Day 16 - Tues. 24th

I belatedly realised I've been getting the dates wrong in the blog headings. Doh! They've now been corrected.

Tues. 24th was our first day working with the children at the orphanage Foyer Pierre du Pauvre. In actual fact it was only half a day, as the centre Director, Michel, invited us to come with him and youngsters from the Foyer to a special celebration in the afternoon. But more about that later.

The morning started with a few team games and crown-making, getting the children to put their names on them. Space was at a premium compared to Mango, but it did not cause too many problems in the end. There was a wide range of ages represented in the 50-odd children, but it was quickly evident that they were used to being together, the older ones often taking the youngest under their wing to help them with the different activities. The children were clearly very well looked after by the team who ran the Foyer (physically, emotionally and spiritually), but resources were obviously limited, especially at the out-of-town part of the Foyer which we visited the next day.

Josh (aka "Rooney" or "Scholes" according to the local children both in mango and Kara) and friend.

These 3 were real characters, the lad on the left proving to be a little rascal!

Gaël, a lovely lad.

After a lunch cooked for us by a lady who works at the Foyer, we were taken ushered into their open-backed lorry for a real adventure... which in fact started as we got into the lorry itself! We were being taken on a drive up into the mountains to attend a special ceremony for one of the girls at the Foyer: a kind of 18 birthday party, but one of great cultural and religious significance. A rite of initiation into adult life.

There were about 60 or 70 of us crammed in the back (adults and children), over half standing up, with most of the English in priority seating on free-moving benches which occasionally collapsed. There were also piles of plastic chairs and some large jerry cans of the local brew. I was one of those standing... in the middle of the lorry! About 5 people were holding onto various parts of my shoulders, waist, arms, etc... I was holding onto a pile of plastic chairs that Michael Mc. was sitting on, although not for long! At one point under the effect of sharp breaking, I, and about 30 or 40 other people standing behind me, lost our balance and flew forward. I ended up in a heap having dived head first over Michael's chair into the lap of a rather unimpressed lady of a certain age. Others dived onto Michael who quickly thought better of the chair idea and retreated to a tiny space on the end of a bench. Now, this left me in a rather tricky situation, holding onto a pile of 4 plastic chairs (one of which I ended up breaking) with no-one sitting on them and therefore rather light! Let's just say that we had some rather hair-raising moments during the 40 min. ride up some very narrow, steep mountain tracks (in the "we" I include those clinging onto me and those clinging onto those clinging onto me.... you get the picture?). I must admit though that it was all rather good fun. There was a lovely atmosphere between us all, Togolese and English and lots of laughter.

Once we got to the village we were welcomed into the girl's house by her family, who obviously considered it a tremendous honour to receive us as their guests. A very humbling experience. We were offered food and drink, though only consumed in small doses for the sake of sensitive digestive systems of which there were more and more as the trip wore on. We were also treated to a demonstration of hoe-making by the local blacksmith, melting pieces of iron in a small furnace with manually-operated bellows (operated most energetically by a very fit young man), then hammering them into shape with large stones. This village was the centre of hoe production for the region.

For boys, the rite of passage to adult life took the form of traditional wrestling competitions. The girls had to endure a kind of endurance test of their own. As the girl from the Foyer was a catholic, she was not allowed to take part fully in the traditional Animist ceremony (Animism is a traditional religion common in different forms throughout Africa). This required girls to dance naked (bar a few animal fur belts around her arms and lower legs) from her local village, accompanied by an entourage of village representatives, to the nearest place of Animist worship (sometimes miles away) where they venerate the spirits of their ancestors (a rough equivalent in the Catholic faith would be our veneration of Saints). Our girl certainly had just a minimum of clothes on (a compromise with the Animist traditions) by the time she entered the centre of the village where there was already plenty of song (Christian songs) and dance going on, led by the Foyer children. This village ceremony was then followed by a Mass in the local church.

The shaven-headed girl in the centre is the one celebrating her initiation into adult life.

Waiting to board the lorry to go to the Mass.

In actual fact, by the time we got to the church it was already full. So we were given the chance to go and witness part of the Animist (traditional) ceremony going on for other local girls about 20 mins. walk away.

Walking to the traditional ceremony.

The sacred place of the ancestors was heaving once we got there. Simon T. was also heaving on his way there (sorry, couldn't resist that one!). Actually, he had quite a bad tummy upset and was feeling very rough. The runs the previous day and the heat and sun on our trip into the mountains combined to leave him rather fragile. By the next day, he was right as rain though.

The path to the sacred place was lined with a thronging mass of people, many of whom, especially the boys their age, heckled the girls as they came past. It all seemed a very intimidating experience for the girls to go through. Apparently, those boys who had been successful at the wrestling that year, ie. had won at least one bout, had first choice of the 'best' girls and so came to check them out, as it were. We left before the end as it had already been a very long and tiring day. Bernard (from the Foyer) generously offered to drive us back, after which he had to return to the mountains to pick up most of the others from the Foyer who had stayed for the rest of the festivities.

This afternoon adventure was an amazing experience and one which we felt most privileged to witness.

Coming back in a much less crowded lorry. Simon contemplating whether or not to throw up into his hat
and Sarah not daring to look.
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