26 March 2009

Spider and Death Folktale

Spider and Death
Yiyi kple Ku

At one time, there was a very great famine, to the point that even lions could no longer find any game. Profiting from these circumstances, Death went to the jungle and cleared an immense path – as long as from here to Sokodé* and along it he lay out lots of traps. All the animals that took this path, looking for a place to find food, were captured by Death. He therefore gathered a huge amount of meat. One day Spider visited Death and said to him, enviously:
“Oh! You have lots of meat here at your house! Could I please take a little home with me?”
“You make take a basketful,” responded Death generously.
Spider, being very clever, then made a huge basket that extended all the way from Ho to Akoviéfé, and piled it high with meat to bring back home. In thanks Spider gave his daughter Yiyisa to be Death’s bride. From this day on, Spider could come and take as much as he wanted of Death’s meat.
When Yiyisa arrived to share Death’s home, Death gave her the following instruction:
“Do not ever take the path that I cleared in the jungle, instead you must take the one that is overgrown in order to get yourself to the river.”
One day when it had rained Yiyisa was taking the overgrown path in the jungle and found that the grasses were very wet, making her dress soaked and heavy and her feet muddy. When she looked to her right, the cleared path looked so dry and easy that she decided to move over to it. Before she could take her second step upon the cleared path she fell into a trap and died instantly.
When Death came by collecting the prey from his traps and found his new wife, Yiyisa, dead at the bottom of a trap, he cut her up into little pieces and smoked the meat.
One day, Spider came to visit Death. Death gave him a hearty welcome feast. When Spider had finished eating, he readied himself to leave but first he asked for news of his daughter.
Death replied to him “When you sort through the pieces of meat, you will find her.”
Very intrigued by these words, Spider said: “How could one find oneself in pieces roasted above a fire without being dead?”
At these words, Death spoke again “I warned both of you very well.”
Spider looked through the pieces of meat and found the remains of his daughter. He then said to Death:
“I am going back to my house now but I will return soon to make war upon you.”
At home, Spider sharpened his machete and sharpened it again. Then he threw a stone into the air. When it fell down back to earth, two perfect halves of the stone rolled away, the knife having spliced the stone like a soft cooked yam. But Spider said, “The knife is not yet sharp enough.”
He sharpened it once again. He sharpened it so well that all the flies that landed on it were instantly transformed into water droplets. Then Spider left to confront Death.
When Death saw him coming, he shot an arrow at him, but Spider dodged the projectile, and it was lost in the jungle. Immediately, the whole forest became a huge inferno. Death, astonished that he’d missed Spider, struck up his hunting song:
When the arrow hits the elephant
The elephant dies
When the arrow hits the hippopotamus
The hippo dies
When the arrow finds the target
The target dies

Spider also burst into song:
Funo, funo my wife
Is there a place on earth where one can never go?
To return or to fall there, I go
The fire and the sword come
Funo funo

Spider then threw his knife, cutting all the trees and vines around him. But despite his brave song, Spider was afraid of Death’s power and the growing inferno and he escaped by retreating to his house, the knife continuing to cut by itself all that was in his path. Having arrived at home, Spider hid himself in his hut. Death followed but lay in wait for him at the edge of the village, intending to kill him as soon as he showed himself. That morning, at dawn, women left the village to fetch water from the river and, making their way, they chatted and laughed joyfully. Death shot an arrow at them instantly, killing many of them and wounding others. The survivors ran back to the village screaming,
“This woman is killed, this is dead.”
Death came closer to contemplate the bodies and said
“There is enough prey here, why do I go all the way into the jungle to hunt?”
This is how Death came into the world of men. If Spider had not done what he did, Death would never have been brought into our world.

*Sokodé is in the Centrale Région of Togo, which, unsurprisingly, is just about halfway up the vertical length of the country. In miles, it’s approximately 300km from Lomé to Sokodé. I chose Lomé as the point of reference as this tale is from the Éwé people, who live primarily along the coastline in Ghana, Togo and Benin. In today’s circumstances, Sokodé is about a 4-hour drive under good road conditions. Not a huge distance to Americans – (on American roads and in well-maintained cars, the distance would take much less than 6 hours). But it is a sufficiently long distance for the ethnic group and local language as well as religious beliefs to be markedly different. These differences lead me to believe that saying the path stretched from here to Sokodé is along the same lines as the familiar American phrase “From sea to shining sea”. It indicates a path that stretched all the way across the “known world” or at least the Ewe-controlled lands.

Give a little?

My dear family and friends,

As you all know, I've been living in a small country in West Africa called Togo for the past nine months. I live and work in a village called Mission Tové, where I work primarily with young people in all sorts of ways: teaching English, teaching business skills like how to do a feasibility study, helping to develop a plan for an apprenticeship center for young people who don't have enough money to pay for the training.

Over the past few months I've been balancing my work in village with a national project - a summer camp for young people from all over Togo. The camp is called Camp Unité and was originally started in 2001 to help address the tension among the various ethnic groups - hence the name Unité (Unity). Over the years it's expanded and now it is four weeks of camps - one week for girl students, one week for boy students, one week for girl apprentices and one week for boy apprentices (apprentices are young people who have gone into learning a trade like carpentry or dressmaking).

