Friday, September 3, 2010

Nothin is Easy in Togo!

My Generator
Since I don’t have electricity in Tchekpo, I bought a generator to charge my electronics. I have a solar charger, but the solar charger will not charge my computer. It will charge my phone and my camera and ipod. There is no cyber café (internet) in Tchekpo. The closest internet is a bush taxi and 35 very stressful minutes away. My director suggested I buy a generator. My plan is to go to Tesvie or Tagebow once a week to use the internet café. At that time I’ll cut and paste my emails to a word document (long ones anyway) read them and respond to them from home, and then cut and paste my response the following week. Sheeeesh! My neighbor Two-Sain helped me get my generator started, and he’s going to buy a 5 liter bottle of gasoline in Tagebow to keep it running for awhile. The generator is very, very loud! The sound of the generator drowns out the sounds of Africa that I like and have become accustomed to.

I’m wondering how well this will all work. Nothin is easy in Togo! I’m constantly getting used to the fact that nothing is easy. It’s doable…just not easy. You kind of always have to figure out a way to make things work the best way you can. But that’s life, right? That’s what you do every day too. For example, I decided it would be beneficial to work on my computer while it was charging. It’s charging right now. The generator is sitting outside the back door, and I have the door closed to keep the noise level down a bit. My cord stretches to my living room chair. Using my computer while it’s in the process of charging will give me an extra hour of computer time. Once my computer battery is charged I can use my computer without the generator for about two more hours, and then have to charge it again. However, it’s 5pm and I’m hungry. It gets dark at 6. I try to cook, do the dishes and bucket shower before it gets dark. I have a petrol lantern and flashlights, but I really hate cooking and showering in the dark. When I do these things in the dark, I can’t see the giant spiders that lurk in every corner. I will work on a schedule that will be as efficient as it can be. I won’t be charging my battery at this time of day anymore…probably in the early afternoon, and then use the two extra hours of my charged computer in the evening, in the quiet, without the generator, or perhaps listening to a little classical music on my ipod while I write. That sounds luxurious! I am happy that I will have better access to my computer, even if I don’t have internet access. I’m attached to my computer, and being able to use it is important to me. I try to hold onto little bits of my life before Africa). My computer is one such connection. Wearing my western clothes and listening to my music whenever I can is another.

I told myself that I would not admonish, scold or pontificate to my friends and family about all the conveniences they enjoy that they don’t think about or appreciate….so I won’t. I didn’t appreciate it. However, I imagine going home in two years, and how unbelieveably wonderful it will be to turn on a water faucet, flush a toilet, turn a light on with the flick of switch (or just have all the light I want at night), or connect to the internet, all in a flash. It might be a little early in the process for me to be dreaming of those things. I should mention the television also. I was such a TV addict in the states. I remember Kittie asking me what I was going to do without my television. Oddly, it’s the thing I miss the least. I never, ever think about it. Usually in the evening, I sit on my porch and listen to the BBC on my shortwave radio for about an hour. I get the gist of what’s happening around the world, and that suffices.

Life Without Conveniences
It took four hours today to do mainentance on my water filter. Twice a month I have to clean the “candles” two cone shaped elements inside the water filter that protect me from getting parasites and worms. I empty the water filter, take the filter apart, remove the candles, scrub the candles with a toothbrush and then fill it back up with water that has boiled and cooled. Today was the monthly water filter maintenance. I did all of the above, in addition I needed to boil the candles for twenty minutes.

I’m having a table made for my kitchen, so that I don’t have to sit on a little stool to do my dishes in the pails that line the floor. To do the dishes, I first boil the water and wash them in one pail, and then boil water and rinse them in another pail. I never leave dirty dishes overnight or even for more than an hour. I’m trying to do all that I can to keep rodents and roaches at bay. I’ve only seen two roaches in my house…but they were the biggest damn roaches I’ve ever seen. I’ve not seen any mice or rats yet. Let’s hope it stays that way! The Togolese don’t take any precautions concerning the water. They just scoop a cup of water out of their pail from the well and drink. They do use soap to wash their dishes, and they rinse them, but they don’t boil any of their water. They also are, for the most part completely unaware of personal hygiene, as far as washing their hands. The way I understand it, is they have built up immunities to these parasites, and we don’t. Knock on wood…I have not been sick one day since I’ve been here. I am diligent about following the advice and precautions that will keep me healthy.

