Along the beach in Togo
My second weekend trip to Togo was saturated with motorcycle rides, illegal leopard skins, disastrous French, and jazz night at the hotel. I barely had enough time between exciting events to drink water and check on the evolution of my sunburns. We were on the move, Alex and I!
The moment we stepped into Togo, I was struck by a sense of the absurd, mostly because dozens of motorcycle taxi wranglers swarmed around us, shouting in French and touching our arms. We don’t speak French, so I barreled through the crowd yelling “we’ll walk, we’ll walk.” Since we weren’t going to understand anybody anyways, I thought it would be better to mime things to a single driver rather than a crowd. We walked a few blocks away from the border where there weren’t as many people vying for our business.
Our goal was to get our Togo visas extended without paying a 35 cedi fee, a feat our friends had accomplished a week before. We caught motorcycle taxis to the visa office. This was accomplished by me saying “por le visas” over and over and Alex showing them her passport and gesticulating emphatically at her visa. Yay!
The feeling of the absurd only increased when we got to the visa office and the drivers refused to give us our change. Price collusion! The drivers could not be persuaded to honor their end of the deal. Maybe if a man had been traveling with us we could have convinced them.
Anyways, the series of ridiculous events continued to snowball as we approached the office. After our signature blend of Spanish-French ineptitude and wild gestures didn’t work, Alex pulled out a French dictionary. I stood around laughing while she discovered that the French word for “extension” is “extension” with a French accent. That helped. We were directed to a window labeled “Service Visas”. The officer in the window looked at us dubiously the whole time we explained what we wanted, but luckily he spoke enough English to tell us that such a thing is impossible. Visa extensions don’t exist. We argued with him for a little while and considered bribery, but eventually we just decided to leave so we could get a hotel room for the night.
A few exhilarating motorcycle taxi rides later, we sat around the hotel and listened to a jazz band singing In the Jungle in French and eating burgers. Niiiiice.
The hotel was really interesting, especially since the shower in our room (our own personal shower!) was above floor level. Luckily for you, describing the plumbing and drainage incidents we experienced is beyond the scope of this blog.
Flowers outside our window, not infested with mango flies.
The next day we woke up to a beautiful Togoaise morning and decided to spend the rest of our time in Togo shopping. This is actually really fun because the market is full of surprises, so you never know what will happen to you.
We wanted to check out the grand market and the fetish market. Alex went to the grand market last time she was in Togo, so she knew that it was a pretty long taxi ride away from the border. We hopped on two motorcycle taxis who gave us a surprisingly good price, and we were very surprised when they stopped just a few minutes later at a market. We thought that we had miscommunicated, so we tried again with more gestures to explain we were going to the GRAND market. They seemed skeptical but amiably started up again, only to drive us around in circles to give the impression they were taking us far away, before stopping just a few blocks away from where we had just been. At this point I received my first two marriage proposals of the day, one from each taxi driver. I declined with the excuse “I don’t even know you.”
Pick a color and follow it for awhile. That pretty much maps out our taxi ride to the market.
After we paid them and I accidentally gave my guy about 20% more than we had agreed due to my lack of familiarity with the currency, we decided that Alex’s taxi driver must have done exactly the same thing last time she was here, and that the grand market is actually really close to the beach. Oh well! Now we know, but we did nothing to advance the reputation of foreigners in Togo while we figured that out.
Then we walked around the market for about twenty minutes before we noticed that someone was following us. She was around sixty years old, and she had a radiant smile and no English. We had no French, but still we smiled a lot and chatted with her. Eventually she led us down an alleyway, and we figured out that she wanted us to go to her house and have breakfast. She was saying the word “manger” a lot, which means “to eat”, and we had thought she was saying “marché” for market. Anyways, we declined her invitation and went back to the market while she continued to her house.
