|The Airport..They have arrived!|
Eric is a world traveler, but Emily prefers to stay a little closer to home in Overland Park, Kansas. Her interest and determination in coming here surprised me. They were only going to be here six full days, so I had to make it as efficient as possible. It’s not easy to be efficient in Togo. Their flight arrived at 3:05 A.M. With the help of Peter, the Peace Corps Security Officer I arranged to have a driver pick me up and take me to the airport at 2:00 A.M.
|House in Lome|
|The pool (obviously)|
They passed through customs with ease. Eric generously tipped a man who was showing him what to do next. He unknowingly gave the man about a months’ salary. No wonder they like Americans!! Once through customs my driver was outside waiting to drive us to the house. It was about 3am. We were exhausted. After taking a tour of the house and visiting for a little while we all three fell asleep for about four hours. Emily and I woke up first. We tried to rouse Eric, but he kept saying, just a minute, just a minute (Ha! Some things never change). Emily and I walked down the road to a street vendor where I always go for breakfast when I’m in Lome. It’s also near the Peace Corps Headquarters. There were three other PC Volunteers there eating breakfast at a plastic table. Emily and I sat with them, ordered, and visited with them. To say Emily is a picky eater is putting it mildly. I know she was worried that she might starve to death in Togo. Well this would be her first cuisine experiment. This little street vendor happens to make the best egg sandwiches ever, and they have a version of café au lait’ that is always a treat for me when I come to Lome. Emily and I had an egg sandwich and each had a café au lait’. We ordered an egg sandwich to take back for Eric. She liked the egg sandwich and loved the café’ au lait’! It’s brave eating at these little street café’s for the first time. It’s a little like a concession stand at a ballpark. They have stools, and a canopy that hangs
|Emily making foo-foo, traditional African Meal|
Emily was taking it all in…..eyes wide. Her first cuisine in Tchekpo. I think she felt relief on this first day of her trip that she might not starve in Togo after all.
|Me and Eric|
We walked the beach for awhile and then caught a taxi to go to the marche for lunch. All along I wanted to impress Emily and Eric with my French and my negotiating skills with taxi drivers and vendors. All along I saw a bemused if not respectful look on Eric’s face. He like my fellow PCV’s is incredulous that I switch from French to English from one word to the next, mid sentence, without flinching. I don’t really realize that I do it. I simply speak French until I don’t know a word and then I will slip in an American word without skipping a beat, as if this is a perfectly acceptable, hoping that 1) it will go unnoticed and 2) they will somehow understand my English injections. It is noticed more often than not…and I am not understood more often than not. Eric…being quite linguistic capable, was quite confused about my methods. Hey….it works for me. I negotiated in French with a cab driver to take us to the Grand Marche.
The marche…..Pure Afrique. We were to meet John my PCV Program Trainer, and Alex my Program Director for lunch. We got there a little early so had time to roam the marche and buy a few items. Now Emily and Eric relied on me to disquiter (negotiate prices) with vendors. I do think I impressed them. Ha! How would they know? The marche was wildly crowded, bustling with cars and vendors and people walking shoulder to shoulder, many carrying massive items on their heads. I stole a couple glances at Emily and Eric. Emily was wide-eyed, snapping photos of the chaos that surrounded her. Eric was curious and pensive; studying everything with the eye of the world traveler he is. Neither seemed afraid. Both appeared to know this experience was something quite unique and special. At one point we were looking through the items of a row of vendors. Eric had found some things that captured his attention while Emily and I roamed a little way around the corner. This is where I almost died, and Emily almost witnessed my death. I was standing very near the street, where cars and moto’s whiz by. I had a light-weight backpack on my back. The backpack had only nylon strings that fastened around my shoulders, under my arms. All of a sudden a moto came by, turned the corner and the moto handlebars hooked under the strings of my backpack, pulling me into the street and knocking me down. I don’t know if the moto driver was aware that he had caught me. I think probably he was, though he didn’t slow down, but luckily his handlebars turned enough that it dislodged from my backpack. By this time I was already on the ground. Everything was kind of a blur. I saw Emily above me. She had a look of horror on her face. While lying on my back on the ground I could hear her and some of the vendors standing over me asking me if I was ok. I really wasn’t sure if I was. I didn’t see how I could be, but I was…I was ok. Luckily I had not hit my head and, really, by some miraculous feat I hadn’t hurt myself…. There were five or six vendors who were very attentive and concerned and insisted that I sit on a little squat bench for awhile. After a few minutes I felt I was ok. I tried to get up, but they; all of the vendors and Emily made me sit a while longer. Soon Eric moseyed around the corner, completely unaware of the happenings. He saw me on the bench and saw Emily and the vendors hovering over me. Emily relayed the story to Eric. I'm not sure he fully grasped the situation. He just looked so confused. I finally insisted I was ok and it was time to move on, although I felt a little spacey. I think Emily and I both knew that it had been a very dangerous situation. We just proceeded, as if nothing happened? Yep. We hit a few more vendors then headed to the restaurant. Welcome to Togo!
