Week #4: Bonjour Togo!

{Before I begin explaining all the activities we did during our week in Togo, I'll tell a few things about the country. Togo is the 8th poorest country in the world, but to me, the country seemed a little more organized than in Ghana. The main transportation is the 'moto' (motorcycle) and the main language is French, since before they were ruled by France. At the time we arrived in Togo, they had already entered their "rainy season" and we could definitely see what that meant when there were torrential downpours almost every day. There are rainforest mountains that surrounds the villages with flowers and tree in bloom that provides a gorgeous view. 

The response of a friendly hello "bonjour" or "sa lew" was not as friendly when we would attempt to have a brief conversation with the locals. Meaning, when the locals saw us wandering around, no one ever approached us or wanted to meet us because we were Americans like we had experienced just the opposite in Ghana. Ghanaians perception of life is very positive and hopefully that their economy will get better. Togolese perceptions of life is suffering from their horrible past and dwell as they look into the future. I could go on and on with differences that I observed, but here is a bit of our week in Togo. Enjoy!}

We began our morning becoming acustom to the French culture. For myself, this begins my time of culture shock, in many ways, but for the most part because of the language barrier. We all meet as a class for breakfast in the small restaurant in Hotel Cristal where we stay in Kpalime, Togo and receive a brief, 15 minute French lesson. After breakfast, we find a place to exchange our currency from 'cedis' to 'cefas' (Togolese currency) then we were on our way to learn about being a Peace Corp Volunteer (PCV) and how to make Batik at Aklala.

We arrive at a woman's house named Chantel who has set up an area, just for us, in the front yard to make Batik. We begin the process, picking out our stamps... or what we call "tampons,"  and start stamping our white cloth with hot wax with our design.

Hot hot wax!
Batik in the making...

 Almost everyone finished stamping their fabric except for a couple of us (including mine), until a big storm rolled in a matter of minutes, then there was a downpour! There was nothing else we could do since the wax wouldn't stick when there is so much moist in the air, so it was time for lunch. We head back and have the afternoon free to "mingle,"or figure out how to buy a few things we need communicating in French. We find an internet cafe that probably the slowest connection I've ever experienced. I think I clicked the mouse from one thing to another about five times in the span of an hour in essence to check my mail and Facebook. Of course, I went to Facebook and it just didn't have enough connection to load my page. *sigh* By the evening, we had an entertainment night filled with dancing, singing and drumming! Very cool!

We have our usual breakfast, bread/butter and tea then travel to finish our Batik's and off to the school for the blind. This was a pretty interesting experience. The school was for those children who are, of course, blind. The instructors ultimately teach the students strategies and techniques to survive in their villages, giving back and making a living once they are ready to go home. (Yes, it is treated more like a boarding school.) Anyone who has a disability are pretty much treated as someone terrible and almost like a sign from a devil because they are so "different" from everyone else. It was pretty sad, but also so encouraging knowing that a woman, originally from the U.S., had made this opportunity that the Togolese government funded for these students. We watched them make wicker chairs/stools, soap, and learn how to read in script.
 Before we left, the teachers gathered them all into a big room and they sang for us! It was beautiful! We couldn't understand a word of it, but it came from their hearts and entered into ours to remember, always.
Our next stop was right up at the top of a mountain where a man maintains a cocoa plantation. Interesting enough, the Togolese do not drink coffee. Their main objective was to increase their cocoa to the Kpalime community and to become familiarized with the taste of coffee. We had a sample of the coffee and honey their grew and honestly, this put Starbucks to shame. I'm not a huge coffee fan, but this stuff was de-licious!
Coffee is ready for tasting
Cocoa Beans!
We packed and loaded our bags and traveled a bumpy, yet fun drive to Lome, Togo where we would spend the rest of out time in Togo. Lome is the capitol city in Togo and the main university in Togo is located. We had a typical, crazy Africa day where scheduled activities just didn't happen on time. First, we arrive at the gate of the British Columbia property and come across a problem with the security guards and our tro-tro driver. Our tro-tro driver is from Southern Togo, but the guards are from northern Togo. The two have their differences and don't mix well when together. We definitely saw this...especially when a huge hummer with a massive machine gun mounted on the top of the hummer with a guard pointing it right at us in the tro-tro. Some of us said our last words. Others were a bit speechless.

To make a long story short, everything was resolved, we changed clothes and were an hour late to our appointment with the Ambassador at the U.S. Embassy (quite embarrassing). We had lunch with the Embassy with the Ambassador and a few other Political Service Officers and they were very informative as to how things run. I found this meeting to be quite beneficial. After, we came back to relax before Dr. Bass' big party at her house that evening!

Dr. Bass (our professor) lives in Togo due to her husband's position at the U.S. Embassy. The government sets them up in a nice house with the sweetest guards! Anyways, a ton of people came, who are big named people, but of course, when you come back to the U.S., they are just people like you and I. It was a fun and very social evening!

We took time to visit one of Dr. Bass' friends who worked as an NGO for an organization that worked with child development. (I wish I had the name with me, but I don't...Sorry!) The women was in charge of spreading awareness to young girls about the male and female anatomy, STDs/AIDS, pregnancy and prostitution. Public schools usually do not educate students about using any type of protection or sex preventions, so this was a beneficial educational topic, for sure.
Next up, we visited a Fetish Market. This, by far, was the least enjoyable experience of the entire 5 weeks in Africa. We went on a guided tour which was filled with dead animal skulls, skins and bones. These items (more so in the past) are used for ritual/spiritual purposes Such as: If you have this rock and you put a drop of water on one side, rub the rock in between your hands then across your forehead, you will return home safely with no delays. I understand the cultural differences and how a Togolese would believe in supernatural powers, but this did not spark an interest to me. Enjoy the pictures below...
Later that evening, we (all the ladies) went back to the US Embassy and had a movie night, "Hall Pass," with the Marines. After the show, we experienced the night-life in Togo. This called for a very late night for everyone, but still a good time.

We enjoyed a much prettier ocean scenery on our drive to a museum that was filled with African masks and statues of some sort. The museum was private to most of the public which held artifacts from all the way back to A.D. period. Oddly enough, we were allowed to touch them, just like the pictures viewed below...
Through the rest of the day, we were free to rest and relax since most of us had a very very night before. Dr. Bass mentioned her wanting to take us to a lagoon that was a fun "college" place to hang, eat, drink and dance. Four of us joined her and had a fun time socializing with each other.
Dannon, me and Alex
Erica and Alex
This day was our day to play "catch up" with our notebooks from the past month of assignments. It poured all day, which was fun and gave us all a chance to take our last 5 days in full motion for the rest of our time in Africa. We all stepped in and cooked breakfast and lunch for each other since we had bought more than enough food for our time there, so before...we had a little fun with some egg :)
Later that evening, we had a cooked meal from Dr. Bass and her family that was brought to our Kent house and had a discussion session led by the U.S. Embassy intern with some of the students who attends the University of Lome. The main topic was "Where do you see Togo in 5-10 years and what will be your role in this country?" This discussion was guided more towards the Lome students, but it was quite a discussion we had with very different views, some not so logic than others. (That's all I'll say about this activity.)

After, it was time to gather our belongings for our departure early the next morning.

More to come in my posts to see and read about the final week in Africa.



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