Gone Fishin’… Togo Style – Part II

(Continued from yesterday’s post Gone Fishin’… Togo Style)

 

So we walk across the street, through the open doorway of a typically run down two story building, through a short dark corridor, and into an open air concrete courtyard bustling with the sounds and motions of a dozen people going about their early morning business. At this point, my gung-ho attitude towards this little adventure is gaining just a hint of skepticism and apprehensiveness. Theres a young mother giving her baby a bucket shower in one corner, an impressively old woman preparing the day’s meal in a giant, charcoal black, cauldron, little kids in their green and white checkered school uniforms horsing around before they have to leave for class.

I look at the guy next to me like ‘Seriously dude, where the hell are we right now?’. Theres no way this place is a bar. We just walked into someone’s kitchen/bathroom/front yard/living-room. I’m not so much fearful at this point as I am just straight up confused. We are supposed to be going to take shots right now, right? Or did I completely misunderstand the little conversation we just had on the beach?

But sure enough, after a little back and forth bantering between the lead fisherman and one of the women in the courtyard, she guides us over to a back nook of the courtyard, and pulls a white sheet off a table in the corner like some sort of magician, revealing a dozen bottles of Sodabi each with some different sort of ‘flavoring agent’ sitting at the bottom of the bottle. Everything from ginger or papaya, to a root they claim to be an aphrodisiac, to a handful of others that I’m sure at some point in the past had a heartbeat, or were at least attached to something with a heartbeat. I figured it was better to not ask any questions, so I closed my eyes and attempted to take my shot like a champ, using all of my willpower and jaw clenching ability to not let them see the horror and pain that was pulsing through my veins and slowly coating the inside of my empty stomach with fire, but I’m pretty sure that was all to no avail, as right after I took my shot, even the ‘bartender’ was having a tough time holding back a smile. After wiping away the single tear that had rolled down my left cheek, and breathing out the last bit of fire remaining in my lungs, I think I had fully gained the respect of this group of eight very large, extremely muscular Togolese fishermen who were at this point half cheering and half keeled over laughing and patting me on the back. Talk about cultural integration. By now, all remnants of fear and apprehensiveness had been completely washed away. I felt like a freshman at a high school party who’d just proved to the seniors that I could run with the ‘cool kid’ crowd.

A quick 6:00am sodabi break and it’s back to work. Time to pull in the net and see what the day’s catch has to offer. I stroll back across the street trying to recover from the acidic erosion that is currently taking place in my esophagus and stomach lining, and once again pull out my camera to snap a few last pictures before I head out to get ready for my flight. Once we get there the fishermen start pulling in two thick ropes about 50 yards apart, each attached to one end of the long net they’d set out in the ocean before we had gone off for our little ‘early morning pick-me-up’.

The burn of the moonshine that had overtaken the slight nausea of the hangover from the night before was slowly fading into blissful comfort as I strolled over the soft white sand, already getting hot to the touch from the early morning sun.

I managed to get a few decent pictures in before a couple of the fishermen told me to grab hold of the rope and give them a hand pulling it in. And once again, the ‘why the hell not’ mentality kicked in. I shoved the camera back in my pocket, kicked my flip flops off and joined in. I’ve already worked so hard to scrub that TOURIST stamp off of my forehead and prove to them that I’m not just some foreigner with a camera. I mean, I’m not about to throw away my cool kid status at this point by saying that I’m not man enough to get my hands dirty. Besides, how many times in my life am I going to get the opportunity to do something like this? I figure I’ll help out for 20 minutes or so, see what sort of catch they pull in, and be out of there before I know it with an awesome set of pictures to bring home and an even cooler story to go along with them.

Boy was I wrong about that. A solid 3 hours later, we were a good quarter mile down the beach having been pulled by the current grabbing hold of the net as it got closer to shore. The entirety of my palms and most of my fingers had long ago passed the blister stage, scattered with patches of straight raw skin, and small wounds from the abrasive sand covered rope, the skin on my forearms and back of my neck were radiating with heat from the mild case of skin cancer I had just submitted them to, and every muscle in my body was quivering with exhaustion. Now, call it determination to finish the job, straight stubbornness, or just pure stupidity, but I just couldn’t bring myself to quit halfway through. It’s not like I didn’t realize my hands were being torn apart by the rope, my pale white skin was being cooked alive, or my out of shape body was being pushed to limits it hadn’t seen since high school football camp. I guess just kept thinking we were almost at the end. I was like a donkey stubbornly holding onto the optimism that if he keeps running he’ll eventually catch up to that carrot.

‘Alright, fuck this.’ I thought to my self at one point. ‘I’m calling it quits’. And of course, just as I let go and look down the line to where it disappears into the waves I see the blue of the net popping out of the water and I can’t help but grab back onto the rope and start pulling again. We’re in the home stretch now for sure. I’m not about to play the whole damn game and then tell the coach to pull me out at the 2 minute warning. Little did I know that as the catch gets closer to the shore, it gets exponentially harder to pull it in. So what I originally thought was the 2 minute warning was more like the start of the second half. I’m not exaggerating either. What started out as an 8 to 10 man operation two and a half hours earlier, had grown to a gang of 25-30 men from god knows where having to help pull this thing in. Every body at a 45 degree angle, muscles flexed to the max, feet half buried, digging into the sand trying to get some traction.

That last grueling stretch of pulling the actual net in felt like a lifetime, but we finally get the pouch at the end of the net holding all of the fish on shore. Dripping with a mixture of sweat and sea water, sand burrowed into the open blisters on my hands, and about to collapse from exhaustion, I manage to stumble over to the crowd of fishermen surrounding the catch to take a peek at this undoubtedly colossal sized catch we’d just hauled in. I’m expecting to see nothing less than Free fucking Willy flopping around in this net to have put up that big of a fight. I’ve got an image in my head of Forest Gump opening up the bottom of the net, and thousands of pounds of shrimp flooding the deck of the boat. But instead of shrimp its going to be blue fin tuna, and marlin.

So I push through the crowd to get a look, and to my complete and utter underwhelmed lack of astonishment, barring the one 3 foot barracuda, not one of these fish could have even made a satisfying meal by itself, and to my disappointment, Free Willy was not in attendance. Seriously, how is that possible. How were we not just pulling in a great white shark. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I’m hung over and extremely out of shape? No, that couldn’t be it.

Now, I guess I’m exaggerating a bit, there were a fair amount of fish there, but after building this up in my head to a level I felt to be the equivalent to the effort I’d put in and pain and suffering I had been enduring, I was just a little bit disappointed. Not to mention, now that the adrenalin and anticipation had subsided, all of my senses were slowly being assaulted by the combination of fatigue, sunburn, salted wounds, and that damned hangover inching its way back into my temples.

