Sunday, January 30, 2011

Bonne fette de Noel - Togolese Christmas

The Chief
I attended The Chiefs Annual Togolese/Voodoo Christmas Celebration at the Chiefs Compound.  I didn’t know I was going to a party that day.  Upon arrival I could see that I was in for a new experience.  A Voodoo experience.  By the time the day and the celebration was over, I was confused and I think a little disturbed.   I felt a need to understand, rationalize and/or defend their holiday ritual (s).

During the holidays the Togolese and Tchekpo community do a lot of the same things we do at home.  People who passed me on the roads and dropped by my house every day wished me a Bonne fette de Noel (Merry Christmas) and Nouveau Annee (Happy New Year.)   I received gifts of pineapples, papaya’s, and bundles of plantains.  Neighbors, new friends and people I’ve been working with here in Tchekpo sincerely thanked me for being here.  They smiled, took my hand and blessed me.  I felt their warmth and sincerity.  I also felt their merriment of the season.

The desire to express good will during the holidays is something I happily shared with my Togolese friends.  One of the things I wanted to discover for myself on this journey is, what basic traits do all humans share?  Whether they live in the suburbs of mid-america, or a small village in Africa, what do we have in common?   What is innate?  What are we born with, and what is learned?   The answer to these questions are deep, layered and multi-faceted, and would be better answered by Margaret  Meade, but I try….just the same.

The Fette

The Chief praising the gods
The Chief had his annual holiday celebration (fette) the Saturday before Christmas.  Aloughba and I walked together to the Chiefs compound.  I had recently returned from Spain, so I thought we were just going to visit….to greet the Chief.  I’ve learned to enjoy the surprises Aloughba gives me.   I never, ever know what is in store when she takes me someplace.  On this day, as we approached the Chiefs Compound I could hear music (drums) and  laughter, and I could hear roosters crowing and lambs screaming.   When we entered I was completely taken by surprise that I had arrived at the Chiefs annual holiday celebration.  I had to laugh to myself, that here I was at the Chiefs biggest celebration of the year, and I had had no idea that’s where we were going.   At least a hundred people were milling about.  The atmosphere was festive.  The Togolese dress up for these occasions, in their best complaits and head gear.  I was in my khakis and t-shirt, but no one seemed to mind.  Men and women were laughing and talking.  Children were running around chasing each other.  At first glance it seemed very similar to an American Party.  While I was sitting watching everyone....I identified couples, families, groups and compared them to my American family and friends.  For example there was a husband and wife laughing and talking to their two little children.  I thought....that could be Andrea and Mirinda and their kids.  There were two married couples sitting talking with each other...that could be Kittie and Jody talking to Pam and Richard???  I'm not sure why I play this game.  I think because their language and dress is so different, the traditions are definitely different.  Everything is different....but what about us is alike?

I made the rounds to the elders, bowed, held my elbow and shook their hands.  There is always a snap of each others pointer finger at the end of the hand shake.  It took me a while to master, but now I have the Togolese handshake down.  I greeted most of them in their local language, Ewe (e-vah).   The sodebe (local liquor) was flowing, "making spirits high."    Soon after we arrived the Chief greeted me.  I do like the Chief for many reasons.  I think he’s intelligent, and he has a very good sense of humor.  He wanted to know where my camera was.  I told him I didn't bring it.  He asked why.   I told him I didn’t know I was coming to a party, and I offered to walk home to get it.  He wanted me to, so I did.  Round trip walk about 45 minutes.   But I was glad to have the diversion of this task.  I didn’t know why, but I wasn’t feeling particularly comfortable with the crowd or the celebration.  I returned to the festivities with my camera.  Without any preconceived notions of what might occur.
Not like our celebrations at home, I can tell you that.  Well actually parts of it were similar.  It was family and friends and their children having a party, being happy to see and visit with each other, but that may be the only similarity.  This was an authentic Voodooese Fette, with all their trimmings…..they were ready to celebrate and at the same time, pay homage to their god(s)!

