Chapter 3. Arrival in Kaboli

The main reason Afua and I made this trip was to arrange and attend funeral ceremonies in Kaboli, principally for our parents. I will include many of my observations and musings, describe events and activities, provide many pictures. I will leave out intimate, personal and cultural parts of the various ceremonies as I see fit.

On our arrival in Kaboli, we were greeted by half a dozen people but I didn't know who they were (cooks, cook's helpers, "Coach", "Papa", others). We prayed at three separate locations, each prayer in a separate little building.

Here is side of the third building:

We came inside and I was offered a seat on the orange couch in the middle front room, a parlor or sitting room. We sat to be welcomed/greeted by several people. After the greetings, I couldn't just sit, had to go out, look at the stars, while Afua chatted with her family. I took a picture of Orion by laying the camera on its back on the top of the east wall:

The stars were brighter than in hazy Lome, but there are a lot of outdoor lights on around the house.

Friday, January 24, 6:30 AM.

There are 15 people in front of me being lead in prayer by Afua. I'm having coffee.

We brought lots of stuff but where is the bag with my clothes? Oh. Still in Lome... with the coffee :-O So I'm having a cup of Nescafe. Hakim picked up a can in town last night. Coach called up Kossogbon who will get the bag on a taxi to Atakpame and it will get on a taxi to Kaboli, to arrive by tonight, or so is the plan. I have some clothes in any case.

Here is the our house in Kaboli:

That's a young avocado tree on the lower left. There is a mango tree in front of the house, with only flowers, no fruit this far north:

People will be coming and going all day. No one tells me anything, ever. Normal procedure. Eventually there will be events but I don't know what or when. It doesn't help to ask. Strictly need-to-know.

My camera says it's 82 F. Very comfortable. It was cooler over night.

I will greet lots of people, won't remember who. Afua just introduced me to one of the town elders that takes care of the shrine of the town.

A young man made a cane for Afua, with a snake at the top and a mermaid below, hewn from a single piece of teak, light colored wood with a brown stripe through it. Nice work.

Three cannon shots woke us at 4 AM, more cannon shots at 6 AM. Just now (it's 10:05 AM) two more cannon reports, louder this time so that windows rattle and dust scatters to the floor. BOOM! I was to learn later that we had asked permission to fire off these shots to announce the arrival of Afua, the Queen.

I compose emails to family and friends, not knowing when I will have the opportunity to send the messages. I wrote out the lyrics and chords to Lomé, Lomé, sang a version into my phone voice recorder.

Here is the final version of the song:

Lomé, Lomé

It seems quite normal that I write "letters" to people, plan to send them later, like I used to do when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer.

I'm reading science fiction in bed, to help me get to sleep. The Philip K. Dick story I just finished featured an old city into which peasants and merchants were streaming, to sell their goods. Very familiar.

Drums outside. Is it practice? Sounds like the real thing to me.

I went out, took some video. The drummers are warmed up in this video.


They are playing to practice and to let the town know they are here.

5:30 PM The drummers came in to greet us. We drank some soda-B ("African gin," distilled palm wine) after pouring libations. The drummers and dancers went back outside, played till 10 PM. they were excellent, tried to get everyone to dance, even me. Maybe after a few beers.

I wrote all day yesterday, finished the song. My only epiphany is ... macaroni. As we were eating, I found a short piece of intestine in the sauce. We know that the appearance and texture of food is important. I never thought of a plate of elbow macaroni might resemble chopped up intestines. And in tomato sauce? Delish! Could food appearance and texture be lightly imprinted in our very complex brains? It could be reinforced by conditioning, but could there be "images" resulting in certain gastronomical decisions? As we evolved, became more clever, realized we were alive, we also realized we would die. As we ate meat, we had to rationalize the killing of animals. God made me do it. Mmm... intestines... delish. Arthur Clarke had the monolith give to hominids the incentive to kill. The Dawn of Man. Clever pre-humans could figure that out on their own: the strong, fast animals ate meat.

Saturday, January 25, 6 AM. I got up before the sun this morning, got my coffee. I'm on the veranda.

The women around the house come up to greet me. I wish I could speak more Ana. I already can speak much more than I could before, but I still can't speak very much. The sky was already getting light in the east but it was very hazy. No hope of seeing a thin new moon on its side. 77 F. With the breeze, I could even say it was cool. Some of the Togolese are wearing heavy winter jackets. It is winter, after all.

Music started playing at 5 AM and there was at least one cannon shot this morning. Boom!

