His adventure started in a tiny, impoverished village seven miles off the main road in Togo, West Africa, where constant drumming and random screams are the norm. David Gooze is 25 pounds lighter since becoming a Peace Corps volunteer in Kemeni, a two-thousand person community. Despite Togo's small population, they speak 40 different languages! French, however, is the official language.
"I wanted to try something that's completely different," explained David, son of Madison South Rotary member Rob Gooze, regarding his interest in serving in Togo. The food certainly qualifies as unusual for an American. He's eaten monkey, bush rats, a breakfast of beans and rice every day, but meat just once per month.
"They treat their animals like children," explains David, allowing them to roam freely. Dogs, however, are another matter. If you visit, leave Bowzer at home. The villagers have no affinity for canines and are happy to eat them.
David describes these "subsistence farmers" as warm and accepting, hardly allowing him to do any work there, despite the great amount of labor necessary to farm. As a white, male guest, David is very high on the social order, always seated next to the village chief.
David tries to promote gender equality in this patriarchal society where girls and women eat last and are expected to devote their lives to raising children, washing dishes and cleaning. To promote a better quality of life for girls, he spearheaded a soccer tournament just for them, and surprisingly, the people accepted it. And the girls loved participating. '"Girls shouldn't be playing soccer, but okay,"' David recalls the chief telling him. Soccer has been a high point for him. "It's my favorite part of being there," he says.
Besides promoting gender equity in sports, David has also been involved in educating males about the use of condoms. He says girls can sometimes have ten or more children.
The African experience has made him appreciate America and the great abundance we enjoy. He's also met a "best friend" who happens to be a 60-year-old Muslim African. "How else could I have met somebody like him?" David ponders.
His visit back home in Oregon is drawing to a close. David begins his journey back to Togo on Sunday and will remain there until September of next year, when his Peace Corps commitment concludes.