20 September 2009

Voyage-ing in Togo

18 September 2009

Well, I will call the moto guy, just as soon as I figure out how to get my bag out from under the goat on the roof.

--From a text I sent a few days ago

On my way from Sokode to Atakpame this week, I fell victim to the ridiculous hilarity which always ensues in countries with one paved road and lots of bridges. A bridge approximately the length of my prone body has broken to bits due the the river rising, etc.
So cars, taxis, bush taxis, 14-wheelers, semis, fuel trucks... are all diverted onto a little barely-two-lane dirt road. Very scenic. If by scene you mean an unchanging vista of semi-trucks lined up on the side of the road waiting for nightfall when they can pass because passenger vehicles (thankfully) generally get ot go first. We lurch along the road for a while, admiring the view of course. Stops and starts are common, so I wasn't too alarmed by our pause until the driver told us to get out and walk.
We were 8 km from the diversion off the Route Nationale and a good 10 km to the nearest town. It was at this point that I realized I really should have filled my water bottle before leaving. We trudged over the torn-up road, a couple of women laughing and saying things like “Look, we are the same, white and black both have to walk.” I responded cheerily with some egalitarian sweet nothings and reached to hold a little kid's hand.
Awww... until the kid screamed at discovering the white girl was holding his hand. Oh well. Our little journey took us in sight of the problem: a truck fallen over blocking half the road. A couple men were unpacking the truck in a very orderly way – workers or free-loaders, I have no idea.
A few cars got past the truck and I ran back to our taxi just in time to swing in and ride around the obstacle. You know how on a good rollercoaster there's always this huge seemingly insurmountable ascent where your neck starts to hurt from holding your head up and then a scary but very short teaser descent that leads into a nice little lull and then you turn a corner and are plummeted 30 yards straight down?
That was how my stomach felt when we rounded the fallen truck and saw the real problem – a huge truck loaded with wood fallen to the right, a second truck loaded with ignames fallen to the left with no room through the middle and muddy impassable guck on both sides.
Hmm. This is gonna take a while. So I dialed my Karren Waid girls' scholarship coordinators... and nothing. I had absolutely no reception, no food, no water, and no chance of getting out of there in less than three hours. It was almost noon, the hottest part of the day. I was no longer very cheery. I stomped back to the taxi, looking for a moto and my bags. Every moto I saw was occupied – smarter, more savvy travelers than myself, and my bag was nowhere to be found. I heard a bleating from the roof and looked up in dismay. My bag must have been sandwiched between the huge bags of charcoal and the goat on the roof. With my chaffeur and his assistant being good citizens off helping to direct traffic and clear the road, there would be no chance of a quick getaway by moto.
So I resigned myself to my fate and decided to go watch the fun. It was like a circus: a soldier/engineer as the master of ceremonies, the endless stream of ignames falling out of the truck like a bevy of clowns, the shouting, gesticulating truck drivers jockeying for position like dancing bears, and of course the elegant gymnastics of the hunt for escaped chickens. Finally the strongman made his appearance: a huge tractor to push the trucks out of the way. And we escaped.
I missed my meeting, but I learned an important lesson in humiliation by being defeated by a goat.

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