...back to places Introduction
December 18 2003
Lomé, city of sharks
Lomé Lomé Lomé, what can I say about
you? I recently spent three days in Lomé, mostly on my own.
This gave me an opportunity get better gather an understanding of
Lomé is the capital city of Togo, and is located on its coast.
Lomé has about 2 million inhabitants, if you believe the
official statistics. I don't know how they would ever do a census
here, as people don't even have addresses. Many streets don't even
have names. For the small mud hut villages this does not alarm me,
but Lomé is a bustling city! The first thing you notice about
Lomé is that it is DIRTY. The little scooters everywhere
burn their gasoline in an incredibly dirty manner, you can see clouds
of blue trailing behind every vehicle. Then, you notice that there
is garbage everywhere on the street. There is no garbage collection
system, so people just throw their garbage on the ground. Often
in the middle of a road you can see people burning large piles of
garbage. These piles are everywhere. One time I saw a few cows eating
out of a garbage pile… that kind of made me lose my appetite for
To operate in Lomé, you have to know how to catch a taxi
or moto-taxi. The taxis are EVERYWHERE. I venture to say more than
half the vehicles on the road are Taxis. There is no meter, so you
have to agree on a price before hand. Prices range from $0.25 to
$1.50 depending on where you’re going. However, these guys are real
swindlers, they won’t hesitate to give you a price that inflated
x3 because you're Yovo. However, Amedjie tells me they try to take
him for a loop too. Then, if you make a mistake on the directions,
they will try to add some ridiculous amount of money on the price
for making a mistake (however, to put things in perspective, by
ridiculous I mean 50 cents, but keep in mind I can buy 4 coconuts
for that price!) Anyway, once a disagreement begins with a taxi
driver, they will usually start into some "poor me" story,
and tell me that the price they are giving me is for real, that
they could never lie to a friend like me, that if I tried to ask
for lower price God would be my judge etc. etc. After hearing this
same tirade from many different "friends"(BIG quotation
marks) the routine starts to get a little old, and my sympathy goes
out the door.
Fortunately in Lomé, you don't REALLY have to know where
you're going, or even have any idea as to what the layout of the
city is (I hear rumours that a map exists somewhere...), because
you can usually just say the name of the place you want to go, and
they will take you there. The problems arrive when you tell the
driver a destination; you ask them if they know where it is, they
nod their head in agreement, then 2 minutes into the trip they ask
where you’re going.
Then the confusion begins again, as does the price haggling, at
which point you have to insist that you are not paying anymore than
the agreed upon price, even though we drove around in circles for
a while, and that in fact I should pay LESS, because the driver
didn't know what he was doing.
Anyway, there is a series of stores called RAMCO that is the closest
thing you can find to a Canadian-American electronics or grocery
store. I found the RAMCO supermarket and was in awe at all the familiar
products I saw! Jell-O, cereal, cookies, marshmallows, Snickers,
Mars bars, Kool Aid, toasters, shish kabob skewers, crackers, bottled
spices, taco shells and so on.
Then I saw the prices... And my jaw dropped. Here's a sample from
what you can expect to pay for american/Europeen goods at RAMCO;
Sugar Crisp - $15
2 slice toaster - $75-$100
538 g of koolaid powder - $12
18 taco shells - $17
You get the idea, it's kind of ridiculous. I splurged and got a
few items though, just to treat myself for Christmas. (Ha, treat
myself to marshmallows and taco shells, go figure).
I had bought a major item there as a gift for somebody, and I later
decided that it wasn't very prudent because it was too expensive.
So, like any Canadian would, I brought it back. The owner asked
me "why", I said because I don't want it, and he simply
said, "It’s impossible to return".
So, I was perusing some of the stores looking for computer parts
to buy for Vivre Mieux. I wandered for quite a while, and visited
a few stores. Every time I entered a computer store, I asked to
see a list of prices.
Not a single store had a list of prices.
I would write down on a piece of paper what I wanted, they would
go into the back, and come back with prices for each component,
if they know at all. I would also ask what they had for complete
systems, at which point they would ask me what I wanted, and we
go through the entire process again.
It takes about an hour to just find out the price for a computer.
Comparative shopping just isn't a reality.
Eventually, I wandered and wandered and suddenly found myself in
a place without paved roads, with no vehicles, and LOTS of people.
I had accidentally stumbled into the middle of the "Grand Marché",
the "Grand Market", and I didn't know how I got there,
or how to get out! The place was literally packed shoulder to shoulder
with people, with vendors all over the sides of the road.
I just had to laugh at my little predicament.
In some places there would be trucks that were parked in the middle
of the road to drop off shipments. On either side of the truck,
there would be enough space for a column of people 1 person wide
to pass by. What you have hundreds of people trying to go both directions;
this just doesn't work so well. At one truck, I was waiting to try
and get through, and the line was jammed because people going in
opposite directions had met in the middle of the column, and neither
was willing to back up. The two women at the centre of it, carrying
many things on their heads started yelling at each other, and then
one shoved the other very forcefully! What REALLY astonished me
was that nothing fell off her head!