I have been eating very well, very healthily. I don’t eat any meat or fish here. They gave us a Togo Peace Corps Cookbook. A very comprehensive cookbook. The name of it is, Where There is No Whopper. I’ve already made several recipes from it. One of the village men I visited with Alougba gave me a sack of Tapioca as a welcome gift. It was a big sack of tapioca. I’ve made tapioca pudding four or five times. The recipe was in the cookbook. It’s easy to make and I have all the ingredients on hand. Tapioca, egg, milk(powdered), sugar and vanilla. That’s it. The following are some things I eat or cook on a regular basis:
•Egg drop soup
•meatless goolash
•French toast with honey
•I buy fresh bread daily. The bread is very good. I often grill the bread in olive oil and garlic to have with my meals, or just grill it in regular vegetable oil or margarine to have as toast in the mornings or for sandwiches.
•tomato sandwiches
•fried potatoes and egg omelet often
•I’ve replaced my daily White Chocolate Mocha from Starbucks with a cup of instant coffee with powdered milk. I don’t know how, but it tastes really good every morning.
•Mint tea with honey (Togolese honey is especially delicious)
•Lots of fruit and vegetables; pineapple, bananas, mango, tomatoes, onions, a variety of beans, cucumbers and potatoes
•Maybe once a week if I’m lucky I have a salad. I can only buy lettuce in Tesvie, and it only stays fresh for about 24 hours.
All of the vegetables have to be peeled or treated before eating or cooking. The villagers often use human or animal waste for fertilizer, and they do not wash their hands before handling the produce. I soak the vegetables for thirty minutes in cooled water that had been boiled and add bleach, then I rinse it and pat it dry.

There’s been many an evening that I’ve opened a packet of Knorr Spanish Rice or Chicken and Broccoli, or a box of Kraft Macaroni and cheese or a packet of tuna salad that have been sent to me from home. I’m often exhausted by dinner time and it’s so nice to be able to make a meal in a few minutes. Kittie sends a lot of little packets from restaurants: mustard, jelly, mayonnaise, honey, etc. These are a treasure trove, because I can’t store jars of those things. My tomato sandwiches are SO good when I get to spread some mayo on them, and toast and jelly….well it’s a real treat. (This was a shameless, what they call in the advertizing biz; product placement advertisement)

In Tchekpo, visitors expect to be fed when they come over, or at the very least they would like to be fed. I think it would be perfectly ok to not offer anything. I’ve noticed that Alougba and Two Sain both often show up around dinner time, as they did tonight. They’re not too obvious or anything. They are curious about my American Food. I wasn’t going to have dinner tonight because I had a late lunch. I asked them if they were hungry, and they said yes. I made a packet of Knorr chicken and broccoli and some garlic toast. We ate dinner by candle light while trying our best to have a conversation in a mix of three different languages. We talked about the upcoming conference in Zafi which they will both be attending with me, and they are excited about it. I’ve gone over the details with them at least five times. I’ve discovered that in many situations you can transcend the language barriers. You can hear joy, excitement, fear, worry or frustration without the words that define those emotions. We have some hearty laughs with our very animated conversations. Eating this late meant I would be doing the dishes and taking a shower in the dark, but the enjoyment of the evening made it worthwhile.

Our Peace Corps trainers told us to just take the first three months to settle in, get to know the people and the culture. Pay attention and be respectful of the differences between my way of life and theirs. Just “be,” one wise veteran PCV advised. They said, don’t worry about immediately starting programs, or getting immersed in your work. I see why now. It will take time to assimilate and acclimate to this new way of living. The work and our projects will evolve and become evident over time. I can’t just step abruptly out of the security of my own familiar experience. I need this bridge of time to cross from my own experience to a new way. I will learn to work within their system. That’s my job for the next three months. Assimilate and Acclimate.

What I Miss and Don’t Miss
Nothing is easy in Togo! But I never thought anything seemed easy in the States? Just a different experience. I do miss convenience, and technology and machines that do things for you. I miss my family and friends beyond measure. I don’t miss jumping into a car to drive to the store a few blocks away, or airplanes and helicopters flying over my house. I don’t miss gas stations or my car, or car maintenance. I don’t miss shopping malls. I don’t miss television nor do I miss the constant onslaught of bad news in newspapers and on TV.

What I’ve Learned to Appreciate
Although nothing is easy in Togo, I’ve grown to appreciate the voodoo drums that have become a consistent background noise, the neighbor singing a beautiful African Song as she washes her clothes in the courtyard, the sounds and the laughter from the children all around. I appreciate the amused and astounded look on their faces when I speak their local language. I appreciate the beauty of the African night sky, which mesmerizes me, and yes I’m even starting to appreciate waking up to the sounds of the roosters. I am also beginning to appreciate this culture, these people; how hard they work daily to survive, and inspite of the harshness of their world, how they live, how they laugh, how they love and how well they take care of their families, I appreciate how generous and protective they are of me. All of these things and more make it a little bit easier in Togo, where nothing is easy.

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