Well. I can’t believe that I have 2 weeks left as of today. Today, the team and I got back to internet for the first time in 12 days. We also returned to semi working showers that don’t require a bucket, toilets that don’t give us nightmares, and air conditioning in our bedrooms.
The trip was honestly quite hard. We spent 8 hours the first day in a 15ish passenger van barreling down rock trails that might have had enough dirt on them at one time to be called roads. Some of the way was paved, but that doesn’t really mean it’s actually flat in Togo. Our first hotel was a lonely building far in the north part of the country that boasted 8 whole rooms, 3 of which had a/c. Aaron got his own room as a perk of being the only white guy on the team. The pastors, translator, cook, and drivers who travel with us shared the top 4 rooms between themselves. So that left 7 girls and 2 rooms, only one of which had a/c (I realize I haven’t quite introduced the team, but this will be long enough without that. Keep up.) Rachelle, Emily, and Ruthanne shared the room without a/c. They thought it’d be an adventure, and I was quite happy to let them think that. Megan, Shelby, Rebecca, and I took the other room. And every time we turned on that cold air I experienced a feeling of gratitude similar to what the Israelites must have felt when manna came raining down from heaven.
We spent the next 3 days taking our bus an hour out into the bush over “roads” that were clearly never designed for anything more than a motorbike to the tiny town of Mbombiam.
Mbombiam is my favorite village so far. It has about 500 people living deeply isolated from the rest of the population. We spent our mornings teaching the villagers english and computer skills. I taught the children in this village, which was harder than I expected. The kids here have a different status in the community than they do in America. They are just as loved, but the parents have so much to do that they are more or less ignored until they make too much noise (oh wait that could totally be some families in america). once disturbed, the adults will yell and brandish sticks to quiet the kids down. Now I wasn’t used to this, so for two out of the three days the kids ran wild and talked over me. It wasn’t that they were bad kids necessarily, they just weren’t used to a more (semi) patient, gentler discipline. At one point, some of my more concerned students actually went and got me sticks to hit them with. Wait what? Nope. You best believe I plan on spanking my children, but I am not going to hit these children that I don’t know with sticks! So I compromised by banging on the tin roof of the (3 room, dark, cramped, stable-smelling) schoolhouse. The school was a wooden frame with thatch laid against the sides for walls and a tin roof. The blackboards were painted on, the floors were dirt, and branches served as the makeshift desks and benches. So that was all new. As difficult as the kids were though, I loved them. It was challenging, and I think they deserved a teacher with more of a plan/training, but we had fun. I taught them colors, numbers, some action verbs, body parts, shapes, and the alphabet in English. The difficulty of this was only exacerbated by the fact that they spoke mainly Bassar with some French, and our French knowledge didn’t always overlap. Megan helped me, and the rest of the team worked with adults. Everyone was eager to learn. Even the kids were excited to an extent. So the first hour to hour and a half of our day was english, then a short break where we played with the kids and they yelled any English words they might have retained as loudly as they could (jump and yellow were particular favorites for some reason), and then computer. Having a nursing mother practice typing on my laptop was a bit new. (Modesty is absolutely relative (to a point) by the way. Showing anything between a woman’s knees and hips is taboo, but they don’t necessarily see a need for shirts here. I still do.) Everyone wanted to learn email and facebook, but we were hours away from any connection, so we made them practice typing verses.
Then came a lunch break where we ate too heavy food in too hot shade, journaled, and read the bible. This 2-3 hour break is common to most African villages and incredibly wonderful. The entire time, most of the children stood a safe 10 feet away and watched us. Silently. They seriously stood and stared at us for a solid 2-3 hours. Slightly disconcerting. Usually we broke down and ended up spending most of our break playing with them. It was fun, despite the language barriers.
After break, we went and evangelized the first day with crazy encouraging results. Our team of 8 American college students is led by Togolese pastors, so we split into groups and walked around talking to people, with the pastors serving as translators and cultural interpreters. Christophe and Eliphas are our main pastors and they are hilarious. I went with Christophe and Rachelle for evangelizing the first day, and we’ve been a team ever since. We got to work with women shelling nuts, which I loved, and tell them parables that led into the gospel. “We are glad you come bring us this good news. When no one comes to visit, you begin to think you are animals” was one of my favorite responses. The villagers usually have really good and insightful questions, which is encouraging as it points to a thoughtful understanding of the gospel. The second afternoon they treated us to a display of their dances, which was INCREDIBLE. Christophe told us that many of the dances are done on fire or broken glass to prove the spiritual power of the dancer. And because the dances follow spiritual ceremonies involving idols and their powers, the dancers are not harmed if they have enough spiritual power. But we just had fun. Several times they pulled us into the dances only to (rightfully) laugh at our struggles. It was so much fun. We felt so loved and welcomed. We taught in Mbombiam for 3 days and spent 2 afternoons there. The last one we went to a different village where we weren’t as well received, but I didn’t mind. When people don’t wasn’t to listen to the gospel, it throws into relief those whose hearts are hungry. It really encourages one as to the seriousness of some.
So that was a lot of writing. Wow. Way longer than I thought it’d be, since this is only the first 4 days of the trip.
But the second two villages of Napimbo and Siou were much like this. The second hotel only had power 3-5 hours a day, and the bathrooms in our rooms didn’t work. The third hotel was clean and cool and beautiful after the second one. We taught and evangelized with mixed results in both these villages, but overall God’s presence is evident. We went to church in the village of Napimbo which was an awesome experience! Probably post about that one later. Anyways.
This first 12 day trip took us up through the far north part of the country, through mountains and jungles too beautiful to describe. We spent 10 hours in that same bus today to get back to the capitol city of Lomé at the very southern edge of Togo. It’s nice to be back where I can feel a little bit connected, but we leave again on Monday! I think this trip will only be 6 or so days. however, this last trip was only supposed to be 10 days, and this is the culture of “we’ll leave at 9, 9:30, no later than 12” so we shall see!
I’ll be super impressed with anyone who has enough patience with my ramblings to actually read all of this! Please keep me updated with what’s going on back in your lives as well! Love and miss you all! “Grace be with all of you” Hebrews 13:25