(This blog is from the Summer of 2016.)
First Impressions: We’ve actually been in Togo for over three weeks now, which is why Grant, Jackie, and I are sitting here on these rocks (a Kuwdé pastime) struggling to articulate out first impressions, so I’m just going to try to sum up some of my thoughts and experiences from the first third of my time here. So to start, I really value how kind the people are here, how beautiful the land is, and being able/having to spend all of my time outdoors. It’s awesome living up here on the mountain in Kuwdé, waking up every day to warm sunrises shining down on the valleys that surround the village, and on many afternoons, hiking down the rocky mountain paths and then through the savanna-covered plains to Farendé. Yes, there are the small discomforts of living in a developing place, there are bugs, there is heat, and occasional stomach illness. But even so, I find it extremely pleasant to exist here, in a place so superficially simple, yet so deeply culturally complex. Kuwdé is a place that by day seems serene and wholly focused on cultivation and work, yet by night is dominated by the sounds of friends gathering at different homesteads to socialize and drink sorghum beer, by heated but playful arguments about Kabré customs, and by children roaming through the village in the dark, singing and celebrating the school year’s end.
Work-wise, I have very much so enjoyed the projects I’ve been working on these past few weeks. Jackie and I have been working on the village health insurance system at the Case de Santé, and we just recently completed inputting this past year’s patient records and data into our spreadsheets to analyze. Soon, we will begin interviewing families in order to either try to convince them to join the health insurance system or to re-enroll in it if they have dropped out. We will also be considering the policies of the system that are currently in place, and we will hopefully make some recommendations of policy changes that we believe would improve the system. Additionally, I’ve started this Kabré Oral Tradition and History project, in which I’ve been working with Charlie’s linguist friend Jéspere in Farendé, recording and transcribing Kabré folktales and fables, chanted poetry, and proverbs. I really know next to nothing about West African oral traditions—much less Kabré ones. But, given what I do know about Kabré culture from having read Charlie’s work, hearing such traditions and coming to understand their deep cultural implications has been very fascinating. Anyway, there’s nothing bad about spending a couple hours of your morning sitting under a shady mango tree, being told some good Kabré stories in French. All in all, these first few weeks have proven to be enriching, productive, and very enjoyable.