28 April 2009

The Black Hunter and the Doe

The Black Hunter and the Doe

Le Chasseur Noir et la Biche
Ameyibo adelaa de kple dzoke le gbeme

pg. 114-117 of Contes et Légendes du Togo

A long time ago, the beasts spoke to and understood each other in a language all to the themselves.
A Man, hunter by trade, master of the jungle, one day, went on a hunt in a forest that he knew was full of prey. But on this day, the jungle resembled a cemetery: not one trace of its inhabitants, not one movement. Even the charming turtledove did not cheer him with his warbling melodic voice. The Hunter traveled up and down the jungle all in vain.
He was alarmed. What to do? Leave? But to leave empty-handed would have lessened him in the eyes of his tribe. In those long ago times, prey was so plentiful that a hunger never came back from the hunt without a hefty load to feed the tribe.
After having scoured every nook and cranny of the jungle, still in search of prey, be it ever so small, and then resigning himself to return home empty-handed, the Hunter saw a Doe, who had stopped neatly in front of him. As soon as he saw the animal, he raised his gun.
“Hunter,” said the Doe, “don’t shoot.”
The Hunter couldn’t believe his ears. Even though he trembled to hear an animal talk, he pretended deafness and decided to shoot.
“Hunter,” the prey said again, “Don’t shoot. Listen Hunter” she continued, “If you grant me my life, I will give you a great gift; I will confer upon you a marvelous power that your descendants will inherit. Listen, we animals, domestic as well as savage, we speak. We have out own language to ourselves. Don’t kill me and I will do something for you that will permit you to understand our language; you may have need of it some day.”
“Is it possible,” the Hunter murmured to himself, “that an animal possesses the power of speech?”
Addressing himself to the animal, he said, “That you are gifted with speech, that you possess a marvelous power, I don’t care. I will kill you and eat you with great satisfaction.”
“Don’t kill me, I beg of you,” the Doe pleaded with such frailty and tenderness that the Hunter renounced his plan.
“Doe” called the Hunter “I will not kill you. Now give me your gift.”
The animal knelt down before the Hunter and thanked him graciously.
The Doe, after this gesture of gratitude, plucked an herb, pressed it between her hooves and put excreted juice on the ears and mouth of the hunter, who immediately began to understand and speak the language of the animals.
Then she said to the man:
“Take this herb: guard it jealously; with this you will cure all illnesses.”
The Hunter became known far and wide as a great healer.

This is why, according to fable, Blacks know many medicinal plants and understand and speak many foreign languages.

From Paul Akakpo TYPAMM

Independence Day

27 April 2009

Last Wednesday, as a fun activity (and to get away from constantly talking about sex and AIDS) I directed Nouvelle Vie (the peer educators) to prepare a skit based on the story The Igname of Death. It was brilliant. I had a fever and was generally feeling sorry for myself to the point that I almost cancelled the meeting. I’m so glad I didn’t.
A couple months ago I found some terrific plush masks of animal faces in the ‘grab bin’ (that magical basket that overflows with junk and the occasional treasure left behind by PCVs when they finish their service). So I got the kids to pretend to “dress up” as an elephant, a lion, a monkey and a tiger – none of which are mentioned in the story, of course, so we had to adapt the characters slightly.
They particularly enjoyed pretending to be killed by Death – seems to be a universally fun thing to do. I got into it too, hamming it up so much that I scraped my knees like a little kid climbing trees when I fell to the dirt floor.

Today is Independence Day. There were absolutely no parties in my village, but planes flew overhead from Lomé all day, where there was a big parade. Da E says that before “la crise” they used to have a big parade and feast here in the village, too. Everything’s a bit more subdued now. The arrest of the President’s brother a couple weeks ago probably contributes to the cautious atmosphere I’m feeling right now.

The rainy season’s starting, meaning the days are frequently gray and the world is getting green again. My favorite bit is that the wind keep waking up at 1 or 2am, by ripping through the house – making my light curtains stand out perpendicular to the windows. It’s very exciting and so delightful to have a night so cool that I have to use a sheet – wonder of wonders. Plus, the mango season is almost upon us!

