Thursday, December 4, 2008


Dec 3
Well I went to work on Monday thirty seconds after walking through the door on was on a motocross I’d never seen with no backpack, a lady I’d never met, going I had no idea where and for god knows how long. Dodging potholes down dirt roads the story began to unfold. I was headed to a village named Sedge in Toffo with Caroline for most of the day. Thankfully we stopped and picked up some water along the way because otherwise I would have had the tough choice in-between dehydration (bad choice) and rural mystery water (worse choice). Like I said I was intending to be at work for an hour, meet some people and be on my way. Not head 24 kilometers (we measured on the way back) out of town into a rural village with no running water to hold a conference with elders, the village chief, the chief of the agglomeration, and numerous other villagers (women, children, young men and the like). Anyways, we weaved through the country roads until we passed through a few villages, some stagnant water and into the village we rolled. We parked the moto beside the others waiting for us and I immediately regretted not having my camera (a sentiment that only grew throughout the day). The image of modern-day motorcycles with dirt houses in the backdrop was quite interesting. We then talked for a while to find a board to post things for our presentation, and got ready. We picked our spot under a big tree and then taking into account the movement of the sun set up benches and such.
We were in Sedje to present our project and begin development. It was the first contact with the village after they had been selected to be part of our program. The information was interesting. They explained who they were, where the financing came from and so on, and then got the history of the village and asked a bunch of questions pertinent to the project. We also traced out the map of the limit of the village, which due to conflict had to be redone the next day (today). Note that this entire day took place in Fon, which I still pretty much understand none of. And apparently the villagers even had their own local variations of the language my supervisors found difficult to understand. So most of this time I gazed around people stalked. In the front row were the chiefs (village and agglomeration) and the elders. Behind were the men of the village, and off to the side were the women and children. I found it somewhat comical to what point this latter section was lacking clothing. The kids were mostly naked or the older ones in underwear and the old women were all nude waist up. Note that all the school age kids and teens were at school. I remember looking around and thinking that every other second I saw something that could wind up on the cover of national geographic. There was a young girl, 14ish, with a stunning face. I wished I could’ve got a photo of her but as I said I didn’t have my camera and the next day she I saw her in the morning but when I could get my camera out she was nowhere to be found. I did mange to get a few photos of her younger sister the second day but the lighting was off compared to the first. I remember the first day I saw her, the younger sister (at this point I didn’t know they were sisters), the manner in which she was sitting somewhat sideways on the ground with the mud houses in the background and the rest of the setting, it was a memorable imag. I awkwardly changed a stare with the older sister for a few seconds. I would have tried to talk to her but I was pretty certain she didn’t speak French and had no idea what I’d say. I walked over to the lagoon at some point too where a few girls were bathing. I felt somewhat awkward and intended to leave them in their privacy but they yelled yovo yovo and started trying to talk to me (once again we didn’t speak a mutual language). The whole nudity thing was just an interesting reality all-round. Coming from somewhere where it is so unthinkable to be naked or for a woman to be topless in public there it was just how things worked. I was having headaches throughout most of this and was honestly feeling terrible about the fact I wasn’t entirely enjoying the experience. This was a situation I had been dreaming about / looking forward to for so long yet once I was there my health just couldn’t let me invest or give myself entirely into the experience.
Anywho after hours of meetings and me following where I could and having Abbas translate once he finally showed up. There was a whole story of him trying to get there in Zem and I’m pretty sure he got lost. Oh right things to add for the first day. When we were driving and school kids swarmed me as we were going through on the motocross.
I’m continuing this entry on Thursday the fourth. Right now I’m preoccupied with the rash on my stomach. I think it’s a rash and not mosquito bites (not 100% sure) but either way the itching is driving me insane right about now. I’ve been putting on aloe Vera every once in a while and put baby powder on the right side to see if it makes a difference. Anyhow trying to look at the positives there were some more interesting thing yesterday. This time we weren’t even on a motocross but a motorcycle that should never be taken off of pavement. Oh right, it had rained in Allada the day before (the Tuesday, I’m now talking about Wednesday and it is Thursday) so there was now stagnant water to swerve through as well. Once we got there it was somewhat similar to the day before but ended at lunch. I did manage to get some photos but the girl I really wanted to get had disappeared, the lighting was terrible, and I was never able to take shots of most of the men. There was an interesting point during which we started talking about religion and Voodun. The elders listed off the seven or eight different version of it practiced in the village: once again all in Fon. Hopefully by the end of my stay I’ll have some idea of what they mean. All in all I was somewhat disappointed on the camera front. Nonetheless I have now been in an African village and hope to repeat the experience many times over. My job seems pretty sweet, I’ll just have to be up for the task.

Things to add? I ate sheep afterwards with my boss, we stopped at some sort of Carrefour / village on the way back and had drinks (I had a sprite). Oh right and I learned that my supervisor is a Princess. Not in the suck it up princess sense, but in the sense that her father is king of her village (with multiple wives and twelve children). However, he initially didn’t want to take power due to his studies / career. In retaliation, they paralyzed him. When I asked my supervisor how she laughed and said “You do realize were in Africa right”. If you aren’t familiar with African realities by this she meant they used Voodun to cripple him. Or at least this is what she, and he, and they, believe happened. While on this topic I should mention scarring. Many people here, at leqst those fro, villqges, have scars on their faces. I originally thought it had to do with which tribe they were from but learned it represents which Voodun fetish they worship (or their parents do). The scars are given at a very young age. There are also women that have small linear scars all over their bodies. Apparently this brings protection. From what exactly, I’m not quite there yet.

By the way Ive been trying and failing to upload photos but there is apparently internet in the office where I work so Ill try there when I can.


Ridge Forster said...

Wow Marc, What an experience! You descriptions of the climate, people and villages are making up for the lack of pictures. I'm interested to hear what the locals reactions are to your groups mission. I spoke with your Grampa Forster this morning and he wanted me to pass along a hello. You might mention the "rash" on your stomach to some of the locals, they may deal with the same thing, or maybe its your body is not quite use to the "flora and fauna" yet. Please keep up the Blog. Keep enjoying your adventure, or as your Grampa said. "Tell that little fella to look after himself"

Suzi said...

Hey Marc!
Love reading your stories! Not sure how I feel about you and half-naked women, but hey ;).
I'm voting heat rash - very common, very itchy. If so, baby powder is the way to go; it will absorb the sweat and moisture which causes the rash.
We miss you tons, especially with Christmas right around the corner.
Love the stories though! Don't worry about photos - every day you're there will provide a million opportunities to take National Geographic-worthy photos.

love you lots!
Suzi & Jon