|John, Emily, Eric, Alex|
Alex and John showed up on time. We had a lovely lunch. John is a big teddy bear of a man; soft-spoken, kind, sweet, extremely serious about his work. He has two masters with a specialty in renewable energy so I thought that he and Eric would have a lot to talk about. John and Alex are both born and raised in Togo, but both speak fluent English. Alex attended American University in Washington D.C. and lived in Washington D.C. for six years. I love Alex. He can and is serious when he needs to be, but he has a wonderful sense of humor. I go out of my way just to make him laugh, so I can hear it. Eric gave me an awesome safari like hat before I came here. Alex loves it. He always tells me he'd like to have one just like it. I plan on giving it to him when I leave. Lunch was pleasant. I was happy that these four people I care about could meet.
After lunch we caught a taxi back to the house, sat by the pool and visited for awhile, and then took a nap (repose.) When we woke up we walked back to PCV headquarter. I introduced Emily and Eric to a few more people, and arranged to meet some of the PCV’s for dinner that night at my other favorite restaurant; Philopat’s We stayed at the Peace Corps office until time for dinner. I double checked with Peter the PC Security Officer that our driver would pick us up the next morning around 8am to go to Kpalime. The restaurant was located right at mid-point between Peace Corps Headquarters and Francoise house. Dinner was lovely. We had salad and pizza and wine, and four Peace Corps Volunteers joined us. After dinner we walked back to the house, sat around the pool for just a little while and then fell into bed exhausted. I fell asleep so happy and content and thinking how smooth everything had gone so far, with the exception of my near-death experience. I really couldn’t believe our good fortune….cause nothing is easy in Togo.
|Me and Ashley|
|Dinner at my house...They are SO brave!|
|Eric, Chantal, Ashley|
“No rest for the wicked” Immediately after finishing our batik Ashley had moto’s waiting for each of us at Chantal’s and we were on our way to the mountains to tour a coffee plantation. The coffee plantation is another successful business the Peace Corps helped grow. The moto ride was exhilarating fun and a beautiful scenic ride through the mountains and mountain villages…higher, and higher we climbed until finally after about half hour ride we reached the top. Once there we were greeted by the owner of the plantation. He guided us through a fascinating tour of his coffee plantation, stopping all along the way to explain the process and each step of the process to the grand finale of roasting the beans and packaging them. He also opened a mature Coffee fruit plant, showed us, and had us taste it. Observing the roasting of the beans reminded us how very primitive this business still is. The beans are roasted over a small clay oven in a primitive metal pot outside in a thatched roof paillot, with a woman constantly, manually stirring and taste testing the beans until perfect. The packaging would fool anyone about the primitive process the beans had gone through. The packaging is as bright, and nice as any coffee packaging you would see in the U.S. The packaging technique was just one of many advisory contributions the Peace Corps made so that this man would have a viable product to not only sell locally, but also to export. After the tour we were all tired, but excited to take the final moto ride back down the mountain. Our moto drivers had patiently waited for us to finish our tour, and a couple of them had even joined us. The ride down the mountain was even more fun; faster! The weather was beautiful and the view supreme.
