Inside Togo

After 8 years at Inside Washington Publishers, I couldn't resist paying homage by naming this after my old publication, Inside EPA. Internet access permitting, I'll use it to provide periodic updates on my new life in Togo with the Peace Corps' girls education program. Disclaimer: The views presented here do not represent the views of the Peace Corps or the U.S. government.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

En brousse

'En brousse' is French for in the bush, a term Peace Corps volunteers use to describe posts that are remote and fairly rough in terms of amenities, but it also refers to areas filled with vegetation but not rising to the level of 'jungle.' These are some photos of what 'en brousse' looks like (at least in the greener areas of the country). The girls pictured in the last photo are walking home for lunch from school -- they basically walk on a little path in the bush in their uniforms with their books on their heads to get to and from school. (By the way, they've paused because they're watching Paola, the photographer mentioned below, at work. I'm sure they could not imagine why this random white woman was out in the middle of nowhere taking pictures of plants).

Village scenes

These are pictures of a small village in the hills surrounding Kpalime, one of Togo's bigger cities and the area that attracts the most tourists. I don't recall the name of the village, hence the pretentious 'village scenes' title of this post. But the pictures are pretty representative of what small Togolese villages look like. The leaves in the first photo are drying and will be used to make woven mats for sleeping. The thatched hut in the background is the kitchen.

Prosper and Paola

These are some photos I took while hiking with Prosper, in the first photo, who runs a hotel and guides hikes into the area surrounding his hotel to hunt for butterflies. (By the way, the giant insect on his shirt is a walking stick, which when on a plant is indistinguishable from a branch). During the peak season, you can reportedly see up to 500 kinds of butterflies, although when I went it was low season, so I saw more like 20 types. In the second photo is Paola, who went with me on the tour. She's a professional photographer and all-around character who lives in Addis Ababa but was in the middle of a photography expedition in West Africa.


This is Kpeta, a village on Mont Agou, Togo's highest mountain. I don't know much about it but thought it looked really beautiful in the rain.

Mont Klouto

These are pictures I took from the top of Mont Klouto, one of the highest mountains in Togo, located in the southwest. The first shot is of a castle that used to be a retreat for Togo's former president. The second picture is of Mont Agou, Togo's highest mountain. And the third is of Lake Volta, which is in Ghana.

Vehicle Safety

The picture is a little blurry since I took it from a moving bush taxi but you can still see that there are 4 (or is it 5?) guys hanging out of the trunk of the car in front. I didn't get a picture of the rest of it, but it was crammed to the limit with people as well. Just an example of the surreal things I see everyday here...

Parc Fazao

Parc Fazao is Togo's main national park. The officials in the park office said there is a 1 in 50 chance of seeing elephants, so with those odds I did not end up spotting any, but there was one crocodile and some beautiful scenery.


Rebecca (pictured below), who is also posted in Sokode, and I are helping the NGO I work with, ADIFF, set up a women's village-level savings and loan system in the village pictured here, called Gborode. It's perhaps less than 5 kilometers from Sokode (Togo's second-biggest city), but even in that short distance away life is completely different. The small mud-based building pictured is one of the two small school buildings the community built (although they have just started building a larger, sturdier building for the school to replace the smaller ones). Before school starts the kids have to sweep the courtyard and then the stand in a formation as school is about to begin while they raise the Togolese flag and sing the national anthem.

Ghana -- Cape Coast and Elmina

Cape Coast and Elmina are coastal cities famous for their so-called slave forts, which were originally used by various European traders to ship goods from Ghana but later used to house slaves before they were sent to the United States, South America and elsewhere. Cape Coast castle is in the first photo and the second shows the fishing boats along the coast. The last photo is of Elmina castle.

Ghana -- Nzulezo

Near Beyin, pictured below, is Nzulezo, a village that consists of houses on stilts over a lagoon (a lot like Ganvie in Benin, which is also pictured below). The experience was pretty depressing, since the village seems in decline and overly dependent on exploiting tourists, but the pirogue trip to the village through wetlands and over the lagoon was really nice.

