A long trip to Togo

Trip Start Sep 08, 2013
Trip End Oct 04, 2013

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Flag of Togo  , Maritime,
Monday, September 16, 2013

I'll cover yesterday and today as one, because it’s not clear exactly where one ended and the other began.

Yesterday morning Mr. Mundeli called to apologize for not being able to come. He still wasn’t well and had had a difficult night again. I told him not to worry and I wished him a speedy recovery an excellent festival season, and I thanked him again for his selfless service to our church members and work in Rwanda.

I spent the morning working on sermons and articles in my room, then at lunch time took a taxi to the New Cactus restaurant, which is neither new nor as one might expect a Mexican or Tex-Mex restaurant (of which there are one or two in Kigali). It’s one of the older restaurants in more-or-less continuous operation in Kigali. One must say "more-or-less continuous" because the “events” as the period of the genocide is often called shut down just about every commercial activity in town. The only exception that I know of is the Hotel des Mille Collines, featured in the film Hotel Rwanda (although the actual hotel wasn’t used in the movie).

In any event the New Cactus is more of an Italian restaurant with some other Continental cuisine and African dishes thrown in. The formula has been copied since then: first find a place with some sort of view, which is not difficult in such a hilly area. Rwanda is often called the pays des milles collines – the land of a thousand hills (they’re way underestimating). Then set up a restaurant with a particular ambiance.

I came for a pizza, they don’t have the best pizza in town here, there’s a place called Sol y Luna, close to Chez Lando that does them a little better in my opinion, but it’s nice to move around for variety’s sake once in a while. I enjoyed the pizza with an inexpensive glass of rosé, perfect for a Sunday afternoon in the mountains of East Africa.

Back at the hotel after lunch I continued working all afternoon, and had a last brochette and fries for dinner. The ongoing travel started at a little before midnight when I checked out and settled my bill. The Hotel shuttle drove me to the airport only a couple of miles away and I began the departure process. In Kigali there is the annoying African experience of having to go through the same security screening twice in quick succession. First, before entering the check-in area, all bags must go through an x-ray machine, laptops out, shoes and belts off, the whole nine yards. Then after checking in, one walks up a long stairway to the emigration desk. Here Rwanda stands head and shoulders above most neighboring countries, the process is computerized and quick. I waited outside the actually gate area (before the second security check) because there are no restrooms there. Since I had 90 minutes to the departure, if I wished to use the restroom I would have to go through the whole screen  process a third time.

One thing the Kigali airport lacks is chairs on which one can lie down. There are many chairs, but all with fixed metal arms. It is impossible to lie down. So at 1:00 am, 60 or 70 people tried to snooze either sitting up, or slouching half on the chair and half off. No one appeared to be succeeding any better than I, although a few just lied down on the floor, which due to the challenge of hygiene in the region in my opinion should really only be a last resort, like if you’re about to give up the ghost.

The Ethiopian Airways flight left on time at 2:30 in the morning. The flight was 2 ½ hours long, but I didn’t manage to sleep much since the flight crew served a mandatory breakfast (!). African flyers expect a meal no matter what, and can be quite upset if one is not served, so it was served. We probably slept an hour at most.  Arriving in Addis Ababa at 06:00 (05:00 Rwandan time), the transit passengers, such as myself walked into a very full departure zone. Ethiopian Airways now had flights going to Europe, India, China, and South America as well as their African destinations, and it appears that many of them arrive or depart early in the morning.

The good news was that since my last passage here last year, their airport has added many cushioned lounge chairs along the walls. They got the message that people like to sleep in the middle of the night. Up until now I had a secret place I would sleep: a restaurant that closed at night but didn’t lock the front door. I could slide through and lie down on one of the booth benches, which worked pretty well. The lounge chairs are pretty good to, though even with many of them along the walls; they are still in short supply. I found one free, right next to an active elevator, which wasn’t the most restful location, but I still managed to doze off and on for about three hours, which wasn’t too bad.