First up…..the slaughtering and sacrifice of two lambs.   I was shocked when I saw them hang the  two lambs by their feet and then slit their necks.  I tried hard not to look as the blood spilled out on the floor.  It all felt very surreal.   The whole day felt like an assault on my senses. It was a festival of animal sacrifice and slaughter.  The rituals certainly better defined my Voodooese friends to me.  First the lambs, then…ohhhhh… least one hundred chickens.  Apparently almost everyone had brought their own chicken(s) to sacrifice.  Before they began the chicken slaughter, they ceremoniously all knelt and bowed down with their families and with their chickens and said a prayer....I think partly asking the gods to choose their chickens. Then the chicken slaughter began.  Everything that was done was a symbol for something….how the blood spattered on the floor, how much the chickens bounced around, which direction they bounced after their throats were slit.  Apparently which way the chicken bounced and how much it bounced determined which ones were acceptable to the Gods.  One by one their necks were slit.  One by one they bounced around and fluttered.  One by one they were thrown into one of three piles.  Each pile having a significance and delivering a message from the gods. The people and the children watched and cheered.  The Chief had the task of deciphering which chickens the gods had sanctioned to be eaten on that day.   The two lambs and the chosen chickens were skinned, de-feathered, cut up, cooked and eaten.  I wanted to understand everything.  I thought it might help me tolerate it all better, if I understood the religious or voodoo significance of it all.  It seemed to me that "tolerance" was going to be something I needed to cultivate.  Because I did not understand everything that was going on, it just seemed very primal, and cruel.  The rituals I witnessed made me feel differently about these people I have grown to respect and love.  It disturbed me.  I realized that I would need to process all of this.  Try to understand this part of their human  nature.   

A little history lesson on Voodoo

In Tchekpo,  in America and all over the world, there are many “Christians” and many various religious denominations of “Christians.”   As Christians, Africans celebrate the birth of Christ (Bonne fette de Noel).  They have accepted Christ as their Savior and as their one true, and only God.  The missionairies did a good job converting the “natives” of Africa.  Christianity gave the people of Africa good news and hope in a world that was otherwise extremely harsh to them in all ways…weather, hunger, poverty, war.  The good news was that as harsh as this life on earth is, if they are good “Christians” if they follow the teachings of Jesus Christ they will enjoy eternal happiness.  Hope of the heaven that was described to them, was more than enough to convince them to denounce their voodoo ways.  On the surface anyway.   It is a conflict of belief systems.  Believing that Jesus is the one true God, and yet as Animists (Voodooese) they believe in many Gods.   They cannot dismiss the lore that has been handed down for the past 6,000 years.  The word "voodoo" comes from the Fon language.  It means "sacred," "spirit" or "deity." [source: National Public Radio: Radio Expeditions].  .

Animism or voodoo is by definition a cult; a cult that constitutes a system of religious beliefs and rites which are used principally to reinforce the social system as well as the dependence of the family (isn’t this what all religion does?)—and at the same time, voodoo recognizes spirits, guardians, deities, or forces of nature. Voodoo originated in Africa.  Voodoo is ubiquitous in Tchekpo, with approximately 95% of It’s people actively practicing voodoo.  It is a way of life.  It filters into their lives at every juncture.  Voodoo beliefs and rituals are intertwined in their work, with their families and their justice system, their health, and their deaths.   Voodoo is a HUGE subject that influences everything the people in my village do, in spite of the fact that so many of them are also converted Christians.   They practice both Christianity and Voodoo, even though they are very conflicting beliefs.  I do not know how they reconcile the conflict.  Sometimes I think they've just decided to hedge their bets, and commit to both.  Living a good and decent life is a part of both religions.

