Back home in Dogbo. We’ve said that often, since arriving from Cotonou yesterday. And it still surprises me how right that sounds. Home. While in the weeks past there have been more moments than I care to remember when either Marijke or I, or both at the same time, were doubtful whether we would ever be able to feel at home here again.
More moments than I care to remember. Remembering can be a complicated thing. Memories can help you feel right, at the place where you are: there is a history of you getting there, a history of past obstacles overcome, a history of loved ones and precious moments which are not with you but never forgotten. But memories can make you feel wrong as well, dislocated, especially if there is no memory when your history is recounted, when fearful gaps mark the road you have travelled, when loved ones were there but the moments passed you by completely.
Back home in Dogbo we hear our history being recounted. By Mariette, who was with us without let-up during our stay in the hospital at Lokossa, who fed us and cleaned up after us, who watched over us and prayed and held hymns to our ear. By Joseph, who was the first to discover that something was very, very wrong, who knocked and waited and knocked and called and waited and finally got help. By Gregoire, who drove us first to Gohomey, and then to Lokossa when the staff at Gohomey confirmed that things were indeed wrong, more wrong than they were equipped to deal with. By Didi, who was called during the course of the evening, and herself – an old woman – hired a zem to take her to Gohomey, only to discover that we were no longer there; who then returned to Dogbo in the dead of night, fearing for our lives and risking her own. Dead of night in the abandoned marketplace is not a place to be. But I prayed and prayed, she said, that I would find a way to get to Lokossa; and then a big camion stopped and the driver asked what I was doing there so late, and when I explained he said that he was on his way to Togo and would pass through Lokossa. Once there, God sent his angel, a young man who led me into the hospital and through all the corridors to where you and Madame were lying, unconscious on your beds.
All material witnesses to a story we cannot recall. Although they all say that I was cognisant of their presence and capable of responding and unusually willing to cooperate and aware of what was needed: where the keys had fallen and who had been responsible and that the cashbox had probably been emptied. They say so. I believe them. But I remember nothing. And also the days that followed manifest scary gaps. I read an explanation: As the body becomes physically sedated by the drug and manifests dramatic physical effects, the brain experiences amplified hypnotic and amnestic properties of the drug. That explains, but does not take away our sense of dislocation. It’s as if the history recounted, the memories of what was suffered, belong to someone else and not to us.
But it becomes more complicated. Joseph praises God for his protection, and adds, in one breath: because if you hadn’t recovered, it would have been very, very bad for us. For us? Yes, for Joseph and Mariette, particularly. Because in Africa an investigation into a household robbery is considered completed when there is household personnel. The personnel have opportunity, the cashbox has been rifled, the owners cannot bear witness, case closed. And their condemnation is the more severe because they were in a position of trust. Mariette confides a similar certitude. And then she adds: please keep the pagne which I brought to you in the hospital. I can no longer take it back or use it. We do not understand. And it takes a lot of explaining before we do. Although, understand…? This the story: we needed covering in the hospital, especially at night. And if just Marijke had made use of Mariette’s brightly coloured ream of material there would have been no problem. But since I was there and did so too, Mariette’s in-laws would object if she continued to wear it herself. For a woman to share a pagne with another woman is all right; but for her to share the pagne with a man is equivalent to committing adultery. Giving it as gift is acceptable; taking it back would fold my maleness into the pagne’s memory, by way of speaking, and make Mariette an unfaithful woman.
And so we learn our complicated lessons. Wondering if home will ever be the same.