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Published: October 25th 2006
A patas monkey, named "Bob" by the residents of Ada, is brimming with energy. He was not hesitant to shake my hand after I gave him a bit to eat.
: For the first time, I have stepped off Ghanaian soil and ventured into the confusing yet utterly charming borders of Francophone Africa. Crossing the border from Aflao (in Ghana), my travel companions and I were greeted with the same bustle and cocaphony we had come to know in Ghana, but with a decidedly different twang. Mototaxi drivers courted us with eloquent French, and aside from the fish and texiles that crowned the heads of women in Ghana, baguettes and brochettes waded above the crowded streets of Lome, the capital city of tiny Togo. We quickly settled on our accommodation for the evening, and rested in the room to the sound of French announcers enthusiastically calling a French Premier League match on the tele. October 15
: Woke early and devoured a breakfast of baguettes, chocolate pastries, and freshly squeezed orange juice. Wandered through the crowded Grand Marche in downtown Lome, periodically giving my feet a rest from the constant shuffling and maneuvering by hailing a moto taxi. The bombardment of sights, smells, and sounds was intoxicating: bright pagnes of batik fabric being trimmed and passed along; cooking meats; trash strewn about the sticky ground; and bartering and gossiping in
French, Ewe, and Gen. From the motorcycle, I watched as a legless beggar carted himself through traffic, as women hacked up their dresses and peed on the side of the road, as taxi drivers exchanged smiles and glares, and as men swaggered to the beats playing through tinny PAs. Having no real list of tourist destinations, Lome's featured attraction is the city itself, which has a faded French charm about its ornate balconies and quite maquis (open-air cafes) and a distinctly authentic African charm.
After a long, hot day of wandering, we settled on a jazz club downtown, and thundered down the roads towards our destination on a squad of aging Honda motorbikes. The club was very inviting, with tasteful decor (masks peering out at guests, dim lighting, earthy tones, distinctly West African paintings and cloth adorning the walls) and fantastic live music. After a couple of drinks, Andrew started up a conversation with the band and let slip his own musical inclination. Promptly pushing a trumpet into his hands, they invited him to perform for the next number. He wailed and the crowd went wild. We danced, clapped, and sang our way through one of the hottest nights
The fetish market
Grizzly images of Lome's fetish market.
I've experienced on the African continent, hypnotized by the groovy rhythms and fluttering horns of the four piece group. October 16
: Pulled myself out of bed and joined Jake, Patrick, and Andrew for breakfast. Andrew decided to return to Accra in order to attend a class in the afternoon, and the other two were headed to the Ghanaian embassy to apply for a new visa for Jake (who had only purchased a single entry visa for Ghana). Said my goodbyes and went my own way. Walking to the beachside street, I hailed a moto taxi and sped off to the voodoo market in northeast Lome. Togo and Benin are thought to be the origin of Fetishism (voodoo), having opened the practice to the Western Hemisphere following the deportation of slaves to the Americas and Caribbean. The voodoo market was a simultaniously grim and fascinating spectical, but it certainly wasn't for the animal-lovers among us. The decomposing bodies of hundreds of animals, including chameleons, dogs, baboons, hawks, and crocs, lay strewn about the various tables - a ju-ju apprentice explained the use of each in broken English. The skulls of crocodiles and elephants are buried beneath the site of a
Nothing says "protection" like the decapitated head of a large reptile!
new home in order to protect the residence from evil spirits; the skull of a monkey is ground into a powder and mixed with other herbs to cure amnesia and prevent memory loss; chameleons are also ground and mixed with honey to cure impotency. At the end of my visit, I was ushered into a small side room, where I met a ju-ju priest, watched him perform weird cantations and wave a bell around nearby fetishes, and purchased a small charm which was blessed specifically for the purposes of providing me with luck and prosperity (although for some reason it hasn't brought about any unusual activity or notably wealth, perhaps because I refused the first two prices proposed by the priest?). After the bizarre potions and strange odors of the fetish market, I walked around Lome for the last time, and hired a moto to the border. October 17
: Volunteered at a local orphanage in Medina (a suburb of Accra), which was a pleasure. I have to speak of one boy who seemed to keep to himself despite the activities of others. No more than eight years old, he had patiently seated himself and was diligently, yet carefully, crafting
an origami paper crane. When I asked him how he had crafted such a complicated figure, he gave me a children's book about a Japanese girl who learned to make origami in her free time. In detail, he explained the story, and I could immediately tell that among his few possessions, he treasured this book most off all. His eyes lit up as he explained each chapter of the book, which he seemed to know by heart, and then flipped to the back of the book to reveal a 36 step instruction sheet that he had followed to the letter in order to create the crane. When I told the boy that I would love to one day hear him read the entire story, he extended his hand and gave me the book, saying I could have it and read it to my heart's content. Such kindness (despite owning few material items) is never forgotten.
Couple of interesting eats to share as well: the first is giant water snails
, which I tried on the tro-tro to Togo and found utterly revolting. The other is cat
. Monday was the end of Ramadan, and the head of each muslim family ritually
Fetish Market 2
Dried chameleons, anyone?
sacrifices a goat to celebrate the end to fasting. I s'pose these guys didn't fancy (or have the money for) goat, because they had slit the throat of a cat and were cooking it over an open flame. When they had finished, they cut it into pieces and boiled it, claws, intestines, and head and all. I was privileged to be invited to join a family near the orphanage. And the cat wasn't too bad.
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