The Foreign Service Journal, May 2004

80 F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / M A Y 2 0 0 4 A s I stare blankly out the win- dow I am transported back to 1970 and my humble room in the Adjakpo family compound in the village of Agu-Gadzapé, Togo. After three months as a Peace Corps Volunteer, learning how to fit in where I would never really fit, it was my first Christmas in Africa. I began thinking about what to do for Christmas. Everybody in our con- gested compound, always vibrantly alive with people doing their daily chores and what they had to do to survive the poverty that engulfed them so profoundly, liked the idea of doing something special to celebrate Christmas. They had no money but they did, however, tell me how nice it would be if I held a party. I assessed my meager resources to see what kind of party I could pull off for 30 or more people. I scraped together some money for a 20-liter bottle of cheap Algerian wine at Chez Henri’s general store and some yams and chickens at the open mar- ket for the preparation of fufu. As with any party in the world, ample food and drink was the key. Also essential would be some music. I brushed off my battered old battery- powered Phillips record player and bought the eight size-D batteries required for its operation. As the sound was not too loud, some people in the compound showed me how to amplify it by placing the two speak- ers on top of huge calabashes (giant gourds that grow on trees). Then, because the party was at night, there was the problem of adequate light- ing. I splurged and bought, from the Yoruba-Anago store, an Aladdin lamp that could, if properly handled, make the space outside my room as bright as day. The big day finally arrived and all the women prepared a feast. The pounding of fufu could be heard for hours, and when the music began, the pounding got in sync with it. The village was scoured for the favorite dance tunes of the time. This includ- ed James Brown, Jimmy Cliff and the colossus from the Congo — Franco and His OK Jazz Band. People ate and drank and the wine quickly dis- appeared. Then, local brew — palm wine and its stronger relative, sodobi — materialized out of nowhere. Like magic, the compound filled with people, some known and some not, who began to dance — two steps to the right then two steps to the left, again and again. It was as if the entire compound began to levitate and sway to the steps of the crowd that was moving in mesmerizing unison. For a few hours, it was as if the entire world was swaying with the sounds coming out of the little Phillips record player, which sounded impossibly loud. I was carried away to some never- never land, only to wake up the next morning wondering what had hap- pened. I was not alone in this feel- ing. For days afterward, the com- pound was abuzz with rumors that even the spirits from the mountain had invaded our party and transport- ed us all to a state of ecstasy that alcohol alone could not have achieved. My stature in the village was much elevated. People were not only thankful that I had organized such a wonderful party but were impressed that the spirits had looked so favorably upon me. Even the local witch doctors began to look at me differently. The talk was that I had certain powers with regards to the animistic spirits they worshiped and respected. All began to say that I was a very special “Komla” (Tuesday’s child). My reply was that the gods must have blessed the old Phillips record player. But, as I was to learn many times more, there is no telling what kind of magic can happen after midnight under a full moon in Africa. The spirits from the mountain had invaded our party. Mark G. Wentling (aka “Komla Amerika Agu”) retired from USAID in 1996. He now resides in Maputo. The stamp is courtesy of the AAFSW Bookfair “Stamp Corner.” R EFLECTIONS My First Christmas In Africa B Y M ARK W ENTLING