Last weekend, five friends and I took a road trip to neighboring Togo. Navigating any transportation system in a foreign country can be confusing but with the working french two of us knew, and the help of some good samaritans, we managed to get in, around, and out of Togo with little trouble. First, we took a tro-tro (min-vans which are the popular mode of transportation in Accra) to Toudou station in downtown Accra at 6am on a Sunday morning. At Toudou station, we were swarmed by several tro-tro mates each hustling to quickly fill up their tro-tro with passengers. The three hour ride to Aflao, the town at the Ghana-Togo border, was smoother than we expected and when it began raining hard about halfway through the trip we were thankful for a sane driver who knew to slow down during a storm.
We spent three nights at a hotel in Lomé that had been highly recommended to us by friends who had visited Togo the week before us. It was owned by a French family and ended up being in a touristy neighborhood with very expensive food. During the four days we spent there, we were the only people of color at the hotel (besides the Togolese waiters and housekeepers of course) and for a second I almost forgot that I was still in West Africa. I was disturbed by how even on the continent, I could be made to feel hyper-aware of my skin color in certain spaces. It was a feeling that I had not experienced since I left the U.S. for Guinea in December. What a wake-up call.
On a lighter note, everything else in Lomé felt homey and reminded me so much of Conakry. The beaches, the palm trees, the motorbikes, the food and the music—it was all familiar. On our first full day in Lomé we soaked up some sun on the 20-minute walk to the Independence Circle and then visited La Grande Marché, the biggest market in Togo. West African markets can already be a bit overwhelming but imagine asking for directions and bargaining in French. “Anyone know how to say Shea butter in French?!” Thankfully, we met a vendor who spoke a bit of English and kindly offered to help us get around.
After a late lunch, we spent the evening on Lomé Beach, conveniently situated across the street from our hotel. We sat on the beach and watched the sunset with two of the Togolese friends we made at the market. They played the drums as we sang and talked until dark.
“Anywhere you go,
New York, Chicago,
Nowhere be like Africa,
Nowhere be like home.”
We spent the rest of our time in Lomé discovering other landmarks and historic streets. One of the main takeaways from this trip and just from living in West Africa for the past semester, is that people truly are resources. If you are lost, confused, or have a question, you need to be comfortable asking and relying on people for help. Not everything can be planned or Googled but things still end up working themselves out. One just has to put faith in strangers and trust that people don’t always need something in return for their help. By the end of our journey, we were grateful for the kind strangers we met along the way and knew we couldn’t have done it alone despite all the planning and googling we had done.