What's better than presents?! Cadeaux (or gifts, presents) are a part of life here in Togo. Cadeaux are the expected extra sugar, tomatoes, onions or limes that thrown in the bag on top of the ones you said you wanted to buy. Cadeaux come from neighbors when they have too much, or sometimes just enough, to share. I was taking my usual walk, on a road lined with pineapple, manioc and palm fields, when I came along people harvesting some pineapples for the market. I know a lot of the people with fields there as I walk to road so often, but I didn't even remember or really know the people I saw there. In a mishmash of my HORRIBLE Ewe and their limited French I complimented the pile of pineapples, which quickly led to a machete being found, and a fresh pineapple cut up for me to bring on my walk. No reason, just because they had a lot and they were proud and wanted to share.
Another week, one of the women I know said something to me about rice in Ewe. “Aww crap.” I thought to myself. “She's been such an amazingly nice person, and now she's asking me to buy her rice.” Nope, I was mistaken. She brought me over to the rice and beans stand and proceeded to buy me some rice and beans to take home to eat. Her and her family are some of the nicest people I've met in Togo. Her kids always call me “Davi Anna” which is kind of like saying “Miss Anna” and is super adorable. Later in that week, I saw her kids eating boiled manioc. They invited me to come eat with them, which is a traditional politesse. I told them thank you and to go ahead and eat, but they weren't taking no for an answer. The little boy came over and forced some manioc in my hand and ran away so I couldn't refuse. Like I said, they are adorable.
However, now I was in a bit of a predicament, as I had no desire for boiled manioc. So I just walked about 50 meters away and passed it along to some kid I saw on the street. As cadeaux often come when you have a surplus of something, this can pose a problem for me as I am just one person. Near the beginning of my service, my host mom gave me 4 stalks of sugar cane. My teeth are already a cavity filled, so I figured that chewing on sugar probably wouldn't help the situation. So off I went on a walk to see Paul's family, and hopefully give them the sugar cane. En route, I ran into some other old neighbors of Akouvi (the previous volunteer) and I gave the kids the sugar cane. Appreciating my gift, they cadeau-ed me 5 huge maniocs. Well, crap, as much as I like manioc I never bother preparing it for myself. So now my efforts to cadeau away the sugar cane had shifted focus to the manioc. Luckily the chain didn't continue much further, so I was able to head home with my load lightened.
Micheal comes buy from time to time to ask for English help. I have no problem with that, and nothing else to do besides a Grey's Anatomy marathon on my computer so I help him out with his class work. Lo and behold a few days later when he came by with a plastic bag full of oranges from a tree at his house, at least 20 oranges. Besides a bunch of orange juice that week, I cadeau'd some to my host family.
|4 pineapples and 4 avocados a student dropped off last week|
Cadeau-ing can give me some anxiety- who is it exactly who brought over this gift (especially if they send kids or relatives to drop stuff off), what should I give them in return, do I have to give something back? Most often cadeaux are fruits from trees, or something harvested in the field. As I have neither fruit trees nor fields it can be a bit difficult to think of something to give. For my host family (remember, I kind of have 3 moms) I'll often make banana bread or a cake and give a portion to each group. Other teachers at school have brought me pineapples and locally made treats, so I brought in a lemon pound cake to share with everyone. I give away newspaper and magazine articles my mom has sent me in the mail. I buy rice and beans for some of the little kids who I'm friends with. I share treats from Lome with my host family (like saucisson sec, I think Marie's life changed when she tried that for the first time). But as “yovo” things can be expensive, it can be a difficult standard to keep up. As a guest in the community, some of it is just being neighborly, same as bringing over some cookies to the people who move in next door. Sometimes I buy rice and beans or cookies for the kids, which everyone seems to like. Overall, the practice of cadeau-ing is nice, especially as a newcomer to an area.
But Togo doesn't hold the entire market on cadeaux! Go meet a neighbor and bring them a gift, let me be able to tell the Togolese that Americans are just as hospitable as Togolese!