Saturday, June 11, 2011

This is a post that may or may not make sense . . .

The past week has been exhausting. I’ve been helping out with this pump project a lot. The plus side is that I’ve seen a lot of Dankpen/west Kara and its freaking beautiful. I originally thought it was flat here, but some of the roads come up on these ridges where you can see for kilometers across these broad valleys. There are random green “mountains” everywhere whose relative bulk to the landscape makes them look like fetish homes. You look across the landscape and the distant fields look like lawns that are heavily dotted with trees. Occasionally smoke from charcoal makers smudges the green with touches of gray. Storm cells slog over the horizon in the late afternoon like wandering giants supremely disdain of us mere mortals below.

We put in a new pump in this village that is close to the border so we took a break to swim in the river between Togo and Ghana. The current is pretty fast so no one, probably, got schisto (google it).

On the minus side, I feel like I got hit by a truck. Like I think I said before, its hard installing a pump piece by piece, especially when a lot of the work consists of holding on to many meters of galvanized pipe. Part of the problem is that a lot of the pumps are in these circular enclosures that are about 7-ish meters in diameter and have a shoulder-high (to me) wall around them. Since they are usually in the full sun, and full of villagers watching/helping, it gets really hot in them. One day I got sun-sickness and had to check out for awhile.

Things were going well otherwise with the project until 2 nights ago. Myself, Adam, Matt, Kadar, Adam’s homologue Gbandi, and the mechanic, Mr Daré went to this one village near Kouka in the late afternoon to get it done quickly so we had less to do the next day. It was the evening of marché so everyone was drunk. By the time we were done, we were pretty fed up with the place. The main condition for a new pump is that the village has to come up with 25% of the total cost. All the villages up until then had been good about paying their share. But this village hadn’t collected the money yet. So we went back the next morning, and they still didn’t have it together, so Adam told them that they had until the evening, or we would come take the pump. Evening rolled around, after a frustrating day of more non-payment from other villages, and we went back. No money. So me, Adam, Kadar, and Kadar’s little brother, Ganeou, went and took the pump handle. It really sucked because there were about 10 women and girls standing around watching us as we cut off their water supply.

The way these funded projects work is that the PCVs are responsible for the funds. If villages don’t pay for their share of the labor/materials then the PCVs have to cover the deficit out of pocket. Another village for example, didn’t pay yesterday when we installed the pump in the morning, but we went back that evening and they were out under a tree with a table full of money. One guy explained to me that they’d just had a funeral that they had to pay for. Once villages have the pump, they have no incentive to pay, especially if the chief is less than responsible. The first village actually just brought the rest of the money this morning, so they got their pump handle back. Thankfully though, most villages have been great to work with. One village paid in part with a sack full of 10 and 25 CFA pieces, which showed that everyone in the village had been chipping in to help pay for the pump. People, especially the women, are really thankful to have a new pump, and it is gratifying to help them, but, unfortunately, human nature is not culturally specific.

Today I went au ville here in Kouka to buy some supplies. I bought a new flashlight because I left my other one at Alisha’s. I’ve been amazed since I’ve gotten here about how ubiquitous LED lights are here. This is due, I think in part, to the fact that the only batteries that you can get here are really cheap Chinese ones. I think they actually have a core of charcoal. But yeah, LEDs are bright, last a long time, and put out a nice light. Its weird to look out over a dark landscape and night and see random LED lights off in the bush.

As much fun as its been hanging out/working with other Volunteers for the past couple of weeks, I am looking forward to getting back to village and sleeping for a couple of days.

I just read in my newest Volunteer newsletter that PC-Togo has a special relationship with Togolese customs; so, if you send me anything, you should put Corps de la Paix in the address somewhere. (hint hint).

I just realized how out of touch I am with the rest of the world right now. I have no idea whats going on, especially in the US. Is the latest good movie that important to know about? I don’t know.

I’ve been gone so much lately that Nigarmi is developing separation anxiety. Every time I do something with my backpack he attacks it.

One of the beauties of PC service is that you do things you never thought you would do. Like, I never thought that I would be becoming a semi-expert on hand pumps. Yet, here I am.

Soft drinks taste better here. A. I don’t get a lot of sugar. B. they are made with actual sugar and not high fructose corn syrup. I say this because this post is fueled by exhaustion, lingering frustration, and the cold-ish Fanta that I just drank.

One parting thought that I have not been able to get out of my head recently is this. The US spends billions of dollars a year on new warships, fighter jets, tanks, etc. What if a couple of these were canceled and the money used to build new wells/pumps across sub-Saharan Africa? That would do more to promote US security than 100 new fighter jets would.

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