At this point one of the main guys who’d been there from the beginning reaches over and puts his arm around me as he’s mid conversation with a few of the other men who’d straggled in a bit late to help finish off the job. I couldn’t understand anything they were saying in their local language, but after a few laughs, an empty hand gripping an imaginary shot glass being tossed up to his face as he threw his head back, a quick inspection of my torn up hands, and a couple pats on the back, I could tell I’d officially overcome the fanny pack and hawaiian shirt syndrome I’d been trying to avoid from the beginning.

And as is custom, even though I tried to tell them that I was getting onto an airplane in a couple of hours and had no where to put them, everyone who helps with the haul, gets a share of the bounty.

So with the sun now high in the sky, I painfully, but quite proudly, strolled back towards my hotel room with a camera full of pictures, and a story I’m sure I won’t soon forget.

Oh yeah, and a dozen freshly caught, sand covered fish in my hands that I had absolutely no idea what the hell to do with.

Gone Fishin’… Togo Style

It’s 5:00am as I stroll down the sidewalk next to the beach in Lome, the coastal capital of Togo. Now for me, getting up before 10:00am is just about as enjoyable as I would imagine getting a colonoscopy from your ex girlfriend’s father to be. Especially after a few rounds of 6.2% 22oz Togolese beers the night before. But for some inexplicable reason I managed to pry myself out of the dingy, by this point sweat soaked sheets, wrapped around the plywood they somehow pass off to be a mattress at the $12.00 a night, (believe it or not, by Peace Corps Volunteer standards, fairly midrange) ‘hotel’ just a few blocks from the beach. Now that I mention it, I guess it wasn’t that ‘inexplicable’. I mean I wasn’t quite like I was pulling myself away from a down comforter on a pillow topped mattress at a ski resort in Vermont.

          As I’m trying to wipe the remnants of last night’s intoxication from my eyes, discovering the plethora of new mosquito bites popping up all over my body, and praying that my malaria meds aren’t going to fail me for a second time, I slowly emerge from my zombie like trance (Sorry, is that a politically insensitive term nowadays)and my eye catches exactly what I’d been looking for on this ass-crack of dawn expedition.
My flight back to the States was leaving that night and being the master of procrastination that I am, I decided that 6 hours before getting on the plane would be an appropriate time to get some pictures of the country I’d been living in for the last eleven months. So I stroll out onto a section of the beach intermittently scattered with a variety of old, large, hand built, fishing canoes. From a distance, each identical to the next, but as you get closer, the individual intricacies of the hand carved symbols and now mostly faded bright colored paint jobs give them each their own unique character.

I’d passed by these old fishing boats a number of times before but the closest I’d ever been to seeing them in action was from the comfort of my couch at home in NY watching Anthony Bourdain make some sarcastic comment as he nursed a hangover with another luke warm beer on the beaches of Ghana just a few miles down this very same beach. At this point a little hair of the dog probably would have been up there on my breakfast menu if it weren’t for the fact that most tiki hut beach bars in Togo aren’t quite open for business at this ungodly hour. Luckily for me though I’d soon find out I wasn’t exactly the most informed person in that field of study, and I certainly wasn’t the only person whose liver needed a little kickstart for the day.

So I pull out my camera and somewhat shadily start snapping pictures, trying to avoid the full on Hawaiian shirt and fanny pack tourist attention I was inevitably about to attract. Luckily I had gotten there just in time so catch some shots of a group of fisherman riding the waves in in their wooden canoe after setting the net out in the open sea. I tried to get as many pictures in before being swarmed by anyone who could catch me in their crosshairs to ask me to give them something or, god forbid, the worst case scenario jumping around the back of my head, anyone who might want to mug the one white dude on the entire beach.

I continue to snap pictures of the fisherman as they battle the strong current and relentless waves pounding them and the boat as they try to secure it to the beach. As I expected, once everything was all tied up they came up to check out the Yovo with the camera taking pictures of their daily work. This I didn’t mind at all. It was the random sketchy people lurking behind me and ominously walking up the beach towards me I was a little less than excited to interact with.

In an effort to remove the giant ‘TOURIST’ stamp from my forehead, I throw out a few greetings in a couple different local languages that I’d picked up in my village and quickly correct their assumptions that I’m a Frenchy, telling them that I am indeed from the land of Obama (Togolese people seem to innately dislike the French and emphatically love Americans, or anything that has to do with America). This seemed to work like a charm. Before I knew it they were telling me to come across the street and take shots of a local moonshine called Sodabi they make here in Togo. The best description I can give of this stuff is that it’s probably similar to what I would imagine the feeling rocket fuel gets when it has indigestion. My immediate thought was, no fucking way. First of all because I didn’t really feel like breathing fire at 5:30 in the morning. This wasn’t quite the ‘hair of the dog’ I’d been thinking of. And secondly because I became immediately suspicious and somewhat fearful of being mugged.
But I figured, what the hell, my experiences so far with going to get drinks with random Togolese people have resulted in some positively unforgettable experiences. It is 5:30 in the morning, and these guys are clearly working class dudes who’re probably just looking for cool story to tell there buddies about taking shots with an American on the beach at the ass crack of dawn.          This seems like a great idea.

Why the hell not.

To Be Continued…

The Story of the Spongebob Shirt

The story I’m about to describe to you is how I came across the greatest t-shirt known to man. Alright, maybe its just the greatest shirt in my entire wardrobe. Yeah, alright, true. I do only own like 9 shirts, but thats not the point. Now I could have just come across this gem while digging through any old pile of dead yovo clothes(It’s what all of the donated clothes from the US and Europe are called here) at the market and it still would have been pretty awesome. But a signed Derek Jeter ball you bought in a sports memorabilia shop is not nearly as cool as somehow getting Jeter to sign the game winning home run ball you caught with your own little league mitt. Its the story that makes it.

So, the story starts at this little rooftop bar in my village where another volunteer and I were cooling down and relaxing over a few cold beers. We’ll call the other volunteer…Jack. Anyway, Jack gets a phone call from another volunteer saying that she just arrived at So And So’s birthday party and it was going to be “uhhmAAAziiiing!!!” So OMG we just haaad to come.

We had previously decided that it wasn’t worth the time and money to take the long trip out to the other town where the party was taking place. But we were each a couple of beers deep so lets just say our negotiating skills weren’t quite in tip top shape to be arguing against going to a party at this point. So after carefully weighing the pros and cons and making sure we made the most logical and reasonable decision, about 35 seconds later Jack and I were paying our tab and heading out the door to find a cab.

