I'm sorry that it's taken me this long to post about Brad's and my trip to Togo last month! School started back a few weeks ago so I'm finally getting back into a routine here in DC. Brad and I had an amazing trip to see Sister and Nathan last month, and it's definitely one that we'll never forget. We left DC August 11 and arrived back in that States on the 21st, our trips to and from each taking about 24 hours. We flew from Baltimore to NY to Casablanca, Morocco to Lome, Togo, and the reverse back again. So our first cultural experience was in Morocco, where we hung out for 10 hours in an airport that seemed to be in the middle of a desert. It was interesting just to see how many men and women were wearing turbans and veils and how odd we looked in our t-shirts and uncovered heads (although I did change into a long skirt in NY).
As soon as we arrived in Lome around midnight, our Togolese experience began in its own unique way. While we were filling out our entry forms, a nice young man volunteered to help me, which I didn't realize would cost us $5 afterwards. Then, as we were waiting in line to have our passports checked, I was surprised to see how many people were allowed to cut in line, one man actually handing the guard cash while we were standing at the counter. And then when our luggage was being checked, they discovered our 15 soccer balls that we had brought with us, thanks to lots of generous donations. One man said that he would like to have one to play with, and Brad and I were so tired and surprised that we let him have one. Finally, we got to see Nathan and Sister, who laughed at our naivety and told us that our new phrase would now be "No."
We stayed in a small, relatively bare hotel in Lome for a couple nights and got to visit the Peace Corps bureau and meet several volunteers there. We then boarded a greyhound kind of bus early one morning, in which the four of us sat on the back row, me next to a woman who got good use out of the little plastic bags she had brought along. We stopped a couple times on the way, but were very pleased to finally leave the bus about 10 hours later. A taxi driver who is friends with Sister and Nathan was already waiting for us when we got off the bus, and he drove us the remaining 30 minutes or so to Passare, the village in which they live. After getting out of the car and walking while the taxi struggled over the deep ridges of the mud road and then continuing on in the car, we finally arrived in Passare and were instantly aware of the beauty that everyone's been talking about.
We met the family who lives in the buildings that form a courtyard with Nathan and Sister's house and then collapsed in our temporary home. Sister and Nathan have done a really wonderful job at making their house a lovely home. They've acquired colorful, comfortable cots and pillows for their bedroom and living room area and seem to have a good bit of storage space in chests, baskets, and shelves. They have a little gas stove that they've enjoyed with a big gas tank beside it and a big jug on the floor where they keep their well water. There's also an open-air area attached to the house for bathing and a little latrine beside that. One of Sister's students gets paid to bring them a few big buckets of water every day, which is used for surprisingly refreshing sponge baths and washing clothes.
So, to save you a bit of reading and repetition, here are just a few more notes on our trip:
- While it was nice to have convenience stores and restaurants in Lome, Brad and I, like other visitors, found village life to be much more enjoyable. We went near the end of the rainy season, and the whole countryside was lush and green, with mountains rising in the distance and palm trees dotting the agricultural landscape. People are more traditional in their dress and behaviors in the village, and while we felt quite out of place with our pale skin and lack of French skills, villagers were extremely gracious and welcoming to us. Not only were we allowed to attend a wedding and reception, but we were also invited to two homes to eat meals and were greeted by multiple friends just stopping by the house to meet us. Brad and I also just enjoyed the slowness of life in Passare. While the roosters ensured that we awoke by 6, there was no hurry to go anywhere, and we spent lots of time enjoying Sister's cooking, Nathan's stories, reading, napping, and taking walks. Soon after the sun set, so did we.
- It was clear to Brad and me that the villagers appreciate Nathan and Sister just as much as they enjoy the villagers. The girls in the village just glowed whenever Sister described their micro-enterprise projects or mentioned that they were her students at the middle school. The men couldn't get enough of Nathan's jokes and clearly enjoyed spending time with him as he sat in the tchouk-drinking circles with them. It made Brad's and my visit much more enjoyable knowing that even though we were awkward Americans, Sister and Nathan were our hosts and therefore people in the village were happy to meet us. It's a truly different way of life, and they've really made Passare their home.
- The most exciting story to tell about our trip is the journey we took with Sister back to Lome. We each rode on the back of a different motorcycle for about 30 minutes before we got to the town where we would board a bush taxi to Lome. The taxi was a 15-passenger van, and we began by waiting for the driver and assistant to tie everyone's luggage onto the the top of the van. Brad got to sit in the passenger seat because of his height, while Sister and I sat next to each other in one of the backseats. We were continuously entertained by the mother and 1-year-old who sat beside me, the mother nursing her daughter about every 15 minutes (for 10 hours). Oh, and there was the live chicken they had brought with them who sat at our feet in a bag. Originally, there were about 15 of us in the van. However, within the first hour or so of travelling down the road, we accumulated literally 15 more people. Sister showed me how to grip onto the seat infront of me so she wouldn't be pushed off the seat, and she was responsible for buying our food whenever we stopped on the side of the road and purchased snacks from women through our window (we'd just pass things up to Brad at the front). Negatives: the body odor that sat infront of your nose every time the van stopped and having to sit for 10 hours. Positives that redeemed the trip: the wind blowing right on us from the window, the humor of the little girl sitting halfway in my lap and throwing her snacks at us, and the quality bonding time that I got to spend with my sister =) .
Basically, Brad and I had a wonderful trip to Togo! It was definitely a learning experience, as we met different kinds of people, places, and ways of life. It's so easy to get wrapped up with life here in the Washington, thinking about where to eat next, which movies to rent, who to e-mail and what to get done by the end of the day. I'm thankful that we were able to be reminded that we're small people in a big world. I'm even more thankful that Nathan and Sister, who are faced every day with their experiences both here and there, let us see a little bit of what their life is like in Togo! I know they have many more stories to come... =)