Arrival in Lomé, Togo

Trip Start Apr 02, 2014
Trip End May 07, 2014

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Where I stayed
Hotel Restaurant Coté Sud Lome
Read my review - 4/5 stars

Flag of Togo  , Maritime,
Thursday, April 24, 2014

Yesterday we had an early start. I was up before 05:00 so I could be ready by 5:30. Justin arrived with the same taxi we used before at 5:45 and we started the half-hour drive to the airport. The streets have been repaved all the way to the airport now, so the trip no longer takes an hour plus as it did not too long ago. The early morning views of Kinshasa, stirring in the gloom, are always interesting and a bit "otherworldly." There is something about the light filtering through the ever-present dust in the air, the uniformly decayed state of the vehicles on the road, the masses of people packed in them, and others darting here and there on the road that is truly what the French call dépaysant, which is often translated disorienting, but literally means something like “uncountryfying”, as in taking you far away from everything you know.

We arrived at the airport and unloaded our bags to start the N'Djili airport ordeal. I’m convinced this may have been used in the Middle Ages to see if a defendant told the truth or not.

Nothing is explained by signs, and what signs there are date from previous periods and organizational structures and so must be ignored. Fixers are all over to guide one through the arcane process, as usual for a price. We walked around the security ropes to the front door to enter the check-in area. A uniformed guard stopped us. “Do you have your gopass?” he asked. This is the $50 cash departure tax passengers must pay to leave the country by air. I asked him where they were being sold since the location changes frequently. We were directed to another, side door, the door we went in to report my missing suitcase on Sunday.

We dragged our bags over to the door and up the stairs, into the main level of the terminal building, in a section separated from the check-in area by a transparent wall. We walked toward the RAWBANK office (I’m sure there’s a good reason to name a bank Raw, but I can’t think of one right now. It was a tiny office with too many people inside, waiting for a chance to by a gopass. I suggested that Daniel wait outside with the luggage and I go inside with our passports. When my turn came in the line, I handed over the passports and a hundred dollar bill. In return I was given two duplicate passes to show we had paid.

Back outside we went and around to the entrance door. A policeman checked my itinerary and passport, and we were allowed to proceed to the first security checkpoint. All our bags had to go through a scanner. This completed we walked a few feet farther to the check-in line. We had to leave our suitcases here and move forward without them to the first immigration desk. About 10 passengers were in front of us. When our turn came, we handed over passports and itineraries. Two agents checked them, and asked perfunctory questions. We were allowed to pass. We walked back and collected our suitcases, placed them on a large scale to make sure they were within weight limits, then continued the check-in process.

There were two policemen in khaki, rifling through suitcases and carry-on bags. Chaos was all around. Daniel was learning well. He walked slowly past the chaos, managed to escape detection and avoid the search. I attempt to follow, but just as I thought I was clear, an authoritative female voice ordered “Monsieur!, you must have your bags checked!” I walked back and stood in front of a table, waiting for me and my bags to be searched. When I noticed that the disorganization made it difficult for everyone to keep up with everything going on, and that no one was looking at me, and that I’d stood there long enough for a check to have occurred, I turned slowly and walked through the gauntlet. This time I made it without being stopped. It is a minor victory over the forces of mindless and useless bureaucracy! This might be the start of a good day….

We checked in at the counter and got our boarding passes and baggage claim stubs. Then we found our way out of the confusing maze of rope barriers and walked to the health desk. Here our Yellow Fever vaccination cards were checked. Even though we could not possibly have entered the country without one, they want to make sure we have them too as we leave….

Then another officer demands my papers. I don’t know why but I think of Major Hockstetter on Hogan’s Heroes: “Papers!... Klink, what is this man doing here?” He let me pass.

We walked then to the actual emigration desk where we had to talk through the impenetrable cone-of-silence glass (sorry for all the corny sitcom references – if you don’t understand that one, search YouTube for “Get Smart Cone of Silence). Here’s the Congolese version:

Agent: “What is your profession?”
Me: “What?”
Shouting: “What is your profession?”
“Oh, I’m a pastor.”
Shouting: “I’m a pastor”

And so on for half a dozen questions.