23 April 2009

Teaching English

22 April 2009

The Togolese Lottery is paying for the CEG Kovié to get school buildings! It’s all very exciting. And, in typical Togolese fashion, even the school director didn’t know anything about it until the Lottery guys showed up in swish suits and fancy cars saying they’ll break ground tomorrow. (That was last Friday).
It’s kind of a relief for me at the same time that it’s a joy – I don’t have to worry about trying to help the director track down the funds for buildings. Huzzah. I can just focus on the couple projects I’ve already gotten started. The 3eme students at the school are going to be taking their BEPC exam to get into high school in less than a month. The director wants me to take them for an extra hour each week to work on their English. I’m afraid it’s too little too late. But I’ve gotten a bit more serious in my time with them – we no longer sing songs and play games. I was able to get my hands on some previous BEPC English exams and I’m teaching them concepts like passive vs. active voice that are treated heavily on the exam.
I’m also encouraging them to ‘check out’ the books that the Scottish Book Trust donated to help them with reading comprehension and vocabulary. I’ve asked them to write mini-book reports as they read. This hasn’t really happened – homework is pretty much ignored here. But I take my time reading over the sentences that a few of them have given me. It’s for their own good that I correct them! I’m not grading them, just trying to give them the knowledge to pass the exam. I bring along my French/English dictionary every week and the students love it. I’ve taught them all how to look up words – my Robert Collins is probably the first dictionary most of them have ever seen.
I don’t love teaching English. It will almost certainly be one of the things I let go next year when I focus a bit more on my big projects: constructing a dressmaking workshop for the apprentices who can’t afford the apprentice fees; running and improving Camp UNITE; developing and fundraising for the girls’ scholarships Karren Waid program; making my peer educator’s acting troupe ready for regional competitions.
I’ve got a lot of cool projects going, but I’m feeling a little trapped by the English teaching commitment. Hopefully with the school getting all the physical trappings, they’ll be more able to attract teachers so they won’t be in such need for teachers next year. I would love to run a little business club at the school, but I’m not sure I’ve got the time or patience to keep on teaching myself how to teach English as a second language. Although lots of Peace Corps volunteer positions are specifically for ESL, my post is not, so I’ve got to get myself onto other things.

The Igname of Death

The Igname of Death
L’igname de la Mort

Once upon a time, after an interminable dry season, a famine raged through the land. All being were wasting away.
Only Death, that master of power, possessed a vast field of ignames where the tubers still grew. But who would dare eat the ignames of Death?
And yet one morning the rumor circulated everywhere: Death had put his ignames up for sale. But no one had enough cowrie shells to buy them, their price was far too high.
Despite all of the animals’ protests and pleading, Death refused to reduce the price. He intended to decimate the animals for his own pleasure, and he even thought up a strategy to kill them off faster than the famine: he would give his ignames for free to whomever wanted them on one condition. Instead of cowrie shells, the poor animal would have to submit to a single blow for each igname he took. But who could survive even a single blow from Death?
All of the animals except Yévi the spider refused Deaths’ offer, fearing his implacable blows. Each one said “I would prefer to die with an empty belly than to cause my own destruction by calming by hunger with the ignames of Death.” All of them fled from Death’s offer.
Yévi, who always thinks he is the most clever of all, the most intelligent of all, a veritable Genius, decided to brave the danger. He boldly asked Death for twelve ignames, which means twelve formidable blows.
Death, whose hand were itching with the desire to hit someone, accepted Yévi’s offer joyfully.
Yévi took the twelve tubers from the hands of Death, who told him “I will come tonight to start collecting the fee.”
“Oh my lord,” responded Yévi, don’t come tonight, I beg you. I’m feeling a bit sick, come instead tomorrow morning at dawn.”
That day, Yévi, equipped with a small drum he’d made especially for the occasion and some pieces of boiled igname that he carried on a tray on his head, went out and posted himself at the only crossroads in the country, where all the animals must pass. And, with an agile hand he began beating his instrument in a rythym that said
There is a famine
Children, come and eat ignames!