Ghana -- Beyin

These are photos of Beyin, a beach resort not far from Cote d'Ivoire. My sister and I discovered this really cute hotel with great views and great food. While we were hanging out, we noticed these kids casting their net into the ocean to fish.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Ghana -- Kakum National Park

This is Kakum National Park, which preserves a rainforest area in southwestern Ghana. The park has a unique canopy walkway about 100 feet up from the forest floor, which is the only such walkway in Africa and apparently only one of four in the world. It's quite fun to visit if you're not afraid of heights, as the walkway sways and creaks quite a bit, and you get a unique perspective on the rainforest.

Ghana -- Kumasi

This is Kumasi, Ghana's second-biggest city, which has the or one of the biggest open-air markets in Africa. As you can see there are swarms of people and vehicles -- it was one of the most overwhelming places I've been since arriving in Africa, especially when most of Togo is not exactly bustling on this scale.

Outside of the market, the city isn't quite as busy, and has a number of pretty interesting museums about the colonial history of Kumasi and the Ashanti empire, which has its home here.

Ghana -- Lake Volta

The first photo is actually the river Volta, which has been dammed to form Lake Volta, the largest artificial lake in Africa (in the second photo). My sister and I spent a couple of days here relaxing and taking a cruise on the lake, which was more interesting because of the number of middle-class Ghanaian families out for a Sunday excursion together, than for the ride itself, which was pretty but a little boring after 6 hours.

Ghana -- Tafi-Abuipe and Tafi-Atome

Here are pictures from two neighboring villages, Tafi-Abuipe and Tafi-Atome, both of which have so-called community-based tourism projects. The first is centered on the town's kente cloth weaving industry and the second is on a monkey sanctuary.

Ghana -- Wli Falls

I just returned from a two and a half week trip to Ghana with my sister, and the first sight we went to see was Wli falls, supposedly the highest waterfall in West Africa (which is actually 2 waterfalls, upper and lower). As you can see from the picture of me, the upper falls are quite high -- and that captures only about two-thirds of their height. My sister called the upper falls the most beautiful waterfall she had ever seen.

The only drawback to seeing the upper falls is that it requires about 2 hours of hiking up a very steep mountain on a rather uncertain trail, which was especially difficult since it was the hottest and most humid time of the year. But in the end it was worth the effort.

The second picture is of the lower falls, which are much more easily accessible via a 45-minute hike on a basically flat path.

Monday, March 31, 2008

The Eagle and the Cobra

The lovely shirt I am wearing is legendary in Peace Corps Togo after it was taken from the back of our safety and security director, Stephen (pictured with me), during an auction held 3 years ago to benefit a girls' scholarship program run by PCVs. I was co-director of the program last year -- having recently handed over the reins at an all-volunteer conference held in mid-March -- and one of my last duties was to participate in this year's auction, where the shirt was again offered. When I won the shirt last year (I bid on it with a coalition of volunteers; I paid about 10 dollars for the privilege of wearing it and it went for a total of over 100 dollars), the PCV auctioning it repeatedly yelled that the shirt pictured a "f***ing eagle eating a f***ing cobra." Well, after that auction I never saw the shirt, but it reappeared at the all-volunteer conference, so I wore it during the entire conference including the night of the auction, where I helped it sell for over 200 dollars this time around by repeating the "f***ing eagle and f***ing" cobra bit (at top volume). A funny aside is that during one day of the conference we held some discussions about PC policy and I led the discussion on our dress code while wearing this shirt (with a completely clashing skirt, tho I'm not sure what would go with this shirt, which, by the way, is made by Sean John).

The other photos are of my friend Tami auctioning off her cleaning services -- note the rubber gloves -- and my friend Joelle, who was one of two volunteers who served as auctioneer. Here she's auctioning a solar shower that ended up going for over 40 dollars. The event is really fun and in total we raised over 1 million CFA (more than 2000 dollars) for the scholarship program.