Passports finally stamped, we moved forward to yet another security check: carry-on and pocket contents through a scanner etc. Then we could finally sit and wait in the departure lounge. Half an hour later we are called to board. One last security check: officers open our carry-ons one more time and rifle through them. Then an agent pats us down and checks everything, in an intrusive enough way to cause litigation in the States…. And finally we can step outside and board the bus to take us 100 yards to the plane. As we left the bus we were herded into two lines so we could provide our one copy of our gopass, to show we had paid the departure tax.

I breathed a sigh of relief as I always do when I finally boarded the plane. I breathed another sigh of relief when the plane went wheels up and we finally left the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

After an hour or so we landed in Libreville, Gabon. The approach showed the thick jungle that still covers much of this equatorial country. Libreville is almost exactly on the equator, and this sparsely-populated nation has some of the most undisturbed rainforest jungle left in Africa.

After half an hour on the ground, the crew came down the aisle and asked each passenger to identify his carry-on luggage in the overhead bins. New passengers boarded and we took off once again. After another hour or so, we landed in Lagos, Nigeria, where I was very happy to be able to stay on the plane. I’ve visited Nigeria many times, and it’s always stressful. It is sometimes called the China of Africa because 20% of the continent’s population lives in this average-sized nation. The competition caused by population density, and some distinct cultural hurdles make this one of the most corrupt, dangerous countries in Africa. Violent crime is rampant; there is a climate of merciless oppression, and a “take no prisoners” approach to life. When I was responsible for Nigeria on behalf of our church, I was told by Nigerians themselves that if a pedestrian is hit in the street, no driver will stop to help, because whoever stops will be made responsible for the accident. So drivers will continue running over the body, if they have to, in order to avoid stopping. That’s indicative of the society as a whole. It’s a really tough place to live or work. I could tell more stories, I have several hair-raising ones, but since we didn’t have to leave the plane, I’ll stop here.

We flew on to Lomé, Togo, our destination for the day. We deplaned, packed into the bus that drove us 50 yards to the terminal and began the process of getting a visa, which happily here, one can receive on arrival. I had 15000 CFA francs for my visa, but no more for Daniel’s, so when we arrived at the visa counter I asked if I could go into the airport terminal and change some money. I was told I didn’t need to and that if I had Euros they would accept those, and give change. So I handed over the 15000 for my visa, and a 50 Euro note, to pay for the approximately 20 Euros that equated to the CFA francs for Daniel’s. I laughed to Daniel that we would have to be careful to remember and count our change. Sure enough when our passports were handed back to us, there was no change. When reminded of this, the officer said “oh you had change coming? How much did you give?” She left to get the change and stayed away quite a long time. When she came back she said, they had no Euros to give, but could give me francs, which I accepted. But the change she offered was considerably short. I shook my head, and they watched my face to see how serious I was about the exact amount of change.

Finally the agent handed me back the 50 Euro note and said, “please go into the airport and change the money”, which I did, so I could give exact change. This saved us about 10 dollars, but it was mostly about the principle of the thing.

We had to put our luggage through a scanner to leave the airport and as we entered the public area were happy to see Guy and Pierre waiting for us. This was a happy reunion for Daniel since he and his wife Cindy had very ably served at a youth camp we held here six years ago. This was a meeting of old friends. We embraced and shook hands, and talked as we walked out to the car. The parking lot attendant didn’t want to give any change to Guy either, though he had it coming. So it goes.

We drove to the little hotel where I usually stay here, and we checked in and then shared a bottle of cold water and talked for a while before we “released” them, as the saying is here, letting them go back to work. We had a late lunch, which took us until 3:00 pm.

