Chapter 6. Heading South

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

We are in Atakpame at Hotel Relais des Plateaux:

("Relais" comes from the word Relay which, in old times, was a place where riders could switch out tired horses for fresh ones...)

From the upper terrace, lots of morning traffic:

Half a dozen motos just went by with driver and passengers in orange, waving flags with ANC emblazoned. If I hadn't seen a sample ballot, I would not know that it was for a political party.

It was a 5-hour ride From Kaboli to Atakpame. I took no pictures on the way down. It was a hazy day and soon it was too dark to catch sharp pictures on the go. It was a race down La Route Nationale. That's how Dodji drives. He had Jesus music, African style, on the player. Did he want Jesus watching over us on that dark highway crowded with big trucks, taxis, motos, and pedestrians?

We were welcomed by Dodji's wife who served us pate and sauce after a shot of Soda-B. After dinner we looked for a cheap hotel. The first one had 25,000 cfa rooms. The second one, this one, had 4000 cfa singles and 10,000 cfa doubles with "clim" but Dodji talked the guy down to 7,000. Afua and I showered and slept, straight through to 4:30 or so, cat napped till 6:30. I'm on the upper terrace watching Atakpame go by.

The plan: do a little shopping in Atakpame, have rice and beans somewhere, then go to Badou.

When we saw people eating in the lobby, we decided to have breakfast at the hotel. Afua, Hakim and I ordered eggs, hot coco for them and black coffee for me. Then we went over to a table under a mango tree.

We sat for quite a while. Were they waiting for the chickens to lay the eggs? Afua talked to le gardien as did I in my broken Mina. We noticed a ripening mango and Afua asked le gardien if we could pick the mango. Sure, so Hakim pulled the mango down. Afua asked the cook to please wash it and to bring us a knife to cut it with. Meanwhile, breakfast finally came, nearly cold scrambled eggs, though well seasoned, fresh bon pain and cup of dry Nescafe with a thermos of hot water. It was a good breakfast and the bill was what we all expected, 1500 cfa each.

The washed mango and knife arrived on a plate, Afua cut it up like she always does at home, but this mango was ripe off the tree, fantastic.

This mango tree must have heard my cries of disappointment at all the unripe mangoes and gave us this gift. It's not the tart little mango I wanted, but it was just as satisfying, the unexpected ripe orange fruit, the only one on the tree.

After breakfast we went walking in Atakpame, looking for scissors to trim my beard, medicine for Hakim's upset stomach. We found scissors in a General Store, 200 cfa! Stainless steel said the poorly stamped blade. We also got Nescafe in a string of single-serving packets.

On our walk, a yellow flower by abandoned train tracks:

We found a pharmacy with its signature flashing LED sign, with slogan, time, etc.

We ran into a couple of guys from the drumming and dancing troupe that had come to Kaboli. We treated them to fufu and beer for lunch.

I talked to Hakim about the blacksmith, the tailor, the seamstress, the hair stylist working outside in a little shack, in plain view of everyone. It's too hot to work inside. The extreme case, the tailor with the sewing machine on his shoulder. It's poverty that creates this visible economy. If they were better off, they would have air-conditioned shops like in Nigeria, says Hakim. They don't want to work outside in a shack. They have to. Even the friendly tailor and seamstress with their small shop on a back street in Lome. They have 3 machines on the porch in front of their shop, two treadle machines and one electric. They will have treadle machines forever? The treadle machines work without power, which will cut out periodically, due to infrastructure problems, or due to non payment of an electric bill. The economics of a society drive the social conditions. A good economy in which everyone has a chance to have a good life, that should be the goal of every political administration.

Eventually, around 3:30 PM we started off to Badou, planning a short trip to see the sites, then come back to Atakpame to sleep.

The familiar hills were nearly invisible, appearing out of nowhere like ghosts.

Up the switchback road, newly paved. Nice!

Through the familiar villages of Imoussa, Okou, Klabe-Adape, Klabe-Ofoukpa, Zogbegan,...

Coffee, bananas, palms growing along the road side.

More coffee, please.

...finally descending into Badou around the familiar curves. The trip took about an hour and a half.

We went through town, right to the Lycée (High School). There it was, much older now, nearly empty at the end of the school day.

As we were walking up to the building I saw someone walking to his moto. I greeted him, said I had been a teacher here in the 80's. He was friendly enough, recalled seeing another ex-Peace Corps teacher in 2017. He asked if I wanted to see the Censeur. "Oui," I answered, for why wouldn't I want to see him? The Censeur, however, was a complete jerk. Why would I expect anything else? Uh, because he's Togolese and I am a stranger, a guest in his office? We quickly saw we were bothering him, so I said, thanks, we'll continue our promenade. I took some pictures of the building, of a class room, the doorway to Terminale D, a schedule on the wall.

The town seemed unfriendly, even suspicious. Maybe this was my impression because of the unfriendly welcome from the Censeur. If I wanted Badou to be my home, I would have to live here again. (Reflecting later, why would I want to live there? I don't know anyone. Because of the hills? As if to discourage the idea, the hills were nearly invisible in the haze of Harmattan. "Nothing to see here.")

Here is a building on the main drag through town, complete with political posters:

Afua knew the shop owner next door from long ago, when she used to live here. Afua spent some time in the shop talking with the owner.

We had drinks at a bar, walked around downtown Badou a little. This is where the Badou market used to be. Now there is a bistro with rooftop dancing.

We got some street food (chicken and kolikos) to eat in the car on the way to... Tomegbe! Afua wanted to visit a river there, near the old church. There we went on a mostly unpaved road, worn away by the elements. By now it was dark. The old church is all I could capture:

Then back to Badou for more street food to eat on the way back to Atakpame.

Thursday, February 13, 2020.

