Saturday, July 6, 2013

An Interesting Week, or, the 4th in Togo. Again.

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was a comedy of errors. Or of other things. 
I am sitting in a hotel in Kara, getting ready to go home for the last time.  I am on my back from seeing D, Abby, and Maggie off in Lomé. I am exhausted in a variety of ways.  The past week has been an emotional rollercoaster, even though it was not me who was COSing.  I spent 7 hours on a (nice) bus yesterday, wedged between a bulky Togolese guy and the window. I am taking some kind of 7 day course of pills to treat the asymptomatic amoebic cysts that are apparently using my gut as a wading pool, until they move someplace else.

COSing (Close of Service), is a stressful time for any Volunteer.  There is about 2.5 days of checking out—medical, logistical, financial, administrative—before one becomes an RPCV.  For D, however, it was especially bad. I went down to Bassar on Thursday.  I had to do my final med exam in Lomé so I went with D to help her with all her stuff.  Thursday night, after her goodbye party in Bassar, we had a really bad altercation with her landlord over rent. We wound up having to spend the night at Saye’s. When I can think about it without wanting to hit something, I will write about it.  Then we met up with Maggie in Kara on Friday, after we got D out of her house.  Saturday we took a bus down to Lomé to begin the actual COS process.

I find myself, still, in an unfamiliar situation.  As Americans, we enjoy nearly unlimited freedom of travel in our own country, and many other places we would like to go. As an American abroad, there are days when I am forcefully reminded of the fact that I have a couple pieces of paper upon which my freedom of movement, and perhaps freedom in general, relies.  Passports and visas.  You have them, or you do not.  If you do not, and you are someplace, you are screwed.  Regard the following vignette.   

As Peace Corps Volunteers, and thus US government employees, we are issued special passports.  These are the passports we use for traveling during our service, and are the ones that contain all of our visas etc.  We are also required to bring our personal passports.  D’s personal passport was about to expire a couple of months ago, so she applied for a new one at the US embassy in Lomé.  We went to pick it up the other day.  D gave the lady her PC passport as ID to pick up her new one.  Apparently, it is policy to cancel the old passport when you get a new.  After about 10 minutes, they called D up to the window and were like “Well . . . we messed up.  We canceled your PC passport by mistake.”  In other words, they canceled the passport that contained D’s Togolese and Ghanaian visas (she planned to fly out through Accra).  D was suddenly, possibly, a stranger in a strange land.  To their credit, the consulate staff made a flurry of phone calls to make sure that she could still travel with her canceled passport and not-canceled visas. Then they gave her money to go to the Ghanaian embassy to make sure that they agreed.  Ghanaians are much more concerned about visas and stuff than Togolese are.  D handled the whole situation remarkably well considering.  That stomach dropping feeling of “oh shit, my documentation is not in order” is awful.  Especially in this day and age of international travel that depends on a carefully connected series of dots.  I know that D got through the Ghanaian border yesterday without a problem.  I do not know if she made it out of the airport, through Jordan, or to London without a problem. 

We did have to sit in the Ghanaian embassy for like 3 hours because the secretary never told the guy D was supposed to see that she was there. Once he knew, it took about 10 minutes for him to assure D that her visa was still good.

In happier news, I met my replacement, Lauren, Sunday.  I got up early and went out to Gbatopé to see her.  I was really stressed out about my replacement.  I should have had more faith in Paul.  He picked out a really good replacement for Nampoch.  Lauren is really cool, and asked me good questions about Nampoch, etc.  I feel much better now, like I am leaving my post in good hands.  I also said goodbye to my host family during stage.  I think that my host mom  about cried.  She definitely hugged me several times.

It is kind of weird, how over two years, people become fixtures of the landscape.  I am, for example, in Kara right now.  It is really weird being here without knowing that Abby is like 10 minutes away.  It would be really hard to go back to Bassar without D.
I finally celebrated the 4th of July here.  Since we were in Lomé at the time, we went to the US embassy’s 4th party.  It was pretty fun, if really weird.  The embassy, the part that does not look like a nice maximum security prison, is like a little slice of America.  Lawns, familiar bathroom with soap dispensers and paper towels, beach volleyball, a pool, etc.  Saye and I were some of the first Volunteers there.  When we arrived we saw that most of the tables and chairs were set up in the sun, so we got some chairs, and our beers, and set up under a tree on a little hill by the embassy building itself, from which vantage point we could see all.  It was a good spot, most of the like 40 Volunteers who came eventually ended up there.  We lost 2 rounds of tug-of-war against embassy personnel.  They are much brawnier than we are.  Then it was northern Volunteers vs southern Volunteers. We won.  I ate two hamburgers. I was in a sack race. And I helped some kids fly a kite. And we watched our Country Director and the US Ambassador in a “dunk” tank.  They both got wet.  I do not think “Proud to be an American” was ever played on the sound system, for which I was profoundly grateful, since almost everyone at the party was living out the song. No fireworks though.  Oh well.  Maybe next year. 

Then I woke up at 500 the next morning to say goodbye to D and head to the bus station.  So it goes.

D’s friend, Modar, came with us last Friday when we came to Kara.  Modar is about 18 I think, she’s really smart.  She’s on the verge of finishing the Togolese equivalent of high school, and she’s one of D’s best friends here.  Anyway, she stayed with us Friday night in the hotel.  It was the first time she’s stayed in Kara.  I do not know if she’d ever slept in A/C, but when she went to take a shower, she was like “Gniamba (D’s local name) um, how do you do this?”  Modar had never taken an overhead shower before.  I told her that, when we came to Togo, they had to show us how to take a bucket shower since Americans are only used to taking overhead showers with running water.  She thought that was pretty funny.             
I think one thing I will miss about Lomé, possibly the only thing, is the Lebanese food there. So good.

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