I usually do not think that life here in Togo is all that different than life anywhere else in the world. Sure the details change, but the essentials are the same. Most of the time.
So a couple weeks ago I went to visit the prefect with Karen and Emily about a project. It was kind of a big deal, so I wore my Chaco sandals instead of my usual tapettes—50 cent flipflops that everyone wears. I was not paying attention when we were walking home, and the top strap on my right sandal rubbed a blister on my ankle. The next day, I spent like 14 hours installing pumps, also in my Chacos, and still did not have the presence of mind to make sure my strap was adjusted right. The day after that, Thursday, I could barely walk.
The little blister had gotten infected. Since it was right on one of the tendons in my ankle, it really hurt. I did a little surgery with a pair of finger nail clippers to get it to drain and the next day I could walk just fine. In the States, a little blister like that would heal in a day or so. If it got infected, antibiotic ointment would have it cured over-night. Ha. Another rule of thumb in the States is to leave small injuries uncovered. Again, ha. A couple months ago, I tripped over a rock one night in Kouka (don’t take street lights for granted) and messed up my toe. The next day I was sitting out side playing Settlers of Catan with Karen and Jen (don’t laugh, its cutthroat). After 10 minutes I felt a stab of pain in my toe, looked down, and discovered that flies had eaten of the scab. But I digress.
My sore didn’t heal. Every time I was outside, which is most of the day, flies were at it. Band-aids didn’t last long. Ointment was more of a stop-gap measure. I can’t remember the last night I wore shoes, let alone socks. Squeaky clean feet are the mark of a PCV who just got back from a trip to the US. I finally had to resort to putting ointment on it, followed by a Band-Aid with athletic tape wrapped around my foot.
When I first got to Togo I was bemused by these circular, nickel-sized scars everyone seems to have on their shins. Now I have one on my ankle. Well, actually now two. I scrapped the same ankle in Kouka and That eventually got infected after I forgot about it.
Anyway, the point of this lengthy diatribe about trivial health issues is this—in the US, rather, in the Midwest to be more accurate, we take for granted basic, general, cleanliness. There are fewer bugs, fewer microbes, far fewer parasites that can get us.
Case in point—rainy season has, slowly, started. This means that the bug population is burgeoning, especially mosquitos. I think that my host mom spent the entire week before last taking David and Jiddah to the infirmary because they were sick with malaria, or intestinal parasites, or both. Most likely both. The majority of kids in Togo have intestinal parasites and almost everyone has had malaria, or has it, depending on the type. One of my good friends in village had malaria symptoms this past week.
A lot of people here know that mosquitos carry malaria, and they sleep under mosquito nets and use mosquito coils etc. Basic sanitation, like hand-washing, is by no means universal, but personal hygiene is important; my host family showers more than I do I think. Kids play in the dirt here, but they do that everywhere. Disease, and parasites, are much more powerful facts of life here than in the US.
A side note. Togo, along with other West African countries, undertook a massive campaign, starting in the 90s I think, to eradicate Guinea Worm (Google it!), a particularly nasty bug that used to be endemic to the region. The campaign has been successful in Togo; there haven’t been any reported cases here for a while although I think there was one in Ghana recently. Jimmy Carter played a role in this—he is one of my heroes. Anyway, the next time you’re complaining about sub-zero temperatures, just be thankful that, because of them, you can garden barefoot without worrying about nearly as many things trying to get in you, unlike me.