La Biche, a doe, tormented by hunger was walking past desperately searching something to eat. She heard the drum and came to ask Yévi about it. Yévi offered her four big pieces of boiled igname. She ate them and thereby calmed her hunger.
La Biche, after thanking her benefactor over and over, asked him where he had found such tender and delicious tubers in such a time of scarcity.
“A brother living in the next village gave me these ignames as a present” responded Yévi. “He will be bringing me some more tomorrow morning at dawn. He always comes in disguise so he won’t be bothered by my other brothers; do you want to sleep here in my house tonight so that you can get some more tomorrow as well?”
“I’d like that very much,” said the poor doe.
Night came, Yévi and his guest went to bed. The gullible doe, fallen in Yévi’s terrible ambush, slept deeply. As for Yévi himself, he was awake and listening.
At the cock’s first cry, Death appeared.
“Yévi, Yévi” he called. “I’m here, wake up for the collection.”
Yévi, without responding, went to quietly wake the doe.
“La Biche, La Biche” he whispered, “my brother is here calling you. Wake up and go get your ignames.”

She had barely arrived at the door when Death struck her face with a violent blow that floored her. She died instantly.
Yévi, joyful, threw himself onto the doe, carved her up and feasted abundantly.
Yévi boasted to himself that with this strategy he would never lack for something to eat and he could make other receive the twelve fearsome blows. He even thought that he would become at the same time Death’s good friend, if Death came to learn of Yévi’s cleverness that allowed Death to kill so many animals.
The Antelope, the Porcupine, the Giraffe and the Bird all underwent the same fate as the Doe. Six ignames were thus already paid for.
The seventh day, Yévi placed himself again at the crossroads where he played his drum:
There is a famine
Children! Come and eat some ignames!

The Rat came along to take advantage of Yévi’s offer. Two small pieces of igname satisfied him.
But this time, Yévi wasn’t dealing with an imbecile. The Rat went to bed at the home of his benefactor completely happy, lively and alert. Yévi, on the other hand, felt so confident from his six successful tricks that he fell into a deep sleep.
In the middle of the night, the rodent, wiser than Yévi, dug a hole that went from the hut of his host to his own. The rat gathered up the six remaining ignames, dropped them at his house and closed up the hole. All this he did without disturbing the ‘great Genius’ at all.
The next morning, at dawn as usual, Death appeared ready with his blow, called out and waited.
Yévi quietly searched around calling out for the Rat.
“Rat, Rat, the brother has come, go see him to get your ignames.”
No sign of life! Yévi began to worry and searched fervently for the Rat. It was too late for him to find a way to get out of this mess.
Death started to get impatient and turned red with rage. Yévi trembled, pretending not to hear Death’s raging just outside.
Death broke open the door and dealt Yévi a fearsome blow. Yévi collapsed, crushed.

Don’t seek to harm your neighbor. Like Yévi, you risk falling into your own trap.