I had a cup of rich Ethiopian coffee (Ethiopia often claims to be the birthplace of coffee drinking) and some toast in mid-morning then watched another lecture about the history of Asia Minor and did some reading as I waited for noon.  The boarding process in Addis Ababa is always chaotic and confusing. I think the ground staff doesn’t give out information it has, or gives misinformation as a way of keeping the passengers guessing thereby controlling them. Under the circumstances, this is understandable on one hand, but frustrating on the other. One can never be sure where to go or where to wait until the very last moment. This time for example we were told our flight would leave from Gate 6, then when boarding was announced and everyone hurried to line up, the gate crew said it was really downstairs at gate 7 which set off the great race.

People hurry because there is almost never enough carryon space. So the last ones on have to store their carryon far from their seats or check them, both of which mean delays on arrival, sometimes very long delays, and even uncertainty of the bags arriving. In the past I’ve had bags forcibly gate-checked, and then not seen them again for a week….

The “survival of the fittest” feel to this process, which plays out on almost every flight, is unpleasant and disconcerting. How does one love his neighbor as himself in such chaos? I sometimes ponder Ecclesiastes 6:17, “Do not be overly righteous, Nor be overly wise: Why should you destroy yourself?”  We can’t fix everything that’s wrong with the world, so we have to live with it, seeking the right balance of love for fellowman and pragmatic realism, without going to pharisaic extremes either way. Ok, there’s my philosophical musing-for-the-day on African air travel….

As it turned out, the plane was only about 2/3 full which is rare, so we needn’t have worried about bin space. It was one of the new 787 Dreamliners, the first time I’ve flown in one. I was curious to see what it would be like. And I hoped there wouldn’t be a fire like there was on two planes in January of this year due to lithium-ion-battery-problems, and another in London Heathrow in July due to a lithium-manganese-battery fire on an Ethiopian 787 sitting on the tarmac. I sincerely hoped they had those sorted out!

The interior was not that different from other Boeings. Each seat did have a personal entertainment screen which now allows improved personal access to more Hollywood drivel. The interior is noticeably quieter than any other large jet I’ve flown. Looking out the window, it is clear that the wings rise at a higher angle that in other planes. The most noticeable difference however, and the coolest one, was the windows, which are larger and higher (so it’s easier to see the horizon and not only look down) and they do not have pull down shades. Instead there is a button below each window, which when pushed turns the window a futuristic blue color with five different shades of darkness. The cabin crew can darken or lighten all the windows centrally. That gives a pretty futuristic look to the interior.

While waiting for lunch, I chatted with the woman by the window in my row. She was a Brazilian graduate student from Rio, who was heading home on this new routing which has only in service since July. The flight would continue from Lomé across the Atlantic to Rio and São Paolo. She had been at the wedding in India of a classmate from her Master’s program in Spain from a year ago. It’s really becoming a smaller world.

We arrived in Lomé on time, the formalities of getting a visa went smoothly and Pierre was waiting to take me to my little hotel. I was quite tired from the trip and lack of sleep so I told Pierre I wanted the Bible Study we’d planned for later in the evening. We’ll pick up the program tomorrow. I need to pace myself a little since I still have some major sleep-deprived travel ahead of me in a few days and a very full schedule in France. Pierre and I talked for half an hour or so, catching up on everyone’s news. His young son Noah is sick with a high fever, probably malaria, on which Pierre and his wife are keeping a sharp eye. Other than that, everyone seems to be doing well. I’ll see everyone tomorrow.

I had an early dinner at the hotel (6:00 pm is early to dine in the French sphere of influence; 7:00 is usually the earliest one eats in a restaurant). The little hotel I use is very small and somewhat Spartan, allowing low prices, but the bonus is the cuisine. The French owner is a fine chef (he now has a cuisine segment on the morning show on Togolese state television), and one eats very well here for very little. I had a mixed salad, followed by fillet of grouper provençal and a small scoop of his new apple-basil ice-cream, which is surprisingly good.

I checked my e-mail and caught up on the urgent and am looking forward to a good night’s sleep.
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Tess Washington on

What a delight to read your blog this morning! I laughed about your statement "giving the ghost"! We'll remember Nathan and his family especially Noah.

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