Between Lake and Sea

Having received all necessary visa stamps in my passport during last week in Lomé, I eventually moved on and headed towards the Benin border, but decided to have a short stopover on the way. Not far away from Lomé, yet being a completely different world, remote Agbodrafo is located on the small strip between the ocean and Lake Togo. There is not so much to see – a main road with a few shops, a fishermen village, some fields for agriculture – and it is the perfect place to take a rest. I spent two nights at Irma Boto’s legendary Swiss “Hotel Safari” and enjoyed the quietness and beautiful weather, relaxing and lying under the sun.

Agbodrafo is also a good spot for a day-trip to Togoville on the northern shore of Lake Togo. It is a quite popular tourists’ destination, but has not lost any of its charm and authenticity and is surprisingly non-touristy. Its sleepy appearance contradicts the historical importance of the site: in 1884, the German explorer Gustav Nachtigal signed a treaty with the local chiefs that gave the Germans full rights over Togoland until World War One, when Togo was taken by the French. Of course, their first act was to rename Togostadt to Togoville. Continue reading

Lomé La Plus Belle

Almost one week has passed since I arrived to Togo’s capital Lomé and – simply put – it was superb. Lomé is located at the coast on the Gulf of Guinea and directly next to the Ghana border. The city is rather developed with paved roads and streetlights, and it has a beautiful and surprisingly clean beach. Even if due to a strong undertow it is not advisable to swim in the sea, the beach is a great place to hang on, have a walk or relax. Many locals spend the weekend there, playing soccer or meeting friends, going to some “maquis” and always enjoying their time.

Similar to other African towns, the everyday life happens outside in the streets, mainly at the market area. Lomé’s market is one of the biggest in West Africa and you can find EVERYTHING you think of. The atmosphere is lively, hearty and warm, just like the Togolese. I feel very welcome here, lots of people talk to me in an open and friendly manner, we laugh a lot and almost never they do so because they want to sell you something or beg for money. They are really laid-back and so far it is impossible to feel stressed in Togo (I was soon to adopt this tranquil way of life – including the siesta). This is probably the reason why so many foreigners are happy to live and work here, it does not seem to me that the condition are that hard. Apart from European or French expats, there are a few Indians and quite a lot of Lebanese people who work in the gastronomy business or who own bars and discos. The remarkable exception are the Chinese who are only here to make money. They nearly never mix with other persons and form a strange and slightly inaccessible bubble in their Chinatown, having the most expensive and therefore empty restaurants. Continue reading

Thank You, Ethiopian Airlines

The day when I finally left Lusaka, I first learnt one important lesson: It might be true that you should not enter a car with unknown men inside, yet the same holds for women. Before going to the airport, I wanted to go to the nearby mall (10 minutes walking distance) and 3 women kindly offered to drop me there, because they were anyway leaving the guest-house’s bar right away. Knowing the directions, I accepted and actually they did drive me to the mall via the expected route. But during the drive, I realized that they were already a little drunk (it was 10 in the morning ….) and they started making obvious approaches to me, putting their both “arguments” in front. This phenomenon is quite common in Africa – white men often are an attractive goal for black women, and in fact many men take the advantage of these easy girls, especially in the new region I recently arrived to. For myself, in such situations I usually adopt the name Bertrand Delanoë and with that his sexual orientation!

Despite this slightly strange event, I arrived to Lusaka Airport on time and got my flight without any problems. As planned, we landed in Addis Ababa on the evening and I was ready to sleep at the airport because the following flight to my final destination was scheduled on the next morning. But a friendly officer from Ethiopian Airlines had a nice surprise for me: the company would offer me a hotel voucher to spend the night and have dinner and breakfast on their expenses. So I received a transit visa, I was transferred to the city and reached probably one of the most luxurious hotels of my whole trip so far. While all other guests had to sleep in “normal” rooms on the middle floors, without any reason I was given the key to the royal suite on the last floor, with a beautiful view over Addis by night. I guess that they had read our blog entries about Ethiopia and thought that they had something to compensate. Continue reading

Well, what more should I say?

After approximately 8 months of travels together, the shared world-trip eventually had to find an end. As planned, Steffen (and Eli) have returned home to Germany to continue their studies. We knew that this day was to arrive soon, but time goes by too fast and when we had to say goodbye, it felt a bit unexpected and at least I was not readily prepared for this separation. Now that I am alone and on my own again, I realize what big hole Steffen has left behind him and that I will have to reorientate myself a bit for the upcoming weeks. Travelling alone is a totally distinct but also a very nice and interesting experience, so I am really looking forward to what is still to come.

