1st day UB; last full day in Togo (I hope)

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

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Where I stayed
Hotel Sarakawa

Flag of Togo  , Maritime,
Tuesday, March 30, 2010

I didn't sleep well during the night, waking at 2:00 and unable to sleep after than. Whatever was "bugging me" seems to have calmed down this morning however.

Mr. Fiaboé picked me up at 8:45 for the drive to the hall, which takes a little less that half an hour. We started our service for the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread right at 9:30 their usual time. They start earlier than we might in the West, even though travel can take them as long or longer, because they want to avoid the heat of the day. By about 8:30 am just sitting still in the heat is enough to induce heavy perspiration, so if they had services in the afternoon the heat would make it very difficult to stay awake, much less concentrate.

The chorale sang two selections of special music, in French (they sometimes sing in Ewe), swaying and moving in time to the music. We’d probably be uncomfortable with that in US congregations, because it would seem forced and artificial, but it didn’t seem at all out of place here. I found myself smiling in joy in communion with their enthusiasm and sincerity.

I spoke on the topic of sin and its connection to the meaning of the day we were observing. After services activity of any kind starts up again slowly. For two or three minutes after the last “Amen” I was the only person standing in the hall. Things move slowly here; they have plenty of time, and it’s very warm.

After asking everyone to line up, I took some photos of the group. In line with local custom they look serious, not smiling for the most part. Smiling makes one look prosperous (and therefore able to share) and also lacking in dignity, so people don’t tend to smile for photos.

After photos and some fellowship, Mr. Fiaboé and I had another counseling session with Kodjo (his name means Monday – the day he was born. The Ewe name their children after the day of the week on which they were born. Kofi Anan’s first name means Friday I think (or Saturday, I can’t remember which at the moment). But no one calls him Kodjo; possibly it would be too easy to confuse him with all the other guys born on Friday. His nickname is Homère, in French the name of the Poet who wrote the Iliad, or Bart Simpson’s father, depending on one’s cultural references….

It was clear to me he understood the commitment and meaning of baptism, so we determined to have the ceremony right away. Mr. Fiaboé and I had our water clothes in hand just in case. We discussed the best place to conduct the baptism and decided the ocean would be best. The surf is always quite high along this coast, and the currents make swimming dangerous to the point of deadly. But I’ve worked out a technique that allows us to safely conduct baptisms.  So we decided on the beach right behind my hotel.  Homère and his wife and a nephew drove in their car and Mr. Fiaboé and I went in his truck. At the hotel I quickly changed and offered to let them change in my room, but they said they preferred to change on the beach.

As we left the hotel grounds there was an amusing sign trying to warn us of danger on the beaches. It's true that the beaches in Lomé are the scene of much crime, robbery, rape, and murder. But the sign was created by a French-speaker who got caught by words that look the same but mean different things in French and English.  Judge for yourself....

Out we walked, about 300 meters to the beach, which it turned out was quite a hive of activity. Scores of heavy trucks were coming and going picking up loads of sand for construction jobs. They appear to prefer wet sand, so they were out pretty near the waters edge, but helpfully for us, not right behind the hotel. We walked out to the dune that marked the level where the waves come at highest reach. Homère and Mr. Fiaboé had no qualms about undressing to their underwear and putting on their swimming trunks in full view of the beach. People in Africa live with little or no privacy, so underwear is considered adequate clothing; in fact some very poor people have little more than that in any event. Even nudity is not treated the same way it would be in the west just due to necessity.

When we were all ready we walked out as far as we could without being in the way of the trucks rumbling back and forth, a crowd of children gathered to see what was going to happen. I asked a blessing on the ceremony and we walked out into the surf. This was a good beach, the water was shallow for quite a way, so we could easily walk out to knee deep. There we waited until a suitable wave was on its way in. I had Homère sit down and hold his nose and prepare to lie backwards, and asked Mr. Fiaboé to make sure his legs stayed under. We let the wave wash over him (and most of us….) and he had been submerged, with is the meaning of the Greek work for baptism.

We walked out and dried off under the curious gaze of some of the men filling the sand trucks. Then we prayed and asked for him to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Both he and his wife were very happy though one might not guess it from the photo we took after he changed clothes. Remember, one must look grave and not very prosperous in photos – it’s a definite custom. We were  very happy to welcome Kodjo Guenouh-Ahlidza, aka Homère, into the Christian family. It was a very nice way to cap off my time in Togo.

Tomorrow I will have to be at the airport around 8:00 for the much hoped-for flight to Abidjan. We’ll see if Air Maybe comes through tomorrow!
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