Voodoo, In religious theory, is the conception of a spiritual reality behind the material one: for example, they believe the soul is a shadowy duplicate of the body capable of independent activity, both in life and death. Since Voodoo is primarily an oral tradition, the names of gods, as well as the specifics of different rituals, can change in different regions or from generation to generation. However, African Voodoo has several consistent qualities no matter where people practice it. Along with the belief in multiple gods and spiritual possession, these beliefs include:

•Veneration of ancestors
•Rituals or objects used to convey magical protection
•Animal sacrifices used to show respect for a god, to gain its favor or to give thanks
•The use of fetishes, or objects meant to contain the essence or power of particular spirits
•Ceremonial dances, which often involve elaborate costumes and masks
•Ceremonial music and instruments, especially including drums
•Divination using the interpretation of physical activities, like tossing seed hulls or pulling a stone of a certain color from a tree
•The association of colors, foods, plants and other items with specific loa(God) and the use of these items to pay tribute to the loa (God).

Many of these traits, particularly ancestor worship, polytheism, and the importance of music and dance, are important elements of Voodoo.  Many observances appear to be part celebration, part religious service incorporating rhythmic music, dancing and songs. Many rituals take advantage of the natural landscape, such as rivers, mountains or trees. Through decoration and consecration, ordinary objects, like pots, bottles or parts of slaughtered animals, become sacred objects for use in rituals.  I've come to recognize all of these things, as I walk through the village.  Sometimes I'll be walking with Aloughba and point to something I think is an artful arrangement of plants and/or pottery, and she tells me that it is voodoo.  A sacred prayer created for the gods, maybe to stop children from dying, or to bring rains for the crops. 

I’m sure I’m just understanding the tip of the ice berg as far as voodoo is concerned.  I didn’t want to delve into it for a long time.  Didn’t think I really needed to.  Thought I could just experience it on the surface, an arms length away.  But really if I’m to understand the people of Tchekpo I must understand their roots, and their religion and their beliefs. 

At the Chiefs Annual Christmas Celebration I saw the ritual of lambs and hundreds of chickens slaughtered and offered to the Gods.  It is tempting to dismiss these rituals as hocus pocus.  Then I think…what if we were dropped into the U.S. for the very first time and went to a Catholic Church for the very first time and we saw this man all dressed up in colorful, flowing robes, with young men assisting him in his rituals.  We see people with beads in their hands...chanting together, and bowing and kneeling in front of statues??   And then we are told that this man (high priest) can change wine into blood and bread into the body of Christ???  How odd would it be to hear something like that for the very first time?   Voodoo rituals are beyond my understanding, my comprehension, but maybe they aren’t so different from our rituals after all?  They are, of course different.  Very different, but it seems that they all do the same thing.  We ask for help and the rituals provide hope.

Celebrating the Holidays in Togo - American Style

I had been preparing myself for the holidays in Togo, or I might say bracing myself.  I wasn’t sure how hard it would be, and couldn’t imagine what it would feel like to be away from my friends and kids and grandkids.  I knew one thing for sure.  My trip to Spain helped ease the blow.  I know I would have had a much harder time if I hadn’t had that wonderful trip and been with family just before Christmas.  

Many other people made the holidays here easier for me.  Kittie and Pam both sent Christmas packages full of extra special things, including Christmas treats, a little Christmas tree, a Christmas stocking, and even wrapped Christmas gifts.  Pam and Richard sent me the old version of the movie…The Bishops Wife, a sweet Christmas story with Loretta Young,  David Niven and Cary Grant.  I watched it on Christmas Day after church.  It was fun to watch and brought back sweet memories of watching it with my mom and gramma.  I got great packages from my friend Dixie, and my brother and his wife Joanne.  Both had really fun, interesting and nutritious treats.  Dixie’s  package was of course fun and creative..just like her (I know she would want me to also give credit and thanks to her husband Joe, and son Jesse).  Her package was full of fun things, and delicious things.  She included little individual containers of dill pickles.  Who knew dill pickles could taste SO good.  My sister Nancy’s  package included a book and a book light.  The book light was a great idea.  I’ve been able to read every night after dark.  Karen; E.J.’s mom sent a package full of candy canes.  She thought it would be fun to show the kids in Tchekpo our tradition of candy canes.  She was right.  Word spread fast about the candy canes.  The kids loved them, and it was fun to see them understanding what I meant when I explained that we hang them on the tree.  

