Edit Blog Post
Published: November 9th 2016
At the Ghanaian border they don't think Togo will let us in, so Ghana won't let us leave. A motorbike rider is sent across no man's land to find out and, luckily, comes back with good news. So the Ghanaians stamp us out and we walk across no man's land, crossing the inevitable river, into Togo.
The Togo border police are not so sure. They can't issue visas, so we need to rent a policeman (£35) to accompany us. First, he comes with us to our hotel, an hour's drive. We check in, even though we haven't officially arrived in Togo yet.
Then off for another hour's drive in the dark to a large, ill-lit shed that appears to be in the middle of nowhere. Here they take our passports with a promise of visas tomorrow. We drive back to the hotel and a late dinner.
Early the next day, our rented policeman appears bright and early with all the passports and Togo visas. It seems we arrived this morning, so I am not sure where we were last night!
Later in the day we drop in on a secondary school and talk to the the children
during break. Some are getting an early lunch from the dinner ladies who sit under trees in the playground. For less than 50p they get breakfast, just tea and bread, and lunch, which is vegetarian but substantial. Beans and yam dumplings are popular.
This school, like many, is supported by a church to which it is attached. We break into an English class, streamed by ability rather than age, so the class ranges in ages from 13 to 16. They choose interesting questions to ask. Which country are we from? What is our money? Who is our president? Have we had war in our country?
There are churches everywhere in West Africa and of dozens of denominations. Every church you have ever heard of is here, plus a lot that seem to be locally inspired. On a typical Sunday, a Togo family will dress smartly in the morning to go to Sunday service and, in the afternoon, they will put on traditional dress to participate in Voodoo rituals. To them, there is no contradiction in this.
We carefully join a village Voodoo ceremony, after a long conversation with the elders. In a thatched area with no walls,
men drum and ladies dance. Around them, the entire village sits, clapping and singing. The dance seems to be a frenetic version of the chicken dance. Ladies join and leave, sweating from their frantic dancing. Children join in, concentrating to get the dance right. The drummers pound on.
There are two small huts to the side. The first contains two fetishes, one of a crocodile and the other of the thunder god. The second hut contains the protective fetish for the village. Protective fetishes take the form of short, fat men with large penises!
Suddenly, priest appears among the dancers and throws liquid onto hot stones. Dense smoke fills the room and rises into the sky. This is to summon the spirits, to make them aware of the ceremony.
He then creates a Voodoo altar from a large horn and two long reed brushes making a tripod. Around them, white powder is poured into the ground to form an outer ring and, below the tripod, black powder is poured to form a second ring.
As he steps away, the black ring ignites with a bright flash and loud bang. There is a horrible scream. A lady
leaps from the villagers and, in one move, grabs the two brushes, crosses the dance floor and lands in a screaming, struggling heap on top of the people on the opposite side. They struggle to control her; she is possessed by the thunder god and has the strength of ten men. Eventually she is dragged into the second hut, to be calmed by being with the protective fetish.
Behind us another woman leaps up and then crawls on the ground. She has a little baby tied to her back and women rush to save it from injury. The woman crawls around on the floor, her eyes rolling. She has been possessed by the crocodile god. Her crawling is frantic, random, out of control. To encourage her into the hut with the protective fetish, they pour water on the ground in front of her and, eventually, she calms and crawls away.
The woman possessed by the thunder god is calmer now but still shouts, screams and struggles. She escapes from the hut to dance - she dances as if drunk or drugged. And then a third scream, and yet another woman leaps forward, out of control. Until this, the
villagers next to us have been calm, helping when needed, but this time they look genuinely shocked. As the woman lunges around in front of us, the villagers are clearly worried. This is a possession by the earth god and it doesn't seem to be a good thing.
Eventually the three possessed woman are calmed. Two continue to dance as if in trances, one lies on the ground, groaning and twitching. The light as fading, we have to leave. The drumming has never faltered, it pounds on.
Tot: 1.305s; Tpl: 0.018s; cc: 24; qc: 138; dbt: 0.0277s; 1; m:saturn w:www (220.127.116.11); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.6mb