Sunday, September 18, 2005

con cuidado, s'il vous plait.

I had four days off. Enough time, barely, to pack my bags, scoot down to Accra, meet some of the other Californians, obtain a togolese visa and exchange my ghanain cedis into french west african francs (CFAs) and hop on a dawn bus to Togo, ride motercycles around the capital, Lome, explore the voodoo markets, and get home in time for class on monday morning.
Togo, Like most of west africa, is francophone.
my french, (which is, how do you say... non-exstant) steadily improved (and y'all called me over-prepared when I bought my french phrase book and french for beginners audio cd before leaving for an english speaking african nation- I knew it would come in handy) but anytime I would feel proud of myself for successfully completing a sentance in french, Id realize that half of what I'd just said was Spanish, or in some cases, Twi, which would explain the bewildered pause on the other side of the conversation. "bonjour, wo ho te sen?" "ca va bien, gracias, y tu?"
oh, the struggles we dont anticipate.
Togo is beautiful. I'd had some small pre-departure trepidation after doing a little research and realizing that not four months ago, the city of Lome was still in riotous upheval, and on most top ten lists of 'do-not-go' countries in the entire world, with violence centered in the city of Lome. But things had mellowed. (the heinous "one party democracy" dictator of many many years had a sudden heart attack, and his son was immediatly appointed the new president without elections, the thin veil of democracy dissolved, what else could be expected.....but they had elections, the dudes son still "won" but things have been tame since) The city of Lome is within walking distance from the Ghanain border (and we definatly walked from Aflao Ghana to our hotel in Lome), but the differance between the major cities of Ghana and Togo were visable from the first step over the border. Lome had gorgeous, uncrowded beachfront, bright yellow sand, bright blue water, lines of palm trees, multilane roads, highrise buildings, a french quarters, a lot less street vendors, a lot more lights, it had jazz clubs, baguettes, real CHEESE, a real charming combination of western amenities for wich we were greatful, and true traditional artistry and history. Unlike Ghana, Togo (which is where the deepest roots of voodoo lay) still boasts at least 50 percent still participating in the animist religions, then 30 percent christian and 20 percent islam, but, also unlike Ghana, Togo has skyscrapers, clean(er) streets, and a real 'city' feeling, as opposed to the more chaotic enormous shanty town feel of downtown accra or kumasi.
But the real bee's knees in Lome was the remarkable absense of car traffic because everybody rode MOPEDS, motorcycles, and vespas, including us. All you had to do was hold out your arm and a guy on a moped would zip up behind you, youd climb on back, pay him twenty five cents and he'd take you across town, slow enough to see the city, hear the locals laughing at the motor gang of seven americans clinging to the back of bikes tripping around the city, and feel the sunshine and wind and freedom. We took them to the fetish market: Besides a few touristy statues and voodoo dolls, everything they sold was piles dead animal parts. In between stalls selling things like monkey skulls, leopard skins, cobra scales, dried lizard legs and turtle shells (poaching is clearly alive and well in togo)were small shrines belonging to voodoo chiefs and medicine men. The idea of the market is that you come sit by a shrine with a voodoo cheif, tell him of your woes, and he brews you up a concoction of the differant parts, and instructs you what to do with the potions and idles he gives you from there. It felt a little (okay, maybe a lot) sick being there, but who am i to judge. When asked if i wanted a safe travel fetish, a love potion, or a good luck charm, I simply said (or asked my french speaking friend to say) that my having any part in it would trivialize it and it would lose all meaning, and that seemed to satisfy everyone. I did buy a non-blessed-just-for-show wooden voodoo llama-like statue with a bunch of nails sticking out of it. After, back with the motorgang across the city to the arts market, where after a lot of hard bargining i ended up with some wonderful jewelry and an antique ceremonial mask from northern togo. At night, we ate senegalese dinner and french dessert at a lovely little place under the stars with a live band playing highlife guitar and jembe drum versions of sons like 'swing low sweet chariot' and 'guantanamera.' Then another moped ride back to the hotel for an early night's sleep (four of us, myself included had seen the sunrise on the bus at the border, and were quite tired.) The hotel was absolutly beautiful. High white walls, dark wood trim, concrete spiral staircases, and roof access, from which my dear friend angie (an amazing woman from kentucky who joined the california group) and i ended our day by watching the stars and the lit city and ocean below, sitting under the cloths line with colorful sheets flapping in the wind above our heads. Maybe i just cought Togo on a really good day, but I'm a little bit in love with Lome, and my Visa is good for six months. There may be a return trip.

Oh, I guess Togo needs at least one cringe story (if you dont count the severed horse head at the fetish market) so here goes: when we returned to our room at night it smelled awful. like truely, horrible. after plugging our noses and searching around for about twenty painful minutes, litterally in pain from the smell, we found the culprit: a small dead fish on the bathroom floor. how did it get there in the time we left in the afternoon to the time we returned in the evening? no one knows. our best guess is that it had somehow adhered itself to the bottom of one of our sandals(?) bizarre. a stealthy removal and a high powered fan took care of the problem in no time. in the morning, we woke up early, found a cafe with chocolate crisonttes, took one last look at the coast and a motorcycle ride to the boarder and I was off.
It was probably the most fun (like simple good fun) any of us have had since we got here. There were no hard issues, and by now, we all know eachotehr well enough and have been in africa long enough to just be comfortable and enjoy the sunshine, the city, good friends, and adventure.
the end.
bonsoir amigos, maggie


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