Travel Diary 2014, Togo and France

Day 1, Tuesday, July 17 –
The flight from LA to Paris is 11 hours.  We both slept fairly well, but there was not much darkness over night.  We got up to exercise a few times and Air France keeps juices available through the night.  We landed at Charles DeGaulle airport, Paris, at 11:20 am, a bit ahead of schedule.  We didn’t expect to go through security again, but we had to, and I lost three unopened liters of water that I had bought in LA.  We had plenty of time and did a lot of walking. CDG is lined with expensive brand name duty free shops, very few places for food.

We have never been on a plane with so many children as the Paris-Togo flight.  They are noisy, whether happy or annoyed.  We had a pair of seats J-K on the west side of the plane, so we had our first view of the Sahara, endless reddish brown, the color extending by reflection up into the clouds so there was no horizon.

Getting through the Lomé airport took nearly two hours: filling out the visa application, waiting in a long slow line, paying $40, then waiting for passports to be returned outside the visa office.  Then we learned that one of our small suitcases will come on the next daily flight from Paris, that is, tomorrow.

When we emerged at 8 pm, Newlove came toward us with big hugs, also Joel and Kennedy, all members of People to People International, Lomé chapter.  We were all five loaded into a small station wagon/taxi, driven by Fofo, our driver of choice for the whole week to come.

We drove only about 10 minutes to the building where our rented apartment was on the second floor, side by side with another one.  We entered through the living room, where Mark was watching the FIFA World Cup game from Brazil on the TV.  In the kitchen, Chantal was cooking yams, etc., for our dinner.

We all gathered around the table in the living room and got acquainted.  Most of the conversation was in French, a bit difficult for us with their Ewe accent, but we can speak English with Newlove and with Kennedy, who is a student of languages.  (They met each other at an internet café.)

Chantal is a member of the PTPI chapter.  She works as cook and au pair for a Lebanese family, and she took time off to stay with us and cook for us.  She had prepared a fine dinner with fresh, peeled fruit, papaya and mangoes, raw vegetables (washed in a purifying solution because we didn’t trust the tap water), beans, salsa and yams.  There was a bottle of whiskey on the table when we arrived, so I had a shot of that in mineral water.  There was also red wine and waters, plain and fizzy.  Joan and I were able to add fancy Lindt chocolates from the duty-free shops at the Paris airport for dessert.

We had fine conversation, and I asked Newlove to tell me the story of the Amadenta school.  He had been riding a motorbike out in the country when he stopped at the school on an impulse.  He talked to the headmaster, who did not treat Newlove seriously because he was only wearing a T-shirt and jeans.  When Newlove returned a week later with a gift of school supplies, the headmaster began to believe that PTPI could help him.

The problem that Newlove laments is that the parents are “ungrateful.”  They do not like the school, do not think that anything can improve, so they are apathetic.  For instance, none of them helped with construction at the school, refusing to work unless they received $5 a day, which Newlove could not pay.  PTPI volunteers did the work.  Newlove doesn’t allow that disappointment to dissuade him, and their chapter continues to help the children.

About PTPI chapters in Africa, Benin has become inactive, but Ghana is still active.

The guys left at 10 pm.  Chantal stayed over in the second bedroom.

(About money:) I did not want to wait to change $$ after arrival, so I had wired $500 to Newlove, which he collected in the local currency, CFA.  From that I could calculate that 10,000 CFA worked out to $21.27.  Later I could use an ATM, but at only one location in the whole city.

Day 2, Wednesday, June 18 –
An amplified Call to Prayer from an adjacent mosque blared out through a loudspeaker at 5:15 am.  It sounded again soon after, a pleasant tenor voice, but still electronic.  Constant chanting began at 5:30, and I got up to investigate.  From the small window high up on the kitchen wall, I saw dark night, lights here and there, and a brightly lit space, roofed but open air, less than 100 feet away from our kitchen.  Men were approaching from all over the neighborhood.  Looking down at an angle to the lighted area, I could see men arrive, bow, then drop out of sight as they knelt to pray.  At 6 the amplified singing stopped and I went back to sleep.

I got up at 7:20 and took a shower.  There is only one water temperature, cool.  In this climate, who would want a hot shower anyway?  There are only 2 seasons: hot with rain or hot with no rain.  We experienced the former.

Chantal rose a little ahead of me, and after my shower she was mopping the tile floors of the kitchen and hallway with a strong smelling disinfectant.  She and the guys went to a lot of trouble to prepare the apartment.  The refrigerator is packed with food and beverages.  Under the sink is a pile of mangoes, papayas, and pineapples, artfully arranged as a still life with bananas on top.  They have tried to think of everything.

On one side of the hallway are the living room, bathroom and kitchen, and on the other side are the two bedrooms.  Room air conditioners service the LR and the two BRs.  All of the rooms have windows, but the LR window is not to the outside but to another hall, which has an outside window.  The walls are plaster (?), the ceiling plywood panels.

Breakfast was plentiful, featuring a thin, spicy round bread, spread with herbs, Lebanese style.  Again, lots of fruit.
Newlove and Joel came for breakfast around 11.  They took me out to shop, and we walked along the main street that is just outside of our bedroom window, Avenue de la Libération.  The street is rather recently paved, as Newlove says the broad major streets that connect parts of the city are progressively being improved.  Parallel to the street are water channels about one meter deep, and workers are installing heavy sheets of concrete over the channels to serve as sidewalks.  On both sides of the street there are narrow open front shops and merchants of all kinds set up on the walkways.

The guys asked me if I would like to ride a “moto” to the market about one kilometer away.  I agreed, thinking that they meant their own motorbikes.  Instead, I was coached on how to sit on the taxi-moto behind a stranger whom I had never seen or spoken to.  Off we went, starting with a U-turn in front of an oncoming heavy truck.  I focused on balancing behind the driver, and we got there alive.  After buying some produce that looked just like the produce closer to home, we had the same hair-raising ride home.

After lunch, later in the afternoon, we all went for a walk, including Joan and Chantal.  We made a big clockwise route around several blocks on streets that are partly paved, partly not.  The neighborhood is lively, walkers and children everywhere.  Women carrying loads on their heads are a common sight, but we also saw women carrying black plastic tubs of clean water and other things to their homes.

We had an ordeal at the airport, trying to pick up the small brown suitcase that did not arrive with us yesterday.  The luggage office is inside of a secure area, so we had to get the attention of a stolid, but stressed official to give me a badge to enter.  Then in the office I waited again– hot, crowded, no line– to get a lady to lead me out to where my bag was sitting, unguarded.
In the evening PTPI members came by to visit, all men, all single.

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