20 July 2009
A woman’s voice crackled over the loudspeaker, informing the airport that the flight from Paris to Lomé will be delayed, but will board as soon as possible. Immediately people began to line up. I use the word “line” very loosely. This “line” was about four people wide, very few of the people in it had any respect for placement within the line, and half of the people were sitting in nearby chairs, but became very disgruntled if one tried to move beyond them to the seemingly empty spot in line. When I found a place, and began to listen to my ipod and calm down from the crash and clatter of the airport, the man to my side started shuffling around, bumping into my book several times and knocking over my bag once. Without acknowledging or apologizing for stepping on my personal space. I admit I grew rather indignant until I remembered that personal space is an American thing. Got to let it go for another year.
The surging crowd around the baggage claim at itsy-bitsy Lomé airport far exceeded any roiling ridiculous mob I’d witnessed at the huge Los Angeles international. Luckily, I only had two bags, and both showed up! (Miracle of miracles) I headed toward the exit, only to join a new “line” to put my bags through the scanner before exiting. Now, this could be overly cynical or possibly unobservant of me, but I didn’t see anyone actually watching the monitor for the x-ray machine. The conveyor belt was working, but I can’t help but wonder if they only stopped me because I’m obviously not local. So they stopped me, I approached the man at my bag and he asked me what was inside without opening it. I told him “ a few gifts and candy for my friends in village.”
He said, “Do you have a gift for me?”
“Um, I could give you some candy?”
“No, no a cadeau (gift)” and rubbed his fingers together in the universal sign for money.
“I’m a Peace Corps volunteer, I don’t have much money.”
“Alright then, we’ll open the bag.”
Perhaps I should have looked up the rules but I assumed I would be able to bring some packets of oatmeal and spices in for personal use. A woman approached, pointed meaningfully at her ‘Phyto-biologist” badge and told me I wasn’t allowed to bring that into the country without papers.”
“No one told me that! “ I protested, as salt water began accumulating in my eyes.
She gave me a LOOK, then turned around and walked away, leaving me with the man. I sheepishly asked, “If I give you a cadeau, can I just go?”
He shrugged, which I took to be affirmative, so I offered him a crisp 1 mille bill (the crisper, the better – I’ve had people reuse money that was too dirty) and then I packed up the bag again and headed out to do battle with the taxi drivers.
1 mille – what’s that? about 2 dollars? a.k.a. 1/3 of my daily salary. But it let me get out without hassle. I weighed up my conflicting emotions, - relief to get out, frustration at being forced to bribe someone – and then I remembered all the other bribes I’ve had to pay here.
Guess I’m not in America anymore, Toto.
Friday afternoon I quickly repacked my bags so I would only take 2 small bags with me, leaving the two monstrosities at the Peace Corps bureau. I had to get up to the training site and then back to my village, so I wanted to be pretty light on my feet. My friend I and I took a taxi over to the stand for shared taxis at Dekon. As we pulled up, our driver identified a driver going to Tsevie and pulled up next to him to facilitate our transfer from one to the next. The Tsevie driver picked up my backpack and started toward his car, when all of a sudden, a third driver snatched my other bag and started running away with it. I quickly glared at both drivers deciding whom to chase – the third driver earned my wrath and I charged after him, grabbed hold of a strap and started tugging and yelling in an incomprehensible melange of English and French. I recovered the bag, after covering nearly half a block, and then walked back, bristling with adrenaline and anger. I reached the originally chosen Tsevie car and the manager of the taxi stand reassured me saying, “He just wanted you to go in his car”
“Will, stealing my bag and running away with it is not a good way to get my business!”
Only in Togo does someone steal your bag in order to convince you to buy something from him. I mean, really!!