Yesterday afternoon, after completing my data collection in Lomé, I found myself with a few free hours before my late evening flight back to Paris. So, what did I do? I went to see a local shaman of course! Togo’s capital is not big on tourist attractions but the Fetish Market (Marché des Féticheurs) is perhaps the only must see. It’s not a market selling risqué goods or the things you might find in Amsterdam’s red light district, but rather a hodgepodge of various animal carcasses bought as natural remedies and used in medicines for the believers. Although small, the market is renowned throughout West Africa and it’s certainly a strange site to witness. There are stalls selling all sorts of dead animals from small chameleons and monkey heads to crocodile jaws and hippopotamus skulls. I can vouch that they are real simply from the stench of the still rotting flesh on many of them. After being shown around these macabre displays I was then taken inside from the baking heat to a small room at the back of a shed where a man sat in front of a myriad of voodoo paraphernalia. He then tolled a small bell and starting rubbing some white powder on his hands before shaking shells between his palms and rolling them like dice before me. I then proceeded to listen to all sorts of stories about luck, fortune, good health, virility, love, power and…er…travel telephones!
His visions were all very interesting and fun but I didn’t quite know what to say when he wanted the equivalent of 50 US dollars for a piece of hair attached to a small stone and 15 US dollars for a stick (yes, quite literally a stick, ripped ripe from a ‘special’ tree). After being made to feel rude for declining the sales pitch I jumped back in to my waiting taxi a little disappointed by my tourist trap whistle-stop tour of the occult.
So that was the rather strange ending to my time in Togo. My arrival was quite different, when I immediately became best friends with a couple of locals outside the airport building in Lomé by uttering the words Emmanuel Adebayor (it’s all I could think of as a reply to their opening gambit in French!). Huge grins appeared as they appreciated my knowledge of today’s favourite Togolese son who is currently playing for Tottenham Hotspur in English footballs top division. And like all African football players abroad he seems to have Godlike status in his home country. I then gave them my jetlagged rendition of Three Little Birds by Bob Marley as they probed me for interests in common!
Once dubbed the Paris of West Africa, Lomé is now a little tatty around the edges. The centre of the city around the Grand Marché is the city’s heartbeat and the hustle and bustle of hawkers and fruit vendors is much like many other African cities I’ve visited. Dirty, dusty and polluted, it’s not everybody’s cup of tea but it’s that sense of ‘real’ Africa which, for me, makes it rather alluring. However, I don’t think I could live in a place like this; a fleeting visit is enough to satisfy my wanderlust. The expats, though, are here full time and so they have to find home comforts any way they can. I was witness to one of these at the splendid sun dappled Olympic sized swimming pool at my hotel, the Mercure Sarakawa. From ten til eleven in the morning a group of 20 or so (mostly French) expat wives were taken through their paces during an energetic water aerobics class, complete with thumping bass-laden dance music coming from the nearby speakers. It’s a world away from the market atmosphere in town but it’s an important aspect of expat life which is needed to keep a sense of normality for some. In the evening a hefty expat crowd turned up at the relatively swanky confines of the hotel bar to watch the Spain vs France football match, and it might as well have been a bar in the centre of Paris.
And so my short trip came full circle when I arrived at the airport for my flight home yesterday and sat down on a bench in the departure lounge. Who came and sat opposite me? No, not the shaman, but none other than Togo’s favourite son Emmanuel Adebayor. He and his retinue were going down a storm with the other locals who, I presume, were meeting one of their idols. To his credit, he took the time to high-five those who were eager to show their appreciation. That was the last I saw of him, though, as he turned left after boarding and I turned right to join the rest of his fellow countrymen. (Since I wrote this whilst transiting in Paris I did actually bump into him again – by the smoking area outside Heathrow Terminal 4!)
I’m off to Africa again next week but in the mean time, for a bit of fun, can you name the other two countries of the world which are four letters long and have four letter capital cities? Answers on a postcard please.