Thursday, 29 April 2010

IB Team now in Lomé

IB team in front of the Independence Square in Lome, Togo. Photo by the Togolese artist Pierre Segoh

Hotel Ghis gives us the much needed solace and a chance to collate our photos and compose our thoughts. It is becoming something of a home away from home for us, an invisible border on the Lome- Togo stretch that says ‘comfort is here’, and we are always willing to cross it into welcoming arms. Even our harried tempers and smoldering fumes of grievances from a few of us at the Suya (charcoal-roasted strips of beef) spot are assuaged by the anointing of hospitality at the Ghis Palace.

Refreshed and positive-minded, we launch yet again onto the road. The beach is to our left, cool and welcoming. We spot landmarks that are now becoming more familiar. Cameras are clicking away but for some of us not so close to the windows, things are moving in a rapid blur. No matter, from the blur, art shall come! Memories and reminiscences of our 2009 journey swish around the bus, like a cool drink in glass as our bus meanders its way around the streets of Lome towards the Lome Accra border.

Pierre Segoh, a friend of Emeka’s, a Togolese artist joins us at a roadside bukka that Amaize and Chriss have spotted. Cameras are clicking away at a huge log of pile nearby. People are drawing nigh. Chriss bowls the guys over by offering them cigarettes which they receive with gladness. The bukateria is selling okra laced heavily with uncut greens and half-cooked onions, akume, a local corn meal, pounded yam/cassava foofoo, and goat peppersoup, the fat-encumbered pieces standing like solitary islands in the sea of pepper sauce. One look at the fatty goat pieces and Lucy escapes right back to the bus to find solace in two massive mangoes she bought on the roadside. Chriss, the adventurous eater, has already wolfed down half the goat pieces in his peppersoup ( his starter) assisted by Chidinma and is now taking his foofoo laden bowl (main course)to a corner. Nike devours the ‘togo okra soup’ and pounded foofoo in a flash and races back to the bus to wipe off the unfamiliar taste with a drink of soda. Others take their turns and the foofoo becomes more expensive with each subsequent serving because an interpreter has come to lend his unsolicited services to the bukateria woman. Hmn!

We head off, looking for a detailed map of West Africa to help us better plan our journey. We drive through ‘Governmental Lome’ with its buildings that stand in intimidating official grandeur. We stop at Independence square and ask the soldiers sitting nearby if it is alright to take photos. Pas de problem, so we do. There are glossy pictures of old and new Togolese rulers in a line up at in the Square; and one couldn’t help but wonder if this honour was truly given by the people or wrested from the people by the rulers, African rulership style… and why governance in Africa is so much about the billboards of rulers in the streets. Thoughts for another day…

We drive to the artisanal quarters where we explore the area. Little Joel, son of one of the traders takes a liking to our bus and begins to clamber up and down its steps…. A little while after we move on, and in no time, we are at the Lome-Accra border. We sight the money changer that tried to fleece us the last time we came here, dressed nicely in a crisp Kenté print shirt looking really innocent. We haggle with him, just for the fun of it, to see if he has changed his ways. He behaves true to his greedy nature and tries to sell us less Cedis with more CFA. When we hit out at him with fierce yet friendly fire reminding him of his last misadventure, he remembers… but insists now that ‘me no be bad guy o, this time, I go treat you fine”. Indeed, as though a leopard ever was able to change his spots!

We leave the Togo-side in a breeze and move over to the Accra side of the border. An inexplicable sense of relief takes over even though we eventually spend well over two hours at the border. We note a group of foreigners who are on a charity road trip to South Africa for Ein Herz für Kinder; so announced their t-shirts. They have secured four little Kia cars kitted to the hilt for safari travel and are doing their border clearance. We are excited to see fellow pilgrims doing something akin to our project, so we (two of us) attempt to strike up a conversation to share experiences but they are stand-offish and one of them doesn’t even acknowledge a simple civil greeting from one of us. Talk about the uncharitable doing a roadtrip for charity!

A pleasant mannered Ghanaian gentleman, and customs official, Kizito Jibanyite soon wipes off the sour taste of the Germans’ rudeness. Whilst we conduct the clearance, we express our surprise about the needless bottlenecks West Africans have to face as they pass move across borders, and seek his opinion on the safety issues in travelling through Cote d’Ivoire. He takes time to explain the pros and cons of West Africa’s colonial experience and the spinoffs that have impacted on the free movement of Africans across borders, and assures us that the conflict in Cote d’ Ivoire is in abeyance and the roads safe to travel. He wishes us a safe journey and we are impressed yet again at the civility of Ghanaian officials at the border. We clear ourselves and our vehicle and enter Ketu South in Ghana a short while after. The sun is going home to roost, throwing reflective shine upon the solitary pools of water hedged around by grass on both sides of the road. It looks like a beautiful wasteland. I remember the poet, TS Elliot and the Wasteland…

The road seems just the same and in some parts, appears to have worsened in condition, until we discover that the road is being expanded and rebuilt from further up, towards Ketu. Ghanaian efficiency seems at work again. We head up the straight road to Tema, past Lakleviobu, Nogokpo, Kikor, Agbozume. A sign warns: ‘Don’t drive tired, break the drive and stay alive’. I thank God that we have been breaking our drive with stops in capital cities to make pictures, interact and network.

Awalavi comes to sight and soon we reach the customs checkpoint at Dabale, cross the Lower Volta Bridge, hit Sokpa and on, on, on, and on we drive through Tema, straight into Accra where we are received warmly, kindly and fraternally by a Panji Anoff, a friend of Unoma’s brother and artistic director of Pedgin Music and Luu Vision Productions, whom she called up just a few minutes away from Accra, and his wonderful brethren- Nana, Wanlov the Kubulov, Hasira, Tacitus, Mosquito, and the lovely Twi Sistren named Sexy Motia. These blessed people literally evacuate the comfort of their living space to accommodate our travel weary selves at virtually no notice and we cannot but be truly grateful to them and God, as we have been so much blesed. Exciting details coming soon… watch this space!