On Naming in Togo

Today I want to tell you the story of one man with three different lives.

As scandalous as that sounds, don’t get your hopes up too much. ;p

I have many nicknames but most of you will know me as Ti. Ti has fun. He traveled to Morocco, graduated college, and moved to West Africa with the Peace Corps.

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When Ti arrived in the training villages of Southern Togo where he would spend the next three months with a host family, he got a new name. His host mother hugged him every day, held his hand walking to school, and renamed him Yao. Yao is the Ewe word for Thursday–the day Ti was born. From time to time, Yao was also called Yaovi which means “Little Brother Yao.” Yao was in a constant state of change and learning. He learned how to handwash his clothes, how to avoid the type of mud that makes you fall, and more importantly, he learned humility.

Three months passed and Yao was placed in the northernmost region of Togo: the Savannahs. He packed up his life, hugged his Ewe momma goodbye, and moved to his home for the next two years.

Moving out of the Ewe south and into the Moba north meant–you’ve guessed it–a new name.

Et voila, Yao turned into Lalmongue. My first day in my new house, my host father gave me this name. Laré is a traditional Moba name for men that have completed their rite of passage. There are five Moba names like this but Laré is generally regarded as the most respected. “Mongue” is a suffix that means “clear skinned.” So my newest name literally means Clear Skinned Laré.

Nonetheless, I love being Lalmongue. After all, the bulk of my service is being spent under this name. Lalmongue is a teacher, a mentor, and a shorts-wearing, heat-hating bamf.

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Don’t get me wrong. Even though I live as Lalmongue, Ti and Yao are still there too. When I am collaborating on projects among my American coworkers, Ti is at work. When I return to the south, Lalmongue is put on pause, and Yao comes back to life.

Among many things I didn’t anticipate about service, having to juggle different identities takes the number one spot. Each identity holds lessons learned, and advice followed.

It is the way of many Native American tribes to be given more than one name throughout one’s life. For example, you’re born with a baby name, but that name won’t be the same when you’re an adult. Name changes can happen multiple times, but they are all earmarked by large events. Each new name marks the end of the previous. For example, I went from being Ti to Yao. Yao might be a completely different person from Ti. However, when we leave to meet the Creator, we are able to bring with us the wisdom of many different people–many different lives lived. This is how I see Ti, Yao, and Lalmongue.

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I do see this as a challenge, but I really enjoy being able to blend ever so slightly when I am traveling. Ok, well, I don’t blend at all anywhere I go in Togo. When people see me, they see a white guy that can’t eat the same foods as them, that has to have running water, and that doesn’t know the realities of village life. Introducing myself with my local language names allows me to remove this first impression. “Hey friend, my name is Yao, and I eat pâte ever day!” They no longer see the white foreigner, but instead, they think: “hey, this guy does the same stuff we do!”

That’s why I appreciate all of my names!

As always, feel free to ask me questions, message me on fb, or send me beef jerky for Christmas!

Stay savvy my friends,

With much love,

 

Trekking Tim

A Year Later, Je Suis Là

I was quiet, but I was not blind. ~Jane Austen

It’s not quite a year later. I am three days short of the day I left Morgantown on a bus headed to DC, and 6 days short of the day I got on a plane in NYC. But nonetheless, it’s time to reminisce about my journey thus far and how I’ve grown. They’re right folks, living abroad changes you. No doubts from me. I won’t refuse all the mushy, yucky stuff about changing to be a better person, growing stronger, becoming a pro at maneuvering culture shock, because yeah — all that’s true too. But this is about me! So here are some ways that I’ve changed personally during my past year in Togo.

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My sense of time. 

This is by far the most bizarre change I’ve made. In the States, it was all about the hours or the days for me. I rarely ever got stressed about a deadline more than a week away! It wouldn’t have even crossed my mind, to be honest. But here, woah. I can feel so busy because I have a few events coming up in the next three months. That’s right, three months away and it’s on my mind already. My to-do lists used to have at least ten tasks per day to accomplish. Here, I’m on cloud nine if I can do two things a day. Three things a day and we are really pushing it… There are days that I grade a handful of papers and do my laundry by 9 a.m. and I’m so proud of myself. I think, yeah man, you’re doing great! (I actually do think this from time to time). I don’t think I’d put this change into a category of good or bad — I’m just thankful I have time to appreciate my hammock.

