In the House
I just got your latest letter. Even your drawings, as bad as you might think they are, are better than the signs I just got from J in Michigan. She is taking a sign class, too, and was telling me some signs, "You move your hands like this and then this way, and then you do this after you do this." It wasn't quite that vague, but I couldn't really follow it. I like the pictures better.
I made a stupid French error on one of my latest tests. I used Franglais. "Combien de chutes doit occurer pour la..." How many falls must occur..." arrgh. I changed it during the test, so there was no problem. I also make gender errors from time to time.
I'm proctoring trimester comps and since they mix all the classes up, I can see what exams for the other classes look like. In the English class they have to write about why there is war and what is being done to stop it and what would you do to stop war. One student said stop making guns and "stop the science!" Rats. He was one of my students, too. This afternoon is the last proctoring session I will have to do. There will be two English exams this afternoon. I might take one for fun and slip my paper in with the students. I know one of the English teachers. If it is his exam, he will think it is funny.
Any snow yet? It was cool two mornings ago. I had to wear a sweat shirt when I got up in the morning. It was real windy early this morning around 4:00 AM. The wind kept blowing my shutters open and closed. Sometimes I feel like it's 200 years ago. The lock on my door uses a big skeleton-like key: No running water. I use kerosene lanterns and heat my bath water. First, it was awkward to work by lantern light and to have a dark house, but now I'm used to it. No problem. There is also some 4000 year old flavor to this place. They have biblical sheep, goats and cows here. They look like this -----> they look like those pictures of sheep you see in old bibles. I'll take a picture of one someday.
Sometimes, like today, there are cows grazing outside the school. These little kids (younger than 10) sit around with their shepherd staffs and watch 6 to 8 cows as they graze. That seems like a lot of responsibility for a little kid, but the kids get responsibility at an early age. Sometimes the cows are weird African cows called Zebu, and sometimes they look like American cows. Zebu cows have a huge lump on their shoulders. What's it for? Who knows.
I get a lot of flash backs from the old days. Don't know why. One morning I had rice pancakes and I got a strong 99 Linden St. feeling, no doubt because Grampa used to make rice pancakes for us. I guess I would have felt like that at home, too. Another example: I think about McHale's Navy a lot.. Well, not a lot, but even a little is more than none which is how much I thought about it in Michigan. Perhaps I just miss things American. The problem is that in a few months I will start really liking Africa a lot (so statistics show), time will fly by, and then I'll go home and there I will miss things African. Where is the justice? I guess it's all part of existence, reality, life, consciousness and all those things that you learn about one way or another.
I correct papers and listen to Beethoven, Bach, or Elton John. I listened to the Goldberg Variations by Glenn Gould today in his memory. I read yesterday that he just died. He was only 50! He had a stroke. The little note on him said that he will always be remembered for his Bach. That is certainly how I'll remember him.
I'll stop now. If I keep writing long letters, people will always expect them. Soon I will be saying things like, "I got some more kerosene today," or "I didn't bother heating my bath water this morning." So more soon.
P.S. Everything is fine back here and the trip back was uneventful. I was having a Coke with P ( he lives nearby) in Atakpame, waiting for the Badou taxi to fill up (a four person Toyota Corolla will carry 7 people to Badou), and the taxi left without me (!) so I had to wait an hour for another one. That's traveling in Togo for you. One time there were four of up in the front seat of a Peugeot 504 (a station wagon). They always put as many people as possible in. There is never an empty taxi in Togo. Too inefficient. I told K you could see buses in the US with only five or six people in them. He was amazed.
More soon. Again, it was good to hear you.
It's Sunday night, November 28 and I'm back in Badou. I rode up to Atakpamé with P, the volunteer in Kougniohou. I bought a watch in Lomé for 2000 cfa (about 6 dollars) since my old standby isn't working. It was a good weekend, and great to talk to every one there in M'town. But it was hard to hang up. I walked back to the open arms of my friends, but it would have been pretty depressing otherwise. How does everyone there feel about it?? I vote for maybe just writing letters. They always cheer me up, lots of info can be exchanged and I feel closer to home reading them. The phone calls can be frustrating.
I bought lots of things in Lome: four cans of tuna fish, a Bob Dylan tape (Greatest Hits Vol. II), dried soup packets, peanut butter, strawberry jam, some shirts, a bread knife. Little things for around the house.
November 29 and I'm grading comps. I'll be doing this for a few days. Grades have to be turned in next week for this first trimester. The students don't seem to do very well. I talked to other physics teachers while in Lome and we traded war stories. No one in Togo can add two vectors. I didn't remember seeing them till college anyway so maybe it's not too surprising.
