My daughter and I boarded our Air France flight out of Toronto at 5:20pm. By 7:40pm our bellies were pleasantly full from a duck dinner and we were each enjoying a complimentary half bottle of Mumm champagne. No, we did not fly first class. Those were the good old days when flying was a pleasure. I haven’t flown Air France since this trip so I don’t know what the service is like now. Back then it was great.
We arrived at Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris at 6:30am, very tired and with a long wait ahead of us. Our flight to Togo wasn’t until 1:10pm. We had one stopover in Ouagadougou, Burkino Faso and arrived in Lome, the capital of Togo, at 8:00pm.
We debarked into a sea of black faces and I could tell that if you were important things got done more quickly for you. After checking our passports we were let into the baggage area. Monica was waiting for us in a glassed-off area above the baggage area. It was a bit unnerving to realize that Monica was unable to be in the baggage area to help us. Out of the blue a distinguished looking man in African garb asked if we were from Rochester, New York. I was quite taken aback. He told us he had met Monica outside the airport. He was from Ithaca, New York, a city about two hours from where we lived. He was then able to arrange for Monica to come into the baggage area.
French is the major language of Togo and, having been there for 18 months, Monica was quite fluent. This was definitely a plus as she was able to get us through customs quickly by schmoozing the customs officer. It is a common practice throughout Africa to offer a gift as a token of appreciation, I suppose similar to our practice of tipping. When the customs officer asked for his cadeau (gift) Monica told him that happiness and good fortune were her gift for him in the New Year.
Our first two days and nights were spent at the American Rec Center, a compound that is utilized by the Peace Corps for training and respite. The compound includes an Olympic-sized swimming pool which we took advantage of as soon as we arrived. By African standards the Rec Center is quite luxurious. Besides having a pool, the building is air conditioned, has bathrooms with hot and cold running water and has its own cook.
After being up for 24 hours Heidi and I slept well that first night. The next morning, having one day to explore the city of Lome, we headed for the market place. While there Heidi and I decided to get our hair lengthened. Monica’s was already lengthened. This turned out to be a long and tortuous process. First you pick out the type and color of hair that you want. Next the strands of artificial hair are braided into your hair. For it to look “natural” only a few strands are included in each braid. At times Heidi and I had 4 girls working on our heads and the whole procedure took about 4 hours. That night we had very sore heads. All the tiny braids made it difficult to sleep. Although painful, it was fun and very interesting watching the people in the market place watching the crazy white women getting their hair lengthened.
The next day was New Year’s Eve and we set out for Monica’s post. Monica wanted us to get to her village by New Year’s day. The celebration for New Year’s is even bigger than for Christmas. Monica wrote me in a pre-trip planning letter that, “The food is really good, there’s lots to see and you’d get a really good taste of the culture that you don’t get on just an ordinary day.”
To be continued.
If you missed Part 1 of my adventure you can find it here.