Breakfast: bouille (porridge) with 5 or 6 sugar cubes, served with "Whazzup," a variety of bread fried in bean cake oil. It tastes a little spicy, only a little, reminds me of how everything on Arrakis has a little spice melange in it. See what I did there?

Here is the steel cup the bouille is served in:

Here is the spicy Whazzup:

At 10 AM the room is full of people discussing events to come but I can barely understand one word. The drummers are drumming, saying here we are, good morning. There is a constant stream of people, some I know, most I don't.

I feel more alert here than in New Jersey. Lots of sensory input, lots of color. The dress, the many languages, the tropical environment, the sound of fufu being pounded as I write, the drums. It's all new again and yet I am familiar with everything.

The plan before lunch: kill two steers, a sheep, a goat. Red necklaces for all.

Afua prays before lunch:

Instead of more pictures of the steer, here is a close-up of one of the pink flowers:

We had beef appetizers, fried pieces of beef, any part, every part, appearing throughout the day as the pieces came out of the oil. I finally danced to the drumming, dancing to the beat of different drummers, that's me. People literally threw themselves at my feet! Dodji gave me a cold beer after.

This is "Papa" whom Afua calls her godfather, very wise and helpful gentleman.

More sitting around waiting for church. At about 9 PM we went up the street to an open court yard. We sat in blue resin chairs for a mass said for all the people for which the funeral is being celebrated. There were three choirs. The PA didn't work well, dropping out randomly, but even when it worked it was over driven or the speakers were broken. The minister, when I heard him saying the names of the deceased, I realized this was a mass being said for our ancestors. Then a choir sang, to the beat of drums and bells. then the choir to our right sang, also to drums. By this time I had figured out what was going on and the act itself overrode all the cultural differences or made them irrelevant, and the technical difficulties were insignificant as the voices of the choirs and the beats of the rhythm section filled the air. I got a song on my camera, too dark to get clear images. Here is a video of the choir to our right.

After the service, the rhythm section continued to play. People got up and started doing a shuffle dance in a circle. I watched them do some kind of two-step. Afua got up as did some of the others in our group. This went on for 10 minutes of so, then it started again and I got up, too, into the circle but I had trouble doing it right. Two steps with one foot, then two steps with the other. WTH! I remembered where I had seen this dance before! Mind like a steel trap! It was in K-town in 1983!! I probably drew this same picture in a letter home.

What goes around comes around. The circle of life. Full circle. It was interesting if not very instructive to see how each person did the dance. Some people threw themselves into it, some people stumbled through it like me. I would like to be able to do it better, don't know if there will be more opportunities.

The drumming troupe that had set up and played at the house now played in costumes after the circle dances. The crowd was more or less receptive at first but the show was a success as judged by the cheers of the crowd.

January 26. Egg sandwiches for breakfast and a second cup of coffee. My moods, driven by the sun, coffee, my stomach, the heat, fatigue. Best not to make big decisions when hungry or tired. Good advice anywhere, any time.

After breakfast I put on my complet.

In the afternoon, church again. More family present and the circle dance again! Here is a clip of the noisy event:


I participated again, and by the second turn (like negotiating the Pattern), I got the foot shuffle! The dancers and drummers played a show after the numerous circle dances. Here is a portion of the show:


Here is a panorama of the crowd:

Then there was nothing but the increasing heat of the day. Finally some of us decided to come back to the house. I rode on the back of a moto, a short hop. Afua was here greeting hunters from Benin. They went back to church. I went back after a brief nap and some rice and beef. Afua was all muddy, bringing a woman out of a trance.

That hardly ever happens at home!

There is an other worldliness to Togo. Poverty forces people to be very inventive. That is obvious with every turn of the head. The result is a fascinating world, hand crafted by artists, carpenters, seamstresses, mechanics, tailors, bakers, cooks... The other world is also the circle dance at a funeral, the hot spice in the fried bread, the five languages spoken in town, the open carpenter's shack, the southern stars, the smiles of surprise when I speak Ana or Mina, the fresh, hot plantain, the bowing and the greeting. Some things, like the vegetation, the birds, the stars, are due simply to the location and climate. New Jersey has northern stars visible all year, apples and pears, oaks and maples, robins and cardinals. Peaches! Togo is special to me, of course, having spent time here in my youth and getting married to Afua.

