kossi_marie.jpgWezo-lo! Welcome!

From 1996 to 1998, I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Togo, a tiny country barely touching the coast of West Africa. On this site are a handful of memories from my Peace Corps experience and some tales of Togo I can never forget.

The story begins in May 1996. I had just gotten my M.A. in International Studies from the Monterey Institute of International Studies. At the age of 40-something (it’s never too late!) I wanted to get some international experience. I applied to Peace Corps well before I graduated, as I had found out that it often took a year to go through the application process. Three months after receiving my diploma, I received my invitation letter to become a Peace Corps volunteer.

I started to research Africa and life in the Peace Corps in 1995, about ten months before receiving my acceptance letter. I had had an interview in the San Francisco Peace Corps recruiting office where I was advised that since I had four years of French, it was highly likely that I would be placed in West Africa. When the acceptance letter arrived, it was followed up by a phone call from a recruiter. I was given four countries to choose from: Haiti, Niger, Togo or Jordan.

I had already spent most of a year in an Africa mindset, so I rejected Haiti immediately. The thought of going to Jordan was momentarily interesting. I also had an interest in the Arab world, having visited Egypt in 1980 and having studied the Middle East for two years as an undergraduate. But I had done a lot of research on Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa was the least likely place I thought I would ever go as a tourist. If not for the Peace Corps, I probably would never have the opportunity to see it. So Africa was where I should go.

mapwestafrica.jpgBetween Niger and Togo, I could find next to no information. There were no publications available then on Togo specifically or even West Africa in general. I made do with whatever I could find on Africa in used bookstores, most of which was 10-15 years old. I decided on Togo because I thought it might not be as hot as Niger. Niger is landlocked, and Togo has a small strip of land on the coast.

The internet was in its fledgling state in 1994 when I was looking for information on West African countries, and there was very little information on Togo even there. However, there were a number of USENET RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer) groups out there, and I managed to find several RPCVs who were kind enough to correspond with me by email and answer my millions of questions. This was the most valuable source of information I had. If you’re preparing to go into the Peace Corps as a volunteer, you’d do well to do likewise. RPCVs love to talk about their experience, and most will be more than happy to help you as someone helped them.

For a variety of reasons,  I avoided going through my Togo journals and writing my stories for public consumption for a very long time after I returned. Even though it has been many years since I was in Africa, these stories are still struggling to be told.

To preserve their privacy, I’ve changed the names of the Volunteers whom I mention in these memoirs.

If you’re planning to go to Togo, feel free to email me with questions. Although some things have changed a great deal in Togo since I left, such as telephone service and access to the internet, village life is very much as it was then.

— Marie McC

mariemcc303-roadtoveracruz at yahoo dot com

Advertisements