#8 Ghana/Togo, March 4, 2001

Dear Everybody,

I can’t quite get over the difference in food from Ghana. I had wonderful French coffee, fresh orange juice, and toasted baguette for my petite d’jeuner. Also have had smoked salmon several times; then paella, which had lots of good seafood in it as well as chicken and goat.

I spent Monday exploring Lome, Togo. My hotel (Le Galion) is very nice and one block from the ocean; no swimming though as there is a huge undertow (several drownings a year) as well as the locals using the beach as a toilet and mugging people at night on the Blvd. Marina. But it’s a beautiful daytime sight!

I visited the fetish market which has every animal part imaginable, dried, and for sale. It seemed very inauthentic, though, although the monkey skulls, dried bats and chameleons, and leopards’ heads were very real.

Then I visited the museum, which was very nice. The ‘on duty’ person accompanied me through it, adding many tidbits of information and reading the French when I couldn’t.

Back to the hotel (room A/C) to cool off and rehydrate; then to lunch at a (mediocre, as it turned out) Chinese restaurant. Next I went to the Grand Marche—the huge market with everything imaginable for sale. I also visited a store called Bric A Brac, which has wonderful native African art pieces. I tentatively chose some and they will find out the possibilities of shipping it to my home. I just can’t carry these items in my backpack!

Tuesday I went on three wild goose chases! First I went to my hair appointment but the hairdresser didn’t show. Next I went to the bank—the only one with an ATM, but it wouldn’t give me any money! When I inquired, the man said there “was just a small problem” and sent me to the other bank branch. Much asking, searching, asking, searching by the taxi driver, and at last we found it! That machine wouldn’t give me any money, either. There they said that the computer was down.

So I gave up and went back to the hotel, cut my own hair, hydrated, had lunch, and got a tro-tro to Kpalime, which is in the (small) mountains. The van was in quite good shape although it wouldn’t start without a push. Once, this big muscular young man pushed it BY HIMSELF to get it started, with 12 people aboard!

I arrived in Kpalime and took a motor scooter taxi to the hotel. I don’t feel terribly safe on these but there just didn’t seem to be any other choices.

I have decided that it is just getting TOO HOT to enjoy the northern part of Togo and Benin. From mid-February it is their hottest time, and even on the coast I absolutely soak my shirt with sweat after the least little exertion. I’m also the one with the red face—I don’t think my Norwegian skin was meant for this! I’m getting used to rivulets of sweat running off my forehead and down my back. TOO HOT!! So I have decided to skip the north on this trip, and if KLM cooperates, I expect to be home a couple of weeks early—perhaps about the 20th of March.

After an initial run part way up Mt. Klouto on a motor scooter taxi, I climbed the rest of it with a young man (Yau) that I met at the Internet service. He is a botanist and identified various plants for diarrhea, constipation, smooth skin, to get pregnant, antibiotics for infection, etc., plus we saw growing stands of coffee, pineapple, cacao, mandarin orange trees, mangoes, and papaya. I had never seen growing pineapple before.They produce a beautiful pink flower in the early stages of forming the fruit. We went on a guided tour to see many beautiful butterflies (a bit of ecotourism there) and then walked about four km down the mountain until we got a tro-tro back to Kpalime.

 

 

It was a long and arduous day in this heat, but very worthwhile as it is a beautiful area. Klouto means ‘tortoise’ because there used to be many there.

For dinner I had a special dish of beef in a semi-spicy sauce flavored with a local plant which Yau hd pointed out to me on the mountain. It grew on a vine entwined around a tree. We also sampled the local palm wine, which was surprisingly good—or maybe I’m just getting used to all the African exotic flavors!  I met his wife and two sons.