Here is a local carpenter's shack, not far from our house:

I met twin girls Kainde and Taye whom Afua calls her children, actually her nieces. They live in Benin but have come here to help with chores while we are here. Here is a picture of the twins:

In the evening we greeted a musical group from Benin. As if to remind me how small the world is, one of the member's cell phone rung during the middle of the greeting ceremony. Later, a singer in the group sang a song to me accompanied by flute and shaker, a song about how my love for Afua brought me here, to another country.

Monday, January 27, 2020. 6:30 AM There are a dozen people on the veranda. They slept there last night after dancing up a storm. I would like to be able to do an acceptable version of this dance, add that flourish at the end. If the dance were simply a matter of flapping one's arms like a chicken, I would be doing it even right now, but it's more than that. People who have done it since their childhood... they don't know what they have. How do you tell someone how to ride a bike? It was the second turn of the third try that I got the circle dance acceptably.

A goat bleats outside.

These animals have got it good until the red necklace. I saw chickens cleaning up the kitchen area this morning. What do they find? A little spilled grain of one sort or another.

As I write, a dozen people trickle in, greet us, some stay and talk. When I try to guess what they are talking about, I get it wrong. I'm definitely learning and the more I hear, the more I learn, even if it is on a subconscious level. Three women came in now,asked me if I spoke Ewe so they could talk to me. Fantastic. From what I gathered, the woman who spoke to me is from the Badou region.

Mom and Dad's picture is hanging outside the door of this room, on the veranda. I took a picture catching my reflection in the glass, wearing my complet.

More dancing this afternoon. Afua and the twins tried to get me to dance. I finally accepted, did my poor impression of the dance but I added the flourish at the end, with proper response from the crowd. After a short rest, we escorted the musicians off in their truck:

Then we went into town to watch Gagalo. Here is an edited video of some of the stilt walkers:


I knew what was going on, but it was still eerie, a little scary on some primitive level, to see someone so distant coming towards us. They must be giants.

We got home, I had a beer on the veranda, a nap on the couch. Long day. I thought we were done with ceremonies but Afua says there are more to come.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020.

I got up around 5:30 to catch some stars. I caught some but I should have had the little tripod. Scorpio was pointing up?! I think I got some stars of its tail, and some stars to the south of it. I was able to turn on, hack the camera, adjust the settings in the dark. 12 seconds was too short, so I increased it. ISO420. Tripod next time. Will we get any clear mornings?

There is major sweeping going on. Major sweeping. All the trash for the last 2 or 3 days? One of the twins is sweeping as well as one or two or maybe three others.

A day of rest. One of the twins was trying to explain the fruit from a local tree which she pronounced ak-a-jou. Oh, it's a cashew. The fruit is very sweet but very astringent:

We ate lunch together, Afua, me, the twins, Hakim. After a nap, woke up around 4 or 5? My internal clock with its recent 5 hour reset is not reliable. Also the nearly constant day length. General temporal confusion. I'm on the veranda hoping for cooler air. Not a leaf is stirring, like last night. Afua sent me a warm Pilsner. Drink up. Here's to you, Togo.

The twins fold clothes and stack them on their heads.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020. 6:25 AM. Major sweeping again but there is almost no trash today. Still, sweeping is required, necessary, obligatory. Five sweepers? Six?

Yesterday, I tried to sing "Lome, Lome" but made mistakes and got a sheep/goat chorus from the animals tied up outside. The sheep was especially intent on singing all the words. I'll try again today.

Nice breeze right now. Perfect for me, in tee-shirt and shorts. Bare feet on the stone floor of the veranda.

I keep sneezing Harmattan out of my nose.

Last night we listened to a drum and bottle group sing songs. These guys sang for us back in 2012, came back for an encore!

The sheep is talking to another sheep in another yard somewhere. He lifts his ear in the direction of the other sheep's cries and bleats.

A woman with a bag of bread and what looked like a pail of cosmetics/lotions on her head just stopped by, came to the door, like an Avon Lady? Avon calling.

Afua came in with a cup of gari cereal and kooli-kooli. She was laughing, said it was her pizza.

More ceremonies today in town, for Afua's mother.

Later I took pictures of Venus and the Moon, by the mosque near the house.

The Moon on its side. A close up from the camcorder:

Thursday, January 30, 2020. Warm cup of coffee on a cool morning The broad leaves of the big tree rustle in the breeze. A tall man in a leather coat greets me by practically lying down on the veranda. I say, "Kabo," and he says "Alafia." There is a lot of bowing while greeting up north. I don't know who to bow to. The twins curtsy when they greet me. They are just saying good morning or hello as they have learned to do. Papa said yesterday, "Oh! Have I not greeted you yet?" like he had committed a fault.