l'ecole No. 5 Bonne Fette de Noel
I got a lot of other things, all appreciated.  I was especially glad to get more candy.  I had taken back tons of candy from Spain, but had given every single piece of it away.  I thought that stash of candy would last a long time, but I went through it in days.   I’m so glad I had it, because my Togolese friends expected a little cadeu(gift) from me for Noel.   School adjourns over the holidays, just like in the U.S.  I went to my project primary school on the last day before the holiday…toting my sack of candy.  It was a fun day.  The kids were all lined up by class, and several kids in each class got awards for good work.  It was quite ceremonious.  After the award ceremony they sang We Wish You a Merry Christmas to moi.  I then proceeded to dole out a few pieces of candy to each and every 225 of them.  I felt like Santa Claus, however they have no concept of Santa Claus, and as hard as I tried to explain the phenomena of Santa Claus, I could see they really couldn’t comprehend it.

Christmas Eve, Tamara, the PCV in Tesvie had a dinner party for the PCV’s who live in our Maritime Region.  There were similar PCV parties throughout Togo.  There were about eight PCV’s going to Tamara’s  and we all arrived in Tesvie around 4pm on Christmas Eve.  Tamara likes to have parties, and she loves to cook.  She outdid herself.  She had h’ors douvres, and drinks, and even ice.  She amazes me….no one can get ice in Togo, but there it was.  I even had a couple, gin and tonics on ice with lime. Mmmmmmm.  Dinner was delicious, and she had baked two delectible cakes for desert.   Everyone sat around visiting, listening to music, and all stayed the night.  Tamara has access to internet, so I spent a lot of that evening on-line, sending emails and reading facebook.  I had my computer set up just behind where the rest of the PCV’s were  sitting in a circle so I could join in the conversation while being online at the same time.  No one minded that I was only half there.  PCV’s are very non-judgmental here.  You do what you gotta do to survive the best way you can.  For me….it was important to have the internet connection.

I also received a Christmas phone call from each of my daughters;  Andrea and Emily.  Of course we missed each other, but I could tell they were having a very nice, warm Christmas Eve with their families.  They were happy, and it made me happy.  After I exhausted my internet connection I fell asleep on a matt on the ground in Tamara’s courtyard around midnight.  I woke up about 5:30am.  I had planned on leaving early Christmas morning so I could catch church services in Tchekpo.  Everyone was still sleeping soundly when I left at 6am.  I caught a moto and arrived home about 7am.  Church started at 8.  The strangeness of catching a moto at 6am on Christmas morning in Africa did not escape me.  I wasn’t unhappy, but I did feel a bit disconnected.  The church service was very nice and festive.  Beautiful music.  The kids put on a play about the three wise men and the night Jesus was born.  It was cute and touching.  After church, I wanted to be alone.  I wasn’t sad.  I just wanted to be alone.  I closed my front door and window shutters, went into my bedroom, laid down on my bed and watched the Bishops Wife.  After the movie I fell asleep for a few hours.  When I woke up, I took my hand-made Christmas Cards around to a few friends.  It was fun to make and give my  cards to my Togolese friends.  I gave Aloughba one of my cards and I put dix mil inside of it.  That’s about twenty American dollars, and like a thousand dollars to a person in Tchekpo.   I thought that she probably very rarely had ever had that much money at one time.  Aloughba has never asked me for one thing, and she has been such a good community partner and friend.  She has helped me so much.  I was looking forward to her opening the card.  Well…it nearly killed her.  Really, I thought she was going to faint.  She screamed and practically dropped to her knees.  I knew she’d be happy and excited, but wow….her reaction exceeded all expectations.  It was a delightful moment.