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Creepy crawlies 

Oh, there’s a spider running across my bedroom floor, let me crush it with my big toe! Nbd. The number of crawlies that gross my out has gone from a lot to almost none at all (barring snakes, those are never ok). I wake up in the morning, start brewing my coffee, and sit out on my porch. I have zero qualms these days about smushing unwanted bugs with my toes. In fact, I don’t even think twice about it.

Even the lizards. I hate how many lizards I have in/around my house. Can you imagine how embarrassing it is to wake up from a nap, throw on a shirt hanging in the closet, head out to the market only to find THERE’S A FREAKING LIZARD IN YOUR SHIRT THAT WANTS TO START CRAWLING ALL OVER YOUR BODY. I’m not proud, but this has happened so many times. I think, keep calm, your in public, don’t strip, don’t strip, DONT’ STRIP! Luckily my friend Benoît isn’t shy about helping me evict unwanted shirt guests nonchalantly. Let’s be real, I don’t exact blend in at the market, so freaking out about a lizard in my shirt would be quite the spectacle.

While we are talking about lizards, let me bring up the fellow lizard that lives in my latrine. My latrine is basically a fancy cement outhouse. I keep the seat covered, but somehow, this lizard just doesn’t want to leave. So after my morning coffee, when I go to the throne and sit down, he just gives me a few taps on the bum as if to say : hey, I don’t wanna be in here right now. Lemme out. I stand up, he runs out, I finish my business, and we see each other the next morning. #RealMVP

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Health above all. 

We have a handy little saying in Togo: Santé avant tous. Health above all. If this past year has brought any changes for the better, it’s how I see my health. I live close to the Burkina Faso border; it’s hot, it’s dry, it’s dusty! I have never had to drink so much water in my life. But if I didn’t, it would be a serious issue for me. Not only have I started focusing every single day on staying hydrated, I’ve been really finding the importance of eating good foods to stay on my game. My life here is the exact opposite of sedimentary. I walk to school, I walk to the market, I walk up mountains, I walk to get water, I walk to see friends… get the picture? After all, my body is a temple, right?! I want my temple to be golden with wall curtains, and lots of wine!

Let’s not forget about mental health. I consider myself lucky that I have had a really amazing experience thus far. Forgetting month 5, I’ve been so happy with my life in service. But every now and again, I can feel myself slipping into a rut that we all know. It is easy to feel isolated while serving abroad. Think about it, we left all our friends, all our family members, our native language, everything we are comfortable with back home. This past year has taught me ways to stay out of the rut and in a place where every day can be joyful. I’ve learned how closely linked my mental health is with my physical health. And I’ve been practicing being mindful. Living each second in the Present — not worrying about the future but enjoying the Now.

Wanna know one of my secrets to staying on the up & up? I sing to myself, all the time. I’m totally not shy about singing in my house when my host family is home anymore. Every once in a while, I’ll catch myself telling myself how funny I am… then I stop to think about if I just crossed a line or not. HA! Crazy is the new sane.

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Okay okay, so I only have three personal changes I’ve made in the past year. I hope you weren’t expecting a top ten! Let’s not forget about time in Togo, it takes a while to do a little. I’m certainly happy with these three changes, and I hope you’ll stay with me for the year to come. Please, share my blog, write love letters to me via snail mail (the thought makes me swoon) — keep me in your loops too!

As always my friends, stay savvy!

With much love,

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Rain Dances

I hear the drums echoing tonight
But she hears only whispers of some quiet conversation
She’s coming in twelve-thirty flight
Her moonlit wings reflect the stars that guide me towards salvation
I stopped an old man along the way
Hoping to find some old forgotten words or ancient melodies
He turned to me as if to say. “Hurry, boy, it’s waiting there for you.”

Wow! Cheesy right?! But let’s be real. What song is more appropriate than Toto’s “Africa?” Let me tell you, though, the rains in Togo are no laughing matter — at least not for me.