Before bed last night, I pointed the 300HS south, excited to see stars so close to the horizon.

I got up at about 4 AM to pee, went out to look again. Ah! the Southern Cross!

Three of the four stars I could see right away. The forth and faintest star winked in and out. I took several pictures, got the best shot when I backed up. Slow but sure wins the race.

One of the older women who greets me every morning pointed to the picture of Mom and Dad, verified who they were and put her hands together, lay her head on her hands like she was sleeping, to ask if my parents were gone, said the equivalent of "sorry."

Breakfast: ablo and sauce:

My feet only hurt when I wear sneakers. I stopped wearing them several days ago, on the trip up here to Kaboli. I only wear flip-flops now, would like a comfortable pair of sandals.

11:30 AM Dodji, "je vais t'amener une biere bien tapée?" Me, "je ne peut pas refuser."

The sheep will not try to sing anymore.

La biere est trop tapée. I'm trying to melt the frozen beer by holding it behind me knee.

They did a ceremony in the court yard today.

Later I was called into the building with the mermaid on it, to observe the rest of the ceremony. There is still a duck in the yard.

My nose itches frequently. A little sneeze, a little cough.

"Deux virgule cinquante giga," says Hakim. He pronounces giga like this, "jee'-gah," as it should be, as we Americans should pronounce it jigga, like Doc Brown. I should be writing profound statements about the juxtaposition of technology and traditional African culture but I'm writing about the pronunciation of "giga."

Beer slushy.

I've been blowing my nose all day. Before it was once or twice in the morning. Now my nose itches constantly.

5:45 PM The sun just set. The west wall of the courtyard radiates heat like there was a furnace on the other side, a big orange Togo furnace.

Friday, January 31, 2020

We didn't come here for me to catch a glimpse of the southern Cross. We came for a funeral. By coincidence, the funeral was completed and I saw the Southern Cross at the same time. Many of the things we did, the shopping and rushing around, meetings, discussions, lead up to the four days of praying, drinking, dancing, so sitting around yesterday felt too quiet, dare I say boring? Today we are going to the village of Balanka for a meeting. Tomorrow there will be a fete.

The heat yesterday was oppressive. Even if there was nothing to do, it was too hot to even do nothing. Gosh. It's January 31! Too hot.

2 PM Back from a meeting in Balanka. We drove through grove after grove of cashew trees, some with yellow or red fruit.

Some tall palm trees, like a tall yucca plant occasional mango. We got to the meeting on time, which means we were early, so we went visiting, to a worn down palace of an old king, buried inside. We visited more people then went to the meeting. It seemed to be mostly about who, from which town, was donating how much money for various community development projects. Before we left, we were invited to the front of the room for introductions. After the meeting, we had fufu for lunch in Balanka:

Then we went back to Kaboli for more visiting.

7:30 PM I'm on the veranda where I can see a slightly yellow Venus and a yellow moon if I look almost at zenith. Afua and the kitchen staff made delicious yellow cake. Afua does this every time she visits. Now I see why. They like it, cake from America.

I was blowing my nose all day. I hope it's just a cold. I have no other symptoms. My nose is starting to hurt in this dry weather.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

I sip hot bouille by the spoonful.

I finished Philip K. Dick stories while Afua slept on the couch last night. She got up around 9 PM, took a shower, then we had pate with slimy green sauce. Ah, those were the days. I learned to appreciate that sauce if not love it.

In the morning we went into town to buy shoes. This woman was frying kolikos near the market.

Togo street food, fast food.

As we saw in Atakpame, God is all over town, every town, in the names of the coiffeurs and other businesses. Near the place where we saw the stilt-walkers is the L'homme Propose, Dieu Dispose Obama Coiffeur:

We went to the festival for the inauguration of a new maternity clinic in Balanka. I'll save the highlights for tomorrow.

It is still warm but the sun descends. I set up the tripod, took a series of pictures...

Sunday, February 2, 2020. A little gift for me, the stargazer: Jupiter rising above the roof, in the lower left corner below. The red eye of Antares is the reddish star near the top of Scorpio.

Here is another picture of the Southern Cross, with the neighbor's head tank:

As I was standing there, bats flew around my head.

