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!