I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Togo, West Africa from 1982 to 1987. I went back to Togo in 2012 making this a 25 year anniversary. Has Togo changed? I'll summarize my trip here by transcribing a journal I kept while I was there and include pictures and videos.
Monday, July 30, 2012 10:10 PM
We are about to board Air France flight 009 for Paris. Tired. We had a quick ride up to JFK from New Jersey. We were on the Belt Parkway in less than 2 hours?
See Trip to JFK to experience a very quick ride:
Tuesday, July 31. Paris, France.
Nice ride. Smooth take off and landing. New plane? The seat back in front of me shows our flight map, updating in real time:
Now we wait at Charles de Gaulle for our flight to Togo. Another 6 or 7-hour flight.
Wednesday, August 1.
Lome (pronounced Lo-may). We are at the Hotel Enike in some quartier where the taxi station used to be or still is. We got into the airport at about 6:30 PM last night, filled out visa forms to get a one week visa. That took longer and shorter than I thought. They are one-week visas so we have to extend them anyway. We picked up our bags and went in to the airport lobby where we were greeted by members of Afoua's family and our chauffeur, Dodji. He whisked us out and took us to the hotel.
Here is the hotel:
Across the street from the hotel is a little bar like so many others. Afro pop plays from the bar:
After checking in last night, we found a bar where they served grilled guinea fowl wrapped in paper, with tomatoes, onions and sauce.
The cook ripped the hot bag open in front of us. Then I had a Lager. Yup. Good beer still.
Lome at night didn't seem nearly as animated as I remember. And dark. Very few lights on. Maybe it's my older eyes. (The two photos above were taken later, in the early evening.)
For breakfast this morning, we had french bread stuffed with eggs, and Nescafé. Acceptable.
Marlboros have been replaced with 2-stroke engine exhaust. Motos everywhere, smoking, beeping, putt-putting. One person, two person, sometimes mother, baby and driver.
In many ways, it's the same as it was 25 years ago. I took a walk this morning around the hotel quartier. Here is a view from the roof of the hotel:
In the other direction, the lush tropical side streets during the rainy season:
Near the hotel and on every street there are signs like this one:
I notice that fewer women and girls wear traditional pagnes. Many wear western clothes, a skirt instead of a pagne, or pants, western top. That doesn't change the way they stand or walk:
I thought the Yovo chant was dead until I heard it soon enough from two little kids, "Yovo, yovo bon soir, ca va bien, bon zooo."
A water seller cries, "Esi."
On our trip to the police station to extend our visas, I had an orange. "Deka bio?" I ask (50 francs each?) and the seller laughs.
Here is a woman peeling an orange with a razor blade:
I hardly recognize any of Lome. How much time did I really spend here when I was a volunteer? I went to the Peace Corps office, le grand marché, the Jungle Bar, Cafe des Arts. None of the bars I used to frequent exist now.
There is a lot of building going on and a lot of falling apart, too. The Hotel of February Second, for example, is missing some window panels.
On our way to the Health Department we passed the Peace Monument. One of the few things I remember:
I remember these towers, too:
Afoua and I went to the Health Department for tetanus shots. I wondered if we should be getting shots in Togo. At the direction of the health personnel, the chauffeur had to buy the tetanus vaccine at the pharmacy. It came in a bag with ice in it to keep the vaccine cool. It was a complete kit: the vaccine in a syringe, sealed in a plastic pack. We gave the vaccines to a nurse in a room marked Vaccinations. My arm is a little sore but only when I touch it at the place of injection.
For lunch we had fried sweet potatoes with chicken sauce. I had a few bites of Afoua's fried fish, too.
While eating lunch, this handicapped woman rode by. It is not uncommon to see modified machines:
Later we went to Ramco, a Yovo supermarket, so Afoua could pick up some things. I went out to the music seller and bought Mbilia Bel and Pierre Moutouari CD's, 1500 cfa each. Rip off the Yovo? I don't know.
Rice and beans for dinner with fried chicken pieces. And I had a Pils. A little sweet. I'll have to try another, and a lager to compare.
Thursday, August 2.
I found a cyber cafe right around the corner of the hotel:
Inside, a dozen PC's running Windows XP:
Most of the keyboards are French but I could choose English (US), then type without looking at the keys. 200 cfa per hour (the exchange is about 500 cfa per dollar, where cfa stands for Communauté française d'Afrique or French Community of Africa). I went on line, took forever to log on. Every click was followed by a long spinning wheel. Finally, I got my email through comcast.net, wrote to brother Dave and asked him to pass the note around. I sent a short but comprehensive note, paid 150 cfa.
In America, I enjoy having a hot cup of strong coffee in the morning as soon as I get up. I get up and write every morning. Here, we have a big can of Nescafé and a thermos of lemon grass tea, but it seems to wander around, or get repacked or something. Also, warm Nescafé is not the same as fresh ground strong coffee...
Le Grand marché after breakfast. We spent hours in the market doing market stuff: watching, walking, eating ("macaroni," cous cous, fish and sauce), buying.
Here is the food stand where we ate:
We sat at the small table behind the food seller. The plastic cups have water dipped from a big covered basin on the floor to the left, not shown. The green bowl is a little basin over which one washes ones right hand. There is also a big wash basin for dishes to the left, not shown. The pots have macaroni, cous cous, various meat sauces including smoked fish, chicken or beef. I drank water from a plastic bag. Bite the corner and suck. This is called "pure water" packaged by the brewing company in town and sold by numerous and ubiquitous water sellers walking around town. I have not felt any stomach rumblings or other digestive anomalies. I have not been careless, but we have eaten on the street since the first night in Lome.
I don't have to learn anything. Just remember. What I learned in 5 years, I remember in 5 days.
I watch the seller women go by. One looks back at me, says "marriage" in French.
Here is an intersection in le grand marché:
How do people put a big basin of stuff on their head? Like this:
After the market we rushed to pick up our visas for which we filled out forms earlier. We stood in a group waiting for our names to be called after which our passports were transferred to another officer who called out names again so that the owner could come up and sign for the passport/visa. It's a multiple entry visa good for one year.
