Have had quite a busy time since I wrote last - hospital cleaning, Togolese church, my first African rain/storm, not to mention a dance class for a wedding which is next week...
My first weekend here, Alison mentioned that she was doing a kind of dance class and I said oh that sounds like fun, I'd quite like to come. Thanks to that I'm now part of a group dancing at someone's wedding next Saturday, having had a grand total of about 4 hours to learn the dances - one of which I start... It's really the Togo version of Strictly, except my yovo status adds an extra sort of frisson! I'll let you know how it goes and hopefully post some photos/videos as well after next week - still can't believe this is me about to dance at some poor person's wedding! We're doing two dances, one Indian sort of and one sort of country style. When I say sort of... it's a loose description to say the least. Mama has said that Africans dance 'like monkeys' and it is true that they just have a sort of grace and a way of moving that is totally unique and unlike anything us Europeans can come up with. Just like in church, something I experienced today!
We went to an 'assemblée de Dieu' which is a sort of Protestant gospel style service and the only way to describe it is to say that it was an experience... Never having really been a fervent believer (or if truth be told, a believer at all!) the power and the faith that these people have is amazing. It's quite frightening to think of the consequences if that power was misused because they really put their everything into worship. The whole thing is so physical - they pray out loud, together, with music, with actions, standing up, sitting down, dancing, singing and they fully believe every word. The preaching is intense to say the least, and when we arrived there there were about 5 preachers all going for it in different point of the church! They also have a translator to translate the French into Ewé which I found very interesting, and most of the songs are in Ewé except I'm sure I heard some English at one point which was very bizarre! The church itself is also decorated beautifully - pink and white striped material behind the sort of stage, flowers, pink ribbons hanging from the fans (which were drastically needed as it was 36°C there today despite the storm last night...) and there were two signs which particularly struck me - at the back of the stage it said 'enter to adore' and above the door it said 'go out to serve'. The colours and the dresses there today were the best I've seen since coming here - SO many colours, so many amazing headdresses, so many different types of dress - I felt dramatically underdressed! And resolved that instead of the one dress I was going to get made I need at least 3!
Only one word to say about the storm last night - IMPRESSIVE. (and scary!)
Spent Saturday morning cleaning at the hospital Tokoin which is about a half an hour walk from chez moi. Walked about halfway but then thought 'hmm don't actually know where this hospital is...' so got a moto for the rest. Was definitely an African 8am start as we all rolled up between about 7.50 and 8.20... We were then handed mops, brooms, and buckets - no prizes for guessing what we were going to end up doing! We cleaned the paediatric unit of the hospital which was 3 consultation rooms and a room for in-patients. Am going to write the events as they occurred and describe things as we found them without passing judgement on anything, because I think it will become very clear to you soon without me having to say anything.
We were separated into 4 groups, one to clean the ceilings, one to sweep the floors, one to mop the floors, and the other to wash the windows/doors/etc. In total there were about 10 volunteers, 4 members of Projects Abroad, and about 6 members of the local football team who also pitch quite often apparently. We started by cleaning the consultation rooms, and then moved onto the in-patients room. There were 11 children currently there - the full capacity by the number of beds - in a room about the size of a small living room. And by that I mean think average size for the majority, then go small. The children were all very small, ranging from babies still being breastfed to children about 4 or 5 and when we arrived the room was also full of mothers and families there with their children. Of course we had to move all the beds out to clean this room, so these families ended up outside where fortunately there was some shade, but the children spent 3 hours there without any medication being given that I could see. There were also several drips in the room; some of these were metal, similar to the ones we would see in a hospital at home, but others were wooden, and sort of ressembled hat-stands. It took our team of about 20 people in total 3 hours to clean these 4 rooms and the childrens' beds and they still weren't clean at the end. I don't think I need to say any more.
The one image I will always retain from that isn't the dirt, or the crowded room, or seeing a doctor take up a needle that had been sitting in an inch of dust to use on somebody; it's a family I saw outside. They were asleep on a cover together, a mother and an older boy on the outside, sheltering a little boy in the middle around whose tiny dark wrist there was a white hospital band, and on the back of his hand, in the place where a IV needle would go in, was a white gauze pad.
I love Togo, and I'm having so much fun, but you cannot help but have your eyes forcefully opened at times. But perhaps that's because they need to be. My perspective is changing so much here, and I'd say it's probably impossible to go back home the same person as how you started here - it's certainly not going to be the case for me.