We worked until about 6:00 pm when Guy returned to take us to the Bible Study in his home. There were 9 adults and 7 or 8 children present. We sang a hymn and asked an opening prayer, before I made some introductory comments about our trip and passed along many greetings. Daniel then gave a half hour Bible study about the first few chapters of Matthew. I then joined him and we took questions during another hour. Some of them included:

  • Does the Garden of Eden still exist? (No.)
  • Where was the Garden of Eden? (The Euphrates flowed from it – Genesis 2;14), so somewhere around modern Iraq).
  • What did Lamech mean in Genesis 4:23-24? (He apparently killed a man in self-defense, and invoked his innocence of premeditation (unlike Cain), so that he should have been avenged even more than Cain if Lamech were himself killed in retribution.)
  • What was the star that the wise men followed at the time of Jesus’ birth? (Possibly an angel, not a normal star.)
  • Can Christians divorce? (If both are Christians, they can separate, but not remarry – 1 Corinthians 7:10-11)   
  • What happens in a marriage where he husband regularly beats his wife, can there be divorce? (In such a case, the husband is showing he is no longer “pleased to dwell” nor truly a believer and thus has departed the marriage morally if not physically – 1 Corinthians 7:15 – we strongly urge a woman to leave any man who beats her.)
And there were several other questions as well, but I stopped after an hour and we prepared for dinner. The men moved two tables outside in the pleasant night air, and the ladies set them, one for adults and one for the children. On a huge platter came a large salad of lettuce, avocado, and other raw vegetables covering a fish, something like a grouper, which was about 3 feet (1 m) long. Honorine scooped out generous portions of vegetables and fish onto our plates, and Anna poured a cold vinaigrette mayonnaise mixture onto them. It was delicious. Guy even brought out a bottle of red wine, a rare treat here, and the adults each had about half a glass. Then cans of soft drinks and beer were offered, according to individual taste. My portion of salad was large enough that I had eaten plenty by the end of the first course, though there was another: rice and a warm fish and tomato stew to ladle on top. I generally eat lightly in such circumstances, though I’m never hungry when I finish. This occasion was no exception.

We enjoyed our fellowship and conversation. The ladies were especially excited to know that my wife should be with me on my next visit. It will have been 8 years since her last visit and she made almost as wonderful an impression on the members here as she did on me the first time I talked with her (and pretty much every time since…).

There were more Bible questions, too, during the meal. How do we advise people to calculate their tithe on bonuses, and end-of-the-year premiums? I was encouraged to hear such questions, since it shows a sincere desire to serve God and support the work of the Church here in Togo. Of course all the contributions members make in these countries stay in their countries to support the work of their local associations. Another question was from a lady preparing for baptism about the next step for her.

Finally about 9:30 pm, I could see some yawns and droopy eyes, and was feeling pretty tired myself. Work starts at sunup here, which is always about 06:00, so it had been a long day for everyone. We thanked the ladies for their work on the delicious meal and shook hands with everyone, and said “until soon, if God wills.” Then Guy drove us back to the hotel. We’re very tired since our day started so early and the day was full. Tomorrow we should be able to sleep in a bit, before starting the trip to our last French-speaking country on this trip: Côte d’Ivoire.
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mary on

Thanks, Joel, for the interesting comments and the pictures of bible study. How nice that Daniel got reacquainted with friends from camp and that you all enjoyed a nice meal and good fellowship. It seems that airport procedures are highly frustrating, a test of patience, knowing when to persist and when to let it go. It's sad to hear about the dangerous conditions in Nigeria. All the work in Africa is leading eventually to righteous government.

Jim McTiernan on

Thanks so much for sharing your trip with us. It has been a fascinating read. It really sounds like the brethren benefit greatly from your visits. Sounds like there are many new members and prospective members thanks to God of course, but also to your work and the example of the brethren there. I'm sure in the moment your travel is not as comical as you are expressing, but it is getting a lot of laughs all the same. Have a safe flight home!

Janel Johnson on

Doug and I both so enjoy your humorous anecdotes (references to Hogan's Heroes and Get Smart) as they apply to the very serious work you are accomplishing. Thank you for your heart of service and for continuing to share this information with us all.

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