Learning French

I started keeping a journal again when we got to Atakpamé and I had a place to call mine.  It was a 5x6' cubical in a dormatory, but it was mine.  Journal and letter excerpts follow.

June 21, 1982

We made it to Atakpamé. We were introduced to our teachers and we will start learning French tomorrow.  I'm healthy but for a few loose stools.

June 22

Just finished the first day of class.

Our residence, College Notre Dame, is a catholic secondary school during the school year. It is surrounded by many teak trees. I sleep in a dormitory, in a 6'x5' cubical. I do little else there since there is no room. I'm writing this in one of the classrooms.

[This is one of our teachers.  We learned French in small groups of one or two trainees per teacher.  The method was total immersion, no English allowed.  If we spoke English, the teachers acted as though they could not understand us.  We found out later that they all spoke English very well.]

Rain fell for about 2.5 hours today, as if I were in an African rain forest. A lot of sound comes from rain hitting large teak leaves.

I wonder if this desk is made of teak?

June 23

Dear Everyone,

There is a lot going on. I'm in Atakpamé learning French. This is my schedule: get up at 6:00 AM, breakfast at 6:30, start class at 7:30, work until noon, lunch at 12:30, sieste from 1:30 till 2:45, class from 2:45 to 5:15, dinner at 6:30.

C and I went into town today for a little sight-seeing. There are many stands of teak in this area. I have seen some strange wildlife. I saw a bug flying around today that looked like it should have been sent to the cornfield. There are lizards everywhere, the biggest being about 10 inches long. There are supposed to be rhinoceros beetles but I haven't seen any yet. There are goats and chickens in the streets. I hear roosters every morning. I've seen African swallows but none were carrying coconut shells. That must be the European variety. There are coconut trees, pineapple, banana, papaya and palm trees.

Peace Corps is taking good care of us. We have had shots, and they have given us vitamins, first aid kits, insect repellent, mosquito nets, sheets, blankets, information on how to prepare food, etc. They prepare meals for us: African stew called sauce with couscous, spaghetti, lamb (mutton really), avocado salad, oranges, grapefruit, bananas. Once I ate at a restaurant, I ordered a local rabbit-like creature. I don't know its name and it wasn't very good, but I ate it anyway. I could learn to like it, really, no kidding, I'm not fooling around now, I could really learn to like it a lot, given some time, honest. It had a musky flavor that refused to go away for a day or so. No permanent damage.

The towns people all stare at us but we stare back. They call us Yovo (white person), we call them Amebo (pronounced ah-may-ee-bo, meaning black person). This makes them laugh. They always shake hands. There is a Togolese handshake which is a normal handshake but ends with a snap of the fingers. We get unfriendly stares sometimes, but these disappear when we say bonjour. One of the reasons PC is liked here is because the volunteers work and live at the same level as their counterparts. It is good to feel accepted.

Today was beautiful, and as dry as New Jersey can get in the summer; no rain at all today. Only once has it rained like never before. But it doesn't rain all the time even though it is the wet season. Three hours in a day at most.

First it was hard to believe that I was in Africa. Now I'm settling in, but I can't believe I will really feel settled until I'm in "my" village or town where my school is.  It is a friendly yet strange and exotic place. From my first experiences here I can say that these alone make it worth two years of my life. It's a short time to get to know a place like this.

More later.



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Copyright © 2000 Bill Crozier