Chapter 1, Arrival in Togo.

Friday, January 17, 2020, 10:50 AM local time. We are flying over Bamako, about to have some breakfast. Don't feel like I slept much. Cramped, achy. Estimated arrival time 12:06 PM. The screen on the back of the seat in front of me shows the flight path. Miles flown 5070, another 200 to go.

Saturday, January 18 6 AM. Roosters crow, palm trees sway in the early morning breeze. Tree branches rustle. The breeze is almost cool. Weet, woot... WEET. What's that bird? Somg-kpeh-eh-eh, the bird's name, says Afua. On the electic wire in front of us is some sort of pigeon. Coo-coo-oo-oo.

Morning haze... Harmattan?

I'm drinking strong coffee. We stayed up all day. Now the coffee will reset my clock, and the roosters will tell my brain what time it is.

Afua and I were greeted at the airport by an uncle Kossogbon, a cousin Hakim, and our chauffeur Dodji. After the airport, we came to this house. I'm sitting on the veranda on an orange resin chair, examining the hazy air, listening to the local birds.

Dodji's car is parked in the courtyard by the car door.

The house has a living/dining room:

a small kitchen with gas stove and sink:

a small hallway into the bedroom, and bathroom

And this veranda. The shower, sinks, toilet, all piped with water from a reservoir on the roof.

Is the well water potable? I guess I'll find out. I drank a few sips during arrival prayers, brushed my teeth with it.

Birds zoom through the courtyard. The morning breeze diminishes. The sky is brightening to the east, mostly cloudy to my surprise. It's the dry season, 89 degrees F.

Later, around 3 PM, we went into town to have dinner. Riding shotgun in Dodji's car, like 2012 was only yesterday. Here I am, riding shotgun:

Dodji played great Afropop tunes in his car while we rode the streets of Lomé. I had my camera out, took pics and movies, but missed more than I caught. Here is one of the first pictures I took:

Yes, we are in Togo.

Lions at a traffic circle:

The first of many billboards advertising Pils beer "since 1964."

We stopped at a bar/restaurant with classic Afropop blaring at a good bar/resto volume. We ordered akpan (boiled, fermented corn-based pâte, cooked in leaves), Pils, Lager, Youki/PomPom for Afua (!), assorted grilled meats. Afua and Dodji choose our grilled beef kebabs, grilled chicken and guinea fowl.

Here is my plate:

Eat with your fingers. I got a Pils, and it tasted like a Pils, smelled like a Pils! The six of us ate till stuffed on 12,000 cfa, about $20, but it is difficult to compare with eating out in America. Sitting in a bar listening to... what?? Anna Disenni! (He had several hits in Togo in the 80's when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer.) The bar scene:

A loud, smoking train carrying cement goes by blaring its horn, one long contiunous horn blowing to warn the traffic not to cross the tracks. Here is a video I took of the train. Since it had already crossed the road, it had stopped honking its horn by the time I took the video. The music is by Anna Disenni.

https://youtu.be/NdekFvR4lp8

The music, the beer, the food, the waitresses. C'est un paradis. The street roaming, the activity on the street, the store fronts, the restaurant, the music. It's pure undiluted Togo and it tickles me, just to be here in the warming humid morning, writing this, hearing the roosters and other local birds, riding the streets as an observer, as a participant, catching memories on an SD card.

Sunday, January 19, 6:30 AM. Roosters, African birds, swaying palm branches. I made coffee. Very African: soak roasted, ground, bitter plant beans in hot water. Make strong, hot medicament. Good for what ails you.

I caught one southern star last night. 15 second exposure, ISO 200. I sat the little tripod precariously on the concrete wall, stretched on my tip toes to press the shutter:

We drove around all day, finally bought food to make dinner. No flip flops, no WiFi. These problems will be resolved somehow.

I have seen one mosquito, thanks to the dry season.

Coconut palm leaves tap each other when the breeze picks up.

Some of the initial excitement wears off a little, especially after a long day riding the streets of Lomé in 100 degree weather.

