Thursday, August 27, 2009

Togolese-ism #3: Twins

My whole world has been turned upside down and yet reaffirmed in a strange sense (a phrase that seems to encompass my Peace Corps service thus far). Twins, it seems are viewed as gods here in Togo. Frankly that is something I always thought was necessary. Here in Togo, I am on the same level as living heroes, famous movie stars, or as it is said, someone with an inclination toward black magic (meaning someone NOBODY wants to mess with). My friends have showed me the shrines to twins here. Every time a twin dies in your family you keep a wooden figurine of them and on the appropriate ceremonies make sacrifices, feed, and cloth them. The figurines look like voodoo dolls, but don’t let cultural stereotypes mislead you (like I did). If, for instance, a mother looses a twin at childbirth she will also keep a figurine of the other twin with her at all times (until her other twin has grown). She will feed it, cloth, it and keep it wrapped up in her skirt always against her body showing her respect for the lost life. If twins are correctly revered and cared-for they will protect your home leaving you at peace in your household.

But it’s not over there…I’m not sure if you are ready for this, I certainly wasn’t. The birth-order is opposite here. That means, hold your horses it’s coming- Anne is actually the elder twin. For those of you who know Anne and I well, this might be hysterical for you (do to my natural inclinations toward leadership). According to Togolese culture, however, because Anne is the oldest, she is expected to be domineering, highly-respected, and not-talked back to, all the things, that for so many years I have been (not really). Oh crap…

Back to the Togolese notion of twins- it’s actually a cute story nothing anyone could seriously consider though…right? Wrong. It is said that the eldest twin is the twin that comes out second. How can that be I often ask myself? I came out first THUS I have lived longer, experienced, more, etc. However, if you are unsure about someplace, something, or someone human nature often drives us to ask about the unknown, do research before embarking. I know I spent many hours on the internet, reading books, and blogs about Peace Corps experiences before coming here. So, as the story goes, the “eldest” twin sends the “first-born” (I refuse to say youngest) out to check out the scene. How are things on the outside? If they are good the “first-born” (still refusing) sends in the message that “ya, things are pretty good out here, come on out.” In other words, I was the tester of waters, the guard, or as I like to think of it the pioneer of the new world.

Despite my desperate attempts to hold my position of authority, my grips have been slipping away for a while now and my Togo revelations are not helping (especially since Anne has been here too). Something about Anne’s Depauw sorority, rugby education has instilled a rebel in her and I’ve often found myself having to reassert my authority. So Anne, you’ve won one but I’m still revered here, and as for back home, I’ll comfortably try to return to my role as the “dominate” twin like before we went to college, and if not, pioneers (remember the game Oregon Trail?) are still pretty freakin’ sweet.

Anne and I actually have quite an egalitarian relationship with Anne and I love my little sister more than anything in the world!

Above: The shrine to twins.
Below: Two real twins on the left (the younger) Anne on her visit to me (the eldest). We are in Ghana.


anne said...

I know it is difficult to face life in Togo as the younger twin but I think this experience will be enriching if you give it a chance.
There are many perks in being the youngest. For instance, if you're quiet enough and spend road trips engrossed in a novel no one really expects you to take your turn driving. I was planning to write about my experiences of being the ‘elder’ twin in my blog but you’ve scooped me. Serves me right for waiting so long to write about my visit.
I love you and couldn’t ask for a better twin sister.

martha/ma said...

Your twin talk has always been undecipherable to any others except Gretchen and Gregory. Regardless of which is oldest, or first, my twin daughters have always been a particular joy! I do enjoy the impressive writing skills, Laura, and am inspired by your reflections. Anne is working on her blog, waiting for perfection!

Gregory said...

No idea what you're talking about, ma. Even Gretch and I can't understand those two.

The Togolese attitude towards twins only confirms a belief I've long held. I should have immediately eaten both you and Anne upon you're return home from the hospital. That would have then transferred all the powers to me and left me ever the more powerful. Like a twin-fueled superhero.