Today is day 10 of my adventure in Togo. I leave tomorrow evening, and to be honest, I’m having a hard time coming to grips with how I feel about this place. This trip has been difficult for a number of reasons (my eternally lost bag, my first time in a really underdeveloped country, the struggle to regain my French comprehension, my whiny and often unpleasant traveling companion), but it’s a trip I’m glad I’ve taken. If it weren’t for my research project, I doubt I ever would have come to Togo, of all the places in the world. (And it seems like most people that do come here have some other connection to the place, be it family or something like the Peace Corps…very few tourists seem to end up here of their own accord.)
How to describe Togo? It is beautiful but decaying, colorful but very poor. The buildings were once grand, though most (all?) of them are badly maintained and crumbling, looking like the dystopian predictions of a 1970s sci-fi film. The landscape is lush and green, but scarred by potholed roads and piles of garbage. The whole country is filthy and old, but also warm and welcoming. It is shocking, a full assault on the senses—and not always a pleasant one—but it is also the gentle embrace of friendly people, eager to welcome you to their country and into their homes. It is probably not so different than many other West African countries, though also with a character completely its own, one mostly unmarred by the many tracks of tourists’ feet. Togo is smog and traffic and noise and sweat and dust and heat and music and dance and wax-printed cloth and children chanting “Yovo! Yovo! Bonsoir!”
It was not easy to become accustomed to living here, even for just ten days. Getting around can be a challenge; though Lome is not that big, it seems like most taxi drivers are less than familiar about where to find things (at least, the places that we were looking for). As it turns out, I do not like fufu. We drag ourselves home at the end of each day, exhausted and absolutely filthy with sweat and dust, and me longing for a clean change of clothes (preferably that belonged to me). Once I got over hoping that my bag would ever arrive, it got easier. We learned how to find our hotel. We ate at some good restaurants around town (which were usually empty, seeing as there are basically no tourists in this country). We also got some good work done, and had some really productive interviews with some very helpful people. It got easier.
And now its over. Will I ever come back to Togo? Probably not, not without some particular reason. But now I can say that I got off the beaten track, I ventured into the unknown, and I did it all with little besides my computer, a notebook, my guidebook, and a friend who lent me a change of clothes. It’s not really that great of an accomplishment, but it’s mine, and I feel pretty good about it.
I hope that the research we have done leads to some improvement for Togo. I hope the U.S. Government does something good for a change—contributes to a canal-building project or sends some aid to these people who live underwater for six months at a time. I hope I have contributed to something good.
In the meantime, I know that if I ever return, I might still have some friends here who would welcome me with a smile and a plate of (ugh) fufu.