Now this wasn’t like the kind of ‘oh man, I really don’t feel like taking a half hour cab ride to the other side of town to go to some birthday party’ kind of trip. This ‘long trip’ that our previously completely sober and rational minds had decided wasn’t worth it, was about to take us five and a half hours cramped in a bush taxi with 6 other people (thats a total of 8 people in a small beat up sedan), down a grueling, unbelievably rocky and pothole ridden ‘road’. And all of this was coming together just as the horizon was beginning to take on the pinkish hue of the days setting sun.

After what I can honestly say was the worst traveling experience I had ever had up to that point(It was stripped of its title shortly thereafter by the hungover car ride back up that exact same road the next morning), the car finally stops to let everyone out, only to tell us we still had another 25 miles to go and that he wasn’t taking us any further. So after arguing with half a dozen moto drivers to find a decent price, and being convinced to partake in a round of particularly hellish shots of Togolese moonshine, we hop on the back of a couple of motos to head down the rest of this riverbed they claimed to be a road.

Now the back portion of the seat on my moto had been so worn down that I was literally just sitting on metal bars for the last 40 minute stretch of this trip. Needless to say, by the time we arrived I was less than happy, completely sober, and literally felt like my ass had just been through the scene after the baseball game in Dazed and Confused. Going to a party right now was the last thing I wanted to do.

So I’m standing in the middle of the ‘road’ after stepping off of this moto. It’s pitch black at this point and I’m waiting for Jack to pay the guys, rubbing my ass to make sure its actually still there, and this random guy walks up to me. Now as you can imagine I am in no mood to be getting friendly with strangers. I’m actively avoiding eye contact with this guy in hopes that he’ll just go away. “No, I’m not going to give you money. No, I don’t need a taxi. Just leave me the hell alone man”. Just as I’m thinking this to myself he says to me “I like your shirt, you should give it to me”. This was pretty much my last straw at this point. My usual technique when someone says this kind of thing to me (which is surprisingly often), is to say right back at them that they need to give me their shirt, hat, motorcycle, etc.. Usually that gets them off my back.

So I turn around and say exactly that to this guy. Mind you though, in a much angrier voice than he had said it to me. But mid sentence, as I’m turning to face him, I see this giant Spongebob smile and big bulging white eyes on his obnoxiously bright yellow shirt, and I can’t help but immediately calm down a bit and almost crack a smile at the situation. And rather than the usual confused look and response of ‘what are you talking about, I’m not going to give you my shirt, thats ridiculous.’ He rolls his eyes up and to the side, as if seriously contemplating my proposal. After 3 or 4 seconds he looks me dead in the eyes, shrugs his shoulders a bit, and with his eyebrows cocked up, just says ‘Okay’.

I was so taken aback by the combination of his response and the giant happy spongebob face staring at me, I completely forgot that I was angry. I glanced down at my shirt, then over to spongebob’s obnoxiously large smile, and then kind of just stared at the guy for a few seconds, not really sure how to respond.

“Um…Okay” I said, still a bit confused

“Okay…Um…You, uh, Wanna. Trade. right now?” He was just as puzzled by this situation as I was.

“Uuh…Yeah. I guess. Right here?” I mean, we’re kind of standing in the middle of the road, and I’m not exactly sure whats happening right now dude, buuut…..

He shrugs his shoulders at me again and says “Um, Yeah?” Looking back to me for reaffirmation.

We both kind of go back and forth with this little game of ‘Are you sure you’re gonna do it? Cause I don’t wanna do it unless you’re definitely gonna do it. You go first’. ‘No you go first’ Like we’re two 16 year old kids with a bottle of Baily’s sitting in between us that we just stole from Dad’s liquor cabinet.

So we both hesitantly take of our shirts in the middle of this street and slowly hand them over to each other, only releasing our grip on our own shirt once we know we’ve got a firm grip on our newly found attire.

Both of our cautiously perplexed faces slowly give way to smiles once we’ve got our new shirts on our backs. We shake hands, give each other a mutual look of ‘yeah, that definitely was a bit weird, but I’m okay with it’, and go on our separate ways.

Just as I turn back around Jack has just finished paying for the motos. She turns around to look at me. “Wait a minute, were you wearing that shirt the whole time?”

“Nope, just traded some random dude on the street for it” I say back to her with a smile that surely had to rival that of my new shirt. “I’m totally ready to party right now though”

The First Supper

Alright, so you’ve heard about the greatest coach flight ever experienced, and you know about my newly found creepy habit of playing peek-a-boo with little kids on the subway, but I’ve got a few more little stories about my awkward, culturally inappropriate interactions, and flat out overwhelming culture shock moments from my trip back home to the states, and then I promise I’ll get back to more stories about Togo. Not that any of you are really begging for more stories about me getting crazy illnesses or fighting off nature’s (at least African nature’s) apparent strong desire to make me shit my pants (A fight I am proud to say I’m currently winning, although it might just have to come down to a judges decision by the end), but here goes:

So my first cultural faux pa in the states happened just after I got into NY, while I was out to lunch with my dad and sister. First of all, talk about overwhelming. Holy shit, I felt like I was going to have a panic attack just looking at the menu. I honestly didn’t know what to do with myself there were so many choices. And it’s not even like we were at some fancy 5 star restaurant. I’m pretty sure my one and only requirement for my first meal back was that it took place at an establishment with cold beer on tap. So after I had my fingers (and lips) wrapped around an icy cold IPA, everything else was just icing on the golden pint of hoppy goodness in my hand. I’m not even joking, I literally couldn’t even order I was so overwhelmed. Everything was maple glazed, caramelized, bacon wrapped, blue cheese stuffed, and hickory smoked(and I thought that three cheese was exciting). It was sheer beauty.

I read over the whole menu two or three times and still had no idea what was on it, much less what I was going to order. I just had this giddy, stupid, somewhat confused grin on my face, I was slightly shaking(maybe quivering would be a better fit), I even had a few droplets of sweat beading up on my forehead, and I hadn’t even tasted anything yet. Talk about premature excitement. I came to realize/remember while I was home that every menu is just as over exageratingly descriptive as this, no matter how shitty the food actually is. But when you’ve grown accustomed to ‘big pot of spicy red sauce with mystery bush meat’, or ‘big pot of even spicier green sauce with old fish’ as your menu options, this kind of stuff looks like straight up hardcore food porn.