I had many lovely, touching American and Togolese moments through the holidays.  Including when my three kids called me at midnight my time on New Years Eve.  They were all together.  They were laughing and having fun.  They told me everything they were eating, and what everyone was doing.  My four year old grandson Cooper wished me the most sincere, and sweet wish for the new year.     Tres gentile.  (Very nice).  2011 off to a good start!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Spain = Happiness

I returned from Madrid on Friday, December 17th. It was a whirlwind trip, and I’d have to say it was ten days of bliss. Eric, my son, had planned on visiting me here in Tchekpo. We both were looking forward to the visit. The entire village of Tchekpo was very excited that he was coming. They had planned dinners, Tom-Tom dances, and a myriad of activities. He was supposed to fly in on Saturday, December 5th. I had been in Pagala, Togo the week prior for a Peace Corps week-long conference for my particular Peace Corps Program…Small Enterprize Development. On Saturday when the conference ended, I went directly from Pagala to Lome. About a four hour drive. I had planned on picking Eric up at the airport that evening. Just after I arrived in Lome Eric called and told me that there was an air-traffic controller strike in Spain. No flights were coming or going. He didn’t know how long it would last, and didn’t know if he’d be able to come. He sounded tired and discouraged. Eric had only that week to visit. I was desolate. Apparently Eric spent all that day at the airport in Madrid trying to catch a flight, but everything had been cancelled. Finally after waiting for ten hours, he headed home. He kept in contact with me via the telephone, and gave me updates. I spent the night at a hotel in Lome, and waited for news. Sunday morning Eric called and said, there was no way he could get here. They were resuming flights, but his had been cancelled and there are only two flights a week to Lome, so he wouldn’t be able to get out until Thursday, which would give him only three days here. UGH! I knew that he was as disappointed as I was. I decided to stay one more night in Lome……for the most part to just process the turn of events, and secondly, to stay in an air-conditioned room for another night. Eric sent an email that night saying he and E.J. had found a flight FOR ME to Madrid the very next day and they wanted me to consider coming there. At first, I didn’t even consider it. I just didn’t see how it could be done. My director needed to be notified, the people in my village needed to know, and I didn’t have my passport in Lome. He and E.J. called me that night, and convinced me it could be done. It seemed like an impossible feat, but I had talked with a couple other Peace Corps volunteers who thought I was nuts not to do it. There was also the guilt of me spending their money on an airline ticket. Eric argued that his ticket was fully refunded, so he considered it a net, net. I told him that was a “Nichols net, net.” We both laughed; innately understanding our inherited system of Nichols accounting priniciples. I said ok…I’m comin to Spain!! I think he was so genuinely happy that I was coming, that any difficulties I thought I might encounter seemed all of a sudden do-able. Oh yeah, it was a little complicated and exhausting getting everything done in one day to fly to Spain for ten days. I had to take a bush taxi to Tchekpo (2 hours each way) to pick up my passport and to tell some of the key people there,not only was Eric not coming, but I was going to be gone for ten days. I could see the very real disappointment in their eyes, but they were also happy for me. Then back to Lome to meet with my Director Alex. Alex threw all bureaucracy out the window, stamped my form for approval, and said bon voyage!! I got everything done and arrived at the airport at 8pm. The flight left at 11pm. “Nothing is easy in Togo,” even leaving Togo. Of course there were problems checking in. Eric had put the airline ticket on his credit card. This was not a normal transaction for the Lome airport, and they did not trust that I was who I said I was and suggested I might be illegally using someone elses credit card. It didn’t matter to them that I had two passports with pictures saying who I was, In addition I had a Peace Corps Identification card with my picture on it. They still did not trust me. After a dozen phone calls to/from Eric talking to me, and then talking to the airline employee they still were balking. I think, possibly sometime after an hour of arguing I might have “copped” an attitude, because they only got more reluctant. Finally they made me call the Country Director of the Peace Corps in Togo so that she could verify who I was, and so that she could guarantee payment if the credit card turned out to be stolen. Oy veh!!! How I happened to have the Country Directors phone number and that she happened to answer, I’ll never know, but I guess God was on my side. She verified who I was, and said that they would pay if I indeed turned out to be a fraud. A lot to ask of the Country Director.

