I am sitting in the PC transit house in Atakpamé right now. We are editing our third issue of Farm to Market, a joint NRM/SED publication. In other words, it’s a collaboration between agriculture and business Volunteers. I really enjoy working on this publication, despite, um, interesting personal relations with certain other people on the editing team. Atakpamé is probably my least favorite city in Togo outside of Lomé. Its nestled in the hills at the eastern end of the plateaus from whence the region Plateaux gets its name. The road down to the transit house is so rocky that its barely passable even for motos. Walking it at night can easily result in a twisted ankle or urine soaked toes. I can’t remember the last time I wore actual shoes
About two weeks ago I walked out of my house one morning and my host dad told me that the Minister of Health was coming in a couple hours for a meeting. I was like “cool” and walked over to the boutique by the chief’s house to buy phone credit. There I met Kodjo who was helping organize the meeting. Judging from the level of commotion—big meetings are held under the neem tree outside the chief’s house—it dawned on me that I should ask what Minister of Health was coming. The one for Dankpen, my prefecture, the one for Kara . . .? No, the Togolese Minister of Health. I went back to my house to find a nice shirt and a clean pair of pants.
About 10am a convoy of late model SUVs rolled up and disgorged a swarm of dignitaries. There is a strict order at these kinds of events as to who sits where. The most important person gets the nicest chair in the middle, the lesser important people get chairs on either side and behind him. This was such a big deal that my chief du canton got a wooden chair halfway down the front row. My prefet was there, the local Ministers of Health were there, a television crew was there, and so on. I stood there trying to figure out what was going on and someone told me to sit down because I am an “authority.”
The National Minister of Health is actually from Bassar, which is about 60k south of me, in the same region. He picked Nampoch as one of the sites to promote a treatment against river blindness. I have no idea why. The whole event was a pretty big deal. A bunch of my friends put on a hilarious sketch that illustrated why people should take the medicine and avoid river blindness and the Minister gave a speech.
Afterwards, a couple of the dignitaries did a television spot. They were all surprised to find a Volunteer in Nampoch. Apparently they consider it to be fairly remote. One woman told me, in English, that she got her Masters from UCLA. Now she works for WHO. Definitely not what I expected when I rolled out of bed that morning . . .
I went to Pagala a week ago Sunday to be a trainer for the 2011 stage’s In-Service Training. Paul, my boss, told me that he and a bunch of other people had seen me on TV from the Health Minister’s visit.
I turned 30 in Pagala. I was not happy about this fact originally. Pagala is my least favorite place in Togo. But it was actually a nice birthday. The new NRM stage sang happy birthday. D stopped by for the night on her way home to visit me. Katie K, a 3rd year PCV, told the kitchen to make me a birthday cake. I totally surprised when they brought it out. Then everyone sang to me. Again. Then I went out and counted my gray hairs.
IST was fun. The new stage is a good group of people. It was exhausting for us as trainers, but I guess that’s part of it. I led sessions on the Food Security Committee, Funding, and Pump projects.
The day before I left for Pagala, Jenn and Bry came out to Nampoch for a meeting with our Committee Against Forced Marriage. It was a successful meeting. The members are really motivated so stuff gets done without a lot of blood, sweat, and tears on my part, so that’s encouraging. Afterwards, though, we were sitting around drinking tchakba, and I got to talking with a couple of my friends. Gilbert is a student in university majoring in English, so a lot of the following conversation was in english that he translated into Konkumba.
My friend Eli said that the Committee is good but that it needs actual power. I said that it has power because forced marriage is illegal according to Togolese law. They explained that, in their culture, you do not involve yourself in someone else’s affairs unless it affects you. In other words, if you try to stop a father from marrying off his 12 year old daughter, he will think that you have a personal problem with him. I started explaining how laws were there as a tool to help Togolese society develop and improve. Then I started thinking—Togolese civil law was adopted from the French legal code. French law developed with the society—it was adapted by society in response to perceived needs. In Togo, however, the law was imposed by elites on a society that had a different mindset. Now, the law is in place, but Togolese society has to adjust to it. That is where a lot of the development problems stem from.
There is another factor at work too. As our conversation progressed, I talked about how my little sisters are in college and can become whatever they want because of the protection that US law provides them. Then I asked Eli, when he holds his newborn daughter in his arms, what he dreams of her becoming when she grows up. He replied “I dream that she lives.”