Visiting

Suzy & Fidel Baldwin-Noutehou January 10 2001, 9:15 pm

Lets go visiting. Hop on the motorbike and don’t forget your helmet. These gravel roads can be dangerous. It is going to take us about a half an hour to reach our destination village. We can’t go very fast because this gravel makes it like driving on marbles. Now we are passing through the police stop just out of town. They don’t usually stop motorcycles.

If you look over there, you will see the town of Natitingou down in the valley. Let’s keep going toward the village. We are passing fields of twelve-foot-high sorghum with reddish grain heads and the somewhat shorter stocks of gray millet. There is also brown maize, already being harvested and hauled in from the fields for the many hands to shell. See that small, red brick building over there? That is a school. There are probably about 100 children in there.

OK, we are almost to the village—only two more hills. Now you need to sit tight, hold on, and don’t wiggle too much. These little foot trails are difficult on a motorbike. Watch so that tall grass doesn’t slap you in the face. That lady up ahead is the one we are coming to see. She will take us around to visit the different houses. “Nakocheri. Mutummuta?” (She greeted us and asked how your work is going.) The house we are going to visit is the tata (Ottammari house) where this lady’s mother lives. She was born in this tata. Her mother is a cute lady and a hard worker like most ladies around here.

Come and see the inside. The lady said, “Pardon all the smoke. We are making sorghum beer and it is cooking on the fire in here.” The entrance to the tata is like a tunnel with high mud walls on either side. First you come into a big room lit by a few rays coming from the opening in the roof. There are some rooms below for storage. Sticks support the thick mud roof.

The thick smoke drives us to the ladder—a notched stick with a fork at the top to keep it from spinning when you step on it. Yes, just climb up there and step out onto the roof. Now look around. There are two different kinds of rooms up here. There are short, round sleeping rooms made of mud and brick and roofed with grass. The other structures up here are granaries. They look a lot like the rooms but don’t have a door. Go ahead and climb up the notched log and look into the granary. See, it is like a big mud jar with some divider walls on the bottom. On the outside, it is covered with grass like a grass roof. The lid is also thatched to shed rainwater. Speaking of water, there are drains in the walls at the edges of the tata roof so water can drain during the rainy season.

Over there, spread out on the flat roof, corn on the cob is drying. Later it will be shelled. See that pile of black, charred-looking seeds? People burn them and then press them for oil. It is a saturated oil with a higher melting temperature than butter. It comes out looking a lot like Crisco shortening.

Look out over the side of the tata and take a look at the fields. Some fields have three different crops growing together. This field is planted with ingnam, a big, ugly root like a huge potato with rough skin. There is millet and some corn drying on the stalks.

Well, it is time to go. Take a big breath and go back down into the smoke-filled chamber and out the front door. Before you go, stop and look at the fetish beside the door. It is sprinkled with feathers and chicken blood. There are also some mud cones in the ground which represent dead relatives.

We say,“Nontom biyo,” which means, “Thank you very much.” OK, let’s go home.