I have some grilled corn at the taxi station near the hotel. Chewy but tasty:
In the evening, we visited Zongo, the Muslim quartier. UHF antennas on many houses:
Industrious, polite, adorable children washing dishes:
We left most of our belongs with family here so we could travel light when we go up country.
As we walked back to the car I looked up in the dark evening of dimly lit Zongo. Though partly cloudy, there was Scorpio at zenith, partially obscured, and a couple of faint southern stars never visible from New Jersey. I forgot about the stars until now. Nice.
Friday, August 3.
We packed, ran around Lome in the morning. We stopped at Guy's home so we could look at the clothes he made for us. He's a tailor. His wife is, too. They have a small boutique, a little bar and his tailor's shop all in one unit with rooms in the back. Here is the front of the building. The tailor shop on the left, bar on the right:
We were happily greeted with ubiquitous Afro pop from the bar stereo:
Here is the cistern in the compound, with a pipe from the roof:
Inside, we are offered seats and water. The cup of water I would have been offered 25 years ago is replaced by "pure water."
I try on an African shirt:
After the tailor's, we head north on La Route Nationale to Atakpame. A lot of discomfort is eliminated by having a chauffeur. No flagging taxis, no haggling with them. I don't have to wait at the Atakpame station, either.
Here is a video taken from the front passenger seat, riding north through Tsévié:
The Lome - Atakpame road is fairly well maintained. The big trucks you see going north in the video could be going to Burkina Faso, Mali, or Niger. La Route Internationale. Here is a picture. The narrow strips on the sides of the roads are for pedestrians or motos:
La Route Nationale looks the same as I remember, as do the small towns and farms along the road, except for omnipresent cabines telephoniques, 50 cfa. Here is a map showing the road to Atakpame, the yellow road labeled Eyadema, N.5:
I ask myself every day if Togo has changed or not? Yes and no, the answer every day. In some ways, it is the same place, in the ways I like. The market women? The same. The unique rhythmic sounds of the street. The Afro pop playing from the bistros. The beer. There are modern changes for the better: each house has offered "pure water" in bags. The streets have changed for the worse. All the motos! Smelly motos blowing melange exhaust.
We walked to the top of a hill in Atakpame to visit Afoua's aunt. What a climb! In the dark. I'd like to go back in the daylight to look down at the city. We drove by College Notre Dame. The Atakpame market, the 3-story building is there but Dodji says it's closed. A lot of empty stalls. There are "new" stalls along the main road. I say "new" because they are new to me. Anything here can be new to me and be 20 years old!
Looking for a hotel, we finally found one in Hiheatro. 18,900 cfa. Big room, with broken stuff. Can't be a lot of tourists here? The road down to Hiheatro is bad. Very beat up. Pot holes. Is the road to Badou beat up like that?
Here is the hotel where we stayed, the Hotel Sahelian:
From the roof, the hills of the Atakpame region. Bananas, corn and peanuts growing in a little field next to the hotel:
Here is panorama from the roof:
I may have Peter's address on a guest book page? If I could get on the net... "No connections available" in Hiheatro. Not surprised.
Sitting outside the hotel room on the second floor of the hotel. Fancy palm trees, banana, mango, and satellite dishes. The hills are shrouded in mist. Very familiar.
Here is the stairway to the terrace where I am writing this:
I get stares as I take pictures but I don't care enough to stop. Pictures and videos.
Saturday, August 4.
We left Hiheatro early, not sure when. I don't wear a watch. Don't have phone. No coffee! I chewed a cola nut, drank some bottled water.
It took forever to get up the plateau. The road is full of pot holes. A view from the road as we switched back up to the Akposso Plateau:
The road from Atakpame to Kessibo. This region is rich in wood, fruit, coffee and coco. Repair the road!
Potholes were not the only thing that slowed us down:
Passed the signs to Imoussa, Klabe-Efoukpa, Okou, Elavenon-Doume, other villages and farms. These names, so familiar. Goats in a village:
Driving into misty clouds:
Here is map of the region taken from a cloth map that used to hang on the wall of my house in Badou:
We finally got to Zogbegan.
As we planned, we stopped at the house of one my old students and a school friend of Afoua's, Victor. He was en brousse but soon came and greeted us. "J'etais ton eleve," he reminds me. "Oui, oui, ca fait 25 ans." He is going gray like me. After greetings and conversation, he served us strong drink: African gin poured over roots and herbs. Medicine for what ails you. We visited, and I wanted to see his wood cutting machine. We walked along foot paths to where his assistants were cutting a huge tree into planks with a big chain saw. They snapped chalk lines along a 5 meter section...
..and began cutting the sides of a large bow:
They would cut planks with that that big saw, send them to Lome to finish them, make doors and furniture. I talked about building a house after the fire. I would love to have a door made of Victor's planks. At least one. No time.
After rice and a Pils, we went on to Badou. Here are a few pictures as we descended from the plateau down into Badou. The two bare telephone wires of the 80's have been replaced with high tension wires from the Akosombo hydroelectric Dam in Ghana:
Badou from the road during the descent:
A road-side shelter near Badou:
A view of side of the plateau from the shelter:
Badou looks the same! No way!
Due to the late hour, we headed for Tomegbe, where Afoua grew up. Here is a stand very near the one where I used to have rice and beans for breakfast, at the start of the Tomegbe road:
A bit down the road to Tomegbe:
The road to Tomegbe is particularly bad. We nearly got stuck a couple times and the car bottomed out several times in muddy ditches. (Church bells are ringing in Tomegbe as I write this.)
