Before I left, Taylor made a book for me that all my friends and family wrote letters in for me to read when I got to Togo. I saved them, trying to only read them on my worst days. I read it almost every night in the beginning, thinking of all my friends and family and wondering what I was missing out on. I loved when I got a chance to be on Facebook and see pictures of my friends at restaurants and Taylor hiking with our dogs. Now it’s Fall and it’s honestly a little confusing to see pictures of friends wrapped up in scarves, drinking pumpkin spice lattes, when it’s over 100 degrees here at 7am, but something has changed. It no longer feels like the life I’m missing out on, because my life is here. After 5 months, I feel like I’m really here, work is getting going and my house feels like home with the latrine, the lizards, and the cooking by candles shoved into used wine bottles. It’s hard to relate to daily life of friends and family at home and see people complain on Facebook about the traffic or the rain. It just feels so different from the complaining I do here about the lack of resources for projects and the cobra in my latrine. It’s difficult because I know it will only feel more foreign as we move into the holidays and I watch holiday consumerism from such a different perspective. For the last few years my family has chosen to do something fun together instead of taking part in consumerism, which I love because going to the mall after November 1 was my worst nightmare. From here though the holidays seem like a completely alien idea. (Or at least the shopping part does, I would love the chance to sit with family and friends and eat a ton of food.) There is so little consumerism in my little village because of a lack of means, but even for the few packaged things you can buy, there is the issue of waste. There are no proper waste receptacles or ways to dispose of packaging unless it can be burnt. Things that can’t be burnt are given other uses like the gas stations that sell gas out of used liquor bottles or all the kids toys are made out of washed out tomato cans. American consumerism would be ridiculous here and is not something I think should spread. It’s rather that these are things we should think about when buying a new iPhone, car, computer or pair of shoes on Black Friday. Where are these things coming from? Where do they end up? It’s a joke between Peace Corps Volunteers that a bush taxi here is a skeleton of a van that could be 40 years old with holes in the floor and has to be pushed by all the passengers to get it started. The mechanics here are going to keep it running for another 40 years, but if you had that thing in the U.S. a mechanic would tell you to buy a new car. The clothing I buy here, other than pagne, is bought from the market. It’s clothing shipped over from Goodwill and other used clothing stores in the U.S. and Europe. It’s then bought by the palate in the shipping yards without knowing what’s inside. Then brought to village on a bush taxi to be sold in piles at the market. These stalls are called ‘dead yovo’ because Togolese don’t know why you would get rid of perfectly good clothing unless the person had died. I honestly can’t even bring myself to tell people that in reality these are just clothes that are a few years out of date and therefore given away to ‘charity’. When in reality most of it is sold to people like Rachida who sell them in places like the Goudévé market for about $0.30 a shirt.
A net is cast and then three days later the fishermen come back to drag it out of the water. There is a man also swimming in the water making sure fish don’t escape the net while the other fishermen drag it in.
There are some things I can still relate to at home. One is my education from UW, I miss learning in a formal context, and so many things my Professors said are relatable to everything I do here (I studied a lot of global health so not a big surprise). Then there are a few things written in that book Taylor gave me that run through my head every day here. One was written by my sister, “even though the world is different where you are, we are still under the same moon and sun”. It’s the mantra I repeat every day to feel a little closer to the life I lived in Seattle. The other is from Emma, “and no matter how weird things get, there will always be tea, chocolate, and dogs”. I think this after work everyday as I reflect on what I’m doing and the frustrations I face, while I enjoy a cup of tea and chocolate under my grass covered porch with my dog.