Arrival in Togo

Trip Start Mar 24, 2010
Trip End Apr 12, 2010

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Where I stayed
Hotel Sarakawa

Flag of Togo  , Maritime,
Friday, March 26, 2010

The flight from Paris yesterday afternoon left and arrived nearly and hour late, which put in Lomé near 8:00 pm. I had napped off and on over most of the Sahara. The air was filled with dust from the Harmatan winds so the views of the desert were not good in any event.

I moved quickly through immigration, knowing the ropes helps. As I waited by the luggage carousels a tall slender Frenchman, waiting like me, said "bonjour" to which I replied in French.  Then he noticed the tags on my computer case. “Are you American?” he queried still in French. I said I was and we started talking. He asked what brought me to Togo and I was too tired to give a long explanation so I said I was a missionary, a delightfully short answer which gives a close idea in their minds of what I do here. He said “congratulations!” and confided quietly that he was a practicing Catholic. That's not the sort of thing on says loudly in the French world. But he wasn’t closed minded, he explained, his mother was Protestant and he even had an aunt that was Orthodox….

We compared African experiences a little as we waited. He was a banker based in Brussels who specialized in privatizing financial or other companies. “I’m one of the few left who won’t take kickbacks” he said with a compassionate smile. I commiserated about the endemic corruption in the region. “I’ve survived three assassination attempts” he went on, “one has to be careful. I had a good friend who was murdered in Côte d’Ivoire.” I said I was sorry to hear that and ask if it was during the “troubles” as everyone calls the civil war and its consequences. “No, it was before that” he said. He told me his friend’s name quickly, but I can’t remember it now; sad.

He asked where I was based and what I did specifically. I always have a hard time answering that question since there are so many different kinds of things to do on these trips: leadership training, counseling, baptizing, performing weddings, overseeing Good Works projects, registering the church, writing, speaking etc. I gave a brief overview. He was surprised that I traveled alone; most churches don’t send people out by themselves, both for safety’s sake and for mutual support. I didn’t have time to explain all the particulars. Our suitcases arrived almost at the same time, and we shook hands and sincerely wished each other well. Often the business people who end up coming to the places I go in Africa, are not the most appreciated elements in their companies, though usually fine people. But once in a while one meets a real gem, and this fellow struck me as one.
The customs agents wanted to open and go through my suitcase and then suggested I save myself the trouble buying helping them out a little. I told them with a smile I didn’t have any change yet. They let me go anyway.

After finding the driver who would take me to the hotel on the shuttle, I walked outside where it was slightly less stuffy than in the airport. There were the usual scenes of casual chaos outside as passengers and taxis came and went, officials trolled for change and hangers-on hustled for tips. I waited by the shuttle mini-bus for other passengers who were to go to the Sarakawa, my hotel this time. I usually stay at the Ibis, but it was fully booked. It must be full of locals because the flow of foreign visitors, I was told at the airport, have really dried up since the post-election rioting a week ago. After waiting half an hour, we found that no one came, so we finally drove to the Sarakawa and I checked in. No rooms were clean and ready at 9:30 pm(!), so I left my luggage with the desk and went out to the outdoor restaurant in the thick African night and had wood-fired pizza while I waited.

I didn’t get into my room until after 10:00: a very long day. What a wonderful relief to reach my destination.

This morning Mr. Fiaboé arrived promptly at 9:00. We loaded my computer bag into his pickup and drove to the Ghanaian border about 10 miles away. On the way we saw a fist-fight in the middle of the road that goes along the beach. As we got closer we saw an agitated crowd and a woman down on the pavement, obviously in pain and holding her shoulder. There had been an accident of some sort. Had she fallen off a motor-cycle taxi? Had she been hit while crossing the road? The crowd was clearly upset, so I didn’t get my camera out. There were people with her, comforting and helping her. We drove on.

