Arrival in Lomé, Togo

Trip Start Mar 14, 2013
Trip End Apr 05, 2013

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Monday, March 18, 2013

I was up about 5:45 this morning so I would have time to check my luggage and e-mail and have a quick bite of breakfast before heading to the airport. I had settled accounts last night so I wouldn't have to worry about any of that this morning. The owners of the establishment are a young French couple; she just gave birth to their second child. He was originally stationed in Abidjan for his work, so she opened a hotel to keep herself busy. She told me his work is now centered in France, but they decided to stay in Abidjan due to the hotel and how he works remotely and just flies to Paris periodically when he has to go to the office. Seems like a long commute. They’re thinking of moving to Mauritius and will go there soon to reconnoiter the island. I suggested they look around Grand Baie, our favorite zone on that beautiful island.

The kitchen staff was up and had coffee and a continental breakfast ready. I savored the fruit. Perfectly ripe mango, papaya and pineapple are treats difficult to find where I live. Early morning coffee is a joy as well; at least if one has to be up early in the morning, perhaps I should say it’s a relief….

A taxi driver known to the hotel was ready to go about 6:45. We loaded up luggage and off we went through the morning traffic rush of Abidjan. We went through back streets of the Deux Plateaux quarter where there are quite a number of large compounds used by expatriates or locally wealthy people. Someone was backing a brand new Cadillac Escalade (a huge SUV) through a gate. The driver quipped "that’s an American embassy all by itself."

Rather than taking the shortest distance as the African crow flies, he defied logic and drove the wrong way several miles to get to a route that though encumbered, he knew would keep moving. Vehicles were constantly shifting lanes, often there were not recognizable lanes and each one jockeyed for position. I watched the sides of trucks and vans pass within inches of my open window; diesel fumes bellowed through in pestilential clouds.

We drove about the back way to Plateau, passed just behind the Ibis hotel I often use here, and down to the end of the Houphouët-Boigny Bridge, one of only two that joins Abidjan’s major quarters. Rather than take that bridge, we drove under it and made our way over to the Charles de Gaulle Bridge, farther north, which was busy but still flowing. Things got steadily easier the farther we went from the city center; we finally arrived at the airport almost one hour exactly after leaving the hotel. I might not have made for another hour if the driver had not known the city so well.

I had to wait a few minutes for the ASky check-in counters to open, which was exactly two hours before takeoff, not a minute earlier. The airport authorities have made some welcome changes to the organization of departure formalities, streamlining things in a welcome manner. I had time to check my e-mail and get some work done on my laptop before it was time to board.

The plane was about half full, I had a row to myself, albeit all the way at the back. The flight was pretty uneventful, we did hit some heavy chop but not for long. The morning snack was one small tuna and one small beef sandwich. For some reason I enjoy sandwiches a little more than usual this time of year.

On arrival in Lomé I started the usual process to get a visa, but it took much longer than ususal. I filled out the form and handed it, my passport, and 15,000 francs to the agent, as usual. I collected my suitcase then sat and waited for my passport. After fifteen minutes and agent came back to me. “Do you have a local phone number?” he asked I said he could reach me at the hotel I had listed on the form. “Do you not have a local number?” I told him I had my cell phone, and wrote down the number. “Yes, but a local Togolese number, do you not have a friend here with a cell phone?” Yes, I wrote down Guy’s number. “That is very good, just a moment…” he went back into the bowls of the bureaucracy. I waited. Ten minutes later he returned: “where are you going from here?” I told him I had written on my form that I was flying to Kinshasa. “So you are flying to Kinshasa?” Yes. “When?” I told him with a smile that my departure was in two days as I had listed on my form. “Good, one moment.” He left again. A few minutes later a female agent came out and read my name. When I raised my hand she handed me my passport. Finally!

Then as I was standing to push my luggage cart toward the door, the first agent came back. “Wait do you have your ticket?” I asked if he meant the boarding pass stub, which I had already given as required. “No your ticket, your airplane ticket.” I said it was electronic, but I had the itinerary. “Yes that is what we need.” I dug it out and handed to him and he disappeared once more. A few minutes later he appeared and said they needed my passport again. As he walked away I asked with a laugh, “Am I somehow frightening you?” He laughed, “oh no, the Commissar is requiring this” which I guess was supposed to explain everything. It didn’t seem like they were after a bribe, but something was worrying them. I started going through several scenarios in my mind. There have been some demonstrations and street violence aimed at the government recently, were they linking me with some pro-democracy NGO or organizers of demonstrations? Westerners do sometimes come in to “help” as they see it – often it doesn’t.

He appeared once again and asked me “you are a pastor?’ Yes. “Are you here for some sort of pastor’s convention or conference?” One must be careful of pastors’ conventions! I said I was not, just visiting few friends. He handed me the passport again. “Enjoy your stay in Togo!” he said with a big smile.