Christmas will soon be here; hard to believe since it is 80 degrees. P and I may take a little trip to Kpalime (see map, South-West of Togo). There is a hotel with a swimming pool where it would be nice to hang out at for a couple of days. Then we might go North to see it and to visit with my friends there. Maybe we'll see an elephant. X-mas vacation starts on the 18th and school starts again on the 3rd of January. Sometime during that period I will be in Lomé again so write as soon as possible if you are interested in another phone call. Me, I can take it for the joy or leave it for the frustration. It's up to you.
I have all these people to whom I owe letters so I better finish this up somehow.
I spent some time with a pretty volunteer this weekend from up North. Her name is E and who knows, maybe something will come out of it. She is nice and we danced some and walked around Lomé some, looking for this and that. I bought three of those, she bought two of these, etc. I've talked to her before. This trip she was saying things like, "You're relaxed, that's a nice attribute," or "you are very good at holding hands." Everyone shakes hands in Togo. Everyone, at every chance they get, shakes hands. So when I shake hands with a woman, I just keep holding on. My hands get so lonely up here with just B next door, that I figure I'll just hold on as long as I can. So E likes the way I hold hands. Actually, the chance of "something going on" is remote, since we'll only see each other three times a year anyway.
All for now. More soon.
Monday, November 29, 1982, 10:15 AM Now I feel funny. Not real funny. I don't feel like working, grading comps, anything. I guess it is because my surroundings changed for the weekend. Once I get used to being back in Badou, things will be fine.
Wednesday, December 1, 1982, 11:10 AM
I miss my home, I miss my home, but what would I be doing if I were in the States? I don't know. One problem: I'm doing nothing to establish a base. After two years, I will pull up my roots and try to plant them again somewhere. Where? How? Who knows? Do I want a wife? A mother? A God? And why now? I don't feel on top of the world (I'm near the equator for one thing). My head aches, my digestive system is confused, etc.
One problem is that I miss those common things between me and my friends, surroundings, etc. Familiarity is important to me. I think about RW, who seems to be at home anywhere, searches for new, different things all the time. Obviously I have some of that or I wouldn't be here, but I long for familiar things, too.
I talked to you all on Saturday morning which was 3:00 in the afternoon for me. I spent Thursday and Friday walking around Lome with my friends, buying things for Badou and eating in restaurants. Thanks for the phone call. I hope it wasn't too expensive. It was hard to say goodbye. Maybe we should hold off on the phone calls.
After the call, I showered at the Hotel Ahodikpe and went to the Thanksgiving party (at the Ambassadors house). Almost everyone I wanted to see was there, though some volunteers stayed at their sites to work. There were lots of snacks American like Planters Corn Puffs, Chex Mix, Triscits, etc. After snaking for about an hour, the food came out. Turkey, stuffing, cranberry cause, mashed potatoes, salad, gravy...then for desert there was pie, cake, fruit salad, etc. It was a good meal and the only regret was not eating more than I did.
After dinner there was a dance at the club near the hotel. I sat around with my friends and danced, too, until the wee hours. Then up early to go back to Badou. I had breakfast with a few Atakpame bound people, and then we went to the taxi station to wait for a taxi. The wait wasn't long and so I was soon on the way back home. I had to switch taxis in Atakpame. I found one of the other Lycee professors waiting also to go back to Badou and so rode next to him. He pointed out coffee trees on the way home and some other vegetation. The taxi stopped at a crossroads and there were women selling Fulani cheese, from the milk of African cows, so I bought some. (I was told it should be fried before eating it to kill all bad things, so that's what I did. I fried some of it and put it in an omelet. It was good.) So I got back to Badou with no problems to speak of and here I am.
So I've had a half week of classes and am still grading comps. I hope to be done this week. Then grades have to be turned in. Next week is a local festival so I don't know what will happen in school. Some classes will be canceled, no doubt. I could use the time to get ahead. Then X-mas vacation starts on the 18th. I plan to travel with P, the fellow in Kougniohou. We are thinking about going to Kpalime and then North to Kpagouda, Lama-Kara, Mango, Dapaong maybe. We will go where we can, given the time limit.
That's all there is now. I have to grade more comps.
Keep those cards and letters coming. Gotta go.
I got some more letters today. Thanks.
I came home yesterday from school and found they had built a road by my house. They almost knocked down our cistern when they put the road in. The road doesn't go anywhere, it just runs up by our house and then stops. Now the house is not as isolated which is good and bad. I might have little kids running around saying Yovo, Yovo all the time.
