Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Night the Lights Went on in Tchekpo!

Thursday February 3, 2011 was a night that will be remembered by all the residents of Tchekpo.  It was the night the lights went on in Tchekpo.  It was the night they got “electric current.”  That’s what they call electricity.  Electric current.  The first time I met the Chief, last July, he told me that Tchekpo would be getting electric current in December.  We’re only two months past schedule.  That in itself is pretty impressive for Togo.

For the past six months I’ve watched progress slowly and steadily invade my little village of Tchekpo.  I saw the huge trucks roll into town. I watched the workers slowly and systematically chop down ancient trees and clear brush from each side of the main road.  I watched the poles go up, one by one.  I watched them string the wire from pole to pole, rolling the wire off their giant spools.  The workers never looked like they were in much of a hurry.  Little by little they got the job done.  I never heard anyone in Tchekpo talking about the coming of electric current in Tchekpo.  I was the only one who talked about it, and I brought it up often.  “When do you think we’ll get it?”  Are you excited about Tchekpo getting electricity?”  Everyone I asked appeared to be pretty unimpressed about the prospect.  I decided their reaction, or non-reaction to this phenomena was because they just had no idea how it would impact or change their lives.  For me…..All I wanted was two things.  A fan, and an easy way to charge my electronics.  I don’t even care about light.  I’ve gotten used to living without light after 6pm….but a fan….oh a fan, would definitely change and enhance my life for my remaining months in Tchekpo. 

It’s the hot season in Togo right now.  From January through May.  I had always heard that the hot season went through March, so I’ve looked forward to the end of March.  I’ve had a big smiley face on my calendar on the last day of March to mark the occasion.  I’ve thought…HA…if I make it through to the end of March, I can go the distance for sure.  The other day I was talking to a Togolese woman about making it through March.  She laughed, and said  “the hot season lasts through May!!”  That little bit of information stopped me dead in my tracks.…I fell to my knees and screamed in a voice that sounded more demonic than like my own voice…NO! NO! NO!…tell me it isn’t true!  It can’t be true…..and then I wept uncontrollably.  Ok..well, not really, but that’s what was going through my mind.  Instead I slapped the woman who told me.  Ok…not really, but I wanted to.  Now my only hope for survival was the coming of electric current….and a fan.

How do I cope with the heat?  I take at least four bucket showers a day, and at night when I go to bed, I lay a big thick towel on my bed, and a little towel over my pillow then I just step outside my back door and poor a bucket of water over myself…over my nightgown and all.  Then I crawl into bed soaking wet.  It works!  However half way through the night I wake up, completely dry, except for the sweat.  I get up, out of bed, half asleep, fumble around for my flashlight, walk down the hall, knocking into the walls, step outside my back door, and once again poor a bucket of nice cool water over myself.  This is an every day/every night occurance.  Approximately four bucket showers a day, and two at night. Electricity and a fan, would be a really nice addition, don’t you think?  As stifling as the heat and humidity is….It is surprisingly bearable once you come to terms with it.  Once you develop your coping mechanisms.  Nothing…and I mean nothing feels better than those bucket showers, and then I’m good to go for at least a couple more hours. My friends in Tchekpo are used to the heat, in fact when there is a rare cool day….let’s say the temperature is 95 instead of 105, they pull out their jackets and long sleeved shirts, and tell me they are cold.  Yeah…it is beyond my comprehension that when I am finally a little bit comfortable, they are uncomfortably cold.

David's Birthday Party
The night the lights went on…
I had a birthday party for David, my French teacher the night the lights went on.  David helps me teach my English class to adults, and I help him teach English at the high school.  He has become a very valuable partner.  He helps me with all my projects.  I told him the other day, to his delight, that he was a Mover and a Shaker.  He asked me to repeat, and then he wrote it down, and laughed.  Now every time I see him, he laughs and says, “I am a Mover and a Shaker.”  No one can say Mover and Shaker like David says it.  He sounds like an evangelical preacher when he says it.  He roars it….”I am a Mover and a Shaker.”  

