Badou Blues

October 10

I'm doing preparations. It's pouring down rain.

I ate fufu on the street Friday. It was OK. The meat was tough beef.  I bought some bread last night and learned to say "two loafs of bread" in Ewe for the next time I order. The woman I bought it from was happy that I wanted to learn Ewe. Maybe she will teach me more.

The weekend has been good. Even though there is work to do, I don't feel pressured. It will get worse during the week: there is a lot to do. I should give quizzes.

Is life always going to have these little holes in it?

October 11

I've got holes in me that can only be filled by friends. B lives next door but he is not making good putty. He complains all the time and is arrogant. I want family and they are so far away. I wish a letter would come.

When preparations and class are good, I feel better. I have Seconde this afternoon. I hope it goes OK. It should get better. The material is elementary both for me and the students.

Why am I here? Why have I put myself so far away from the comforts of home?

October 13

The little holes are coming back!!! I'd really like to be able to talk to P. I should send a tape but would it ever get to where it was going?


Dear P,

I feel so far away today. Some days are like this. I wish communication were faster. I haven't gotten any mail for at least 3 weeks. I sang "I Think of You" this morning. It made me want to jam. I'd like to send a tape (no new songs yet - it would just be a greetings-from-Togo tape) but I still haven't gotten the one you sent a tape. When am I going to get my first letter? From B, my next door neighbor, I hear that mail can get to Badou faster than it got to me when I was in training.

I'm getting to know Badou. I am often stared at. I'll always be stared at. The kids call me Yovo all the time. I'm getting to know some of the marché women. I should always buy my bananas from the same one and then I might start to get good deals.

I'm trying to learn Ewe on my own. It's simple if you know it, like anything, but I don't know it yet. It is not as similar to English as French is in most ways, but there are anglicized words. Morning sounds like moh-nee. Good evening is guh-dee-vee. Good day is guh-deh. These greetings come from the colonial days and so come directly from English. Ewe is incomprehensible when I hear it in the streets. At best I'll be able to say greetings, talk about the weather, buy things at the market, discuss Cartesian Dualism and the philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre. Ewe is a tonal language; it almost has to be sung. One of the Ewe books says, "when you think you're complimenting someone on a new shirt, you may instead be insulting their grandmother."

My mobylette is fun to ride. I can't cruise around Togo because I'm not supposed to go out of my prefecture ("county") on it. Also, it would have trouble getting over the mountains to Atakpamé, which is the only way out of Badou. I rode down to Tomégbé on Saturday to see the marché and to have lunch with the other volunteers in the area. The road is in good repair and there are mountains on either side. badou13.jpg (35599 bytes)

[Market day in Tomégbé.]

The other volunteers complain a lot. They are friendly, though, and it's nice to have English speaking people around. There is one fellow who used to live in my house who comes to visit. He helps me with Ewe. He's not a volunteer anymore but is in Togo to export things like African beads to the US.

It rains more here than anywhere else in Togo. It rained for about an hour this morning and now it's raining again. This is "the little rainy season" and is supposed to end late in November. Then there will be harmattan which is a cold wind from the Sahara. I can't believe it will get cold, but I hear I will need two blankets at night. When it rains, I can catch water from the roof. Then I don't have to send K for water.

Last night I heard "All Things Considered" from NPR in Washington. I used to listen to that on the way back from Glassboro. Now I can hear it in Badou.

It is really pouring now. It's too bad our cistern has a leak in it. A few rains like this would fill it up to the top.

School is going all right. The problem is that there is not enough time to finish the program. I'm going to have to hold some Saturday morning classes to be able to cover all the material. The French is not that much of a problem though I sometimes draw a blank. I think I'll find that teaching physics in French won't necessarily make me a good French conversationalist. My vocabulary will be filled with useful words like electric field and geometric optics. I spend a lot of time preparing for classes but I thought it would be worse. I'm used to graduate school where the work was harder in a different way and also took more time. It will, I think, get harder here before it gets easier.

Keep those cards and letters coming. More to come.



October 14

C brought four letters and a post card up from Lomé today. I got homesick reading them. R is depressed as usual. She passed her oral exams and is officially in the PhD program. But she says, "I'm not driven at all...I have no love of the feels empty and meaningless..." I wrote her a nice letter but that's all I could do. It's curious that Africans have more to complain about than someone like R, who has so much at her fingertips, yet they don't complain. They smile, they laugh, they take things in stride. Actually, they do complain. Everyone does, but not to the degree that I saw at the University.

The worst, or best letter was B's. She wrote a 9-page, emotion-filled letter. It made me want to go home. These feelings will get less and less severe, but does that mean home will become less and less important? I haven't really wanted to leave here since that first time around October 8, but I came close again when I got those letters from home.


Dear B,

I started a letter but it wasn't working well. My English ability has dropped since I've been learning French. I think the problem is that my brain is looking in two different places for words and ideas, so it takes more effort to come up with the ideas. I'm also trying to learn Ewe and when I try to do that, I mix the French and the Ewe up, but never Ewe and English, so I think there must be a foreign language section in my brain and I think it will be sometime before the Ewe has a place of its own. The French, however, is taking its own place.

I liked your letter #3. I haven't had that numb feeling you talked about for a long time. I feel like I have little holes in me sometimes that can only be filled by close friends or family. That is sort of the same numb feeling. Home seems so far away sometimes, but sooner or later, Badou will become home.

October 16

Badou Blues

Badou, when will you be my home? (Chorus)

Badou, when will you be my home?

The kids all call me Yovo

They just won't leave me alone

I can barely speak the language

They can barely say my name

I can only guess what's going to happen

Life's just not going to be the same


I walk down the street every day

Every head in town turns my way

I smile at them and say, "How's your day?"

Then they talk about me and I wonder what they say


What's that old man trying to say to me?

He's using words I've never heard before

He could be offering me his daughter

Or he could be showing me the door


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