Adventure in the mountains- June 15th 2012

15 06 2012

To mark the halfway point in our trip, my fellow Duke student in Lomé- Camille- and I were given the special opportunity to make the seven hour journey with Professor Piot up to northern Togo for a week. At the moment, there are five other Blue Devils conducting research in the small farming communities of Kuwdé and Farendé- including fellow DGHI blogger Ben Ramsey. After the seven of us bonded the first couple of days when we were together in Lomé, I was incredibly excited to see how everyone was doing and hear updates about their projects.
It will be incredibly difficult for me to do our trip justice in a short blog post. The sights, smells, and tastes were all new for me, even coming from Lomé (a poor comparison would be the difference between Wilmington and Ashville in North Carolina). The fact I would have to re-adjust was evident from our arrival- unlike in Lomé, you could not just drive a car up to the homestead where we were living in Kuwdé- it was a 45 minute hike, with our bags in tow, up the mountain. Boy did that hike make me realize how out of shape I’ve become. As we were ascending, we were passed by a girl half my age carrying a twelve pack of 1.5L water bottles on her head. Talk about tough! At the top of the mountain, and just outside my residence for the next couple days, I was given a spectacular view of the rocky landscape where a fair amount of the agricultural work takes place. It’s unbelievable the unforgiving terrain they’re able to exploit to grow everything from yams to corn to rice to sorgum. As Professor Piot often says, the inhabitants are some of the best cultivators in the world.
Sprinkled between the fields was a lush variety of plants- especially of interest to me for my research on traditional meds. Most of those I’ve interviewed in Lomé respond that the leaves/roots/bark they use comes from the “villages” of Togo. In fact, it is often cited that their knowledge of healing plants comes from family who grew up outside of the city. It became instantly more clear why this was true, as my observations of the landscape suggested it seemed more practical to find the plant right down the path, which your ancestors had been using for centuries, rather than turning to the modern clinics first. People were also much more open about superstitions and the influence of spirits than I’ve found in the city- sometimes an influential piece in the traditional healing system. Unfortunately, a 48 hour stomach bug prevented me from talking to the health workers (how ironic) so I wasn’t able to obtain their opinions on the migration of traditional medicines.  Nevertheless, it was interesting to observe the differences in culture.
I am incredibly grateful to the host families and Duke students for opening up their homesteads to us with true Togolese generosity. From toilet paper to A-sugars (the Chinese version of starbursts), they shared everything they had with us even when resources were very limited. It was a real treat to have them walk us through their daily routines. Some highlights included Saturday market with five cent “sweet” beignets, paying our respects at a funeral celebration where we were treated as very important people despite never knowing the deceased, listening in on agricultural migration interviews, language lessons, reading out on the chair-shaped rocks with an incredible view, and of course the weekly trip to Kara- the closest urban center about an hour away- described by one student as their “Disneyworld”. Despite being excited to go back to the luxury of electricity and running water in Lomé, I am very thankful I was given the opportunity to see what a portion of rural Togo is like, and I wouldn’t have traded this past week for anything.

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