By the end of my tour in Peace Corps I had a completed my manuscript, Kimendo Road. But I also left Togo as a rather dispirited volunteer. This was much like the feeling I had when leaving Afghanistan, but for different reasons. I’d worked hard to make the farm cooperatives successful, but it still felt like a very uphill battle when I left. On the plus side, some of the groups embraced using oxen and saw promise in the work. But, others focused on the short-term benefit by butchering and chowing down on their cows.
Peace Corps asked me to lead the training of the next several groups of volunteers. I thought that suggested that I at least understood the job. But I could never shake the feeling that ox plowing in Togo might not ever take hold. So I was happily surprised by some news I read a year after I returned to the States. Togo’s President, General Gnassingbé Eyadéma, named one of my cooperatives ‘best cooperative of the year’. He awarded each member a new bicycle at a ceremony held in the national stadium in the capital, Lomé.
Then a couple of years ago, I bumped into a woman wearing a shirt that said Peace Corps Togo. I asked if she’d been a volunteer. She said she had and we got to talking. When she asked what program I’d been in, I told her – Animal Traction, teaching oxen to pull plows. Her face turned into a puzzled frown. “We don’t have any program like that,” she said. I felt a crest-fallen thinking about how hard many of us had worked. “I mean why would they need it?” she asked. “Everyone in Togo uses oxen to pull plows.”
Here are the first few paragraphs of the book I wrote; I called it The Kimendo Road:
Marshall Kimendo, Assistant Minister of Plan and Development, would have had difficulty explaining his rapid rise in the government. It seemed to him that he had barely risen to the rank of Captain of the Army when, listening to the radio one night, he heard the announcement. “Captain Kimendo of the family Gadou of the village of Lama has been promoted today to the rank of Marshall and appointed to the post of Assistant Minister of Plan and Development by order of the President, General Abedou Zio.”
At first he was sure that there had been some mistake. No one had bothered to inform him of his new responsibilities. He called his commanding officer to verify the news. The commander was as surprised as he was.
To the outside observer there would appear to be little method to the madness of Ministerial appointments. Once or twice a year a brief radio announcement would name changes in the bureaucracy, tumbling as many men of stature as it raised. President Abedou Zio was a firm believer in the value of surprise. After six years in office he fully realized that men who became secure in their positions posed the greatest threat to his tenuous position of power. It was a lesson he had learned the hard way four years earlier.