About half an hour later, we were very surprised to turn around and see her right behind us again! She followed us around the market for about an hour while we tried to shake her off by going in and out of buildings, weaving around traffic, and stopping unexpectedly. I was about to suggest splitting up to confuse her when Alex tried figuring out what she wanted. Eventually Alex deduced that she wanted us to go to church with her. A flattering offer, but I am a heathen who wanted to spend time buying things and Alex was not interested either. So again we happily declined the invite and she went on her way. We were getting better at miming.
The market had lots of good French food like pastries and baguettes with avocado, but the coolest thing was the DVD stands. Every market here has someone selling DVDs that are obviously pirated, with 4-5 movies on each one. Anyways, this time I saw one DVD starting Osama bin Laden. It looked like a drama. Also, there was a DVD about the arrest of Laurent Gbagbo, ex-president of Ivory Coast. I was really surprised because he had just been arrested four days ago!
The market also had this little boy, dodging traffic to help push a cart.
We ran into some Ghanaians who tried to convince us to buy their souvenir items and also to marry them and then had lunch at a Lebanese restaurant called El Sultan. The shawarmas there are delicious! We also chatted with the owner of the restaurant a little while. He’s Lebanese, but he’s lived his whole life in Guinea and now Togo. He said that he feels like an African, but he doesn’t think that he will ever be accepted as one. We also found out from him that motorcycle taxis are called semijohns and that the fetish market is overrated. We still wanted to check it out though, so we asked for his advice on prices for semijohns to get there and then headed back outside.
Alex's lunch, scrumptious!
We hopped on a pair of semijohns and zoomed along the beach and then into the interior of the city. I spent the entire fifteen minute ride giving the driver directions on how to get to the fetish market and rebutting his arguments about why we needed to marry each other. I actually really enjoyed it. Normally it’s kind of annoying and even threatening to be propositioned all the time, but there was something about this guy that seemed harmless and fun. Every time I gave him an excuse, he would laugh or grin and come up with another reason to get married, like “Your eyes are very nice” or “I need an English teacher”. It was a really fun time, and when we got to the fetish market I was sad to see him go because I knew the next semijohn driver probably wouldn’t be as entertaining.
I should probably explain the fetish market now. It’s not fetish in the sense that most Westerners think, it’s more of a market that sells supplies for voodoo. It’s small, about the area of three basketball courts. Basically, they sell dried animal parts and little charm dolls. We kept getting invited to go into the back room of some of the stands, which I was reluctant to do but Alex finally persuaded me to check it out. Cages of dead and dying rats? Check. Alters made out of bones? Check. Poached leopard and cheetah pellets? Tragic, but check.
The most interesting part was when this boy called us over. He was holding a canvas bag, and he grinned at us as he pulled out a bright green chameleon.
Not for sale.
We didn’t buy anything, but it was really interesting.
It was time to head back home to Accra, so we took motorcycle taxis back to the border (no marriage proposal!). At the border, the Togo guard acted like we had to give him our phone numbers to get across the border. Luckily I remembered from last time that there’s actually some paperwork to fill out and no phone number is required, so we just told him “No, no, we just have to fill out the paper and then we can cross.” He finally pulled the paperwork out of his desk and gave it to us. I was thinking, aren’t you an official of the Togo government? How is lying to tourists part of your job description? Anyways, we got to the Ghana side and the guards there needed to look at our passports again. The uniformed, armed guard who took my passport said, “Ah, I like your sweater.” He looked at my hand and remarked that I wasn’t married yet. “You will marry me. I want to marry white.” I couldn’t believe he was spending his time at work doing this, and it felt very strange because he obviously had all the power in the situation. Also his definition of sweater is different from mine. Anyways, all I could do is tell him to get in line behind all my other fiances. During this whole time people who look Ghanaian or Togoaise were crossing the border freely.
Coming back to Accra felt like coming home, but I really love the atmosphere of Togo. I hope I get a chance to go back again before I leave Africa at the end of May. And if you like turning down requests for marriage from motorcycle-driving, French-speaking foreign men, you should come with me :)