9 Months Down
In the months before I left for Togo I agonized over my decision to uproot my relatively happy life for two years for what seemed like a giant gamble. I would either have the most amazing experience of my life or would be miserable and faced with the potential of having to quit and effectively have gone though all tribulations and sacrifice of getting here for nothing. Needless to say, I was terrified. I was and am extremely fortunate to have so many supportive and encouraging influences in my life at the time, but to be frank there were definitely some people who took me aside and questioned whether this was what I really wanted and if I was up to the challenge. There was one thing that was said that struck me and I still think of to this day. When a friend told a coworker that I was joining the Peace Corp, her coworker replied that I wouldn’t last 6 months. Her coworker had herself been a volunteer in Eastern Europe but had left in disgust over some issue with her local boss stealing money from PC. This 6 month mark became a test of sorts for me on whether I would be able to make it. I can honestly say that I am really happy with my decision to come and with my life here in general. Granted, there are days when homesickness or some cultural difference makes me hide in my house all day, but most of the time I range from content to blissfully happy. It’s kinda’ of weird. I was so prepared for this experience to be hard and difficult that I never really believed that I would enjoy it, regardless of what people said. Anyway, the point is that my friend’s coworker is a stupid hoe who should keep her mouth shut.
One point that the stupid hoe coworker did get right was that sometimes there are issues with money in this field of work. It is what we here like to call “bouffing”. Bouffing is franglais for taking a little of the top. Say for instance, you are a nurse at a state-runned (keep in mind, state-runned does not mean state-funded) clinic and he received some grant money for medicine to start a pharmacy. My thinking would be that they could use the profits to buy new meds or save for other addition to their clinic, such as lab equipment. However, the Nurse has other ideas, and decides to buy a motorcycle and camera phone. Now, in the states if this was to happen, the nurse would be fired and probably have a large fine or prison time to serve. Not here. He gets to keep his job and few if any regulations are placed on him. The problem is that there is no one to replace him and he (most nurses are men here) is just too important to lose, too valuable because there are so few people with his level of education and training. Here, it is accepted because if you are poor and have the opportunity to profit a little who can blame you? The problem is that it is rarely the truly poor who profit.
The other side to this is the perception of aide money and that is that it is like a gift from Yovoda (Ewe for “white person land”) where there is plenty of money and they don’t need it. So if someone bouffs some aide money, they feel they are taking it from rich people and it can easily be replaced. Yet, when I find out someone is bouffing money, such as from a pharmacy, I see it as if they are stealing medicine from sick people. This is one of the many cultural differences that we struggle with, our different ideas of accountability, right and wrong.
To put this in a larger context, think of the hundreds of billions of dollars that have been pumped into Africa as aide with so little effect. I can testify that many of the people in Togo live a way of life that has not changed for centuries while a handful life a life of excess. Or perhaps this is just in comparison the endless poverty. By the way, why did no one tell me that West Africa was the poorest region in the world before I left?
The point is that it is hard for some people to know this is happening and having to work around, in it and through it. That said, there are countless reason why the work is worth it, why the people are worth it that I can’t get into right now as I have to wrap up.
Women in Togo
A while ago, my sister Emily asked me about the role of women in Togo I wasn’t ready to answer that question then and I am not quite ready to answer now, though I am getting closer. It’s hard because I want to paint a portrait that is fair and I find that whenever I am about to start talk I can think of is the most disturbing stuff and I think it is important to give a balanced perspective. So I am going to try for next time.
*Have been interneting all day instead of working. I blame my friend Tom and his facebook photos from Halloween. It sent me deep into email/ Internet stalking mode.
*Am unexpectedly surprised that my love of tie-dye can be fully realized here.
*Have been marveling over how much better Peace Corps volunteers look in the states. One time I was sitting next to a volunteer who was pretty but didn’t really stand out to me. She showed me a picture of her from the states and she was drop-dead gorgeous. I mean, it could have been the make up.
*I just wanted to put out there that I haven’t worn tennis shoes for 9 months.
*Children who once ran away screaming now LOVE me. I’m like a rock star.