Posted tagged ‘Togo’

“Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.”

April 12, 2015

Today is glorious. The sun is bright, the sky a lovely dark blue and it’s warm, in the mid 50’s. The morning is loud with the songs of birds. I stopped out front with papers in hand just to smell the sweet spring scented air. The daffodil buds are bigger, closer to blooming. Purple croci have bloomed in the front. I swear my grass has shoots of green instead of just winter brown. I finally believe in spring.

The Globe had a column this morning in the travel pages about a woman who went to Togo to visit her Peace Corps son. She described where it was in West Africa, that it is a Francophone country and you spend French African francs (CFA). She was struck by the poverty, the trash and the lack of infrastructure. Many of the roads are unpaved red dirt which covers you and everything you’re carrying in red dust when your bush taxi takes you away from the coast. She went to the Grand Marché In Lome and described it just as I remember it. The building is concrete. The cloth market is on an upper floor. On the bottom floors are the food markets. The Grand Marché was always one of my stops during my frequent visits to Togo, an easy bus ride from Accra along the coast. You rode to the border at Aflao, got off the bus and walked across to Togo under an arch which says Bye-Bye Safe Journey. The other side of the arch says Welcome to Ghana.

In Lome I ate ice cream and pastries and rock lobsters from a grill on a hotel’s patio. I ordered bifteck and pomme fries using my halting high school French. I burned the bottoms of my feet running on the hot beach sand. Once I was swimming and a dead pig floated beside me. I took my life into my hands by renting a moped and driving on the crowded city roads. I went up-country on local busses.

I never thought of living in Africa as an adventure. It was home for 27 months, and always felt comfortable. I was never lost but easily found my way from one place to another. My French got better, and I could give or ask for directions, order more than steak and French fries and bargain in the market in French. Without realizing it, I became a traveler. That has held me in good stead all of my life.

“Well, many’s the long night I’ve dreamed of cheese–toasted, mostly…”

November 14, 2013

The weather is quirky. Snow fell the other day, but today and the next few days will be in the 50’s, tolerable weather. The nights will be cold but that’s November, and that’s why I have a comforter on the bed and animals who snuggle.

The bird feeders need filling and the red spawn needs to be shot. It has defeated my squirrel buster feeder by being small. It jumps from the deck to the feeder, grabs some seed then sits on the deck rail to eat it right in full view of me. I run out to scare it away but it knows when to come back. I’m thinking some acorns, a bit of irony probably lost on the spawn, or small rocks as ammo stored upstairs. I’ll open a window and aim though the sound of the acorn hitting the deck should sent that spawn running. He knows he is targeted. Think hose and last summer.

Much to do today. My friends are coming to dinner, a very late birthday dinner. They both have their birthdays in September and mine was August, and we have yet to give each other our gifts. I have to shop so last night, to save time from today, I set out all the dishes and silverware. We’re having pork tenderloin with an herb crust, smashed potatoes baked in the oven and glazed carrots. I’ll make my Moroccan appetizer, muhammara, and put out cheese, to me the most versatile food of all.

I am a cheese lover except for gorgonzola and blue. They even smell bad to me and blue always looks as if it has been around too long to eat. Cheese is a staple in my fridge as many of my meals are just cheese with bread or crackers. Brie is a huge favorite.

Ghana has no cheese because it has no milk. Ghana has cows but no Ghanaians drink milk. When I went back to Ghana, I was forced to use evaporated milk in my instant coffee just as I did in 1969. Ghana is not a place for coffee lovers or cheese lovers for that matter. If I were in the Peace Corps there now and still lived in Bolga, I’d find the Fulanis who tend the cows, buy milk from them and make my own cheese. It isn’t difficult.

In 1969, I figured everything was just part of the experience as did most of my friends, but when we got together, food always became part of the conversation. We all mused about what we missed the most. In Accra, we’d spend money at Kingsway Department Store to buy bruni food, white people’s food, to bring home. We’d travel to Lome, Togo because you could get ice cream, pastries and yup, even cheese. Lome was a volunteer’s paradise of food. One wonderful memory is when a bunch of us from Ghana were together in the Peace Corps hostel in Lome, something that didn’t happen often. We had all bought stuff to bring home, special stuff you couldn’t find in Ghana. Well, we had a huge party for no reason except we were together, had food and loved parties. We ended up eating just about everything.

“One man’s fish is another man’s poisson”

July 6, 2013

Boston is officially suffering through a heat wave. We aren’t because the cape is a few degrees cooler. Today will be 88˚, but the humidity is making the weather even more unbearable. Walk around outside and it smothers you, draws the life right out of your body. I, however, will never suffer that fate. I have become a hermit in the comfort of my air-conditioned home. Yesterday I went out about three times to the deck. The first time was to water the plants and the other two times were to warm up my feet. Yup, the AC forced me to put on socks. I felt sort of silly.

Gracie loves being in the cool house. She goes outside and squats then runs right back to the door to be let inside. The cats, however, have a different take on the AC. They find sun spots on the floor from the windows and sit there taking in the warmth. Fern, especially, misses the warmth. Usually in the morning she would lie in the sun streaming through the front door and sleep so deeply I could hear her small snores.  The poor babies will have to wait a bit before it is cool enough to turn off the AC and open doors and windows.