At this point I decided it was better to try the OTHER side of
Somewhere in the middle of the marché, I found lady selling
little Christmas trees, lights, and tree ornaments! I couldn't believe
my eyes. I’m in the heart of this crazy marked, with what seems
like no way out, and here is this Christmas lady! At Hotel Agbeviade,
Amedjie somehow manages to keep a Fir tree alive, which is kind
of Christmas tree like, so I bought some little red ball ornaments
to decorate it.
I saw off in the distance some tall building. I fixed my eyes on
it, and just kept walking in that direction, which got me close
enough to the edge of the market to escape its clutches.
Later on I ran into an Art vendor. I told him I was Canadian, and
he said he loves Canada (which by the way, ALL art vendors love
Canada, I'll leave you to connect the dots), and knew somebody from
Alberta. Finding somebody who knew about Alberta seemed rather unique
to me, so I chatted with him a while, and somehow got into the process
of bartering for another, smaller Djimbe. I had absolutely NO intention
of buying a Djimbe, so I don't know how I got into this process.
I threw out what I thought was an absurdly low price of $25 for
it, when he came back with $45. I insisted, I did not at all want
this Djimbe. So, he came down to $40 (because you're Canadian)...
I don't want it... $42 (because you don't have much money) ... No
really, I don't want it, I have one already... $40 (because we're
friends)... Please, I have to go... $35 (because I can see you know
how to play)... It's getting dark, I have to get home... $30 (because
we have to eat) ... Listen, I really really don't want the Djimbe...
$25 (because you entered the bartering process at this price, and
you can't back off once you start bartering... And because we really
really have to eat)... Now I was stuck, I HAD to pay.
So now I have TWO Djimbes. Jeepers, what a whirlwind.
After that he insisted on trying to help me find a taxi. Before
we got to the road, he insisted that we stop to share a beer. I
refused... Many times. Then, just before we got to the taxi spot,
he said he wanted to show me something... Two little statues that
would bring me good luck, worth $150, and because he was my friend
he would give them to me for $75.
"I don't want them"
Here we go again. Down and down the price went, until he asked
my how much I would pay for them. "$5" I said. He took
it down to $15, I refused, and FINALLY it was over. Then he helped
me find a taxi, and insisted that I give him money for a beer for
the help, so I flipped him a buck and drove off.
Then I went to the Ghanaian embassy to buy a VISA to visit Ghana
for the holidays. When I got inside, I signed in, and the guy there
asked me if I had my four visa photos. I didn't, so he sent me to
"photo club" to get my pictures. He said to tell them
that "Papa Janot" sent me. When I got back, Papa Janot
asked me if I went there, and asked to see the photos. I was about
to pull them out of the bag, but all he wanted to see was the bag
to make sure I got them from photo club. When he saw that I did,
he was very pleased. He then insisted that he was my African Father,
Papa Janot. "Um, sure, you're my African father".
In I went to the embassy.
It normally takes 3 days to get a VISA. I was at my last day in
Lomé at this point, and REALLY didn't want to come back.
The man there said that if I fill my forms quickly, it could be
done that day. So, I filled my forms quickly, during which time
I left, and I brought my papers to another lady. She asked when
I wanted the visa for; I said the man had told me it was possible
to get my Visa today. She said "that depends on you."
Huh? What the heck does that mean? "Well... When can it be
ready by?" I asked, "That depends on you...” Crazy lady
was speaking gibberish... "I don't understand" I said,
thinking that maybe I just wasn’t grasping her weird Ghanaian English
accent. "Well, if you want it in three days then..." she
said, "I though you said it could be done today?!"."That
depends on you."
"Ooooooooooh, I see what's going on here." And here I
was under the apparently false pretence that embassies were the
one place where we could find a little bit of integrity...
On the way out Papa Janot asked me for "A gift for your African
Papa", so I flipped him a quarter.
As I was walking away from the embassy, a herd of goats came running
down the street, jumped off a small hill to go around a corner,
then continued merrily along. This, by the way, is not unusual.
After these Lomé days of bustle and hassle, I had lost a
significant amount of faith in humanity and was ready to say to
heck with the Togolese, I’m ready to go back to Canada. I returned
home, and recounted all my stories to Amedjie and Christine. They
got a good barrel of laughs out of all my misfortunes. "Lomé
is a city of sharks, they don't swim on the water, they walk on
the pavement. If you look to the side for a second, they'll take
you!” Amedjie said as he continued to laugh. Amedjie then said something
that quickly snapped my depressed perspective into something a bit
"I glad you experienced all that in Lomé"
"Yes, if you didn't, then you wouldn't have as many good stories
to bring back to Canada to make them all laugh! That's what you
have to experience if you want to experience Togo!"
Amedjie's words are the motivation for this journal entry.
Enjoy, and Keep Smilin ;P
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