Joelle in particular was really funny, tho I will still claim bragging rights for helping convince people to pay over 200 dollars for Stephen's shirt -- the highest-priced item by far (the next highest was dinner at the country director's house, for about 150 dollars. She's to Joelle's left, by the way, in the green).

A Togolese Wedding

This week I attended my first Togolese wedding. It was a 2-day event but I was only able to attend the first part of it, since I had to leave town during the second day's festivities. The first day's event consisted of a large group of women walking together to meet the bride and greet her and then a smaller group of women, consisting of the groom's close friends and colleagues, heading to a local "buvette" (sort of like a bar but where you can also buy soda, and in my Muslim town it's mostly the latter) to have a soda and hang out with the groom. The groom is Francais, an employee of the NGO I work with, ADIFF. He's the man in the background of the first photo, sitting next to the guy in the maroon outfit. One of the traditions here is apparently that all of the marrying couple's close friends buy the same fabric and get outfits made out of it -- tho fortunately I found out too late about this custom and was spared having to get the dreaded wedding outfit you never wear again (It's very bright green!). Instead I had an outfit made known as a "complet," a matching skirt and top made out of the same fabric, which is traditional everyday and dressy clothing here. Mine ended up a little big -- despite pressing the tailor to make it more form-fitting, it still ended up a touch baggy -- but it turned out better than I hoped. You can see it in the picture below, which includes my sitemate Rebecca (an information technology volunteer also posted in Sokode), who did get the traditional wedding outfit made...

The Worst Bush Taxi Ever

This has to be about the most beat-up looking bush taxi I've ever seen, which is saying a lot since these cars are never in very good condition. Fortunately I only had to be in the car for about 45 minutes, since it was pretty scary from a safety perspective and also had some (not surprisingly) serious mechanical problems as evidenced by the fact that extremely strong gas fumes filtered in through the windows throughout the ride. The ride was also amusing because the driver not only had to hotwire the car to get it started (in addition to popping the clutch and getting it pushed, none of which are that unusual here), but had to perform some sort of hotwiring maneuver every time he shifted gears.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

More on Transportation

I've probably told some of you about the "nice bus" that runs from my town to the capital of Lome twice a week, which I now schedule my trips to Lome around so I can avoid bush taxis. But even the bus has a Togolese twist, which on my trip this morning included a caged pig in the luggage hold. Which they put my bag on top of -- I'm sure my clothes benefited from 6 hours in a baking compartment along with pig fumes. Here's a picture of the bus station and the pig.

My Carrot Lady

Actually this is more a photo of her kid, who still seems to be afraid of white people even though I have been buying carrots, green peppers, green beans and the like from his mom for almost a year. He seemed to get used to me for awhile but the last couple of times I went to the market, he was scared again, especially after I took his photo (I don't think he'd seen a camera before). There's a twice weekly market near my house (in addition to the larger one downtown, which runs every day) and I always go to this woman to get what are the most nutritious vegetables available in my town -- carrots, peppers, green beans and beets, along with lettuce. For some reason these items are always sold together. So there are women who sell onions or tomatoes, or both, but not tomatoes and carrots. The carrots always go with the beets, peppers and green beans. In any event, it's always fun to head over to her little area -- she's always in the same spot, next to her friend, who sells me tomato paste and pasta, another grouping of items that always go together -- to see whether her son is going to wave hello to me or run away in fear...

The Moba Caves

A few weeks ago I went with some friends to Togo's northernmost regional capital, Dapaong, in part to see a nearby touristy site known as the Moba caves (named after the tribe that built them). They're built into the side of a cliff and were used by the Moba people in the 19th century to avoid attacks and raids by another tribe. There's a view of the caves, a view from the mountaintop right above them and a shot of my friend Helen (who is posted in Dapaong) emerging victorious after climbing the somewhat scary ladder that allows access to the site.