Wednesday, September 18, 2013

You Say Goodbye, I Say Hello

I had unusual luck as a new volunteer to have a current volunteer in village when I arrived. Not only a current volunteer, but one who speaks French well, is well respected in the community, knowledgeable about Togo and a great person in general. Caitlin (or Akouvi as she's known in village) was a great resource in getting to know people in Zafi, and knowing the ins and outs of village life. One of the biggest helps was learning to cook and more importantly shop. In the same way we can walk into a supermarket, and know what's down each aisle, and what's in each of those colorful boxes without having to read each label, Caitlin was able to help me learn what is in all of those cooking pots down the street, what days the tofu lady opens up shop, who washes their hands when cooking and whose kids are always sick.

Beyond all important food tips, Caitlin was able to introduce me to good work and community partners. Those partners who have been a consistent positive presence, those who could be, and those who didn't work out for whatever reason.

It was a great help to have Caitlin here my first few weeks, but the end of her service has come and now it's just me and the albino as the white people in village. I can see that she really did great work here and that she is spoken of well- and certainly not quickly forgotten as even despite my explanations, I am still often called Akouvi.

Caitlin's departure has also meant the true start of my own service. While school doesn't start until October 7th this time here on my own is giving me the opportunity to figure out how village life is for me. I can't text or stop by Caitlin's house to ask “how much should this much fruit really cost at the market” or “how do you live on something other than carbs here?” While it's the loss of a resource and friend, it means that I've had to figure out more things myself and put myself out there.

As Caitlin was preparing for life in the USA, and what that will mean for her, I was mentally preparing for two years in a small African village. Obviously we were at different points psychologically.

I'm glad that my time here has really started, as I had been feeling like I was in limbo since we left Philadelphia. While Peace Corps service comes with its own lengthy list of doubts and uncertainties, I'm glad to be here and finally starting and adventure that I've been planning for a long time now.

So here I am. Two years. Me and Togo.  

Monday, September 16, 2013

My One Day Dog

Some of you might remember that I was to have a dog. Well, I would go visit my dog every day before I could take him home. I name him, calling him Taco, a named that sounds even cuter when the people here say it, and in preparation for his arrival I tried to get as much as possible up off the floor and away from peeing puppies.

So, I finally took little Taco home, and at night put him in the fenced in area by my shower and toilet, which is part of the larger fenced in area of the compound. While he whined for some time when I first put him back there- away from his litter mates for the first time he eventually quieted down and I figured slept.

In the morning I got a shock as Taco was no where to be found. Apparently people sometime steal dogs (not to eat, that doesn't really happen where I am, though there are certainly dog eating regions). So he might of have been stolen, or simply escaped. He hasn't turned back up at Paul's house, or around here, so no one really knows.

I was offered a replacement puppy, but I figured that for now maybe it wasn't a great idea. Between traveling, my small living space, and my host family's lack of current dogs I declined a Taco II.

All the same, here's a photo of my one day dog.

Thursday, September 5, 2013


One of the things that Caitlin has really wanted to learn about during her service and before she leaves is voodoo. With this mission in mind, my landlord, Joseph was able to bring us to two different charlatans, to divine the future.

The first thing we learned was the distinction between Afaka and Voodoo. Afaka includes just about everything in the world, while voodoo is putting a spirit into an object. Our first visit to the Afakala (practitioner of afaka) included many different fetish items (items of power and or magic) on a mat, giving him 500 CFA to complete the ceremony and lots of Ewe which we didn't understand. Joseph would translate for us at different points, but it didn't quite have the same effect that way.

Caitlin was told that she had a bright star and that as long as she advanced slowly and with caution, that she would have great success for her and her family.

Both Joseph and the afakala were kind enough to indulge out many questions afterward. We want to learn most of all who practices afaka and why. We were told that it is a type of animism, and thus good Christians do not practice it. I asked if it exists for Muslims and was told yes, but they have their own leaders. This is a slightly misleading response which require reading through the lines a bit. Basically, both Christians and Muslims practice, each with their respective afakala, though if they want to be respected in their religious communities, they should not reveal to others that they are doing this.

I also asked what the most common request was; to see the future? to do well on a test or exam? for fertility? for wealth? quick recoveries from an illness? In a very typically Togolese response, I was told “Yes.” This often happens when a person doesn't understand the question, when they don't want or have a straight answer to give.

We also asked about the fetish items; where does he get them? What is the significance? What is this gross crazy looking thing? Well, he gets them from

his teacher (note, we also often see them for sale at the weekly market), they are not ordinary objects, but ones that have been treated with certain powers, and the gross, crazy looking thing is a buffalo horn with seemingly too much buffalo still attached.

After leaving the first guy, we headed over to a woman to see what her thoughts were on Caitlin's future. There we had a very different experience, as the woman went into the next room and called the spirit to speak to her (and us). The voice was high pitched and rather creeping sounding and it and the woman would have a conversation back and forth. Caitlin had been hoping to contact her deceased grandfather but the woman said that it was more expensive to contact someone all the way in America (about 40 USD) while finding out about her future would be cheaper (1 USD). And thus, being Peace Corps Volunteers, we went with the cheaper option. The ceremony was less interesting than the last was the woman was hidden away in the other room to contact the spirit and though we could hear her, there was nothing to watch.

I can't say that either of these visits created a deep belief in voodoo or afaka, but the tradition is strong here and not to be messed with. If you challenge someone's abilities to curse or protect you they could very well try to test it out by a snake suddenly finding its way into your house, or poison in your meal. I'm not sure whether voodoo is “real” or not, but either way, it certainly has power. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013


Over this past weekend I was invited to a funeral. I, in no way, knew the deceased, or even how the person inviting me to the funeral was related, but I went along anyway. A Togolese funeral is different from an American one in just about every way possible. A Togolese funeral is characterized by dancing, bright fabrics, singing, and a huge party. Similarities include many people, often from far away. Joining together to remember the deceased.

Being white, it's often that I become a guest of honor by showing up; chairs are found, in the front row no less, even among the most crowded venues, I'm served first, and huge portions, etc. So Caitlin and I were given front row seats to the show.

A griot or historian/ storyteller informed the crowd about the person's life and the family that was gathered to celebrate them. At least that's what I think they were saying, as it was all in Ewe, so I didn't understand it.

The ceremony was a cycle of the griot singing/speaking, everyone coming up front to dance, and the pounding drums. After a few cycles of this, we retreated back to one of the family's homes for a meal including two different main dishes, soft drinks and alcohol.

An interesting aspect of the funeral, which costs a lot to put on was that at the end, everyone contributed money, which was all recorded I a notebook, one by one as people gave their contribution amount was shouted to the crowd and the family would respond “thank you!”

These village celebration will become routine before too long for me, but for now they are still new and exciting and certainly a part of Togolese culture worth sharing with you guys!