Out on the terrace again. An old man is cutting weeds out front with a coup-coup. Hotel maintenance.

After some Nescafe we went into town for breakfast: fried bread, fried plantain with hot sauce, fried plantain cakes, beef kebabs.

We sat and ate in a lush park on concrete benches.

Bananas growing:

The park is named after the source of water at the bottom of a tiled area.

Dodji finally showed up, with a clean car. We made one last trip to the Atakpame market, had a lunch of rice and peanut sauce with beef at Dodji's. Afua says goodbye to Dodji's family.

We packed the car after a brief sieste and got on the road to Lome.

Sellers mob the taxi behind us as it is trying to leave town.

Obviously an election is coming.

I took several videos, trying to catch kids in school. Not easy shooting video down La Route Nationale. I caught some kids here:

We almost had a head-on collision. Some guy in a car coming north was passing an 18-wheeler. We both had to come to a screeching halt or roll off the road. And we had just passed an accident where two cars were crashed on each side of the road. Accidents waiting to happen. High speed highway going through village after village.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Happy Valentine's Day. I would not have remembered Valentine's Day if we had not been reminded by Dodji who showed us a video on his phone. I'm on the veranda in Lome. We got here about 6 PM last night, went to an African restaurant for pate and fufu, then came here. We did some unpacking then went to a very local "bar" that was just someone's house in the neighborhood. Can anyone buy beer wholesale and sell it at their house? There was no indication that the house was a bar. We better go there again as part of a scientific study. Social science.

A flock of tiny birds dashes by.

8 AM. Unpacking the car.

So now we are back in congested Lome but it is not congested here in our neighborhood. It's quiet but if I listen, I can hear the quiet roar of highways far away (2 or 3 km?). Roosters crow, slight breeze, not enough to rattle the coconut leaves.

We confirmed our flight at the airport, though all we got was an affirmation, "yes, there will be a flight on Sunday to Newark." I was still happy to hear it said. We will go two hours early, as required.

After the airport Dodji pulled off the road at a Fufu sign and we ordered lunch. The sauce was peanut sauce and the beef was tender and delicious, as was the sauce. Best fufu and sauce on one of our last days in Togo.

After fufu we went to the Lome market. Here is a quick and bumpy video I took on my phone from my seat in Dodji's car. It is one way to capture the busy Togo market.


Here is another video, from a bench in the market.


We then went to Afua's Aunt's house. Nice place with various herbs growing in the court yard, pigeons on the roof. Afua and her Aunt chatted for an hour or more while I dozed a little.

Hakim made dinner, rice with agouti sauce.

Bedtime, 9:45 PM.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

In the morning I strummed my guitar while sitting on the veranda, as any respectable ex-Peace Corps Voluteer might do. I played through That Makes Four a couple times, a song I wrote in Badou in the 80's. Is this the morning I would see in the afternoon or evening? I still don't understand that song but it touches me just the same.

That makes four and two were loaded

Want to see that smoke decoded

I see the morning in the afternoon

I'm going to see it in the evening soon

Last full day in Togo. I will be ready to go. That is, our bags will be packed, but I don't want to go. I like it here. Le Grand Marche already knows I'm the white guy who speaks Mina. I chatted with a group of market women yesterday in Mina. The bright look of surprise, appreciation, pleasure, admiration from five women simultaneously saying "Dogbe" to my "Egbebedo..." Voices like music because it is music, a chorus in a tonal language.

On the other hand, we will be back home in our house, our kitchen, our bed. It is not uncomfortable here, especially in our house, but I am not as independent as I am in New Jersey.

Quiet morning. In the early afternoon, I tried both phone numbers I had for Kokou. The second one connected... "Hallo?..."

I said, "Je cherche Djossa Kokou,"

"C'est moi, Djossa Kokou..."

Said I, excited of course, "Kokou?... C'est Bill!"

Said he, the best response, "Ahhhhhhhhhhhh!"

Afua took the phone, spoke Mina with Kokou. We got in the car, met up with Kokou at a gas station where we found him waiting on a moto. We stared at each other, astonished, after 33 years, embraced. He kept saying, "Bill" and I kept saying "Kokou." We went to his house, a nice two-story building in a quiet area, met his two boys and his wife. I sat in one of his "quatres chaises fundamentales," called them such. We tried to catch up, establishing the states of our families. Very nice to see Kokou again and to see his family, to see him doing well. We told him we would see him again now that I'm retired. We can keep in contact with Whatsapp (and we have). We chatted for an hour, took pictures and then continued on our errands. Kokou!

We looked for dinner after our errands, had trouble finding some place not too crowded. I suggested the bar where we ate on the first night in Togo. No classic Afro pop this time - all new stuff to my ear - but grilled kebabs and chicken with Akpan and a cold Pils. A good last evening on the town in Lome.

Then home to pack, chatted with Kossogbon who had stopped by to wish us a good trip, and to thank us for our visit.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Cool, foggy morning. We finished packing. Not much to do but eat breakfast and go. Got to send a message to Ali.

A hastily assembled church yard appeared in the neighborhood recently. The choir sings this morning.

Church choir nearby

Bowl of stew for breakfast. Thanks, Dodji.

Dodji and Hakim saw us off at the airport. Weigh bags, check bags, show passports, get boarding passes. Fly away.

1:30 PM We are flying over Ghana.

Nothing but blue sky out the window and the muffled roar of jet engines.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Back in my attic room! Wasn't I just in Togo? It's cold, but I was so hot for a month, the cold is refreshing.

My head is too punchy to write a witty, poignant, deep final page.

We went through customs with almost no problem. We picked up our bags, scanned our passports at a self-serve kiosk, walked out with our bags. Ali came up the ramp to the exit door to meet us. Hugs, then to the car and down the turnpike.

Home again.