Another lonely hotel room, this time in Lome, capital of Togo. I am looking out across the endless flat expanse of the city. It is mainly trees before me, the odd corrugated roof peeping through the lush, green canopy. Here and there huge concrete office blocks spring up out of the vegetation, giant carbuncular eruptions without any intrinsic worth or value architecturally or aesthetically. One particularly foul example looks like the middle of it has been scooped out and the effect has been to create an enormous skateboard ramp! It is early evening and the sky is darkening very quickly now. A massive electrical storm is flickering in the distance, lighting up hundreds of vultures lazily flapping their way in land.
I arrived here early hours of the morning when Lome was asleep, and there was little to create any sense of anticipation at being here.
Daylight didn’t bring much promise either as I pulled back the curtain and surveyed the rather uninspiring view from the hotel room window. But it was sunny, it was Africa and people were already about their business. Then, as I left for breakfast I looked out from the other side of the hotel and wow, what hit me?! I was overlooking the Atlantic coast! Great Atlantic rollers crashing in on a wide sandy beach fringed by palm trees…what a joyous sight, and everywhere local people thronging the sands, bringing in small catches of fish, trading, or just walking and meeting and hanging out. C’est magnifique, c’est Africa!
A quick continental breakfast was followed by a few hours work. The journey yesterday was so long and tiring I had simply planned on a restful day recovering from that, but actually felt fine after a good sleep and a healthy breakfast. It was 2.
30 a.m when I eventually made it into my hotel room after leaving the hotel in Dakar at 11.30a.m. the previous day. As predicted the flight was delayed. We arrived at the airport at midday for the 3pm flight but were informed that the plane would not leave until about 8 in the evening so we checked in and returned to the hotel for lunch and to find a comfortable place to hang around until 6 ish. Lunch was good, excellent local fish and seafood and then a fun interlude watching Senegal play their World Cup qualifying match against Mali. The bar was full of men whooping and hollering in that typically histrionic, larger-than-life male African way. I couldn’t make out the words but you could tell there was lots of banter going on, just like any group of football fans anywhere in the world!
The atmosphere was highly charged but good-natured.
Senegal needed to win (which they did, convincingly) and Togo had to lose in order for Senegal to qualify for the competition in Germany next year from their group. Things were going well for our Senegalese fans until Togo, who were losing, started to come back and eventually won their game! I was with the Country Director for Togo, so she was leaping about and there was a lot of shouting and wailing from the Senegalese men…it was all really funny and they took it all in good humour! Football means so much in W. Africa and the fact Togo has reached the finals for the first time ever has just taken the place by storm.
We arrived too late but there were people out on the streets celebrating here in Lome and the whole nation is completely ecstatic at this achievement! I will be supporting England next year but intend to buy a Togo footy shirt while I am here and will be urging them on come the summer.
Right now, I need to eat. I decided to skip lunch as breakfast wasn’t terribly early and have been surviving on just water for the past 9 hours. I quite like the discipline of that. It is Ramadan at the moment and many people here are fasting during the day, not even sipping water as I have been, so I wanted to see what it was like and also feel closer to the culture here. It was interesting to see the streets explode with life at about 6.30 in Dakar as so many people started to rush home to break the fast and fill themselves up ready for the next day’s abstinence. It is so busy on the streets in the evening as stalls crowd the dusty little roads heaving with so many delicious looking food stuffs to tempt their hungry customers. The whole place buzzes in the evening.
I have been swimming every day while away on this trip. I set myself a target of 20 lengths each day in the hotel pool in Dakar, which I can proudly say I met! The pool here is much bigger so did 15 lengths this afternoon. I think that pushes things on from my Dakar performances but has also increased my hunger levels, so ravenous now and heading for the restaurant. Other thing I hate about being alone in hotels is eating alone. Eating is usually such a social thing for me, but on trips I end up scoffing the meal down very quickly and scarpering back to my room. But who knows, maybe there will be another saddo looking for some companionship over dinner?!
Well, I certainly broke the fast there! My discipline of not eating all day was not matched by restraint in ordering dinner, unfortunately! 3 courses! Lovely seafood salad to begin with, then rather unwise choice of lamb ��" I have eaten so much fish and seafood on the trip I decided to go for some red meat for a change. Too much of it, and not the tender, succulent meat I was hoping for. Still, opted for rice rather than fries, but my initial determination to send the menu away when the waitress approached with details of the puddings just melted and I found myself saying, quite involuntarily, ‘le crepe de sucre, s’il vous plait’! Delicious with a nice coffee though, both of which have got me a bit buzzy. This is not good news as I am being picked up at 6.30 in the morning to go to visit projects in the field. Few communities to see where we are working on school improvements, developing a children’s club and anti-trafficking measures via vocational schemes…last one sounds as though it will be a treat as it includes visiting some 'improved hen houses' - can’t wait to see the hen houses and I wonder what improvements there could have been?! Anyhow, hope I can get to sleep OK tonight and be up bright and early for this.