Last weeks read was The Poisonwood Bible, which I have actually burst out laughing while reading because of the similarities between the Price family’s experience in the Congo and my experiences here in Togo. While the Congo and Togo are very far apart (like thousands of miles) and are very different places there are some things that I couldn’t have described better. I have grown accustomed to some things I would have found strange before and forget that I should describe them to people at home because it seems completely normal to hear roosters at all hours of the day, to occasionally find a goat in your kitchen, or have to leave your vegetables in diluted bleach water for 30 minutes before eating them. It just goes to show you that you really can get used to anything.
Anyways, it’s a good read if you want an idea of what life can be like here sometimes and other than the bible thumping Baptist church and the blatant racism there are a lot of quotes from the book that I think perfectly describe my village life:
“The usual passer is a woman sauntering slowly down the road with bundles upon bundles balanced on her head. These women are pillars of wonder, defying gravity while wearing ho-hum aspect of perfect tedium. They can sit, stand, talk, shake a stick at a drunk man, reach around their backs to fetch forth a baby to nurse, all without dropping their piled-high bundles upon bundles.” (Kingsolver, it’s an e-book so I don’t know pages)
“The women wear a sarong made of one fabric, with another big square of fabric wrapped over the top of it. Never jeans or trousers- not in your life. Bosoms may wave in the breeze, mind you, but legs must be strictly hidden, top secret.”
This is very accurate, I see more boobs in a day than I have in my whole life, but if you show anything above the knee it is appalling. Which if you think about it makes perfect sense because boobs are for feeding children. Women often wrap one pagne around their waist that goes to their feet and then a second pagne that’s tied just under their breasts, sometimes with a shirt on, sometimes not. The second pagne wrap is often used as a kind of purse where money is tied into the corners. I have taken to wearing pagne wrap skirts and tank tops when I’m not working, it has become my yoga pants of Togo where wearing spandex pants isn’t culturally appropriate, but it has gotten to the point where if I see my own thighs I feel scandalous. I’ll probably die of shock when I go back to the U.S.
“The longest journey always began with sitting up in bed at roosters crow, parting the mosquito curtain, and slipping on shoes- for there were hookworms lying in wait on the floor, itching to burrow into our bare feet. Shoes then Sliding me across the floor to greet the day. Dreaming of coffee. I’m afraid I didn’t miss the presence of my husband as much as I missed coffee..”
I’d probably do just about anything for a latte. There are many things I miss about the U.S., which I really can’t complain about because I have so much more available to me than my neighbors because I can go to the larger villages on market day and Kpalime for more variety. However, once a Seattlite always a Seattlite because I do love a good cup of coffee.
“Nothing came to us free, not even water. It had to be carried a mile and a half, and boiled. Boiled, a small word, meant twenty minutes over a roaring fire..”
Fortunately my water is close by, but there are plenty of volunteers who walk miles for water every day or pay someone else to do it for them. I bought a gas stove so I no longer have to build a fire to boil water, but I did for the first three months and there’s no going back to that. It is a task and involves some planning all the same compared to just turning on a tap.
“For a time I could not work out how all the other families were getting by. There seemed to be no food to speak of, even on market day when everybody came out to make the tallest possible pile out of what they had. It didn’t seem to stack up to enough sustenance for the whole village… At length I learned the answer: a gluey paste called fufu. It comes from a stupendous tuber, which the women cultivate and dig from the ground, soak in the river, dry in the sun, pound to white powder in hollowed out logs, and boil. It’s called manioc and has the nutritional value of a brown paper bag, with the added bonus of trace amounts of cyanide. Yet it fills the stomach. It cooks up into a sort of tasteless mass..”
That pretty much sums it up and it is the most widely eaten dish. It’s usually served in a sauce and eaten with your hands in a shared bowl. I never considered myself a picky eater until I got to Togo, but I don’t think I’ll ever find myself craving fufu.
“Since friends my own age and gender were not available, the girls of Kilanga all being too busy hauling around firewood, water, or babies. It did cross my mind to wonder why he had a freedom to play and roam that his sisters didn’t. While the little boys ran around pretending to shoot each other and fall dead in the road, it appeared that little girls were running the country.”
“The (sugar) cane sucking habit in Kilanga was no doubt connected to the black stumps of teeth most everyone showed off when they smiled at us..”
“After we first arrived, the children congregated outside our house each and every morning, which confused us. We thought there must be something peculiar like a baboon on the roof. Then we realized the peculiar thing was us. They were attracted to our family for the same reason people will pull over to watch a house afire or a car wreck.”
So true, I have a fence around my house, but there are always little eyes peering through cracks.
“He used his machete for everything under the sun, from splitting wood to shaving, to cleaning the stove”
I have seen children as young as 5 cut open a coconut in the palm of their hand. If I did that I would cut off my whole arm, but I guess that’s why they call me a Yovo.
“If the word Congo makes people think of that big-lipped cannibal man in the cartoons, why, they’re just wrong about everything here from top to bottom. But how could you ever set them right?”
Before I left for Togo someone actually said to me, “are you going to be eaten by cannibals or are they going to kidnap you and make you they’re Queen”. It blew my mind that anyone that hasn’t been locked in an underground bunker for the past 100 years could say anything so wrong, but it does make you wonder where would I even begin to set them straight? So hopefully that is what this blog will make a dent in. It can show that life here can sometimes be a little bizarre, but all the same Togo is extraordinary and often not that different to life in the U.S.