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In a previous post, I mentioned that my desire to visit Francophone countries in Africa was realised when I drove from Accra to Togo and then on to Benin.
It was a remarkable trip. I left my hubby and children at home and set off with three friends towards Aflao (say AH-FLAH-HO), one of the towns where one can cross from Ghana into Togo.
Just a geography refresher, Ghana is surrounded by Francophone countries with Togo and Benin bordering them on the Eastern side, Cote d’Ivoire on the West and Burkina Faso in the North.
The atmosphere at the border was chaotic. There were no signs indicating where to go to have one’s papers processed and it was easy to see how a friend of mine crossed the border one night last year, inadvertently avoiding immigration. There were many people on foot who appeared to be walking over without stopping to do any paperwork at all. We had to make an effort to find the right officials and get our passports stamped.
We completed the paperwork in Ghana, drove a few metres and we were in Togo. The change was immediate. In the first place, no one spoke more than a few words of English, which seemed incredible since one could almost reach across the border and touch someone from Ghana. Secondly, our passport were a curiosity and a source of much scrutiny. We tried to explain where St. Kitts and Barbados were. We referred to “Les Antilles” and there were blank stares, same with references to Martinique, Guadeloupe, Jamaica and then finally at a point of desperation, we mentioned the musical group Kassav which got us nods of recognition as they had performed in Benin just a few weeks earlier.
Once you leave Aflao, you are immediately in Lome, the capital of Togo. The main road through the city was beautiful. The streets were wide, apparently clean, and traffic flowed in an orderly manner. On the right of the road was a broadwalk, a lovely stretch of sand and then the sea. On the beach there were facilities for playing beach games. Interspersed were long lines of people pulling nets from the sea. Sometimes as many as 30 people holding a rope, some exerting more energy than others.
I loved the scenery. Whenever I am near the sea, I feel at home and very relaxed. I imagined the same sort of scene along the Bay Road in St. Kitts.
On our left, there were many tall buildings in various states of repair. It’s when you go inside the city, beyond the main boulevards, that you see the dust and disorganisation that I have come to associate with Africa. Add to this the motorcycles which are the primary means of individual and public transportation. Yes, if you want a taxi in Togo, be prepared to jump on to the back of a motorcycle or ‘zemi-john’. The low income levels and the high cost of gas make motorcycles, attractive means of transportation. Unfortunately the impact on the environment is abysmal.
We visited the main market (Grand Marche) and the experience was incredible. Just like a Ghanaian market, you could buy everything there from fruits, vegetables and other food items to clothing, electronics and luggage. The difference ended there, though. In the first place, there were many French food items on sale, pastries and baguettes which seemed out of place in the midst of an African market.
Secondly, being in the Grand Marche was like watching a Ghana market scene at high speed. Every inch of space in the market was occupied by vendors, pedestrians and motorcycles. There was nowhere to walk and motorcyclists wound their way at top speeds through the shopping crowds. It was all we could do not to get our toes crushed and I could not imagine how one could focus on shopping, so preoccupied we were with staying alive.
We left the market and walked back to the hotel in the evening as the sun set. We enjoyed watching people heading home from work on their motorbikes. We saw many women in African business wear perched on their motorbikes with their backs ramrod straight looking as elegant as if they were in a horse-drawn carriage.