Here is an old building I remember in one of the villages on the Tomegbe road:
Here is the old church in Tomegbe, another very familiar landmark:
And the hills behind:
In Tomegbe we stopped. We found rooms ventilées at the Hotel Oberge. Afoua wanted to go to the market while I wanted to climb the mountain to Jackson's. This is when we learned that Jackson is dead. This hit me very hard. I was so hoping to find him. Surprise him. Spend some time with him in his farm. It was like a balloon had popped. A balloon that was the rolling misty hills of Tomegbe. They lost all of their majesty, meaning, like they were the door to a whole life I knew before. And the door was shut tight. Togo is just a place after all. The misty hills, the birds, the market, things that surround the people. I wanted to see Jackson. I still wanted to climb the mountain. I still wanted to visit Jackson's farm. I still wanted to greet him there.
While Afoua and the others were in the market, I walked to the car, found Dodji sleeping so I went off on my own. I was tired and felt a little... feverish? Not sure. After walking to the old church I remembered how I didn't have any coffee that morning. I looked for cola nuts, didn't find any.
My jaw hurts, aches from chewing grilled corn.
After we went to the market, we went into the bush so Afoua could visit someone else. Here is a foot path we took, the fading light blurs the photo:
Dodji had driven us part way into the bush. When we tried to get back, we got stuck in the mud so we walked along foot paths in the dark to get back to the road, while Dodji got the car back on the dirt path.
We ate dinner: ignam fufu with smoked fish (and fish bones). I had a shot of sodabi before dinner and a "Flag" beer with the meal. Flag, a deluxe beer according to the label. Tasted like Lager. Then to bed under the fan, rotating above us.
Sunday, August 5.
This morning, the hills are still there. The papaya trees, the palm trees. Here is a papaya tree in hotel compound, where I am writing:
Finally, a hot cup of coffee as soon as I get up! Nescafe, it's true but better than no coffee. Coffee is growing all around me. Coffee, coffee everywhere and not a drop to drink.
For breakfast music, Dodji put a music video disc into the hotel player of a very local singer, a big guy from Badou who has made a couple of CD's.
I walked up to Jackson's farm with Dodji and a guide. Same rice field to cross. Same planks. Same mud.
Looking out over the rice field:
Further along the path:
Into the cacao grove, this is our guide:
To the river, running fast from the recent rains. There is an incomplete metal bridge, a broken stairway on the near side. No stairs on the other. Solid frame. The guide wanted to carry me across the stream but I refused. Dodji went up the broken stairs and I followed. No problems. Here is the bridge from the other side, after we had crossed:
We went up the path to Jackson's. Here is a view just above the river:
Same rocks. We took pictures of the view, Tomegbe and Akloa from the mountain. The two cell towers belong to the two cell phone companies in Togo, Togocel and Moov.
Here is a panorama from the path up to Jackson's.
At the end of the video you can see the guide and Dodji on the rocky path up to Jackson's farm. Here is Jackson's house, quite a bit of overgrowth:
Another view, farther back:
We picked some guava fruit from one of the trees and started back down the path. Here are Dodji and the guide on the stony path:
I climb up the bridge:
Head down the other side:
On the way into Akloa, a farmer dries cacao beans:
Back down, showered, finally got on the road. We weren't so fortunate going back to Badou on the muddy road:
A passing motorcyclist stopped to help us out for a few hundred cfa and we were on our way again.
The villages on this road look just the same as they did 25 years ago.
We stopped in Badou, had some kolikos (french fried ignam strips) near the CEG (middle school), then came back to the beginning of town and found my house, still there. Here is a side view showing the crumbling cistern. The new tenants have added a shelter to the front. The old outbuildings and shower have disappeared.
Happy to see the house. Houses all around it now and the forgeron across the street is gone.
Right before we left Badou, I had a calabash of tchuk (millet beer) at a little tchuk stand on the street near my old house.
Tchuk is an interesting drink. I can't tell you what it tastes like because it tastes like tchuk, a taste unto itself. It is served fermenting, so that it roils as you drink it, turning up yeast and bubbling carbon dioxide. I snapped a couple of pictures of the tchuk woman:
Her baby has to drink, too:
Up to Zogbegan, had lunch at Victor's. Fufu and fish. Pils, but not before a taste of red wine and a half a shot of the hard stuff over roots.
Then a bumpy ride back to Atakpame. On the way, a termite mound. These dot all the roadsides:
We stopped briefly to buy bananas or peanuts. Everyone sells stuff:
Here is one of Gaddafi's many, many mosques. He donated millions to Africa to build these:
The big white bags in the picture below are filled with black charcoal. The bags will be loaded on to the blue truck and sold in Atakpame or Lome:
Arriving in Atakpame, we got a hotel room near the Total gas station. Brochettes and beer before bed.
Monday, August 6.
Surprise, no coffee served at the little hotel. I went up the street to a coffee vendor, had a delicious omelette with a cafe noir. A little coffee shack. The guy there whipped up a Togo omelette in seconds. He opened a drawer, took an egg from a tray of brown eggs, cut a little tomato and onion into a bowl in an adjacent drawer, a little (OK, a lot) of salt, mixed it in with the egg, beat it with a fork, poured it into a hot greased pan heated with "Togo gas." Cut a fresh half baguette of bon pain, slipped in the egg and pressed the bread into the hot pan to warm it a bit. Hot, salty omelette and bread.
I'm having every experience. Not really. I don't want every experience. I don't want nausea in the back of a bashée. I don't want malaria, dysentery, bronchitis or fever.
I walked up the road about a mile, to see more of Atakpame.
Welcome to Atakpame:
Along the main drag, little concrete bridges cross the open sewer. Steps are carved into the slopes going down to the shops, buvettes, hotels:
Buvettes and shops have names in French, Mina, English. Next to the buvette Go Slow, where you can get a cold Coke, Fanta, Youki, or a variety of beers is a vendor of concrete products:
I stopped to write at a motorcycle mechanic's shack where the assistant allowed me to take a little break during my morning walk. I walked back to the hotel, saw this charcoal-fired iron on display where you could have your clothes pressed.
