I don't have any chickens of my own yet. I might have to wait until next year, when I have more free time. But the neighbors chickens are always at my door, eating the scraps that get washed off my dirty dishes. They were baby chicks when I got here and they are now almost teenagers, or at least they're not chicks anymore. They are very ugly. These happen to be the kind that have featherless, scrawny, red necks.
I got a bunch of letters today. They always come in bunches. I got a birthday card from Uncle B with a check that I have no way of cashing. I guess I'll send it home. I got a card from D, too, and a few Halloween cards/Birthday cards from Mom. Thanks everyone! I got a letter from W and T today but I unfortunately just sent one off to them; ships in the night. I hear there is a big package waiting for me in Lomé. I got my college textbooks but no lenses yet. Maybe that's what's waiting in Lomé.
I wish I could send more letters, but I'm swamped with work. I started 2.5 weeks late and they want to have the year's material covered by next week. I have about 70+18+28+40 students (my four classes). That's another reason why I'm swamped with work. Tests have to be graded and that takes time. Then the week before Thanksgiving is comps week: exams all week long. The break in class preparations will give me a chance to catch up, but then I will have to grade 150 exams! I'm still about one day ahead of the students.
My students don't work very hard in general, but there are some bright, inquisitive students. The material is difficult. I know I didn't have to know what they have to know when I was in high school. The "10th graders" have to learn English and German as well as French, philosophy, history, geography. I have to think of this as my practice year, because I'm just not presenting the material as well as it should be presented. I see other ways after it's too late. The biggest problem is that I can't go at a comfortable pace. I have to rush to get through the program and there's no time to sit back and think of relevant examples. There are problems with elevators and gyroscopes, for example, and none of my students had ever seen a gyroscope before and only four had been in an elevator. If you could send a toy gyroscope, that would be great. I don't know if I could find one in Lomé. Physics is often abstract but it doesn't have to be. And there is no lab; no equipment and no time for it. Lecture, lecture, lecture, memorize, memorize, memorize. It can be very dry and I try to spruce it up but I wish I had more time.
Time to get back to work. More to come.
Too much work, no time to write.
Got some more of your letters. Thanks. Too bad I'm so far away.
I miss those jam sessions, too. I wish I could pop over but... I think I've gotten all your lyrics. I've played with them and I have a few ideas but only two are close to finished. I'll send another tape when I've got a chance to breath. The Lyceé has a little band and I might get to play organ in it. Nothing definite yet and there is so little time for play.
I'm this minute proctoring an exam. I can't tell whether they think it is hard or not. The first one I gave to these students really floored them. They didn't do well at all. I just don't know their level yet. I should have it figured out by about the end of my 2nd year.
I'm keeping up on world news with the BBC. I heard this morning that Brezhnev went to that big Red Square in the sky. Now what happens?
I'll be in Lomé the weekend after Thanksgiving. Listen for me on the morning of Saturday, the 27th between 9 and 10 AM. I'll call the 403 house and you guys can call back and talk to me as long as you want. It's cheaper from there. It could be painful to hear you all or it could be great. I'd like to have a comfortable chat but that seems difficult.
Sometimes I wonder whether I'll stay two years. I'm not the first PCV to wonder that, but don't spread that word around. I've been thinking about writing to some colleges for fall applications so I'll have an option if I really decide to leave after my first year. If things don't get better, I don't see why I should stay except I've given my word that I'll stay for two years and that's more important than the piece of paper I got from Michigan. That is, I don't get a degree from this but quitting here would be harder on me than leaving Michigan without a degree. It's hypothetical, since I'll probably stay anyway. I don't like to sound too unsatisfied but I'd like to vent my feelings. Don't tell Mom. I think she gets depressed about me being so far away to begin with. If the work load gets lighter, things will improve.
I'm coming to realize that my lack of satisfaction is not coming from being in Africa, but from "growing up." Things were easier in the "old days." From R's letters, K's, B's, yours, D's, etc., it seems that we're all searching. And what and when will we find what we're looking for I haven't the foggiest notion. The road gets twisted and hard to travel on sometimes.
Enough philosophy. I have to get back to work so I'll close. There's a break coming up. During the week of comps, I'll have some time to relax since there won't be any classes. I'll write again then.
