A Return to Togo

Things I learned on my second trip to Lome, the capital of Togo, where I went to enjoy a weekend and re-stamp my visa into Ghana:

  1. If you travel with a man, no one will direct questions to you—even about your own passport.
  2. If you don’t present it yourself, sometimes people never ask for your passport, thus not finding out you are an American in need of a Visa
  3. Border officials will look at an American passport for approximately 10 minutes in order to probably determine “authenticity”
  4. They actually do ask to see your Yellow Fever vaccination card!
  5. I am still nervous about riding on motorbike taxis
  6. If a tro-tro is near the end of its life and will start and stop the entire way from one city to the next, the tro-tro driver and mate will still collect money and brave a journey without telling you about the vehicle’s problems
  7. Any journey in a tro-tro over 2 hours will result in you running out of comfortable seating positions for your body
Bright curtains blowing in the beautiful breeze
Dirt roads of Togo
View from floor
Chopping vegetables for lunch
Forgot to take the photo of the food before eating it...
We ate a tub of salad
Fresh bissap (made from a flower)
With Fred's mom

 

The Ones That Slip Away

It is hard for people with personalities like mine to feel as though someone has “slipped through the cracks” on “our watch.” We believe as though we can help everyone. But the truth is that it is sometimes beyond our control. Even upon realization, however, it is sometimes still hard to cope. In October of my last year of college, I went through one such situation. It was not my first one, but it was the one that has stayed with me in many different ways. I had been a close friend with this girl since our senior year of high school. We didn’t live close to each other, but we made sure we visited as often as possible, and when we went to college, we made sure to make trips to each one’s respective city.

As time went on, though, I realized the extent of the effects she suffered due to many different hard and horrible situations that she had endured in life. She began abusing a variety of different vices, and I tried to help her, because I knew how much she had suffered. Many things she had suffered silently, because she did not think people would believe her and her parents believed that no daughter of theirs would have problems such as these. So they refused to help her get help. But the situation continued to escalate. She entered into an emotionally abusive relationship and no amount of words or actions could convince her to leave it. When things got really bad for her in the relationship, I invited her out to New York to stay with me one summer. It was a wonderful visit, and I had a really fun time with her. So I thought it would be good for her if I invited her out for a long weekend that fall.

It felt like one of the longest weekends of my life. At first she seemed like the same person I had known for years. However, as the weekend went on things slowly started to come apart. I could see instances in which her grasp on reality became loose. A friend or two noticed some issues as well, and she made little to no effort to talk to anyone. She was only interested in drinking and going out. One evening when I told her I needed to work instead of us going out, I watched as her grasp on reality came totally undone. She threatened to do all kinds of things and stated how she did not want live anymore. Somewhere in the night she had crossed from rational to irrational and her mind was lost to us, no matter what I said. I even had to wake up one of my roommates to help me as I feared my friend would try to hurt herself. The night continued to spiral into turmoil, and in order to keep her safe, my roommate and I called the campus police because we did not think we could contain the situation. I called her parents, who still refused to believe their daughter had problems, and eventually security escorted her to the airport, so she could wait for her flight back home. We never spoke again. I have never even seen her again. I went to sleep that night with echoes of The Fray running through my head that if only I could have stayed up with her all night, I would have known how to save her life. I booked a flight home the next day in order to put myself back together from what had come undone in the night.

I have been thinking about this story lately because I have never quite fully gotten over the events and still feel as though I could have helped her in some way. And I also think about it now because of the type of work I am doing in Adenta. The subject matter I address can be heavy and controversial. And often times I can tell that it hits very close to home for some students. There are those students who have hinted at something serious going on in their life or who do not write in their journals and shy away from my searching eyes. And some of them respond to a few more inquiries. But then there are those that do not. Those are the ones who shy away when the questions get too close to what might be going on. Those are the ones who shut down when you try to get a bit closer. There is one student in particular who avoids eye contact with me at all cost. He does not like it when I call on him to answer questions, and won’t actively participate in discussions. He refuses to write to me in his journal, even though I always write to him. And when I ask the other teachers about him, most just shrug and dismiss my questions. I can feel that something is going on there, that something is not right. And I long to find a way to break the barrier down.

The best I can give sometimes never seems wide enough for this kind of work. It is not a fear of failure that sometimes threatens to bog me down. Rather, it is the fear that if only I had done this or if only I had done that, the outcome would have been different. But the truth is that I can’t reach everyone. For some, it may be beyond my control. For others, they may refuse the help I offer no matter how it is offered. I can at least take heart, though, in the fact that they will know that I tried, and that I did not give up. I remember one of the campus police told me that the only time she could get a reaction from my friend is when she told her that I had done everything that I had done because I cared about her.

It is not only that, but it is also the work itself that reminds me of its importance. Last week, one of the students wrote in their journals how much they appreciated me coming to the school, how they loved my teaching, and wanted to thank me for listening to him. What I do does matter for those who won’t slip away. It matters for those who might hear something and find their proper footing on a slippery slope of life. I know that I will still feel the weight of those I wanted to help but ultimately could not, such as my friend. But I can’t let them eat me up to the point that I stay up wondering how to save a life instead of going about actions that may help those who are waiting to hear encouraging and comforting words. Those who are grateful for someone who listens.