Togo is one of the many nations of the world whose name I recognize but about which I know nothing. I hope to change that over time since Alicia, the daughter of a cousin, will be spending the next two years on a Fulbright Fellowship in the town of Kara in the north of that west African nation, working with an HIV/AIDS treatment program.
Like many developing countries, much of government spending on infrastructure is taking place in just the capital Lome, with the result that it acts as a magnet for the entire population. Of the estimated seven million people in that nation, about 2 million live in Lome. Kara, even though it is the second largest town, has just 100,000. This is not without its benefits. As Alicia says, this gives the community a greater sense of cohesion and familiarity.
Greetings are incredibly important, and people will say bonjour or nlewa le (good morning in Kabiye, the dominant language in the North) to each and every person they pass on the street. At the clinic or with people you know more personally, the greeting is followed by a long list of questions to ask, “how is your health?”, “how is your family?” even venturing in to the abstract “how is your patience today?” I’ve really loved these types of daily interactions, because they help create a more cohesive community atmosphere in the neighborhood and in the clinic.
There are children everywhere in Kara, and they play a much more prominent role in daily life than they do in the US. The streets of Kara feel much safer to me than the streets of Boston, first and foremost because there are almost no cars driving by, and so kids play in the streets together all day and help their parents with household tasks. Many people also bring their children to work with them, and when they do everyone in the clinic gets excited and wants to talk to the kids and pick them up. Unlike America were it would weird or even perceived as threatening to go up and talk to or touch a stranger’s kid, here it is common, and just another way of expressing affection. In general, people seem to be much more trusting.
Everyone that we have talked to so far has greeted us with wide smiles, incredible warmth, and a distinct sense of pride for their country and the work that they do. The streets are filled with laughter, as well as games and music.
As a silly aside on my part, the name Togo seems to be just begging for puns and wordplay but I haven’t been able to come up with a good one, except for a rather weak one, a cheer for the fans of any of their national sporting teams where they could yell “Way Togo!”