Sunday, 2 June 2013


Nous jouons au babyfoot
Education experts claim that schoolchildren in the UK should spend more time learning languages to bring them up to European standards. Personally I think we should forget the whole thing; we only end up embarrassing ourselves.

A storm over Lomé
Having just crossed into Togo from Ghana, Hannah and I were instantly surrounded by moneychangers and taxi drivers, all yabbering away in French. Maybe due to the excitement of walking across a national border for the first time, the 50 words of French I learnt at school instantly flooded back. Where I didn’t know the French word, I chucked in random bits of German and the odd smattering of Spanish. The gathered Togolese looked thoroughly bemused, as if faced with a low-budget version of C3PO – fully incoherent in three languages. Luckily Hannah’s French course paid off and she managed to get us a taxi to the Hotel Napoléon Lagune.

Le petit dejeuner
A weekend is long enough to get a taste of Togo, and that taste is fresh cheese, crispy baguettes and freshly brewed Togolese coffee. I ordered for breakfast the next morning while waiting for Hannah: “Je voudrais mon petit dejeuner” – I was back in full flow after a good night’s sleep. Togolese breakfasts are a marked step up from Litpon tea, rubber omelettes and sugary stodgy bread served in Ghana’s hotels. It went down very well as we sat overlooking the Bé Lagoon in the hotel courtyard. Togo grows on you very quickly, especially at mealtimes.

"...and smile..."
Less appetizing was the city’s major attraction, the fetish market. If you visit a market where they sell animal parts for traditional medicine, you can’t really complain if that’s what you find. But while initially fascinating, the piles of monkey heads, dried chameleons, dead vultures and many more besides were fairly gruesome; the wicker basket of kitten heads was particularly stomach turning. The smell of the market was even more overwhelming; it’s hard to describe in words, but probably not that difficult to imagine the stench produced by hundreds of dead animals lying about in 35-degree heat.

Not sure what these cure...
Our guide assured us all the animals had died of natural causes – yeah, right – but Hannah and I were quickly going off the idea of a fetish market as a good day out. When he asked if we wanted to meet the fetish priest and be ‘cured’ with our choice of animal, ground and brewed with “over fifty traditional herbs”, it was our cue to leave. Quickly.

Some carving or other
La Musée International du Golfe de Guinée (that’s the international museum of the Gulf of Guinea, non-linguists) was a far more relaxed and less pungent affair. Located in a house on Lomé’s urban seafront, it contains statues and artefacts collected from across West Africa. A good selection of wooden penises was on show for fans of the genre, as well as some particularly ugly carvings.

Unfortunately, once you have visited the fetish market, nothing can distract you from the need for a shower. We headed back to the hotel and I threw away my fetid T-shirt, which still smelt of the elephant thighbone* I had been persuaded to pick up for a photo. Only after two scrubbings, a swim in the pool and a few Togolese beers did I start to feel clean again.

An elephant's thighbone. Heavy.

* The T-shirt was nearly 15 years old and regularly used for hiking, so the elephant cannot be held fully responsible for its aroma.

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