My maid asked me if it was nice to be ‘home’ after a month away. Is this home? A team-member in Togo was missing his wife and daughters and looking forward to getting back to them. But I can’t say there was that much here for me to rush back to. & given the amount of travelling I will have to do in this job I wonder if I will ever spend enough time here for it to really become a home.
What makes a home anyway? For many people it is family, but with no husband or children, and having never lived near either of my parents, that has never been a factor for me. Having your own things around you? Well, yes, in the past that seemed important, but here, living in a house provided by my employer, with furniture provided by my employer, it is less of an issue. & many of those personal things (my books, for example) are still in boxes anyway as I do not yet have a full complement of furniture. I don’t feel attached enough to the place to want to spend lots of money on beautiful expensive curtains, etc – not only would it be wasted against the basic furniture but it seems pointless when I am away so much.
Also, the lack of privacy makes it feel less like a real home. Already since I have been back this week the joiner has been in to take back the coffee table he made me (the wood wasn’t ready and it has warped badly since he delivered it a week or so ago), a handyman has been in to work out how to repair the door lock that has broken, a colleague has been in to supervise the joiner and handyman, and of course my maid and guards are a permanent fixture.
Maybe a home depends to some extent – in a wider way – of being in a place where you have friends? I don’t really have any here yet, not real friends. Partly that is because of the language difficulties, partly because I’m away a lot, but partly because of the way the men behave.
I’ve never had that many women friends, not because I don’t like women – I do – but just because in my life (City job, football fan, no children, etc) I didn’t meet many women. The same applies here, but whereas in the UK it was quite easy to establish platonic relationships with men (well, maybe not easy, but certainly possible), here it seems harder. I’ve thought a couple of friendships were starting up, but all too soon (in one instance within a few hours) the text messages arrive telling me how he misses me, how he can’t sleep for thinking about me, how he loves me… So irritating when they don’t yet really know anything about me and clearly have no basis whatsoever from which to spout such rubbish. Is it just the exoticism of a woman with different coloured skin that they find so appealing? I try not to think that they may somehow think I offer money, or at least a more comfortable lifestyle. But I haven’t yet learnt how to get beyond that barrier (or where to go to meet women) and until I do I think friendships will remain only as those old ones maintained over the internet.
Do I sound sad? I’m not, just reflective. A product, perhaps, of sitting here alone rather than being out having fun with friends!
One of the things I found time to do in Togo was to buy some African fabric and visit a tailor recommended by the office, and as a result I now have a very West African style outfit – a long, fitted skirt and top in a bright green, blue and yellow print. Everyone in our office dresses up in their best traditional robes on Fridays (ostensibly because it’s the day they visit the mosque, but I’m sure many of them don’t go anywhere near the mosque). I’ve been asked a couple of times where are my ‘Friday clothes’, so today I decided to try out my new African outfit.
Surprisingly I felt quite comfortable in it, not at all like I was on the way to a fancy dress party, as I had expected. But in any case it would have been worth it. My colleagues were thrilled, and even a couple of strangers in the street gave me the thumbs up. I can’t see myself wearing it everyday, as it is quite hot, and the long skirt would make it difficult if not impossible to climb into some of the vehicles used for public transport here. But I definitely have to find myself a tailor in Dakar, and get a few more outfits made for Fridays.
I also brought back a small stone fetish, bought in the Fetish Market in Lomé, that will supposedly protect my house against thieves and damage. We had a little ceremony with the fetish priest when I bought it – nothing terribly exotic, just repeating my name out loud and clapping my hands together when told – and I have to either put a cigarette into its mouth or two drops of alcohol onto its head once a year to ensure that it continues to protect me.
I placed it on the bookshelf and put two drops of lemon-flavoured vodka on its head (I hope it likes vodka). Later when Gloria (my Catholic maid) was around I thought I had better say something, as I anticipated her disapproval. I started to explain that I had bought something from Togo that she might have noticed and she interrupted, “Oui, le fetiche!” – she said it was a really good thing that I had it as it was important to protect the house, and this was the traditional African way. Apparently the bit of bamboo in my courtyard has similar protective qualities.