As the end of my full year in Togo is nearing, I am hit with a sad reality. I have been in Togo long enough to build an amazing support system: people I call my best friends and even my family. But no matter what happens, it is unlikely that my family back home will ever get the chance to meet these amazing people. So, for the first of many, I want to share some of the people that mean the most to me in Togo.
I would be amiss if I didn’t start with my best friend in village: Benoît. I mostly inherited this friendship from Matt, the volunteer before me in Korbongou. During my site visit, Matt made sure that I met up with Benoît, but as luck would have it, he was in another village for some sort of training.
Benoît is 34 years old and works as a primary school teacher in a village just a few kilometers from where we live. I have told him time over that if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be nearly as happy as I am here in Togo. From giving advice about what to eat and not eat, to even relationship advice, he has been there for me.
When I first arrived in village, he took me under his wing. I became close with his family and his kids started calling me “grand frère” (big brother). He gave me an open invitation to dinner at his house whenever I want. “Il faut arriver vers 19h, et on va manger en famille.” (Come over around 7pm, and we will eat as a family.)
I asked him what advice he would give a young man once, and he said that he would say it is important to focus on school. “School needs to be a priority, work hard now and relax later.” He told me that kids today want to rush into having families, and are even pressured by their parents to marry young and start having kids. Benoît actually formed a group of young fathers in the community that helps manage problems in the household. For example, I heard a couple next door fighting one night. It actually woke me up and it sounded pretty serious. Me, being a protective person, went outside to see what was happening. Low and behold, Benoît was there right away. He took the husband away and talked to him. He calmed him down and helped to manage the problem between him and his wife. I’ve never met another Togolese man as passionate about the rights’ of children and women as Benoît. When we, Peace Corps Volunteers, stumble across someone actively fighting for gender equality in their respective villages, this person is like gold to us.
What I really love about Benoît is that he is a family man. He has two girls and two boys. His eldest son is in my English class at the middle school. Normally, the boys have certain chores and the girls have separate chores. However, in his household, everyone works together to get things done. He doesn’t divide up chores because “girls need to wash dishes,” or “boys need study.”
I love asking Benoît about growing up. He had several brothers and sisters, but after his father passed, he was forced to quit school to help provide for the family. So he traveled up and down the country working on farms or wherever he could find a little money. When he got the chance to return home, he always brought enough money to pay his siblings’ school fees and all their necessary supplies for class. I’ve put myself in his position before. I have to quit school as a young man to be a laborer after losing my father, being separated from my family, traveling alone without friends, etc. I can’t possibly imagine his strength and love for his family.
When he thinks about the happiest day of his life, he says he can’t come up with a single one–there are two. The day he met Ricïa. And the day he married her. Ricïa is from a village about forty minutes away by moto, but she works at the microfinance bureau in my village. That is where they met. They dated for a long time before Ricïa agreed to take him to meet her parents. He bought them local beer and a couple guinea fouls, and they went together to meet her father. Meeting your partner’s parents in the States is pretty intimidating, but here there is a whole ceremony and tradition that needs to be followed.
Benoît wants everyone to know that Togo is a beautiful country filled with wonderful, welcoming people. (I AGREE!) Since his birth, he has never heard of any type of war in Togo. Despite recent political issues, Togo is a peaceful country. He even said, “That’s why Peace Corps has been here since 1962!”
It is important to me that my friends and family know how much Benoît has helped me. He is easily one of the best people I’ve met in my life, and I hope that you can see this through this brief snapshot of his life.
As always, stay savvy my friends.
With much love,