F: Fufu / Fan Milk
The twin delicacies of Togolese cuisine. Fufu, which has probably been described in far too much detail here already, is a dish made from boiled yams (or in the south, cassava) that are pounded until they form a gelatinous ball. You break off little balls of it with your hands and dip it in the accompanying sauce. The first time I ate this, I was a little skeptical, but after the first bite I was in. It was yam fufu with peanut sauce and chicken, and more than anything else, it tasted like turkey, gravy, and mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving Day. Sure, the aftermath of that first digestion wasn’t fun, but it doesn’t take long to get used to fufu. If there’s any food from here I’ll be craving two years from now, this is it. Fan Milk is the only ice cream widely available in Togo. You can find it in large cities, being peddled, literally, by the Togolese equivalents of the Ice Cream Truck, guys on blue bikes, wearing blue vests and blue hats, carrying a cooler of delicious Fan Milk. Legend has it that one volunteer paid a Fan Milk guy about ten US dollars (if my memory serves me) to rent his bike, vest, and hat for a night, and buy out all his ice cream. It was, in the estimation of the volunteers I heard this from, the greatest Halloween costume of all time. Fan Milk comes in litte sealed plastic bags about the size of a pop-tart bag. You cut the corner off it and squeeze the ice cream out. The flavors are Fan Lait (vanilla), Fan Choco (duh), Fan Cocktail (fruit mix), Fan Yogo (yogurt), Fan Ice (vanilla, but the consistency of ice cream, unlike fan lait, which is icy. Don’t ask me who named them like that.), and Tampico (not ice cream, just cold Sunny Delight basically.) They cost between 100 and 150 CFA, or 20 to 30 cents. It’s a good deal, because it is hot as hell here, and there is nothing cold if you’re in a village that doesn’t have electricity.
Ghana is a mystical land to the west where people speak incredibly slow, proper English (I’ve been called “gentleman”, “matster”, and “chairman” by Ghanaians) and every person has their own seat in a car. There’s a mall in the capital city of Accra, and that in that mall, you can see American movies. Peace Corps volunteers regularly break into tears and/or suffer panic attacks upon entering the mall. Ghana also has overpasses, which frequently blow the minds of volunteers. Hell, seeing a stop light in Togo is enough to make me jump out of my seat in surprise.
Hakeem, or as it’s more commonly pronounced, “Akeeeeeeemu!”, is my name in village. I got this name in my first village, after discussing my options with a few University students from the area in town to conduct Togo’s first census in like thirty years. I could’ve gone with Rasheed, or Kareem, but the pull of Hakeem was just too great. For those of you wondering, these names were in fact inspired by Hakeem Olajuwan, Rasheed Wallace, and Kareem Abdul-Jabar. The name gets a laugh the every time I introduce myself to new people. They ask me if I go to the mosque, to which I always reply, “Cheray wouro.” The day after tomorrow. Big laughs all around. Village names are awesome, and they’re different all over the country, because every different ethnicity, and even different towns of the same ethnicity, have different traditional names.
But my name is not so much a traditional Kotokoli name as it is a Muslim name. The Kotokolis are predominantly Muslim these days, though as I alluded to in the last post, they still have plenty of traditions of their own. Living here makes it all the more obvious how insane the fears and stereotypes about Muslims throughout the world are. Sure, the call to prayer at 5 am can be startling, but it’s pretty sweet at the same time. I’ll never forget how at peace I felt in my first village before the move, hanging in my hammock, looking at the stars, and listening to the Imam and his students recite prayers on the other side of my compound’s courtyard. But, to my village’s eternal feigned chagrin, I still refuse to convert. The day after tomorrow, I promise.
J: Job Anxiety
By job anxiety, I don’t mean stress from having too much work, I mean the stress of not having anything near a clear description of a day to day job, yet trying to do the best job you can, regardless. I have no office, no real boss, and no explicit goals to fulfill. My projects are either of my design, or the design of someone in village, and they’re constantly appearing, being reevaluated, or disappearing. Trying to define a “productive” day here is an easy trap for a volunteer to fall into here, especially early on, when your job is basically to get to know people. Even after four months of this, and six in Togo, there’s a (very American) part of my brain that just refuses to accept that sitting under a tree talking to a few guys about why people have fewer kids in the States is work. It can be discouraging to feel like you’re getting so little done, but at the same time, that understanding of your community’s life will be the foundation from which all the projects to come are built. It’s a better way of doing things than coming into town, spending who-knows-how-much on an enormous generator, stringing up lights throughout the whole town, and then heading home, leaving the village with a gas generator they can’t afford to run. I think that generator has been on four times since I’ve been here, and while appreciate being able to charge my computer and write blog posts for a few hours, that money could’ve been spent way better than it was.