14 March 2010
It’s been ages since I posted a blog. Several events came together to inspire this profound silence. First, I had a visitor from Scotland! As you may remember from this time last year when I was hosting the lovely MagentaWings, I also dropped off the face of the internet. So it’s not out of character that TimeforTea’s presence caused a distinct lack of writing as I was able to talk his ear of as a release. He’s very worried about my blood pressure. I assured him that he heard all my vehement complaints only because I’m so used to talking to myself now that I no longer have a filter when talking to other English speakers.
TimeforTea, as is his wont, chose an absolutely ridiculous time to visit. Not only were we in the middle of hot season when there is no water, fruit or vegetables and we sweat through 90 degree (F) nights. But also – he came just in time for the Presidential elections.
I’ve been listening to BBC radio since TimeforTea’s departure; they are currently doing a series of programs about the power of the internet, includihng several profiles of interesting bloggers. It’s been a tough thing to listen to because I feel I could be a very interesting blogger, but my blog is so highly self-censored as to render it about as interesting as warm milk – a nice treat to relax with when one’s brain is tired, but certainly not inspiring and definitely won’t keep one up at night with thought-provoking dreams.
I diverted onto this train of thought as a mild explanation for why I have not and will not say much about the Togolese Presidential election on my blog. As a Peace Corps volunteer there are certain things in which I am specifically forbidden to get involved – politics is the most obvious one, closely followed by mob activity (generally more relevant in eastern European countries).
So in a warm milk type of summary that deals only with my personal perspective: in order to keep a good handle on the safety and security situation, all PCVs in Togo were told to stay in their village for the week prior to and the week following the election, this is called “Standfast”. Originally the election was scheduled for the 28th but it was moved to the 4th. Various rumors of bribery, blatant defacement of opposition party posters, and use of security services and civil servants to campaign call for some inquiry into the validity of the voting process in some peoples’ minds.
Personally, being a good a-political volunteer I was mostly worried about TimeforTea’s safety. The Friday before we went on Standfast TimeforTea and I went ot visit my friends in the nearby city. We got a late start because I had a meeting and TimeforTea had a “case of the Togos” (tummy trouble, headache, etc.) So by the time we got on the road on two motos fort he 30 minute voyage, it was already getting dark. The dirt road is so dusty that my driver was still wearing sunglasses even though the sun had already set. Worse, TimeforTea’s driver seemed to want to race the sun to our destination.
Maybe he was scared of the dark? In any case, he certainly scared me! TimeforTea knows very little French and his driver knew even less. I tried desperately to get my driver to signal the other one to slow the f__ down! As we flew over rock sand hidden gullies, around puddles and fallen branches. I was angry and ready to chew out both drivers as soon as we stopped.
Then we did. Stop, I mean, but not at our destination. We ground to a shuddering halt faced with a huge crowd of people chanting political statements and wearing identical t-shirts. Cars sporting political posters filled the dirt road so we couldn’t get past them. We turned around and took an alternative access to the paved road that we needed to reach to get to the city. We successfully got on to the road but had to ride along the edge, narrowly avoiding side mirrors and opening car doors until, once again, we were stopped. What is this? I looked up and saw a huge truck full of soldiers. No – not just soldiers – some of the biggest guns I’ve ever seen, even in movies, huge round of ammunition, and an air of foreboding.
The road was blockaded, we had to go on to a dirt path again, taking a right off the road and continuing north on what in the states we’d call a “frontage road”. In Togo’s it’s more like a bike path through the fields. TimeforTea’s moto turned and started going. The gun truck followed them, cutting off my moto. Then a second smaller all-terrain vehicle followed the truck, a soldier standing up in the back seat manning a machine gun. We followed the jeep and I briefly caught the eye of a soldier directing the trucks. His expression and double take upon seeing me, a white woman, making my way through the fracas sent a wave of bile rising into my throat. Why does he look so worried at seeing me? Where are these trucks going? Where the hell are TimeforTea and his driver?
It was an agonizing ride through underbrush, tyring to get around the trucks, ahead of them to find TimeforTea, my breath shallow and my heart beating like a birds’. We had to turn around twice after taking paths that led to someone’s house rather than a way through. The absolute darkness outside of the thin, faint stream of light from the moto’s beam filled, in my mind, with more soldiers and innocent bystanders. Visions of massacres in Rwanda and Nigeria flashed through my adrenaline-jumped brain.
Finally – we saw a moto ahead, waiting on the edge of the path. But no passenger! I swallowed my heart as I spotted yet another moto 100m further. Thank goodness. We found TimeforTea and continued on, avoiding the road and arriving safely in front of my friends’ house where I paid the drivers, sent them away and promptly burst into tears and had to be revived with a glass of Grand Marnier and a cigarette.
All of my fears and visions were thankfully unfounded. It was the most scared I have ever felt in Togo, I am glad it was all in my head. Roadblocks were up along a small stretch of the road because the President’s appearance at a political rally. The weapons we saw were not used and everything went off quite peacefully in the lead-up to the election.