Where I lived in Ghana was about as far from the ocean as you could get and still be in Ghana. The only fish you could find in the Bolga market was smoked and dried and looked disgusting, almost leathery. I didn’t even try it. It always seemed a bit strange to me that many Ghanaians actually preferred the dried fish to fresh. I used to think it was because they didn’t get fresh fish, but Grace, who lives in Accra, which is right on the ocean, buys dried fish. She won’t eat it fresh, thought the whole idea was a bit disgusting, but for those of us who love fish the Ghanaian seaside is like paradise. Some of the best fish dinners can be bought at small thatched huts along the shore. The huts have a few tables with benches, always a bit unsteady on the sand, and brightly colored umbrellas with beer logos to shield diners from the hot sun. The owners, who are generally the cooks, buy the fish right off the boats. The fish is usually wrapped in banana leaves and cooked over charcoal. The taste is amazing. Red snapper is my favorite.

In Togo, a country bordering Ghana, I had my first taste of barbecued lobster. It was dinner on the patio of a fairly large, sort of posh hotel, where we could never afford to stay but eating on the patio was within the budget of a Peace Corps volunteer: translation-it was inexpensive, maybe even cheap. My friend Ralph and I sat under an umbrella and watched as the lobster was cut down the middle then cooked. It was delicious.

Our mid-tour conference was at Dixcove, a neat little fishing village down the coast from Accra. We stayed in small cottages right on the ocean. I don’t remember anything about the technical parts of the conference, but I remember the rock lobster. We’d went to the village and paid a few guys small money to dive for the rock lobsters then we paid to have them cooked. Eating them was a divine experience I’ll never forget.

“We’ll be Friends Forever, won’t we, Pooh?’ asked Piglet. Even longer,’ Pooh answered.”

October 22, 2012

The weather, other than Friday’s rain, was lovely all weekend. Though I had missed the peak foliage in New Hampshire, in Mont Vernon, there was still enough color to make every view spectacular especially the one from the top of a hill close to Bill and Peg’s house. Stretched out in front of me were rows and rows of trees in reds and yellows. The whole scene, unblemished by wires or houses or roads, made me think impressionism, of a panoramic painting left as a gift for all of us.

Gracie, other than when she jumped out of the car and started running up and down the street as soon as we arrived, was a perfect guest. Bill walked her all over including a 2 and 1/2 mile hike on Saturday and a shorter but more memorable walk on Sunday when Gracie saw her first porcupine and was unfazed. By the end of the weekend, she had settled right in and on Sunday morning was stretched on the couch between Peg and me with her head resting on Peg while she napped and snored.

I hadn’t seen my friends in forty-one years. We were in Bolga together for a year and have the most amazing shared memories. We even have many of the same pictures, and their living room has several of the same Ghanaian crafts I have in mine. Our reunion was seamless, as if I had been with them all along in time. We laughed a lot remembering things like our motorcycle accidents, his and mine were both caused by goats, and the trips we took together to Ouagadougou, Togo and Benin, which was Dahomey in our day. We had dinner together most nights in Bolga, and Bill remembered endless meals of goat. In one picture of theirs, both our motorcycles, his red and mine grey, were parked in front of their side of the duplex. Bill asked why I had parked there as if we could conjure the memory, as if it were just a few weeks ago. The weekend made me realize that Bill and Peg are the dear friends I’ve held tightly in my memories all these years, older, but mostly unchanged.

“The three great elemental sounds in nature are the sound of rain, the sound of wind in a primeval wood, and the sound of outer ocean on a beach”

July 1, 2012

The line outside my Sunday breakfast spot was long. I even had to put my name on a list. The air conditioning has been on since early yesterday afternoon. Gracie pants every time she goes outside. Barely a leaf moves, just the few every now and then at the tips of the branches. This is a summer weekend!

I remember weekends at the beach when I was a kid. Nothing tasted better after swimming and playing in the sand than a cold cup of Zarex and a sandwich with a gritty crunch. The Oreos my mother always packed tasted best with an ocean view. We always went shell hunting and came home every time with a pile of them. Our house should have been filled with them, but after a while they disappeared, finally tossed by my mother when she cleaned. After a day in the sun, I don’t think I ever stayed awake on the ride home. I remember going to bed with my head on the pillow and having hot water trickle from my ears, water the result of diving in the ocean, mostly at the sandbar where the water, when the tide was out, was warm enough to enjoy.

I remember an Easter Sunday at the beach in Ghana. I don’t remember which beach, but it had clean water, a place which sold food and few people. We walked a long way on the sand and played ball with a palm tree branch bat and a coconut ball. I got the worst sunburn.

In Togo, the beach sand was so hot your feet could barely stand the walk on it. We always hurried to the small thatched cabanas here and there on the sand. They were usually empty. Very few people went to the beach. The water there was wonderful though I remember one time when I was swimming and a dead pig floated by me. I wasn’t all that grossed out-I had been in Arica over a year and was just about beyond being grossed out by anything. There was a hotel with a restaurant across from the beach, and we often stopped there to eat after an afternoon swimming and lounging under the cabana. We usually ordered bifteck and pomme frites with a coke. The restaurant wasn’t fancy, but I can still see it in my mind’s eye. It was white with a blue trim, had outside tables and a view of the beach.

Beaches fill so many of my memory drawers it is no wonder I live on the Cape.