Archives for category: Culture

Writing from Kyoto this time where I’m enjoying 3-day retreat at the Myoshinji Daishin-in Buddhist temple. So much of what goes on here is familiar to me from my experience in Benedictine monasteries: prayer at dawn, sparsely furnished rooms, silent meals, generous hospitality, well-tended gardens, encounters with like-minded guests, space to listen…

Daishin-in

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George is three, and is proud of his new responsibility in the Pidassa household. Every evening at sunset, it’s his job, without ever being told, to catch six chickens and put them in the chicken coop. It’s easier for him to do it than anyone else because he’s closer to the ground. It’s great fun racing round the courtyard until all of them are caught. When jobs like that need doing, who needs toys?

Still piecing this culture together bit by bit after 21 years. Today I learned that as long as I have no beard it would be considered presumptuous for any of my employees to grow one.

The road through our village has several very steep parts which get eroded during the rainy season, leaving nothing but ruts and sharp rocks. Passengers get thrown about in the back of the car, and it plays havoc with tyres and suspension rods.

So it’s become something of an annual tradition, between Christmas and New Year, for the entire village to descend on the road to repair it.

I joined 100 other people early this morning. The younger men dig earth and stones out of the nearby fields . The women and children transport the loads on their heads to the road. The older men fill in the holes to make the road smooth again.

Then we all go back to my place for millet beer and grilled sesame seeds.

Another day of hard work, interdependence and laughter in an African village.

When I arrived at the bank this morning, there were thirty-four people already waiting in line. One transaction could easily take all morning. Still, I have a seat and it’s air-conditioned, so I get out my laptop and continue working…

Recently, a thief raided the village dispensary and sold the medicines in Benin. He has only just got out of prison, so that’s clearly not working as a punishment. Instead, the village chief decreed that he must work, unpaid, as night guard at the dispensary for the rest of his days. If he doesn’t turn up to work, he will be handed over to the police again. So far, he has diligently turned up to work every evening. Echoes of the Mikado: “to let the punishment fit the crime”.
Today I had to have an abscess removed from my thumb at the local hospital. The doctor was planning to do this without local anaesthetic, until I insisted otherwise. In conversation with several Togolese friends since, I learn that it is very common to refuse anaesthetic for surgery. Most people only just make ends meet, and pain relief is considered an unnecessary luxury (2.50 pounds extra). Jonas is a good example: he had a string of quite major operations on his foot last year, and opted to do it all without anaesthetic. A Kabiye is expected to face pain without flinching. That explains the doctor’s answer to me this morning as he plunged the needle into my thumb: “Are you a man, or what?”

Peripatetic pubs

The women take it in turns to open their courtyards once a week as pubs. One of life’s great pleasures is sitting in the Pidassa family’s courtyard tasting Prudence’s millet beer on a Saturday afternoon. Consistently excellent, and always served with a smile.

One of my Kabiye friends yesterday: “Now that you’re back at last, I want you to stay here till you die, and I myself am going to bury you.”

The other evening we sat down to a meal of grilled chicken and pounded yam. As we were eating, the cat brought in a large mouse and deposited on the floor. Straight away, Faustin got up, picked up the mouse and gave it to Essotchelinam. An instinct : the older brother making sure the younger brother gets enough protein.

I don’t always, but this time I intervened. “Faustin, there is already enough meat on the table. Give the mouse back to the cat.”