Today most of us moved to Cacaveli, yet another place to learn French. Cacaveli is a training center just a few kilometers North of Lomé along Route Nationale No. 1, the main road through Togo. We are four to a room. It is a nice place, set in the middle of a stand of palm trees. There are fields all around of manioc and tomatoes. Out of the 11 math/science volunteers, 8 of us needed more French. We will be here until September 22 and then we will go to our sites.
I'll be glad to finish training. This is just like being in school. Sometimes I don't feel like I'm in Africa. It will be good to get set up in Badou.
I've just put up my mosquito net. It makes the mosquitoes mad. They wait until I fall asleep and press my knee or foot against the net. Then I wake up itching and I know that somewhere a mosquito has not gone hungry.
I haven't gotten malaria yet. I've been bitten 1,000,000 times, so I probably have the parasites, but the Aralen® is doing its job, so I haven't gotten any of the symptoms. One of the bigger trainees should be taking more Aralen® than the rest of us: he got malaria. Another way to get it is to have a wild case of the runs. Then your system won't absorb enough Aralen® to keep the malaria in check. So far all my systems are normal.
The sun has just gone down and it is comfortably cool. I have shorts on but that's rare. It is not the style to wear shorts, especially in town. It's not African, though I don't know why. Perhaps because shorts remind people of colonial Africa. Shorts also give the mosquitoes a treat.
There was a party last night for the trainees. Some of us (not me) got sworn in as volunteers. Only two of the eleven math/science people knew enough French to get sworn in. Our turn will be in three weeks. I'm not really a Peace Corps Volunteer yet - that's why I always say trainee. The fête was beer, dinner, desert and then dancing on the beach at the Benin Beach Club.
I'm getting to like reggae. Bob Marley is very popular here. I like the words to many of his songs; songs about freedom and songs about Africa.
I went to the marché the other day with the director of training. I watched him do the shopping for the kitchen staff. Ah, the butchery! There were all these freshly dead animals that the butchers were chopping up with big knives. People were carrying quarters of cattle with the big horns and humps.
I've got two songs about Africa started. They are in the quiet Bill Crozier style. No reggae yet. When I have enough material, I will send a tape.
There are stars almost every night. The Milky Way is often visible and the Andromeda Galaxy will soon be up high enough to see. I can go outside at night and play my guitar under the stars which I do almost every night.
I'm beginning to like Africa. At first it was wild and crazy, then I was a little apprehensive and didn't like certain inconveniences. Now I'm adjusting. I don't miss oak trees as much, or hot showers or the telephone.
They have only squat toilettes here at Cacaveli. Squat with feet on platforms, aim, fire, pull cord and run (water splashes with vigor). It is not so bad and you can even try it at home, in your own back yard. For complete information, send your name, address and 200 francs (no stamps please) to:
Squatting for Pleasure
Lomé, Togo West Africa
The French still gets better, quoi. Now I know everything except the literary tenses, that is, passé simple and the passé du subjonctive. Forming complicated sentences is still difficult and I must increase my vocabulary but our professors can talk freely now and I can understand almost everything. French movies are impossible, though, so my ears still need training. I'll be studying French my whole two years. When the Togolese get mad and start shouting in French, I can't understand them. I hope I won't have to get used to Togolese shouting. Some of the trainees' French is grating: tomorrow is "dee-mane," good evening is "bonn swar," etc.
I'm drinking more beer than I ever did before. I went out the other night, had beers and smoked cigarettes. How weird it would be if I started smoking. We sit in these little cafés - some of them with shady tropical plants and trees - drink beer, smoke cigarettes and speak French. We're just like those existentialists. We talk sometimes about heavy things like life, God, love, and the Universe, and sometimes we sing theme songs from Patty Duke, Addam's Family, Gilligan's Island or Get Smart. The cafés and bars have romantic names like Bar du Retour, Des Reves des Anges, Le bel Etoile. I won't start smoking habitually. Smoking is some sort of social glue but I like feeling good in the morning too much to take it up.
Comme d'habitude, I got up at 6:00 and took a shower. It is 6:15 and I'm waiting for breakfast. I haven't been depressed at all for about a month now. What a change from Michigan. There was awhile there in Lomé when I really had doubts about this venture. I guess it was a combination of frustrating French, missing family and friends, and the discomforts of being away from home. Now, the French is less frustrating, and I'm getting used to living here. I still miss everyone, but I can handle the discomfort.
We had crepes this morning, and so the tough job of the Peace Corps Volunteer continues.
It's 6:15 AM and I'm up because our neighbors are playing loud music. A lot of loud music is played here. A few people have those big portable stereo cassette players. There are five kinds of music played here. Congolese is definitely the most played. It sounds Latin or Spanish to me, but I believe it comes from Zaire (Ex-Belgian Congo). Next is reggae, which has a definite 4 rhythm with a short, late guitar stroke on the upbeat. Then there is disco which has an even more definite 4 rhythm - good for dancing, but reggae is better for that. Rock is not often heard except in certain European or American bars-style bars. The other music heard, not from stereos, but from people, is the rhythmic dance music from the villages. This is mostly drums and other percussion instruments (bells, shakers). It's heard more on the weekend but you can hear it anytime. There are some standard African dances - I think they're standard. One looks like a chicken-dance and every African seems to know it. One assumes a sort of bent position and does chicken-like things. I've probably got it all wrong, and it has nothing to do with chickens but it's just my way of defining the dance. More on that from Badou, probably.
Yesterday I saw a woman carrying 12 to 15 live roosters on her head. They were all sitting quietly in a big basin. I don't know why they stayed so calm when packed into a basin. It is not uncommon to see people carrying chickens or roosters by the legs. It must calm them to carry them like that.
For breakfast, some of us (P, A, C and me) went to Agueneuvé, a little town/village just above Lomé on the main route through Togo. We ate rice and sauce sold by a breakfast woman.
There are open sewers everywhere. It is the dry season now and they are cleaned out. There is a septic system at Cacaveli, running water, and electricity. I won't have those conveniences in Badou, but I can get used living without them.
Today we had our last FSI exam. I got a 2+ on a scale from 0 to 5. 3 is supposed to be last-year-in-high-school French. The average volunteer leaves Togo with a 3+ or 4 in French.
We have two more days of class, but it will be very relaxed. We may get some time to prepare for school. Then on Thursday we get sworn in as volunteers. There is supposed to be TV, radio and newspaper coverage. I'll send a clipping if I can.
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