After a brief visit to the hotel, I went out to catch a moto taxi for the market. How safe is a moto taxi? Do I risk my life for a 200 cfa taxi ride into Atakpame?? But really, it is common to see mother and baby on the back of a moto, or a family of four. What kind of adventurer would I be if I didn't take a five minute taxi ride on the back of a motorcycle?? Actually, I'm not an adventurer. I'm living my life. I go along, do stuff. I wanted to see the Atakpame market before fufu, before we went back to Lome. So if I wanted to see the market, I had to take a moto ride. After all, it was a bit of fun, took a little movie:
I was dropped off in le grand marché. I bought a cola nut, walked along the roads, trying to remember the streets. Here is a motorcycle vendor, The United States Palace of Motos:
I found College Notre Dame. This is where I learned to speak French as a Peace Corps trainee. (Notice the corn growing by the side of the road. Corn is planted anywhere it can grow.)
I walked through the campus, trying to remember where I had my various French lessons, greeted one of the sisters in the office, explained why I was wondering around the place.
I found a coffee shack next, had a cup of cafe noir. This is the menu. Note the no smoking icon at the bottom of the menu:
Even though I picked up the bad habit of smoking when I was a Peace Corps volunteer, I was very happy to see that cigarettes are no longer sold by every other vendor and market woman on the street. No more Marlboros, Rothman's King Size, Gauloises, Mentolas from Nigeria. You can find Rothman's Fine cigarettes if you try (I didn't) and a few other brands, but they are not widely available.
I took another moto ride to get back to the hotel, had fufu for (second) breakfast with a delicious sauce of chicken, little smoked fish, egg plant and okra:
Indian Tonic after breakfast at the buvette next to the hotel:
I took my malaria medicine with the tonic which contains quinine, an old malaria medicine.
We went back up the hill to revisit Afoua's aunt but she wasn't home. Here is a view from the top of the hill:
Walking back down, Afoua and the daughter of a friend:
At the top of this hill, as at the top of many other hills, a cell tower:
We passed some pigs...
... and a goat:
on the way down the hill. It is quite common to see these animals (especially goats and chickens) foraging and scavenging in any city, town, village or farm.
We came back to Lome without incident, back to the same hotel. On the way out of Atakpame, we stopped to buy a snack: dried fish. Afoua offered me a piece. No thanks.
A few images on the way back to Lome. Another mosque, with furniture for sale out front:
Billboards offering advice, "I'm too young for sex, abstinence is my choice."
And the big man himself, with a message to unite:
In Lome, I went to the cyber cafe while the others went to the market. After I emailed les gens, I went to find beer and brochettes. I walked to the same place we went the first night, found good brochettes sold from a wooden box. They dripped some oil on three sticks of meat and reheated them over some coals. I took them over to the bar wrapped in a piece of torn brown paper and had a Lager. Delish. They threw some cut onion into the paper cone, too. Good beer food.
As I sat there a big man came over hawking his video CD. It was the guy from Badou! I had just seen his video the day before in Tomegbe! Wha?? Funny coincidence. I bought his CD on his insistence and I bought him a Guinness, too.
Back to the hotel, then out for grilled chicken, akpan (steamed pudding made with fermented corn pulp), more brochettes and a Pils. The chicken place was not unlike the chicken lady who used to sell grilled chicken on the Boulevard Circulaire near the Hotel Ahodikpe. Neither the old chicken stand nor the Ahodikpe exist now, but the new place is there. I took a video but it's too dark to see much. Here is a picture of the place during the day. I snapped this pic as we zoomed by in the car:
Tuesday, August 7.
Under the paillote at the Hotel Enike. No coffee yet but I am hopeful...
Here it is! A thermos of hot water, a cup, three sugar cubes and two 2-gram packets of Nescafé Classic. And a cool morning breeze. Look. Coffee. It was as easy as going to the the hotel desk and asking for a cup of coffee.
I tried to get on the internet in the cyber cafe this morning. No. No connection. "C'est l'Afrique," said one of the technicians there.
We went out to find ayi molu (rice and beans), ate in a little room with tables and benches. Typical little "restaurant."
This cheerful woman served delicious, tasty, rich food, a mix of flavors and textures. Wangash (fried Fulani cheese!), a hard boiled egg, rice and beans, macaroni. There was salad also. No thanks. Some beets and carrots got in there, too, but I tried not to eat them. I ate a few bits by accident. No bad results.
I'm taking pictures like crazy. Some are a little blurry as I grab them hastily, sometimes surreptitiously.
After breakfast we walked around the taxi station. This is where you can get a ride to points north:
A woman waits for a taxi:
Note the various fashions. The colorful clothes and the winter coat to the right. Used western clothes are plentiful and cheap.
Colorful essentials stacked high. That's a long strip of phone cards hanging on the stack on the right:
Afoua buys incense, Dodji buys a phone card.
These guys are loading taxis with everything: clothes, food, goats (not in this picture), plastic containers of vegetable oil, etc.
I found this tape measure, made in China. Note the brand: Boying. Take any English word and add "ing" to make it sound western:
A caution on the tape. Made for India. Not for measuring. Only for information:
We went back to the hotel to change money. Took a nap while waiting.
After my nap, I went back to the cyber cafe to check my email. I had gotten an email previously from Al with Kokou's email, and had sent one to Kokou (one of my old students). No response yet.
Here is a little store next to the cyber cafe, selling phone stuff. The names of stores and buvettes often come right out of the Bible. This one from Corinthians, My Grace is Sufficient for Thee:
We went to the vrai grand marché. On the way, more pictures:
Funky advertising from a company that makes wax prints:
Cell company ad. "At Moov, you're in good hands." What's that in background? Oh, right. A cell phone tower:
A public service ad telling travelers: never forget your condom:
I walked around the market ignoring the vendors, refusing their persistent requests and demands. Rip off row. Sandals, pagnes, belts, wallets, shirts, etc. No, thanks. No. I live here. No.
Another familiar landmark except that it used to be BIAO:
Funky ads again:
This woman is selling dresses and cloth:
Another familiar landmark, the church at the center of the market:
We bought pointy Italian white shoes for me at this stand:
8000 cfa ($16) :-D Now I have a white complet. Great. We went back to the hotel in the dark. I tried or wanted to get a picture of a beautiful motorcyclist. No luck. Many lost moments. Many found.