We had fufu for lunch at the same bistro as last night. Girls pounding fufu:

My plate:

Afua bought 1000 cfa of yellow-green bananas from one of the many vendors circulating around the bar area. The bananas weren't just sweet. There was a deep fruit flavor like I was hit over the head with a banana. I could taste the subtlety of the fruit. The experience did not carry over to the oranges, out of season, tasted sour to me. (There would be more oranges but they were all dry.)

The haze is thick this morning. Someone is calling something repeatedly in the street, selling something. I can't understand it. Then she greeted someone. I don't hear many greetings. There are just a few occupied houses around us, but lots of building going on.

There is a bar down the path from our house. Can we get tchuk (millet beer) there? There is a calabash on a pole outside the bar. Does that mean "get tchuk here?" (Yes, it does, but I never got a picture.)

The fog is burning off. I imagine it will be another hot one. When I saw the date on my tablet, I thought it must be wrong. It said January 18. It can't be January! It's 86 F.

I started lyrics for a song about Lome.

The Captain (Kossogbon) is back, in a meeting with Afua and Hakim. Captain showed me how to tether to his phone WiFi so I finally sent a Dear Everyone email. I also sent a pic of my lunch plate. I could compose emails in advance, send them in bursts.

Hakim disappeared with an empty water bottle, came back with it full of tchuk. It's sour and bitter, drink of the African gods.

Before breakfast, Hakim and I went out for bread, walked through the quartier to find lots of occupied housing, shops, churches, a mosque, and I know there is a bar nearby, from where came the tchuk. Here is the door into a sort of bodega, a small shop selling lots of everyday items, like bread, spices, other groceries. Note the square hinged door that opens to allow the little sales girl to pass items to the customer without letting the customer in.

Monday, January 20, about 6 AM. A lone somg-kpeh is singing, but he bolted as soon as I tried to record the song. He'll be back. The moon is quite thin now. It's clearer this morning, the far tree is in sharp outline, the moon is sharp but the southern sky is cloudy.

We didn't go out yesterday, except for the walk in the morning to get bread. Here is a field of cassava (manioc) near the house.

After dark, we walked to the nearby bar to have beer (except Afua who always has soda). I had a Lager for old time's sake. There is more flavor, more bitterness (and more memories?) in a Pils. The bar played the music too loud for easy conversation, the service was slow but the beer was cold. Three or four languages were spoken at the table. The one spoken least is the one I know the best. If I want to talk, the language changes to French.

When we got back from the bar, I took this picture of Venus setting over the house:

I'm writing a letter to Ali. I should finish it before we go into town so I can mail it to her. It's got a drawing of me on the veranda.

Today we will apply for my extended visa, do some shopping. Can I get my flip flops? I'd like to find WiFi but first I have to figure out how to get my letter to Chris and Alex into my phone? Or is there a cyber cafe? It may be better to use my phone and WiFi.

Tuesday, January 21, 6 AM. Weet-tchu-WEET! Thinner moon. The Somg-kpee only sings before dawn. Here is a video catching the bird song, and the thin moon on its side:

https://youtu.be/o_HNqZcLsug

We went out to get visa photos and apply for my extended visa. I thought of a chorus for the song on the way, something like Lomé, Lomé, Lomé, tu me fais pleurer. Tears of happiness for me, the romantic sentimentalist. Then a fight almost started at the rice and beans place when I took a picture of the front of the etablissement. What the heck!

That's Hakim in the foreground, looking over at the guy who started yelling at me for taking a picture of a store front with my portable (cell phone). I would have been happy to talk it over with the guy who said it is forbidden to take pictures of businesses with a cell phone, but Hakim and Dodji walked over and shouted back at the guy. I blew it off but it soured the day somewhat. Maybe Togo is not as chill a place now as it was in 1985, but it seems very Togo to me. The breakfast woman was happy to serve us, in any case, and said forget about the angry man. The name of the breakfast place,

Mawu Deka Koe Li, the name of the breakfast stand, means There is One God, in Mina. Many businesses have a religious name, usually in French, sometimes in Engligh. Examples to follow.

