Our first day in Farendé, Malcolm, Colleen, and I were wandering around the village trying to find our way back to our houses when we decided to stop in a boutique to buy some cold drinks. Already we were exhausted from the day and lost because all the houses looked the same. Since there were several Fanta posters, we asked for one bottle of Fanta and one bottle of water to share. After explaining this several times, we instead received two bottles of Yuki (a local pop brand) and having just arrived and not knowing how to handle the situation, we drank them anyway while trying to figure out what the source confusion was.
To echo Colleens post, arriving in Togo has been to say one thing and receive a completely different response than expected. People start saying “bon soir” to you at 10 am in the morning. When I try to compliment someone they usually laugh in my face. If you ask a question the way you learned in French class, you probably won’t get the answer you want. Stating the obvious is often part of a conversation. My host family thinks I sleep too much because I don’t have the motivation to get out of bed at 5 am even when the sun has already woken me up. Once I was doing some hand washing, and my host mother Justine was concerned because she thought I could only wash clothes using a machine. These are just a few examples of how, even when you know you will have to relearn how to do the most basic things, it is still even more confusing when it is happening.
Although the confusing moments can be frustrating or awkward, it helps to talk with the other Farendé students about the new things we learn each day. I was especially lucky when I first arrived that Mary Elizabeth, a former Duke Engage Togo student who returned to Farendé during her gap year, was living in my homestead. We spent many nights talking about how things are different here, both with amusement and amazement at what is to be discovered each day. Every day I am learning something new and adjusting what I do and say so I am better understood. Now that our initial impression has begun to mold into better understanding the culture, I am expecting each day to learn something new. I now know people in those houses that once looked the same—or at the very least know when to expect that children will run out to hold my hands when I pass by. I figured out that I could make people laugh—rather than at me—by pointing out other things I can do without a machine. And today, at 9am, someone pointed out to me that I said, “bon soir.”