Wednesday, August 8.
Tea and coffee mixed. I want to go write on the terrace so I should just go. Gees. 500 cfa for coffee and french bread on the terrace. Instead I have this mix in the hotel room and write on the bed, the notebook on my leg, coffee on the headboard shelf.
Lots of pictures taken by a guy with a Kodak. Afoua gets ready for a pose:
I look like an old African in my white complet with my white beard. (There is a picture later.) I'm 55. That's how old I am. I can't pretend I'm anything but what I am.
Everyone wants my camera when I leave. No one gets it, is the fairest way. I'm glad I'm traveling light. One little camera but it is doing the job.
We went out for breakfast at the same rice and beans restaurant. On the way I snapped a view of this little boutique, selling things never sold in the 80's, UHF and dish antennas:
An open sewer on the way to breakfast:
The picture does not capture the rich aroma. The Togocel girl on the billboard apparently can't smell the sewer either. We continued on, making a left where you see the woman in blue with a wooden box on her head.
I had the same tasty breakfast:
Different cook, same great food.
All to pots sit on charbonniers, cooked over charcoal that came down from the hills of the towns and villages up country.
Back to le grand marché again. This woman wants me to love wine. Is that all she wants?
Whenever we saw these white manikins, my hosts would say, "C'est ta famille, ca." And Afoua would name them.
A woman with tressed hair in the market on her phone. Note the sharp points on the wall behind. Keep out!
There she goes, riding by a souvenir stand selling Togo shirts.
Next we tried to find Kokou's school in Cacavelli after a visit with the head guy at a spiritual center in Lome. We drove around, found some private schools, but not l'Institute Scolaire Alan Frank.
We found a fast food restaurant, or rather, a hotel/swimming pool that offered "fast food." Afoua ordered two orders of fries so our hosts could taste American food, 1000 cfa per order + 200 cfa for the Styrofoam food trays. Oil-soaked soggy fries sitting in onions, catsup and mustard. Not very fast food. At last, we took the fries "to go" and found a bar with tables outside, across from a moto mechanic and a women making fried bean cakes. We watched the people move through their afternoon while we ate lunch. I snapped a few pics.
Dodji took this picture as we ate lunch, bean cakes, brochettes and beer:
The bean cake woman:
This woman with her child just got off that moto:
This guy is cooking brochettes:
Beef brochettes served with onions and hot pepper:
Here is our bar maid:
As we walked back to the car, I took this picture of a motorcycle named Dieu Merci:
It used to be very common to see names or phrases on the front and back of taxis, but it is rare now. Here is Air Kante (Kante is a town up north) for example, a picture I took on the way back to Lome from Atakpame:
After food and drink we went to visit Afoua's aunt in Zongo. Warm inside her house, made me sleepy. I spent an hour not understanding anything. Typical. I can deal, but it was difficult at the end of the day, and perhaps the rice beer didn't help keep me alert. Then we walked back through Zongo to get back to the car, under the stars, under Scorpio at zenith again.
We came back to the hotel, had pâte et sauce for dinner. Back in the hotel room, I fell asleep on the bed with my clothes on listening to but not understanding the conversations in the room. I woke up at 3 AM, brushed my teeth and changed for bed. Then I read a little to make me sleepy. I brought The Great Gatsby along for that purpose and it works fine, as would any novel. I find the content between Gatsby and Togo interesting. Old America has some things in common with new Togo still, but throw in the idle rich to confuse things a bit.
Thursday, August 9.
I have chosen coffee on the terrace. I think I have chosen it. Two women are sweeping, one on each side of the paillote. They are using Yovo brooms but sweeping is sweeping, one of the morning sounds in Togo. A ray shoots up from the rising sun over Lome:
Could I vacation here? Oh, yeah, but it's taking a long time to get a cup of coffee!!
Coffee finally came with fresh bread, butter and confiture de fraises. Later, more rice and beans, I checked email, then we were off to Benin. Long ride. We took the shore road to Aneho. First we got gas:
Here is a Togo beach with fishing boats and coconut palms:
Fishermen, fisherwomen, fisherchildren:
The Benin border. We went through the arched doors to the right, showed our passports, and were let through:
On the other side, Afoua buys oranges at the border market:
I finally got some fried plantain in this market, with hot pepper. In the trees above the market, dozens of nests with orange and black birds squawking, flying in and out of the nests:
We drove along the shore road in Benin. Palm trees everywhere:
Scattered palms here, forests of palms later. Villages that looked like their soul product is plum tomatoes. Baskets full of them at every little stand.
Here is a village with houses in the water:
On the way to Cotonou, we saw many little stands selling gasoline in big glass jars. That safe? I saw at least one vendor pouring gas into a car through a long funnel. You can see a one such funnel on edge of the table in the picture. Where does this "black market" gas come from? Nigeria, no doubt, the neighboring country to the east:
Then the longest city ever, like a really, really long Atakpame.
How about that scaffold!
Then right into Cotonou. Big, congested city. Would not want to drive there, live there, breathe there. On roads with few stop signs, there seems to be no yielding when turning into traffic:
I am disturbed by the unchecked development of Cotonou, see the same thing happening in Togo. Streets packed with vehicles taking every liberty on the road. Family motos, taxi motos, personal motos, alone and in packs of 10 or more. This must be what it's like in South East Asia.
Moto riders and their babies:
At the end of our trip that day, we arrived at the residence of a well known spiritual leader in the region, Kabiessi Owo Lobe:
We were welcomed as expected, with food and drink, by the man we came to see. He is called Kebiessi by all, which I believe to be his title, not his name. His official designation is Empereur Mondial des Ogbonis. Says Wikipedia about the Ogboni...
