Work day in Lome
Trip Start Feb 13, 2011
30Trip End Mar 14, 2011
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Where I stayed
I had some housekeeping work to do in the morning. First Paul and I walked to a local dry cleaner so I could have some laundry done. This is a mundane chore but takes a little foresight on these trips. It takes a day or two to have laundry done, and I’m not always in a place long enough to do that. This was a chance to have my clothes cleaned, and the last chance I would have for several days. At the shop, I asked for rush service so I could pick up my things before sundown in the evening.
Then, out on the busy street, I flagged down an empty taxi and negotiated a price with the driver. I told him where we needed to go, and how long he would probably wait at each place, before bringing us back. We settled on a price and got in. First we drove back to the Aflao border crossing.
The border is a good place to change money at a better rate than in banks. It’s not the black market, such exchanges are done publicly, but it’s not the official market either, so some extra care must be taken (count the money twice, check the bills etc.). After changing enough money for my stay in West Africa, we took the taxi to the Hotel Sarakawa, the best hotel in Lomé, where there are taxis used to working with foreign businessmen, and who know about crossing borders with their cars. This was in preparation for my ongoing travel to Cotonou Benin on Sunday.
I began negotiating a price with the driver named Alidou, whose turn it was – they take turns, and always know who’s up next. He said it would be 60,000 CFA, about 120 dollars, to take me to Cotonou. I told him I thought 50,000 was fair. He explained all the things he would have to do at the border, exit and customs forms, time lost etc. I said I still thought 50,000 was a fair price. He replied that their charges were not negotiable and were written down on their price sheet over in their taxi stand. I said I understood, but that we both knew that this was Africa and that everything was negotiable. He counter offered with 55,000. I held firm and said I was sure I could get a better fare at the Hotel Ibis, I just preferred to work with him. Alidou finally agreed to my price. I told him I wanted to leave at 10:30 on Sunday and that he should come pick me up at my hotel. Since he only works at the Sarakawa he didn’t know where the Côté Sud was located. He asked if he could ride back with us so he would know where it was, and I agreed. So he got in with Paul and me and the other taxi driver and we drove back to my hotel, where I paid the taxi drive and worked out final details with Alidou.
Around 16:00 Mr. Fiaboé came by. He was happy to see me and we talked for an hour, catching up on news and discussing the situation in the church. He suggested that I meet with the local leadership at 19:00 that evening, so they could ask their questions, and that I meet with the congregation the next day to answer their questions after services. I was happy to agree.
All our church leaders in French Africa had received an official, intimidating letter from the UCG Chairman and President telling them I was persona non grata in their areas, not a pastor any longer, and not to be allowed to talk to any members. But, Mr. Fiaboé said, “we’ve known you for 15 years, we trust you, and we've been through such upheavals before. Those men we don’t know and we need the facts.” So people want to ask questions. We talked about an hour and then parted until 19:00 when four men would return to start asking their questions.
At 17:00 I went to pick up my laundry which was ready and well cleaned. Then I had a quick bite in the restaurant which is only open until 20:00. It would be closed by the time we finished our discussions later on. I was in the middle of my light dinner when men started arriving. I apologized for eating in front of them and explained why I was doing so. After I finished, and everyone had arrived, we walked up to the second floor terrace where there was a table and chairs. I ordered a large bottle of mineral water and glasses and we started talking. I started by saying I was here to answer their questions as honestly and as impartially as I could, and that my love and friendship for them would remain whatever decision they finally decided to make. Then I took questions. They thanked me for coming all this way and showing respect for them in what they imagined could be an uncomfortable situation for me. This was very kind of them. The questions began.
As we talked, all the usual sounds of the urban Africa night were in the background: local bars blaring thumping music, motorcycles puttering past, children screaming in play or crying, car horns blowing. It was not so loud as to be distracting, and in a way it is reassuring here: this is normal and the way things are supposed to be.
They asked questions until 21:00, two hours at least, and they were good questions: about the structure and roles of various bodies and offices in UCG, about the Rules of Association, and about the various events that led to the recent parting of ways. They told me in the end, they really wanted to take this situation seriously and truly understand the issues involved, and that they considered themselves to be in between the two associations, and not with either one at this point. They sincerely want to seek God’s will in this matter. I encouraged them in this, and said I was happy that they were dealing with the issue in this way.
I walked them to the door of the hotel and we said goodbye for the night. Tomorrow will be another busy day.