Each week, 16 counselors - 8 Peace Corps volunteers and 8 Togolese facilitators (nurses, teachers, apprentice trainers, and other resourceful community members) deliver a program to the the young people teaching them life skills like communication strategies, conflict resolution, time management, and self-confidence. We also facilitate sessions on important but often under-discussed subjects like child trafficking and teen pregnancy.

The camp has been enormously successful, with participants going on to form youth groups in their villages to help further distribute the ideas and skills that they learned. Last year, as part of Peace Corps' goal to make projects locally run and sustainable, the Camp started a collaboration with a local organization call ADIFF (Association for the development of women and girls) to co-facilitate the camp. This is great for me as it gives me a chance to do some capacity-building with the organization, preparing it to eventually take complete ownership of the camp project.

Another way we've sought to make the camp sustainable is by diversifying our sources of funding. Ever since the US Ambassador visited the camp several years ago, we've received significant funds from the local US Embassy, but we' d like to set up something a bit more long-term. Former organizers of the camp from previous years are in the process of starting the Unité Foundation to enable US-based donors to make a tax-deductible donation by adding a little bit extra to the amount when they send their own child to summer camp. That little bit extra will enable a Togolese child to come for a week of camp. For this year, however, the foundation has not yet been fully set up so we've put together a Peace Corps Partnership Proposal to help our friends and family to help support the work we're doing, the local people we work with, and the children we work for by making a donation.

The way that Peace Corps Partnership works is:
The Peace Corps volunteer puts together a proposal with his/her local counterpart. They submit the proposal to the Country Director and it's approved a couple times up the line as a project that not only merits funding but also has a realistic time-period and specifically working toward developing local capacity. The local community is also required to provide at least 25% of the total budget (this could be in labor or materials, etc.)
When it's all approved, the project is posted online at this website:
Then, the volunteer lets all of their families and friends and former teachers and mere acquaintances know about the project and encourages everybody to give a little.
Once the total amount has been collected, Peace Corps transfers the money over to the country of service and the volunteer can get the project going!

The cost to send one person to camp for a week is around $80 dollars (food, lodging and transportation). Luckily, we've got a huge network of people that we're contacting about this project so hopefully we'll be able to get the money raised quickly for this years' camps. I can promise that this money will go straight to the costs of sending a child to camp, no hidden pocket-lining. I would really appreciate any amount you can afford to donate and I promise to send you lots of great pictures of the amazing young people you've sent to camp.

If the link doesn't work you can go to www.peacecorps.gov Click Donate, select Donate to volunteer projects, type in Togo, or Camp Unite and you will find it.

I can’t say enough great things about Camp UNITE! Please see my friend's pictures from last year being a cabin counselor at:

http://picasaweb.google.com/jillianintogo (Camp UNITE album)

You can also check out the UNITE Foundations website at: www.unitefoundation.org.


19 March 2009

Cold Beverages!

19 March 2009

I have been too busy holidaying to blog recently, which means that I’m rather intimidated by the prospect of trying to sum up three weeks worth of life into an interesting posting. A simple, first we did this, then we did that can get really tedious, so I’ll try to just pull out a few scenes and stories.

After two night of very little sleep due to the singing and drumming at the church next door that ended at 10pm and started up again at 4am, M and I decided to try and find a cold drink to start off our evening (and help us sleep more soundly). We wandered around the village and discovered a cute little buvette called “Tanty Dorcas” that had a generator and therefore... wonder of wonders... cold beer.
Fending off a few marriage requests with increasingly forced smiles, we sat and chatted and shared beers until the little 10 year old ‘waitress’ told us they were closing (at 6.30 on a Saturday night!). Instead of going straight home, I convinced M to continue over to the other bar in the village. We walked along the dirt path, stumbling a little – more due to the encroaching darkness than anything else, I reassured myself. After one particularly nimble trip, I righted myself and found before me a field of warm yellow flickering lights. As we approached I remembered that Saturday is Tové’s night marché.
I’d never been brave enough to wander out to it on my own before, so I hadn’t seen the gorgeously-lit scene of marché mamas, children and the inevitably ‘charming’ moto drivers. Each table had a little can, filled with kerosene and a nearly 2-inch open flame flickering out of it. M and I walked slowly up and down the aisles of wooden tables, being gently cajoled by the sellers to buy onions or dried fish, plastic buckets or “dead yovo” secondhand clothes. We settled on some fried plantains and left the magical little scene to find the bar where we were entertained by tiny children and exchanged cultural greetings (we taught them how to ‘high-five’ and they taught us a fist to fist, fist to heart salute).
Satiated with cold beverages and our adventure, we headed back home to sit on the porch for a while, chatting and playing music loudly in a passive-aggressive and futile revenge against the all-night vigils, ridiculously loud radios and absurdly vocal cockerels that had plagued our nights all week. And then we slept very soundly.

M nearly falling into the cistern trying to submerge the bucket in the severely reduced water level 1002375
Me and my homologue Da E at her atelier 100 2366