It is hard to find the words to say how grateful I am for him having had the idea of this journey and for motivating me to join him. His company, his sincerity and his friendship are the best gifts he could have given me. Thousands of adventures and uncountable hours of conversations or reflections on each possible topic will be inked forever in my mind. During the last year, I think that I considerably shaped my personality, I became a lot more open and self-confident, and I developed a more balanced and tolerant attitude – also thanks to his presence.

A special thank you goes to Eli, who arrived at a perfect time, when we already had quite a few routine and practice. Remarkably quickly, she managed to adapt to our rather relaxed and serene way of dealing with any kind of situation. I will never forget how she angrily shouted at and demonstratively walked away from a taxi driver who tried to cheat on us. But she also enabled us to get new and different point of views by breaking up our – admittedly a bit rusty – reasoning. I hope that she had as much fun as we did and that she enjoyed her “holidays” despite our bad and stupid jokes.

What I wanted and needed to say has been said, so instead of writing many more redundant thoughts or mushy tears-bringing choruses of praise, I prefer to conclude with a famous quotation from an Argentine TV-series. Those knowing the scene will understand how I would like to address them and will be able to bring it in line with the current context:

Yo quiero ser sincero con ustedes,
como que me llamo Tomás J.-B. Medina.
Son tantas las aventuras vividas,
y tantos los momentos memorables.
Y no quiero dejar de decirles,
mirandolos a los ojos,
lo que siento por ustedes.
Ya sé que no hace falta que lo diga,
lo hago porque tengo ganas.
Les he dicho que los quiero,
les he dicho que los respeto,
también que los admiro.
Pero amar no es lo mismo que querer,
y siento en este caso que la palabra querer me queda chica.
Y yo siento que los amo!

Remarks on Zambia and Africa

Usually, at the end of every country, we try to sum up our impressions in a general review. In Zambia we only stayed for 8 days so it would be too bold to do the same here. Instead, we decide to share some thoughts. Given the short time, these should be taken with a grain of salt.

Zambians advertise their country as “The Real Africa”. Probably this goes together with the experiences many expats and volunteers make here. But for tourists, there is hardly any other land where it is so difficult to discover the real life. Zambia is extremely divided into rich and poor. A minority has already made their way into the 21st century and their lives do not differ much from the ones anywhere in the western world. Yet the majority continues to live like in the past centuries, either on the countryside or they came to the city and form some kind of modern proletariat. While travelling you will almost always deal with the First World in Zambia. There is nearly no way to travel like we did in Tanzania. Guest-houses for locals are hard to find and often located in areas that are not safe for whites (at least they say so). Public transport is limited to Livingstone and the Copperbelt, most other points of interest are not covered. So most of the time you end up in a bubble. The guests of your hostel are all white, the service has western standards and western prices, you do not have contact to locals (except the cashier in the supermarket) and it all feels a bit unreal and artificial.

Believe it or not, Zambia will be the most expensive country of the whole trip, even without the pricey activities at the Victoria Falls. At least, travelling here was very comfortable. Admittedly we just stayed at the main tourist spots, but this was also because it is almost impossible to reach the other regions. Of course, you can hire a 4-wheels drive and go camping, but most people who can afford that do pitch their tent in upper-class lodges. Again, we would not consider this to be “The Real Africa”.

Still, we are happy we came here and saw another different face of Africa. We never had thought that each country on the Black Continent would be so distinct. This distinctness is even more astonishing when considering the way people regard themselves. Africans first identify with the whole continent before putting their specific nation in front. They are proud of their welcome and their friendliness towards foreigners. You will always hear them saying that “Africans” are great, no matter whether they are Congolese, Tanzanian or Zambian.

Contrasting this, it was the first place where we experienced so much despair about the general misery and poverty in many areas, and about the often corrupt and unstable political situation. When talking to locals, a lot of them (above all educated ones) just worry about leaving Africa under any circumstances. They want to know what they can do in Europe or in the US (the latter being by far the number one choice due to their openness, while Europe is seen more xenophobic), if they can find at least a simple job, where they should go and where they can live there, which languages they should speak, how they can enter the western world, if they will be welcomed and so on. Nearly no one thinks about improving the local situation at home, instead they desperately asked us to give them contacts and help them starting a new life elsewhere.

All in all, it was a good idea to stay for only a week here. This gave us the opportunity to stick to our budget, to see the Falls and to have some kind of relaxing holidays before finishing our shared world-trip.