On Friday, I took a tro-tro to Vogan to see their market. It was the most colorful, vibrant, authentic, neat, well-laid-out outdoor market that I’ve ever seen. It was huge, very roomy, and had vigorous sales of goats, pigs, chickens, butchered meat, grains, food to eat, kitchen utensils, fetishes, handmade mattresses stuffed with straw, skirts, gourds, cloth, huge straw hats, clothes, charcoal, pottery, and one man had apparently bought a kitten which was dangling by a string around it’s head/neck. I enjoyed it very much (not the kitten). Obviously people came from miles around. Next to the market was the gare (tro-tro park) which was also huge.Watching the people examine and buy the goats was fascinating. There were hundreds of them. I also met the local veterinarian who is in charge of vaccinating the animals. When I asked him if I could take his picture, he suggested we go to his ‘bureau,’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

which was next to the butchering place. I took the photo of him and his colleague with the sign above the door, all official.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Vogan I went to Togoville, which is on the banks of Lac Togo, a huge inland lagoon from the ocean. In 1884 the chief, Malpa III signed a peace treaty with the German explorer, Nachtigal, (my hotel there also had that name) that gave the Germans the rights over all of Togo which lasted until World War I, when the French took over. A young man gave me a tour of the town—a wonderful artisanal with a terrific sculpture in front that was done by a local artist. The sculpture is called “Generation Gap.” It’s of a father and son—the father is dressed traditionally, seated on a traditional stool; the son is wearing blue jeans, a shirt, and sneakers and is seated backwards on a modern chair; they are facing each other and the father is giving advice to the son—it’s wonderful!

We also visited the church built as a Protestant church by the Germans in 1910, but converted to a Catholic church after the French came. The church was very colorfully decorated with religious scenes and wild but beautiful stained glass windows. The Pope visited here in the early ‘90s for which they built a special pier on the lake, and a big outdoor church. This is quite a Voodoo center and the Pope’s message was that “we all pray to the same God.” Anyway there seems to be sort of a combination of Catholicism and Animist/Voodoo practice here. Many slaves from here were sent to Jamaica and Haiti, and, of course, brought their Voodoo religion with them. I saw the two statues that are responsible for protecting the village—there were bird carcasses all over one as sacrifices. There were also two very old beautiful trees “where our elders used to sit and discuss.”

Next morning I met the present chief, Malpa V, a grandson of the one who signed the treaty. He has been the chief for 17 years and looked very ‘chiefly.’ (By the way, this interview only cost $3). He was very gracious, knew only a little English and so he called his wife to interpret. She was very sweet and stayed and chatted a bit after the chief went to ‘hold court’ (fait la justice) as he does on Saturday mornings. I had been seated there while waiting for the chief, along with about two dozen citizens who were obviously there to bring a grievance and get a decision from the chief. He took me aside ahead of the ‘justice’ to another little balcony where we talked for about 10 minutes. Nice!

Then I went in a pirogue (boat) with eight others across Lac Togo to the village of Agebochafo so that I could get a taxi brousse back to Lome. The only choices were the pirogue or a motor scooter—both of which seemed a bit dangerous, but the boat was really pleasant and gave wonderful views of Togoville as we were polled along. The ride took about 45 minutes.

It’s amazing what they transport on the tro-tros. Routinely there are huge sacks of charcoal on the roof, big bundles of everything in the back end or under seats, or just being held by the women. Once a woman got on with eggs stacked on cartons—each layer held 144 eggs and there were about 15 layers, plus another big tub full of eggs.

When I went back to Lome from Kpalime a young man got on carrying a big tub (24” in diameter and 8” deep) of sauce for fufu. Since it’s tomato/meat based, it is very red, and this had quite a bit of fat floating on the top along with chunks of meat and chili peppers. The young man balanced this on his lap for the 40 miles into Lome. Every time we stopped/started/shifted gears/hit a pothole, the soup sloshed alarmingly. I couldn’t watch, but I couldn’t take my eyes off it either! I’m glad that I wasn’t sitting next to him. The van had five forward gears and the driver wasn’t too careful about shifting smoothly so it was a very exciting 40 miles. At last we arrived in Lome with no serious spills.

Then when I went to Togoville from Vogan I was in a shared taxi—a small car with seven persons and one goat. I didn’t notice the goat in the front until it began its pitiful (loud) bleating. Everyone is very understanding about these things—nobody complains!

Just today on the way back to Lome in a taxi brousse, we stopped when it appeared that another taxi had car trouble. Somebody whipped out an 8’ rod with which they hooked the cars together and we pulled the other car about 15 miles into Lome! It jerked a lot and the ride was really stressful and somewhat dangerous as we were going quite fast and there were so many pedestrians, motorbikes, halted taxis, and trucks.

Well, all’s well that ends well and I’m back in Lome, heading to Cotonou, Benin tomorrow.

Carol

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