Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Story So Far

I am sitting here at dusk while a plume of smoke from a brush fire arcs over my head. Sheets of ash from teak leaves are flying over, and on, me. And my family's dog is nuzzling my foot in hopes I will scratch between his eyes.
The purpose of this piece is to provide a bit of context for the following, or preceding, entries. I plan on posting these at once and I have no idea how it will turn out.
I left Indiana on September 16. I think. It seems like a half a life time ago. I met the rest of my stage (stAj) in historical Philadelphia for 2 days of meet/greet and staging before departing for Togo. We got to Togo on the 18th, spent a couple of days there doing orientation and health stuff, like getting shots, and went out to our traing sites.
My official job designation is Natural Resources Management. There are 15 of us in my stage. 14 people working in GEE, Girls' Education and Empowerment, round out the members of the September stage. We went through orientation and swear-in together, and did some training stuff ensemble as well, but we trained at different sites. GEE's site was Tsevié, a large town/city about an hour north of Lomé. NRM trained in Gbatopé, a village about 7-10k east of Tsevié. Each stagaire was placed with a host family to facilitate acclimation to Togolese society, cuisine, etc. My host family was a farming family about 2k outside of Gbatopé on the road to Benin. They were awesome.
Stage was about 9 weeks long. We mainly did language (French and local) and technical training. We had joint sessions with the people from Tsevié on stuff like health, Peace Corps policy, and Togolese culture. On the 6th week I think it was, we went to our posts for a visit.
The 9th week was a whirlwind. We got our language test results (I passed), packed up, and went down to Lomé for 3 days of shopping and swearing-in. The ceremony for swear-in was held at the US Ambassador's residence. Some Togolese dignitaries were there and we were broadcast on national TV. After the appropriate, um, festivities, we were bundled off to our posts.
A little note on Togolese geography and society-- The country is divided up into 5 regions that are, in order from south to north, Maritime, Plateau, Centraal, Kara, and Savannes. Togo itself was the French half of the former German colony of Togoland (or Legoland). There are something like 40 different ethnic groups in Togo, each with their own language. French is the official language though, and it is also what Togolese from different ethnicities use to communicate. French is taught in the primary and secondary schools. This means that most men and children can speak it fairly well but that a lot of older people and women may or may not if they did not go to school.
My post is a village called Nampoch. It is located in western Kara, about 30ish miles from Ghana. The main ethnic group here is the Konkumba. They extend about 10 miles east of Nampoch and westward aways into Ghana. Another wonder wrought by European colonial map makers.
The nearest 'city' is Guerin-Kouka. It is where I to buy most stuff (it has a big marché), get my mail, and to recharge my electronic devices. I do have cell phone service here in Nampoch, depending on where I stand. I am lucky that there is a really good (dirt) road connecting Nampoch to Guerin-Kouka, and to Ghana. This is because the area is a sizeable cotton producing region and a cotton consortium maintains the road. There is a 2nd year GEE volunteer posted in Guerin-Kouka. She is really cool. I go to her house to charge my stuff and also to experience luxuries like a fan and a couch.
I think that there are about 500 people or so in Nampoch itself. There are quite a few smaller outlying villages, and compounds, that are connected economically and socially to Nampoch however. I will talk more about this later.
Nampoch is technically a "new" post. That is, I am the first NRM PCV to be posted here. Sort of. There was a PCV originally posted here from last year's NRM stage, but he was medically seperated by the Peace Corps after only a month at post. I inherited his furniture. It took me about a week here to figure out that there have been PCVs in Nampoch in the 90s and early 2000s, but they worked in health.
I live in a two room house that's part of a larger compound. My host family consists of a father, mother, and their six kids. The oldest girl is, I think, about 16. I pay her to get my water. My host mother just had a son on December 23rd. They wanted me to name him, so I named him David after my dad. My host dad, like most of the rest of village, is a farmer. He farms 8 hectacres by hand. Corn and yams are the principal food crops; cotton and sorgham are the principle cash crops. There is also a lot of soybeans, rice, peppers, and okra. And probably also some stuff that I forgot.
I have mentioned my homologue a lot. When a village requests a PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer), it has to identify someone as the PCV's principal counterpart/contact person in village. Thus, the homologue. Mine's name is Kodjo. He is a farmer (7 or so hectacres). Kodjo has 2 wives and 4 kids. His oldest is 11 and his youngest, the first by his second wife, just turned 1. His second wife does my laundry.
I am really happy with Kodjo as a homologue. Not only does he have a moto, so he can take me places, but he has worked with several previous PCVs in the past so he has experience working with Americans. He serves, on some level, as an intermediary between me and the village, whether it be translating my crappy French into Konkumba or explaining what someone is trying to tell me, to telling me who is a chief, to instructing me on cultural norms, or to making sure the carpenter knows how to build my bookshelves. Kodjo really likes music, so much so that I told him that his radio is his third wife. He thought this was hilarious. He is easy-going and relaxed about stuff.
This could describe Nampoch in general-- relaxed. Topographically, the place is not too exciting. But I really like the people here.

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