Jul 7, 2011

A little R&R (or so we hoped) in Togo

Coco Beach, Togo

I recently returned from a 5-day trip down in Togo. It was a much-needed break where the only actions allowed were eating, drinking, swimming and reading. The words “email” and “work” were strictly prohibited. We stayed at a place called Coco Beach Chez Antoine, located in the small town of Avepozo, about 20K outside the capital of Lomé. For an incredibly cheap price, we had our own electrified bungalow right on the beach. There’s nothing quite like falling asleep and waking up to the sounds of waves crashing against the sands just a few feet away. Our days included lounging under a parasol on the beach, reading African biographies, swimming (more like getting tackled by the waves) and strolling around town. Everyday Emmanuel, one of the staff, would crack open fresh coconuts for us to sip from and chow down on.

While our camp ground was heavenly, the surrounding area was by no means touristic. We needed only to step out of Chez Antoine to be reminded that we were still in an impoverished country. While taking a lovely stroll along the sands, we’d cross paths with adults defecating on the beach in front of us. Old women cooked family meals outside of dilapidated homes. Barely 300 meters from where we stayed was an Ivoirian refugee camp. 

 We spent our last two days in Lomé. I think the biggest surprise for me was the lack of local businesses. The streets of Burkina are full of small boutiques and restaurants. In Lomé we’d walk 10 blocks trying to find a stand that sold coffee and bread. In Burkina I get easily annoyed with the young teens on the streets thrusting gum and phone credits in my face. In Togo I begged for someone to come sell me Kleenex tissues.
 Bus rides always offer added excitement to any trip. Driving from Ouaga to Lomé takes about 20 hours but when a plane ticket costs $500 versus a $30 bus ticket…that 20 hour trip doesn’t seem so bad. Our ride to Lomé was fine but we weren’t so lucky on the return trip.
On the bus, it was almost impossible to sleep at night as the driver thought it fit to play loud African music the entire time. At around 2 a.m. Togo police pulled over our bus and started screaming at everyone in local language. It ends up that during the night a bus had hit and killed a pedestrian and didn’t stop. About 7 different buses were all lined up in front and behind us. We stood outside while the police screamed at whoever was around them and scrutinized each bus. Finally the culprit was caught (fortunately, not our bus) and we were free to go.
At the border we had to check out with the Togo police before continuing on into Burkina. West Africans are free to travel throughout other W. African countries without any sort of fee, as long as they have proper ID. But right away the police demanded 500CFA from everyone in order for them to continue on. When his name was called, Elisée made the grave mistake of politely asking the police what the 500CFA was for. We were immediately told to sit off to the side and then had to wait until the entire line of people had filed through. A large policeman with a puffed out chest then started berating Elisée, screaming in his face about knowing when to keep his mouth shut and “talking back” to police. He threatened to beat Elisée for his lack of respect. We had to listen to this BS for about 10 minutes before he finally let us go (we never did end up paying). Maybe I should have been worried or frightened but while his spit sprayed our faces, all I could think about was how pathetic this corrupt man was; belittling others so that he could feel powerful behind the safety of his policeman status. We climbed back on the bus for the trip’s remaining 7 hours, where we watched horrible French-dubbed Nigerian soap operas followed by a video of Hulk Hogan and other ridiculous looking pro-wrestlers beating up on each other on TNA. (I will never understand pro wrestling. I watched female wrestlers compete where the looser was forced to strip on stage in front of the audience. When she “refused” the announcer was quick to respond “You HAVE to strip and entertain the audience. It’s in your contract. If you refuse to strip, you WILL be fired!” Funny to think I’m in Burkina as a Girls Education and Empowerment volunteer. We could still use some GEE in the United States).

Like I said, bus rides always make for added adventure.

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