"Though versions or lodges of this fraternal group are found among the various types of Yoruba polities——from highly-centralized kingdoms and empires like Oyo, to the independent towns and villages of the Ègbá and the Èkiti——the Ogboni are recognizable for their veneration of the personified earth (Ilè or Odua) and their emphasis on gerontocratic authority and benevolent service to the town. While membership in the Ogboni generally signified a high level of power and prestige, the society held pre-eminent political authority among decentralized groups like the Ègbá, where they were intimately involved in the selection of regents. To date, Ogboni members still command great power and influence in the affairs of their nations, though this is largely due to the history of their titles and not their official power."
Kebiessi told parables and etc, frequently interrupted by not one, but two cell phones. A very busy man but he took the time to chat with us.
Seven of us slept in a room with 3 beds. I woke before dawn, my intestines urging me to the bathroom.
Friday, August 10.
We met with Kabiessi again in the morning and here we are, waiting to go to Save (Sah-vay) in a Lexus. Hurry up and wait, or don't hurry up and wait. Just wait. I greeted this ram while waiting as he stood by the Lexus:
No coffee this morning. Afoua offered a cola nut. I ate it over a half hour, drank some water. That will have to be my "coffee" this morning.
"Il est onze heure et quelque." When are we going? I'm hungry. That's a good sign. Sitting here with nothing to do, on Kebiessi's veranda in a comfy love seat, looking at flags blowing in the wind, my mind wanders to the septic tank thousands of miles away.
Then off in the Lexus with a police escort, sirens wailing the whole trip:
We stopped at a gas station on the way so some tribal leaders from Togo could catch up with us. Here is a church near the gas station:
As we traveled, we approached these voluptuous hills:
We arrived in Save, ceremonies galore. Running through the streets, the crowds cheering and following. Then we were invited into this room where we were served a buffet dinner. I chose rice and sauce. Kabiessi's receiving room is through the curtains where you see journalists and photographers in the picture:
Later, hundreds of followers of this order participated in part one of a ceremony, all the devotees lining up in white wraps with blindfolds on. I chose not to participate, but found empty chairs during the night to snooze on when I could.
Saturday, August 11. I found a coffee stand in the morning, had an omelette and two cups of coffee...
...then we went to a local hotel about a half mile away so we could change into our white clothes for the big meeting:
We had a second story room with a balcony. A couple of views from the balcony:
From the front of the hotel, a view of the market stands and bare, rocky hills in the mist:
Along the road back to Kebiessi's compound, veiled women:
A goat tied to a Toyota Camry:
This girl is playing hide and seek with two other children, right by the gasoline stand:
Today was the big day. The crowd gets ready to welcome Kabiessi. The tired man in the foreground examines the white cloth around his wrist, from last night's ceremony:
Drummers welcome the big wigs:
Kabiessi, his body guards, invited guests make several runs around the compound. Here is Kabiessi walking in the street (the man with the white handkerchief in his hand) with hundreds of followers:
I visited the honey room, full of bees, where I was supposed to wish for good fortune. The people in line in this short video of a woman drawing water from a cistern are waiting to visit the honey room:
This is the big meeting, the reason I visited Togo this year. Afoua was to be honored at this meeting as the United States representative of the Ogboni Order. Here is the crowd, waiting for Kabiessi to arrive at the meeting:
Afoua is one of three honorees, seated with white head dress. She is on the right:
I sat up on the stage with the other grands:
The meeting started when Kabiessi arrived. This is his entrance and opening words:
Several entertaining acts were interspersed with speeches and announcements. Here is a group about to display some karate skills:
There were dancing groups, jugglers, acrobats. Two traditional dancers reminded me of a festival celebrated in the plateau region in Togo where I used to live. Back then, dancers were lucky to get 25 or 50 cfa coins:
Afoua is honored. I did not have the best vantage point in my seat but there will be a DVD of the festival offered by Kabiessi:
Kabiessi spoke, words of encouragement, blessings, in at least three languages. A short excerpt:
After the meeting, the obligatory photos. The three honorees:
The happy couple:
While sitting in Kabiessi's receiving room, Dodji said we could get beer in the compound, so we went out. I had a couple of Castels, then some rice and sauce with wangash. Who would have thought wangash would be so widely available? Nice. The yard was full of people:
People were lying on mats, eventually sleeping there, or napping.
At last, we went back to the hotel to sleep.
Sunday, August 12.
It took forever to get out of Save. Not surprised. Lots of waiting around, waiting around. It's a good thing I'm on vacation. If I had to "get things done," it would be a very frustrating trip. I waited forever for a weak cup of coffee at the same stand where I got good service the day before. It was Sunday and the coffee was running out.
People packing up to leave. Here is a motorcycle converted into a little bashee:
Finally we got on the road back to Togo, moved through beautiful country, bare rocks sticking up out of the earth. Feelings of deja vu. I probably saw similar rocks up country in Togo? It's not like I have never seen rocks sticking up out of the hills before. Huge boulders.
We stopped for gas, food and drink maybe 30 miles out of Save. I had fufu with wangash and a Benin beer.
These women are making our fufu, pounding boiled yam in a mortar:
I'm eating the fufu here:
We had a Laissez-passer paper from Kabiessi taped to our windshield and one on the back window, too. This let us fly right through the various check points on the route. We got stopped near the border by les gendarmes (gens d'arms... people with guns). The Laissez-passer didn't seem to help here. Anyway, we got through it, moved to the next and the next and the next check point as we approached the Togo border. Each time I thought we were done, we came to another. But we kept going.
Bienvenue au Togo:
I finally had to show my passport at the next to the last check point, this one in the border town of Kamboli, Togo.
Just before the last checkpoint, we were welcomed to Togo with this sunset:
And then another welcome by flocks of birds that looked like arrows in flight:
From the last check point we drove to our house in Kamboli, the town of Afoua's family. We received visitors all evening long, Afoua's family and friends. Before bed, I requested a thermos of hot water so I could have a hot cup of coffee in the morning. A thermos was prepared with water heated over a charcoal fire.
Monday, August 13.
