Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Obama Village: Not a Village

This Saturday, I biked about 30k north of Lomé to a sign I'd noticed pointing off the national highway to Obama Village. I've been wanting to go since March, to add to my photo collection of Obama things. I figured I'd find the village chief, ask him why they changed the name, what was the village called before, maybe have some local brew, and then head out again. I even bought bread, a standard gift, to present to him.

I arrived around 7:30 and pushed my bike down the path in the direction indicated, after taking the obligatory photo.

The first man I met couldn't tell me anything. The second one said there was no village, just farms. I asked if one was called Obama Village and he said something about one big farm, well, not that big, but...

The path to Obama Village.

Now, rather than imagining an interview with the village chief, I imagined talking to a farmer who'd named his farm Obama Village (and put the sign on the roadside). I followed the path past smaller turn-offs and one or two shuttered mud buildings. When the path ended in a cornfield, I turned around and followed the sound of voices. I found a hut, where I greeted a young woman and asked about Obama Village.

"It's that way," she said, pointing, "hold on."

She led me, still pushing my bike, down a path, two younger girls following us. They chattered behind us in Ewe*, and their conversation went something like this:

"Ewe ewe ewe ewe Obama Village. Ewe ewe ewe Obama Village ewe."

We passed a cluster of huts and picked up a man of about 20. I was disappointed that this hut cluster was not Obama Village. We continued, passing a woman in a field ("Obama Village!") and another attacking a young teak tree with her machete ("Ewe ewe Obama Village!"). We turned left and then right off the path, at which point I started wondering where they were leading me.

Fifty meters off the path, we came to a palm frond shelter where the young man, Yao, suggested I leave my bike, since the path was nonexistent. I did, and we continued another fifty meters to Obama Village.

That's it.

I asked who built it.

"The owner of this land."

"Does he live here?"

"No. He is in America."

"And the mason?"


We walked back, and when we arrived at my guide's home, I gave her the bread I'd bought for the chief of Obama Village.

"Thank you very much, Afi. You are the chief of Obama Village."

Yawa, Afi, my guide, Amelevie and Yao

I found out later from a Peace Corps employee that people are buying cheap land right now with the idea of building on it later. So in 10 years, maybe there will be an actual village to visit.

*Ewe is a local language spoken in southern Togo, Ghana and Benin. It's also an ethnicity. It's pronounced "eh-vay" and not like a female sheep.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Vacation photos

All the vacation photos can now be seen on Facebook, right here.

I also updated the last post on Obama after visiting an Obama barbershop in my neighborhood yesterday.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Obama in Ghana (and everywhere else)

President Obama arrives in Accra today, so it seems like an appropriate time to post my Obama photo collection. Since his election, I've noticed various businesses have adopted the name "Obama", so I started taking pictures. Here's what I have so far...

A building in Kodjoviakope, Lomé - I'm not sure if it's a hotel or just apartments. They completed construction since I've been here. In case you can't see the "Obama" here's a close up:

Cafeteria Obama in Dapaong

Obama hairdresser, also in Dapaong

A taxi driver in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso loves Obama, but forgot to spell check.

A sign in the Kokomlemle neighborhood of Accra, Ghana, advertises the Obama Inn, bar and restaurant.

Elom the barber and his barbershop in the Tokoin-Gbonvie neighborhood of Lomé.

Mr. Elom said he changed his barbershop's name eight or nine months ago. Before "Obama", he said he just wrote his own name. Why did he change it?

"Because I love him! I love him too much!"

A sign off the national highway points to Obama village, which is not a village.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Two More Cents on MJ

Because I can only assume that the American media isn't bombarding you with nothing but news on Michael Jackson's death, I just have to add more news from Togo. Actually, I only have this photo* I took of a business in Kodjoviakope, a neighborhood in Lomé

and this link to an article about Faure Gnassingbe's (Togo's president) statement about Michael Jackson's death. For the non-francophones, he's basically saying that MJ was an exceptional singer and dancer who "dug a canal" (my poor, literal translation) between black and white music.

"I've always been one of his fans. What was extraordinary about him was his ability to create bridges between black music, soul, funk and disco, and white music like pop and rock."

Thanks, Faure. And thanks to Melissa for the link.

