Settling In

It is official. I am a Peace Corps Volunteer! This new title also marks the beginning of my third month in Togo. It definitely feels like it has been a while since I got off the plane here but as PCV's like to say, the days are just a blur in my memory. Not to mention, looking ahead to the two years remaining seems like light years away. So for now, let’s focus on the present… and the not so distant past.

Two weeks ago was the official Swear-In Ceremony for my stage, or training group (French pronunciation = staghe). Everything went great, and once we each delivered a few sentences in local languages (one person delivered a lengthy opening speech in French), there was a small party. There were also a few snacks, drinks, and a whole lot of dancing. 

Aside from the newly sworn-in volunteers and currently serving volunteers; our host families, technical and language trainers, and the Peace Corps office staff all attended the ceremony. Each of these groups were working throughout our training separately, so it was great to see them together. I was also surprised to learn that so many of our trainers had such great dance moves!

Of course, I can’t forget the Togolese media sources that also came to film, take pictures, or record audio of the ceremony. That night and the next day, the ceremony was broadcast across the nation. Since then, several people have told me they saw me sur le télé at post. This is a great conversation starter until they realize those few sentences I delivered are basically all I know in local language. At least now I can utilize those opportunities to help expand my Kotokoli vocabulary.

After the Swear-In Ceremony and after party, there was an after-after party thrown by the volunteers. They organized this second party on the rooftop of a hotel, which was a great location. During the party, there was also a silent auction with the proceeds going toward one of the PC Togo committees. The items up for bid ranged from pudding, yoga supplies, pillows, a pair of Chaco shoes, an Obama poster, and dozens of other seemingly random odds and ends. However, all the things in the auction could have great utility for the life and well-being of volunteers here in Togo. I personally invested in the pudding, Italian seasoning, pack towel, pillow, and some money belts. One of the steal deal items of the night ended up being a portable internet USB key, which sold for about 25% of the retail value. I would like to mention that I was barely outbid for it during the last minute of the auction.

Once the night of Swear-In was over, we prepared to depart for our posts at 6 a.m. the next morning. Just before we arrived at my city though, I realized I didn’t have the keys to my house. The volunteer I replaced found a house closer to the heart of the city, but it wasn’t quite ready during my post visit week. 

I was instructed to leave the keys with the closest volunteer to me so that when I came back everything would be moved over to the new house. The new house was still being cleaned, however and I completely forgot to get the keys back when I saw the volunteer at the after-after party. 

I spent my first night at post in a hotel. Fortunately for me, one of the PC cars was traveling up the country the next day, so they stopped by to deliver me the keys.

When I finally got into the old house, I spent a couple days packing everything. Afterward, I got to see how moving is done in Africa. With the help of my homologue and three other men we piled everything into a small, 1980s model pickup truck.-- that is older than me. They got everything moved in only two trips though and the second included all five of us along with a pile of furniture.

The next few days were spent unpacking, sorting through, and organizing everything into the new house. One great thing about being a replacement post is that it is much easier to set up a house--everything is already there. 

In Bafilo there have been six consecutive volunteers at my post before me (and all completed the full 27-month term), so I had a lot to go through and lots of cobwebs to dust off. After a few days diligently organizing everything all that remains are a few small stacks of paperwork with information about past projects.

Aside from moving in, I have been learning what it is really like to live on my own here. During stage, virtually everything was taken care of for us. The only chore I helped with was washing my dishes after meals and I did my laundry just one time. After learning how much work it takes to hand wash clothes, I make sure to keep them clean and wear them several times to avoid it. 

Now, however, I have to take the time to find and buy the ingredients for each meal, prepare the meal, wash all the dishes by hand, and clean the kitchen. Let me remind you, I have no refrigerator for storage, and the only hot water I have is what I boil with my gas stovetop (just the stove top, no stove). At the same time though, I am learning that a few ingredients go a long way, and cooking is much easier than I thought it would be—aside from all the cleaning up afterward. It also makes me realize how much money I wasted on fast food back in the States.

Fortunately… and unfortunately, I only have to cook two times per day, because I came back during Ramadan. This means, in my predominately Muslim city, most people are fasting during the day. They eat breakfast before the sun comes up at 5 a.m. and dinner once it goes down at 6:15 p.m. 

Though it is not necessary for me to do the same, I try to as a sign of respect. Anyway, there is virtually no temptation to cheat without the pre-made street food and closed cafeterias during the day.

However, I only truly completed the fast for four or five days, because I started waking up and eating breakfast later (between 6 and 7 a.m.). I also broke it a couple days by drinking water, which is excluded from the fast.

This year, Ramadan will end August 30 and there will be a huge feast/party to celebrate. The timing for the fast is actually pretty nice this year, as with the lunar calendar, it varies a little from year to year. I couldn’t imagine coming here when Ramadan is in the middle of hot season.

Other than fasting and settling into my house, I have been spending the past two weeks at post getting to know the city. I’ve been taking the time to revisit some of the organizations and businesses I was introduced to the last time I was here and getting an overall sense of the community. One of the non-governmental organization directors here even took me to see a few of the nearby villages.

One new development since the last time I was here is the arrival of internet. My homologue purchased one of the portable modem USB keys last week and might buy another soon to start an internet café. I only have to travel about 25 minutes to the regional capital, Kara, to use the internet, but it would be much more convenient to have it here. The internet would really help with the overall development of the city and ease of information gathering.

In the meantime, enjoy the photos I will be uploading with that magical internet key! I'm not sure how long it will take me to upload them all, but I'll be finished when there are 278 posted!