Lows and highs in Lomé
Trip Start Sep 06, 2012
14Trip End Oct 09, 2012
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Where I stayed
We agreed to meet this morning at 8:30 to head to the French embassy to apply for a visa for Côte d’Ivoire. Then we said goodnight. I had very nice tuna basquaise for dinner before turning in.
I was ready to roll at 8:30 this morning and Pierre was right on time. We drove to the French embassy, a sprawling complex, just off the beach, with multiple entry gates that depend on one’s purpose. Finally on the third attempt we found the consular services entry gate and ask for pays tiers, third country services. We were told to sit outside on a bench until there was availability. This didn’t take long, and I was able to talk to a clerk who handed me a form to fill out and an instruction and check list. I needed a photo, no problem, an air itinerary, check, a bank statement of funds, I could get that from online banking, a hotel reservation, I’d have to make that online and print it off, and a few other documents, which I thought I could gather. Then he said "you much then go to bank X (I can’t remember which now) and buy a special sim card for your cellphone with which you can then call the consular office for an appointment. I asked if I could make an appointment right away since I was present. No, I was told, you must go to bank X and buy a sim card for your cellphone with which you can then call for an appointment….
“Would that appointment be for later today?"
“Non, the earliest would be tomorrow morning.”
“Could I then have the visa right away, tomorrow morning?”
“Non, the very earliest would be tomorrow late afternoon.”
“My flight tomorrow leaves just after noon, is there a way we could rush the process?”
“Non, the earliest would be tomorrow late afternoon.”
“Is there no way to accelerate the process a little bit?”
Pierre and I walked back outside to think this over. I could not get a visa and get my flight to Abidjan tomorrow. What else to try? Perhaps I could change my Abidjan flight to Friday, that would cost me a day, but allow me to get a visa and visit with many of the members in Ivory Coast.
We drove quickly the hotel to pick up some papers and then to the airport to find the ASky office. I got right in, and asked the agent if there was space available on the Friday flight. She nodded understanding silently and started typing at her keyboard. After several minutes she said non, Friday is completely booked. “How about Saturday?” She typed some more.
“Non, fully booked.”
“What about Sunday?”
More typing: “Non, fully booked.
"What about business class on any of those days”
She typed and looked: “fully booked.
So I couldn’t get to Abidjan on Friday or Saturday, or Sunday. So my visit to Cote d’Ivoire was a no go. Plan B: how to get to Paris without buying any new tickets.
I asked about the flight to Abidjan on Monday. She typed. “Non, fully booked.” Uh oh. I said “Try business class.” She tried and said “oui, there is space.” That was the least worst option: I would stay four extra days in Lomé, fly to Abidjan on Monday and transit through on the way to Paris.” At least there would be no new tickets to buy, just the upgrade cost. I gave my assent.
She typed and verified and then told, “I can confirm a seat in coach class.” Good. She was able to work the change without any fees. It was very disappointing not to be able to go to Côte d’Ivoire and I knew it would be even more disappointing for the members there who really look forward to the rare visits I can make to them. We did everything we could think of; sometimes things just don’t work out the way we plan or hope they will. That is especially true in this part of the world. The fatalistic, Insha’Allah, attitude, one often encounters in Africa used to surprise me, but I’ve come to understand, people are much more used to not being in control of numerous aspects of their lives here. Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape…. In the West we’re not as much in control as we often believe, but it’s easier to maintain the illusion.
Pierre and I then drove to a market where I could pick up a cheap unlocked cellphone, and a local sim card. I have no coverage here with Cincinnati Bell, and there are no phones at my little hotel. I picked up a little Nokia for about $20 and a sim card and some credit for about $6. That makes me reachable while I’m here. There are two main carriers in Togo: Moov and Togocell. Moov allows calls to neighboring countries less expensively, but Togocell has better local coverage. Some enterprising folks have created cellphones with two slots for sim cards, so you can have one of each in the same phone and choose which one to use in a given circumstance. A centime saved is a centime earned….
We stopped at Pierre’s house to say hello to his wife and sons. They live in a typical compound house on a sandy side street. A high wall surrounds the compound with one front entrance and four or five separate houses built onto the wall around a common courtyard, sort of a modern-day caravanserai arrangement.
I sat in their living room for a few minutes and we shared news of our families and common friends. Then we drove to a bank where I changed some money. On the entry gate to the bank was an impressively large sign that said “Absolutely no parking for any two-wheeled vehicles in the compound” and about 10 feet behind the sign in the compound was a line of motorcycles….
After changing some money, Pierre dropped me back at the hotel and I started changing plans: apologetic e-mails to the members in Côte d’Ivoire, cancelation of my hotel reservation in Yamoussoukro for tomorrow night, adding nights to my reservation in Lomé and so on.
Pierre agreed to return about 4:30 to drive me to the usual gather place in a member’s house, for the planned Bible Study and meal.
I worked in the afternoon and was ready to go at 4:30. We took the long way around Lomé to avoid the inevitable traffic snarls that start about 5:00. There was all the usual activity along the sides of the roads: makeshift markets, and people moving in all sorts of transportation. There was one apparently bad accident that snarled traffic; the victims were in the ambulance as we passed.
I had a counseling session with one member until 6:30 when a very nice dinner was served: raw vegetable salad with vinaigrette, grilled chicken with pepper and tomato sauce over rice, and a Fanta. Such a meal represents a lot more work here than it would at home. There are few if any labor saving devices. We were about a dozen with the children.
At 7:15 I set up my laptop and I began a PowerPoint presentation on the geography of the New Testament and the 7 Churches of Revelation, an area in Turkey that my wife and I visited this summer. They found the presentation very interesting as I had hoped, but I cut it a little short because after a long hard day of work and a copious dinner, the spirit was willing but the eyelids were heavy.
I said we would finish the last part of my summer trip on Saturday when we would meet again. We said au revoir all around, and Pierre and his family drove me back to the hotel before heading home.