We have arrived in Lomé, Togo, where we are doing our first few days of paperwork and interviews with the Peace Corps staff. Yesterday, we got a big envelop of paperwork to fill out, we work for the US government after all. We had a safety and security lecture where we learned some basics of how to stay safe by integrating into our communities.
We were educated on the ambulatory system in Togo. If a person in Togo gets into a moto accident a bystander can call an ambulance. There are three ambulances in Lomé. One of which will come to where you are hurt and when they open up the back there will be absolutely nothing in it. No stretcher, no gauze, no medications. If the injured person were unconscious then a generous bystander would have to use their own money to go buy the supplies needed at a local pharmacy and bring them back. Then the unconscious person would have to repay that generous person when they wake up.
I also gained a better understanding why there is so little presence of bilateral and multilateral organizations in Togo, compared to many other Sub Saharan African countries. Lomé, the capital of Togo, was seen as the Paris of West Africa in the 1980’s until it was hard hit by structural adjustment programs and civil unrest that began in 1994. The President of Togo died and was swiftly replaced by his son creating mistrust in the government and external organizations. During this time Togo was kicked out of the UN, one of only two countries ever, and many aid organizations back out. This led to a slide back in development in Togo as many organizations never came back to Togo and there still isn’t a presence of USAID or PEPFAR in Togo. This April was the last Presidential election with a fair and democratic election where 60 percent of the population voted for the current President. During the time of civil unrest Peace Corps is one of the few organizations that stayed in Togo and is greatly respected. Peace Corps was started by JFK in 1961 and Peace Corps Togo began in 1962 with completely uninterrupted service since, one of only two countries Peace Corps is in.
Today has been a busy day of meeting with Peace Corps staff. I had a meeting with the Peace Corps Medical Officer (PCMO) this morning to determine what is the best malaria prophylaxis for me to be on for the next two years and talk about health concerns, such as asthma and access to albuterol, which is supplied by Peace Corps as needed. Then I had my language placement exam, which was pretty challenging, I was asked to explain in French what experience I have in Public Health and what projects I want to work on in Togo. I definitely used a lot of Franglais, but it doesn’t really matter, because it is just to determine what level you are at to begin training. Afterwards, I met with the Community Health and Malaria Prevention (CHAMP) director, Ismael, who I will be working with a lot throughout training and over the next two years. He asked me about the experience I have, what I want to accomplish while in Togo, and what I want to do after Peace Corps. I told him that I am interested in working in global health and getting a Masters in Public Health after PC. I told him that I am interested in health systems research and that I would like to be involved in monitoring and evaluation. He told me that I would most likely be placed in a very rural community, as that is where there is the most need. This does mean that I may not have running water, electricity, etc., which I went in expecting. I do have a phone now if anyone needs to contact me send me an email and I can send it to you, but I may have very limited internet access when I get to site, but I will have a better idea of that in August. Tomorrow and Monday we will continue training in Lomé and then Monday we head to our training site. I don’t know what the internet access will be like there either. We will be at our training site until August when we are assigned our permanent site.
So far we have been completely spoiled by Peace Corps, we went to the Presidential suite at the airport when we arrived, we have stayed in a nice hotel with air conditioning, comfy beds, showers, and toilets. The food thus far has been phenomenal we usually have eggs with veggies and crepes for breakfast, lunch is rice, lentils, and chicken, and dinner is a lamb stew with baguette and veggies. It is amazing. I am excited to move to our training site Monday and meet my host family and start doing the hard work. Everyone says training is really intense and you essentially have no time to yourself, so we will see how that goes. We are heading on a walking tour of Lomé this afternoon and I will try and add some pictures from that tomorrow if the Internet cooperates.