Anyway, I ended up having to make my sister order for me, which, shortly thereafter resulted in my (I’m sure inappropriately) shoving my face into a giant, greasy, bacon blue cheese burger. (She knows me too well). And helping to polish off her pulled pork amazingness something or other. I honestly don’t even remember most of it. It all got a bit hazy once the food arrived. Toss a few more pints of cold beer somewhere in between the greasy massacre and I was on cloud 9.

All of this lack of table manners and whatnot though, was understandable and excusable to my dad and sister. I think it was once the waitress came back to clear our plates that I really got some weird looks.

Completely unrelated Interjection- Click this little button ———————————> if you want to get an email notification when I post something new. Come on now, you know you want to. All the cool kids are doing it.

Let me explain something to you first though. In Togo, literally nothing goes to waste when it comes to food. People literally crunch down into chicken bones just to get the little bit of bone marrow on the inside. Right after every last remnant of meat or cartilage had been gnawed off the ends. I actively avoided eating hot wings while I was at home for this exact reason(Don’t worry, I’m joking, I haven’t actually picked up on that custom yet). Food, especially meat, is serious business here, and does not go to waste.

So when the waitress came to clear the table and asked my dad if he wanted the other half of his juicy grilled sirloin steak sandwich topped with caramelized onions and peppers, and melted gruyere cheese (My hands are quivering just writing about it as I sit here belly full of pounded yams, spicy sauce, and some sort of mystery bushmeat), I was quickly snapped out of my food coma when my dad politely told her that we were all set. No boxes needed. Im pretty sure I looked over at him like he had three heads. ‘Are you joking right now? Seriously? That was a joke right?’ I shot the waitress a look as if to say ‘Hold on just a second, my father clearly has a screw loose’. Glancing over at my sister as if to get someone else with their head on straight to back me up. I’m sitting completely straight up at this point, chin stretched up in the air, eyebrows raised, looking down my nose at the plate as it passed by my face to get a reaffirming look at the glorious half of a sandwich sitting there pristinely uneaten, “Uh. Um. Nuh, no. Yeah… we… we’ll.. we’ll take a box for that guy.’ Seriously, I thought that was a rhetorical question at first.

I think my father was so taken aback by my reaction he didn’t even bother saying anything. He just looked at me, eyebrows slightly cocked, like ‘Dude, what the hell is wrong with you?’

So to make a long story just a little bit longer, I have absolutely no idea where the contents of that little square styrofoam box actually ended up. They certainly didn’t end up in my belly, because right after that we went to Yankee Stadium to watch the game with my little brother, and was immediately brought to a whole other level of culture shock surrounded by burgers, hot dogs, brat worst, onion rings, and a plethora of cold beers on tap. Needless to say, that little white box had long ago faded from my memory.

I guess this is the point where I should toss in my 2 cents about how we Americans waste too much food and take it all for granted and blah blah blah. But I’m way too busy thinking about what sort of fatty, bacon wrapped, smothered in cheese, heavenly concoction I’m going to eat next time I’m home. So ‘Insert meaningful message here’ and then go eat a half of a steak sandwich in my honor.

-Sitting middle seat in coach for a 14 hour flight back to the states is apparently not the five star, luxurious experience, filled with gourmet food I initially thought it was

Seriously though, I felt like a king on my flight back to New York. If you’ve read my posts about transportation in Togo you’ll sort of understand why. I couldn’t believe it. I had a big soft cushiony seat. All to my self. There weren’t 6 people within 5 square feet of me. No crying children on my lap, nor women breastfeeding their babies right next to me (I’m not joking, I wrote this post a few days ago and just went over it before officially posting it, and had to add this little tidbit in cause that literally just happened to me 5 hours ago. Talk about awkward. Apparently she’s seen the latest issue of TIME). The lady next to me didn’t have 4 live chickens in her hand bag, and I didn’t feel like the vehicle I was in was going to fall apart and crash into a tree at any moment. So, for me, this ‘lowly’ coach seat was far from uncomfortable, I was in travel heaven.

There were beautiful women waiting on me hand and foot (Seriously, British Airways has some hot flight attendants. And they were just as good looking on my flight back to Togo after a month in America, so you can’t just blame it on the fact that I had only seen 6 American girls total in the year before that). They were giving me free booze and asking me if I wanted three cheese ravioli or beef over brown rice with vegetables. I realize that most of you are reading this thinking, ‘Eww, airplane food is terrible, I wouldn’t serve that shit to my dog.’ I mean thats pretty much a universal truth right? Right next to death, taxes, and that a trip to the DMV is sure to make you want to shoot yourself in the face. I now realize this after spending a month in the ‘real world’, and I wholeheartedly agree with you. But at this point, after eating a diet consisting of nothing but rice, beans, pounded yams, and thick, gooey, flavorless grits, with the occasional treat of dried fish or chunk of mystery bush meat, I felt like I was eating at a Michelin starred restaurant. Seriously? Three cheese ravioli? Thats two and a half more cheeses than I’ve had in the past year. I sat there trying as hard as I could to not just scarf it all down like a gluttonous madman. But you bet your ass I practically licked those little plastic and tin containers clean. Peeking my head over to the people sitting next to me, eyes wide and hopeful, and probably just a bit crazed looking, like ‘Hey man… you gonna use that butter packet?’

And it didn’t end there. I had my own personal TV? With direct TV and movies? Shiiiiit, if I walked down the street in Togo and some roadside shack was playing a dubbed in French version of Godzilla from the 70’s on a TV that was even older(Stop laughing, I’ve actually done that. Multiple times. Give me a break, its apparently the only movie they have there), I was fucking enthralled by it. So having my own personal ‘entertainment system’ was pretty awesome.

And the bathrooms? Don’t even get me started on the bathrooms. Actual flushing toilets with working sinks, fully equipped with soap, toilet paper, and paper towels? After spending a solid 30% of the past year… moving my bowels, in Togolese ‘bathrooms’ I was pretty goddam excited by this. Yes. I know. I warned you at the beginning of this that Togo has made me weird and culturally inappropriate. And if you’ve read anything else that I’ve written, you know that pooping, shitting, diarrhea, toilets etc. is a big part of my life here, and therefore a big part of what you get to read about when you ask me for any ‘exciting and crazy stories about Africa’. So shut up and deal with my shit or stop reading(bad pun intended). Seriously though, at that point, those little airplane bathrooms were glorious.

