Bonjour à tout le monde! Salut et bienvenue!
That’s French for “Hello, everyone! Greetings and welcome!” We heard that many, many times during our Orientation, an introduction to Pre-Service Training!
On Thursday, we traveled via charter bus to the Peace Corps Headquarters in Lomé, the capital of Togo. The HQ compound is absolutely amazing, furnished with filtered water and air conditioning!
Yay! We’re here!
To begin our day, we were introduced to the Peace Corps Togo employees. Every staff member was introduced, from the janitors up through the Country Director. Regardless of rank, each employee had equal time to introduce herself. How cool is that!
I was surprised at how many PC employees were Togolese and not American expats. Peace Corps is not only a great agency for America but also a major job creator overseas! I know you don’t need another reason to love PC, but alas.
Our sessions on the first day were extremely informative and essential to our successful residence in West Africa. We filled out so many forms that I lost count. It felt like being at the DMV with a bunch of people that you like and good food and also not miserable.
And we got money! So colorful!
In the compound, there is a Volunteers’ Lounge, which has really strong Wifi, a ton of books, and working computers! Some volunteers come to the compound when they are in the area to work on projects, take care of their health, and get some much-needed rest.
Or to charge their cell phones. Beautiful, right? I own this!
The Peace Corps language training is unparalleled across the world, but before we start training we have to take a pretest. The skill level of our group is extremely varied, from completely fluent to “Bonjour.” My skills are somewhere close to the “Bonjour” side, but I have gotten really good at saying, “I’m sorry because I know my French is not good.” In fact, “Je suis desolé” is becoming my catchphrase! Score one for politeness! My pretest was a struggle, but I was able to answer almost all of the examiner’s questions, usually by saying, “J’aime faire du jogging” (“I like to jog”). That might not be the perfect answer about describing the city of Cleveland, but I gave it my best shot! And I got placed in not the lowest group, so my semester of 101 paid off!
On Friday afternoon, we ended orientation pretty early and got to explore the area of Lomé near our hotel. It was super cool! We joined a soccer game with some of the local children, who picked me first on account of my unfounded self-confidence and my resemblance to Landon Donovan. Our team did not win, but we made some new friends and got to interact with children in French!
If you are a friend or family member, you know that I’m generally a pretty sweaty person. Even I am surprised at how much sweat is coming out of my body this week. Probably the biggest realization of my sweatiness was when I kneeled down to grab my shoes and slipped. My knee was that wet.
We’re being instructed to drink 3 liters of water a day. Don’t worry, I’m hydrated!
The people on the trip are flat-out amazing. I know we are still Honeymooning, but I am so excited that this is my cohort. We’ve gotten to really know each other, our fears, and our bowel movements. It’s been a solid week of laughing, bonding, and hanging out on a roof/doing yoga in West Africa. Who am I!?!?!?
A few of us casually freaked out at the presence of a large snail inside the hotel, but we’re starting to acclimate. Other things we freaked out at this week include a horrifying presentation on the risks of stopping our chemoprophylaxis (malaria meds) and a very graphic lesson on how to properly use a traditional latrine.
Don’t worry! My rapid test says that I don’t have malaria! And now that I have the typhoid fever, rabies, and meningitis vaccines, I don’t have any of those things either! Hoorah!
We’ve learned a lot of super cool things about the Togolese people. It is a custom here to name or nickname your child a specific way based on the day of the week. Cool, right? There’s also a thing in Togo called Funeral Season. I can almost hear my funeral director family getting excited about this. Apparently, a lot of deaths occur in this time of year, and when that happens, the family of the deceased pays a lot of money to bring family into town for an all-night celebration. They can be compared to American weddings, but a lot sadder and probably more fun. Also, the slang term for “white person” is yovo. Please don’t ask me how I know this. But everyone we’ve met has been super kind and really eager to learn about us.
There’s a lot of deference here for Barack Obama since his father is from Kenya. I found this super interesting since we essentially NEVER talk about his dad in the States. (That’s what I call America now!)
That’s all for now! Thanks for reading! Next up… beginning our 3-month homestay!