By Nils Kalbfuss, The Afro News Togo : My name is Nils or Koffi in the local language Ewe. I am from Germany and currently participating in a voluntary service in the small, almost-unknown but marvellous West African country Togo. In recent days we were preparing a big birthday party for me which is really different to the ones I am accustomed to.
My journey began one year ago when I decided to go to a developing country to discover the culture of that land and how people live who don’t live in a country which has got so many materialistic values like the western world. Normally a voluntary service is very expensive. All your expenses are your own and at the same time you are not able to earn money because it is also a kind of solidarity to not take the money of the poorest people of the world. Fortunately the German government established the program ‘weltwaerts’ where it is possible for everyone, no matter how rich your family is, to undertake a voluntary service in a developing country.
I went through the application process and quickly knew that I will be going to Togo where I would participate in a school project as an Assistant Teacher in English. Actually, I had some very different views and visions of Africa which I haven’t seen until now. I thought that wild animals, an unbelievable environment, small huts and learning-loving students will wait for me.
Soon the day of the departure arrived. I said good-bye to my family not knowing what will happen in the following year, not knowing that there will be severe snow storm in Europe while I will be under the tropical sun.
I was used to big cities like Cologne in Germany but when I arrived in Lome it was quite different for me. I was overwhelmed when I saw the African landscape and cityscape with these small houses, women transporting goods on their heads and palm trees which I haven’t seen in my life before. The adventure then truly started!
Before arriving I thought that I will be shocked by the poverty but I have to admit that I wasn’t shocked at all. Instead I saw that people were happy and had always enough time for a talk. As I discovered later poverty is hidden by all the beautiful images people have at first. Later after about two months I discovered what poverty might be no possibility for many individuals to learn and develop his knowledge in subjects they are interested in, sicknesses (HIV, malaria and many more) without any treatment and so on.
However at first you don’t see and care much about it. Instead we danced the first tropical-warm night away under many palm trees. As I have seen later, parties or nights in bars seem to be very important here and are very important to not get depressed.
A strange experience which started from the beginning and which I experience right now as well is the positive racism. When I go through the streets small children start singing : Yovo, yovo bonsoir…ça va bien? Merci!. I am always seen and each one starts talking to you which is very strange for me because in Europe nobody just started speaking with me on the streets. Sometimes I still get annoyed by this especially if I am stressed. However I have learned to give up my stress and enjoy the company. Life isn’t that fast here. If people discover that I am German they are even more fascinated and say that we should colonize the country again because before everything had been better.
Actually these attitudes make me feel ashamed because I know that the time of colonisation was just a time of exploiting these countries. Even if positive racism is a form of racism it is a better thing than negative racism. It leads to a certain extent to integration. In the western countries we are used to leaving people from other countries or other colour alone because in our minds we think that the difference of colour makes a personal relationship kind of difficult.
Germany is a country where patriotism hasn’t got its place in school because of the bad experiences we have made a little bit more than half a century ago. I couldn’t believe that students in Togo have to sing their national anthem in the morning and stand like soldiers. The lesson began. English is taught in a very different way compared to the way it is taught in Germany. We are used to having discussions very early in class. Here the teaching style is very dictated. However it is the only way to teach in the huge classrooms sizes where there are about 80 students. Sometimes teachers freak out and beat the students because they need to have more respect.
Seeing teachers beating students was very hard to witness. We often discussed this practice with the teachers however; we see as well how hard it is to get enough respect in class without the beating.
The work as an assistant teacher in English was not what I wanted it to be. It is hard to help in lessons because of the other teaching style. However we discovered another place for us. The college in Agou Gare already has a library but it was closed for three or four years and everything was in a very bad condition. We went inside, tidied it up and started our project. We painted the library and new books arrived from Europe. At the moment the library is a very nice place for the students to read. Each day we even have to send students away because our library is too full.
I have been here for six months. My host family became my second Togolese family who takes great care of me. My own family life and the experiences that I so far have made with my Togolese friends is another story.