At first I think I was just in my own little world, soaking in every little bit of this awesome high class experience as I could, but by the second leg of the trip I started to catch onto the fact that I was pretty much the only one enjoying the trip and little airplane meals as much as I was. I quickly realized that everyone else was cautiously and very apprehensively picking around at their little tin containers of food. More so just pushing things back and forth with scrunched up noses, and looks of expected disappointment on their faces than actually consuming anything. And honestly, I kind of felt bad for them, aaaand kind of wanted to ask them if I could have their leftovers.

But fast-forward about a month and I was one of them. After being pampered half to death by the glory that is America; Cold micro-brews, bacon cheese burgers, sushi, air conditioning, maple syrup, pizza, bacon, paved roads, bloody marys, real Mexican food, bacon, italian delis, bacon (I kind of have an obsession with food if you haven’t caught on to that yet, I actually gained like 15 lbs. during the month that I was home, and I genuinely thank all who had a part in that). Back to the story though, my flight back was nowhere near as great and luxurious as the flight from Africa. It was still British Airways (and yes, the air hostesses were still really hot), but that extra something, that sense of wide eyed wonderment and blissful excitment was long gone. And it made me realize something, those flights were pretty much identical, they didn’t have shittier bathrooms on the way back, the food was of the exact same quality, and the seats definitely hadn’t shrunk in size, but my experience couldn’t have been more different. On the way back I felt like I had been downgraded to a dark musty third class interior room at the bottom of the Titanic.

What I realized though, was that sometimes, it has nothing to do with what you have or don’t have, but your ability to appreciate what you have when you have it, rather than constantly comparing it to something better. After all, chances are that your seemingly inadequate situation, is actually someone else’s idea of first class.

Be grateful for what you have, and just maybe you’ll get the chance do a little tapdancing on tabletops while you’re at it.

It’s not ok to smile at and play peek-a-boo with every little kid you see on the street. In america, thats called being a pedophile.

So it’s been a long time since I last posted anything, but as many of you probably know, I just got back from a trip home to the States. Along with that came quite a few entertaining instances of reverse culture shock as I tried to quickly readjust to the pace of living back in the US and did my best to leave behind some of the strange cultural habits I’ve picked up living in Togo for the past year. I’ve split them into a few smaller, more manageably posts, and I’ll post them over the next few days to a week. So here’s a little insight into my overwhelming, awkward, weird, often culturally inappropriate, trip back to America and some of the things I learned along the way:

It’s not ok to smile at and play peek-a-boo with every little kid you see on the street. In america, thats called being a pedophile.

       Walking down the street in my village in Togo, being the only white person within 25 miles, every little kid either repeatedly yells at me to get my attention, runs up to me to give me a hug, or at the very least stares at me in shock and awe till I make some silly face to make them laugh(That is of course if they don’t scream bloody murder like they’ve literally just stared into the eyes of the devil and run as fast as they possibly can in the other direction). As I’m doing my best to fully integrate myself into the community, Its almost rude of me to not acknowledge and/or entertain them. And pretty much every time I walk through my village theres a mother literally pushing her small child or baby at me and telling me to hold them and/or take them home with me to America. So interacting and playing with random little kids on the streets of my village is a completely normal activity for me in Togo. Not to mention that being the only red bearded white dude in a little village in West Africa might as well make me the equivalent in rarity of a giant purple singing dinosaur here. That being said though, making a funny face and smiling at a random little kid at a restaurant or in the subway in the states can pull a bit of a different reaction. They more so just look at me with a stare of ‘Who the fuck are you creepy dude?’ and then turn to their parents as if to say ‘So this is the kind of guy you always tell me not to take candy from, right ma?’.

Camp Hope

      So I know it’s been forever since I last posted something, I’ve been really busy with work lately, which is great, because it means that I’m not just sitting around my house doing nothing, and weltering away in the blistering heat. One of the biggest projects I’ve been working on, and the one I’m most excited about is a summer camp for Togolese kids who’ve been infected or affected by HIV/AIDS. I know this isn’t the normal kind of sarcastic, comical, self depreciating blog post you’re used to, but as one of the directors of the camp this year, this has become a really important project for me, and something I hope you enjoy reading about. So here goes…

 In a world where life is already hard, a child facing a life impacted by HIV/AIDS is difficult to fully comprehend.  You may watch a parent suffer and die from the devastating disease only to later learn you may share a similar fate.  AIDS awareness and education has not yet reached your village and you are considered a leper.  Stigmatized and ostracized in your community, you may face abandonment by both family and people you once considered friends.

  Enter Camp Espoir.  A week each summer where it doesn’t matter what your test result was. A week when you play, laugh, and sing with other kids who share your story but who don’t care that you may be a walking health risk.  A week where you gain friends and a sense of community and for once don’t feel so alone.  A week where you will learn how to manage, cope and thrive in a world not designed to accept you.  A week surrounded by caring staff, enthusiastic American’s, and for the first time a chance to talk to a psychologist trained especially for your situation.  A week where you will you eat really well, experience electricity and running water, quite possibly for the first time in your life  and rest easy knowing you’ve got a safe place to sleep.  A week at Camp Espoir.

  Along with local partner non-governmental organizations who serve children impacted by HIV/AIDS year round, Camp Espoir is a camp designed to reach out to this vulnerable population of Togolese children and offer the chance to just be a kid for a week.  Camp Espoir is organized by Peace Corps Volunteers each year, who fundraise throughout the spring so that the camp can be at no cost to its campers.  PCV’s serve as regional and national coordinators working closely with organizations to reach children and invite them to camp. PCV’s are trained as counselors and spend a week with the children, encouraging, guiding and supporting them through various activities specifically designed to inspire and give them hope.  Camp Espoir. Camp Hope.  Help us bring that hope to over 200 children impacted by HIV/AIDS this summer.

Bringing hope is simple.  Follow the link below to the National Peace Corps website where you can make a secure and tax-deductable donation through the.  For more information on Camp Espoir and the lives it has touched, please visit our blog at:

campespoir.blogspot.com

 I’ll be sure to keep you all updated on how the camp is going, and post lots of pictures when the time comes. 

As I said before, this is a really important project for me here, but we can’t make it happen without the help of donors. Every little bit helps.

So after you click on the link and donate a few bucks, you can copy the link to this blog post and share it with friends and family through email or Facebook.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions!

Thank you

 

 And don’t worry, I’ve got a few more good, much more entertaining blog posts on the way real soon.

 

Kids in Togo

So I think I’ve mentioned on multiple occasions that one of my favorite parts of living in Togo, and quite often the thing that puts a smile on my face and helps me through some of the crappier moods, are the kids.

