What am I doing in Togo?
Writing reports. Seriously.
My village was founded in the 1700’s by two brothers who were chasseurs (hunters) and also made jewelry, specifically, metal bracelets, which became well known around Togo. Politically speaking, the village is actually comprised of 7 smaller villages grouped together. Mine is the largest of the villages at a population of around 1,200; it is geographically located in the center of the group and houses the chief of all the villages. The chief of the village comes from a line of descendents of the original founders. I never found a definite answer to the total population of the villages, but everyone I asked estimated it around 3000 and something. All of the people in the group of villages answer to the chief in my village. Men and women alike come to the chief for problem resolution. There is no military or police presence in any of the villages, so problems are generally dealt with the typical village way, through the chief. The places of special value to the inhabitants include the river that runs past the village, where people get water and sand, and the petit forest just outside the village in which traditional rituals are performed.
There is no Association for Development in the village, but many refer to Plan Togo, which has helped build the school, magasins and the market. There is one Plan Togo volunteer currently in my village, who has been there for about 4-5 months now, and the village has been discussing with Plan Togo, the construction of new CEG (middle school) class rooms. As far as current development, money has come from either Plan Togo, for the buildings I mentioned before, or from the people in the village. The family of the chief, for instance, has paid to build community meeting rooms in the village, but normally each cartier (divisions of villages) is responsible for taking care of it’s own.
The main religion, and only religion really, is Islam, the exception being the fonnctionaires, who come there for work. The major holidays for them are Ramadan (August), Tabaski (Octobre) and Solonde (Fevrier). The village celebrates the holidays with prayer, often a larger turnout and is held is in outside area (the place which was supposed to be a marche), there is music and dancing, a group of drum players which roam the village beating their drums and lots of food is prepared by the women, often including meat. For Tabaski, there is the ritual of killing an animal, i.e. sheep, cow or goat, so there is a lot of animal slaying and everybody is supposed to eat meat with their food on that day and the next 2 days. For smaller holidays, fetes and village events, there are also the drum players, which announce to the village the fete. There have recently been in my village the return of people making their pilgrimage to Mecca. They were greeted on the road by a parade of people who sang, played the drums and walked them to their houses. There was also, what I believe to be a Kotokoli traditional fete, which comes one month after Tabaski, where after dark, people burn fires throughout the village and the children take fire and run into the forests surrounding the village “to scare away evil spirits.” The drum players and parade are also present for deaths, but I can’t say for weddings because I haven’t yet seen one in my village. In the event of a death, the women of the village gather in the compound of the deceased to morn and there is a procession to the burying of the body, the same day. Then, the family of the deceased chooses to have a funeral 4 or 7 days after the death.
I don’t know much about the ceremony surrounding marriage, but marriage itself it is generally seen as an important and necessary aspect of someone’s life. Polygamy is the norm as the population is Muslim. The men are generally expected to have at least one wife, and women are expected to be married by their twenties. According to the villagers, it used to be a common practice that women were forced young to get married, but it is now common place for the women to be able to choose a partner when she wants, and will get married when the man in question asks permission from her family. I have seen, however, pressure from the older generation on the younger girls to find husbands early. Based on what I have seen through CPC/CPN (baby weighing) at the dispensaire, somewhere in the early 20s/late teens might be the average age a woman starts having children. As far as an average family size, that is something I could not accurately surmise without some serious survey taking, but asking around, it seems that a norm for families in the village is a man, 2 wives, and 3 children per wife. 4 children per wife is generally regarded as “bons pour une famille” by the women.
The houses are cement block houses, with either tin or straw roofs. There is not a Maison de Passage, unless you want to count the chief’s house; the villagers generally regard it as such. There is one road to the village at all times. It is a dirt road that goes through the village leads to some other villages out in the brouse that I have not yet explored. There is another smaller dirt road that leads to a large city, but it is not accessible during rainy season. There are 3 people who own or have access to car: the infirmier owns a personal car; there are 2 others with cars for rent in the neighboring village. As far as communication, there is the cell phone, but neither Togocell nor Moov have reliable reception anywhere in town, except from maybe the dispensaire, where you can still expect to get cut off from phone calls. Moov is reportedly going to be building a cell phone tower close to the village in the next 3 months.
