Last weekend a group of people from our program decided to go to Togo. In case you have never heard of Togo and have no idea what/where it is, Togo is the tiny country that is right next door to Ghana. I admit that before I got to Ghana, I had never heard of Togo. (Togo’s, the sandwich shop, I am quite aware of!)

It was the first time I have ever driven to the border of any country (odd considering Mexico is on the border of California). I’ve flown across borders, but never walked across one. We got on a tro tro with all our bags, and started out on our four hour drive to Lome, which is the capital of Togo. When we got to the border, we jumped out of the tro tro, and immediately people stormed us shouting “Change?! Change?!” They wanted to know if we wanted to change our currency from Cedis to CFAs. What I found interesting was it seemed like average people were just walking around with huge wads of cash, asking if you wanted to change your money…..it seemed almost sketchy. However, we had already changed our money over so, no they got no business from us.

Then we walked to the border. First we had to walk out of Ghana. Guards were swarming around us directing us where to go, and people were chasing after us asking if we wanted to buy things. After we checked out of Ghana, we walked across the street and checked into Togo. They asked us a lot of slightly confusing questions, then told us that all people from Denmark had to pay 10,000 CFAs (my friend Mie, and intrepid travel companion is from Denmark) and all people from America had to pay 15,000 CFAs. Meanwhile, the African people were walking back and forth from border to border without being stopped, without paying anything, all they had to do tell the guard where they were going, and they were passed on through!

Finally, we got through the border and into Togo. Lome looked like such a beach town. To the left of us was a beach that from a distance was one of the prettiest beaches I have ever seen. The color of water was the most gorgeous blue, and I am not sure I will ever see that particular shade again-and  I live in California, land of beaches. However, swimming on the beach is not safe, because the beach serves as a public restroom for all the residents of Lome. Honestly, it was extremely disheartening.

The road was swarming with motorcycles, and in Togo, the main form of transportation, is by motorbike-even the taxis are motorbikes. As we were walking, one motor taxi drove up with no helmet, ran into the curb, jumped off his bike, which then tumbled over, and asked us “Do you want a ride?” Needless to say we responded with a quick “Ummm, no thanks” and went on our way more quickly then we had intended.

Lome was full of things that I have never experienced before. We went to a fetish market, where I bought a Voodoo doll (I will tell you all about it in another post), an art gallery that had art from all over West Africa on display, and an art museum. We had real French bread.  And we had an outrageous number of marriage proposals! The most interesting parts, to me,  was that Togo is a French speaking country, so I even if people were asking me to marry them, then only way I knew how to respond with was a stare! (The only reason I knew what they were saying was Mie was able to translate for me later) Don’t worry mom, so far, I have been able to resist responding,  “Oui oui”. My plan is still to come  home without a husband!

The odd part about Togo was, when we walked in, we felt safer there than we did in Ghana, but by the time we left, our sense of security went way down and we were ready to head back to the safety of our hostel.  This experience had something to do with our change of heart.  Fortunately, I slept through it, and heard about it the next morning.  Some of the people in our group had decided to go to a night club, and on their way there-they were walking-they were stopped by police. The police asked them to see their IDs, and they all looked at each other.  They hadn’t brought any, and they told the police  “We don’t have our IDs with us, but we will go back and get them.” The police then responded by explaining that they would not be leaving at all.  They were going to be taken to the police station. Pretty quickly the group figured out that the police wanted a bribe, so they coughed up 1000 CFA each, and handed it over. Apparently, it was not enough because the police continued to threaten to take them to the police station.  By this time, my friends had had enough.  They turned around and walked back to the hotel, having decided they would not be doing any clubbing in Lome.

The following night, a couple of the guys wanted to go to a cool looking bar that they saw in the guidebook. We were going to have dinner, and then meet them there later, but we saw them arrive back surprisingly early. Apparently, the bar in the guidebook was more like a brothel than a bar, and was swarming with prostitutes. They decided to grab a beer and sit on the curb across the street to drink, and ended up finding a ride home rather quickly. On second look at the guidebook, it seems that we all missed the disclaimer that said bars were likely to be full of prostitutes.

Overall, bribes, police marriage proposals and prostitutes aside, I found Lome a very pleasant place. The people were generally kind and the food was really good. I only wish I could pull the same amount of male attention at home that I seem to been  able to pull in Togo!  While in Togo, I also added two more things to my list of things to do.  After hearing my friend Mie speak to everyone in French for us, I told her I that when I go home, I want to learn French, wear high heels, and drink tea-with-lemon with my pinky sticking out. I am pretty stoked.

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