Friday, February 8, 2013

How my life has changed: 6 months in

So, I’ve been kinda struggling to with what to write about on my blog and what to tell people in emails and letters for a little while. There’s no shortage of interesting and crazy stories over here, but I feel like I can’t tell Togo stories anymore unless I give a lot of background. There’s so many things I’ve gotten used to and my perspective has changed so much, not to mention that I can’t speak anything but Franglais with Kotokoli words mixed in. Sometimes I’ll just be on the back of a moto or at a meeting where I don’t understand anything, thinking to myself that I could really be living in an alternate universe, things are so different. So right now, I’m not gonna write about how I’ve been touched by the people or the poverty or the amazing soul searching I probably should be doing here, I’m gonna write about the everyday stuff.
1. I don’t understand 80% of what is said around and to me. My village is entirely Kotokoli which is great in that, if I learn it, I can speak with everyone, but it sucks in that, it’s hard learning a language, let alone 2 languages at once and it’s going slowly. But since everyone speaks Kotokoli, nobody bother’s speaking French even though I can speak it pretty much fluently now, so I still feel incompetent.
2. I feel guilty all the time. I feel guilty that my French and Kotokoli aren’t better. I feel guilty that I have more money than anyone around me and people remind me of that all the time. I feel guilty that despite the giant amounts of money that people think I have, I can’t give money to everyone, I can’t buy the whole village bread every time I go to the market. I feel guilty that I can’t do more work in the village. I feel guilty for being away from village, every time I have to go to the market or if I want to travel around Togo. I’ve been told by someone, “Your dog has seen Dapaong (Large city in northern Togo) but there are people in the village who have never seen Sokode (closest city to my village).” And it’s true. I don’t know if the guilt will ever stop.
3. People can eat pate (pronounced “pot,” translation: corn paste) 3 times a day, every day of the week. That’s normal. Just seeing pate and some gumbo sauce can make me gag now, I’ve eaten it so much.
4. Seeing anyone under the age of 15 fully nude in public is normal.
5. I hate cars. A 5 person car here is not full until it’s got 9 people in it. These 9 people don’t include the children and are usually accompanied by bags of stuff. This is basically every car ride.
6. I’m convinced that Kotokoli is the most arbitrary and hard to learn language in the world.
7. I’ve gained a false sense of entitlement. A foreigner in Togo has about the same social standing as Kate Middleton in the western world, assuming, people still talk about Kate Middleton, which leads me to…
8. I have no idea what is important in the world anymore. The only world news I get in village is secondhand from people who have tv’s or other volunteers who live in cities, and usually only if it’s something huge. New music, new fashions, new social trends are all completely lost from my range of thought. A ton of people get kidnapped in Mali, and I get a text message that says only the following: “We are monitoring the Mali situation, assure loved ones you are ok.” Sounds great, I’m gonna get back to pounding fufu now.
8. I live in a fish bowl. Everything I say and do and everywhere I go, I am watched. Even in the big city, a boutique might service 5 foreigners a year; EVERYBODY remembers you.
9. I understand African fatalism. Yesterday, the child of one of my friends in village died. He was a toddler. The child was sick for months with some unknown disease that sounded to me like elephantitis, and I don’t think anyone was really surprise when the child passed. But, I just found myself thinking, ‘If this child were in America would it have survived? Probably.’
10. Paying 10 CFA (The equivalent of $0.02 US) for clean pump water versus well water is seen as an unnecessary expense by most. And, here I am trying to teach health practices…
11. Liability is a foreign concept. I went to refill the gas tank for my stove and when I got there, the guy in charge almost freaked out because I didn’t have the safety cap on the gas tank and I had taken it on the back of a motorcycle 27 k down my mountain road. Apparently, gas tank explosions aren’t very difficult to achieve. When, the guy tried to tell me he wouldn’t refill my tank unless I returned to my village to get the safety cap, of course I protested. He told me, he wasn’t allowed because the Total station would be held liable if it did explode; I didn’t even recognize the word liable in French.
12. If it exists, you can take it on a motorcycle. I’m talking gas tanks, suitcases, dogs, families of 5. I’ve seen a person balancing a full size dining table on their head on the back of a moto.  
13. There are roads without pot holes? How?
14. The most one thing I may spend on in a month is a meal of a hamburger and fries.
15. About 50% of my Togolese friend base is men who want to marry me. About 5% of my Togolese friend base is unmarried. Welcome to Polygamy.
16. If the place I’m going has warm showers, it’s a vacation. But don’t get me wrong, warm showers aren’t necessary for a vacation, and most often not the case.
17. I don’t understand anymore how societies function without a strong sense of community responsibility. Oh, right, that’s what cops are for.
18. I feel so safe here. Everyone knows everybody, and nothing you do is unnoticed. If I complain that there was a rowdy child at my house at 10 this morning, even if the only identifying factor was that this kid looked like he was in elementary school, that child will be found, and parents will be talked to.
19. When I got here, there were a good number of things that shocked and appalled me. At a certain point, I stopped being surprised when crazy things happen. And then a little bit later, there was another point when the first thing that would come to mind was, ‘1 to 10, how good of a story is this gonna make later on?’
19. People are the same everywhere. The details may change, but our nature is all the same. I have sat through countless conversations where adults talk about how bad the generation of youth are, how spoiled they are, how they have ruined the language with their slang, or even better heard a, “When I was your age, I had to walk 5 miles uphill to school everyday and I was beaten when I didn’t do my work…” kind of story and forgot that I was having the conversation in French, in Africa.


And for your viewing pleasure, that's me mid-hike with my village in the back, yep, that's the whole village, you might even be able to see my house on the right edge of town...

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