Pierre was waiting in the arrival area. We shook hands and talked as we pushed the cart outside to where Guy was waiting with his 4WD. Luggage loaded we drove to the Résidence Hotelière Océane right in downtown Lomé, near the central market. I had been informed, incorrectly, that the hotel I usually use had stopped operation, so I researched this one and reserved. It would give me the chance to try another hotel. This one too is managed by a Frenchman, so the standards and food should be quite good.

I checked in and put my luggage in the room then rejoined Guy and Pierre on the terrace where we talked for half an hour catching up on news and such things and where I gave them a small stock of our three new booklets in French. They were very happy to have them. They had work to do in the afternoon, so after catching up, we parted company until 5:45 pm. I had a chicken brochette for lunch in the restaurant, which looks very much like what one could find in an old stone inn in rural France. It was quite quaint. I worked in the afternoon and rested a little too.

Guy arrived again at 5:45 to take me to his home for a Bible Study. The streets were crowded with cars, trucks and especially cheap Chinese motorcycle taxis which have really changed traffic patterns. They are ridden by daredevils trying to make as much money as they can and who are willing to take risks to get their passengers where they’re going quickly so they can take more fares. They seem to operate on the assumption that everyone else will watch out for them so they don’t really have to. There are lots of accidents but I’m surprised there aren’t more.

As we arrived, almost everyone was seated and ready for the study. I printed my notes in Guy’s office and we began the study on the topic of the wave sheaf offering and its connection to the spring and summer festivals and its meaning as explained in the New Testament. I spoke about 35 minutes and left more time for questions of which I suspected there would be many, and there were. Some were requests for clarification on the study; some were unrelated, such as

- What was the meaning of the sop Jesus gave Judas, after which Satan entered him?
· Does the fact that Jesus appeared to women first after His resurrection have any special significance?
· What was the status of women compared to men in the early Christian Church?
· What is the Bible’s teaching about observing birthdays?

The Q&A was very valuable and much appreciated because it allows the change to answer questions people have been mulling over based on their own Bible study. As such this is very stimulating and motivating.

We said goodbye until tomorrow evening when we’ll have another such study and share a meal.

Guy drove me back through the dusty streets of Lomé, now significantly less covered by vehicles; we arrived at the hotel at about 9:00.

After Guy left, I changed quickly in my room on the second floor and went down  to the restaurant in which there were four clients, three finishing a meal at one table and one playing on his phone over what was left of his. I could hear cheering and singing coming from the bar out front, which I assumed meant there was a football (soccer) game of some importance going on. The servers seem to have been watching too since no one appeared for 20 minutes. The waitress finally took my order, but about 15 minutes later said my meal would be late because a group had reserved ahead and would need to be served first. I then noticed a table for 10 set in the middle of the restaurant. Shortly thereafter the group I had heard singing in the bar made their entrance. It was a group of Frenchmen mostly about my age, who were obviously not on their first nor their second beer. Nor their third, or fourth…. They came in noisily, two prostitutes in tow, and began sitting down at their table. One of them staggered around to the other tables including mine and apologized in advance for their behavior.

They sang – their favorite song seemed to be Aïsha made popular by the Algerian singer Khaled in the 90s (where we were living in France), I recognized it in spite of the liberties they were taking with the lyrics. They teased each other loudly and pawed at the girls until the manager finally moved the girls out. I guess there were some limits. I stuck it out for a few more minutes hoping the situation would improve, and I could enjoy my dinner, but when the songs got sexually explicit, it was time to go. I told the waitress to bring my order up to my room when it was ready and headed upstairs.

I had gone to the restaurant at about 9:00. My salad and chicken finally arrived in my room at 10:45. I’m probably not going to give this establishment 5 stars on Trip Advisor (it’s currently rated the number 1 hotel – and moderately-priced)…. At least I only have two nights here.

I have just finished my dinner. I’ll get this posted and hope for a good night’s sleep.

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Mary Hendren on

Hi Joel,

What a long day and all the traffic. It sounds like the large cities are quite congested. Thanks for the rooftop photos. There seems to be activity wherever you look. We pray for your work there and know that the brethren will be greatly encouraged.


Bernard on

Glad you got your visa. What other country will you need to get a visa at arrival? We are praying that everything goes smoothly (as smoothly as possible given the places and the circumstances. Take care.

Lenna Slaughter on

I pray for your success on this trip. Yes, for some reason, most of us really enjoy a good sandwich at this time of year! Take care!

Tess Washington on

Interesting scenario at the airport. Good to know about the brethrens bible study questions...shows their focus to learn more about God's thoughts & ways. It sounds like there's quite a few French people living in this part of the world who seems to be thriving & enjoying themselves!

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