© 2006 jim

If it’s Tuesday this must be Togo

This is my second attempt at posting this entry. The brain-dead WiFi service in Charles de Gaulle Airport makes you log in every five minutes and just throws away whatever you were doing up to then. I try hard not to fall into the typical American francophobia; I genuinely like the French and admire their culture. However, there is definitely a competence gap when it comes to certain things.

OK, now I’m ready to turn in my french fries for Freedom Fries. Three more attempts to post this blog entry, and everytime I hit the save button I get the Aeroports de Paris login screen…or rather, a page three pages removed from the login screen, because why be consistent?

At least there is internet here, even if it is very inconvenient and practically unusable. In Togo, there was nothing.

I was in Lome, the capital, for two days for meetings. The whole thing started inauspiciously. We (my colleague Mietek and I) had had a difficult time connecting with the local people who were supposed to set up the meeting. Once we finally connected with someone they said they would meet us at the airport Sunday night and take us to our hotel, the five star 2eme Fevrier Hotel.

The whole conversation had been a bit shaky, so we were perhaps not totally surprised to find that there was no one waiting for us at the airport. After much deliberation, we entered a car the people outside the airport swore was a taxi despite being totally devoid of any markings, taxi meters, radios, or other indication that this was something other than the car of a guy who was going to take us to a dark part of the road, slit our throats, and take our stuff.

Imagine our pleasant surprise when we actually did wind up at the 2eme Fevrier. Imagine our less-than-pleasant surprise when we were told that the reservations we had been assured had been made turned out to not exist. The hotel being full, we were not terribly happy when the manager suggested we take what he called “the apartment”. Turns out the apartment is a Las Vegas-style suite (well, a very old and dingy version of one) with two bedrooms, a very large living room and dining room, and a kitchenette. And reasonably clean to boot.

The rest of the trip went more smoothly. When we showed up at the local ECOWAS building

(ECOWAS stands for Economic Community of West African States. It’s a modest attempt to turn Senegal, Guinea-Conakry, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, Liberia, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Gambia, Sierra Leone, Togo, and Benin into the European Union. Ecowas is our client.) the participants for our two day workshop were mostly there and we were actually able to make good progress.

It looks like my next trip will be a road trip from Ghana through Burkina Faso to Niamey, Niger. Should be very interesting. Perhaps I will even survive it!

About Togo: Lome is the largest city in Togo. It reminds me of a poor backwater farming town in one of the poorer parts of the Baja Peninsula. There is a modest amount of old colonial architecture, and there are big buildings like our 2eme Fevrier Hotel that appear to be large Stalinist behemoths that were built in the 70’s and scarcely maintained since. And of course the occasional very nice mansion belonging to some high government official or other plutocat. But as we were only there for two days it was impossible to get more than a superficial view of the city.

The best description of the Togolese came from a Nigerian we met while we were there. He said the Togolese are “comfortable in their poverty”. I don’t know whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, really. The ones I saw seemed happy and friendly enough. But it will take another, longer trip to really get a better idea of Togo.