The border crossing is a good place to get a good rate on dollars, and to get hustled, scammed, and otherwise provoked. I have crossed the border here many times and the memories are not all pleasant. The dollars was up a good bit over the West African CFA, which was encouraging. As we drove away from the money changers we had to get closer to the border before we could turn around. As we got very near, we saw uniformed officers with large sticks raised, chasing two men up the street. One fellow being pursued fell not far in front of us and took a few good disciplinary blows on the head and shoulders before he could scramble up and continue running holding his head. “Robbers” explained Mr. Fiaboé “I hope they catch them.”  How to describe such places, with all that goes on, is beyond me. This is an Old Testament kind of place: beggars and lame and blind and corrupt officials and prostitutes and orphans and people living in rags and scraping sores and the strong dominating the weak. Deliver us….

Then we drove to a Catholic book and stationary store where I bought notebooks, folder and pens for the leadership seminars that were to begin at 11:00. We photocopied handouts that I had prepared before leaving the States and then headed over to the Church hall. On the way Mr. Fiaboé gave me some disheartening news: the Togolese government has re-zoned the quarter where our church building had been constructed. We have all the permits, and seals on zoning plans that have been in place for 20 years and that show that our lot is quite safe. But they just changed the official plan and have announced that our hall will be taken under eminent domain rules and demolished to make was for a new boulevard! It’s no new we don’t even have the inside painted yet, and now they’re going to appropriate it and tear it down. And they’ll decide how much it’s worth with regards to compensation for us. What a disappointment after working on this project for years.  Mr. Fiaboé has put a great deal of personal effort and even money into our building project. His comment was resigned: “c’est comme ça ici. Ils font ce qu’ils veulent. Le Togo c’est foutu de toute façon.” (rough translation : that’s the way it is here. They do whatever they want. Togo is finished anyway.” It’s not always pleasant visiting these places, but I always get to go back to the States. It must be very hard indeed to have to spend one’s entire life here. It would grind one down. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done….

We drove on to the church hall, which may soon be no more, and greeting everyone present. The four men I had invited from Cote d’Ivoire weren’t going to be able to make it. A Western Union transfer that would have provided them the money for travel expenses inexplicably didn’t go through, though I made it myself before leaving the States. We’re going to try to get to the bottom of that as soon as possible. So there will only be 8 men present for these conferences instead of 12. And one won’t be totally present in mind even if in body: Pierre Ogoudélé form Benin is getting married Sunday to a young woman who’s a member here in Lomé.

We started promptly at 11:00 as scheduled. I welcomed everyone and gave a news update of the Church internationally and in the French-language areas particularly. I asked Mr. Fiaboé and Mr. Ogoudélé to give updates about Togo and Bénin. In Cotonou, the Ogoudélés are in danger of losing their house (also to be demolished) under similar circumstances as the Church hall here. Not a lot of good news; this seems to be a time of particular trials in many areas.

As I was writing this, the power just went out; all the lights in the hotel as well as the air conditioning just stopped. I can see only by the light of the laptop screen. There now, they’re back again. Perhaps we’ve gone to generators.

Since Pierre Ogoudélé hadn’t arrived, and he was scheduled to do so around the start of our meetings, I shifted the topics around so he wouldn’t miss a couple of presentations I thought he would appreciate. I started the personalized sermonette class first. That went until about 1:00 when we broke for lunch prepared by Church ladies and carried here in a basket on one’s head: raw vegetables with vinaigrette (not something visitors should eat under normal circumstances, but I’ve explained some parameters on how to prepare such things), followed by braised fish, fried potatoes, cooked onions and tomatoes, and fresh pineapple for dessert. I ate sparingly and carefully, avoiding the fish and the fruit on this first day in country.

Then we went back to work: we had a seminar on why and how to conduct our personal studies of the Bible. That was followed by a PowerPoint presentation on our responsibilities as links in the continuing chain of membership in the Church since it was founded. Starting in Matthew 16:18, and ending up in Revelation 2-3, we had a spirited discussion with lots of questions and almost as many answers.

We wrapped up around 5:00 pm. By that time I was fairly tired: one very short night, followed by a long day and a none-too-full night and five hours of presentations. It was a good day. And I should sleep well tonight.
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