Hello! Greetings from Nangbani, the Pittsburgh of West Africa! (Why Pittsburgh? Because I love this city so much and already feel at home.) I will be spending my two years of service here, following swear-in at the end of next month. During Pre-Service Training, we all get two weeks to visit our site in order to start making connections and to reflect on whether or not we still want to complete our service. Well, I can say that I’m definitely in it for the long haul! I’m in love with my village. Let me tell you all about it!
Some luxuries I once considered necessary to live that now make me one of the wealthiest and luckiest people in this country:
Some things about my region, La Kara!
- The President comes from this region! It is a really lovely area with mountains as far as the eye can see. I can safely say that I’ve never lived anywhere more beautiful.
- I live approximately 2km from Bassar, the Nemacolin of West Afrca! You can find just about anything in Bassar, including some great street food, electric fans (thank goodness), an air-conditioned hotel (COME VISIT), and a huge and amenity-filled hospital.
- One of the storefronts near me has a white mannequin, which always startles me on account of I think it’s my reflection.
- There is a new word for white person! The kids now chant “Anisara” at me instead of “Yovo.” This has been an easy adjustment for me, but a moderately difficult transition for my friend Sarah, who thinks that the kids are just chanting her name.
- The biggest festival of the year is the Celebration of the Yam Harvest, held every year on the first Saturday of September. And this year’s #YamFest16 is going to be RIDICULOUS! Radiohead is the OPENING ACT. The first 1000 people get free #YamFest16 sunglasses. Li’l Sebastian will even be there!
- The language spoken in my neck of the woods is called Ncam, but is also referred to as Bassar. It’s a tonal language, which means that slightly raising your voice is the difference between saying “he is hungry” and “he is dead.” I can’t imagine any complications that could arise from a language like this!
A serious and heartfelt Good Goodbye:
Peace Corps Togo is currently sending volunteers to sites for six years. As we all serve two years only, three volunteers will inhabit the same house and carry out similar projects one after another. I am replacing a volunteer who has set the bar so astronomically high. The village adores her, her work has left an indelible mark on Togo, and her spirit and positivity is infectious. Meg is everything I hope to be at the end of my service.
When I introduce myself to a stranger, they seem happy to meet me. Then I say, “I’m the new volunteer. I’m replacing Ningberi.*” And their faces LIGHT UP. “I love Ningberi.” “Please tell Ningberi I say hi.” “Tell her to have a safe return.”
Peace Corps is not a competition. You get out what you put in. But Meg, she won. In every way possible. This village is losing their champion, their hero. And I am losing the most inspiring person I’ve met over the course of two months of meeting extremely inspiring people. Bon voyage, Ningberi ❤️
- The rain. Nope. If it rains, you will not leave your house and any meeting you may have scheduled will not take place. In fact, leaving your house in the rain will do nothing but confuse your neighbors.
- Stealing someone’s blood and using black magic to gain more money. This is not tolerated under ANY circumstances.
- The Guinea Worm. Although for some reason, these gross posters are fine.
Some comic misadventures that only I would have:
- Being offered pork intestines and dry-heaving
- Spilling a cup of urine on myself after seeing a cockroach. This does not need context. (But it was my own urine! Year of Penny, back on track!)
- My moto running out of gas and having to help my driver full-on Flinstones it to the nearest gas vendor
*A note on our names:
In Ahépé, the Duluth of West Africa, everyone receives a name dependent on the day of the week on which you were born. It is different in our neck of the woods!
- My new Bassar name is Gbati. It is the name given to all first-born males. The volunteer before me is named Ningberi, as she was the first female volunteer to live in this part of the village.
- My neighbor Matt was given the name Kondi, which is his village’s name for the first-born male. Despite my initial belief, this name is not an homage to the celebrated Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
- My other neighbor Haley was given the name Mahowa, which translates roughly to “I am no longer hungry.” This name is moderately funny at first glance, but is actually extremely thoughtful. As an Agriculture volunteer, she will be helping farmers create sustainable ways to increase crop production and diversity. At the end of her service, her neighbors will hopefully be saying Mahowa! Isn’t that so touching!
My first conversation with my neighbors, translated from (much better than last time) French:
Welcome to Nangbani! Thanks! My name is Daniel.
Gbati! What! No? Daniel.
Gbati Gbati. Okay.
You are gbufani. What?
Gbufani. I don’t know that word.
Fat. Oh. Haha yeah. (The Togolese are a very straightforward people. Also heaviness here is seen as a sign of wealth. Still, Fat Daniel ranks pretty low on my list of preferred nicknames)
Is your father alive or dead? Um… Dead? (Why does everyone ask me this all the time!?)
Do you remember your name? Yes, Gbati.
No. It’s pronounced Gbati. Gbati
No! Haha! Gbati! Gbati.
Haha Gbati, you’ll get it eventually. Gbati.
Do you like sardines? No.
What religion are you? Um. Can I go to church with you?
Well, that’s all! Thanks for reading about my awesome two-week adventure to my dream home! I hope everything is going awesome back in the States! (that’s what I call America now)
ps I have been reading a lot since arriving here–I’ve finished The Martian, Room, The Help, Animal Farm, and My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry. If you’ve read any of these books, especially the last one, please talk to me about them! I HAVE SO MANY THOUGHTS!