Photo taken by me, of Trevor and the kids in Kuma Konda
I was surprised at how much I could relate George Packer’s book “The Village of Waiting
” to my own experience in Africa. The book chronicles the author’s time as a volunteer for the Peace Corps working as an English teacher. After staying in Lome for a bit, he is stationed in Lavie, a remote village, in Togo. I really enjoyed the fact that Packer did not romanticize what life in a rural village is like. Although he is describing his time in a Togo almost thirty years before my own visit, it appears that there has been little change.
I have been to Togo twice since I’ve arrived in Africa. Once just to stay in Lome, the capital city for one night and the other time to a town called Kpalime. During the my second visit, which I blogged about before
, my friends and I hired a tour guide to take us to a village on the top of a mountain called Kuma Kanda. Our wonderful tour guide, Jerome, met us at the chop bar we were having breakfast at. We talked for a while our food cooked. We found out that Jerome is from Kuma Kanda originally and moved to Kpalime to work as a tour guide. He also informed us that he has recently fallen in love for the first time and is getting married in January. Similar to how in the book, Christine lived in the capitol before finding her husband and moving back to his home village to produce children an do domestic work, Jerome told me that he and his bride-to-be will most likely move back to Kuma Kanda when they decide to start a family. Jerome also told us how he had tried to get a visa to leave Togo and go to the U.K. but even after filling out all the paper work and paying the $100, his application was rejected. He was stuck.
Jerome lead us on took moto-taxis to the top of the mountain. We stopped to meet two artists who have studios at the base of the mountain. Then we continued up the trail and Jerome pointed out cool stuff- ripping coffee beans and different leaves out of the trees for us to eat along the way. He cut a piece of bark off a mango tree and told us about the many healing properties the bark contains. After the beautiful and informative trek around the mountain, we arrived back where we started at the village center, and sat down to enjoy our packed lunch.
A group of little kids gathered on a log about ten feet or so from the table we were eating at. Trevor, being goofy, started making funny faces at the kids. They of course found this to be hilarious and the next time I looked up from my lunch, Trevor was sitting on the log swarmed by little ones. It started off as a group of boys who where playfully laughing at Trevor. Then a little girl, no older than four walked over and sat down between two of the boys. She realized that as a result of the boys flailing their little bodies with laughter, she would not be able to avoid getting pushed around where she was sitting. She quickly rose to her feet and confidently walked right over to Trevor and plopped herself down on his lap. It was the most adorable thing. She was holding a little plastic purse that was ripped on every seam. She proudly opened it up to show Trever what was inside- a broken plastic compact mirror. When I walked over to see what all the commotion was about, Trevor has been calling out the names of Ghanaian food and pretending to eat the kids hands and arms.
“Ahhh, Fufu! Gobble, gobble, gobble". "Banku? Nom,nom,nom!"
The kids roared with laugher. It was only after we left the village that we realized the kids didn’t know a word of English. They probably spoke Ewe or another local dialect and had absolutely no clue what we were saying the whole time. Regardless of our crazy jiberish and white skin that they persistently tried to rub off, they instantly accepted us. It was great, but at the time, I felt a little bit guilty stomping into their home, and being toured around like it was the natural history museum.
Just like Packer made a mental inventory of all the items he saw in the Agbeli’s yard, I too made a note of the objects around me. The children’s toys for the entire village consisted of a deflated soccer ball, two wheels connected by a metal pole that had obviously broken off of a cart or something, and the much desired plastic purse and compact mirror. At first I felt sad and guilty about how little they had and how the cyclical nature of village life appeared to end with no way out. In the book, Packer points out that poverty isn’t as obvious in the village as it is in a city. Everyone lives in a mud house, wears tattered clothing from Goodwill and shares all the same dilapidated toys. This was a new perspective for me, but one that will definitely not forget as a visit many other villages on this continent.