Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Family and the Family Compound

My “host-mother” took me to my room. There was a bed, that looked a lot more comfortable than the bed in the hotel, and a table with a tablecloth on it, and a chair. My room is painted a bright aqua. I did luck out and get electricity, with one light bulb in the room, and one wall socket where I can recharge all my equipment. One window, no fan, that combined with the mosquito net that would block most breezes equal one very hot room, but I’ve already become accustomed to the heat. I simply take at least three bucket baths a day. I showed them a few of my family pictures, just so they’d know a little about me, and then they left me on my own. I was glad to be left on my own, having been around groups of people, day and night for the previous seven days.
The family compounds are usually a group of building/rooms that are surrounded by stucco walls. There is a courtyard, and there is a kitchen room, and a main living room and porch off of the courtyard. The whole thing, including the courtyard is about the same square footage as your average house…just laid out differently. Courtyard instead of front and back yard. They spend the majority of their time in the courtyard, sitting, cooking, working. Several goats and roosters roam around and appear to be permanent fixtures. I’m still not sure who all the people are that come and go out of our compound.
I’ve worked hard at trying to learn all their names and figure out how and if they are related:
• Kafuir (pronounced – Ka-free) She is thirty-four and the matriarch of this family compound. She’s very nice to me, but at the same time I instinctively know not to mess with her….she’s kind of a no-nonsense woman. Kafuir is 34.
• Clee-mawn is Safuirs husband. He seems to be a very nice, gentle man. He speaks pretty good English, and said that he has worked in Houston and Baltimore?? He and I have had a few discussions about the politics and economy of Togo. Clee-mawn is very bright, and wants more for his children and for Togo.

• Say-seel (Kafuir’s sister) is 26. Say-seel is here a lot, but I think she actually lives across the road in another compound. Say-seel is spunky and has a fun, playful sense of humor. She sometimes cooks my meals, and she likes to sit with me when I eat. Say-seel is very strikingly beautiful and has a son named Mo-dess. I have not seen or met Mo-dess’s father. All of the children are sweet and quiet and very, very hard workers, with the exception of Mo-dess.
• Mo-dess is precociously self-confident for a four year old. He is the youngest of the children who are around, and seems to be everyones pet. He’s funny and ornery like his mother Say-seel. It’s fun to watch Mo-dess and Say-seel interact.
• Flor-aus is Kafuirs mother. Flor-aus is 67, and looks darn good for her age. Flor-aus lives across the way as well. Flor-aus is very, very fun. She speaks a language called Ewe (pronounced Evy) Flor-aus was delighted that I went to the trouble of learning a few phrases of Ewe, just for her.
• Nay-la and Ack-bennie both fourteen year old girls. I still haven’t figured out, exactly how they are related, but they do most of the labor around this family compound. They seem to enjoy it. They start early in the morning. You can hear them sweeping the courtyard area around 4:30am, and they help with the cooking and cleaning. Nay-la is my favorite. She is so serious for a fourteen year old, and tall, and I think maybe I’ve adopted her so that I will not miss my granddaughter Alex so quite so much. A water well is right outside my room, and when it’s time for a shower I get water from the well and take it to the shower room. Nay-la always appears out of nowhere and insists on getting my water. I had to do laundry for the first time on Sunday. Nay-la helped me do it all. I should say Nay-la did it all. I sat with her, the entire time she washed my clothes, but she would not let me help. There is a technique to washing your clothes by hand, and Nay-la didn’t seem to think I had that technique down. It took us a couple hours to do a weeks worth of laundry. I went to the town market yesterday, and was surprised to see Nay-la there selling peanuts as a vendor.
• Coo-lee and Renee are thirteen year old boys. They don’t live here, but are here most of the time I’m here, and do some of the work around the compound. Coo-lee is tall and thin and handsome and always has a smile on his face. Renee is short and very shy. Both the boys are very, very nice. Coo-lee showed me how to use the flashlight on my phone.

There are quite a few more individuals who come in and out of the family compound. I haven’t learned all their names, but they are all happy to see me, and shout “que dieu te benisso” (God bless you) whenever they see me. I think most are extended relatives of some sort. There is a very, very, very old man who lives in a tiny room in the compound. I’ve asked who he is, but haven’t been given a clear answer. He stays in his room all day and all night. Every now and then he sits in his doorway.

Nay-la, Ack-bennie, Coo-lee and Renee all seem to have a lot of curiosity about me. The longer I’m here the less shy they become. I told them last night that they needed to help me with my French, and Clee-mawn encouraged them to help me. I brought construction paper and crayola markers and stickers, and I’ve brought them out once or twice. All of the kids thought the paper and markers and stickers were cool, and spent hours drawing. They presented me with a few pictures, and as I passed by the old mans room I noticed one of their pictures hanging up on his wall. Nay-la drew the flag of Togo, and she drew a picture of Togo. Some of the art was interesting. Coloring kept Mo-dess occupied for a LONG time. He would bring me what he’d done every few minutes. A little thing like construction paper and markers is a great luxury here for children.


  1. I love all the details, Terry. The family sounds amazing! Keep the posts coming as long as you can.

  2. Your village sounds you mean there are other PCV's in your village ?