The Fulani

There is an ethnic group in this part of the world called the Fulani. (What I am about to describe is based purely on asking questions and not on hard fact. If there are things that I get wrong, please forgive me.) They are a nomadic group of people that are all over this part of Africa. Fulani men are paid by rich people to herd cattle from one place to another. In Togo they normally walk from Burkina Faso (North of Togo) to Lom̩ (the capitol in the South) with herds of 15 Р20 skinny skinny cows.

For some reason Fulani all dress alike. The men wear baggy, loose fitting, solid color MC Hammer type pants with a very loose tunic type shirt (oftentimes the shirts will be second hand western women’s clothing like a blouse.) They ALWAYS have a walking stick in one hand, water bottle on a string draped over one arm, bag (most often women’s purse) draped over the other arm and a hat (usually straw but on occasion white lacey kind of hat little girls in the south wear to church). For some reason they also all wear solid colored plastic (gummy kind of) shoes.

I’m not sure I have ever seen a Fullani woman. I think I have. They usually have children in their arms, colorful beads in their hair, and a far away look to their eye. Their clothing is usually a deep red color.

Having lived here for a number of months and traveled a bit I have gotten used to seeing things that are foreign to me. I don’t think I will ever get used to seeing the Fulani.

Two weeks ago I was in a car driving from a city in the south of the country to my home further north. We stopped next to a thriving market in the full swing of market day. The market looked like most other markets except for how many Fulani there were. Groups of two or three Fulani guys (probably 17 – 25 years old) were casually wandering around, not buying anything, just being seen. Imagine middle schoolers in the US going to the mall on a Saturday afternoon. Before going they put on their best shoes, do their hair just right, and hope to be seen. These guys had done the exact same thing… just Fulani style. Some of the guys wandering around had on makeup; some of it turning their face a clown like white. Others had painted white circles on their cheeks, white streaks under their eyes, and white on their lips. There were groups who had giant Afros (and the accompanying hair pick). Others had very nice purses and the white hats of the southern nine year old at her first communion.

Yesterday, I was leaving the market with arms full of black bags of veggies. As I loaded up my bike bags I looked up to see two Fullani guys staring at me and whispering to each other.

They were talking about me.

Between two guys who walk around carrying women’s purses and lace hats I was the foreign one. I was the alien. They belong to an ethnic group I understand about as well as the accordion, who know and think exactly the same about me. I didn’t need the makeup, purse, or walking stick. Instead I had my jeans, messenger bag and Trek bike.

And I was weird.

Who loves stop lights?

A couple weeks ago small traffic lights suddenly appeared at the 4 main intersections of my town. For the first week that they were up none worked. Riding through the intersections where my life has been nearly taken from me, I was excited about the idea of having something to control the flow of motorcycle, car, huge truck and people traffic.

About a week after the signals magically appeared in town I was biking to use the internet. I turned on the main intersection only to be stopped on the next street by a policeman who said the road was closed. Not totally sure why (but not questioning… you learn to let things slide after being here for a while) I turned around and tried to turn down another road of the intersection only to be met by yet another policeman. I finally decided that something was going on and pulled my bike over to see what would happen. After a few minutes of waiting I started hearing drums. In another minute or two I saw a group of Tem (one of the local tribal/ethnic groups) dancers (guys dance with two sticks in a line, spinning and hitting the other guys sticks rhythmically) followed by a group of horsemen dressed (the rider and horse) in traditional garb. The riders were pulling on the reigns, making the horses rear up every few steps.

The dancers and horses were then followed by a small fleet of Mercedes that stopped in the middle of the intersection in front of me. A group of besuited (anyone wearing a suit in this country is both very rich/important and (in my opinion) very crazy (SO HOT)) men got out of the cars walked up to one of the newly traffic lighted parts of the intersection and cut a white ribbon that had been hung across the road.

There were a few more minutes of dancing as the suited men all shook hands and finally got back into their air-conditioned cars to be driven away to whatever office they worked in. Crowds milled around the intersection for a few more minutes until the traffic lights were finally turned on and traffic started flowing.

Weeks later I still see people just sitting, watching the controlled flow of traffic and the lights magically changing colors.