We pulled up to the entrance of my house. I could detect that Emily and Eric were a little apprehensive, but at the same time glad to finally be in my village, not to mention out of the car. Before we had all our feet and luggage out the door, Mahsoblee and Regina ran up to us and greeted us. Mahsoblee is the little, six year old girl I’ve been helping and Regina is her BFF. They are a pair! A hilarious, adorable pair of little girls, who, during waking hours are never more than a shout away from each other. They repeat each other, and mimic each other. I thought it was a perfect entre for Eric and Emily, into my world. Mahsoblee and Regina come to my house daily. We sit and laugh and talk, and sometimes blow bubbles or practice English. I teach them basic English words and phrases and they are rewarded with a piece of chewing gum or candy. At some point during their visit they both tilt their head up and say…shoo-ing gummm, shoo-ing gumm; which I give them. It was so fine that Mahsoblee and Regina were there waiting for us. When I introduced them, Mahsoblee and Regina, without a moment’s hesitation and with wide, wide smiles, ran up and hugged Eric and Emily’s knees. Emily and Eric knew all about Mahsoblee, and I know they were delighted to meet her. The driver helped carry our suitcases in. Emily and Eric, now adjusting themselves to their third new environment. First Lome, Second Kpalime and now Tchekpo. Three very different experiences to be sure. It was now Friday. We
|Emily and Eric with some neighbors|
Emily and Eric had brought a bevy of gifts for children and people they had heard me talk about. Wonderful, fun gifts. They showed me everything, as I oooohed and awed, knowing how these things would delight my peeps. Emily and I organized them all, lining up the cadou’s (gifts) in the hallway out of sight. They had a few very specific gifts for dignitaries (my favorites), such as the Chief, and Mahsoblee, Honu Koffi, David and Moses. The rest we would distribute as we saw fit. There were glow necklaces and bracelets, bubbles, hats, Frisbees, magic markers and coloring books, etc., etc., etc.. Oh boy!!!!
|Mahsoblee, Eric, Honou, Komi, Emily|
|Fidel and his two wives!|
|Catholic Bishop of Togo|
After church we went out to the road and tried to catch a bush taxi. For some reason there were none to be found; especially for five people. Emily, Eric, myself, Moses and Komi. The sun was blazing. It was so hot. We stood on the side of the road with no shelter. When a bush taxi would stop they would either try to charge us twice as much as they should because it was three white people, or there simply wasn’t enough room for all five of us. We were all tired and hot, and the glow of god’s grace was not filtering down to us. After much frustration and a two…yes TWO hour wait, I finally convinced Moses and Komi to go on without us. Emily and Eric and I waited a while longer. Never once did Emily and Eric complain; and on this day there was a LOT to complain about. I on the other hand, had a little mini meltdown (perhaps not so little). Finally we decided to hail three moto’s. They didn’t have helmets, but it was a short ride, so I thought/hoped we’d be ok. Eric didn’t like the idea of riding on a moto, but at this point we’d all do anything to get home. When Eric got on his moto, I put my hands on the drivers’ shoulders, looked him in the eye and said, “aller lentement.” “GO SLOW.” This obviously is an often repeated and unheeded phrase in Togo. He nodded with assurance….Then proceeded to take off like a bat out of hell! Emily and I just stood there with our mouths open, then nervously laughed as we got on our moto’s. Eric was out of sight. I was furious. Neither Eric’s moto driver, nor Eric had any idea where they were supposed to go. When we reached Tchekpo, at the entrance of my road I had our moto driver stop and let Emily and I off. I could barely see Eric, wayyyyyyy up the road. By this time I had lost all patience, and started yelling at my moto driver….punching him in the arm to go get them. Again…Emily stood there with her mouth open. She was a little surprised to see her sweet mommy beating this poor Togolese Driver up. Oh well. My moto driver managed to catch up with them, and brought Eric back to the road where we were waiting. Eric’s eyes were as big as saucers. His hair was standing on end. Poor guy. We walked home, each of us exhausted, but laughing and lamenting about our near-death experiences. I made a big lunch, and we rested In between visitors, for the remainder of the day.
|Eric, Leah's mom, Emily at my water pump|
|Eric, Le Chief, Emily|
|Pooofffff....They are gone! But what a trip!|
The Peace Corps' mission has three simple goals:
1. Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
2. Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
3. Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.
I know we definitely accomplished Goals 2 and 3. The people of Tchekpo will never forget you Emily and Eric, and I doubt that you will ever forget them. Here's what the people in my village now know. Because of you...They know that Americans are kind, compassionate, funny, curious, generous, adventurous and thoughtful. Thank you.