Life has been interesting around here lately. After nearly two years of mostly static, unchanging days, the last few months have brought some new developments in my host community and in my life.
First of all, the electricity that everyone has claimed is “coming” since my arrival here seems to actually be on its way, however slowly. A few months ago, I noticed huge poles being placed along the road leaving the larger market town, Glazoue, and was informed that they were to bring electricity out of the city and into the small villages. Now, in the last month, these poles have arrived in our neck of the woods and men dressed in conspicuously new clothes and shiny shoes and toting little notebooks have come through and started asking questions about how much money people make as way of finding out if the population can afford electricity or if the power lines will just pass by without stopping. Still no sign of the actual lines that would carry said electricity, but it’s a start.
Second, a few weeks ago, people started clearing the land across the road from my house and digging holes into the ground. I thought someone wanted to build a house there and that I would have new neighbors, but as it turns out, one of the cell phone networks just bought the land to build the community’s first antennae there! This is huge news, because as anyone who has tried to call me here knows, we do not have good cell phone reception. Calls often drop after a few minutes and even if you have the good luck to carry on a conversation for a good length of time, the quality of the call isn’t good and it’s hard to hear the other person. So, it’s quite the exciting prospect to have an antennae so nearby. Reception is going to be fantastic, which also means I should be able to get online from village, because it’s through that cell phone network that I connect to the internet. Promising new developments!
Third, and I suppose the biggest news…my plans have changed in the last couple of weeks. The extra year that I was hoping for isn’t going to work out, so I will be coming home in November. The whole situation that led to this change is a long story that’s not really worth recounting, but it boils down to a few points. First, I’ve been having some issues with my work partners, specifically my supervisor, in that we don’t see eye to eye about certain things, specifically about how much my projects should benefit him personally versus the community as a whole. Second, the situation at the health center has been deteriorating even further (who knew it was possible?!) and I’ve found myself unable to do anything productive there in the last few months–even the work in vaccination that I had been doing before is no longer working due to management issues. But these were issues I was willing to work through, because I had big plans for the next year outside of the health center and not involving my supervisor too much.
And then I had an unfortunate incident with my summer school project that turned out to be the last straw for me. Basically, there was some misunderstanding between the folks helping me plan my summer school and those who had planned another, earlier session of summer school (an association of students/intellectuals that I didn’t know existed/rumor has it isn’t normally recognized as a functional group), and it all came out in the open the first day of summer school (which boasted a great turnout of kids) when a small flock of young men stormed into the school and started yelling about how we had to send all the kids home. It was a confusing and rather stressful situation, and was followed by several days of extremely high stress as I attended meeting after meeting where people were yelling at each other and at me and where we argued about whether I was going to accept their demand that I change two thirds of the teachers that I had chosen to work with me on the project. Apparently this association was so offended by some insults that one of the young men who was supposed to work with me had directed at them at one of their meetings that they decided that he needed to be fired (which I did on the spot) and in addition to that, they needed to become part of the direction of the project and their members should be employed as teachers instead of the others my team had chosen. Which would have been a fair proposal had any one of their numerous members approached me during the planning phase of the project to say that they would like to help, but to storm in with force after the thing is already planned and has started functioning and then to think that we are going to play together nicely is a bit hard for me to accept. We attempted to mediate the problem at the village chief’s house in a meeting that was conducted entirely in Fon and ended with me in tears. Finally, I had accepted a huge compromise just for the sake of the kids who were enrolled in the project, and then the association changed their demands again and I was (I think reasonably) unwilling to yield again, and the village chief decided that enough was enough and called off the whole project. I was pretty discouraged about the whole thing, not only because it was a solid project and I was really sorry to not be able to see it through to the end, but also because this is the first major problem I’ve had in the community and I felt that the support I received from my supervisor, homologue, and the village chief was really lacking, even though they were all part of the planning process. Also, the incident brought out some hostility towards me, not in a way that I feared for my safety, but just in a way that made me realize that if I stayed, it would be a year of one problem after another. While that may be par for the course to some degree for the first two years, it doesn’t make much sense to willingly enlist for another year of such problems that seem to be growing even more prevalent.
And after all, the whole idea of Peace Corps is that we work with communities that want to work with us; it’s not to force ourselves upon communities that wish we’d leave them well enough alone. So although I do think the majority of the community was on my side and will be sorry to see me go, I can’t ignore the small, vocal part of the community that seemed to be telling me to just mind my own business.
So, I’ve notified Peace Corps and my community and am in the process of wrapping things up and planning a goodbye party. I’m trying to not let these few unfortunate things that happened at the end spoil the memory of the amazing two years that I spent here, because they were great and the community was beautiful and welcoming and I don’t want to forget that.
Thus, I’ll be home in November, around the same time I had previously planned (just before Thanksgiving), but instead of it being a vacation, I’ll be moving back. Since I hadn’t planned this move, I’m not really sure what I’ll be doing when I get there. Probably some hanging out and decompressing for the first bit, enjoying the holidays, then studying for and taking the GRE and probably looking for a job as I figure out the grad school situation and start applications.
Short (I mean relatively) post today. I’m still doing some processing of all that has happened, because it’s been a lot of change very quickly, but I wanted to get you all the update because it’s big news. I’ll try to write again soon.