World: Togo – Life in the village

If you’ve read my post “Reflection” you probably already have a fairly good idea of what my time in Togo was like. It was tough, yes, but also a great experience that I wouldn’t want to miss.

Here’s a bit more about my stay; more precisely, about how the life in the village was.

Our day started at 6.30am. We had breakfast before school started at 8am. We taught French and Maths until roughly 11.30am – and sometimes we also went outside to play a game. After school, we started preparing for lunch. In the afternoon we usually had “sieste” for… well as long as we wanted to sleep. Then we had to do our chores – wash the dishes, fetch water, or prepare dinner. Times was spent walking around the village or playing with the kids we had a tiny room within the village so we were surrounded by kids all the time. All. The. Time.

It doesn’t sound like much, but I literally fell asleep the moment my head hit my (makeshift) pillow. The days were incredibly exhausting and every moment I could crawl into my sleeping bag and get some quiet time was welcomed with open arms.

The people in the village were very welcoming. Once you get used to the customary “Yovo, Yovo, Bonsoir!” (‘Yovo’ is what white people are called in Ewe, the mother tongue of the people in Togo. This saying was yelled around wherever we went all day long – even at 7am. It followed us everywhere – from the tiny village to Lomé, the capital city).

As previously mentioned, we stayed in rooms within the village; for lack of better description, you could say we practically shared a hut with other villagers. We also shared our first room with a mouse and far too many massive, massive spiders. When we changed rooms we saw that the lock on that room was broken, so we changed again – again to a room with a broken lock. After a week we gave up.

Since we lived within the village, we were surrounded by children the entire time. You could barely go to the toilet(hole in the earth, used by the entire village) without someone following you around. They were lovely, sure, but I’m a person who needs some quiet time for herself. I need to be alone – without having to talk to people, or be surrounded – from time to, so this was difficult for me.

As I mentioned in the previous post we collected water ourselves, showered with buckets of cold water (hot water had to be boiled on the open “stove”), and brushed our teeth with water from the bottle. Living conditions were pretty simple and probably not for everyone, but I’m glad I had the opportunity to experience this. While I wish that I would have been warned about the living conditions before I left, I know that I might not have gone, so maybe not knowing what to expect was a blessing in disguise. Who knows?


[Above: Packed and ready to drive from Lomé to the village! | Below: the stove.]



[Above: the toilets. | Below: the shower.]



[Above and Below: Floriane fetching water.]

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[Above: one of the classrooms. | Below: my room.]



[Above: washing my clothes. | Below: candlelight dinner is a necessity when it gets dark at 7pm and you have no electricity.]



[Above: our roommate. | Below: a life-saver!.]


[More Togo-travel posts: The People | Activities | Reflection | All Around | More photos here.]


What did I know – or thought to have known about life? About living standards? Adventure? Poverty? What did I know about myself?

I was in Kathmandu in February once, and I remember being so, so cold. The cold was inside of my bones, seeping through my entire body. I felt like I’d never get warm again. We didn’t have warm water for showers, no heating, next to no electricity, and I woke up more than once in the middle of the night because I was freezing.

So I thought I knew how to appreciate electricity and warm, running water. I thought I wouldn’t take it for granted anymore because I knew what it was like to have to live without it.

The reality is different, though. It’s frightening how fast and easily you adapt back to what you consider normal and take things for granted again once you’re home. And how, from that experience onwards, you think  “Oh well, I can go through anything now.”

How wrong I was.

My days in Africa were filled with difficulties: the language barrier was the most obvious one for me, but it was something I expected to be hard. What I didn’t know about was the complete lack of electricity whatsoever. The lack of plumbing or running water – never mind warm water took me by surprise, too.
I carried buckets of water from the cistern to the main house, making a ten minutes walk seem like eternity. If we wanted hot water for the shower, we had to heat it up over open fire. Toilets? Ha! How about a hole in the earth that was used by the entire village?

Cooking dinner? Awesome when you can’t see anything at all. We sat around a tiny bench, torches in our mouths trying to cut tomatoes and the chicken that was, until a day ago, still living right next to our room.

I thought I’d seen everything. I thought I was conscious of poverty and I thought I was able to handle it all. Culture shock seemed to be a word I thought I didn’t know.  And in a sense I wasn’t shocked, it just took me by surprise. Never once had anyone mentioned that this was how I’d spend those two weeks. Never once had I thought all these things would end up complicating my stay – adding to the already established difficulty I experienced because I couldn’t speak the language that well.

However, my days were also spent with playing with kids, “teaching” mathematics and French, cooking meals, washing the dishes or collecting water. I went on wild taxi moto drives up to a waterfall – the true speed never to be known because the speedometer was broken. I was in a car with four French girls when the driver got lost in the African bush at four o’clock in the morning.

I danced around the fire, clapping and laughing to the sounds of a drum, drinking Togo Gin, eating Fufu, and having a great time.

It was difficult, yes. More so than I ever could have imagined. Was it worth it though, in the end? Yes. A thousand times, yes.