A Trying Day in Togo
A Trying Day in Togo
Lome, Togo West Africa
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
I had a very trying day on my patience here in Togo today, whereas I was involved in three major cultural annoyances. Nothing really bad, maybe common in a way.
In Koti Togo maybe Kati Togo
Michael and I, the friend I have been calling my fixer left Kpalime, yesterday and went to Mont Agou or Pic Agou, the proceeded on to Koti, Togo a more or less dusty road town in the middle of nowhere.
Other than setting a new record for my cheapest room in West Africa by paying 750 CFA, the village was difficult. On the other hand, there was an about 5 girl’s age between 20-30 walking around topless all day, so that did take the edge off the village.
This morning, after a lot of deliberation and thinking, I decided it would be best to go back to Kpalime, and give Michael an extras days wages and say goodbye, which is 6000 CFA or about 12 U.S. Dollars. This is not really wages, more of a per diem thing so he could easily afford to travel with me and help me to live easier. He was saving about 2000-3000 CFA per day, so he was earning, this is about three times the daily workers wage here per day.
I tried to explain to him, and he was very sad, I was hoping that with him along, life would be easier, however it was more difficult. There were a couple aspects of travel with him where life was easier, I did have less bully arguments with the motos or taxis, the payment problems were less. However, what became a problem was an interesting development and totally unexpected by me. I suppose the big problem is his listening to the BBC Radio Station about 5-9 hours per day. I never told him this, because I do not wish to discourage him from learning from the radio and learning about the world.
Michael is a big soccer fan, and BBC fan, he turns it on at 7:00 in the morning and listens to it all day more or less, carrying the radio about everywhere, he goes. He never did this while I was getting to know him. He sits all over the place, listening to the radio.
Confusing to explain, the goal was for him to help me locate good cheap rooms, and he did this in a fashion, yet he did not intuitively get the idea that we needed to have rooms acceptable for me to recommend to people. I would recommend the woman at the border, but this is not like the Mandela in Kpalime, and is difficult for people to find.
His 6000 CFA budget made him too thrifty with the cash for a room, and in Koti, the 750 Budget room became a big problem for me, I could not convince him to move on to the next city, and forget Koti. He more or less believed I wished to live and see everything in Togo, not matter how bleak.
No electricity, not clear, where to go for the toilet, I slept on a matt, the room was hot, etc. And then, with the walls, I can hear Michael’s too loud radio 24 hours per day.
There may be this mythical and untrue belief in the minds of people that primitive type societies are peaceful and if we reverted back life would be better. The opposite is really the case, there is continually machine gun talk between the people and things happen, for example, men come and piss right next to you and so do women. This morning I was tramping through the brush to find a place to squat, a pig is making noise, and I can smell and worry where I am stepping.
More or less there is a constant interruption of the peace, nothing is really peaceful and pleasant about the more primitive people. Then the have moved out of the jungle, and now bake in steel roofed houses. I do think living in the trees would be better than their present options of clay home and steel roofs.
Maybe a person could imagine being surrounded 24 hours per day by children that do what they want, interrupt when they want, and will push their way into a conversation whether I want them to or not. The way I normally deal with this is to go into my room and read, or go for long walks in quiet areas.
Michael could not get a grip on the room thing; no amount of explanation could explain my need for quiet living quarters. I am very good at finding good rooms, I can explain the pros and cons of rooms easy, and the 750 CFA was nice, but not a reason to live in a city, although being surround by young nubile girls with no tops on did lesson the burden. Now, if they could speak ONE word of French, I would have been better, they only spoke Mina.
Next, what happened is in his effort to explain, he has been telling everyone I am from the USA, and speak English, and came to the city to take photos. I think he more or less is reveling in the explanations to people, and somewhat gives him status. I do not mind this so much, but the USA English thing killed my ability to talk with the people, then the camera things makes them think I work for a project or something and they come up and want to ask too many questions. The only people who come to the village appears to be the NGO - ONG or projects and they are the best jobs in West Africa, therefore everyone is more or less wanting to talk to me, or they appear to be fighting for job.
Normally I macho squash the conversations by the bullies of village, and Michael opened the door. More or less, he believes every person needs to be listened too and would get in 15-minute arguments with everyone over nothing, way off goal our goals or the idea of enjoyment travel.