The village has 2 forages, and 4 public wells. There are more private wells in people’s compounds, which I did not count. They are dispersed, throughout the village, generally once per cartier, and the closest is a well about 20 meters from my house. The public wells can be used by everyone, but each of the forages are managed by a family who takes money for the water one pumps: 10 CFA par cuvette (giant bowl). The families accepting money for the water, take responsibility for the maintenance of the forages. For the wells though, if maintenance is necessary, the cartier in which the well is located is responsible for gathering the money together or finding the labor, which may be done with the direction of the chief. Up until a couple years ago, water shortages in the wells were common during the harmattan and dry season, and in response, 2 more wells were constructed for the village, one in 2009 and one in 2010 or 2011, exact dates not know, neither is who paid for the wells to be constructed. Those, in addition to the 2 wells already in the village makes the 4 present today, and while water is reportedly still low during the dry season, the village hasn’t had to deal with the wells being dry. I get my water from the public well closest to my house, which I don’t have to pay to get, but I pay either neighbor girls or my homologue to carry it to my house. At each of the public wells there are no buckets readily available, so each person has to bring they’re own, thus, there is no priority. And as far as I know, there is no priority at the pump either. Although, the wells are more widely used than the pump, so I have never seen more than one person at a time try to get water from either of the pumps. Nobody is restricted from being near the water sources. There is no difference between the water people get to faire le ménage and drinking water. Families generally either go to the pump or go to a particular well and stick with it, and that is where they get the water for everything they use. I also haven’t really seen a separation of drinking water and bath/washing water in the compounds.
There are reportedly 20 public latrines in the village built partly by Togo Red Cross and efforts by the previous volunteer, although, I recently discovered that many of them are not yet fully constructed. They are Eco-San latrines and I’ve been told that they are “not yet hooked up.” Not really sure the meaning of that, but people don’t use them. Private latrines are not common. My compound is one of the only compounds I’ve seen with a latrine in my village. People normally just go au champ to use the restroom, or children will squat around the compound. There are a few public douches for the village, but a lot of houses also have a bathing area, not many of them though have any real draining system. The bathing areas created in most of the houses I have seen, are simply walling of some sort, bamboo or palm leaves, and water collects around or in the shower. I have also seen some with a very shallow hole dug in the back to collect water, which isn’t normally adequately covered.
The village is full of animals, which roam freely. There are select houses, which have enclosures for their animals, goats and sheep mostly, but they let the animals out to roam and find food during the day. There is a Fulani presence in the village; one can buy wagash (cheese, sorta) or beef, and they occasionally come to the dispensaire (clinic), but you will only see their cows roaming outside of the village.
Walking throughout the village, it is generally clean. There is a good amount of plastic and metal trash, but it is confined to certain areas. Common village areas and compounds are normally swept clean and trash is burned. Areas where no one or grouping has a specific responsibility for are left to collect trash. This includes a ravine, the space in between the smaller villages and especially small pathways around the village. The school grounds are maintained by the students and kept clean.
The village has no market. There is a structure built by Plan Togo to house a market, and there have been attempts to start one up, particularly by the previous volunteer, but no lasting results. So, there remains an open market structure at the edge of the village, which is left largely unused except for holidays, where people go to pray in large groups. The closest market is around 7 km away. The market day is Friday and there are normally cars and trucks going to and from throughout the day as well as the ever-present motos. Most of the women who rely on commerce, go to there to sell their wares. Foods available on a daily basis are as follows: corn(not for sale, but common in the champs), manioc (Cassava) (also not for sale, but from the champs), palm nuts, tomatoes, onions, piment (pepper), okra, soja (tofu), oranges, bananas, and gboma(okra). Other things that are available periodically, but not reliably include: peanuts, papaya, watermelon, smoked/dried fish, meat, wagash and beans. These depend on the season, and the Fulani tribes. There are also 4 boutiques, which between all of them supply, pasta, eggs, rice, beans, oil, imperishable and canned foods. The people generally eat 3 meals a day, although its not uncommon for a meal to be cooked in the morning and the same meal be eaten three times throughout the day. Most commonly eaten is pate(corn paste) with one of the many sauces, tomato, gumbo, arachides (peanuts) or gboma(think spinach). Other less common dishes are rice, foufou, rice pate, colico(fried yams), kohn(fermented pate), gari, beans and ragout. There are also pre-made foods you can buy from vendors around the village, which include: kafa (corn bouillie), zoba (corn bouillie), soweyi (bean beignets), various flour beignets, kohn, colico, spaghetti, rice, watchi (rice and beans), manioc beignets, foufou and pate. Generally though, vendors sell food between morning and afternoon, and after 15:00 h you won’t find people out selling food. The hungry season is also the dry season, during which I have been told, that most or all of the harvested corn has been used up and people eat regularly meals made with dried manioc, as that is what is left.
