I am Assibi

Saturday has always been my favorite day of the week but now I can confirm this with factual information. In Togo, birthdays are extremely important. During a normal greeting it is not uncommon for someone to ask casually for your birthday, right along with “What is your name?” or “Where are you from?” 

Just to be clear, when they ask they are requesting the actual day of the week not the date. The first time I was asked this question, I had to search for the day on my phone (which luckily has a ‘go to date’ feature on the calendar).

Sure enough, I was born on a Saturday. In the local language here in Tsévié, that makes my name Ama. However, there are more than 40 local languages in Togo so names vary from city to city. 

In Bafilo, where I will be posted, I had additional options to take a Muslim name or a traditional African name. Of course, I could always opt to keep my American name or create an entirely new identity for myself with whatever name I choose as well. 

Coincidentally, not only was I born on Saturday, the market day in Bafilo; I arrived on a Saturday, and left the following Saturday. 

In Bafilo's local language, Kotokoli, Saturday translates to Assibi (pronounced Ah See Bee). 

So, I thought it was only right for me to take this as my local name. Additionally, because it simply means Saturday there are no religious or racial ties to it, which I also like. I will be the neutral Assibi.
After selecting my name I became slightly more prepared to meet the community--and that I did. The first person I met was my official counterpart (homologue en Français), who accompanied me during the 8 hour trip from our training site in Tsévié to Bafilo. 

My counterpart/homologue is an IT shop owner in the city. The shop is very quaint, a little bigger than a standard bathroom in the States, but contains an industrial size printer/scanner/copy machine, two computers, and a laptop workstation.  There is no internet in the city yet but the people from the community come to learn/work with computers or simply to get things typed and printed. He also offers computer training courses too, which a lot of the students take advantage of during their breaks from school.

During the week I spent in Bafilo my homologue took me around the town and introduced me to other entrepreneurs, businesses, NGO’s, the police, the Chef de Canton, schools, hospitals, the post office, and countless other need-to-know people. Bafilo is a mid-size city for Togo (population 10-15,000) but it definitely has a small town appeal.

During the first half of the week, I was accompanied by the volunteer I will be replacing. I stayed in his house during the visit but when I return I will move to another one. I am very glad I had him there to show me the ropes and after he left I had the opportunity to develop my own perspective. I spent the time wandering around a bit to see the scenery.

The landscape in Bafilo is amazing! Though this seems odd, in so many ways it reminds me of Arkansas. The vegetation is different but is everywhere. The city rests on the foot of a few mountains and sometimes I feel like I am back in the Russellville/Dardanelle area. There is also a waterfall really close to the city that I plan to visit when I come back. I have taken lots of photos but I probably will not be able to upload any of them until after I swear-in (Aug. 5).

The first three months of my service are to provide time to integrate into the community. Therefore, I won’t start working on projects right away but I found a lot of great potential partners there. 

In addition to working with my official counterpart, there are also several entrepreneurs (one being a Moringa and natural products vendor), a weavers group, radio station, several non-governmental organizations (one for young women, another for handicapped people, and others), schools, and many saving and loan groups nearby (like a bank, these groups operate within communities to save money together and offer loans with interest.  They can be as small as 10 people, or larger than 100, though between 15 and 30 is recommended.

I’m really excited about the city and getting things started in Bafilo but now I have to get focused again to get through the last two weeks of training!