David turned 35.  The birthday party was fun.  I had invited about ten people to my house, most from our English class.  I served my version of Togolese h’ors douvres.  Popcorn and sliced bread with peanut butter and honey.  I also made a pitcher of lemonaide.  David and Mr. Hugnon were the last to arrive and the last to leave.  Mr. Hugnon is the prinicipal of the grade school we are helping.  When David came in the door, we all sang Happy Birthday to him.  We sang in English, French and Ewe, just like we had done for my son Eric on his birthday.  Only we sang to Eric over the phone.   David was so obviously enjoying the attention and festivities.  The party was fun, and after we ate and drank, we sat around in circle and talked.  At the end of the party, upon request from the guests, we sang songs, including the hokey pokey, which I taught them in our Adult English Class.  I taught them the hokey pokey as a fun way for them to learn the English translation of the human body parts.  They LOVE the hokey pokey, and it has now become a ritual at the end of every class. When the party was over, it was dark.  David and Mr. Hugnon were the last to leave.  They returned to my house just a few minutes after they had left.  I heard them shouting outside my door…”Adoowah, Adoowah (Adoowah is my Ewe name,) the lights are on, we can see them!”  They asked me if I wanted to walk down to the rue (main street) with them to join in the celebration.   It was so fun.  I was glad they came back to get me.  It was sweet sharing the experience with David and Mr. Hugnon.  People were laughing and skipping and very excited about the lights. Music was blaring from the local bar.  I could tell Mr. Hugnon and David were excited as well. It was impossible not to get caught up in the celebration. At one point we stopped by the side of the road.  Mr. Hugnon dusted off a large fallen tree trunk.  It was a magical moment, as the three of us sat on the tree stump and watched people dance in the streets.  We could see the look of wonderment and joy on their faces. 

The night sky, from my porch
Ahhhh progress!! As often happens with progress you gain something, and you lose something.  The lives of my friends in Tchekpo will be forever changed.  The first thing I noticed on my way home that night was that the glow of the electric lights from the main road had already dimmed the beautiful night sky that I’ve come to enjoy so much. Every night before I go to bed I sit on my porch at dusk, and watch darkness descend on my little village. The stars, and the streaks of color;  purple, yellow, orange are like no other sky I’ve seen, anywhere. I sometimes think the night sky is the only “pretty” thing about Togo.  Often the sky is so clear, and the stars and the moon are so bright that you don’t need a flashlight to see.  Now we have progress, we have electricity, and the sky has dimmed….quite a bit.  Now there is a haze, a glow from town.  The stars are very noticeably not as bright.  Soon the houses will have electric current, and instead of sitting around the fires in their courtyards discussing their day, they will find new things to do.  Before electric current children and teenagers studied before dark, or by flashlight or lantern after dark.  In Tchekpo, the day for all intensive purposes ends at dusk.  At dusk the family gathers around the fire, where they cook and eat dinner and talk about the days activities.  Except for the voodoo drums, all is quiet in Tchekpo after 7pm.  What will it be like now?  What wonders and opportunities, and benefits will electricity bring to Tchekpo.  What will end?

The night the lights went on in Tchekpo is the night my friends lives were forever altered...and for me...I got a few days closer to getting a fan.


  1. Greetings from USA! I love your blog.
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  2. My name is Frank Wallace and I was the PCV in Tchekpo from August 2008-July 2009. Your blog was forwarded to me by my fiancée. Thank you for writing this. I never got around to publishing my thoughts and experiences. They remain tucked away somewhere in journals I may never find. I hope you are finding your experience in Tchekpo and Togo in general to be both rewarding and enjoyable.
    I am sorry about the empty house. Everything I had was purchased by other PCVs; otherwise I would have left it furnished. I am sure you are coping well with hot season, especially if you can get a fan. If not, I recommend putting a lit picot on the roof as well as a bed frame and mosquito net. You get to sleep under the stars and avoid some of the hot, stale air that stagnates in the house. Unfortunately, you’ll still need the bucket of water.
    Keep up the great work. -Frank