Now don’t get me wrong, they can be real annoying little fuckers sometimes, screaming yovo at the top of their lungs at each and every moment that you’re within their field of view. They’re like some sort of cruel motion detector that sets off an obnoxiously loud and high pitched alarm anytime you’re close by, ensuring the absolutely everyone within a 200 yards radius knows that yes, there is indeed a white person in the vicinity.

But I don’t want that experience to give you a jaded view of the little ones in my village. Now that I’ve been living there for about 5 months, most of them know my name so the yovo thing has calmed down quite a bit anyway.

For the most part they’re actually very nice, happy little kids who are usually more than excited to see me whenever I walk past. Usually I can’t get them off of me. From the second I walk out of my front door I have little kids literally hanging off of me until their parents yell at them to leave me alone. They’ll run behind me trying to grab onto the back of my bike as I ride past. And surprisingly often, I’ll have little kids whom I’ve never seen before, just run straight up to me and give me a big hug, latching onto my leg.

It can get a bit overwhelming sometimes, especially if I’m actually trying to get somewhere in a hurry and I get bombarded right outside my front gate. And it’s not quite the most sanitary thing either. Think of your average American toddler, playing in a sandbox, petting the dog, fingers constantly in and out of their mouth, usually a bit of snot coming out of their nose. Not quite the hands you want to be touching you right? Now substitute that sandbox with a dirty muddy street, with goats, chickens, lambs, and pigs subbing in for spot, the vaccinated and relatively clean puppy, walking freely around the streets. Yeah I know. Kinda gross huh?

Its nothing a good surgery prep, up to the elbows, scrub-down, with some Purell can’t handle though.

It’s not just the fact that they seem to like me so much, which is definitely a confidence booster and helps to put me in a good mood. It’s more than that. I look at these little kids standing there in nothing but tattered old shorts, or underwear, usually not wearing any shoes, mud on their faces, playing with some little scrap of wood or metal they’ve fashioned into something slightly resembling a toy car or truck, dragging it behind them by a scrap of string they’ve tied to it. And I realize how genuinely happy they are. This simple little chunk of someone else’s garbage, tied to a string bouncing and flipping around on the dirt and rocks as they run down the street laughing and giggling. Or running down the road, rolling an old tire as fast as they can using a stick, like a scene from Huckeberry Fin. These little kids, who by all means, have every reason to be unhappy, are able to find the simplest things to keep them entertained and genuinely happy.

So I guess what I really love about the little kids in my village is not just their smiling and laughing. It’s their ability to find the good, in what, to be honest, is a pretty shitty situation they’ve been born into. Maybe its just that they’re kids, maybe it’s just ignorance, a lack of knowledge that anything better even exists, but either way, I think I can learn a lot from them. It certainly makes me think twice when I’m walking around stuck in my own head, complaining to myself that I haven’t had a bacon cheese burger in almost a year, or that I can’t get internet in my village to watch the Giants game this Sunday.

Cultural Exchange

As a Peace Corps volunteer, my job requirements are broken down into three parts. First of all, is to provide technical assistance in the area of business development to individuals and communities who have requested aid from the Peace Corps. The other two thirds are dedicated to cultural exchange; one third being to share the American culture and customs with the people of Togo, and the other third being to learn the customs and traditions of the people of Togo, and share them with friends, family, and whomever else I can get to listen back in America. So technically, as I sit here in my boxers on my couch, trying to escape the sweltering heat of the midday African sun, writing what will most likely be a somewhat sarcastic, hopefully slightly entertaining blog post about my fumbling attempts to integrate into the local culture, I’m actually not only working, but completing a whole third of my job requirements. 

Goal 1, the first third of my job, is, as you can imagine, the more difficult of the three, the one that seems the most like actual work. Because every time I make a phone call, send a message on Facebook, write a letter, or post on my blog, I’m completing Goal #2 (sharing Togolese culture with Americans), I can hardly complain about that third of my job, it pretty much does itself. But Goal 3, sharing the American culture with the people of Togo, personally, is by far my favorite part of the job. 

Now, explaining completely foreign concepts, take for example snowboarding, to an individual who has lived in a mud hut with a thatched roof in Sub-Saharan Africa for the entirety of their life, rarely, if ever, having traveled more than 50 miles from their village, is not quite the easiest thing in the world to do, but if nothing else its pretty damn entertaining. For one, neither of you are speaking in your first language. It’s like a terrible version of that game Telephone. My translation in my head, from English into my fairly limited French, their interpretation of my French (bad accent being taken into consideration), then its translation in their heads into whatever their local language might be, and in many instances, their further translation into another local language to communicate it to the other people in the group who speak no French at all.

Stop reading for just a second and try to form a description in your head, in english, of what you would say to explain snowboarding to someone who has never heard of it before. “So its this kind of sport, right? You strap this big plastic board to your feet and slide down a huge mountain covered in snow and ice, and you have try not to hit the other people who are also sliding down the mountain with boards strapped to their feet. No, you do the whole thing standing up. Yeah, you’re going really fast. Oh yeah, and theres lots of big trees on the mountain too, so you have to try not to hit those either. Well once you get to the bottom you sit down on this bench that’s attached to this big cable and it pulls you back up to the top of the mountain so you can do the whole thing again. No really, I swear, its so much fun.”

Kind of a difficult concept to explain in the first place right? Definitely not impossible though. But now imagine that this person you’re talking to has never seen or even heard of the concept of snow. Thats when it gets really interesting. I’ve mentioned a few times before that the daily routine here in Togo can get pretty boring sometimes, so in an attempt to combat this boredom and lack of activity I’ve begun trying to think of the most seemingly random and sometimes asinine concepts and activities in America, and then trying to describe them to people here in my village. I’m pretty sure that most of the time the people I’m talking to either have no Idea what I’m talking about, or just think I’m nuts. If nothing else though, it keeps me bust and entertained and certainly helps me to practice my French.

Quite frequently, these conversations take place while drinking tchuk at one of the many local ‘watering holes’ in my village. These consist of a poyote, (pretty much the same thing as a tiki hut I guess) with a woman sitting in the middle (your local micro-brewer, if you will), serving her freshly brewed tchuk out of a giant plastic barrel, to groups of thirsty villagers sitting on the benches circling the inside of the small poyote. Now there are bars in Togo, where you can buy bottles of beer(surprisingly quite good beer actually), and order snacks and food, somewhat like a bar in the States, but the beer is relatively expensive and therefore can’t quite support your average Togolese’s drinking habits. 

