Sunday, January 30, 2011

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!

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