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Before coming here, I had taken 3 classes with Dr. Piot, and in each class, we discussed the gift economy. One class in particular, we took a dive into this multifaceted economy (The Anthropology of Money, 10 out of 10 recommend). Therefore, after taking those classes, my first question after learning about my acceptance into the program was, when and what kind of gifts will I buy? In other words, how do I even properly engage in the all very important gift exchange system that I heard so much about? Because right now, all I know is giving gifts on holidays and birthdays and the occasional “I’ll pay for your meal with my food points” mentality? He responded simply, tu vas voir, and oh did I.

My first gift was from the United States to my host family. This gift is to give greetings and thanks to your family for offering to host you for the summer. The idea is to bring something from the US that cannot be bought in Togo. Of course I bought a slinky because what is more American than that? And of course, it lasted its promised 2 hours before bending… rendering it completely useless. That wasn’t the only thing that I brought, but it was just an example that hopefully brought a small chuckle. Anywho, that was my first introduction to the gift economy.

Before I continue, I want to talk about the gift giving protocols. You NEVER give a gift in the open. This was not like what I was used to back home. Usually you want to give the gift in front of everyone, and if it is at a party or get together, the person might even open the gift and display it to everyone. Here, it is the exact opposite. Gifts are exchanged in private. Also, in your homestead, you give the gifts to the person who prepares your meals. I would never give a gift to my little sister or anyone else directly. I would give it to my mom, and either I tell her who it is for, or she decides how to divide the gifts. You’re welcome.

Now back to my gift giving experience, the first time was pretty awkward because I didn’t know what exactly to say. I only knew my host mom for a few days, and I didn’t know if she would even like the gifts. Either way, I did it and started forming the gift exchange which was vital to the social relationships that I formed during the succeeding weeks.

Each Wednesday, when we went to the nearby town to have lunch and buy supplies for the week, everyone in the group bought something to take back home for the family. It did not have to be much at all; my gifts ranged from bananas to boisson (you’ll understand when you get here). Either way, those gifts became influential in solidifying the relationship between my family and me. Eventually, I found myself in the boisson huts ajouter-ing everyone and paying for all of my friends. It felt natural. After the feeling became natural, the conversations became natural. The greetings became natural, and the laughing became continual. And the next Saturday, when I saw those friends, they gave the same gift to me. The fun finally started. Once everyone saw that I was willing to participate in their amazing exchange, they opened up to me, and each Market day became the best days of the summer.

However, the gift exchange doesn’t stop on the interpersonal level. It continues throughout. For example, this year, the recipients of the microfinance project threw a party for us to thank the people from last year for accepting them. And next year, they will throw a party for you thanking the group from this year. The point of the party is to return the gift that was given. Some people prepared foods and drinks that they began to produce with the money that was given from the project. Last year, the group that approved the money for the applicants gave the gift of the opportunity to start or continue the production of a good. This year, we were repaid with that good.

Gifts are literally everywhere, and once you start engaging in the exchange, it will enhance your experience here. It definitely did for me.