The tchuk stands are where you find the real action. Its the perfect atmosphere for ‘cultural exchange’.  The physical set up of the little round tiki hut certainly invites conversation. There are no tables, no bar, just a circle of benches crammed with people all looking to get a little relief from the heat and have a few drinks. And after a few 10 cent bowls of the tasty local millet beer, the conversations pretty much start themselves. Not to mention when there happens to be a big, red bearded, white man in the mix. A sight thats clearly not a common occurrence in my village, and definitely seems to catch the interest of everyone in the poyote. I’m not generally a shy person in the first place but having a bowl or two of tchuk certainly doesn’t make me more self conscious about my French speaking abilities.

I’ve quickly come to realize that the most interesting concepts to explain are not always things like snowboarding, or Wallmart (which when people actually believe me, does seem to blow their minds), but much more simple facts that you (or at least I), usually take for granted as being universally known. 

Take for example, probably the most frequently asked question I get: “Do you have people like me in America? With black skin?” Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that I would have to convince people here that there are indeed Africans in America. I mean for one, it seems like everywhere you look theres a something with Obama’s face or name printed on it. Kids backpacks, shirts, stickers on cars, names of stores that have nothing to do with Obama or America. Every tenth teenage girl you walk past is wearing a shirt that just says OBAMA in big block letters across the front. But still, every time I tell people that there are black people in America, they seem to be astonished by the idea. “Do they eat Fufu?”(a local staple food in Togo), “Do they all speak French?”, people ask me with curiously mystified looks on their faces.

Another mind boggling topic I never would have thought of, is dogs. In Togo, there is only one breed of dog. Medium sized, pointy ears, pointy snout, very skinny, and usually a quite angry temperament. The skinny part could probably be attributed to the fact that they’re slightly starved, which come to think of it, is probably at least somewhat responsible for their angry temperament as well. That and the fact that someone probably just ate their father. Yeah, people eat dog here. Which is usually how the conversation comes up in the first place. Someone will ask me if I’ve ever eaten dog, or if people in America eat dog. I usually get a few good laughs and chuckles out of the crowd when I say that in America,  dogs are considered our friends, or even family. And that we would never even think of eating them. “But why? They taste so good” they tell me, “One day, you will come eat dog with us”. Tempting sir, but I think I’ll leave the Fido feast to you guys. 

Once we’re on the subject of dogs though, its pretty entertaining to see people’s reaction when I tell them about how many different types of dogs there are in America. Again, to us, it’s such a normal part of our lives, it seems strange that someone would be surprised to hear about it, but imagine for a second that someone came up to you and said that in their native land, they had 80 different types of horses. Ones with really long shaggy hair that reached the floor, ones with normal sized bodies but whose legs were only 18 inches long, ones with way too much skin and ears that drooped down over their eyes that waddled instead of galloping, ones that were the size of house cats, and others the size of small elephants. You’d look at that person like they had 8 heads. Horses are horses and thats it. Theres the occasional little one thats kind of funny to look at, and they come in a few different colors, but thats it. Horses are horses, and in Togo, dogs are dogs(And apparently they’re very tasty). Needless to say, it leads to an interesting discussion. 

By the end of these discussions I’m pretty sure people either think that I’m some sort of voodoo sorcerer(we’ll get into that subject in another post), talking about these strange beasts and crazy customs from a foreign land, or just think that I’m a compulsive lier. Either way though, after an hour or so of talking and a few bowls of tchuk, I think it counts as a fair amount of ‘cultural exchange’, and in my opinion, a job well done.

 

Sorry it’s been so long since my last post, but I hope you guys are still enjoying them. Thanks for the comments on the other ones, it’s always great to hear what you think, and get some ideas for new ones. Keep the messages and comments coming. Thanks for reading.

Back to School

Last week was the first week of school here in Togo. Lucky for me I live right across from the large public elementary and middle schools in town, so I get a nice early wake up call of thousands of screaming children every morning right outside my door. Now I don’t really mind all of the kids, or even all of the noise they make on their way to and from school. Actually, I think I’ve mentioned a few times before that most of the time I’d rather hang out with them than other adults because it’s much easier to communicate with them. I’ve realized that I can make best friends with a group of little kids in my village in like 5 minutes. A smile, some high fives, teach ‘em how to fist pump, poorly attempt to play soccer with them, before I know it I’ve got an entourage of little kids running behind me chanting my name and I’ve only said like 5 words. I wish that were the case for my work here. Walk into a micro-finance office, toss around a few high fives, fist pump the secretary, pick the director up from his desk chair and spin him around a few times till he gets dizzy, make a couple stupid faces and the clients, and bam, I’m done for the day.

I think I’ve also mentioned before how the little kids like to chant the ‘Yovo’ song when they first see me. It gets annoying sometimes, but most of the kids in my neighborhood know my name by now so instead of Yovo they chant James (it’s much easier for the people here to pronounce and remember than Connor), although the kids pronounce it JA-ME-SA, and chant it in the same melody as the Yovo song. I’m pretty proud of myself for this, it probably doesn’t seem like a big deal to you, but you’ve got to take any little victory you can get. Now, throw in about a thousand new kids, who’ve never seen me before, and I get fiercely yanked right back to square one. Times 50.

I’m serious, I don’t even dare to leave my house when they’re out there. My house conveniently sits right smack in between the school yards and about eighty percent of the population, which means that 4 times a day (they go home at about noon for a little siesta), every weekday, theres a flood of children stampeding past my house. I walk out my door and its like Jeter just stepped up to bat in game 7 at Fenway. I feel like someone put my face up on the big screen, signaling the entire crowd to start chanting. Just instead of ‘Jeter Sucks!’ it’s ‘Yovo Yovo!’. One of them sees me and starts it and it just spreads like wildfire.

It’s not that these little kids are trying to be mean at all, its just most of them have probably seen a grand total of 5 white people in their entire life. And it’s that whole group mentality thing, individually they’re very nice and respectful, but when you get 50 of them together walking past a big red bearded yovo, its open season. I can understand it, I mean they’re just kids, but it’s still takes a fair amount of courage to get up and face that gauntlet 6 to 12 year olds eager to enthusiastically point out the fact that yes, I am in fact the one and only white person in the entire village.

Luckily my counterpart is the director of the middle school, so yesterday we decided that it would be a good idea to introduce me to the students and let them know that I would probably be sitting in on a few classes and maybe even starting an English club after school. Which would be a great opportunity to put a dent in the whole yovo thing. Another volunteer who has already been here for a year, was visiting me that day as well to see what I’ve been working on so far and give me some advice about things and answer any questions I might have, so she came with me to the school that morning. Having another American around to be able to speak English with and relate to is always nice, the fact that she speaks fluent French made it all the better.