As far as work in the village you could guess correctly 9 times out of 10 that someone is a cultivateur (farmer), and of course the women are pretty much menageres (housewives). I think the majority are subsistence farmers, but people refer to corn and manioc as cash crops. In the champs it seems the general population all grows the same things, corn and manioc, and less commonly soja, beans and occasionally tomatoes. There are no machines to help with farming; there is only the mill to grind the dried food into powder for storing. There is also not any significant amount of elevage. People keep few amounts of animals, goats, sheep, cows, chicken, turkeys, guinea fowl, normally just for their family. There are occasionally the Fulani who will slay a cow and sell the meat to the people in the village. I have seen a couple chicken coops suitable for elevage around the village, but they stay unused as far as I can see. There is no fishing industry; there is the river that runs next to village, and while people go there for sand and water, they don’t fish. There are other businesses in the village including a male and female tailors, 2 or 3 menusiers, a mason, builder/laborers, boutiques and the moulins (mills). There is also a wood industry; people collect firewood for sale and teak is cut around the village for furniture making. There are artisans, as well; while jewelry makers no longer exist in my village, there are a few families that weave pagne. They sell both the woven cloth and ready-made traditional clothing made out of the pagne. I have been told that my village is one of the only places in Togo you can find this traditional woven cloth made by hand. I know that they market these items to tourists, but I assume that the majority is taken to larger cities, for sale. There has also been a recent increase in tourism to the village for site-seeing. As far as groupements or associations, there are 4 Village Savings and Loan Associations, which are all women, and were started by the previous volunteer. There is also the Club des Meres, started by the village women 8 years ago, were they discuss petit commerce and money dealings. And there has also been a recent effort by Plan Togo and an organization dealing with handicapped children to start a Club des Peres and a Club des Enfants to raise awareness of handicapped individuals.
When asked, people in the village report that money is most spent on children: clothes, food and health. However, it is also not uncommon to hear around the village “Les gens ici n’ont pas l’argent pour aller au dispensaire” (“People here don’t have money to go to the clinic”) or “Il n’y a pas l’argent pour manger quelquechose different. C’est toujours la pate.” (“There’s no money to eat something different. It’s always corn paste”) And, you can visibly see a significant number of children not attending school during the school week, and also not wearing clothes. So, if the money isn’t going towards the children, I don’t know where it’s going. I don’t think food is a big spending point for the people in the village either, because people generally eat the same things all the time, most of which they grow themselves in their champs.
There are 2 schools in the village, the EPP (elementary) and CEG (middle school), which service all of the villages of the group. At the CEG, there are 5 classes and 4 teachers that I’ve seen, reportedly 6 that work there. At the EPP 13 classes and supposedly 14 teachers although, I’ve never seen more that 10 there ever. They are all men except for one woman who teaches the kindergarten class. And the teacher to student ratio is between 70-90 students per class. This school year, the government paid for all of the primary students’ school fees as well as for uniforms, and Plan Togo paid for notebooks and pens for all the students. For the CEG however, the students still had to pay school fees. The fees are 5800 for males and 4750 for females. The gender balance is pretty equal in the primary school, but in the CEG, there are noticeably more male students than females. There are still a pretty good amount of female students in each of the CEG classes though. There are extracurricular activities at the CEG, and by that I mean soccer. There are none at the EPP. There is a Parent Teacher Association in the village. When asked why children stop going to school, anyone in the village will say “pauverte.” (poverty) There are various explanations, but it seems the general consensus is that even if the school fees are paid, there are parents that can’t pay for notebooks, pens and uniforms. While this hasn’t been as much of an issue this year for the primary school, it has been in recent years and is still at the CEG. In addition, the children are needed as a work force and in some families, are seen as more beneficial out selling things in the village than sucking up money in school. Especially, when the majority of the population ends up as farmers, where schooling isn’t necessary. The teachers also cite the fact that many in the village children are sent away by their parents to live with relatives and help out or do work.
