Colleen – First Impressions

“My house is right there, next to here. See those trees? That’s my house.”

“Oh cool. That means we’re neighbors”

He looks at the children to get them to translate.

“She said she wants to see your house”

So I ended up following a strange man to his house as dusk was approaching (I came right back afterwards). It’s exactly those kinds of misunderstandings that I wasn’t prepared for when I said I was looking forward to cultural exchange. Language and cultural differences mean that even when speaking French in Farendé, the confusion persists; we’re all translating our maternal languages into French, so there are still differences in the actual parole we speak. But I’m learning confusion isn’t a bad thing; the other Duke students will laugh together at the times when Malcolm and I thought we were going for drinks instead of for fish, when we answer “are you married” with “I’m going to the market”. These everyday misunderstandings bring me to the greater topic of difference I’ve been noticing so far during our time in Togo.

The first thing that struck me in Lomé was difference. Not only are the architecture, the streets, the moto drivers, and the food very different from what I’ve experienced before, but the people seem to demonstrate vast differences between themselves. There are people wearing suits, people wearing ornate patterned cloth, and people wearing turbans. There are mosques, churches, cyber cafes, boutiques, street food, and political advertisements (all in favor of the main party, UNIR) almost everywhere you look in Lomé. People speak Ewe, French, Ghanaian English, and sometimes German or Kabiye. Even the bugs and plants are different from anything I’ve seen! Still, life in Farendé includes even more difference from the tentative routine we had in Lomé.

I never before noticed the inherent beauty of a village: Kuwdé, the village on the mountain, has gorgeous views, while Farendé’s beauty is in its bustling village life. I’m starting to learn the names and relations of the people I see most frequently; my host mom, Reine, has many relatives who want me to remember them on the streets. I was relieved to discover that I liked the sulum—the sorghum beer everyone drinks here—and am learning which days which homesteads sell it. And the activity in the homesteads is incredible: at any given time, someone is preparing a meal, cleaning, or getting water. It’s amazing to watch how the homesteads are the product of women’s labor: they control almost all of the activity there, and they have to work around the clock to make the homesteads really a home—for all kinds of animals, too. The hours of entertainment I get from watching the ducks, pigs, goats, and dogs are laughable, and they show just how much of a city girl I am. The need to get used to a different mindsight sets in when I remember that they’re all potential food. That’s just another part of cultural exchange.

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