“Yovo, Yovo, bonsoir, ça va? Ca va bien, merci!” is a cry I heard a lot of in Togo - it is a phrase that I will never forget as part of my experience of the country. Children and adults alike would call this out in friendly banter wherever I walked! Indeed, it is true to say that the Togolese are very receptive and friendly people.
The in-country Projects Abroad team was highly supportive throughout the two months of my stay, continually ensuring that I was getting on well and that the placements I was working on suited me. Although I was on my own with a host family, the weekly meetings arranged by the team were a great time to catch up with all the current volunteers and share stories or arrange trips to a restaurant together. This being said, both of the host families I stayed with during my time were equally welcoming, always willing to play a game of cards or take me out to visit other family members, to the extent that I never felt homesick during my stay.
My time in the country was split between two different projects, hence why I was with two different host families. For the first month I was doing a 60-hour French course whereby one of the teachers from a local school would come to the house and teach me grammar, vocabulary and reading and writing skills on the veranda outside. Sometimes I would get distracted by a lizard scuttling along the wall or visitors coming and going yet we’d persevere, rain or shine! I loved how easy going and flexible my teacher was, always willing to let me lead the sessions by what I wanted to learn.
Each Friday she would take me out to practice my French speaking by visiting local markets or events, or in one case – a trip to the tailor to get a dress made to fit. Although I may not have spoken much during these times it was a great way to be shown around the area and visit places I wouldn’t have done otherwise. Though surreal at times, I enjoyed the course and by the end of the four-week period of teaching I was sad to say goodbye.
My second month was spent volunteering in one of the local orphanages. I still remember my first day when the children surrounded me, showing me their toys and stroking my legs! I was quickly set to work hand washing some of the clothes with two of the older children – a three man job that I never fully got the hang of! Other jobs included washing up, sifting corn and helping to prepare food for lunch.
However, most of the time was very laid back, giving me a chance to play with the children or teach them some basic words in English. Despite a certain language barrier between us I developed good relations with both the staff and children and still miss them to this day!
My whole experience was so different from anything I had done before. Togo is such a fascinating country that seems so unappreciated by many. From rides on the back of motos, crowded taxi journeys and vibrant markets, to trips to waterfalls in the north, there is definitely enough to keep you amused. Oh, and one more thing if you’re going - don’t forget to taste a delicious FanMilk ice cream!