More soon from your African correspondent.
P.S. Now it's Wednesday and I feel much better. I don't feel a lot of pressure from school and that helps. I actually like it here today. It goes in cycles. I shouldn't write during those low cycles, but it's fun to vent those feelings! It's morning, so I'll eat my oatmeal, and go to school.
You asked about "sanitary conditions." the WC is a hole in the ground. Yes, this is the life in Badou.
More soon. WDC.
[The view from my door. The little building on the left is the storeroom (first door) and the outhouse (second door). Dusty harmattan sky.]
Sunday, November 13, 2:00 PM
These last few days I've been feeling inadequate. Probably because I'm having trouble accomplishing all that I'm supposed to do. I've almost got the comps finished but it's a big almost.
I get these feelings that I can't do anything. I didn't finish my degree at Michigan (No Ph.D., that is). I can't see how I'll finish the program here. And what if I go home before two years?? I could go on and on, but there is no time for that.
I have some time to write. It's raining and the work is going slow, so I'll write a word or two.
It's Wednesday; there are two more days of classes before the trimester finals. Next week will be a light week since I'll only proctor exams. Thursday, I'll go to Lomé for the long weekend.
When there is so much work that there is not even time to write home, it seems like this Peace Corps bit is for the oiseaux, if you'll pardon my French. But work is lightening up and my spirits are going up with it. Things should get better. Much of the problem was that I started school late and spent all trimester trying to get ahead. The next trimester will be broken up by holidays and that will give me a chance to catch up.
Another PCV has gone home from this area. She left Sunday but I didn't have time to get anything ready (like a tape or film) for her to take. She had been here for two years already and had "re-upped" for a third year. Then the Ministry of Education wanted her to switch jobs and location. She didn't want to so she went home. It must be a shock to suddenly find yourself in America again after having your mind set on being in Africa for another year. C'est la vie.
Mom, you asked about riding my motor bike on these mountainous roads. (see sketch) I usually ride to school and I have also ridden to Tomégbé a few times. But the roads aren't dangerous: the region is hilly, but the roads are well paved. There is also little traffic on the road. On the average, I see one car or truck on the way to Tomégbé, and maybe two motor bikes. Not too many people have cars and the cars I see are usually taxis. Also, now that C and T are gone, there is no reason to go to Tomégbé except maybe to go to the marché on Saturdays.
[The Tomegbé road.]
So now S, B and I are the only PCV's in the area. B drives me crazy but that's the way it goes. I like S. He's from California and reminds me of LB, an organic chemist at U of M. S was the physics professor here at Badou last year. He couldn't stand it any more and is now doing construction work. He is finding that to be almost as frustration as teaching was.
It doesn't seem like the students are hungry for knowledge like some of the wide-eyed freshmen were at Michigan. They know they must learn what I'm teaching them if they want to pass the BAC, the post high-school exam. But they do not study and are content with the consequences: 3 out of 25 points on a test. So sometimes it seems like my efforts go to waste. There are some students who are genuinely interested, or come to the house for extra help. You may know that some things were stolen from my house. I had no hope of getting them back but the most unsettling thought was that someone had a key to the door. So I put a pad lock on the door. It turned out that a small child, small enough to fit through the bars on the window that I used to leave open, climbed in and took my things: my Swiss army knife, my watch, and a bicycle pump. Food was also taken: rice, canned goods, sugar...etc. The kid and his buddies were found sneaking around the house a few days after the crime and confessed when accused by my next door neighbor. So I got my knife, watch and pump back and the kids come by every night with water for B and I to pay for the food they took. It was good to get my things back. Both the knife and watch were gifts and therefore irreplaceable.
This is where I spend most of my time when I'm at home:
I'll stop and mail this now. More to come from Africa.
It is evening here in Badou. I'm finished working but it is still a little too early to go to bed.
