Friends of Korbongou: Benoît

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.

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One of my students wanted to do a gender equity training in his village. Benoît went with me to help translate some of the tougher words into local language: Gourma. 

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.)

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This is Honoré, Benoît’s youngest son. 
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Benoît insisted I share this photo and title it “Ti after he eats.” You know, gotta rest and digest.

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.

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Ricïa is sitting in the first row in the blue chair–Benoît is behind her with their youngest son. This was Ricïa’s birthday party. It is truly rare to get people to smile in photos here. 

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!”

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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,

Trekking Tim

Mondays are the Worst

Greetings from a beautiful day in Korbongou! You know those first spring days when the weather is perfect and there is a slight breeze? Well, that’s exactly what it’s like here today—surprisingly! It sends me back to the States, waking up early and sipping coffee on the deck before heading to class. To go along with this nostalgia, I am listening to the Best Hits of Johnny Cash, because, why not?

I thought that after 18 months, I should finally share a typical day with me as a Peace Corps Volunteer!

Monday, November 20, 2017

430am: Hit the snooze.

440am: Hit the snooze.

450am: Roll out of bed and put some water on the boil for coffee.

5am-6am: Sip coffee, review lessons for class, and listen to NPR podcasts over a Bluetooth speaker

6am: Fetch water from the well, boil a potful, and take shower.

650am: Arrive at school!

7am-12pm: Teach classes, chat with professors

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My path to school!

 

12pm: Walk home and pass through the market to buy rice or beans for lunch! You have to walk home fast because the midday sun is unbearable.

1230pm-230pm: Nap time.

230pm: It is still too hot to leave the house, so I am watching reruns of Big Bang Theory

330pm: Fetch water for second shower to wash off the sweat

4pm-6pm: Return to the market to drink locally brewed beers with friends

6pm-7pm: Return home to prepare lesson plans for the next day. Tomorrow’s lesson is about countable vs uncountable nous. Many vs much. A text where Bola is meeting his friends at a theater, and revision of sentences with “if.”

7pm: Go to Benoît’s house for dinner! Today it is pate with dried baobab sauce and fish

 

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It took me a while, but now I really love this dish. I crave it all the time and eat pate every day.
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At Benoit’s featuring his daughters Grace & Firmine, Dermand, and my dog Luda!

 

8pm: Third shower to wash off dust and sweat

815pm-930pm: Read a book. I am currently rereading Room by Emma Donoghue (shout out to my lit professor Dr. Weihman!)

Granted, every day is different here. I never do the same things twice. So I decided to randomly record everything I did today to share with you.

I am sure some of you will read this and think to yourself: “Geez Ti, you basically did nothing all day except nap!” Well, that’s true. Time works differently here. It is, after all, the small successes that count. If I can make it through a morning of teaching and still be in good spirits, I count that as a big success! In the States, I can get twenty some things done a day. Here, I am so satisfied with one or two things!

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As always, stay savvy friends!

With much love,

TrekkingTim

No, I Miss You More

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Surprise! Trekkingtim is back after nearly nine months of absence. I can’t possibly go back through nine months of experiences as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) in Togo, so I won’t even try. Instead, I want to list a top ten of the weird and bizarre things that I miss.

Even though Togo is listed as a “hardship country,” I haven’t had that difficult of a time adjusting to my new lifestyle. Granted, eating donkey and getting over my fear of The Ring while fetching water from a circular, stone well wasn’t the easiest of tasks, je me débrouille.*  

 

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I have to say also that my house is baller.** I have 24/7 electricity (hey there fridge!), my own kitchen, bedroom, shower, and latrine. My host family is also very accommodating to the tall white man they’ve newly accepted as their son. My parents are both pretty old, but my host father is the right-hand-man to the chief of the village. It makes it 100% easier for me to get a meeting with him when I needed to do work in the community.

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My host mother and sister are lovely. They often send me over delicious dishes ranging from Togolese couscous to assorted meats. On March 8th, International Women’s Day, I bought them traditional pagne which can be a little expensive. So as of late, I’ve been getting really delicious dinners.

The best part about having retired host parents is that they understand when I need to rest. They turn away everyone that comes to greet me and I lovvvvve it. I could sleep until noon and they wouldn’t think less of me–which is quite a feat for the ever early-rising Togolese.

Nonetheless, here are my top ten most missed things in the United States. Feel free to send any sendable items to:

Ti Bedunah
Corps de la Paix
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Dapaong, Togo
West Africa

  1. My coffee maker
  2. Chewing gum
  3. Keeping my deodorant in the bathroom, instead of the fridge. (It’s hot here.)
  4. Honey Buns
  5. Browsing hipster stores only to buy cool stickers
  6. Being able to google things
  7. Thai food
  8. Cheese, just all of it
  9. Taking showers inside
  10. Watching reruns of Roseanne

 

 

Stay savvy,

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* I manage
** really cool?