Not much has changed in Togo for many decades. Modern conveniences such as electricity, telephones and even indoor plumbing are still unavailable to most of the people in this poverty-ridden country. Not only does the infrastructure not exist; but even if it did, most Togolese can’t afford an electric or telephone bill. Most families grow as much of their own food as possible and live on less than $300 a year.


This woman is making a batch of tchouk (pronounced “chook,” rhymes with shook), West Africa’s local beer made from millet. It has a varnish-like bouquet (an acquired taste). I had it a few times to be social, but I never acquired a fondness for it.

Making tchouk is very time consuming. She will make only what she can sell in one day, as tchouk and everything else spoils quickly in the relentless tropical heat. She sells bowlfuls at the weekly market for five cents each. Men gather at the tchouk hut every market day and get soused for a quarter.

Women have to get water from streams or wells, returning home with it in huge basins carried on their heads. They are also in charge of gathering firewood for cooking needs.


This woman is using a Togolese food processor (a flat rock on which food is scraped until it is pureed), one of Togo’s modern conveniences found in abundance . With no electricity and no refrigeration, each meal is prepared from scratch. Adults eat first. When they are finished they hand their plates to the children, who polish off anything that may be left. I soon learned that there was always a child ready and happy to eat anything that I couldn’t finish and right from the same plate I was using. It was hard for me to do at first, as it is not the American way. But in this culture, it is not insulting or patronizing. They would have thought me crazy and sinfully wasteful if I threw my leftover food away.

She’d love a Maytag!

Doing laundry by hand is quite a job. Sometimes I would start at 6 a.m. and be finished by 10 or 11 a.m. Women who had big families had to do it more often than I did, but their daughters were also pressed into service.

There was a well in my courtyard from which water was drawn by dropping a rubber bag on a rope, pulling it up and filling a metal pail. It took about three bagfuls to fill the pail. I needed two buckets for washing and two for rinsing. If I waited until even 9 a.m., it would already be 90 degrees and I wouldn’t want to do it. I made it a habit to get my water by moonlight (when it was only about 80 degrees).

Hand washing is brutal on clothes, and the thin cotton material everyone wears usually lasted only a year or so. None of the T shirts I brought with me or the clothes I had made in Africa for everyday wear made it out of Togo alive.