I am now firmly planted in Tchekpo. This will be my home for the next two years. I find myself saying that phrase to myself a couple times a day. There is always an inflection of wonderment at the end of the sentence, when I say it. The last two weeks have challenged my physical and mental capacities to the fullest. This is a new post so I did not automatically inherit anything from a Peace Corps Volunteer who is on their way home. The house was completely empty. I had to furnish it from scratch. I was determined to make this a comfortable home. I succeeded. It’s comfortable and pleasing to the eye. My house, as I stated earlier is not at all representative of the village. My house is a palace compared to the rest of the village. I think the Chief and the Tcheckpo committee wanted me to be happy and comfortable. They want me to stay two years. I will post pictures of my house and my village soon.
Tchekpo is about thirty minutes east of Tesvie (where I was in training) and about an hour and a half from Lome, the capital. Lome is where Togo Peace Corps headquarters is located. To the East of Tcheckpo are three villages where other Peace Corps Volunteers are living…Ahepe is about 30 minutes east of Tcheckpo (Jeremy’s village) and Tagebow (Solomon's village) is thirty minutes beyond Ahepe. Tesvie, Tchekpo, Ahepe and Tagebow are all along the same main road and they are all about thirty minutes apart, depending on how fast the bush taxi or moto driver is. Then there is Zafi, which is off the main road. It’s a small village about nine miles from Tchekpo. Abby lives in Zafi. She was not in our training group. She has been here about nine months. I recently met Abby. She’s an interesting PCV. She rode her bike the nine miles to Tcheckpo to meet me and to give me an invitation to a three day conference she is hosting in Zafi for the MAP (Men as Partners) program. MAP is a new program that teaches village men how to be more involved in their families lives. I’ll be going to that conference with my homologue, who from this day forward will be known as Alougba. I’m also taking Two-Sain. Two-Sain is a neighbor. He is married and has two children. I met Two-Sain during post week.
Tchekpo was described to me as a medium size village. The chief told me that under his jurisdiction there are 10,000 to 15,000 people in the Tchekpo and surrounding area (quartier) . There are over 500 kids attending the highschool, age 12 to 20. School starts September 10th. I’ve already made arrangements to teach English there. Fidel, my next door neighbor is the Assistant Director at the High School. He teaches German. He’s very nice and funny, and he’s going to tutor me in French. Fidel is enthusiastic about me teaching English. He is going to make the introductions and arrangements. We’ve decided to have an English Club as opposed to an English Class. That way only kids who are really interested will attend.
Tcheckpo has a marche (market). It seems each village has a different set market day. Tchekpo’s market day in on Mondays. Tesvie (which is huge) is on Friday. Tagebow’s market day is on Wednesday. They all sell a wide variety of items, from fabric to vegetables, and each one specializes in certain items. For example Tesvie is known for the great bread. Tchekpo and Tagebow sell bread, but they are not known for their bread. Tagebow is known for it’s tie die fabric and artisan works, and Tcheckpo is known for it’s fruit and vegetables. The market vendors are 90% women.
One of the things I am scheduled to do is to work with the Tchekpo Marche Groupement deFemme (Market Womens Association.) Their association has been in existence since 1996. They have 75 members. I had my first meeting with them last week. I feel that my French is pretty good, but for some reason no one understands one thing that I say?? And I can’t understand them?? They speak primarily the local language Ewe (ev-ay) or what the Chief and Fidel called “broken” French. At any rate communication is and will be a source of frustration for a while. I’m doing everything I can to circumvent the problems. I found a tutor (Fidel) and I also found a translator, or he found me……a sixteen year old boy from Ghana named Moses. Moses came to my house recently and said that he heard I was looking for a translator. He speaks beautiful English, French and Ewe, and he’s very eager to assist me. He’s a very, nice, smart boy. His eyes lit up when he saw pictures of Alex! We will undoubtedly run into issues with his availability once school starts, but I’m hoping we can work around his schedule. Bottom line is that I need a translator for meetings, which is somewhat frustrating since I’ve been taking French for nine months, but all of the PCV’s report the same issue, even the ones who spoke good French when they arrived. It’s just different kind of French, and all the villages primarily speak their local language.
Furnishing the House
Because this is a new post, and the house was empty it was necessary to be resourceful about getting it furnished and getting it furnished quickly. I bought most of my furniture and all of my kitchen equipment from two different PCV’s who are now back in the United States.
I also met Kristine at the regional meeting. She was a three year PCV. She was going home in August also. She told me she had a table and four chairs, and that I could buy all of her kitchen equipment. This was a real coup. All of the things Kristine sold me would have cost at least five times as much, had I bought it all at the market, one at a time. She had pails for water, (you need a lot of pails in Africa) silverware, collander, a non-stick skillet (which is more valuable than gold to PCV’s), plates, bowls; everything I would need for my kitchen. She even threw in a large can of roach repellent. Uh-huh. Again, I had to figure out a way to get her things from Tesvie to Tchekpo. I also had to work around her departure schedule, as she needed them until the week before she departed Togo.
