Monday, December 6, 2010

Eau...Eau...Etsi Lasiwa?

November 22, 2010

I realized this weekend that I speak significantly more Ewe than French.
I love my life! :)

I've lived within walking distance of Togo for almost 3 months now, and I decided it was finally time to see Ghana's Canada. (The comparison is almost perfect: the English-speaking country's French-speaking neighbor that they are on good terms with but still make fun of.)
Togo is the country directly to our Eastern border. They were a French colony up until 1960 when they gained their independence.
The separation between Ghana and Togo is a classic example of the effect of European colonialism in Africa...and I really feel like I should be writing a college paper right now... The Ewe territory lies partly in Togo and partly in Ghana. Similarly the Togolaise capital, Lome, and Aflao, where I live, used to be the same city until the artificial border was imposed to differentiate the colonies. It's all too easy to condemn the Europeans for how they manipulated Africa, but the present day results aren't entirely bad. For instance, because they share the same language, ancestry and root culture, there is a very strong bond between Togo and Ghana. But unfortunately, what started as a separation in name only has yielded some very real and tangible present-day differences.
It's hard to imagine Lome and Alfao as one fluid city now. Aflao is essentially a sprawling ghetto: the largely unpaved road is full of potholes that put even Michigan's to shame and the air is visibly thick with dust. The buildings are low, badly maintained and surrounded by numerous dumps. It's an inner city outer city?
In contrast, Lome is sleek and least on the outset. A smooth paved highway, complete with traffic lights and sidewalks, winds through the shiny highrise buildings. Many of the numerous hotels, cafes and restaurants could pass for Western establishments.
But turn off the main road onto any of the sidestreets, and the glitzy veneer wears thin. Poverty will be waiting to take you on a tour of the real Lome.

My first trip to Togo was on Friday with Laura and Paul, a Ghanaian guy my brother's age who I have recently become friends with. The first two hours were stressful as we went through the agonizing process of changing our money, buying our Visas and debating about whether or not to charter a car.
My least favorite part of Togo is the money.
The exchange rate between cedis (Ghana money) and US dollars is 1.44, and I've gotten pretty good at estimating how much I'm spending. Plus I know how much things should cost in Ghana now, so I know when someone is ripping me off.
Togo money is called cephas and 10,000 cephas is 30 cedis. Ok, I could get the hang of the cepha-cedi conversion (knock off 3 zeros and multiply by 3)...but that didn't give me an accurate idea of what anything should cost because prices in Togo are more expensive. Very frustrating.

Our first stop was Holy Child International School, where my host father works. It was really nice to see where he spends his days and meet his class, etc. Then we went to a voodoo market, the art market and then to the beach for a little while.
It was a nice introduction to Togo, but Laura and I felt a little restricted.

So, against the advice of every Ghanaian we know, we returned to Togo on Sunday with Karina and without a Ghanaian guide. Although Ghana and Togo have a good relationship, Ghanaians are still convinced that, unlike Ghana, Togo is extremely dangerous for unaccompanied yevus.
However, our trip on Sunday was extremely relaxing and fun. Shockingly, no one tried to mug us in broad daylight so Togo didn't really live up to its reputation after all.

From the border, the three of us decided to walk towards some church spires we saw in the distance. We walked for close to an hour with the city to our left and the beach on our right, just enjoying the sights and rhythms of Lome. The cathedral was gorgeous, very European which surprised us.

Our next stop was a return to the voodoo market!
Full of skins, heads and bones from every African animal imagineable, the voodoo market is pretty high on the morbid list. However, for me, it was a valuable experience in traditional African beliefs. We were introduced to the gods and they explained many of the basic juju charms and amulets. It was fascinating, and one of my favorite experiences so far.

We went to a lunch at a cafe that was so Western I could pretend I was in Ann Arbor if I didn't look out the window.
Afterwards, as we walked back towards Ghana (I still get a kick out of the fact that I can walk to another country) we saw horses on the beach! For a couple cephas, I got to ride around once with Laura and then once solo so I could trot. Riding horses along the beach...Now if only I was wearing a flowy white dress, my life would be a perfect B movie.

I thoroughly enjoyed my brief adventure to Lome- and hey, now the number of African countries I've been to has doubled! Yet for all it's glamour...I was strangely relieved to get back to Aflao's dust and potholes. Togo may have milkshakes and traffic lights, but Ghana is home.

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