gift) of a free loaf of bread. She’ll throw an extra loaf in the sack, look at me and smile, and say, "a cadou…for you, mama.” There are at least twenty or thirty bread sellers along the main road. They sell to people going to and from Lome. Practically everyone who travels anywhere in Togo drives on this road. Probably a hundred bush taxis a day drive by. The bush taxis are conditioned to slow down at this fork in the road, and five to ten bread vendors charge the taxis….pushing their loaves of bread in every open window. Most passengers have their money ready to buy. Friday is the biggest day for the Tesvie bread vendors because of all the people who travel into town to go to the market.
Ahepe is twenty minutes east of Tchekpo. Ahepe’s market is on Tuesday. It’s a smaller village and it’s market specialty is fruit and vegetables. Taglibow, another thirty minutes to the east is a large village, and has a large market. It has the best Salle bread. It tastes like sour dough bread from San Francisco. Taglibow also specializes in batik fabric. Handmade, tye-dyed. Beautiful. Another thing I like to buy in Taglibow is their avocado sandwiches. It’s street food, but it’s so good. Basically it’s guacomale on their Salle bread. There are a half dozen other villages within an hour of Tchekpo…all with different market days and times. There’s one village (Zafi) that has only a night market on Thursdays.
|Tchekpo Market (selling Piemont)|
|The Weekly Gathering|
There are over seventy-five women in the Womens Group Market Association. They all sell their products every Monday at the weekly market. They all have their own little patch of land where they grow their products. They walk the however many miles to the farm every day and tend to it, then on Mondays they load everything up, bring it to the market, and set up their booths. Monday’s you see streams of women and children walking to the market carrying a variety of huge items on their heads. I love market day. It has the feel of a county fair. The vendors set up early and many sell late into the night by candle light. It’s especially interesting to walk through at night by the candle light. People are happy, and busy. When I go to the market everyone greets me, and they ask me to buy something from them. They are perfectly fine if I don't.
Every Tuesday morning the women from the women’s market association meet to clean and sweep the market, using palm branches. Much to their delight, I join them at 6:30 A.M. I sweep the market with them. When we get there it’s a mess. Trash and food and garbage everywhere. The market is located just off the main road. The ground is dirt and sand. It’s bumpy and rocky and rutted. There are numerous thatched roofs (paillots) that give the vendors some protection from the sun and the heat on market day. For the Monday morning sweep everyone is working, no one is telling anyone what to do. No one is complaining about anyone not carrying their load. Everyone just works. I sweep the market every week so that the women can get to know me and trust me. They’re not quite sure why I’m there, but they very much like it that I participate. The first few times I went to sweep the market they refused to give me a palm branch broom. Now I have my very own broom. There is a technique…an art to sweeping dirt and sand with a palm branch. I still don’t have it down. It has not escaped my notice that someone always follows me and sweeps where I have swept. They work in unison until the job is done. I have to say that Tchekpo has the cleanest market of any I’ve been to. After sweeping the market they gather around the table where the President of the Women’s Association is sitting. They hand her their little accounting books, and she records how much everyone has sold, and how much money they have made. Then they have a short meeting to discuss any issues. They are on there way home or to their farms by 8 A.M.
In Togo there are local savings and loan associations called Tontines. Tontines are banks set up for associations to save money collectively, and to loan money to it’s members when needed. This Women’s Group Market Association belongs to a tontine. I go to the tontine meeting every Thursday at 8:30 A.M. The group is 99% Voodooese, so there are voodoo rituals mixed in with everything they do. The meeting is held at one of the primary Voodoo Sanctuaries in Tchekpo. This particular sanctuary is also where people go when they are sick or they go here to perform any rituals or offerings to the gods. The weekly Tontine meeting is a smorgasboard of activities. Many women go through a healing ritual before and during the weekly meeting. There is a semblance of an altar inside the sanctuary structure. There is a fountain and plants. The women who are receiving a healing or a blessing stop in front of the door to the sanctuary, bow for more than a few seconds, and cross themselves. A greeting to the gods. They sit on a stone bench just outside of the sanctuary. No one from the meeting is paying any attention to the women who file by one by one for their blessing. They disrobe from the waist up. The voodoo priest talks to the woman for a few minutes. I think to find out why she is here. What does she need? After he’s talked to her for a few minutes he goes in the sanctuary and quietly says a few prayers. He comes back out holding a primitive small bowl, stands over the woman, chants a few prayers and dabs her with white dots and white squiggly lines on her shoulders and back and neck. They must have this ritual fairly often because I see men, women and children walking around the village all the time with these white dots and squiggly lines. I find it very fascinating that voodoo rituals are performed simultaneously during their business meeting. Voodoo is intertwined with everything they do.
|The Beauty Shop|
|Selling Cocoa Nuts|
|Pedicures of course (my feet)|
I’ve had some poignant moments sweeping the market and attending the tontine meetings. For lack of a better word, it feels like a spiritual moment sometimes, or raw truth. There is a collective contentment that can’t be suppressed, and possibly may even be enhanced by the poverty and hunger they experience. It impacts and impresses me the way they work and play together. I sit and I watch, and participate when I can. There is a rhythm and beauty in how they work together towards one goal. It’s very Walden-ish….their world.