Week Two

30 05 2012

By: Ben Ramsey

Hey guys,

Today I write from an internet café in a city in northern Togo, about an hour’s hike from the village where I live. From here on out, I’ll be making weekly trips here on Wednesdays to blog and pick up groceries.

Maybe I’ll start today by telling you a little about my living situation here in Togo. I live with a family in a small village atop a mountain.  It’s beautiful here – very green. My outdoor shower overlooks a gorgeous valley. They do terrace farming here on the steep inclines, and it’s amazing how well they use the land. They farm in collectives, each owning their own property but farming together on all of it. I tried joining in last week and got my butt kicked. It’s hard work!

I’m enjoying getting used to the sounds of chickens and goats and guinea fowl , as well eating Togolese style. This time of year the Togolese eat mostly yams and sorghum with meat sauce for lunch and dinner. (I make my own breakfast of coffee and oatmeal.) My favorite spot to read and relax is out on the boulders behind the house, overlooking the valley. There’s a huge tree overhead that gives great shade and it’s really nice out there.

My interviews are going well and I’m glad to tell you what I’m learning. Keep in mind, however, that the information I share is only based on five or so interviews, so any conclusions I may reach at the end of the summer may be very different from what I write about today.

Since my last blog post, I’m beginning to better understand child migration as it occurs in Togo. It seems that it often happens when a family runs out of money for school fees. Sometimes it also happens that children leave out of rebellion or a desire for adventure.

So where do the children go? Either south within Togo or to Benin or Nigeria. Children choose these three destinations because of differing goals and with varying motivations.

When children migrate south within Togo, they generally tell their parents of their plans before they leave. Boys often become land owners of small plots of land down south and therefore don’t return north.

Migrants to Benin or Nigeria usually return home, however, and often stay put in their villages after returning.

Migrants to Benin typically stay a short amount of time for temporary work, then return home with the money they’ve earned to pay for school fees. On Friday I’ll make an hour and a half hike to a village where kids only migrate to Benin.

When children migrate to Nigeria, they typically stay around 9 months. Boys normally do cultivation work in the fields and girls normally do domestic work or work tending bar. Out of the three options of migration destinations, Nigeria seems to provide the fewest benefits to the migrants.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, youth get help from an intermediary known as a waka who helps them in traveling and is in charge of them as they work, in terms of distributing payments. In one interview, an interviewee explained that after a particular waka was put in prison after being captured, he was released and ordered to bring the children back or otherwise face an extended prison term. Because the waka was paid upon delivering the children to Nigeria, he literally had to buy the kids back since he was taking them home early.

I am also interested in the health conditions of youth resulting from migration. I have been told that boys are given stimulants called “eba” in their food without their knowledge which help them work the long hours in the fields. Boys are also given marijuana to smoke, perhaps to deal with the stimulant side effects. Sick days are docked from payment. It is up to a waka to decide whether or not to physically punish children for not working hard enough. It appears that due to difficult working conditions , girls sometimes also do sex work, putting them at risk for sexually transmitted diseases.

One interesting hypothesis that has held up so far is that in terms of keeping youth from leaving the villages, it appears that despite the very negative consequences of traveling to Nigeria or Benin, once the youth return from these places, they tend to stay put in their northern villages. Only more interviews will reveal how severe the consequences of this migration are.

Ben Ramsey

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