Go and Come Back

18 06 2011

By Kathleen Ridgeway

My first night in Kuwdé, northern Togo, found me seated in the courtyard of a traditional homestead, chatting in (or, in my case, struggling to understand) a mix of Kabré and French; and more than ever I was strongly reminded of my own home. Half a world away, I had spent many nights like these with my extended family, laughing and talking after a family celebration or sitting by the campfire at the beach house that we all share for the summer. I found it striking that upon finally reaching this remote and unfamiliar place, my strongest feeling was one of familiarity and homecoming rather than of exoticism and being out of place. I suppose that throughout my experience here in Togo, I am going to find that some things, like family and kinship, are strong despite differences in language, culture, and experience.


Yesterday was my first day staying with my host family in Farendé! I am still in the process of meeting the numerous children who come and go throughout the day, but the two adult women that live there, Rose and Wren, are truly lovely. I was so nervous beforehand, since my French is anything but proficient; but my host family seems to be blessed with superhuman patience for my stumbling over verb tenses and grasping at straws for vocabulary. I felt so welcomed, especially as Rose and I sat on the porch in front of my room and chatted quietly as we watched torrents of rain turn the homestead’s courtyard into a miniature lake. I felt guilty that I would be leaving to spend the weekend in Kuwdé before I had the chance to get fully settled into my new home, and broke out my pocket-sized French-English dictionary to look up the right way  to tell them that I would return – je vais retrouver. There’s no way that I could express in my broken French how deeply grateful I was for their warmth and welcoming.

This kind of hospitality and deep kinship is, I think, inherent in the Kabré way of life. As I started to learn the customary phrases that the Kabré use to greet each other and inquire about the health, family, and work of those that they happen to meet throughout the day, I stumbled upon a phrase that I feel totally encapsulates Kabré sociality: wolo-n-ko. It means, quite literally, go and come back. It’s a phrase that you would use when you greet someone who is leaving to go to a market or on an extended journey; instead of saying bye or have a nice trip, you say go, and come back. It’s really lovely, this focus on reunion and solidification of social ties. Despite the limited amount of time I have spent learning about and living within Kabré society, I feel like the sentiment of this phrase rings true on a far greater scale. As villages expand and their inhabitants mature and seek greater opportunities in education and business, people leave their natal communities; but then they return. In old age, in sickness, and even in death, they always return to the homestead in which they were born. I witnessed the most joyful celebration of life at a man’s funeral two days ago. Although he had lived much of his adult life in a village several kilometres away, his body was carried by men who danced and sang through miles of steep mountain paths and eventually laid him to rest in the floor of the house in which he was born. He went, and then, with much dancing and singing and pure, unbridled, genuine joy for a life well lived; he came back.




4 responses

20 06 2011

Wolo-n-ko, Kathleen!

22 06 2011

I love reading about your experiences Kathleen!! I am so excited that you are on this adventure and I can’t wait to sit around the fire at Vashon and hear all about it! =)
Love you!!

22 06 2011

Kathleen I just read your blog aloud to Rich and we both thought it was wonderful.
Rich says to you: vete e regresa. We love you and are so proud of you!!

22 06 2011

Go and come back might be our new family motto… It is certainly the unspoken one!
I love that you are reminded of Vashon in far away land; maybe you should sing them some of our songs!!!

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