Sunday, November 20, 2011

11 November 2011

In case you haven’t heard, I had a bunch of money stolen from my house. It was the money for the latrines I planned to build in Pagala. Not all of the money was stolen, but about a fourth of it was – 350,000FCFA, or the equivalent of about $700. However, in Togo, that could be a few years wages so it’s more like someone stealing tens of thousands of dollars in the US. Either way, it’s a really big deal here in Pagala.

There is a kid who used to work for me – bringing me water from the pump, doing my laundry, etc. – who admitted to stealing some of the money. But only 30,000FCFA. I think he took it all, but we have no way to tell. This is a kid who’s leg I bandaged when he had a cut and who I walked to school the first day. Needless to say, it’s been rough emotionally and mentally. You think going through an investigation in the US is hard, try doing it in a country where you don’t understand the system and don’t have a perfect grasp on the language.

After a week of investigating, the local police, the gendarms, brought the child, his mother, and I to Blitta (our prefectural capital) today to see the judge. I was a little nervous, so Djobo came over this morning before we went. I was so hungry and just about to make breakfast when he showed up at my door, so I just made enough for both of and we had our American breakfast together! An omelet with Laughing Cow cheese (doesn’t have to be refrigerated, oh yea!) and grits. He said he liked it but who knows? After that, the gendarms showed up to my house to say I was late. They jokingly gave me grief about being late, saying that I’m getting too used to being on African time and that it’s going to cause problems for me when I go back to the States.

Djobo brought me to Blitta on his moto which is a little old and overheated 5 times on the dusty, dirt road to Blitta. After waiting outside for 45 minutes, we were called into a small office to meet the judge. We explained our case, but basically got nowhere and the judge told the gendarms to continue their search in Pagala for the thief. Things are moving slowly, mais c’est Togo, non?

After the judge encounter, Djobo and I rode around on his moto greeting his friends and colleagues and then the Peace Corps volunteer in Blitta who Djobo knows well (and, of course, so do I). The volunteer told us about a woman who makes delicious bread right near his house, so Djobo and I set off in search of her. We found her house, but only her little girl was there. She told us that her mom went to the market already. So, off we went to the market. After asking around, we discovered the woman’s name, but she had not yet arrived at the market. It was like 1 oclock in the afternoon at this point, so Djobo and I went into a little cafeteria near the market to eat foufou with armadillo meat. It’s actually really delicious. After lunch and funny conversation, we found the bread lady and bought some bread before heading back to Pagala.

We took Djobo’s moto back, and when we were about 5K outside of Pagala, we stopped at his brother’s house and picked a bunch of grapefruits. Djobo took two and I have the rest. I’ve been really into making fresh juice lately and have discovered that 3 grapefruits make enough for one serving. It doesn’t get any fresher than picking them off the tree and hand squeezing juice the same day!

I’m really going to miss Togo one day.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

9 November 2011

This morning, I woke up to the sound of a goat “baahhhh-ing” continuously outside of my window. Another day in Togo as the sun streams warmly in through my open windows. I made a breakfast of yam hashbrowns and tea and suddenly felt inspired to write a blog.

Sunday, November 6, was a grand fete in Pagala called Tabaski. I started the day with a 20K bike ride home from a friend’s village. I left at 6am to avoid the heat, got home, showered and dressed in my Tabaski outfit – a ridiculous ruffled pagne complet with a gaudy veil that has Togo written all over it. As I was walking out of my house, I watched cars of people drive by packed full of adults and children singing. One car stopped and asked if I was going to the prayer and told me to hop in! We made the short drive to the village-wide prayer, people getting in or climbing on top of our old, bush taxi bus all the way there. I’d never seen so many people in one place – cars, vans, motorcycles, and too many people to count! I met my counterpart, Djobo, who was wearing a heavy, purple complet that belong to his grandfather, the chief of one of the largest prefectures in Togo, along with a checkered scarf and aviators. He looked like a cool dude. We separated into men and women and did a short prayer, as the sun was unbearably strong. Afterwards, I met back up with Djobo and we went to his house to party.

