Susan White in Togo
Summer, 2005

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For background and additional information see Togo Connection
Maison déjâ battue

Disclaimer: Much of the real news in Togo is not seen on TV or in the official press and what you hear on 'radio trottoir' (though the grapevine) is often unverifiable.

Following the announcement that Faure Gnassingbé was declared the winner of the April, 2005 elections scattered opposition demonstrations erupted in neighborhoods of the capital city of Lomé. For the next several weeks, some residents of these areas were the recipients of brutal nocturnal visits by mysterious, poorly organized militias. Residents were woken up, forced out of their rooms, and beaten with clubs studded with nails. Some houses received such unwelcome visits on successive nights from different groups of night soldiers. In order to prevent these repeat visits residents, wrote in chalk or paint on the outside walls of their compounds 'Maison Déjâ Battue' - literally this house has already been beaten.

Approximately 1% of the total population of Togo fled to the neighboring countries of Ghana and Benin following the post-election violence and many of these 40,000 people have chosen to remain outside of Togo.

Health and Medicine

During my three week stay in Togo, health was always a concern. A village health committee was absolutely delighted with a very simple gift of one simple blood pressure monitor; their dispensary had none. A young boy was brought howling to the dispensary after putting his bare foot into the spokes of a moving bicycle. I met a boy and a teacher suffering from typhoid fever, the teacher could not afford the antibiotics. His wife was involved in a motorcycle accident caused by a truck missing a headlight. The boy's mother was suffering from malaria and he lost his older brother to sickle-cell anemia. I heard of a deep puncture wound being cleaned with chlorox because the dispensary had run out of alcohol. A friend was careful to tell me that the maternity hospital that his non-profit group was building is now finished. Women there pay about $10 for several pre-natal visits plus the birth attended by a midwife or nurse. AIDS is both rumor and reality because relatively few people are tested and many young people die of vague causes.

I Yam therefore I am - How to harvest yams

First look for a yam that's ready to harvest. Find a plant that has yellow 'flowers' and see if the mound is cracked. Feel for the yam with your fingers so you know which side of the mound to start digging on. If you are lucky, you can actually see the yam. Take your coupe-coupe (machete) and carefully start removing the dirt. Kneel down and use the coupe-coupe as a shovel, making sure not to grab it by the sharp blade. Be careful not to sever the little hairy roots between the yam and the dirt you are removing. Don't nick the yam and make sure to dig down deep enough so you can remove the yam without breaking off the tip. All of this usually requires moving more dirt than you thought possible. A large yam is shaped like a carrot but may be up to two feet long. Once the yam is loose, stick the narrow end of the coupe-coupe into the 'head' of the yam just below where the vines and leaves come out. Gently swivel the coupe-coupe to break the yam off. Feel around the hole for more yams, especially if you harvested a small yam. Remove the yam and hold the remaining part of its head slightly below the surface as you pile all of the dirt you removed back into the mound. Prior experience in sand castle construction is useful. Pack the dirt tightly into the mound so that a new yam head can grow to start next year's crop. At home, wash, peel, chop, and boil the yam. Pound to make fufu and eat with your favorite sesame sauce.

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