Saturday, October 2, 2010

Voodoo Sacrifice

As I was walking home one day last week, I came to the fork in my road about a blocks distance from my house.  There in the center, where the road splits, was a stake in the ground.  The stake was bent from the weight of whatever was hanging from the stake.  As I got closer, I noticed a foul odor and then I could see that there was a large dead crow hanging from the stake.  My first thought, was that this had some Voodoo significance, and my second thought was….hope it doesn’t have anything to do with me!

I asked Alougba about it later in the day.  She told me in a very matter of fact way that the crow had been a “fetish” sacrifice.  With a worried look she said a lot of babies had been dying.  She said there had been a Voodoo ceremony.  They sacrificed the crow to stop the babies from dying.  I asked her if it worked, and she said, “oh yes!”  I think there was much more to the ceremony, because the night before I had heard Voodoo drums and chanting all night long.

The stake and the crow are still there…
three days later.

The Marche

There will be much more about the Marche through the upcoming months.  One of my primary projects will be to help these women and their businesses become more profitable.  During training we learned how to do a needs assessment with village businesses.

We also learned how to teach them how to budget.  Not just how to budget, but what a budget is.  One facet of our work is to show them the value of keeping records and bookkeeping.  In training we learned how to demonstrate these things to them visually.  For example if I am teaching them what a budget is, I will make a chart, and on one side, have a list of all possible expenses for one week.  I will begin to ask them what they need to sell their product.  I'll have cutout pictures of those things, and begin to place them on the expense side of the chart.  How much time does it take?...and how much money do they have to spend?...using pictures.  On the other side of the chart, I will ask them how much they sell in one week and what they sell it for.  By the time we’ve finished the chart, hopefully the value of tracking this information will be obvious, the light will dawn and they will begin to make some changes, and make more of a profit….awwww capitalism.  There is a not so small part of me, that enjoys the way they do it now, but in the end, I know that it will be helpful for them to understand these concepts.  It will enable them to better provide for their families.  It will help put food in their Cauldrons, so to speak.   At this point in time, they have no concept of expenses vs. sales, and very, very often are making less money than they are spending.  They just make or grow the product, and receive money.  They are just happy to go home with money in their pockets.

 Groupement Head Honchos
Tough Cookies
There are over seventy-five women who belong to the ‘Femme Groupement Association.'  None of them speak French, only a few words of greeting.  All speak Ewe.  I have work to do to earn their trust and respect.  Right now, I'm just a novelty.  They really don’t have much use for me since I don’t speak their language, so little by little I’m getting to know them and getting to know about their businesses.  This is going to take time and patience.

The Maker of Kings

Preparing a meal

On one of our “promenades” through the village, Alougba and I stopped at this family's compound.  The woman was, as is the norm, busy preparing a meal.  When I entered their compound I said my Ewe greeting, "Jo-bee-doe," and then as they often do, they started talking full-out Ewe.  I've been told that when I don't understand what they are saying, just say, "annnnnhhhhh," which I do, a lot.  The woman called her husband out from behind a walled off portion of the compound.  He was so welcoming and happy to see us.  “Whiz-unnnn-lowwwwwww,” he said, which is welcome to my home in Ewe, to which I replied, “yo-o-o-o-o-o.” The appropriate reply, which translates to, “thank you very much for welcoming me.”

An artist poses
He had seen my camera, and that I was taking photos.  He immediately motioned me back to his workshop.  His wife and a few other people who were there followed us.  They were eager to see what would happen next. He was very proud to show me that he was the maker of the Chief’s many crowns.  He showed them to me, and laughed, and he made it clear that he wanted me to take his picture, but first he wanted to set the scene.  He first went over to his workbench and pretended to be working; he was posing, and waited for me to snap his picture.  Then he laid several of his works of art (crowns) out on a bench, and asked me to take a photo of them.  Finally, without prompting he put one of the crowns on and wanted one last picture.  Each time I took a picture, I would show him the results on the little screen of my camera.  Oh…. how delighted he was!
A group admires a crown
They were such a fun couple.  The thought occurred to me while I was watching this man and his wife, how loving, sweet, and playful they were with each other.  The wife obviously was proud of her husband and of his work, and she took joy in watching him show me his works of art.

