News from Lara, my daughter who is in Togo, West Africa, as a Peace Corps Worker

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au revoir kpalime

August 20, 2013

It is difficult to articulate this experience. It is like being born all over again. When I came to Togo I knew very little French and not another person. In two months, I have three families: my Tsevie family, my Kpalime family, and my Peace Corps family.  I went from feeling completely vulnerable and alone to being surrounded by love, encouragement, and friendship from seemingly complete strangers. I didn’t know how to do or say anything and was away from everything I understood, but found a sense of belonging. It’s impossible to avoid being overly sentimental about such an experience. To be only eleven weeks away from feeling completely isolated, to this, is strange, confusing, and wonderful.

To say the least, it has all been unexpected. When I first committed to the Peace Corps I thought of it as an individual journey; in reality, it is anything but. I was thinking more about what I would do than who I would meet.

Tonight my Kpalime family told me that this is my home. So although I am leaving in two days, I am welcome here always and am a part of their family.

I talked to my sister who studies in Accra about how we both want to travel and experience the world. We both understood the difference of hearing about the rest of the world and actually seeing it.

We also shared how in the end it is important to be with family. We shared the difficulty of wanting to go on an adventure but the need and desire to one day return. We talked about how our mom will miss us when she returns to university and I go to post, but it is something we have to do. It all comes back to family. I thought about my own family and how I need to explore my curiousities about the world but part of me deeply wants to be with them. How eventually  I will after I see this and that. It’s funny how my sister here and I are so alike when at first glance the differences were all I could see.
The day after tomorrow I move to my post. I found out I won’t have internet connection unless I travel to another village; thus, my blogging and what have you will be infrequent. I am excited, nervous, hopeful, worried, and everything else all at once.

The good news is, is that I know if I work hard everything will be alright. I just have to keep on moving forward because eventually wonderful and unexpected things happen. The key is to keep moving. It’s not always easy – sometimes it is insanely hot, people laugh at my attempts to speak local or French, and I walk to chants of ‘yovo.’ Other times, in class students won’t understand my accent or way of explaining things; or I will be missing the conveniance of just about everything back home: running water, a refridgerator, McDonalds – you name it. But with all that is bad there is good.

My post is a perfect fit. There is a lot of work to do and I have a lot of great counterparts to work with. The major goals are to improve English literacy, teaching strategies, and community attitudes towards gender. However, the last volunteer left me an awesome guide to numerous community and regional projects – so my hands will be full.  I am excited.

After teaching in Kpalime for the past three weeks I can’t wait to be in a classroom again. It’s the best feeling in the world to see kids excited about learning and to feed their curiousities. I am really looking forward to getting to know my students and serve as a mentor. We have a saying here for teaching “It’s better to be a guide on the side, than a sage on the stage.” And I really do feel it’s not only better but something I really want to be. Sometimes all people need to do great things is encouragement and direction.

To close, I am in love with Togo. It’s not just how beautiful the mountains and palm trees are; or the warm weather or pate rouge; it’s the hospitality to strangers, the way they say hello to everyone they pass on the street, and the way a silly American can find home here in a few short weeks (it’s eleven to be exact, 95 more to go).

The only frustration is my inability to express myself here. I want to say more than merci beaucoup or akpe kaka, but as of now, I cannot. One day soon.