When we arrived, I greeted his two wives, who were thrilled to see me. I sat down and pretty much did nothing since they refused to let me help prepare the feast with them – probably for the best, as I’m useless in a Togolese kitchen. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Djobo’s next door neighbors running around wildly through their garden, the dad carrying a huge tree branch. I had no idea what was going on, but it seemed ok as they were all smiling and laughing. Then Djobo said, “Il faut arreter la poule,” or you must stop the chicken. At that moment, the terrified chicken busted out of the garden, running straight towards me! Well, I just couldn’t let him get away, so I jumped up from my seat and happily joined in the chase. We finally cornered him against a building and the tree branch swung out to pin him against the wall as one of kids grabbed him. We all cheered and they returned to their house to feast.

Since it was a big party and Djobo’s family was generously feeding me all day, I decided to bring gifts for everyone. For the kids, I brought a box of fortune cookies. They were a huge hit, but they didn’t really get the point. They just wanted the cookies and threw all of their fortunes on the ground. Oh well, they were all in English anyway. The box that they came in, however, became a coveted toy. The kids used it to fill with dirt and dump on other kids.

Soon, it was time for the slaughter of our meat for the day, a small goat. All of the kids gathered around as Djobo dug a small hole in the ground and laid the goat on its side, neck over the hole. In one sharp movement, he slit the goat’s throat and with a gurgling gasp the goat’s blood poured in spurts into the hole before he died seconds later. I could watch that, but I chose to abstain from watching the skinning and butchering of the goat I knew I’d have to eat that afternoon.

We ate. Fati and Djamila, Djobo’s wives, brought us fried sweet potatoes with fried chicken (slaughtered earlier that morning) and a spicy red sauce. It was so delicious and I was stuffed. Little did I know, that was merely an appetizer. When we finished, they brought us foufou, pounded yams, with sesame sauce and more fried chicken. I wasn’t even hungry, but I ate because it would be rude to refuse their hospitality. I fell into something of a food coma, and the family set up a place for me to nap under the mango tree. With a full belly, a slight breeze, and kids running around dumping sand on each other’s heads, I fell asleep thinking about the beauty of living in Africa.

After repose, or rest time, from 12-2:30pm, we all got up and Djobo made a special treat. He prepared something he called “pure tea.” It’s very strong tea, mixed with sugar, and drank like a shot of expresso. He said it helps with digestion. I think I had three or four of them, which explains why I couldn’t fall asleep that night. While he was preparing tea, Djobo also started up the generator and played music so that everyone from his house and the surrounding houses could come to dance. They dance the traditional dances, along with some not-so-traditional dancing, along with some funny dance moves. Soon after everyone, including the kids, had their shots of tea and danced, Djobo and I went next door where we are starting a new village savings group. The group chose the board, contributed money for all of the start-up materials, and chose an association name.

We returned back to the house where Fati and Djamila had prepared rice and pasta with goat and a spicy, oily dark red sauce. I still wasn’t hungry, but Djobo insisted I eat. He especially insisted that I eat lots of meat. Meat is a rare delicacy, so putting the image of the slaughter out of my mind, I ate, thankful for my warm, African family.

It was finally getting dark and I wanted to get home so that I could shower while there was still a little light outside. Well, Djobo had something else in mind. He walked with me to find a moto that could drive me home, but said we should at least get a drink first. So, we walked to the famous “Bar le Plasir” where the fete was going strong. I’ve never seen this bar so packed and there were even two white people! Djobo and I each got a beer, which is rare for him – he drinks only a couple of times per year. There was a DJ spinning African tunes and I saw some of the most incredible and creative dancing I’d ever witnessed. It was so much fun and on the way out, the white couple called me over. The woman pointed to herself and said “Espanol,” and I responded by pointing to myself and saying, “American.” She said, “Francais, petit, petit.” We laughed and they invited me to visit them in a nearby village where they run a marble extraction company. I said, “buenos tardes,” and they corrected me by saying, “buenos noches.” It’s been a long time since I’ve had Spanish, but I got this crazy notion in my head that I want to start studying it again.

Well, I’ve finished my morning tea and I need to start cleaning my house, certainly not a favorite pastime. I don’t know how, but every morning there are new spider webs everywhere – shower, latrine, kitchen, etc. Housework is never done. Merci beaucoup for all of your support from back home; I look forward to seeing you all in a few months! Au Revoir!