I'm sitting the salon in our house having a warm cup of smoky coffee. There are two big salons in the house and many bedrooms, most tiled with old marble. Some of the stones reveal the age and location, like "Ecole P" and "1947."
Many rooms, a kitchen, a bath room, and a long marble-tiled front porch with a concrete railing:
Also, a "fetish" in the front yard: a small open building with a rooster over the four directions:
Here is the water tank that gets its water pumped up from an underground cistern. Running water.
Cold water for a cold shower but I took it. A shower where water comes from a fixture above. It is quite convenient, if cold. (I could have had a bucket of water heated with hot water from the kitchen stove but I like the convenience of running water...)
A morning prayer:
Now I'm sitting on the porch/veranda. A cool breeze is blowing from the south. I know because I noted the setting sun yesterday, took some star pictures last evening. I found Scorpio and stars to the south.
The old man that first came to visit last night just came by now. Came over and greeted me. All I can say is "Kabo." Welcome. Then I can make greeting noises. And I usually know when to say, "Awa," but I'm not sure what that means. Then someone else came by and greeted the old man and they did that repetitive eh, eh, eh, eh, eh greeting while bowing. True.
I know Togo so well, and I like so many things here. That's the only way to explain how I see "my favorite things" every day, all the time. I don't have favorite things but I see so many things that I fondly remember. And as I was writing this, a boy ran by, stick in hand, pushing an old moto tire. That's a variation of the wire ring:
The goats spend a lot of time eating dry leaves dropped from a tree in the front yard. I'm not sure what kind of tree, but there is young mango tree next to it.
Someone started the gas generator! Very annoying at first. It ran for hours last night on 5 liters of gasoline poured from a glass bottle. Gas from Nigeria, no doubt. Loud, continuous gas engine right outside the window of the salon, like someone mowing the grass right outside forever. It finally ran out of gas around 10 PM. Light some candles. Much better.
The beautiful woman sweeping the porch (Afoua's cousine) is teaching me Ana. "En-san: good work," she says to me in Mina. I will learn the language, she tells me.
I smell gasoline.
Another old man just came and said a long prayer over me, holding my hand and touching my head. That never happens in New Jersey. Live here, live there. Before, I thought it wouldn't make sense to vacation in Togo during the summer, but the weather has been perfect here. So much nicer than summer in New Jersey.
La cousine, my Ana teacher, is translating the greetings and other words into Mina for me, but my Mina is so bad that I can barely understand the translations. The woman in the house next door I believe asked if she could heat water for me to bathe this evening. I tried to tell her that I already bathed with cold water and that that was fine with me.
Continuous streams of people I may or may not have ever seen are coming and going, as Afoua predicted.
Late morning I went inside, ate bread, drank more coffee, greeted guests. Note La vache qui rit® cheese on the plate. Tastes as ... uh ... good as ever...
Later, around noon? Too cloudy to estimate. I'm back on the veranda. "We'll kill the fatted calf tonight so stick around." The fatted calf is over there in that van.
I'm never alone. Not that I mind, but I could use a few minutes to myself. I actually have all the time I want alone. I am surrounded by people but we are sometimes deeply separated by language and culture. We are separated yet I feel very welcome. Some of the people who have visited apologize for speaking another language but they want to express what they feel, so they ask for forgiveness, then speak their language.
More people arrive. The little goat eats another leaf. The generator est toujours genant. A woman just arrived on a moto with what looks like a bright red spear. OK.
What's this? A whole congregation approaches. Bells, more bells:
They sing, dance, chant, cry. Afoua came out to dance with them.
I went over to do my white person dance. They all came up to shake my hand and say welcome. At least I understand that word. Here they sit and sing under a tree in the front yard. Note the fufu mortars work also to support a plank to make a bench to sit on:
After the women sang, danced, rang bells, we went to the town fetish place for a ceremony. We walked along the road for a few hundred feet, then walked through a sweet potato field...
... through the mud, into a compound with a low wall, rebar sticking up at regular intervals. Afoua went right into a muddy pool of water, just what they say not to do for there is the danger of getting guinea worm. (Fortunately, this parasite has been nearly eradicated: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dracunculiasis) Afoua wanted me to come in to the pool, too. No. No, thanks. Here is a fuzzy picture of the compound, the pool of water on the left:
We were given seats near the cow, got baby powder thrown on us, on me, Afoua and la cousine. Here is the honored guest:
Drumming and dancing, lots of prayers, Afoua saying quite a long passionate one, not surprisingly. The cow got a red necklace, ended up on a great round stone that was embedded with cowry shells. We all sat around while the cow got divided up into many, many pieces. I drank some tchuc, tried to take some pictures of people discreetly.
After a couple hours, the ceremony ended with us eating a couple of morsels of beef, one in each hand, a couple pieces of corn meal nuggets. Then we walked back to the house. All familiar steps in the ceremony, with little variations.
Back at the house we waited for dinner: fufu with beef. By the time we were done eating, it must have been 10 PM. Instead of going out for beer, a bottle of Bony's gin appeared later while a visiting quartet made music. The quartet was comprised of a vocalist chanting in his rhythm, a percussionist armed with an empty gin bottle and two spoon while two others droned in harmony.
We spectators clapped and sang also. This went on for an hour with one of the quartet getting up periodically to dance, chicken style, ending with a bow and touching the floor in front of me. After a break, they sang again. I tried the spoons, got up and danced a couple of times, too, much to the enjoyment of the group. Then bedtime.
Tuesday, August 14. The coffee is too hot!
Goats like to stand on things, like their mountain goat ancestors. I like to climb on framing while building our house, like my ancestors liked to climb trees. This leaf-eating goat will later stand on the ledge around the fetish house, but I didn't get a picture of that.
Already this morning several people have come to greet me. They come over and touch the floor. The sky is white with cloud cover. Another cool day.
