Togo’s scars etch a hazy life

2009-10-30 12:04

MY FIRST impression of Togo is that it is a rather unfortunate country, mostly bare and broken and upcoming in some areas.

Lome, the first place you will hit ­coming through the Aflao border, looks typically West African with its decidedly unglamorous appearance. But that’s not why Togo is unfortunate.

The tiny republic sits between Ghana and Benin, that is what’s sad about Togo.

I love Ghana to a point of wanting to always be there, and I am spellbound and enchanted by Benin’s voodoo and legendary Amazon female warriors. Now why would I want to be in Togo when I could be in Benin or chilling in sweet Accra. But hell, fate ­always has to meddle.

I’m at Aflao border Ghana side. No ­visa. No entry.

“No we don’t take any ­money,” says the lady officer.

“I have seen you people do it. Even now,” I respond.

“Things change,” the lady ­officer says leading back to ­Togo’s side. That’s it; I am stuck in Lome, not the most happening place in the ­region. Worst Afriarg!

But what good luck. Lome turns out to be pulsating. It says move and keep ­moving 24/7. So I drag my bags outside officialdom, hail a motor scooter taxi to the city centre and “see what happens”.

Route de Aflao is a wide and sandy boulevard lined with many swaying palms and a three-day beer fest-type of beach party going on. The cars and scooters declare the beach at night as the place to be when there’s a bash.

I have a budget hotel to find. My first pick on the travel guide is closed down. The scooter ­driver’s pick was costly at 7 000 Franc CFAs (about R122).

My next pick, Hotel du Boulevard, is tardy from the outside, sitting as it does among Lome inner city’s organised ­chaos. The hellhole interior add to my distaste. And I darn well have a very polite, friendly toned go at the receptionist when he shows me the dingy and fearfully dirty and broken toilets and ­showers.

I check into another dark and tiny room with a hard mattress, two chairs and a lazy fan. I have to get out as soon as possible. Lome turns out to have been awaiting my arrival for us to start a 48-hour soiree second to none.

West Africa comes alive at night and lives to see the moon become the sun. Lome is part of the fast moving regional set. With bars and clubs that rank from skanky to aspirational. I love the restaurant scene.

The food here is said to be among the best. Traditional menus feature dishes from as near as Cote d’Ivoire and as far as Senegal. There are also ­Western restaurants that do the standard pizza, burgers and such.

The mix reflects Lome’s ­population of Togolese living happily alongside other West Africans, Central Africans and being open to expats. The travel scene here is better explored outside the city.

There’s voodoo in Togoville and what’s been called some of Togo’s finest scenery in Aneho.

It’s hot as ever. I head to the beach. I am here looking for day-time fun. I find groups of people sitting under palm trees making shift tents. There are fishermen and their colourful wooden boats.

I park around the boats, watch a kid swim in the shimmering Atlantic. A line of fishermen are reeling in something. They holler at me to join them and so I heave and tug for a few minutes before declaring that some things are best left to observation than experience.

I sit with one young fisherman. He mumbles so I can’t really hear our ­conversation. Cool. I need to think anyway. And I decide, looking around me, that I love this scene. It’s not always easy on the road but West Africa has stopped ­being a place I know from books and ­other people’s tales.

I now know it from sight, emotion, scars, insect bites, malaria and such. Lome reminded me of this beautiful truth of following my dream. Africa is my love. I wonder why it should not ­become my life.

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