Retold by Paul Akakpo TYPAMM

16 April 2009

The King, his wife and their son Safudu Kwaku

The King, his wife and their son Safudu Kwaku

Le Roi, sa femme et son fils Safudu Kwaku
Fia, Sroa kple via Safudu Kwaku

Once upon a time a jealous and cruel King accused his son of offending him by his behavior towards his mother the Queen. To prove his innocence, Safudu Kwaku proposed to his father that he would submit himself to the judgment of God.
The King accepted this proposal and sent some of his men to Gè with the order to buy him a sword and a spike. When these objects were brought to him, the King had them sharpened for seventeen days.
When they were sharpened, he had the spike and the sword driven into the earth under a very tall Baobab tree. Then he invited everyone to come attend the judgment of God. The King, his wife and the prince were transported in a hammock to the location where the ordeal would take place.
When they arrived at their destination, the King ordered Safudu Kwaku to climb the great tree and throw himself down onto the points of the sword and the spike. The mother of the prince cried from fear for her son; but as for the prince himself, he was unafraid because he knew that he had not committed the fault for which he was being reproached.
Safudu Kwaku climbed to the summit of the tree and began to sing, calling out the names of his powerful ancestors and asking them to let him die if he was guilty but save him if he was faithful and innocent. He invoked all the powers of the ancestors with his beautiful song.
Dedende manyimoto
Safudu Kwaku dedende manyimoto
Samafa hinihini
Dedende somapa wo mampa
Dedende manymato
When he had finished his song, he hurled himself to the ground and was not hurt at all. But the King declared that he had not seen him climb up or fall down from the tree because, he claimed, “I was taking a bath.”
So Safudu Kwaku climbed up again to the very top of the tree and, after having sung like the first time, he threw himself to the ground. The King then declared that he’d only just gotten out of the bath at that moment and his son would have to climb up a third time.
So Safudu Kwaku climbed up a third time. The King declared he was receiving a spa treatment after his bath and, therefore, had not seen anything.
Safudu Kwaku began again the same actions as before. The King declared, “I was putting on my sandals.”
So Safudu Kwaku climbed up again a fifth time to the top of the tree and hurled himself down to the earth. “I was busy filling my snuff box with tobacco.”
When his son fell down from the tree for the sixth time, the King declared “It’s only just now that I can come to watch” and he ordered his son to climb up a seventh time.
All of the attendants by this time had taken the side of Safudu Kwaku, seeing that the power of the ancestors was with him. The murmured against the king, and urged the prince to ignore his command. But the prince climbed up once more – for the seventh time. While he was falling to the ground the great spirit Dzingbe grabbed hold of him and transformed him into a sunrise.
This is why when the sun rises and one wishes to see his face, he veils himself in brilliance saying “Seven times, I was treated unjustly”.
This is the reason why we cannot look into the face of the sun.

Recounted by F N’S ABGLEMAGNON

15 April 2009

Correspondence Match 15 April

15 April 2009

Dear class,

Thank you so much for your letters and photos – the students love seeing them. They have so many questions! I will try to keep track of them and send them out to you ASAP.

In the meantime, just a little update on the rest of my life in Togo. I’ve been settling in with a kitten called Odysseus (because he’s always getting lost and into trouble). I made him a little playground to keep him interested (and off the screens in the windows!)

I was just elected to a position on the Gender and Development committee among the Peace Corps volunteers in Togo. I will be taking charge of our girls’ scholarship program, started over ten years ago by the family of Karren Waid, a Peace Corps volunteer who was killed in a road accident during her service. We pay a girl’s school fees from primary school all the way through university if she meets certain requirements. The requirements help illustrate the big differences between school here and in the United States.

The girl has to pass every year. It’s much more common here than in the states for students to fails and be held back. There are a couple 20 year olds in my 8th grade equivalent class! Every year the scholarship girls have to send in their bulletin (report card) to prove they’ve received a passing grade – an average of 10 out of 20 points. Grading systems here are very harsh – they use the French system. When I was studying abroad in France, my grades carried over to the University of Notre Dame were adjusted to be equal to the US system – a 14 out of 20 was considered an ‘A’. My professors used to say 18 out of 20 is for the archangels, 19 out of 20 is for God, and absolutely no one gets 20 out of 20! Harsh, especially when I think back to getting an occasional 105% grade on a test at La Reina – bonus questions are awesome.

The girl can only get pregnant once. Teenage pregnancy is frustratingly common here. Most girls are excluded from school as soon as they become pregnant and it is very hard for them to come back to school since she is raising the child. Adoption only really happens if a parent is deceased and even then it is rarely formalized – aunts and uncles will take in their siblings’ children.

The girl cannot get married. Girls can sometimes marry very young here. It is extremely rare to find a married girl at school. The husband will occasionally continue his studies but the woman is expected to stay at home to tend house and work in the fields.

I’m really looking forward to working on the scholarship program and making it more sustainable by recruiting a Togolese girls’ education organization to start taking over the management and paperwork of it. It’s a big job but I’ve always like challenges and I have two other great volunteers to help me with it.

02 April 2009

New Life/Meilleure Vie Peer Educators

2 April 2009

I now have three successful peer educator presentations done! I’m so proud of my group.