So, at 10:45 I was allowed to board the 11pm flight to Madrid. Pretty sure with one more blocked blood vessel. There was to be one transfer of planes in Brussels. The plane to Brussells (about a six hour flight) was only half full, so I was able to stretch out in the middle seats. I slept the entire way. Then I passed through all the Brussels customs without a hitch, and a few hours later found my well rested self in the beautiful, bustling city of Madrid! I’d never given much thought to Spain or Madrid. Now I think it should be on every travelers list as a “must see.” Madrid is fabulous!

I think the entire time I was there, I was kind of in culture shock, though I didn’t realize it at the time. In fact I kept thinking how easily I was adjusting to being back in civilization. But I’m sure I experienced “culture shock” times two…..both in Madrid and upon my return to Tchekpo. Now that I’m settled back in Tchekpo, I can see that I was in a kind of very fuzzy state of mind. Fuzzy or not, I had the most wonderful time! Everything about it was wonderful. First and most importantly I got to spend time with my one year old grand-daughter Dorothy. She had only a few minutes of reservation about me being a stranger. I was very determined to bond with her before I left for Togo, and I think E.J.(my son’s partner) instinctively wanted to make sure that happened also. He brought Dorothy to Kansas City a number of times, so that I could spend quality time with her. She and I did bond during those trips. I also have been able to video-skype with them a few times since I’ve been in Togo. How the world has changed! Little Dorothy trying to touch the computer screen and looking at me via video. So Dorothy’s few minutes of reservation was about processing the real me with the person who had previously been cooing and awing and throwing her kisses via video. I think it all came together for her though, because she hugged me, and played with me, and laughed with me, as if I truly was someone she knew and recognized and trusted. I was greeted with her big smile, and a curious look on her face each morning. I imagined that she was thinking…oh yayyyy…she’s still here! Ok, ok…that just might have been my imagination.

While in Madrid I enjoyed some of the following benefits of civilization……every morning, I walked a couple blocks to Starbucks, and there I met my old friend, the white chocolate mocha. Every morning!! Some days E.J.and Dorothy walked with me, and some days I just went by myself. The white chocolate mocha was just as good as I remembered. I savored the chilly walk as well as the hot drink. Eric and E.J. took me to a half dozen wonderful restaurants. I put back on, seven of the twenty pounds I’ve lost. Nothing better than Spanish tapas, especially in Spain. I also enjoyed Diet Coke on ice. And just ICE!!! Candy and cookies, and delicious pastries. One night, upon request, I made one of Eric and E.J.’s favorite dinners. Meatloaf, mashed potatoes and gravy. It tasted wonderful to all of us. A little piece of Americana…home. I told Eric not to dare tell Emily. It might just be too much for her. Missing me is one thing, but I know she longs for my meat loaf. I enjoyed the cool air, and sleeping in a soft bed. It was a pleasure having a warm comforter to snuggle under. The hot shower and flush toilet and electricity were a bonus. I got used to all the amenities in about two days. Funny how quickly we can adapt.

