Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Rocking out at RAVEs

            Lately in village I have been going to lots of improtu RAVEs (Random Activities in the Village Environment) in Anfoin. Just yesterday I was walking home and got caught up in a RAVE…. carrying a bucket of piment sauce along the road home for a nearby marche momma. A couple weeks ago after soccer at the lycee, I was running home and ran into a RAVE… ended up stacking load after load of corn into a giant pile. And, most insane, the other day I had nothing to do and walked out of my house to find a RAVE happening in the field next to my house: I bobbed my head repetitively in a trance for over 3 hours… using a hoe to whack at weeds in the field. I’m telling you, village life is mad crazy.

            Tuesday late morning I went and checked out this RAVE I’d been awaiting for a long time. One of the families who I helped teach about Moringa invited me to their house to eat pate and Moringa leaf sauce for lunch. I headed over around noon and learned how to do a lot of culinary tasks I should have known long before: how to grind up hot peppers on a grinding block to put in the sauce, how to make and stir pate (corn paste) till it’s ready to eat, and how to say ‘I make fire’ in local language: Ma do zo. It was fun helping the mom get the table ready to eat and epically failing at most things I tried (except pulling water up the well, pretty good at that now). The sauce was delicious, and I joked with her husband, a mechanic, about cars and tried to encourage him to stop making comments about ‘les blancs’ (the term for all white people). Afterwards I got a long lesson in Mina while we hung out under a mango tree and the sun topped its arch in the sky. Hanging out with neighbors and walking home with the marche momma have taught me more local language than I’ve learned since arriving in Anfoin, and hopefully if I keep studying I’ll be able to have a real conversation.

            A couple of weeks ago I was walking home from a physiotherapy training given by a nearby Spanish volunteer when, suddenly there in front of me, a Voodoo RAVE popped up. A lot of my village friends from my quarter were participating, and all these Togolese were gathered in a big circle under a giant tree. Dancing around the tree in the middle of the circle were separate groups of old and middle aged women, the fettisheuses, in front of adolescent and younger girls, the apprentice fettishers. They all were painted red and had big necklaces made of cowry shells draped across their bodies. A group of men was heartily pounding on tam tam drums and shaking baskets of palm nuts, and whenever the women came around to face them they broke it down with some mad chicken-dancing and then continued in a groovy dance back around the circle. At one point they made hats out of live chickens and made a tour of the village humming a Mina tribal hymn.

            I found a few of my friends in a dark, shady hut next to the circle and we had a lunch of bean paste with coconut oil, my first time I’d ever tasted that. I agreed to come back the next day and help keep the RAVE going by bringing along a bottle of sodabi (African gin). I spent the following morning greeting people (traditionally done with the right hand, but at the ceremony was done with the left), dancing, and sleeping on a mat in the kitchen while women cooked food, flies floated lazily through the sunlight, and drums drifted in through the broken shuttered window. It was a good day.

            To celebrate my birthday on 4 October, I went to the field with a man who speaks no French or English. We worked for a few hours in the early morning and then went back to his hut to eat pate and wait for it to get less hot hanging out under some coconut trees. We went back to the field, worked for a couple more hours, then sat down and tried to joke about gambling with the local Lotosport while another neighbor interpreted for me. I was pretty happy with the way it went.

            As crazy as these times sound, sometimes life in village slows way down. I’ve been spending most of my free time lately talking about Moringa trees to anyone who will listen and studying local language. I’m hoping to start a project to promote Moringa in various parts of the community (churches, schools, rural huts, etc) that I would like to do as much as possible in local language. Been planting quite a few of these trees, and hopefully they won’t all get eaten by animals or get sick and die. I’m gearing up to be a trainer for the new Peace Corps agriculture volunteers that have just arrived, which makes me feel old. I’ve been planning out how I can help them discover what qualities help an agricultural project in a developing country to be sustainable and effective. And help the poorest farmers who need help the most. Trying to integrate those qualities as much as possible into my Moringa project; we’ll see how that goes.

            I celebrated my birthday drinking Corona with other volunteers while hanging out under the new river payote at my friend’s buvette. I got the Corona when I was in Accra doing a demi-marathon at the end of September, and it was delicious. All in all, the experience was not quite RAVE material, but it made me happy.

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