Travel Diary — Days 7 – 8, Togo

Day 7, Monday, June 23  –
Chantal went back to her employer this morning, leaving fruit prepared for our breakfast along with muesli and soya milk that I bought on Sunday.

Newlove visited and then went across the border into Ghana, his native country.  He believes that the best chocolate in the world comes from Ghana, and we must not leave Africa without a good supply of it.  When he came back, he brought us three big jars of cocoa and 20 bars of milk chocolate.

Newlove insisted that I must go with him to the U.S. Embassy, although I had low expectations for any result.  After I explained to a receptionist who we were, the head of the visa division came to the window and I explained all over again.  She called the development officer, Mr. David Meron, who actually came out into the lobby to talk to us for about 20 minutes.

Mr. Meron was amazingly candid with us: The Embassy has money to give out for projects that are in the U.S. interest, including economic development and social justice issues.  We described Newlove’s idea for a sewing school and Newlove was told to develop a proposal and call back for an appointment.  We left feeling that something good really could come from this visit.

From the Embassy we went across Boulevard Eyadema to the University of Togo.  Fofo drove us in his taxi through the north and south campuses, which are separated by agricultural land.  The roads are unpaved, not much better than village streets.  We stopped at the University hospital and went in and walked through the corridors, past patient wards of six or more beds.  The hospital does not feed the patients, Newlove says, so their families must stay nearby and some of them camp on the floors of the corridors. The two stories of the hospital are connected by a long, curved ramp to allow for moving beds without an elevator.  The corridors are open air, the buildings have open courtyards, and the campus is extensive.  No one bothered us as we walked around.

The most impressive university building was “Institute Confucius,” the Chinese language department where Kennedy studied.  The other humanities looked small and poor, and we did not see an arts building at all.

After the University, Newlove took me to the PTPI office, a borrowed room behind two other rooms that are occupied by an electronics repair shop and a driving school.  The PTPI office has a wall of photos of their past activities.  Sylvain was there, a member I had not yet met. The office will soon be moved to a different location.

From the office we walked about 30 yards to visit the courtyard where Newlove lives.  There is a low wall at the street; we climbed up a dirt ramp to go through a gate and down again to the unpaved courtyard.  There are 12 units, some with as many as eight people living inside.  Newlove’s is the farthest to the left, and we entered through a narrow, shaded passageway.  His single room is divided by a curtain and crowded with his belongings.  In the first space are a sofa, a storage cabinet, and a refrigerator (empty, not in use).  Behind the curtain is a bed and a dresser.  Newlove showed me something I had sent him, a calendar with pictures of the Virgin Mary.  He said his friends ask him why he lives in such a place, but he is happy to spend so little, 10,000 CFA ($21) a month, as he had told Joan.

Newlove can walk a few blocks to his church, which we visited next.  Like Catholic churches everywhere, it is open every day.  I missed the name of the church, but we went inside, where a few people were praying.  The floor plan is semicircular, with a semicircular balcony.  I would estimate that it seats about 1,000 people, and Newlove says it is always full for masses.  I didn’t comment out loud, but I was sorry to see that the representations of Jesus showed a fair-skinned man with light brown hair.

We let Fofo go and traveled by moto to Fafadzi’s printing shop, arriving just when he did.  He looked sharp, as he said that he spends his days marketing his services to businesses.  He has two employees sitting at computers.  We didn’t see printing going on, but Fafadzi showed us completed projects, printed vests that he has done for UN agencies.  Newlove picked up six blue and white T-shirts, the kind that his members wear when doing their projects.  He is giving them to the members of our LA chapter.  I planted an idea with Fafadzi that Newlove needs business cards to introduce himself as President of PTPI-Togo.

In the evening yet another PTPI member stopped by, Koumavi, a older, married man, who had been sick over the weekend.  After going out for awhile, Newlove showed up again with a surprise for me, another African suit in black and orange.  The top looks great, and the pants are going back to the tailor for adjustment.

We are meeting fewer than 20 active members of PTPI.  Newlove said that in earlier years there were as many as 65 members, but many were not really helping.  Prospective members now serve for a time before they are accepted as members.

What does Newlove do for a living?  He has commercial education and he has told me in the past that he does a little import-export business.  I didn’t learn any more than that.  He mentioned a project that has not worked out yet, to import used cars.  Nearly all cars in Togo are used cars from Europe, and the law allows them to be filled with other goods with no additional duty to be paid.  He doesn’t have capital to do that just yet, and whatever else he is doing for himself was put on hold for the week that we were visiting.

Day 8, Tuesday, June 24
After a muesli breakfast we spent the morning packing.  (We gave away a lot of gifts, but we also acquired a lot.)  I went out for a walk and happened to pass a store that sells treadle sewing machines, made in China, at prices around $100-120.  Newlove showed up with my pants fixed to fit better.

Joan made a great lunch for us out of things that Chantal had left behind.  We ate with Newlove, Joel and taxi driver Fofo.  At 1:15 we arrived at the orphanage, Orphelinat Cador, and were welcomed by a helper, Mlle. Vivienne.  We brought a gift of a great bag of laundry detergent.

After we had a nice formal visit, I proposed to teach the children the hokey-pokey.  They loved it, Joan got involved, reminding me how it goes.  After we played it twice, Joan wrote words on the blackboard and had the kids practice them (they do not have English in school).

Just then, Mlle. Dorcas came in, and the party went on.  Three boys went out to a storage site and brought back their drums.  Joined by a fourth boy with an iron bell, they made a fine drumming ensemble, one that has won competitions, we were told.  Several girls and a tall boy danced for us, and we heard that the same boy had done some fine pencil drawings on the walls.  Dorcas joined the dancing with joie de vivre.

The children wanted to show us some games they play.  One was slapping hands around a circle to a spoken rhythm; then, at the end of the count 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (in English), the last child to be clapped (acclamé) is eliminated.  They played to the end, to a final winner.  In a second game, a player tags each person around the circle until a certain count, then dances with that person, and that one is then “it.”

We had a grand party and we gave out wrapped candies.  Dorcas asked Joan to give her a blessing before leaving, and we both took part with genuine emotion.  An amazing lady.

At home again, we made an extended effort to read my email on Newlove’s computer, but failed.  I learned that if there is something important to say, it needs to go in the subject line.  I could read my subject lines but not open any messages.  When Ken came, he tried with his smartphone and also failed.  Newlove said it can take him three days to open his emails.  But the owner of our apartment in Paris called to say that she will be at the apartment at 8 am tomorrow, and we can move in at 9, as we wish.

Chantal came in the last few minutes to say goodbyes, which became quite emotional.  Fofo’s taxi took Newlove, Joel and us to the airport.  We had our last embraces outside.  Newlove phoned in to an acquaintance of Ken’s who met us inside and helped us through the departure process.  Waiting rooms were air-conditioned and much nicer than the chaotic arrival space we saw a week ago.

On the plane we had a nice talk with some Catholic girls who had helped a priest in a small village for two weeks.  Then we settled back for the overnight flight to Paris.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *