Living in Atakpamé
I'm lying in my bed, writing in my journal. I'm lying under my Albert Schweitzer mosquito net, listening to a Tom Waits tape.
I have mixed emotions about being here. My family is home worrying about me. I tasted a little culture shock along with my dinner tonight. Looking out the window of the restaurant, I saw a foreign culture. But then, how much of America is my culture? Will I be anymore out of place here than I was in Michigan?
How is everyone? I'm doing fine. Some of us ate at a local restaurant last night. I had chicken, potatoes, and green beans. The local chicken is pretty tough, but good. A traditional African dish is some kind of doughy starch dipped in a hot sauce. I'll be trying that soon.
I went to the disco last night. It was a bar with a walled-in dance floor and no ceiling . Lots of American disco music. There was a cover charge for the disco which must exclude most people. D. and I walked around after we left the disco and watched some local "bands" play. We both agreed that we'll be happier when we get to our site where we'll teach. D. is a drummer and wants to learn African rhythms. Last night we saw a great circle dance which must have included most of the community. It is difficult to become part of that without living in the community.
It has been clear for a couple of nights. Even with the lights from the town, the Milky Way is visible. Last night I saw the Milky Way running through the tail of Scorpio, which was almost directly overhead. I have never seen it leave the horizon before. I also saw the familiar Northern Cross and the Summer Triangle, but they have a strange orientation in this sky.
Eating out can be cheap and very good. The local restaurant that I mentioned at the beginning of this letter charged $2.00 for the meal and it was excellent. We had breakfast at a fancy hotel: 400 cfa for French bread, jelly, butter, coffee. Good bread can always be found fresh on the street at any time of day. I didn't expect to see so much wheat-based starch here. There is a lot of food. Veteran volunteers say that there are not a lot of starving people. I see corn growing everywhere, in every yard, on every hillside.
There are very few mosquitoes here, but we all take chloroquine once a week . This prevents us from getting any malaria symptoms. I have not felt any side effects from the chloroquine. Yesterday we got another rabies booster with one more to come. That will make three and this prevention is supposed to be 100% effective against rabies. We also got a shot for typhus (we got one for typhoid in the States). We get gamma globulin this weekend. It's better not to look at the big needle for that one, which is easy because you have to turn around for it.
People drink a lot of the local beer. It's called Biere Benin or BB and I'm having little trouble learning to drink it.
I'm having less difficulty understanding the language. I wish they would push me a little more. The beginners are frustrated and complain about all the work they have to do. The more advanced students are given a lot of work, too. But me? I know everything they have told me and though it helps to have the conversational practice, I'd like to be challenged more. I'm sure it will get more difficult. It helps to hear it all the time from all directions. One little problem is the accent. Oui is pronounced sort of like "weh" instead of "we," and they roll their r's up front instead of using that throaty, glottal r like the Parisians do. Once I get used to it, I should be fine. I like the rolled r better myself, since that's what the Germans use. Come to think about it, this was a German colony. Maybe that's why the language sounds the way it does.
I miss everyone there. I'm looking forward to letters.
Much more later.
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