I normally can reassert the goals and keep these sleeping minds focused, well with Michael, he could understand them and would help them to stay off topic. We was trying to look for a Auberge on the way back form the Ghana - Togo border and they wanted to show us a house with a room. I said, Mike, that is not an Auberge and he says, but they have a room. I said, we want a business, and a room to him is a business, and not able to separate and think in the strict terms of the goal, about anything was in play, and annoying, his understanding of English was much more open and lax, less defined.
The bottom line is I regressed about 9.5 years in travel experience, and my abilities to search for a good room and was babysitting a person who has no ability to stay focused, or think in a focused manner. The lack of focus and self-centered and oblivious lack of concern for people around him, and normal for Togo started to takes it toll on my nerves.
He was being normal, and what can you say, he was behaving like a Ghana or Togo person. I realize now, you cannot expect a person to plan for tomorrow, when never in their lives have they made plans for the future. I was asking him to do some things that were totally outside his cultural upbringing.
He was very sad, and begs me to give him another chance, but he cannot see that I cannot stop being a White Man from the USA and he cannot stop being a Black Man from Togo. We lived in our cultures too long and we cannot just replace out spots and become a different culture.
I went to the Kpalime Gare or Bus stop, paid 1750 to take a mini-van to Lome. The minute I paid, they tried to get me to pay 1000 CFA for my bags. It is common to go for about 100-300 per bag, and I was tired, and not wanting to argue, they was loading the van with way to many fat women, and the top was so full it looked like a banana truck, the whole groups was abusive and hollering and non-caring, knowing they had the fee in advance. I finally threw the ticket at the driver and walked away, grabbed a Moto and went to the edge of town. Flagged down a station wagon taxi and took a very enjoyable trip to Lome.
I need to get more money from the ATM, before I leave for the north. I have decided I am not going to go to the Gares or Bus Stations any more, they have been a real waste of good energy, and are just full of bad blood individuals. I paid less, went faster, and was with more civilized people in the taxi, outside the governmental lack of working systems.
I came back to the My Diana Auberge, and I am finally going to say, this place is not good. There is some electric problem, which is specific to only this one block and every block around continually has electricity while the Auberge does not. I thought it was the city, but is this block and they managers are dizzy, slow and sleeping. They just accept and do not look for solutions. They have a generator and will not turn it on, even though the hotel is full. I finally lost it and started telling them to turn on the generator, the electricity had been off from noon until 7:00 at night and this was worst than anything as the buildings are designed stupid.
Almost Africa is my idea of this, almost ok, but not ok.
The finally turned on the generator, I am very angry, start to get very stern with them, and what do they do, start to laugh, it is just the bully children society nature of West Africa and I try my best to avoid this.
It is normal to have about one-half the staff behave bully like, not bad, they just thrive on being macho. I must have a room to decompress; most of the travelers just go for the western places and avoid the locals. I need a room, which has a fan to read and separate from the primitive non-caring societies of the world. There really is nothing mystically and back to the beginning of time, being old and ancient, primitive, quiet is really closer to banging heads with clubs than people believe.
I learned a real basic type of calling women over, that Michael did, and I will write about later. It is somewhat incredible to me, what a man can do and say to a woman with almost no problem, and what is acceptable to ask of women.
I am leaving this Hotel tomorrow, and finding one with better electricity. My good friend Ami quit the hotel and without here, the place as lost any good personalities, Felix is a good guy, but dominated by the bullies. I will take a photo.A Trying Day in Togo
Now that you explain it like that, I can understand why you fired the fixer.
I like this one from George Washington's Rules of Civility...
"Let your discourse with men of business be short and comprehensive.
-George Washington's - Rules of Civility #35
But it is very difficult as soon as you hire a guide or fixer, expectations can go through the roof. I think the best strategy is always to start out being 100% clear on both sides what the expectations are, how long this will go on for, what will and won't happen (eg no trip to the US). And as for the concept of finding decent, ultra-basic hotel rooms, but not just ending up on someone's floor paying cents, that's a tricky one. I understand what you did Andy, and how trying it can be to travel in West Africa. Also feel a bit sorry for Michael, who seems to have been a good guy and a good helper, but who perhaps got carried away in his imagination about what the prospects were.
PS I've just been editing the Togo chapter of the RG to West Africa – very weird to have your account and these pages in front of me, and Google Earth as well so I've been literally hovering over Lomé, all from a garden in Surrey!