The village houses a USP (health clinic), constructed by donations from Germany. The USP services the whole group of 7 villages. The regular workers at the dispensaire are the Matron (Midwife), the Pharmacienne and the newly installed Majeur (Nurse). There are ASCs (5 for the village) who come in for vaccine campaigns or to help the dispensaire staff with files or reports. All of them live in the village. The pharmacienne is from the village originally, but the Majeur and Matron moved their families into the village to live while they work. The dispensaire’s hours are from 7:00h to 17:30h during the week and half days on weekends, but up until recently when the dispensaire became fully staffed again, it was not uncommon for them to come in only for scheduled work (CPN/CPC) or when called for a birth or sickness. The attitude of the village, is that everybody knows where the matron lives, so if they need her, they can find her. Moutiquaires (mosquito nets) are not for sale at the dispensaire. There is reportedly “medicament pour tout” at the dispensaire pharmacy, but there is no available list of products or services offered at the dispensaire. I am told though, that Coartem, Quinine and Artemeter, are available for Malaria treatment and contraceptives are sold as well. The area around the facility is kept very clean, except for the latrine area, which apparently, nobody has the responsibility to manage. As for trash disposal, someone comes to take the used syringes, but everything else is taken outside the village and burned. The water source, is a pump, but it is broken, and not functioning; it apparently has been for some time now, and if water is needed it must be transported by one of the staff from a well. The services offered at the dispensaire are maternite, Palu(malaria) treatment and testing, and soign caratif (regular treatment of sicknesses), although I’m guessing these are all actually just the normal treatments. There is no list of services though. The priorities of the USP are Palu (Malaria), sexually transmitted diseases(although HIV testing is not available), and diseases transmitted by animals. The main health problems that are present are widespread Paludisme (malaria), people not using moutiquaires, pregnant mothers not coming to the dispensaire to deliver their babies, and diarrhea. There are traditional healers and birth attendants in the village. I have never met any to my knowledge, but according to the dispensaire staff, there were one or two formations held for the traditional healers at the dispensaire, but they were not deemed effective and discontinued. There are the CVD and the group of ASCs, but the dispensaire is responsible for holding on to all the records and budget. When the periodic report is to be done by the dispensaire, the ASCs come in to help the staff out.
I would consider the community to be some where between poor to average as far as resources, based on the current management of the village. The great majority of villagers are farmers, but there is not a wide diversity of crops and even the major crops, corm and manioc, are not bringing a significant amount of money in; it’s mostly for subsistence. The soil is rich and I’ve heard, good for growing things, but it seems that nobody is really taking advantage of that or exploring other options for cultivating. I think the village has the possibility of being rich in resources, if they were better developed.
The thing about my village that makes me the most proud, is the sense of pride the people have in their own village. There is a real sense of community and the people like to brag that, they are known for their artisans, the pagne weavers, and for being the birthplace of Kotokoli. The story of the village and its history is well known and passed down, with the teachers of the primary school regarded as the keepers of this information. The village also has a wonderful natural environment with views of the mountains and forests as well as giant old trees around the village. The people recognize these things and I would say take care of their village, to keep it clean and refrain from encroaching on the natural surroundings. As far as the sense community, there is a real sense of responsibility for oneself and the community, although, I suspect a lot of that feeling comes from the fact that almost everyone is slightly related. Nonetheless, they people have been welcoming and generous, including me as a part of the village and in their activities.
I’m not sure who decides on the development goals for the village, although I suspect the CVD has a lot to do with it, as well as the presence of Plan Togo in the village, which has helped with a lot of the development work. The 3 things listed as priorities for development by the community are education, health, and microfinance.
The respected people/authorities in the community are: the chief, the Imams, the notable du chef, the president of the CVD, the majeur and the matron