Thursday, September 12, 2013


The numbers are out. The study has spoken. And, once again, Togo has been named the least happy country in the world by the Earth Institute.

I don't know why I am surprised. Maybe it's because I don't expect anyone has ever heard of Togo. Maybe it's because, despite low life expectancy, low wages, insufferable heat, and an oppressive spiritual environment, I don't think of my years in Togo as unhappy. When I picture the faces of my friends there, in my memory, they are smiling. As I look back on the seasons I spent in Togo, I remember them as happy times.

But, then, it wasn't my home.

When we needed to return to the States so our babies would have a chance at survival, we bought a ticket and left. We didn't have the money to cover the fare, but we had a credit card and enough friends and family with resources to reimburse us even before the bill came due. I can't count the number of women I knew who didn't have the same option. The survival of their children depended on the mood of the spirits that day or on their ability to scrounge together enough coins to get in the door at the hospital.

When the elections were corrupt and the UN threw its hands in the air and left, I wished for better times. Then I filled out my own absentee ballot and mailed it back to the USA.

When my children said they were hungry, I went to the pantry or the freezer, not to see if we had food, but to decide what I'd like to make with the ingredients on hand. I baked cookies with real butter, fresh eggs, and chocolate chips from America. Meanwhile my neighbors watched the sky, waiting for the rains to bring life to the land that would feed their children.

I threw away tin cans and cereal boxes and chicken bones until I discovered my neighbors didn't consider any of this as garbage. I saved cans for Fred and boxes for Martin and chicken bones for Dodji. I left extra meat on the bones on purpose and carefully saved the skin for her, and patted myself on the back for my generosity.

It's personal to me, this idea that Togo is the least happy place on earth. After all, we went there to spread joy and peace and love and hope. I haven't been back in far too long, but a bit of Togo flows through my veins (along with the dormant strains of malaria I picked up there). I am, if not half, at least part Togolese in my heart.

I don't have a good solution. I could throw all my money at Togo a thousand times over and not make a dent in the underlying circumstances that hold Togo back. I am thankful for Brenda, Hammer and Dela and Late, and others who are giving of themselves and their time to serve the Togolese and help make them just a little more comfortable, but even that is just a drop in the bucket.

I've got no nice little ribbon to wrap up these thoughts. Just questions and memories and hopes for a better future for Togo and Benin and all the others on the bottom of the list.