Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Autumn Again

        I’ve been searching for autumn since last year, when I missed my first in Togo. There are local seasons, largely variations on a hot / dry theme, but the difference temperature wise is typically negligible. As a result, our shifts in color and life are predicated on rainfall: green and lush when it’s plentiful, brown and dead while its gone. That my region’s rain patterns end when summer begets autumn at home has proved some comfort, with certain trees shedding their leaves just as the leaf peeper’s New England images light up the Internet. No local trees seem to don any vibrant reds or oranges before disrobing, there might be one shade of yellow then gone, but having the falling foliage blow past me feels right. That an autumnal crunching sometimes sounds my footfalls, gives walking an aural pleasure I've sincerely missed. Like an arranged marriage over the years, I’m learning to love our local autumn and see home in its sunlit fields and sandy markets. There are always leaves drifting around recently though, reminding me of another life I’ll see again someday.  

Leaning Forward

        I'm on a motorcycle cruising home, as I often am when the weekend ends and four dollars is a small price to avoid a cramped bush taxi. Passing through Bomboaka, where colonial era Kapokie trees line the dusty national route, I get lost. Instead of Africa, I’m on campus during a gorgeous Montana spring, riding my bike across cobblestones to the day’s first period. Next, I’m cruising around Lake Harriet on a rented, fluorescent green bike, hoping to catch the Minneapolis summer before it slips away. Finally, and most lucidly, I’m on a similar moto in Thailand, cruising through Chiang Mai’s busy streets with a gentleman I met the night prior. I’m holding onto his waste and resting my head against his shoulder, hoping that we never make it to the theater and spoil the perfect journey. The Kapokie’s shade ends and I’m back in Africa, enshrouded in dust under a cloudless sky, surprised at how completely the memories took me over. I’m leaning forward such that, whenever we hit a bump or turn, my chest grazes his back. Moments of us connecting on a silent, sun-baked ride.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

An End Before Beginning

       This weekend I’ll be moving from Tandjouare to Mango, a Muslim city about an hour South on the national road. The move has been about two months in the making and at least eight months in the necessary. Tandjouare’s lovely, with tall swaying grasses and fields nestled against large rocks, but it hasn't been an easy place to work or live. As the prefectoral capital, it sits awkwardly between town and village, offering but a few of the former’s resources (electricity, NGOs) and none of the latter’s know-everyone-everything charm. People are constantly moving around here and the surrounding area for business and work, and the result is a populace not warm or welcoming to those who want to integrate into the community itself. I think they’re too used to people using their space as an infrequent bedroom or brief step towards better things to let anyone, regardless of their nationality, get close. And now, their attitude coupled with personal weaknesses, has changed my first Togolese community from a home into a rest stop and myself from an earnest Volunteer into someone who may just be marking time.

        I’m not a perfect person, and I haven’t been a perfect Volunteer. When things got rough in Tandjouare, as they often did, I often left for the comforts of our workstation and other Volunteers. I sought refuge in their company, the Internet, and national projects that would take me anywhere but my assigned home. I wasn’t communicative enough with my Peace Corps Associate Director and staff, and problems built up rather than resolved. Now, I feel leagues behind my colleagues in work, integration, and even happiness.  After serving for more than a year, I’m still unsure of why I’m here and the changes I’ve noticed in myself haven’t always been good.

        The combination of personal troubles and life in Togo’s general difficulties has been corrosive to my mood and attitude. I find myself frequently irritable and snapping at others for issues that used to roll off so simply. I trend towards skepticism and mistrust when I meet someone new or encounter a local project. I’ve stopped seeking anything relationship-wise from the Togolese and have tried to avoid them sometimes. I’ve noticed these changes in reflecting on my actions and thoughts, hindsight illuminating what’s sadly become instinct. By recognizing these faults then, I hope to change course and meditate towards a new me in Togo. The past has passed, but the present and future are, at least uncertainly, in my hands.

         It’s become apparent through numerous goodbye conversations around Tandjouare that no one will miss me. They’ll miss the idea of a PCV being here, an exotic American to observe and harass around the market and his concrete cage, but not me personally. The community’s problems are theirs though, and I’ll be moving away from those. Because I know little about my new home, there could be any number of issues there as well. These factors are beyond my control. My problems, however, can easily be carried as onerous emotional baggage to Mango or, with some effort, left behind. I can’t reset my service and get back the time I’ve lost, but I can give Mango an honest try. If I really work at change in this new city and things still don’t work out, if I’m still unhappy and torn all the time, then I can return stateside knowing I gave it my all. There won’t be any shame in that. Is my service broken or breaking open? The answer lies in the next few months, Mango, and me.