Frenchwoman reigns as Queen of Togolese village
LOVISA KOPE, Togo, Nov 17, 2006 (AFP) - It's like a modern-day twist on a Rudyard Kipling tale, "The Man Who Would Be King", only the king is a queen, the setting is Togo and the story looks set for a happy ending.
Meet Her Majesty, a 52-year-old divorced French mother of two from Lyon who now reigns over a tiny village in southern Togo, a west African country of 5.5 million.
Nearly a decade ago, Marie-Claude Lovisa’s main preoccupation was finding a warm climate to ease the pain of severe rheumatism. Today, she’s focussed on wrangling up micro-credits from donor groups to finance development projects for her subjects.
And — she has a crown, a throne and a village named after her, even if she hasn’t quite mastered Mina, a language spoken in parts of this former French colony where French remains the official language and language of trade.
Queen Mawu Lolo, as she is called, has reigned for two years over the 4,500 residents in her mini-realm. In her former life, she worked for a French company as a training director for micro-processing.
When the rheumatism got too painful, she decided to pack it all in, take early retirement and leave for Togo.
“The climate suited me and I felt like I could really contribute something here,” she said modestly.
In her new role, she has the right to cap her shortly cropped greying hair with a traditional crown decorated with gold-plated emblems representing the thrones of ancient kings.
Her coronation? “It took place in 2004, a huge traditional ceremony,” she recalled, emotion rushing into a face that clings to one custom from her former country, a bit of discreet make-up.
“Beforehand, I went on a two-week retreat, during which I took part in a whole series of rituals,” she said, though respectfully would not elaborate.
For the coronation, the village once known as Takpla, about 75 kilometers north of the capital Lome, was rechristened “Lovisa Kope”, or the village of Lovisa, in the Mina language.
The future Mawu Lola, a title meaning “God is Great”, traveled to Togo for the first time in September 1998 to spend a few therapeutic weeks in the heat of Lome. Smitten with the country, she quickly returned three months later for another look. The turning point came in 2000 when she decided to move to Takpla and throw herself into humanitarian work for African children.
Six years later, she won’t boast about her limited fluency in Mina though she can get the gist of a conversation, but the villagers find this no obstacle.
“This woman has enchanted us since she arrived here,” said excitedly Teko, a village elder in his 70s as he sipped from a goblet of palm wine. “She has changed so much and we are so proud of her.”
“Thanks to this ‘yovo’ (white woman), our children go to school, we are sometimes given free medical care in a health clinic — and the neighboring villages are jealous of us!”, said Ahlonkobagan, one of Teko’s wives.
Lost in the African brush, Lovisa Kope is in fact a canton grouping 11 villages in the greater administrative district of Ave. Most villagers — like more than half the residents in this sub-Saharan economy — make their living from farming or grazing.
“I have already implemented several projects, notably to help improve conditions for children,” and the canton “now has six classrooms and a health dispensary.”
“This year I paid for 50 percent of the school fees for all the children,” said Lovisa, wearing a white ‘boubou’ — a full-length African gown — with a ‘pagne’, or traditional sash, draped over one shoulder.
Annual school fees run from 2,000 to 5,000 FCFA (EUR three to 7.5) and more than 800 children are now enrolled in class full-time.
Despite little financial backing — and, she said, without support for the moment from Togolese authorities — the queen has big ambitions for her village.
“I am from a poor family. I got the projects going thanks to my retirement money and the sale of my homes in Lyon,” she said.
“I have a major proposal for providing micro-credits to help women, and I will fight for free schooling for all children, as well as free health care,” said “my queen”, the salutation she’s given by her subjects.
“I have contacted associations in France to help me but I welcome all gestures. By 2011, this plan will be executed,” she vowed.
Her own children, a 32-year-old son and a 28-year-old daughter, still live in France. They “are proud of me, and they help out a lot,” she said.
Mawu Lolo travels back to her native country from time to time, to visit her family, but she no longer sees it as home and will not return there to live.
“I’ve made a commitment here. I have lots to things I want to accomplish for my village.”
Subject: French news