The festival yesterday was the biannual Alafia Festival of Unity and Peace. They played versions of the National Hymn though I didn't recognize it. During the inauguration of the new maternity clinic, one of the many speakers said, "On dit que ce que la femme veut, Dieu veut." He also said that the building of the maternity clinic is not an encouragement for people to have children, that even if you have a lot of money, you can better raise children if there are fewer of them. He said it better than that but I didn't record his speech. I understood almost everything they said in French, and nothing when they spoke in le venaculaire, of course.

There was traditional dancing. Here is a picture showing less than half the big area dedicated to the festival:

Here is a panorama:


There was also a political speech encouraging people to vote for the party, so Togo can continue on its path of development.

After the festival events, we got a guided tour of the maternity clinic, then back home again.

I scrawl lyrics to another song, with no name yet:

A song is supposed to dig into my head, pick out stuff that touches me deeply. I was strumming the guitar just now (late morning) trying to remember old Togo songs. I worked through On a Clear Night, origin story. Then I tried It's My Home. "There's a star in the southwest where the Centaur looks at me..." I just took a picture of Centaurus... in the southwest!!

Dodji and the twins wash the car:

In the late afternoon, Afua, I, the twins, Lazare walked to the sacred pond. Nice to get out, to see the area:

Here are some cashews and cashew fruit we found on a local cashew tree:

On our walk, Kainde told me the story of the hawk and the hen. The hawk lent its needle to the hen so the hen could make clothes for its children. The hen lost the needle and so now the hawk always tries to get the hens children and hen is always scratching the dirt, looking for the needle.

On our way back, we visited several neighbors near the house, greeted everyone. I took this picture of the setting sun near the local mosque:

Monday, February 3, 2020

No bats this morning. I hear the Somg-kpeh-eh-eh bird (weet-twut-WEET) that we heard in Lome, in the distance to the northwest. The white rooster chases a young hen. The breeze is definitely from the north this morning. I'm sitting on the north side of the house near the kitchen. Food is cooked on a fire inside the small building. Most of the kitchen work is done outside.

Here is a view of the fire later in the day, inside the building:

I'm a retired Peace Corps Volunteer. While I dreamed I was a Lycee teacher, passing out a test, I would not dream of being a teacher here again, just like I don't want to be a teacher in America. Been there. Functionally I am a tourist. I am enjoying the sights and sounds of this exotic place, the tilt of the moon, the mosque down the street, the cashew groves, the mango tree in the yard.

Tuesday February 4, 2020.

Lots of haze this morning. Fractured tech and a Togo dream I can't remember. Here is a view from the veranda over the court yard wall into the hazy day:

A lizard does push ups on the wall:

Hanging out at the house, watching satelite TV, trying to do the chicken dance, then more ceremonial dancing in the evening, in town.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020.

I napped a couple times yesterday, not knowing when we would go to the last ceremony. When it was time to go, I drove into town! That's a first. Not hard to drive a '92 Toyota Wagon with a 5-speed stick. Feels like a cable clutch. It was still light when we got there. The same women as on the previous evening, same musicians. They came and went. I took these pictures in the area:

A young woman drawing water in a basin:

(Ooo, baby, look at that bicycle! Knobby tires and derailleur...that's no Flying Pigeon.)

Taking the water home:

Children at the ceremony:

While waiting for Afua and the women to come back, I got up to stretch my legs. Hakim and I went down to the Ecole Franco-Arab, where children can learn French and Arabic. Hakim said any child can go there, Catholic or Muslim and he added that any Muslim child can go to the Catholic CEG. It made me consider the wide diversity not just in this town, but in Badou, Atakpame, Lome. Voodosi, Catholics, Muslims, Fulani, they are all living here. Maybe they don't like each other, maybe they do, maybe they live in separate neighborhoods? Maybe they live everywhere, but they live in Kaboli, they speak Kaboli. As we were sitting waiting for the women to reappear, a tall Fulani woman walked by. I could see she was dressed and made up differently than most of the other people but I didn't recognize her as Fulani until Afua said so, then I thought of the line in Atakpame to Kessibo. Everyone is black, but so much diversity. America appears diverse... but... OK, big story, to be continued.

The women returned, thanked me for my part in the ceremonies. We came back, had some fufu. Then we were treated to a show by the hunters from Benin. Hunters in the group, with "gun" and horn, pretended to stalk prey as others sang and played. Some of us danced to beat of the hunter musicians.

The ceremonies are over, two weeks of praying, dancing, drumming, singing, visiting.

Next, off to Benin, the border of which is only a few miles west of Kaboli.

Chapter 4. Visiting Benin