All PCV’s received 230 mill for move in expenses, plus their August stipend, which is 130 CFA…so total of 360 mill to basically buy everything I needed to set up house. It’s a good amount of money, but I had a lot to buy. I needed to buy a mattress, two pillows, ten cushions for my couch and two chairs and a gas stove and gas tank. Those items alone cost 150 mill. Myself and two other PCV’s talked one of the trainers into going to Lome with us one day before we left for village, He scurried us around Lome to the best buys on mattresses and cushions and fabric. He was great! We got great prices and great quality because of him. I now have a bed, that’s not on the floor, and doesn’t sink in the middle and two pillows. When I get into bed and close my eyes, it’s so comfortable, I can almost imagine that I’m in the U.S.
Kristine and Danielle gave me an excellent price for the things I bought from them. Practically gave me the stuff really. I was able to get everything I needed and even had a little money left over to have a couch and two chairs made by the local menusier (carpenter) in Tesvie. The couch and two chairs cost 34 mill. (Now I have 50 mill left!) It was nice to get something new, and have it made. They have a pretty standard pattern for couch and chairs in Togo. They pretty much all look alike, with very little variations, but I got to be creative when I bought the fabric for the cushions in Lome. The seamstress brought the slipcovers today, and I just love them!
I still had a lot of finagling to do to get all the stuff to Tcheckpo from Lome and from Tesvie, but with a little help from Blandine (our training manager) and the Peace Corps driver I had befriended, I was able to do it. However on moving day, the formitures (PCV trainers), Blandine and the driver were, how do I say this….were incredulous at all the stuff that I had amassed, and that I had to get loaded onto one van to Tcheckpo. I was the last person to leave, and we were all laughing so hard. The van was practically dragging on the ground. Blandine is a hoot anyway. She kept saying that my stuff was so nice that she was going to buy it all when I leave in two years. She just kept shaking her head and laughing, and saying that over and over. She suggested I give the driver a little extra money, because he had no idea that he was going to be moving so many things. I did, and he was happy.
The day I moved all my stuff here, I spent the entire day setting things up, and arranging the furniture, just like I’d do back in the states. I put the bed together by myself. It has four posters to hold the mosquito net, and the frame is really heavy. Kristine had included a hammer and steel nails in the bounty I bought from her, so I was well equipped to put everything together. However I was literally dripping sweat the entire day. It was hard work. The first thing I did was take out my photos of family and friends, and made a photo collage to hang on my wall. Really, that’s the very first thing I did. I didn’t have any company that first day, and I was relieved. I just wanted to spend the day by myself, settling in. Villagers and neighbors and teenagers and children paraded in the rest of the week and every time they came in, I took them to my photo collage and explained who everyone was. They loved it, and it was a really nice way to introduce myself, my family and where I come from. Part of this whole experience is to help people in other parts of the world understand Americans. Hmmmmmm. I’m not sure that I’m going to be the best example of that, but my family and friends are, and now theres a lot of people in Tcheckpo who almost feel like they know you, and really, really want to meet you.
The villagers are pretty in awe of my house in general. It’s so unlike the way they live. They do their living in their courtyards. I do my living in my house. I was prepared to live in a hut with a thatched roof, but I’m very grateful that I have my little house. It is very nice…yes indeed, but I feel compelled to tell you that I do not have electricity or running water, and I still have to take bucket showers, and use an out-house….so the house is somewhat of a façade. I said earlier, I did splurge, as did most of the PCV’s in my group and bought a two burner table top gas stove and gas tank, so that makes cooking a lot easier, than on a petrol or coal stove. However doing the dishes, is quite an endeavor. Having enough water on hand is something one always has to be thinking in advance about. I have a water filter which I have to clean and scrub every two weeks. In addition, I have to boil water for it every other day. I usually get at least three pails of water a day from the well. The well is outside my compound, about a half block away. Two-Sain, my neighbor told me I needed to get a much bigger barrel for water storage. He said that many times they will run out of water for days at a time, and that I will want to have some stored. I need water for dishes, for my water filter, to wash my clothes, for my bucket shower, and to pour into the bucket flush toilet. So it ain’t all easy street! I have lured a little ten year old girl to carry it from the well back to the house for me. She won’t take any money, but I give her a cookie or a little trinket of some kind. She just hoists that pail on her head and brings it in for me. Her name is Leah,…..so not to think I’m abusing some child labor laws…. All the kids join in the carrying of water and all the other things that need to be transported for their families, every single day. There is usually a stream of women and children with pails on their heads at the well at any given time of day. Thank God for Leah, that’s all I have to say. I carried it by myself the first couple times, and it nearly broke my back. The villagers at the well would laugh that I’d carry it (more like drag it) instead of putting it on my head. However one thing on my list of things to master while I’m here will be to learn how to carry things on my head…at least once.
Tchekpo. It’s starting to feel likehome.