As the forecast goes, we’ve been blessed by a short hot/dry season. I live in the Savannah region of Togo. It’s the northernmost region. In fact, I could easily ride my bike to the Burkina Faso border. The Savannahs are known to be hot, dry, and lacking vegetation among my fellow volunteers. Most of us just thought it was mostly desert before coming. During my site visit, I was shocked to see the lush greens and lack of desert. That was during the end of last’s year’s rainy season. Now that I almost have my first dry season under my belt. I concur that it isn’t so far from what we originally imagined.

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During rainy season.
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Yesterday atop the same hill as above.

 

But let’s talk a little about the importance of the rains in Togo.

The seasons hold such importance in Togolese life that the school years are designed around the rains. First, when the rains come, it is once again time to head back to the fields to start preparing the soil. After six months of direct sunlight, you can imagine the soil conditions. It is nearly impossible to cultivate the dry ground enough to plant things. Even at that, if we could till the soil enough, there is a high chance that the plants won’t thrive. The rains help the farmers (cultivateurs) give life back to the soil.

NOTE: The unique aspect of Peace Corps compared to other peace organizations is that we don’t live in the capital, nor the bigger cities. We live and work in the small villages — what we could call the bush. Most of our friends and colleagues consider themselves farmers first. After all, how else are they going to provide for their families? Even my coworkers at school will miss class if the rains come before the end of the school year. And who can blame them?

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In one of my classes.

 

The second important aspect, and undoubtedly the most important, is the simple fact that it gives us water. We get our water here from wells or pumps. But, keep in mind that the smaller villages rely almost solely on wells. Even in my midsized village, wells have run dry. A lot of them are communal, so lots of families rely on the same well to get water for cooking, cleaning, showering, and of course, to drink. When wells run dry, families are forced to go longer distances just to find water — something I took for granted before coming here.

I’m lucky to enough to have a private well in my compound. I live with my host dad (in my local language: n ba) and mom (n na). There is also my host sister and a student that rents the room next to mine. I spoke with n ba last night about the water situation in Korbongou (my village, google earth it!). He explained that our well doesn’t run dry not because it is deep, but because there are not a lot of people that use it for water.

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There’s my well.

 

Last week, around midnight, I heard a few drops on my tin roof. I took my chair outside and sat in the lite sprinkle. I’m still so used to the unpredictable weather in Morgantown. You would not believe how much the first little sprinkle lightens your psyche. Imagine the joy of the first snow of winter. Now multiply that tenfold.

Just a few days ago, we had our first real storm. Wind. Fresh air. Rain. It only lasted about ten minutes, but I collected enough water to wash all my dishes. The entire time during the storm, I stood outside in my tank top and short shorts with a big goofy smile. Furthermore, who doesn’t love the smell of rain?

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N na says that I’ll soon be tired of how much it rains during the rainy season. I always joke when I leave the house that I’m going out to put in an order for rain. Thye love my cheesy sense of humor, or they’re really good at pretending. Either way, it grows my ego. (;

I hope that my attempt at explaining the importance of rain has given you an adequate slice-of-life depiction of my life here. This is, after all, my new home, and it is a perfect fit for me.

So if you don’t mind, wake up tomorrow, have your coffee, and do a rain dance for me before heading to work!

From the heat to lite sprinkles, stay savvy my friends,

With much love,

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No, I Miss You More

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Surprise! Trekkingtim is back after nearly nine months of absence. I can’t possibly go back through nine months of experiences as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) in Togo, so I won’t even try. Instead, I want to list a top ten of the weird and bizarre things that I miss.

Even though Togo is listed as a “hardship country,” I haven’t had that difficult of a time adjusting to my new lifestyle. Granted, eating donkey and getting over my fear of The Ring while fetching water from a circular, stone well wasn’t the easiest of tasks, je me débrouille.*  

 

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I have to say also that my house is baller.** I have 24/7 electricity (hey there fridge!), my own kitchen, bedroom, shower, and latrine. My host family is also very accommodating to the tall white man they’ve newly accepted as their son. My parents are both pretty old, but my host father is the right-hand-man to the chief of the village. It makes it 100% easier for me to get a meeting with him when I needed to do work in the community.

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My host mother and sister are lovely. They often send me over delicious dishes ranging from Togolese couscous to assorted meats. On March 8th, International Women’s Day, I bought them traditional pagne which can be a little expensive. So as of late, I’ve been getting really delicious dinners.