[Here is the "new" road by my house. Construction of the building on the left was in progress during the entire 5 years I lived in Togo. I don't know if it is finished yet. ]
We had some students come by and cut our grass yesterday. the grass was 6 feet high in some places so it was time to have it cut. Now one could almost play croquet in the yard. Now snakes will stay away. Snakes will also stay away because there is a road by our house. They will stay on the "woods" side of the road, I hope.
[This is the "woods" side of the road: a beautiful rice field, then a stream, then woods on back up the hill.]
After the students were done, they offered me one of the female students in marriage. I politely declined, "Maybe some other time." One of the questions I get asked is, "would you take a Togolese wife?" My non committal answer is, "Pourquoi pas?"
Badou is really developing. They are smoothing out roads all over and putting new ones in (witness the one by my house now). Badou is getting ready for their local festival which starts on the 6th of December. There is a little path which goes to the main road but now we can use the new road, though it is a little rough right now.
That's about all for now. Life goes on. While grading comps last night I heard various movements of some Mozart piano sonatas from a German short-wave station. The little rondo in A minor was one of the things they played. Will my fingers remember it?
On goes the world. More soon.
This is the end of a three day weekend. There was a local festival called OVAZU, which is a celebration held every year in this region. There were people dancing in the streets and it was like a county fair at the Lycee. They set up shelters for people to stand under so they wouldn't be too hot.
The shelters were set up in a big rectangle and people danced inside the rectangle. There were people selling refreshments: "Hot dogs! Cotton candy! Cigarettes!" Actually, there were no hot dogs or cotton candy, but there were cigarettes, oranges, little fried dough things, all the things you would find on the street but they were all set up near the shelters. So it sort of felt like a baseball game. P came up from Kougniohou to see the Akebou dance. He lives in a region which is mostly Akebou (Badou is mostly Akposso) and the OVAZU fete (festival) is a celebration between the Akposso and the Akebou, so there was dancing from both groups. There were hunter's dances, and the dancers painted their faces and carried guns and knives and danced around. They would sing, too. I like to hear them all sing.
I had an encouraging dream last night. (I keep having weird dreams. Maybe it's the Aralen (R) which I take for malaria. They say if you take it before bed you sometimes have "vivid dreams," whatever that means. I've actually found little correlation between my "vivid dreams" and when I take my Aralen (R).) I dreamed that I had left Africa and was back in Ann Arbor, back at 1212 Willard, but in the front basement apartment (there is no front basement apartment) because my old apartment was taken. I was moving in and for same reason, I had had to go straight to Ann Arbor and couldn't stop there to see you all. You were going to come see me, as I remember in the dream. Here's the encouraging part. I thought in the dream, "Rats, I didn't really want to come back after only 6 months. I wish I had stayed and finished my job in Africa." Great! I really regretted coming back to Michigan. I really am beginning to like it here. I'm starting to have some free time. I will be able to devote more time to Ewe, more time to preparing demonstrations in class. Here's one you can try at home! Hook some batteries up to a switch. Put a compass needle near one of the wires hooked to the switch and batteries and switch on the switch. When the current goes on, the compass needle deflects!! No big surprise, maybe, but what an easy way to demonstrate that there is a magnetic field associated with current flow through a wire (we start electromagnetism in Premiere (11th grade) this week). Actually, most of the students just say, "uh-huh." But when they see me get all excited, some of them get a little more interested. And why should they get all excited? When will they ever use these ideas? I think it's just neat because it's neat. When have I used this principle? Such is the dilemma of a high school science teacher. Would this be what I'd want to do in the States? Who knows? I'd get three months off in the Summer!!!
I rode up the hill today with P as far as Zogbegan. He rode his mobylette to Badou this weekend without any problems. It is a beautiful ride up the hill. This is one of the lushest areas of Togo. So we rode up the hill and stopped at Zogbegan for a Coke (Buvez Coca-Cola!!!!) Then he went on to Kougniohou and I went back to Badou. I played him some of my experiments from "Experiments III", a cassette with musical experiments on it. I played him "Lardwood Lake," "Angiosperm Hymn" and "Teddy Bear's Picnic" which he thought was the best thing he ever heard in his life. (Lardwood Lake was also very well received). So I let him borrow the tape to listen to.
Sometimes I think this: of all things I've ever done, the music is probably my greatest "contribution" to the world. I get the most pleasure out of it. Maybe it is because I'm creating new things. Everyone should create things. That's the answer!!! (There have !! been a !!! lot of ! excla!mation points in!! this letter.)
That's enough for now. I still owe some letters to people so I better fix that.
Merry Christmas again (I hope it's again - if not, Merry Christmas for the first time).
More to come from 7 degrees North of the Equator.
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