There are tailors, coiffures, hair stylists, mechanics, women or girls at breakfast stands selling bouille, bread sellers, banana girls, orange peelers. In the grand marche, the shoe repair boy taps his repair box with a slow, steady beat as he walks the street.

https://youtu.be/HJ47IAFBl04

The walking tailor carries his sewing machine on his shoulder while clicking his big scissors to announce his presence.

Here is a orange and banana seller peeling oranges for us with a razor blade. Note the sign on door, WiFi Zone. The rebar and iron circle sculpture is to display peeled oranges.

The water sellers cry, "Esseeeee" and "pyuh wah-tah" as they walk through the hot market. I tried to surreptitiously capture these scenes because I had been burned in the morning by the angry breakfast man.

We got a couple of fried plantains in the Grand Marché. Later I ate them with a tonic water at a bar on rip-off row. Wow. Like the bananas, the sweet ripe fried plantain was full of flavor. Is the simplest reason the correct one? The plantains came from a local tree and were fried that morning. They were still hot, wrapped in paper nestled in a little black plastic bag. In the 80's, they would have been wrapped in a homework paper discarded by a student...

Near the grand marche, these old, familiar towers:

The photographer by the visa place was an enterprising fellow. Two sheets hanging outside on a wall by the parking area, with stools for the customers to sit on.

Eight photos in 5 minutes, 2000 cfa. I went to Visa Service, filled out papers, will pick up the visa at 11 AM today. Togo has a true market economy where everyone sells stuff, all the time, starting at a very young age.

We went to the indoor wholesale market where prices are more or less fixed. I finally got a recording of a water seller saying "pure water" at the end of this video:

https://youtu.be/Gd0GQg70gGE

I still lack a method for sending messages. Hakim got Togo Cel time or something but I couldn't get or send email, even though we made a WiFi connection. (In French, WiFi is pronounced "wee fee" which Afua heard as "huits filles." She didn't like that, asked us not to pronounce it that way.)

More song...

Near sunset:

Wednesday, January 22, 10:25 AM. I sit in an orange resin chair on the veranda, eat roasted peanuts from a glass rum bottle. I eat a piece of bread as a lizard does push ups on the wall beside me. Hakim washes clothes. A song in Ana plays on Afua's phone.

Dodji went north early yesterday on an errand, was not back by 11 AM so we walked, Afua, Hakim and I, to a main paved road. Hakim flagged down a "zed" (motorcycle taxi). I got on that one, and he and Afua got on the next one. My driver flagged a third soon so we could each have one (illegal to carry more than one passenger into the city?). Then we raced into the city, no helmets, horns sounding all the way like everyone drives in a city with few stop signs or traffic lights. Only a couple big bumps, but not a favorite mode of transport. 15 minute roller coaster ride without the safety bar. YOLO.

This video is a view of the road we took on the zeds, though I took this footage from Dodji's car window, to give you an idea of the ride:

https://youtu.be/SKI9fqN7Yms

We got to the center of Lomé late but I walked up to the window at Visa Service with my receipt. I was routed around by various people, finally got my visa, good for a year.

Dodji picked us up after we ate lunch at a nearby restaurant and we spent the rest of the day running errands. Here is some street art in Lome:

We went to the traditional medicine market:

We had drinks at a local bar. I tried the Awooyo for a change. Tasty bitter ale.

We went to the tailor's to pick up clothes we ordered earlier in the week. Here is the tailor's shop. Very friendly tailor (not in photo) and seamstress (in the turquoise dress) with their apprenctices:

I hope the apprentices will all have their own shops one day. Let no billionaire-owned megastore destroy the thriving West African market economy.

Before going back to the house, Dodji got gas:

Today, we go north. I like the comfort and familiarity of this house, but riding around hot Lomé is wearing.

The seller of something was crying out again this morning. Is it a coincidence that the inflection of her cry mimics the crowing rooster? It's morning. People wake to that sound. I tried unsuccessfully to record her cry. Is she saying pyuh wah-tah??

Noon. All packed and ready to go, Togo style:

The road sign tells us which way to go: turn left to head north.

On the road north, fuzzy vid cap from a fuzzy video, the coastal plain north of Lome:

Chapter 2, Heading North