IMPORTANT NOTE: This article is part of a 12-chapter series on my trip to Africa: Togo was the fifth country of twelve African nations I visited in December of 2016. It’s best to read the chapters in order, as they build on one another. To see countries number one through four, please go HERE. It’s best to read the stories/countries in order.
To go to not Togo?
I just got finished visiting three very intense countries. Senegal, Burkina Faso and Mali were a lot to handle all at once, especially for someone who’d never been to Africa. After being in the middle of intense crowds, in nations with major security concerns and unstable governments, Togo seemed like paradise!
Lomé International was the first modern and developed airport I’d been to since leaving Brasil, and I remember the relief of stepping into such a large, clean and modern restroom. I’d taken even things like toilets for granted, and over the last week really come to appreciate things like a clean bathroom with working faucets and even soap and hand dryers. This was luxury!
My guide Loïc was waiting for me outside the airport when I exited. An animated Frenchman with white scraggly hair and movements and mannerisms like a mime or street entertainer, Loïc was the first white guide I had on this trip. His broken English was sometimes a little hard to understand, but he was continuously smiling, laughing and joking around. He introduced me to his wife, Paule, and driver Rosie. He offered me a cold drink, which I accepted, and we were soon rolling down the street in his 4×4 and Land Cruiser.
I admired the highway we were on, complete with overhead lights and concrete dividers; very developed compared to the counties I had just visited. I’d spent the last week on dirt roads, so this was a welcome return to civilization. However, it wasn’t but five minutes into the drive that Rosie made an abrupt right turn, and we were back on a dirt road again.
I had no clue what our itinerary was for the day. When you have 14 countries to visit in 16 days it’s a big enough challenge just booking the airfare, hotels and tours. I pretty much told each tour guide to “show me the best the country had to offer,” and left it up to them to plan the tour. I really had no idea what I was in store for in Togo. My mind was about be blown.
It Takes a Village
The road was bumpy with giant divots and holes, with Rosie swerving and dodging every one like an expert. She’d done this before. The city soon disappeared and we were driving into nowhere. Twenty minutes later we’d arrived. Somewhere. I exited our 4×4, lathered up with sunblock and mosquito repellent, and followed after Loïc, as he skipped into a small village called Djagblé.
I’ve been giving this specific blog the most thought, because I’m really not sure how to put into words what I experienced. I’ll do my best, but hopefully the pictures and videos speak for themselves. What happened next would change my life.
For the next two hours I followed Loïc into and through three different villages. Every time we’d turn a corner, we were greeted by local villagers. Of course the people that made the biggest impression on me were the kids.
I could have never imagined the overwhelming feeling of unconditional love that I experienced during my time in the villages. These kids didn’t know me; who I was, what I wanted, why I was there…but that didn’t stop almost every one of them from loving me. Giant smiles, sheepish grins, friendly waves. A three-year-old boy grabbed my hand and proudly walked me through his village. Later, a little girl tip-toed behind me, following my every step, giggling hysterically when I’d turn around and spot her. Walking around every corner was a surprise–I never knew who’d I’d meet–so many kids who seemed so genuinely happy to see me. They didn’t ask for anything either. They just laughed, smiled, and followed me through the village, sometimes repeating the words I’d say like “hello” and “bye-bye!” They had fun repeating back my English words; not as much fun as it was for me!
I have to hand it to Loïc; he was a star. All the kids hollered, “Louie! Louie!,” when he came into view. He passed out photos to some of the villagers–photos he’d taken of them on past treks through their village. I imagined this was the only time in their lives that they had the opportunity to receive pictures of themselves. At one point Loïc opened his bag and handed some kids a new ball. You would’ve thoight they’d just received a new car; they were absolutely thrilled. Just one plain ball brought so much joy to these kids’ lives. I wished I had gone to a toy store first, I wanted to buy everyone balls. I wondered how cool it would be if I could’ve returned with some remote control cars, or even a drone or some high-tech gadget!
I gained a lot of respect for Loïc in a short amount of time. He was so well known and well revered in these villages. I’d wondered about his history here: how long he’d been coming, what was his exact “relationship” with these villages, and did he share some of his earnings from these tours with them? I had hoped that some of the money I paid for this tour was kicked back to the villages who’d provided me with such joy. Everyone in the village loved Loïc, including the chiefs. I was happy to be with him. My guides up until now were all good, but I felt I hit the jackpot with Loïc.
The three villages we toured were Djagblé, Adidomé and Ziogba. All without power. I don’t think they had running water either. These were straight up huts and dirt…the stuff you read about in elementary school in National Geographic. Loïc did an awesome job navigating though the villages on foot and I will never forget the people, their smiles and the love. What an amazing journey!
One of my favorite parts of my visit was how in awe the children were to see themselves on video, as I recorded with my iPhone. They loved seeing themselves on the screen. In fact, they were having such a good time looking in the camera lens, I finally just handed over my phone to a group of young boys. The video is priceless:
We exchanged heartfelt goodbyes as Loïc and I headed back to the truck. But it wasn’t over yet. Next, we cruised over to the local market where I’d enjoy the company of even more awesome Togolese peeps…
You gotta watch this quick clip of me and these adorable kids in the market. Wait for the girl in the background to bust a move…just wait for it…she’s awesome!!!
After the market, we headed to the river for a sunset boat cruise, the perfect end to an amazing day in Togo. Loïc had this tour-thing down! He was the man with the plan!
By the time our river cruise was over the sun had set and darkness took over Togo. One of Loïc‘s assistants cut open coconuts for us and we enjoyed fresh coconut juice on the river bank before heading back into town. But we weren’t done yet.
Sunglasses at night
On the way back into Lomé we pulled over to check out one of the many night markets taking place on the side streets. In almost total darkness, these stands were operating with nothing but lanterns. They were selling fish, fruits, veggies, candy, meat, household items…everything! It was tough to get good photos because it was so dark, but I did my best:
After the market it was back to The Hotel Onomo in Lomé to drop me off for dinner and some much needed sleep. What a day! This was by far my favorite country of the five I’d seen in Africa so far. We packed so many adventures into one afternoon, and this was by far the country in Africa where I had the most interaction with the locals. As I mentioned earlier, I simply can’t describe in words how spending time with these kids made me feel.
Never in my life had I met any stranger who was as happy to see me as these children were. It was pure, unfiltered love. It was those scenes of that one afternoon in Togo that I will look back on one day while I’m on my death bed. I’ll smile as I fondly remember the children laughing, smiling and grabbing my hand. I’ll remember all of them waving goodbye as I drove away and out of sight. And I will remind myself that my life was richer because of those children.
If you go:
Tel: (228) 90 27 52 03 / 91 12 10 00 / 96 55 28 38
This entry was posted in Africa