Here are some everyday things: I get up at 5:30 AM. I don't need an alarm because the roosters start crowing at about 4:45. The sun also starts to lighten the sky at about 5:15 so that helps, too. I have a clock but I can't see it that early in the morning. I sleep under a mosquito net even though the mosquitoes aren't that bad here. I guess I don't really need it, but I like having a little protection from Africa itself. If it is a shower morning - I shower every other day - the first thing I do is put some charcoal in the charbonnier, add 1/2 an ounce of kerosene and light the charcoal. While the charcoal is heating, I light my kerosene burner and put water on for oatmeal. Then I do a little school work. When the water for oats is boiling I add the oats and stir, cook, etc. By now the charcoal is hot enough to but a bucket of water on. [See photo.]I work some more, then eat the oats. By now it is 6:00 AM and so I turn on the BBC. I could listen to VOA but it always sounds like the news on WFIL, and the BBC seems fairly unbiased. By 6:15 the water is steaming. That doesn't mean it's scalding. It is humid in the morning so the water steams at the slightest provocation. After I take the bucket off the charbonnier, I put a pan of water on to boil. There are usually just enough coals left to boil 4 or 5 liters of water, which I later filter to drink. I get into a towel and go out to the shower. It is a roofless, galvanized metal enclosure with a cement floor. I take the bucket in and with a bowl, scoop out water and pour it over my head, making believe that I'm in a shower. It's not bad. In fact, I rather like it. I don't find myself thinking, "Oh, if only I had a real shower." I get dressed and then work again until it's 6:45 AM, time to go to school. I brush my teeth, lock my windows, put on my helmet, take my mobylette out of my house (I keep it in so nobody steals the gas), lock the door and go to school.
Everyone stars at me as I ride down the main street, and the little children still yell "Yovo, Yovo, bon soir, ca va bien, merci." Sometimes I get to school just in time to see everyone line up in lines, all dressed in khaki to pay respect to the Togolese Flag. Two students raise the flag, then one of the classes sings the National Anthem. I like the tune, but I don't know any of the words yet. The students sing it too softly to be able to understand the words.
After the Censeur (like the vice-principal) says "Allez en classe," and all the students go to their classes, we teachers allez en classe too and teach. Today I had two hours of Seconde and one of Terminale. The students remain in their class rooms, and the teachers switch. This works fine unless a teacher likes to stay in past the hour. Then you have to kick him out. I haven't had to do that. The teachers here are pretty good about finishing on time.
On Thursdays, I leave school with B after the third hour. We stop at a rice and bean stand and have brunch. We also have oranges. We buy beans from one woman, rice from another, oranges from another. Oranges are peeled by the orange seller with a razor blade. Only the very outer part of the orange is peeled and the top is cut off. The orange can now be squeezed and the juice drunk from the top, without making a mess. After I'm done squeezing, I tear the orange open and eat the inside too. Most people just throw it on the ground when the juice is gone. Sometimes we eat brochettes and bread on the way home, stop at a little bar and have a Fanta or Bitter Lemon. Sometimes we go straight home.
The rest of the day is usually school work. I don't mind working 8 hours a day, but 16-20 hours is too much. Today I can rest. No class next week. All exams. But the week after that will be class and correcting exams, so I'll be working hard again.
November 24, 1982, 12:00 Noon
It's almost time to go to Lomé for Thanksgiving. I'd like to see the people from stage again. And Lomé, the big city!
The comps are over, with few errors.
I know I haven't been keeping this journal up. I've been busy, but I've written lots of letters home.
I had a song going through my head this morning. I will try to reconstruct it soon.
I feel OK about Africa today. There are days when there is just too much to do, and I can see that there will be days like that again. There is so much to cover.
Holy cows, holy sheep
Old men praying in the street
The fetisher who lives on peoples' fear
The farmer standing in the sun
Sowing seeds one by one
And I was born ago 4000 years
There's a miller down the road
The children carry heavy loads
A rooster wakes me in the morn
The market women come and go
A forger hammers out a hoe
And I ago 200 years was born
It's old it's new but we can cope
It goes in steps instead of slopes
But we're all big enough to climb the stair
And some would say that we're not free
But I'm not sure that I agree
And I dont really seem to care
You can find the modern scene
With cars that run on gasoline
Up the road is all you have to go
People dancing in the night
To modern music, electric lights
And I was born 3 weeks ago
I light my way by lantern light
And take a ride on a motor bike
And speak a language older than the hill
It's old it's new but I can cope
I'll take the steps instead of slopes
And I'll be born tomorrow, yes I will