Sadath, his cousin Jeff, and I are sitting in a small, sticky room with green walls. This is the realm of Sadath Toko. The fan is broken, which makes the heat in the room almost unbearable. We are listening to Reggae, Jazz and Afropop. Sadath is one of the most relaxed people I know. He is sitting on the ground next to me, smoking and smiling contentedly. While we are chatting, we enjoy the coldness of the beers which I brought with me.
I’ve just finished my studies and am now sitting here in Parakou, the fourth largest city of Benin, West Africa. I came here a couple of months ago to do an internship at the local radio station ARZÊKÊ FM.
Now, I’m in limbo between study and job.
The more I hang out with my new friends in Parakou, I realize life is limbo. It doesn’t matter if I find a job or have a clear plan for my future, it will always be in a state of uncertainty. To experience so many different ways of living, gives me a certain inner calm.
I am listening to Sadath, who is sitting beside his Bob Marley poster, which gives me the impression national borders are without effect. Sadath answers my questions about his three simultaneous studies, about polygamy, his dream wife and his image of Europe.
Sadath Toko: Student, tatooist, family man
Me: I know already your name, Sadath Toko. Do you have another name?
Sadath: No, that’s all.
Me: Your birthday was the day before yesterday. And now you are 24 years old, right? Only 24, that’s young…
Sadath: Yes, and that’s cool, because that means that there are still many things to do!
Me: Apart from your two brothers, with whom do you live?
Sadath: There is my dad, my mom and there are my two cousins, they are twins. Besides there is another cousin, Mous.
Me: And Jeff?
Sadath: Jeff. But okay, he just comes seasonal. Sometimes he is here and sometimes not.
Me: Okay, what studies have you done?
Sadath: Ah, studies. I studied different things. I started with sociology. I preferred to start with Spanish, but my parents didn’t want me to move to another city and here it was not possible. But then I registered also at the University of Calavi, which is near Cotonou in Benin, for Spanish and began to travel between these two cities which means a 7-hour-bus trip. But then there were troubles at the university of Calavi, there were too many strikes and I had to spend all my time at this University in order to attend the courses. So, I quit sociology in Parakou in favour of Spanish in Calavi, which was three years. And at the same time, I started with a three-year Marketing programme here in Parakou. Finally, I did a triple registration. That means, that I registered at three different cities. In Benin at the Universities of Parakou and of Calavi – Marketing and Spanish – and in Ghana I studied English at Accra.
Me: And have you finished the three programmes on time?
Sadath: Yes. (laughs) Three programmes in three years.
Me: Why did you decide to do that?
Sadath: Because, I really like to form myself. When I started with Spanish I still had a lot of free time and so I told myself that I could use this free time to do other things. Also, the studies felt like a prison. I started to be bored. To escape this situation, I thought it best to register in another place as well.
Me: Why did it feel like in prison?
Sadath: At the beginning, yes. We really had to adjust to the timetable. We really had to study aligned to the programme that was given to us. But with my triple-registration-strategy, I myself had the control over my timetable. With my strategy, I could play with the system as I want. I had the overview over three studies and could manage it at my own pleasure. So I succeed to escape the prison.
Me: When did you start studying?
Sadath: Hm, perhaps something like when I was 19 years old. Because, just after the “baccalaureat” I took a gap year.
Me: What did you do during this year? Nothing? You just spend your time here at home?
Sadath: I rested. And I also traveled a lot. I went to Lomé, to Niger.
Me: Apart from studying, what do you do with your time?
Sadath: My passion is drawing. I learned it from my uncle and I like graphics and tableaus. Drawing relaxes and helps me to concentrate. I draw to calm myself. When I am furious, I am good at drawing.
Me: What kind of themes do you draw?
Sadath: (laughs) I draw a little bit of everything, but most of all I draw women (laughs).
Sadath: (now serious) Because I really like the feminine nature. I appreciate the feminine nature. I am somebody who likes diversity and I observe much more diversity in women than in men. Many people say that all women are similar but I disagree. Perhaps with certain points but there is one special little point that makes the difference between every woman, that’s interesting!
Me: And you also tattoo, right?
Sadath: Yes, because I like drawing, I thought why not also tattoo? Before the people saw my drawings and said it would be nice to have them as a tattoo. So, I ordered a machine and started.
Me: Here in Parakou, is there already somebody who does it?
Sadath: Yes, there are tattoo artists in Parakou, but there are not many. Additionally they have very antiquated machines, that are made by the artists themselves . Here you can not really find the material to build a real modern machine for tattooing.
Me: Where did you try it for the first time?
Sadath: When I got the machine I tried it for the first time on my cousin Jeff (laughs). I said: Look, I have a new machine and I am looking for somebody with whom I can experiment with, don´t you want a tattoo? What motif do you prefer? And he said: An anchor. I said: Wow, okay. Let’s start! And that’s the way it happened.
Me: And concerning Benin? What is special here?
Sadath: The liberty!
Me: The liberty?
Me: Explain it to me!
Sadath: Okay. Here in Benin we enjoy a certain liberty that you could not find all over the world. I met tourists in Benin who were shocked by the liberty we enjoy here, for example the fact that we could play loud music whenever we want, doing what we want, driving how we want, chatting, having fun, we can do what we want and all this peacefully. There is a certain liberty that rules Benin and this is what I like most. And above all Benin is not a country where you could have observed conflicts for a long time.
Me: Concerning Europe, do you feel like visiting Europe?
Sadath: Yes, I would like to.
Sadath: I think there are the most beautiful beaches. I am a person who likes having fun, so I am looking for beautiful beaches.
Me: And what do you think, what is the difference between the life over there and here?
Sadath: I do not really have an idea yet. But the little I could say, I have met people who have already been in these countries and they told me that it was really great. So I really want to go there to make me a better idea. But I say to me that it really would be amazing.
Me: When you think of Europe in general, what image emerges in front of your eyes?
Sadath: Immediately I see diversity. Diversity, because I notice that in Europe there is a range number of themes that are already approached, many themes on which people already work on. Research is much more vast, let’s say vibrant. Above all, that’s it.
Me: And concerning family life?
Sadath: Well, above all I would like to find somebody who shares with me the passion to travel. I want to live together with a person who likes discovering, with who I could share experiences.
Me: Could you also imagine to life polygamous?
Me: Not at all? Why?
Sadath: No, no! Polygamous, well I don’t think that it’s really possible to love several people the same way. It’s true you can have some flirts from time to time because the man is weak, but…
Me: …and the woman?
Sadath: The woman too. I think you could have several loves at first sight but the real, I don’t think that you can have two, that’s not possible.
Me: Okay, so my last question: Do you take some good resolutions for the year 2018?
Sadath: Oh yes, I will take some good resolutions because I think it will be a year that will bring me much pleasure and fulfilment of projects. Because up to now all was in the state of prediction and in 2018 I can already start to lay the foundations for my own projects. And I hope to have always the possibility to do something which I like and not to be forced to work in a domain I don’t like. I will finish my studies, so, the year 2018 will be a year with new opportunities and experiences for me and therefore I’m really excited concerning this new year and I hope all will be happen without problems.
Me: Good luck, Sadath. Thank you very much!
Sadath: Thank you too.