Pan African Teacher Centre Survey Mission, Lomé, Togo November 22-December 3, 2002
Friday, November 22
I’m returning to Lomé, Togo today to meet with members of the Pan African Teachers’ Centre (PATC), Education International (EI), Promotion of Women in Education (PWE) and any other teacher organization representatives that can be rounded up. A meeting of the interim board of PATC was scheduled for next week and I was to attend on behalf of the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF), replacing Barbara MacDonald, CTF’s Director of International Programs, who could not attend as the official Canadian representative. After CTF purchased my airline tickets, however, it was learned that the meeting was cancelled because some of the other board members, including Tom Bediako (EI) and Irene Andanusa (Ghana National Association of Teachers) also could not attend. Barbara and I decided that I might as well go and do some work with PATC on the web site project and make use of the air ticket, which is non-refundable.
At noon, my plane departs Edmonton for Toronto and, with a strong west wind behind us, the 767 makes the trip in less than four hours. I transfer terminals and board another Air Canada 767 for the flight to Paris, flying through the night and arriving at Charles de Gaulle airport just as the sun starts to illuminate the eastern horizon.
My seat partner on this flight is a gentleman from India who is returning to Bombay after visiting his son in Toronto. We enjoy each other’s company and I exchange my aisle seat for his window seat so that he feels more comfortable. He suffers from asthma and doesn’t like the feeling of being shut in along the wall of the aircraft. The window seat affords me a spectacular view of Paris as we make our approach for landing. The Eiffel Tower, which I last saw and scaled in 1967, is prominent on the face of the city.
With nearly three hours until my Air France flight to Lomé (by way of Lagos, Nigeria), I change terminals, clear security and buy a coffee. Waiting at what is literally the pointy end of the terminal, I ask a British tourist to take a picture of me using the F-100. Behind me on the tarmac sits an Air France A340, the same type of aircraft that will carry me to Africa.
This quick visit to Paris goes well, mainly because I don’t challenge the x-ray operator at the security gate about the film in my carry-on luggage. The last time I passed this way, I was nearly put off the flight for asking to have my film inspected visually. The only excitement this time is inside the loading bridge where passports are examined one final time. As mine is being inspected, the agent pulls me aside to allow four police officers to charge past us on what, it turns out, is a false alarm.
The flight to Lagos and Lomé is uneventful but because I have a window seat, visually spectacular, particularly during the crossing high above the Sahara Desert. My seatmate on this flight is an Italian gentleman traveling to Lomé to visit a factory there that he owns that produces parquet flooring. Traveling with him and seated just behind us is a young Italian woman who works at the Lomé factory. He and I talk a fair bit. He and she, and particularly she, talk back and forth a good deal more.
Crossing the south coast of the Mediterranean Sea, we enter Algerian airspace. Far below are the ridges and valleys of the Atlas Saharien Mountains. The mountains gradually give way to the Sahara Desert, which, with its topographical diversity, is quite spectacular. I take several photographs, wedging my camera into the airplane’s window frame to view the earth below. My last photos are taken as we prepare for landing at Lagos. The sun cooperates by beginning to set in the west, providing a golden glow and backlighting the streets and buildings of the city.
Arrival in Lomé, after the low and slow flight from Lagos, happens at 1900 and we make our approach and landing in the African evening darkness. While I enjoy flying, this trip has taken close to 24 hours and I am happy to leave the faithful A340 for a week on the ground in Lomé. As I wait in line to clear the immigration inspection, I hear my name called and there is Assibi Napoe across the arrivals room. She comes to greet me and helps me through the line for visa clearance and into the luggage area. There she introduces me to her husband and to her son who arrived on the same flight from Paris. He has come from Green Bay, Wisconsin where he has completed an MBA, and is now employed by the Municipality of Green Bay. He will be returning to the USA in two weeks time. He is a very nice young man who, after eight years in the United States, has become very much a North American.
Zack Bawa and Kofi, Tom Bediako’s driver, are there to meet me as well. They take me to “SODEP House” where I will be staying and where I meet Kokuvi, the young man who takes care of the house and provides security. Kofi then drives Zack and me to the Viva Royale restaurant for supper. Zack and I have grilled fish, my staple diet in Lomé, and Kofi has only a beverage. He says he is “tight,” which in his vernacular means he is full, or his skin is tight. In Canadian usage, the term can also mean that one is intoxicated.
Back at the house, Kokuvi gets me settled in to my room and provides a light top sheet that I hope will ward off the chill of the air conditioner, which has been running all day.
