It’s nearly 9 p.m. on a Tuesday night in Sotouboua and I’m covered in sweat, dirt… and baby powder?! I’m completely exhausted, even more so than usual. Why? Because it is January and the party hasn’t stopped since the 1st.
If there’s one thing the Togolese do right, it’s bringing in the New Year (Bonne Annee). I haven’t stopped drinking, eating, or dancing and it’s already the 24th – the month is almost over. After staying up until midnight on the 31st of December, American-style, I received a call from my homologue, Genevieve (my main work partner/Togolese friend who has been a true savior in these first few months), at 8 a.m. the morning of the 1st. “The foufou is ready, why aren’t you at my house yet?” I threw on some clothes, ran out the door, and hailed a moto. I am not exaggerating when I say I have never eaten, or been forced to eat, so much in one sitting before. She served me at least 4 times the portion of foufou that I normally eat. For those of who don’t know, foufou is one of the staples of the Togolese diet. It is made from yams that are boiled and then pounded using a large mortar and pestle. The best description I’ve heard is that it’s kind of like mashed potatoes, but more gelatinous. We eat with our hands here, so think of mashed potatoes that are firm/solid enough to hold their form when you pinch off a bit with your fingers. I digress… so after eating about 5 pounds of foufou, I couldn’t think about anything other than how much I wanted (needed?) to take off the belt I was wearing. I thought my stomach might actually explode. I was relieved when Genevieve let me go home for my mid-day nap before returning to town that afternoon for the big fete. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but Togo did not disappoint.
The centerpiece of the Bonne Annee festivities is a local dance called Camoux. Key elements of Camoux include: dressing up as the opposite sex or in other crazy outfits, covering everyone with baby powder, making as much noise as possible (bells, finger cymbals, noisemakers, yelling bonne annee over and over again), and dancing your butt off. I don’t really know how to explain the dance itself – the closest thing I can related it to is an Irish jig, but you move around in a big circle while doing the jig-like dance. That makes it sound terribly lame (and my version of Camoux was pretty lame), but trust me, it was quite impressive when done correctly. Honestly, I have never been to a crazier dance party in my life.
All of Sotouboua essentially shut down for the first 4 days of the new year. Each day, different neighborhoods hosted Camoux dances. I made my rounds, and got a lot of street cred for participating. Now random people always come up to me and say ‘Oh, it’s you! The white girl who danced with us. Do you remember me?’ While I’m sure I’m butchering their dance, they are at least excited and appreciative that I try. (Or maybe they just have a good laugh watching. Haha)
Things calmed down after the 5th, but dances still cropped up at least once a week. Today’s fete was in Martin’s neighborhood, so I got to party with him and his host family. His host mom is awesome/hilarious, and of course was already drunk by the time I got there. She proceeded to douse my in baby powder (ignoring my protests) and then handed me a chipmunk hide to carry around/dance with to protect me from the bad spirits. We joined the dance, and almost immediately this really drunk old man appeared and kept trying to touch/grab me. The neighborhood chief saw the man harassing me and proceeded to raise his cane in the air and chase him away. It was pretty awesome. The dance concluded as the sun set, and we transitioned to the chief’s house to drink some tchouk. As Martin and I tried to leave the party, his host mom saw us again and told us that we should go with her to say hi to some friends. We ended up going door-to-door dancing camoux for another hour or so – it was kind of like Halloween for adults. We’d arrive at someone’s house and just start dancing around and causing a general ruckus. People gave us alcohol, and sometimes even money, and then we moved onto the next house. I’m a little apprehensive about going back to that side of town tomorrow, as I’m pretty sure we just acted a fool. I don’t know enough to gauge whether our behavior was normal or over the top. Oh well, I suppose all that matters is that a good time was had by all. (Except maybe the family who’s nice, quiet dinner got interrupted when 6 people barged into their compound.) I seriously can’t wait for Bonne Annee 2013. Anyone want to come join the party?! I’m already planning my costume… It’s going to be epic. I promise.