Choses #8: Autumn/95

John Elmer
From: "Marek Przezdziecki" 
Subject: John Elmer's Entry Enclosed

3 cheers for John Elmer!!!
Hip Hip Hooray!
Hip Hip Hooray!
Hip Hip Hooray!

Bon Travail

I routinely keep the most recent CHOSES in the in-box on my desk until I get around to putting some thoughts on paper again. Today is that day. The last issue I see here is dated March and includes my little essay on travel. Does Marek keep putting me on the front page because I am the first one to submit something for publication each time OR because way back in the fall of 1988 at Agbassa, when he and I worked together and became friends for life, I did something for him which he is still rewarding me for---or punishing me for? Thanks, Mr. Editor, I shall assume the best. And if Marek actually finds someone else to edit the next issue (``early fall"...right), you can put this on any page you want. Like Andy did once. Or, was that Craig? Either way, I hated it.

It is not like I am offering to do one more thankless job, however. I've got this great excuse that works for any request more than about one month, or one day sometimes, in advance. I can honestly say that I don't have any idea of when or where my next paid job is. But if opportunity come a knockin', I have got to be ready to go. (And it better come soon.) That last work of mine in the Spring, which I wrote the previous August, said that I was headed soon to the Philippines, India and Guatemala. In actuality, it turned out to be the Philippines, Thailand and India for nine weeks, then Ecuador for four more. But that was then and this is now.

While sorting through some old boxes a few days ago, I discovered my two pope pagnas, reminders of that glorious day exactly ten years ago, August 8, 1985, when the pope came to Togo, specifically to Niamtougou, Prefecture de Doufelgou. My mind races immediately to thoughts of Baga, church on Sundays, Harvard Club brunch menus, theme events, final beer runs and, eventually, to that day the pope arrived.

I had been in Togo a little more than two years by then and was mostly into packing, giving shit away and doing the required final tours. Most PCVs of the day were either in Lome or Kara to be a part of those festivities, or they were safely at home since all productive work had stopped and traffic was at a near standstill throughout the country. I have a distinct memory, however, of Brian and Gretchen making their way to my place the evening before, then staying over for the big celebration the next holy day.

That fine day began chez moi with rice, beans, wagassi, coffee and, as I recall, a few ice cold marys. After all, even if it was not a Sunday, we were at church and this would be one bloody, holy day. Later, I am pretty sure that we made our way by back roads to the other side of the airport and, there, we became part of the local welcoming committee. I don't know about Yarwood or Pettinger, but I felt a certain sensation when his holiness went by us in his open convertible, and blessed us, then appeared a bit stunned at seeing our three yovo faces in a crowd of thousands. As soon as that moment of magic had passed, we headed over to Chez Jean's bar and residence, where our friendly proprietor had earlier invited us to his private family f{\^e}te. No laws against that.

I should say that we gave serious thought to waiting the whole thing out at my place since it only figured that the pope might just have the only church of any real significance on his day's itinerary and we wouldn't want to miss him. After all, just a few weeks earlier, the U.S. ambassador had paid us a visit at my home (Gretchen was there that day too.), so why not the vicar of Christ on earth? In the final analysis, we wisely abandoned that strategy for the more daring task of getting by all the security and into Niamtougou, where we joined the masses. And, besides, the ice had vanished into the noon-time of the day.

Retelling that decade-old story conjures up one more, an extension of that, which also deserves comment. As I said above, the pope's visit to Togo was one of those many times that normal life came to a stop, and volunteers were literally forced off their motos and into the nearest buvette. It is obvious we would not be working, so much so that Mimi didn't even come up country checking on us. I am thinking now that the pope's visit to Togo, and the subsequent lack of productivity for so many days, probably disturbed her so much that three weeks later, when she and her congressional liaison buddy came pouncing down on us PCVs who were spending our own country's Labor Day playing golf in Wahalla, she was not the Mimi we knew and loved. Yarwood scored the line of the day, which I can nearly quote: ``hi, I'm PCV Brian Yarwood, this is Labor Day and I'm not working."

I guess that means this Labor Day is the ten year anniversary of that grand weekend, too. I successfully defended the ugly green coat that Monday morning. I lost it to Duncan four years later in North Carolina but, hey, Duncan is with Robin and their two sons in Ethiopia and I have still got possession of the coat. And you know what they say about possession and the law.

Gretchen is with Paul and their son near Boston and l'homme de Sarakawa is in Vermont, also happily wed and, from what I hear on the street, loving life. The pope is hanging on to his job, still blessing the masses, preaching abstinence and more babies, and declaring again recently, in his infinite and infallible wisdom, that women are equal but they cannot be priests. There is another John Paul, who I like much more than the big guy in Rome, son of Peter and Jackie Nerone of Wahalla-fame, now dwelling just across the river from Cincinnati and already playing a mean second base when I saw him a year ago.

I think it's all coming together. The pope came to Doufelgou, said make more babies, some of us cheered him on with bloody marys while Nerone heard the call, married a Doufelgou woman, made a baby, Mimi got mad and docked us all a day's pay, and here I sit with nothing more to show for it than an ugly green coat and great memories. Is that it?

Happy 10th to all of you who were part of those particular stories, somedays it seems like yesterday, other days it seems very long ago and very far away. I know some of you grow weary of these tales of yesteryear, but write what you will. I think about the future more than the past, but usually the past makes me smile more. Do write, however, and let's continue to communicate with each other, and, thanks to Marek, we have this great medium with which to do so.

CHOSES should host a whiffle golf tournament and if the pope cannot make it to bless the winner, then maybe Mimi could. I'll be happy to be bartender and, later at night, hear confessions. Everybody's kids can be caddies. Think about it.

John Elmer