Posted by: jodentz | August 12, 2011

The Kpekpleme Puppetteer Cometh

Yesterday upon returning from a walk with my dog I came across an odd sight to see here in Togo: a puppeteer. The man himself was at least 6’4 –very large for a Togolese man in my area, the usual height probably being around me at 5’7- and sported aviator sunglasses that were too small for his face, despite the fact that it was almost dark, and a bowler hat. He was surrounded on all sides by a mob of children. Of course being white is just as odd a sight as the puppeteer I just described and I therefore caught the man’s attention and he called to me from a distance to come over and watch. The children parted their circle to allow me and my dog to come watch the show. He proceeded to start singing traditional Adja (the local ethinicity) music which involves a lot of rhythmic repititions that to someone hearing it for the first time would assume a record was skipping. The doll itself was a quite scary looking child’s doll with the type of eyes that open and close depending on what angle you hold it at. They are quite common in the states to impart a human like quality to the doll. However, this doll had one eye that only opened up half way; the other by contrast oddly alert and disconcerning. The dolls hair was dirt brown and only present in patches. The clothes were raggedy to say the least. Strings decended from two sticks to various points on the doll and when the singing started the puppeteer directed this frightening Chucky-esqe doll to dance the local traditional dance, which I call the chicken dance as it seems to mimic a chicken flapping its wings. It was actually very well done and quite amusing. The kids and other adults who had gathered around began cheering and going crazy. Apparently this guy lives in my village so I will one day hopefully get to capture it on video.

            This leads nicely into my explanation of what I have been keeping busy with in village. Two-thirds of the Peace Corps mission is dedicated to cross cultural exchange. Namely, sharing American culture and ideas with the Togolese and then bringing back Togolese culture and sharing that with Americans through various means such as Blogs, pictures, visits, etc. Having spoken with one of my friends who just finished up 4 years in Peace Corps in two different countries, I have come to understand that the personal impact and relationships are the things that will have the greatest lasting impact on the people of my village when I leave. People will never forget the crazy American who walked his dog, on a leash mind you, and had weird ideas like gender equality. Furthermore, since it is rainy season, everyone and their mothers (literally) have been off in the fields planting, weeding and harvesting while they can. Even my insecticide entrepreneur is too busy selling all over the place to have a meeting. My counterpart is laid up in bed with an old fracture that is bothering him due to the “cold” weather of late- a chilly 85 degrees during the day. Therefore, work during rainy season is quite impossible to get done. So I have shifted focus, if only for a few months, to the cultural exchange portion of my mission. This is also a welcome break, having come off three months of constant travel, technical presentations, and dealing with lots of youth.

            This has of course led me into a few interesting encounters. A few days ago it found me sitting between two priests and explaining the idea of cultural lenses and cultural relavitism and its relation to religion in Togo and the world. It was a three hour discussion that shifted from religion (even Mormonism) to how we all view the world differently as a result of our cultures to even nudism (they brought it up, not me). Other days have found me learning Togolese card and board games with school directors and local officials and exchanging ideas about gender relations, family planning and other health related issues. It also gives me the opportunity to get unsolicited information and news about my community that I would have otherwise missed out on. One pharmicist was reading a book that I asked to look at. It was on the topic of sexual health and was written by a doctor-so it must be true he said. Well, just skimming through this book I took away that it was heavily associated with religion while simultaneously written from an authoritative medical perspective. Homosexuality is listed by the book as a deviancy to be shunned and ‘fixed’, masturbation a sin against god, and fun fact for those of you back in the US: Did you know that 90% of women in the USA are victims of incest? I sure didn’t know that. The book was not old (published within the last 6 or 7 years) and yet was filled with startling innaccuracies. I did my best to clear up what I could but the fact of the matter was that it was a widely distributed book and quite long. I couldn’t possibly address all the innacuracies by briefly skimming it, such as the incest myth which caught me off guard. More startling still is that the person reading it is a very educated pharmicist in town and quite a nice guy and that he took all of the material quite literally. Also debunked this week: America could never have been founded without the Jews (my family is Jewish and I don’t think this is accurate) and that toilet seats can give you HIV. In all, I consider my adventure into cultural exchange quite interesting and rewarding at the same time.

            In other news, my house has now been set up with the extra two rooms. I call it my guest house. Over the next few months I will hopefully be adding a bed (in addition to the cot that is there now) and some more counter space in my kitchen. My newest neighbor has also arrived. She is 6-7 km down the road from me and came over last market day. I must admit it is quite annoying walking around town with her due to the fact that everybody assumes she is my wife and then proceeds to nag me about it. While this happens everytime a girl comes and visits the area, I expect this to be worse, compounded by the fact that she will be in my village every 4 days which must therefore mean, by the village gossip standard, that she must be my wife. Of course this is not her fault at all but merely stereotypes that circulate. C’est la vie. Until next time.

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