*The store was closed because it was Sunday, not for mourning.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Back to Work

Vacation is over, Monday was my first day back at work and I have five weeks of work left and about six of Togo - not that I'm counting. Actually I'm really trying not to count, because then I have to think about paperwork and other things I'd rather ignore.

The parking lot at the Burkina-Niger border, where Amanda and I slept on Night One of vacation. See those guys sitting on a rock by the telephone pole? That's about where we put down our mat.

Male giraffes fighting in Koure, outside Niamey. Love that head-butt move.

Our trip was... well, until we arrived at Green Turtle, our last stop, it wasn't very relaxing. We were in a bus almost every day after leaving Niamey, and the one day we didn't have to catch a bus, I was sick and stayed in bed. This was the day we spend in Mole (pronounced Molay) National Park in northern Ghana. We spent the night before in the Peace Corps sub-office in Tamale, and when we left for the bus station to go to Mole, I realized I felt rotten. The ticket vendors told us to arrive at 1:30 for a 3 o'clock departure. We left around 4:30 and spent those three pre-departure hours waiting at the bus station, which doubled as a market. The ride to Mole included two hours on a paved road and then three special hours bumping along on a dirt road, with the latter part of the ride through the dark, African night. This while running a fever and having to pee. I advise travelers to Ghana to take the less frequent, more expensive STC busses when possible. MMT, the bus line we took to Mole and then Kumasi, is basically just a big bush taxi.

Peter and Amanda P. waiting in the Tamale bus station... hour three.

So I didn't go on a guided walking tour the next morning, but I saw elephants, wart hogs and water buck anyway. The lodge in Mole sits on a plateau that overlooks the park, and I saw two elephants at the watering hole. The water buck came out at dusk. The wart hogs like to hang around the lodge, and one elephant wandered up to say hi around lunch time. The roundtrip bus ride to the park was not worth my time in bed there, but the day off got me back in shape for more bus riding. If you're healthy and have more than a day (or a private vehicle), I would recommend Mole. Breakfast is included with the price of the room. That's always exciting, unless the breakfast is no good (my eggs, toast and tea were delicious, especially since I'd eaten next to nothing the day before).

After Mole, we trekked south to Kumasi, home of the largest market in West Africa. Half of our group wanted to spend a full day there, but Amanda and I woke up at 2:20 the next morning to catch the 4 a.m. bus to Takoradi so we could spend more time on the beach. This bus, an STC, was nicer than Greyhounds I've ridden in the States and was so air conditioned I had to thaw out when we arrived in Takoradi. From Takordi, we took tro-tros (Ghanaian bush taxis) to Green Turtle, where we properly relaxed by doing nothing for four days. The ocean was rougher than any other time I've been there, and after my first swim, I decided not to venture out beyond the breakers again (mainly because once I got out there, the only way to get back in was to let the waves do the work, and they treated me like a rag doll). From then on, "swimming" meant standing in the water, getting knocked over by the waves and then getting back up.

A mid-morning walk on the beach with Peter, Amanda P. and Amanda H.

The intrepid bus riders after dinner at Green Turtle.

From Green Turtle, I went to Accra to meet my friend John. Every time I visit Ghana's capital, I'm amazed by how it surpasses Togo. There's a mall! With a movie theater! And a food court! They have fast food establishments and internet businesses - not cafés, Busy Internet on Ring Road is too big to be a mere café - with internet that loads web pages before you age a year. There's also bumper-to-bumper traffic, pot-holed roads and shanty town poverty - it just comes with middle-class entertainment.

We got back to Togo on Thursday, and it's been raining almost non-stop since. That's good for temperatures and farmers but bad for tourism and malaria (and eventually it's bad for the farmers). When I say tourism, I mean it's difficult to show your visitor around town when the roads are full of lakes and mud. And when I say malaria, I mean more rain equals more mosquitoes equals more malaria. I leave you with this Togo Travel Tip: when visiting sub-Saharan Africa, always bring your malaria prophylaxis, especially if you don't plan on staying in air-conditioning all the time (even then). Yovos.

PS - I've been instructed to update more regularly, which I will try to do in my last howevermany weeks. If all the updates start annoying you, send me an email and I'll un-enroll (or whatever) you from the auto-update list. Also, there will be more photos.