Â Â Â It is Sunday, my day to relax. I’ve slept in until 7am and lounged about, reading, gardening and doing dishes. I decide around 11am to go hang out with my neighbors and drink the local fermented millet beverage called Tchouk.
Â My local Tchouk stand is only about 3 minutes walk away. It is somewhat suprising to find a Tchouk stand tucked away between the mosques, as I live in a predominantyly Kotokoli, and hence Muslim, neighborhood. Yet the Tchouk stand is open every Saturday and Sunday, and the clientelle are mostly the non-Kotokoli women in the neighborhood. Many of them know me from church, as I’ve been sproadically attending the Catholic service on Sundays.
Â Â I sit on a wooden bench in the shade of a palm tree, and my tchouk is served in a hollowed out gourd cup called a calabash. The tchouk mama sits in the center and the rest of the women sit around her. She also servers spicy pancakes with carmalized onions. I eat four pancakes and drink 2 calabashes, which will facilitate my afternoon siesta during the hottest hours of the day.
Â Â Â Tchouk is only prepared by women, and each tchouk mama has her own special touch depending on her ethnicity and tastes, much like a micro-brewery.Â I don’t know much about how tchouk is prepared, but I do know it takes several days. The dayÂ the tchoukÂ is served, it’s level of alcohol will increase throughout the day. Arrive in the morning, and you will be served a sweet harmless drink. By evening the Tchouk will have fermented to a potent force.
Â After greeting everyone present, I sit and let the conversation swirl around me. Much of it is in somemix ofÂ local languages that I don’t know. It’s not Kotokoli, the language of my muslim neighbors. However, the talk is peppered with French words for things that have been introduced here relatively recently. For example, one coversation is about chemical plant fertilizers. Another is about white people. The man sitting next to me turns and pronounces in French. Â« White people are strong. Without you, we blacks would still be monkeys in the trees. Â» I disagree, and do my best to convince him that Africa had a proud culture before the Europeans arrived. He isn’t buying it; after all, he went to school and knows the history that is taught there. I doggedly continue to fight the psychological legacy of colonialism. Â« Look we aren’t that different. I have 2 eyes, a nose, and 10 fingers just like you. Just the color is different. Â» This line of thought gets me no where. They all know there is a fundamental difference between the colors. Black Africans are hungry. White people aren’t.
Â TheyÂ drift back into local language and I contemplate the pleasant scene. Chickens peck around the dirt for scraps. A 5 year old girl prances around, joyfully serving the tchouk, washing the dishes, and toting around babies. Two women arrive with babies strapped on their back. The older baby is taken in to the arms of the tchouk mama. She helps him drink the tchouk from her calabash. When his eyes focus on me, he stares at my whiteness and everyone laughs. A 12 year old girl arrives with a tray of tomatoes on her head. One woman sets down her calabash but continues nursing her baby as she inspects and purchases the tomatoes. A neighbor arrives and insists that he will pay for my drink. I accept, knowing that Togolese take great pride in being generous. When I get up to leave I make sure to thank him casually in front of his friends. Too much of a thank you will embarrass him, and create the impression that he did not give willingly.