On to Togo
Trip Start Feb 13, 2011
30Trip End Mar 14, 2011
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Where I stayed
We've finally arrived in Lomé after a somewhat adventurous day. I was expecting Paul Tia to arrive late in the morning, but from the shower I heard the phone ring about 07:00. I walked to the lobby as soon as I reasonably could and found Paul waiting. He had started traveling from Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) the previous day and had arrived in the middle of the night. Not speaking English or Twi, he didn’t want to take the chance of trying to find a hotel in the darkness where he could easily have been scammed or worse. So he waited in the bus station, where, he told me, the mosquitoes were very bad and didn't let him sleep much.
We caught up on the news of his poor country which is in a state of gridlock because of the presidential standoff. Côte d’Ivoire has two parallel governments now, the outgoing president (he doesn’t agree with the adjective) and his government are still occupying official buildings, the official (internationally at least) winner of the election is holding office in Abidjan’s largest hotel. The banks that had remained open in the country all closed today, so the economy that is already in shambles will degenerate still further.
He thanked me for making it possible for him to come to Togo to ask questions on behalf of our brethren in his country and to be part of our discussions here in Togo. I invited Paul for breakfast at the hotel. An all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet was an unusual experience for him. After breakfast, I asked Paul to wait while I called Eddie and finished packing. On my way back to my room, I bumped into Alan Tattersall, a longtime pastor and Africa hand who serves in a sister church organization. We chatted with each other for half an hour, getting caught up with news both corporate and personal. The last time I had seen Alan was several years ago when we similarly crossed paths, also at this hotel. The world seems very small sometimes, and for expatriates, it’s especially small in Africa where western travelers tend to stay in the same few hotels.
Eddie was caught in traffic and it took him over an hour to reach the hotel. Paul and I waited and continued talking about our current situation, and the needs in his country. We talked in the dark mostly because there was a planned power outage that coincided with the hour we waited. It wasn’t too dark; we missed the air conditioning more than the light.
Finally Eddie arrived and we were able to leave at 10:30. We estimated the trip at 3 to 3 ½ hours. It ended up taking about 5 ½ hours start to finish due to some unexpected stops. The first delay was traffic which was heavy as we left Accra. The second delay which dogged us through the day was the car overheating.
We stopped the first time just outside Accra and Eddie checked under the hood. Everything looked normal he reported. He poured in a little more water (which drivers around here always carry with them for the car radiator), and we started off again. The engine was soon too hot once again so we stopped in a petrol station and he checked it out again. Back on the road things seemed normal for a while and we made good time.
Eddie walked over to a house and came back with a boy of about 16, a bucket full of water, and a stainless steel bowl. We waited in 90 degree heat and sunlight as the car cooled, then Eddie poured water in the radiator. About this time an older man walked over to help. He greeted me with a polite salute "good morning sir" and then tried to help. Eddie noticed that the fan was not working properly; a wire had failed. He jury rigged it, so we could drive a little further and find a replacement length of wire which he did within a few minutes. That finally held us the rest of the way to Aflao.
Along the way we came through about ten security checkpoints manned by armed soldiers or policemen who looked us over and sometimes asked questions about our business before they waved us on.
The last 50 miles of the direct road between Accra and Lomé are so bad that Eddie took a detour south of the Keta Lagoon, that must have added at least another 50 miles onto our trip to avoid that bad stretch. It added at least an hour’s time but I’ve traveled that stretch several times and know it saved some terrible wear and tear on his car.
That doesn’t mean the road we took was great! Several sections were pretty bad, in places the pavement was gone completely and we drove on fine red dirt that sent clouds of dust in the air and colored red the trees and buildings along the road side.
Border crossing at Aflao
I hired a porter to carry my suitcase since I didn’t want to pull in through the thick red dust that carpeted the ground. This dust will permanently stain clothes and it will get in your suitcase no matter how tightly it is closed, even in a sealed trunk. Please don’t ask me how I learned this….
The porter who arrived first in the usual green uniform was, as it happened, a woman. Part of me very much disliked the idea of having a woman carry my suitcase; chivalry and all that. On the other hand that is her job, and she very much wanted the work. I hired her. She actually carried my suitcase on her head, on a cushion made from a coiled cloth, the same method women here use to transport virtually everything they carry (which is a very great deal). I wish I could show you a photo, but photography is forbidden at border crossings and anyplace “official” so I couldn’t get my camera out. She wanted me to pile my computer roller on top of the suitcase but decided I would carry it and my shoulder bag.
I told Paul to go on ahead and meet me on the Togolese side. He didn’t need a visa as I did, and anything out of the ordinary like an American traveling with an Ivorian (whose country is near civil war) might attract the attention of an official looking for a “dash” as they call it in Ghana. I received an exit stamp at the Ghanaian immigration control, and then passed customs control. My passport was checked three times by various uniformed officials and soldiers.
As I passed the last check in Ghana, I entered Togo and began the process on the Togolese side. The immigration official asked if I had been there before and I replied that I had. He asked if I knew how much the visa fee was. That could have been a trap question so I responded that I thought it was 10,000 CFA (around 25 US dollars) which I think it was the last time I came through here. Such questions are used sometimes to size people up to find out if they know the system or not. If they seem unsure of how things should go, they’re ripe for harvesting, so to speak.
Apparently he decided I wasn’t a novice, and told me it was now 15,000. I pulled out the bills and watched to make sure he would put the official fiscal stamps in my passport. These stamps are the means by which the government attempts to limit fraud. The officials have so many stamps, the stamps must go in passports, and the money turned back in must match the amount of stamps gone. It’s a pretty good system as far as it goes.
The porter carried my suitcase to the customs agent in civilian clothes, who poked through my suitcase when I opened it for him, pulling clothes out and checking my toiletry bag. Then he said “what’s in that bag” indicating my compute roller. “My computer” I replied. “Are you sure?” he asked with a squint as if I might be smuggling something. I smiled in a friendly manner and said “I’m very sure; it’s my bag and my computer.” He waved me on. I negotiated a taxi, the driver of which suggested I pay a 1000 CFA bribe to avoid having anyone go through my suitcase again, which another customs team had the right to do. I told him I didn’t mind opening my suitcase again, and didn’t pay the bribe. The customs people waved us through anyway.
I outrageously overpaid the porter (6 dollars), probably male guilt again, and thanked her as we left. We picked Paul up just outside the official border zone. He had been charged 2000 CFA that went immediately in a pocket, there was no stamp. We drove to my hotel, the Côté Sud. Paul had made other arrangements and is staying elsewhere, so he called a local member to come get him and show him where he was going. We shook hands and wished each other a good evening and night and took our leave.
This is a very inexpensive hotel in a popular quarter of Lomé. It has vaguely air-conditioned rooms and free Wi-Fi and an inexpensive French-style restaurant. It’s a little noisy in the evening, but I like to listen to the street noises of an evening once in a while, they’re quite fascinating and bring back many memories. The noise usually doesn’t go too late just here.
I called the church elder here, M. Fiaboé, to let him know we arrived, and to suggest we meet tomorrow at his convenience to discuss how we should handle my visit. The next few days will no doubt be busy and important for the church members in Togo. I’m looking forward to seeing them.