A field of yellow and purple flowers stretched out before me. As I walked, the yellow ones left trails of dust on the knees of my skirt, and I rubbed my hands along the silky petals of the waist-high purple ones. Butterflies popped out of the yellow ones and landed softly on flowers farther from my path.
The flowers led to a bubbling strem that could have belonged to any of the rolling hills of Tennessee. It was the kind that could only be fed by a small, tumbling waterfall if one followed it up the hill a little farther, so I did. The fall was no more than eight feet high, and the water was cool and sparkly on my hands. Anticipating the tingle, I brought my face closer to the place where water rolled off a smooth rock. The sound of trickles and displaced leaves were gentle, then muffled, then entirely covered over by Aaaaah! Aaaaaaaaahkk! Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaahkkkkk!
I sat up in bed, heart pounding, confused at how my cool waterfall had become a hot, muggy mosquito net. I untangled myself and made it out my door before putting the pieces together. Latifa was screaming about her breakfast money. Again. At 5:30AM. As usual.
Latifa is Reason Number Three that I've decided not to ever, ever have children. Reason Number One is that I lived across the street from the infirmary during PC Training. On the Fourth of July, I paced my host mother's porch, listening to a woman screaming as the doctors, as far as I could tell, amputated her legs with one of those forkspoons you get at KFC. When my hostmom came home, she explained that there was no amputation, but rather the lady was experiencing some Discomfort due to Child Labor. I'll say. I felt sorry for the lady, thinking that the Miracle of Life must have caused her more Discomfort than most, for a full two weeks, at which point another lady screamed for hours under the Discomfort of Child Labor. Reason Number Two I decided not to ever, ever have children was that I figured out that pain prompting blood-curdling screams that cause PCVs to wear thin their host families' porches is normal.
I am sorry to break it to my parents this way, especially so close to Fathers' Day, but if you two want to be able reap the benefits of Grandparents' Day, I suggest you start buttering up Jennifer. And make sure she doesn't live next to an infirmary. Or Latifa.
Latifa is four, and is energetic enough for six children. She's bright. She has figured out that if she wants me to carry her (which she always does), all she has to do is latch onto my arm and refuse to put her feet back on the ground. She pushes other kids off my lap when they're coloring. As far as she's concerned, I'm her yovo and she expects my full attention.
Her ten-year-old sister Amina is one of my favorite people in Togo. She does nearly all the chores--laundry, dishes, water-carrying, sweeping, and taking care of her baby sister Roukeyatou while her mother cooks. Amina goes to school and therefore speaks a little French. She's extremely handy to have around as a translator, and I try my best to find little jobs for her to do--going to the store for bread, watering my garden, and feeding my cat, so I can pay her a little.
It is very rare that I send Amina's 12-year-old brother Gawiwu on errands. He has never asked why I favor Amina over him, which is too bad. I probably wouldn't bother telling him how all of Togolese society is organized such that he has an unfair advantage over his sister, and that I am trying to even the score 15 cents at a time, but I would point out that Amina runs to the boutique and back. It takes Gawiwu 10 minutes to make the 4-minute trip. It takes Amina 30 seconds to make the 4-minute trip.
Gawiwu is what the Togolese would normally call a bandit. Bandit doesn't mean that a kid steals, but reather that he or she is just difficult. Gawiwu, for instance, chases smaller kids around with sticks, threatening to beat them. He pushes his sisters around, does about 2% of the work Amina does, and produced a perfectly blank notebook when I asked him what he had learned in the first two weeks of school. Gawiwu is what the Togolese would normally call a bandit, except that he is a boy and the oldest child, which means he walks on water. I have made it very clear to him that, even if Togolese culture condones his oldest-son-style bullying, I do not. Actually, that's a little more diplomatic than what I told him. I promised him that if I saw him beat another kid, especially a smaller kid and especially his smaller sisters, I would beat him so he would remember how it feels to smaller and defenseless. Yes, he's an adolescent, but I'm at least a head taller and thirty pounds heavier than he is. Plus, I know martial arts, so I suggest he not try me.
Reason Number Four that I have decided not to ever, ever have children is that I have somehow fallen to the point at which I actually consider beating a child as diplomatic parenting by other means!
Not all boys are as, how shall we say, Special, as Gawiwu. His uncle Moussa (which means Moses), also lives in the compound. He is 18 and will be in 8th grade next year. He is kind, gentle, and good-natured, always helping his brother with the farmwork. He is also great with baby Roukeyatou.
Roukeyatou is nine months old. She was born just a couple of weeks after I arrived at post, and was the first baby I'd ever seen on the day it was born. She is beautiful, just like her older sisters. She adored me for a while, but has recently entered a stage of being afraid of me. That makes me sad, but the bright side is that I only have to do a third the amount of laundry I did when she loved me. I think she had a quota to fill: pee on Rahamatou twice per day or have her babyhood revoked. I've gone from three outfits per day to one, and have convinced myself she'll like me again when she's potty-trained.
Aliou, the father of the family, is a farmer. He speaks very little French, so our communication is very limited. He seems like a nice enough guy, often smiling and playing with Latifa and the baby after returning from the field. I've never heard him hit is wife (else I would have threatened to move), and when he yells at her, she yells back at him. My American family is not so much into yelling, and yelling used to upset me, but here I'm a little relieved that they yell at each other. It seems like their relationship is a little more egalitarian than the average
Togolese relationship in that way.
Azétou is Aliou's only wife (so far. If you were looking for a site that condones polygamy in the name of Cultural Realism, this ain't it, but I'll save my tirade for another occasion.). I was worried that she would try to make life difficult for me out of jealousy, but things have turned out well. She knows a little French (In fact, I am amazed how much French she has learned since I have been here.), which lends an easy excuse for me to always talk to her husband through her. She is the person I am around most often, and I don't know what I would do without her.
Azétou smokes fish to sell in the market. She usually smokes them on days when I am planning to sit in my house and at times when the winds are favorable to blow the stench right in my window. There's hardly anything as pleasant as the odor of dead fish wafting over the cake or brownies you are trying to eat. Hmmmm. Maybe that's why I lost 17 lbs!
As far as Togolese families go, this is a good one. The father is not a brutal tyrant and they all seem to enjoy each other's company. Since Peace Corps practically forces us to live in a family for security reasons, I really couldn't ask for a better family. They treat me like a celebrity, and are always itching to do anything to help.
Still, if I had my choice beforehand, I would have opted to live farther from a family. It has been seven years since I have lived in my parents' house year-round, and I've come to adore my solitude and independence. It was a fight to establish myself as the family's neighbor instead of daughter. It took weeks for me to convince them I can cook for myself, carry my own water, and do my own laundry. Women just don't live alone in this society, so they expected to fill in for my "lack" of a husband and kids by becoming Mom, Dad, and siblings to me. But what they can't understand is that our society doesn't force a woman to move straight from her father's house to her husband's house. We actually encourage young adults to figure themselves out before marrying somebody and having kids. They have trouble understanding that I am 24 (ancient as far as girls go), unmarried, and childless on purpose. That is, if I wanted to wake up to screaming every day, I could, and am therefore annoyed to have to during two years of my Non-Waking-Up-To-Screaming life. But that is all part of the experience, right?
Wish me sanity!