I spent the first six months of my service exposed. The tattered thatch fence surrounding my compound collapsed early on, leaving my every outdoor movement visible from a popular path nearby. Whether washing my laundry, doing the dishes, or passing time on my porch, I could count on stares, snickers, and shouts from passersby. I felt like an exotic zoo animal kept for the village’s enjoyment, an isolated creature. Most days brought prying eyes, and I gripped my composure like the edge of a cliff, desperate not to let go. The occasional highlight of openness, massive cows passing within feet of my house and a less obstructed sunset over the horizon, seemed little consolation. Then, after so much time trying, my landlord commissioned a mason to build mud walls. Their completion felt like a milestone in my Tandjouare life.
The hot season sun and private liberation behind new walls are inseparable in my mind: the latter finally rose in the former’s unforgiving light. Suddenly, I was free to exist, at home, unobserved. Chores on my porch. Bike maintenance. Yoga. My day’s pieces added up to so much more when critical eyes were subtracted. The solitude emboldened my resolve to spend more time in village, though the balance of that time shifted towards the home front. My walls freed me from outside intrusion but, in productivity’s absence, I retreated into the future. The present became confined to my compound and I daydreamt more than I pursued actual enrichment. Tandjouare was home to my body, but not the mind, spirit, or hopes inside. One wall, freedom and imprisonment combined; I recognized the problem but, when coupled with other issues in village, I felt hopeless to change.
Togo has broken through my defenses. Rains and the resulting reinvigorated plant life have demolished half of the wall, with those grasses and weeds racing to claim my compound. The remaining stretches, blocking the front of the house, look worn: vines and weeds are already emerging from rain made cracks, their roots carving ever bigger slices for the future. The aesthetic effect is interesting, my front wall looks like a rainforest relic just under-ripe for excavation and the side’s crumbling remains add to the effect. As pieces of my house itself have also started to fall apart, I feel like my life is breaking open. Like the depression and joy and anxiety and hope inside and out are, again, exposed. Things can change this time though, and I still believe in my Togo life. That it can be better than fluctuations between intrusion and isolation, better than an existence marked by moments and marred by the time in between.