I love this place. Why? Have I not had this discussion with myself over and over? The earth, right there. The people, the greetings, the languages, the animals, the fruit off the trees, the beautiful children, the beautiful people, the misty hills. When I first got here two weeks ago, it was like I was trying to fit a key into a lock. At first maybe the key was upside down or the key was not correctly engaging the tumblers in the lock. Then the key went in and it turned rather easily and the door opened. That's expected after 25 years, that the lock may have stuck at first, needed a little lubrication. There are many types of lubrication. As I have probably wondered before, is my affinity for this place a natural attraction because we evolved under similar conditions? Would I feel the same in a rural town in America? I felt a welling up of emotion during an old Henry Fonda movie, Spencer's Mountain, when the son cries for help when his father is pinned under a fallen tree and everyone comes running. The community comes together. Yes, I have written about this again and again. In America, we are self sufficient. We don't need anybody in the community, so we don't have a community. Is the welling up of emotion now vestigial, like the appendix? We don't need it anymore because we have a self-sufficient culture. What is the purpose, the function of this emotion?
Don't over-think it, Crozier. Just enjoy it.
It is starting to sprinkle so that the misty hills have nearly disappeared. A constant stream of people coming and going. The goats are eating the tall grass over there now:
We had rice and sauce for lunch, then went through town and kept going. Off to the village of Goubi to visit a friend of Afoua's, 20 kilometers into the bush. On the way I saw a couple of colorful birds I hadn't seen before, but not close enough to see detail. I could just see that they were not pigeons or swallows. Also another Gaddafi mosque:
A farm in the bush, with the requisite mango tree in the front yard:
We entered the village crossing a bridge near the two big trees in the background. The photo does not do them justice. They are very tall, majestic trees:
Here is the bridge and trees, a little closer:
We ended up near the cell towers in the distance. We were welcomed at Afoua's friend's house with prayer, song and dance, beer and fufu. It rained quite heavily while we were there and so we had to negotiate streams and muddy ditches on the drive home in the dark.
Wednesday, August 15. It's after 10 AM, almost time to go, to leave Kamboli. I will be flying home while Afoua will stay here until September. Prayers said:
Dodji is washing all the Kamboli sand off the car so it can pick up sand from Sokode, Atakpame and finally, Lome. Beautiful women stand around watching Dodji was the car. Sorry to leave a country with so many beautiful people. I'll come back.
On the way to Lome, we stopped in Sokode at the first cyber cafe (the only one?) where it took 16 minutes to display my in box. I was just barely able to to log in to my itinerary page to see that I m confirmed for the Lome-NY flight. We have a long ride to Lome. Here is a map showing the road from Kamboli to Sokode:
Going south, here is Sotouboua:
Here is a short video:
A short stop for a stretch in Atakpame. It was getting dark by then. Here is the sun setting over the plateau near Atakpame:
Short timelapse of the sunset:
It was dark for the last leg, from Atakpame to Lome. We stopped to pee between Notse and Tsevie, where the Milky Way blazed across the sky. Blazed.
Into Lome, we got cheap rooms at the Auberge Hotel not far from the Enike, but much cheaper: 3000 cfa (about $6.30) for a 2-person room. No towels. Broken toilet seat (better than no toilet seat like in Save), no door on the bathroom. No hot water. No matter. It has a fan, a desk where I can write. After we checked in, we went for food at the new "chicken lady's." Here is a blurry picture taken with very little available light:
Brochettes, chicken, akpan. I had two Lagers. After the second I went over to one of the speakers and listened to loud, sweet Zaireoise music. I wanted to go bar dancing, but I was the only one. I can do that next time. It's not like I have to run around checking off items on a list. There is a continuous stream of items, flowing. We were still hungry after our first order of food so I went up and ordered four more brochettes and one small chicken. "Mia ho brochette amene kudo koklo vitukwi to deka." Love it.
Thursday, August 16. It's quiet, chirping birds in the palm trees outside the second story window. A building under construction, viewed from the hotel room window:
I'm having some water and some cola nut. No coffee yet. We went out, to get breakfast and so I could check my email. We went to a coffee shack near the taxi station where I got a 2-egg omelette with tomato and onion, deep fried in vegetable oil, with a half a baguette of bon pain, and a cup of black coffee. Here is the shack:
The coffee man rinsed the steel bowl and plate with hot water, twice, put 3 small spoons of Nescafé in the bowl, added a little hot water, then left the plastic cup so I could dilute it to the desired strength. He made the omelette in front of me, first cutting onion and tomato into a cup. Then he cracked in two eggs that he took from a tray. A healthy dash of salt, too. Unhealthy, really, though this omelette was not too salty. After breakfast I went to the same internet cafe near the Enike hotel, checked my email and emailed a few people. Then we drove around Lome doing last minute stuff. A bumper sticker I have not yet seen in America:
My last hours in Togo were mixed. We were shopping on rip off row for last minute items. After a short time I got fed up with the sellers who thought I was just another Yovo. Then the others went in one of the Yovo suit stores:
Yah! My last hours in Togo and I'm in a Yovo suit store!? I went off for a cold beer. I was directed to a little bar/restaurant where I ordered a Pils.
I was mad at the music: French or other rock music. I'm in Africa. But there was plenty of Africa going on. The waitress offering her kolikos (fried ignams), Mina flowing freely. I finished my Pils, was ready to stroll when the others arrived. I had another Pils as they got beer or soda. This woman came over to sell beads:
Then we went to find Gbekevi. We found him, visited, and he planed and cut a 5 meter piece of mahogany for me. No time for beer. As evening approached, we rushed to the hotel, picked up our bags and took off for the airport:
Abrupt good byes. No other option since only passengers were allowed into the airport. Shuffling, our passports and boarding passes were checked over and over. We were the last shuttle bus to the plane which was an easy walk from the terminal. Up the stairs, into the plane, off to Paris:
Then on to New York. Over England, crossing time zones. What time is it? Mountains and canyons in the clouds... Brunch is served. I have crepes aux champignons at 38,000 feet, with hot coffee. Yesterday, I was eating beef grilled over charcoal trucked to Lome from a village in the hills of Africa. It is already a dream below the fluffy clouds to the south east.