The best part about having retired host parents is that they understand when I need to rest. They turn away everyone that comes to greet me and I lovvvvve it. I could sleep until noon and they wouldn’t think less of me–which is quite a feat for the ever early-rising Togolese.

Nonetheless, here are my top ten most missed things in the United States. Feel free to send any sendable items to:

Ti Bedunah
Corps de la Paix
BP 291
Dapaong, Togo
West Africa

  1. My coffee maker
  2. Chewing gum
  3. Keeping my deodorant in the bathroom, instead of the fridge. (It’s hot here.)
  4. Honey Buns
  5. Browsing hipster stores only to buy cool stickers
  6. Being able to google things
  7. Thai food
  8. Cheese, just all of it
  9. Taking showers inside
  10. Watching reruns of Roseanne

 

 

Stay savvy,

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* I manage
** really cool?

A Dream Coming True

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For the longest time, I had dreams of joining the Peace Corps after college. I have always had an innate need to help others. I longed to do something that was bigger than myself, something that would mean a lot to people. It wasn’t until I learned via That 70’s Show what the Peace Corps was exactly. Then, I knew it was the right avenue for me. I am sure that some of my longest friends can attest to remembering me saying that I wanted to serve a term in Africa.

Well, I am so thrilled to announce that it has come true. I have been invited to join the Peace Corps to serve 27 months in Togo, West Africa.

The best phrase to describe how I feel is just that my heart is incredibly full. I have been adding other volunteers that are leaving for Togo on June 6th with me on Facebook. During my time in Togo, I will be serving as a Secondary Education English and Gender Equality volunteer. This means that I will have my own classroom where I will teach English and promote gender equality. I will be aiding in promoting and sustaining community led endeavors to support the continued education of the youth in the village I will be living in — especially for girls as part of the #LetGirlsLearn campaign.

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Togo is a small country in between Ghana and Benin, and under Burkino Faso. I was reading that it is relatively the size of WV — ironic, no? The main language is French! YAY! However, I hope to learn a few of the 60 local languages used in Togo. Volunteers in Togo live in 2 to 3 room houses that are usually on a Togolese family’s compound. Most homes have tin roofs, but there are a few that have straw roofs. It is unlikely that I will have running water and electricity — it will be a big change for me, but I have no doubt that the rewards far outweigh this small aspect.

In preparation for my almost two hour interview for this position, I read many, MANY blogs that created a timeline of their experience. So, in hopes that someday, someone interested in joing the PC will find my blog, I shall do the same:

Sept 27 – Submitted my online application. I saw on FB that hundreds of jobs would be closing on Oct 1. I was traveling in Northern Morocco at the time but found a couple of hours to sit and focus on the application. On this same date, I completed all the complimentary forms such as medical history, placement preference, etc.

Oct 6 – I received an email saying that I have been placed under consideration for this position in Togo. Capture d’écran 2015-11-01 à 12.33.46 AMOn that same date, I received this email from the placement specialist:

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Oct 9 – I had my interview from 7-9pm (my time in Morocco). I was incredibly nervous, as you can imagine. I reserved a classroom here on campus and arrived thirty minutes early just to make sure that I had everything set up exactly as I wanted. You can find the general questions that they ask online. They proved to be pretty accurate for me. I had made four pages of notes and placed them just out of sight of the webcam. In reality, I was really prepared and didn’t end up glancing at any of the notes. I must have done pretty good because at the end of  the interview he said “Your know by date is Dec. 1, but I don’t need that long. There’s no reason why I shouldn’t offer you this job.” My heart hit the floor like a ton of bricks. What incredible relief. I told my closest friends and family.

Oct 27 – I received the official invitation from my placement specialist!

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So there you have it. My complete outline as of today. When I started college and started to mention that the Peace Corps is something that I would love to do, the usual response I got was “Good luck, it’s super competitive.” Hearing that as often as I did was extremely discouraging. I am here to tell you to be fierce in the pursuit of your dreams. The way this world works is, if you want something bad enough, eventually, you’ll get it. I know this new chapter will bring many great adventures, and I can’t wait to share them all with you!

With much love,

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