So we get to the school just before they’re about to start for the day. Similar to saying the Pledge of Allegiance in front of the flag before school in The States, they all gather round the flag pole in the middle of the school yard and sing the national anthem as one of the older students raises the flag. All of them are in somewhat matching kaki uniforms lined up in neat even rows by year and class, standing in a large circle around the flagpole, being attentive and quiet (as quiet as you could expect any group of a thousand excited kids to be at 7 in the morning).

After the national anthem is finished, my counterpart gives a little talk about the day’s schedule makes a few announcements and then proceeds to the introduction of myself and the other volunteer Tamara. Now, if you’ve read the post about the welcoming ceremony for when I first got to village, you already know that my counterpart likes to give me quite grandiose introductions. He really out did himself this time though. Heres a little recap of the introduction and events that followed:

“Today we have 2 very special guests with us from The United States of America.”

Seems to be getting off to a fairly normal start.

“This is Monsieur James, and Madame Moselle Tamara”

Just James works for me usually but okay, I like it.

“Who knows who the president of the United States of America is?”

A handful of kids raise their hands. The rest are clearly being shy because Obama is absolutely everywhere here. T-shirts, backpacks, underwear(yes I did buy a pair), painted onto bush taxis, giant sacs of rice, there’s even a store in my village called ‘Obama Shop’(the guy sells african soccer jerseys, don’t ask me what that has to do with Obama). Theres no way any of them don’t know who the president of the US is.

After a particularly bold young boy responded quite proudly, my counterpart continued his introductions.

“Well they are like Obama’s brother and sister.”

Ummm….Okay. Not reealy. I’m not quite sure where you’re going with this one now, but okay.

“They are like the president of the United States of America.”

Whoa man. Talk about excessive expectations. Shit dude, You’re really building us up here huh? You’re out doing yourself this time aren’t ya?

“Monsieur James is going to teach an English club so that you can learn English and then go to America one day.”

We’ve talked maybe twice before this about the possibility of me maybe having an English club a few days after school. But by all means man, bring on the high expectations. He continued on in a similar fashion for about ten more minutes. I couldn’t quite pick up everything he said but based on the expressions on Tamara’s face at certain points in the little speech, it wasn’t difficult to get the idea that he wasn’t quite getting any more modest with his projected expectations.

Remembering how he threw me out in front of the highly esteemed crowd of important community members, chiefs, and the prefet, to give an impromptu ‘speech’ upon my arrival at post, I figured he’d have me say at least a few words to the kids here at the school. Anticipating this I threw together a few quick sentences in my head while he was giving his introduction. Nothing special, just ‘Good morning, how are you, thanks for having me, I’m excited to be able to work with you in the future.’ Simple stuff that at this point, after a few months in village, I’m fairly confident in saying in French. I’m not too worried about it, it’s little kids, their french isn’t that great anyway so I figure I can get away with a few grammatical mistakes and make it out alive.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. I get through the first two lines, a few little whispers between the kids, maybe a giggle or two. Okay, don’t worry about it, they’re kids, what do you expect? Just keep going. I get halfway through saying thank you for having me here, and the whispers grow to low voices, giggles turn to a few scattered laughs. I raise my voice to continue further. “I’m looking forward to…” Remember when I mentioned wildfire before? Yeah, well picture a christmas tree that hasn’t been watered for about a month and has been sitting in a warm cozy living room next to the fireplace getting nice and dry. Now put a spark from a bad extension cord right under it. Like in one of those fire safety videos where they show how a christmas tree can be completely engulfed in flames in like 2.4 seconds. Yeah. It was like that.

Those little whispers and that giggle turned into full blown yelling and roaring laughter faster than i could even realize what was happening. There were literally kids covering their ears with both hands at the sound of my attempt at speaking French. If I thought leaving my house before was like walking into a gauntlet, this was a fucking gladiatorial colosseum filled with the roaring cheers of bloodthirsty crowds watching me get mauled by hungry lions.

After about a minute of the teachers yelling and blowing whistles for them to be quiet, the crowd once again returned to a few scattered whispers and giggles. I looked over at my counterpart and smiled.

“You can continue now if you’d like” he says to me. The edges of his lips slightly curled up, while trying to hold back a smile.

“Nope, I think that’ll just about do it for me” I said with a grin on my face. “I think Tamara can take it from here”

Now don’t get me wrong, I was fucking mortified at first. I felt like I was in that dream where you’re in grade school and you look down and realize you somehow forget to put cloths on that morning on and the entire school is staring and laughing and pointing at you in the middle of the cafeteria.

The feeling only lasted a few seconds though. I realized that I’m constantly saying how you’ve got to find the humor in some of the more ridiculous and difficult parts of life here. And I think this definitely qualified as one of those times. I’m standing there in front of a group of probably a thousand antsy, energetic little kids, who’ve just been told that I’m like President Barak Obama, and that I might be one of their teachers soon. On top of that, the only white people that they ever see are French, and therefore have impeccable grammar and accents. And all of their teachers have fairly good french accents as well. So when I open my mouth and they hear this strange terrible accent scattered with grammatical mistakes, coming from someone who they’ve just been given such high expectations of, they think it’s hysterical. And I can’t blame them, I agree, the entire situation is pretty damned ridiculous.

If you cant laugh at yourself sometimes, I think you’re going to have a pretty tough time no matter where you are.

As I said before, these kids aren’t trying to be mean, they’re not being malicious or trying to make fun of me. They just get a kick out of it. And let me tell you something, I’ve never had kids in village show me so much respect than after that whole fiasco. I try to time my trips to the market now for when the kids are walking to and from school. Everywhere I go now the kids give me a little bow or curtsey (its a sign of respect here to slightly bow to someone, especially your elders, when you greet them), and call me Monsieur or Monsieur James. They might have thought that my accent was funny and strange, but in the end they certainly got the point of the whole introduction and the director’s speech, and despite my initial concerns, the little mishap did not completely kill my chances of being taken seriously by them(Although I’m sure not too seriously). So as shitty as situations here can sometimes seem, you just have to find a way to laugh and look at the bright side of it all.

 

On a side note, As you’ve probably noticed, I’ve reformatted the whole blog page and added pictures and whatnot. Theres some links on the right side to some other Togo Volunteers’ blogs if you want to get some different perspectives. Theres also little “Sign me up!” button, if you want to get a little email notification anytime I put up a new post. I hope you’re enjoying the posts so far, and feel free to leave comments, It’s always nice to get some feedback and hear what people think back home.