Posts Tagged ‘Togo’

First published by the Lafayette Journal & Courier, Lafayette, indiana, 1977



After spending four months in the arid Sahel countries where the flat, barren land seemed to exacerbate the poverty, Togo was a refreshing descent into lush, green valleys and hills.

To be surrounded again by so much greenery was as thrilling as a thunderstorm after months of drought. On my first night, the golden sun set over the verdant landscape, turning the sky a hazy pastel purple. This watercolor effect convinced me I was going to love Togo.

Togo is a miniscule Francophone country 600 kilometers long and 50-150 kilometers wide. There are about 20 ethnic groups there, but the coastal Mina and Ewe tribes dominate the political and economic spheres.

Togo is developed enough to be comfortable and still retain an African flavor without being spoiled by an excess of Europeanization.

Lomé, the coastal capital, is without a doubt the most pleasant African city I’ve yet visited. Lomé is small (150,000 people), uncongested and still boasting an abundance of sandy streets. A capital city without skyscrapers tends to be casual. Lomé’s mellow vibrations are further enhanced by a beautiful unmarred beach which separates the city from the sea. Due to a fierce undertow, it’s dangerous to swim, but owing to a powerful and steady breeze, the beach is perfect for a sweatless sunbath.

Young Togolese girls really inject the country with an air of liveliness. They played this game where they formed a circle, chanted a little rhyme, and jumped outrageously high while simultaneously kicking out one foot. There seemed to be a leader to the game, but whenever I would stop and concentrate, they either got giddy or bashful or else started showing off by exaggerating their movements. So I ceased analyzing their antics and just admired their fun in passing. If these girls were interrupted, it was because they had customers craving their delicious street delights. From the sidewalk they, and their mothers, sold corn on the cob or roasted turkey. Almost every woman sold a sweet similar to peanut brittle, minus the peanuts. Each woman has her own special recipe, so it’s never as predictable as packaged candies.

The male street vendors peddled the native artisan supplies. Their stalls contained wood carvings, bronze statues, leatherworks and lots of ivory jewelry. These sellers idled their time by playing a game called “wari.” The wooden game board looks like a 12-hole cupcake tray. The holes are filled with beans that are transferred from cup to cup. I haven’t caught on to wari yet, but it sounds as intriguing as chess, since both games require all skill and no luck.

Some of my most memorable African experiences arise out of just wandering through the streets. In Lomé, I stumbled upon a highly energetic event. While taking a stroll I heard the familiar beat of African drums. Like a bloodhound on a hot scent, I followed the audio trail to where I knew lively action would await me. I peeked into the compound wall and uttered a loud, “Wow!” Overflowing from under a gorgeous tent were about 200 people rocking to the drum’s beat.

The tent was made out of at least 100 different African cloths measuring two yards by one yard. The fabulous patches, sewn together like a giant quilt, came from some of the finest bolts of material I frequently eyed on the second floor of Lomé’s grand market. Each piece of fabric cost about $3-5, so I was impressed with the costly size of the tent.

The way these people moved was incredible for such a simplistic dance. They bend their knees, lift their elbows out sideways, and give their pelvis a violent jerk. The essence of these jerks was a rhythm and soul that came straight from the gut. It was done in unison that made the crowd’s harmony mesmerizing. The dancers formed in concentric circles and the final inner circle was where the drummers delivered their intoxicating beats.

I asked someone what this party was all about. My mouth dropped with the reply, “It’s a funeral ceremony for an old lady who died.” I responded, “Wow! What a funky funeral!” I doubt if the guy knew what the word “funky” meant, but he got the idea that it excited me. He insisted I enter.

I was rather hesitant, because I assumed Africans didn’t want any white strangers at their native ceremonies. Soon my erroneous assumptions dissipated. Everyone urged me to dance with them. So I did, but with considerably less finesse than the earthy Togolese style. They all got so excited that I imagined maybe they were making fun of me. However, I was reassured over and over of their sincere and genuine approval, indicative by their garnishing my body with native cloth.

The final dance ended in a thundering crescendo of clapping, drumming, hollering and waving of cows’ tails. The ecstasy of the funeral confirmed in my mind that Africa is probably the most vibrant continent on Earth.

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