The first was for World AIDS Day on December 1st. The ‘sensibilisation’ as we call them in Togo was pushed back due to exams, but the group was really flexible and found ways to get together and prepare even during exams. The program was entirely set by me, as we only had one month to put it together. It went over well, but in our debriefing afterward, we were able to pick out a number of things to improve.

The second was for International Women’s Day, March 8th. Our theme was still HIV/AIDS prevention, but we brought it to the local marché instead of keeping it at the school. By this time, I’d recruited a bunch more participatns, including many from the lower classes (approximately junior high level), so we had a good mix of ages. I’d also had the opportunity to request promotional materials and t-shirts from PSI Togo (Population Services International). The Peer Educators – who voted to call themselves New Life/Meilleur Vie – loved getting the goodies and being able to hand them out. They were so proud of their matching bright red t-shirts, too! It’s so important to thank volunteers for their work – t-shirts and keychains are an easy way. But, to give that personal touch, I also baked them banana bread. It took me 5 hours to make and them about 5 minutes to eat. How I miss real ovens!

At this sensibilisation, the group itself chose what skits they wanted to present, wrote a couple songs to help attract a crowd, and added a new skit looking at the importance of dépistage – getting tested for HIV. They portrayed a traditional custom called lévirat where a widow marries her deceased husband’s brother. In this skit, the first brother died because of a weakened immune system due to AIDS, and the wife passed the virus on to the second brother because they hadn’t taken the important step of testing for HIV.

It was also very different from the World AIDS Day skits because the entire presentation was performed in local language – Ewé. Although many people understand French, the group agreed with me that in order to be sure our message came across clearly especially to the women at the marché, we would need to perform in Ewé.

This meant I got to step aside and just provide crowd control, timing, and resources support. It was fantastic.

The third performance was just yesterday, for the journée culturelle at the lycée.
This time, New Life/Meilleur Vie did a brand new skit to fit with the theme of the day: the importance of education. It was a simple moral lesson: study hard and be respectful and you’ll succeed even if you come form a very poor family. The best bit was how much fun the actors had hamming up various characters: the rich, disrespectful lazy kids, the old, poor, hardworking father, the high-stepping quick-saluting sergeant.

They were brilliant. I’m really pleased with their quick adaptation and I’m really excited to put not only my social issue knowledge to work, but also my theatre experience. Okay kids, you’ve got the knowledge, now it’s time to learn how to cheat out and project!


01 April 2009

This is not an April Fool’s

I ate a handful of termites yesterday. Salted and grilled. Mmm crunchy.
Actually not as crunchy as I’d expected. I sat for a good ten minutes contemplating the bugs in my hand, trying to work up the nerve to pop them in my mouth like all the other teachers were doing – with relish and gourmet suggestions for improving the spice mixture.

As the end of the second trimester of classes, yesterday was a journée culturelle: the students perpared dances, songs, and skits. And one of the professors decided to make it ‘educational’ and get a group of students to do an exposé about why education is important and what’s going wrong – why girls drop out to have babies, etc.
The Inspector for the region came by for the party. It’s been interesting to see the teachers’ reactions to him. Most teachers have not been paid since the beginning of the school year. There was a small strike about a month ago and all of my professor friends are complaining about not having enough money for food. It’s really distressing. The Inspector has come by to inspect (duh) the school and ensure that it is a quality institution. Hopefully passing an inspection might speed up the process of actually getting pay checks?

In any case, the teachers ate very well today. In between the dances and skits and the final soccer match in the afternoon, there was a ‘pique-nique’ scheduled. So all the classes brought along various foods. Every time a student walked into the school with a basket on her arm (it was the girls who did all the cooking obviously), the teachers called her over and demanded a toll – they had to give one full bowl of food to the teachers. We ate tons. Judging by the towers of food left after the pique-nique, none of the students went hungry either. In fact, I kind of pity the soccer players trying to play a match after stuffing their bellies. Ouch!

In addition to the soccer game, a bunch of other games were set up around the grounds – table tennis, basketball (on a sandy court?!), and an interesting traditional game which involves rolling nuts across the ground to knock out the nuts of the other team. Surprisingly mesmerizing.