shrunk the Kids".  When we arrived at each compound, I would pull out my guinea worm comic book and explain guinea worm in French, then my guide would explain it in local language (I saw my explanation as a bit useless, but he wouldn't do his part until after I'd done mine.  It was all part of the show).  Then we'd give the family a filter and teach them how to use it (it's amazing how complex pouring water through a piece of cloth can be).  Then we would walk some more.  We made a good team.  Sometimes we would stumble upon a case of guinea worm, and I learned that my guide was also trained to take the worm out of people.  This involves putting a lot of water on the

wound so that the worm thinks it's time to lay eggs.  When it comes out to lay eggs, you grab it and pull until you feel resistance.  You wrap this inch or two of the worm around a matchstick and tape it to the skin.  Every couple days the match stick can be turned until the worm has been wound all the way out.  I watched my guide trying to get a worm to come out of a blind woman's thigh as she crumpled up in pain.  After five minutes, all he had extracted was about a half a cup of puss, so he gave up for the day.  During our three days of work we visited over 40 families in 5 villages and walked about 50 or 60 kilometers.  I was

so exhausted each night that the cement floor of my mud hut felt almost like a feather bed.  Almost.  On the last day a theater group came to do a skit about a

man who gets guinea worm and tries to have the witch doctor heal him, but that only made it worse, so he went to a real doctor and got better.  Then the witch doctor got guinea worm.  It was very entertaining.  I ended up hitching a ride back towards civilization with the theater group in their van.  This trip had been challenging in the PC Land Cruiser, in an old, overloaded van, (in the rain) it was miraculous.  At one point we got stuck in the mud and all had to climb out the window to push ourselves out.  Standing in the rain and mud with a bunch of Togolese actors, yelling "une, doux, trois!", and throwing all my weight against a rusty old van which was buried up to the running board, I was suddenly struck by the reality of my reality.  This happens often here.  Life is crazy.  And life is good. Until next time, be well, be happy, and filter your water.

Peace Out,

~becky

ps.  For those of you who have seen West Africa in the news lately, don't worry too much.  There was a rebel uprising in the Ivory Coast and we're keeping an eye on things.  It's unlikely that any of this will effect Togo. Just thought I'd let you know that I'm fine regarding such things.  Peace.

 

Date: Sat, 5 Oct 2002 04:50:11 -0700 (PDT)

From: becky binns <flutterbyebinns@yahoo.com>

Subject: TNL #49

To: cheriebinns@cox.net

Hello All,

          I've mentioned the waterfall near my house before, yes?   This past Sunday a couple new PCVs came over and wanted to hike out to it.  It takes about an hour and half to get there if we take the road east towards Benin and then turn south/southwest onto the waterfall path.  The reason for this "U"-shaped route is a short mountain range that creates a wall between my house and the falls.  I've always wanted to see if I could go directly over the mountain instead of around it, so  asked the other two PCVs, Phynessa and Kara, if they wanted to try to forge a path with me.  They seemed to think it was a good idea.  Phynessa suggested that we bring a coup coup (a machete).  I said I didn't think it would be necessary.  Instead I became a human coup coup as we made our way up the mountain.  Within the first hour, Phynessa was fishing band-aids out of her bag for me.  When we got to the top of the ridge, the waterfall was no where to be seen.  Turns out that there are a few ridges and valleys between my house and our destination.  After two hours of briar patches, rock climbing, 8' tall grass, and numerous cuts and bruises, we heard water.  Following the sound, we dipped down a steep ledge into a dark, covered riverbed and followed the water as it started to head down hill.  Sliding down rocks and logs over and next to this fast running water, we reached an incredible look-out ledge where large amounts of water fell off the edge of the world.  There was no way for us to climb down.  But that was OK.  This wasn't the waterfall we'd been looking for.  We hiked back up and along the ridge to the next valley.  After another hour, Kara spotted the waterfall, a small speck of white on the bottom of the ridge opposite us.  The valley in between consisted of swamp, knee-high brambles, and sharp, itchy grass over our heads.  It took another hour with the mid-day sun beating down on us to reach the base of the falls.  Hot, sunburnt, bleeding, and completely exhausted, we dragged ourselves up the 150 steps to the pool at the top of the waterfall.  I didn't even stop to take my shoes off before canon-balling in. We swam for awhile, tried to wash the mud out of our clothes, ate some PB and Banana sandwiches while our clothes dried, and then took the easy road home.  Back at the house, I told Djalilou what we had done.  He laughed at me and told

me that during the dry season this might be a good idea, but right now there's so much vegetation that it's just a crazy idea altogether.  We hurt for a couple days, but it was a head-to-toe sense of accomplishment kind of hurt.  Next time, we bring a coup coup.  Maybe two.  Until next week, peace out,

~becky