Tuesday, October 16, 2012

3 chief funeral for the oldest man in Dankpen

Im currently in Bina.  To see why, read further. 

 D’s house is in the shadow, literally, of the mountain peaks.  Storms coming up from the southeast pop over and wash grey curtains of rain down the northern slopes. 

I was walking down to look for soja (deep fried tofu?) this afternoon when a storm like that passed over in front of me.  it was a little storm, more like one of those rain clouds that followed Eeyore around in Winnie the Pooh shows than anything else.  As I walked, the sun was shining at my back but I could see it raining just down the mountain from me.  The downpour on distant tin roofs sounded like the roar of a water fall in the near distance.  

I have 5 big bites on my abdomen of undeterminable origin.  They’ve itched for like 3 days.  A couple of them have felt so bad that they have started weeping.  I do not feel for them.  

D and I left my house last Saturday morning about 800.  She to return to Bina, me to go to Kara to work on some stuff.  Petit called me about 1700—“I just called to tell you that N’tido had her baby. It’s a boy.”  I told D about it and she was like “what, she couldn’t have had it the day before?” 

I went in to see the baby when I got home.  he was laying on a pile of pagne, sleeping. which I guess is what new born babies tend to do.  I got sort of teary eyed and proud of N’tido.  I asked her what its name was and she was like “I don’t know, pick something.” 
So, the other day, after a couple calabashes and much deliberation, I told her that its name was Alexandre, but the shortened version was Alix.  She was like “hmm, c’est bon”  . . . then she went in a drug out an old calendar to see what I was talking about.  Togolese often name their children after the day they were born.  With the advent of christianity, or at least western names, a lot of Togolese have taken to naming their children after the saint of the day they were born.  there are calendars everywhere that list the saint’s name with the date. I had to point out to N’tido that my name doesn’t correspond to the saint for my birthday.  plus, who wants to see a baby named Bruno?  she might have listened to me.  

This new baby has brought out some interesting traditions that I, heretofore, havent seen yet.  Most of them revolve around this old lady who lives next door.  I think she is like a midwife.  she came over one evening and disappeared in the shower with N’tido, to check up on things I assume.  Then she’s come over for the past week to wash the baby.  I asked N’tido why she doesn’t wash the baby herself and she was like “how am I supposed to know how to do that?” 

There is a tree in Togo called a Neem tree. At some point in west Africa’s misty colonial past, neem trees made their way over from India.  They are somewhat analogous in size and shape to a maple tree, although their leaves are much smaller. I love Neem trees. They grow quickly—in India there are societies dedicated to removing their status as “weed” trees—and they give great shade.  Another one of Neem’s redeeming characteristics is that its leaves, and stems/seeds/etc, contain a chemical compound that insects find noxious.  It smells vaguely like onions to me, but oh well.  products with Neem extract in them can be used as insect repellent.  This is good in an area with endemic malaria.  

Last week D and I whipped up a batch of Neem lotion—juice from the leaves, soap, and oil—for people in Nampoch.  The lotion works as a mosquito repellent as long as the chemical holds up.  We had a decent crowd, although I think some people were more interested in the soap grater I’d made out of a sardine can.  The lotion turned out well, so the other day, in Bikotiba, Saye’s village, we did a Neem lotion sensiblization.  D and Saye did all the talking because the sensiblization was their idea.  I just did stuff like grate soap and fan the charcoal burner so we could boil the leaves.  Our audience was mainly women; they got a big kick out of me “making the sauce.” But it went pretty well.  Powers, the new EAFS Volunteer out in Bitchabe, was in town shadowing Saye so he helped out a bit too.  

I have taken, roughly, 756 tablets of doxycycline since I have been in Togo

the other day I went to the funeral for the oldest man in Dankpen.  I didn’t know this at the time, I just knew that he was an important, old (these are roughly synonymous terms) guy in my family.  And in a lot of others I found when I got to the funeral.  It was in this little village out in the sticks in the Nampoch canton.  Important people, when they die in my area, rate the presence of a chef du canton. This guy rated 3.  I’d never seen so many well-dressed people so far out in the bush. N’tifoni told me that the guy was like 100 when he died, which means he was probably in his 80s.  He had an ornate coffin and an actual concrete tomb.  A lot of the dancers brought their traditional Konkumba gear—bows and arrows—and village hunters brought their shotguns. They started shooting them off into the trees under which people, like me, were sitting.  Kodjo flipped out and said he saw a woman get killed once from a shotgun that misfired like that.  Other funeral highlights included a guy wearing a Saddam Hussein shirt and kids who’d obviously never seen a white person before.

Groups of dancers from a certain cartier, or village, wait on the outskirts of the dance circle.  When there is a break between songs in the big dance circle, the group enters and dances around it to their own drums.  A group from my cartier got together and did that, so I joined them.  First time ever. 
I like Togolese funerals a lot.  They are nothing like funerals in the US.  A fact that I explain to at least one person per funeral.  The big counter-rhythmic drumbeats get in your blood.  Dust curling from dancing feet spirals into the air like laughing spirits.  the songs the dancers sing have this haunting refrain that echoes long after the dance is over.  I never feel as in, or as a part of, Africa as when Im at a funeral.  

Going to the latrine at night is a dicey proposition.  I’m good for at least one cockroach sitting on my latrine looking scandalized.  Even Albert, the albino gecko that lives around my toilet seat, doesn’t faze them.  So, the other night, when Tadji followed me out to the latrine, I kicked the cockroach on the ground for him.  Then laughed my butt off as he chased it around the compound.       

update. i woke up this morning and the red bites on my torso are changing location.  sometimes i want to scream.

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