I liked them a lot, and will return.  I loved his face…don’t you?

The King Maker

Friday, October 1, 2010

My First Dinner Party in Tchekpo

I had promised to invite Toussaint (I’ve been spelling his name TwoSain since we met, and recently discovered it was spelled Toussaint, so I will start using the correct spelling.) and his family over for a meal.  They live just up the road from me about two city blocks distance.  Toussaint has helped me with so many things since I arrived in Tchekpo.  I wanted to repay his kindness.  Toussaint loves his family; that is evident.  I admire how hard he works, and how much he does in the community.  He teaches primary Catholic school in a neighboring village, thirty miles away, and rides his bike to and from work every day.  His moto broke down, and he can’t afford to fix it right now. When I asked him to bring his family for lunch, he was very happy.  He double and triple checked the time and date with me for the week prior to the lunch.  We had settled on Sunday at 1pm.  Sunday after church seemed like a nice time to have them over.

Toussaint is very involved in the Catholic Church in Tchekpo.  He took me to his church when I first arrived in Tchekpo, introduced me to everyone, and made sure that I had a front row seat.  He works with the church youth groups, sings in the choir, and he reads some of the prayers during the mass.  He also has quite the cute dance moves, when they all get up and have a procession through the church during the offertory.

I fretted over what to cook for them.  Not knowing what they might and might not like, and also not knowing if what I cooked would turn out well.  Aloughba and Toussaint had been to my house for impromptu dinners, but this was different.  I wanted this to be special.  I decided to prepare Spanish rice.  It seemed like something I could do, something they might like, and also maybe slightly different than their daily fare, yet not too different.  Togolese eat a lot of rice and tomato sauce concoctions; this just had a little different twist to it.  On Saturday I walked to the marche, and picked up all the ingredients I didn’t already have.

Toussaint, Celestine, Philomene and Desire
I went to church on Sunday, and got home about 11, which gave me about two hours to prepare the meal.  I made Spanish rice, a tomato and cucumber salad with oil and vinaigrette dressing.  I also made garlic toast, and tapioca pudding for desert.  I put a tablecloth and flowers on the table.   Toussaint is somewhat overly eager about everything, so I wasn’t surprised that he and his family showed up at noon instead of one.  I was pretty much ready for that.  (I really wanted a whiskey sour about now, but settled for grape Crystal Lite.) Toussaint’s wife’s name is Celestine; his daughter is Philomene; and his son, Desiree.  They are a beautiful family, inside and out.  Celestine, is quite beautiful, and  has a radiant smile, which both Philomene and Desiree have inherited.   I had met Celestine a few times in the marche and also very briefly at their house.  Celestine sells ponja (African fabric) and flip-flops at the Tchekpo marche.   Celestine and I had greeted each other at church, but she was always very quiet and reserved.  I had wondered if maybe she didn’t like me.  Maybe I had taken up too much of Toussaint’s time.  But at the dinner she was very friendly.  She seemed very glad to be here for lunch.   During lunch I discovered she only speaks Ewe, which explained why she hadn’t talked much to me previously.  She didn’t say much during lunch but Toussaint would translate everything that was said…..and Tousssaint doesn’t really know much English, so again, communication was a mish mash of words, hand waving, laughing and pointing.  The kids Philomene and Desiree were taking it all in.  Every time I would look at Philomene and Desiree, they would flash this delightful shy smile.

Dinner was nice.  Toussaint said a prayer before we started eating.   To my pleasant surprise, they seemed to really like the Spanish rice and all of the food, as they each had two or three helpings of everything.  There were no leftovers.  Celestine helped me with the dishes, and then they went on their way home.

Philomene and Desiree showed up at my door about an hour later.  I wasn’t sure why, but then I saw that they wanted to get into my basket of art supplies.  They stayed and colored and played with stickers for about an hour.

Toussaint told me that Celestine wants to have me over for dinner.

It was really, a very nice way to spend the Sunday afternoon.