I had unusual luck as a new volunteer to have a current volunteer in village when I arrived. Not only a current volunteer, but one who speaks French well, is well respected in the community, knowledgeable about Togo and a great person in general. Caitlin (or Akouvi as she's known in village) was a great resource in getting to know people in Zafi, and knowing the ins and outs of village life. One of the biggest helps was learning to cook and more importantly shop. In the same way we can walk into a supermarket, and know what's down each aisle, and what's in each of those colorful boxes without having to read each label, Caitlin was able to help me learn what is in all of those cooking pots down the street, what days the tofu lady opens up shop, who washes their hands when cooking and whose kids are always sick.
Beyond all important food tips, Caitlin was able to introduce me to good work and community partners. Those partners who have been a consistent positive presence, those who could be, and those who didn't work out for whatever reason.
It was a great help to have Caitlin here my first few weeks, but the end of her service has come and now it's just me and the albino as the white people in village. I can see that she really did great work here and that she is spoken of well- and certainly not quickly forgotten as even despite my explanations, I am still often called Akouvi.
Caitlin's departure has also meant the true start of my own service. While school doesn't start until October 7th this time here on my own is giving me the opportunity to figure out how village life is for me. I can't text or stop by Caitlin's house to ask “how much should this much fruit really cost at the market” or “how do you live on something other than carbs here?” While it's the loss of a resource and friend, it means that I've had to figure out more things myself and put myself out there.
As Caitlin was preparing for life in the USA, and what that will mean for her, I was mentally preparing for two years in a small African village. Obviously we were at different points psychologically.
I'm glad that my time here has really started, as I had been feeling like I was in limbo since we left Philadelphia. While Peace Corps service comes with its own lengthy list of doubts and uncertainties, I'm glad to be here and finally starting and adventure that I've been planning for a long time now.
So here I am. Two years. Me and Togo.