One night we bundled Dorothy up and walked a few blocks to a double decker bus that was touring the city’s Christmas lights. We sat on the top level. It was cold, but a good cold. Madrids Christmas lights are second to none. We all enjoyed the excursion immensely. For the first time it felt like Christmas. They also took me to IKEA. I Haven’t been in a mall or a department store, or really even a store (with the exception of the yo-vo stores in Lome) in over six months. IKEA challenged me. All the cars, and people, and all the things! I enjoyed riding in Eric’s Audi….so different from my moto’s and bush taxi’s. I didn’t detect one rut or bump in the road. Eric and E.J. treated me to an overnight trip to Alhambra. Alhambra

is an ancient, historic Spanish town with beautiful castles and palaces built during the time of Christ. I’m sorry to say I knew next to nothing about the history of Alhambra, but it has peaked my curiosity. One day I intend to read and learn more about it. It was breathtakingly beautiful. On the way to Alhambra we stopped in the quaint little Spanish town of

Toledo (sister city of Toledo, Ohio), and driving through the country from Toledo to Alhambra we saw some of Eric’s work. Rolling fields of beautiful, graceful windmills that looked as if they grew out of the ground instead of having been built there. He seems to love his work, and I can understand why. Being a leader in a company that produces natural energy worldwide.

Since Eric had been planning on coming to Tchekpo, he and E.J. had asked me to put together a list of things for him to bring. Things that I had been needing, or things that would make my life a little more comfortable. I sent them a series of emails as I thought of items they might bring. Eric and E.J. had an entire suitcase of stuff packed for me to take back. It was a treasure trove!!! Candles (I now have light after 6pm), and candy and batteries, and sheets and pillow cases, and nice smelling soap and shampoo to name a few. E.J. and I spent the entire day before I left packing and repacking the suitcases until all the weight was an acceptable limit. E.J. also got me a new solar charger, and he labeled every piece of equipment I have with my name and contact information and what it was for. What a gift! I enjoyed spending time with E.J. as I always do. He’s so easy to be around, nice, generous, and thoughtful with his time.

The trip home didn’t have one hiccup, though it could have been mind boggling disasterous in about four different places. Madrid to Brussels, Brussels to Lome, and then a taxi from Lome to Tchekpo. Three times through customs….very short layover in Brussels, and finding a cab and dependable driver to take me all the way back to Tchekpo in the dark. It was smooth sailing. It was so quiet, not a rooster crowing, a goat bahhing, a bat chirping or a drum beating. It was just quiet, and very, very dark. I had left the house clean and tidy, as I had readied it for Eric’s arrival before I left for Pagala. I had been away from Tchekpo for three weeks now. I wondered how it would be re-adjusting. I sat on my porch for a while and just looked at the stars and listened to the quiet, then went to bed. The next day was strangely quiet as well. I began to worry if the villagers were mad at me. No one stopped by the entire day. Not one person. While this surprised me, at the same time I welcomed the time to unpack and settle in all by myself. My worries were put to rest the following day, as many neighbors and friends started to stop by, all so happy to see me. I’ve noticed that my friends in Tchekpo seem to give me space at needed times. I don’t know if it’s planned or purposeful, but they do allow me a certain amount of time to adjust when I return from a trip. I think it’s purposeful….a gift of thoughtfulness. It took the whole following week to settle in, get my water and my water filter going. Buy groceries, sweep the house, wash my clothes, get used to the heat and bucket showers. Settle in, I did, and I’m happy to be back.

To Eric, E.J. and Dorothy. I could not have had a more wonderful time, or better timing to help me get through the holidays. Your thoughtfulness and generosity is much more than I deserve. I carry the image of Dorothy’s laugh and happy face with me wherever I go. When I see children her age here in Tchekpo, I think of how lucky she is to have you both, and about what a wonderful life she’s going to have.

From the bottom of my heart….thank you…..I love you.

p.s. A special thank you to Ruth (Dorothy’s nanny). She is a delightfully, funny, sweet, pretty young woman. I rode the bus one day with her and Dorothy to Jamboree (playtime for toddlers). Again, I’m thrown into trying to communicate through the language barrier. This time Spanish, but Ruth was fun, and I’m so glad that Eric and E.J. found her, and that Dorothy has her. And last but not at all least, her Spanish tortilla….might be the best thing I’ve ever eaten in my LIFE!!! I have the recipe and will be making it for the chief.