Saturday, March 29, 2014

         I love the feeling of powerful ocean waves surging over my body. Of planting my feet, decisively, in shifting ground, only to be blasted down by the sea and shore’s crashing reunion. To be prostrate in the frothy surf afterwards, feeling no stronger than the grains of sand swirling around my soaked mass. I like to imagine where the particles on this Ghanaian beach may have come from, trending towards the lovely (Maine islands, Sahara dunes, etc.), minding the gnarly (Lagos waste water, Pacific garbage gyre, etc.), and averaging the aforementioned’s mélange somewhere in the middle. I admire the sand’s ability to rest on any shore, regardless of grime, and roll into any wave, irrespective of its fury. On my best days, I’m channeling sand.

        I envisioned integration as becoming a local in Mango. In my mind, it would be like shedding my American skin and being reborn Togolese; feeling as at home fetching water and working on the farm as I ever did taking hot showers and working in a theatre. There would be moments when everyone, including myself, forgot my recent arrival. Having served over nineteen months, I haven’t experienced that calm. And, in my service’s balance, I’m not going to. And, I’m glad. I’m glad there are waves of rude locals to harass me, of African languages to drown out my best French, and of American memory induced despondency to batter my best attempts at fitting in. Because I’m not Togolese or a native French speaker or heterosexual or any of the other things I dreamed of pretending to be. I am who I am, even here, and existing outside my culture can never mean entirely existing outside of myself. I can be culturally sensitive and appropriate, I can try to understand things that would have once wrecked me, I can become a more adaptable and empathetic person. But there are aspects of my life that I can’t reconcile with here, and there’s nothing wrong with myself, Togo, or the Peace Corps as a result. Learning about Mango, shopping in our open markets, and spending time with my host family: I can be contently incomplete through everything. I can be the odd, rocky grain on our beach, blending the best it can and resting through the crashes and time between. Some days savoring it all, others waiting to wash up elsewhere. Another shore, another integration.

Friday, March 14, 2014


I want a transcendent connection. I want someone to remember me so fondly, one moment was long enough to send them searching for more. Maybe I’ll be the person beside them on a spin bike, with calves toned to kill. Or the man that dirty danced just long enough to drive them wild. Perhaps I’ll smile at the grocery and that image will linger long after they’ve checked out. I imagine someone searching, just as I’m waiting to be found.

        What happens if I miss the moment though? The one that was somehow, perhaps incontrovertibly, ours. Will you move on to someone else? Are there other sidewalk muses waiting to excite you? You’re a fairly attractive man, with what seemed like an affable demeanor and brilliant eyes in the seconds that I knew you. Unless, that is, you’ve changed since then. Change, you know: the buzzword of our hyperlocal, globalized world. We’re all either changing too much, or not enough. Not enough to remain competitive anyway, for strangers in passing linger but one day, if that, before distraction leads us away. I’m the same way, short attention span and shorter expiration date, so I want to be remembered in an immediate sense. Putting me further in the past would make my person better or worse than I am through hindsight. The present is where what we shared matters. It’s where we belong.

        The next time you saluer from the champ or comment on my hair at McDonalds, stop. Drop everything else and we’ll build a life together, extending this present as long as we can. We’ll have amazing sex, the kind where your bodies fit together perfectly and every insecurity only makes the other person more real and that much more lovable. We can talk about all the other connections that came first; the ones that weren’t built to last, that didn’t transcend our bourgeois ballet. The distractions will fade to reveal how things where we are, in that moment, are perfect. There’s no one else to miss, so hold onto me now, not in passing. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014


        Our center in Pagala is equal parts faded dormitory complex and spunky seminar site. Apparently built to house German industrial workers in the 70’s, today the repainted off-white structures, empty coffin-shaped pool, and hexagonal meeting huts stand in brilliantly withered contrast to both modernity and the Togolese village outside it. Frozen between cultures and times on a forested riverbank, the center has a distinctive charm that invites ambling daydreams and reflection. Volunteers typically come to Pagala three times for official trainings, plus most national camps, and it can be both a respite from and reminder of everything they hope to, have, or will not accomplish during their service. My last time there, as I walked the grounds under an intermittently overcast sky, memories drifted like the clouds overhead.

I recall my first time here, cast as a fresh – faced optimist searching for the difference he could make. Friends catching up after too much time apart. Review sessions about Moringa’s nutritional benefits, food transformation, and environmental education lasting throughout the day. Sharing meals and conversations across large tables in the dining hall. How’s your village? What would we like to accomplish in Togo? How are the older volunteers treating you? Where are we going tonight? I apparently danced with a Togolese man our final night at the local bar, Chez Plaisir, but I don’t remember that or anything after my fifth beer. I woke up in vomit and the vans took us home too early for my hangover’s taste.

The second training was with our Togolese work partners and, though largely a nice, interesting group, their presence made the event less English holiday, more awkward French symposium. The gulf between my then partner and I had been growing, he’s a friendly though self-interested man, and the training exacerbated our issues together. It felt like the others were passing me in some regards, but I vowed to press on with more than a year left. We hit Plaisir for our final blowout, dancing to whatever American pop we could find, and I thankfully enjoyed the evening in moderation.

Our last large event was near our service’s anniversary and served as a meditation on the one - year mark and plan for the future. We’d been told to bring something to present a successful project, so I used chalk on poster paper to make a neon, comic-esque illustration of what I’d done and my hopes moving forward. I perceived greater success around that room and felt maladjusted. Some visitors came to the displays and spoke to us; few of them stayed long with me and mine.

Dried teak tree leaves crunch under my feet as a decrepit hut seems inviting. Observing the sky through its vacant frame, I begged the clouds to rest and burst, to flood, to wash me and my flaws, or weakness or unshakable lows, away. When they answered, I lingered in the mud’s fresh scent and the erosion of Earth and identity. I won’t be at the center again, but the time I was meant something. To me, at least.