Sunlight streams through my purple pagne curtains as I try to rise. Streaking across the cold cement floor, it makes the mosquito net surrounding me glow like an afternoon shroud. Outside, amidst a gentle wind rustling the palm and teak trees, a chorus of voices begins building harmony. They start low, two or three unsure chanteuses breathing out, before reaching a symphony exalting their lord in ewe. African drums and handclaps join the chorus while I lay, post repo comatose. Save the “Amen!” conclusion, I understood nothing of their song. And yet, the purity, light, and love inspiring it bridged our void perfectly. I sometimes feel like I’m on vacation, acting a delusion far from my real life, but more days are starting to translate.
Africa is similar and different from each expection I carried abroad. Most roads are unpaved and drivers / motorcyclists take close calls speeding past, though many wave or honk to greet pedestrians and each other. Trash collects in communal spaces, like a “Tragedy of the Commons” lesson piling to life, but smoke and smoldering embers mark where villagers have meticulously cleaned their compounds and lit the rubbish. The sun is high, hot, and unrelenting, but deep, ominous clouds block it almost daily with a seldom - kept promise of rain. In the same breath villagers yell “yovo”, the colloquial term for foreigner, some wish me “Bonne journee” with a wave and radiant smile. These situations keep my mind in a tug of war between wistfully romanticizing my American life and hopefully envisioning the African one. A floodgate’s been opened, and its deluge of promise, difficulty, dejection, and ambition shows no signs of slowing as the days wear / speed past.
Mornings and evenings begin and end early in Gbatope, a small village north of the national capital. When I’m collected enough to first leave my room, my family’s already swept our large compound and collected water. When I wander in for lunch, mentally full from the first round of lessons or lectures, my family’s often eaten, worked on the farm, and begun making manioc flour for the market. When dusk and I creep in every evening, my family is usually socializing after a full day. By the time I’m sweaty, spent, and fumbling through French notes, they’re relaxing with the radio. I sometimes wonder who’s condensed days would make a more fulfilling soup: theirs, rich in hearty work, community, and family ties, or mine, loaded with enriching information and the pursuit of heady notions like cross – cultural integration and trilingual thought.
“Thanks” is “merci” in French and “akpe” in ewe.
“How are you?” is “Comment allez vous?” and “Efwan?” respectively.
My host mother smiles at me in the lantern light as I eat dinner, present physically but lost in the darkness outside our straw payotte. I return the favor, hoping my gesture and glance translate.
“Ma yi mava” - “I will come back soon.”