By now, I am so tired that I just pull the sheet over me, ignore the setting of the cooler and fall into a deep sleep. I wake up several hours later, wondering what aroused me, and realizing it is the artificial cold of my African evening. I summon the interest to get up and turn down the setting on the air conditioner and return to sleep until 0800 when my alarm rings.
Sunday, November 24
I finally get out of bed at 0930. Last night, Zack had provided me with a sheet of paper outlining all of the events scheduled for my visit. Sunday is marked “personal time.” It turns out to be anything but and I am delighted with how the day unfolds.
After shaving off two days of stubble, taking a shower in the low-flow shower stall and dressing, Kokuvi greets me in the kitchen and tells me he will start preparing my breakfast. Zack and his fiancé Maguy arrive to start to cook lunch for us. This had been arranged last evening and they have walked over from their home to SODEP House to get the preparations underway. Lawrence Kannae, who also lives at the house, is at his family home in Accra and will not arrive until Monday morning.
Maguy begins cooking a wonderful lunch, one that I would like to make when I return home. It’s based on a stew made from ground nuts (similar to peanuts) to which is added sliced green peppers, and two small broken up smoked fish. Tomato puree is added as well and a side dish of rice is prepared and shaped into what look like small rice footballs. The rice shaping is achieved by flipping a handful of cooked rice back and forth in a wetted soup bowl. Maguy has already made several perfectly uniform rice footballs with what looks like a simple flick of her wrist. When I try it, the rice scoots out of the bowl and lands in the sink, over which I had, with some forethought, decided to try making my first rice ball.
We carry our meal onto the front patio and the four of us—Zack, Maguy, Kokuvi and I—eat it using only our fingers. I have a Flag beer, Maguy and Kokuvi have Pils beers, and Zack settles for a Coke. Our conversation centres in on the territorial rivalry between Zack’s birthplace in the north of Togo and Maguy’s in the central highlands. This is quite funny and will carry on as a theme of our conversations throughout the rest of the week. Home villages, and the histories they possess, are rather important here and this sort of friendly rivalry is fun to be part of. Zack praises the wide plains of his area and Maguy speaks with love of the vast horizon visible from the heights.
After lunch, we drive Maguy home and carry on to the airport. Our mission is to collect one of the members of the PATC board, Mrs Salimata Doumbia, who is also the general secretary of the Côte d’Ivoire primary teachers union (SNEPPCI). Salimata is the first full-time general secretary of the organization. She is paid by the government, but against its will. The government’s reluctance is the result of a five day country-wide strike by elementary teachers who would not return to their classrooms until the government agreed to pay Salimata’s salary. She has been a teacher for about 25 years and in addition to her professional life, she is the mother of a five month old baby boy, her second child. She is the second wife of a Côte d’Ivoire government official, meaning that he has other wives as well as Salimata.
On the way to SODEP House, where she will stay, she tells us of the difficulties her country is experiencing because of a rebellion that broke out in the northern part of the country. People are fleeing to the south and many, including teachers, have been displaced. Salimata and her union are doing what they can for these colleagues but the times are very difficult. The influx of refugees has resulted in a steep increase in house break-ins and violence. Salimata says that she had to get away from the problems for a few days and so she came to Togo, even though the PATC board meeting had been cancelled.
Her decision proves to be to the benefit of the men living with her at SODEP House. On arrival there, Salimata announces that she will cook dinner for all of us, including Zack, and she dispatches Kokuvi and Kofi to the local market to gather the makings of a wonderful meal. So, of the three visitors to the House so far, two have provided wonderful meals. The third one, me, just enjoys eating them.
The men return with chickens and vegetables and the process of meal preparation begins. Lawrence and I watch soccer on television for awhile and Salimata and Kokuvi start preparations. I walk into the kitchen and watch Kokuvi finish plucking the feathers from one chicken while Salimata eviscerates a second. This brings back memories of my childhood, watching my Mother preparing freshly killed chickens for dinner back on our little farm in Lethbridge. I go to my room for a nap and fall into a deep sleep with the scent of boiled chicken feathers in my nostrils.
Zack and I head out for a walk to his house before the meal. We leave SODEP House around 1800 and it is already quite dark. Our walk takes us past vendors selling at little stalls in the residential streets, and past families, children and individuals just out enjoying the fresh and somewhat cooler air of the evening. When we arrive at the gate of Zack’s house, we are met by two of his brothers—Alalou, who has just won a scholarship to study at a university in Texas, and Gado. Once past the gate and inside the compound we meet Tobe, Zack’s dog, who is very interested in my strange scents and very protective of his humans. Maguy is there as well, along with her children—Miss Rudy who is six years old, Frederick who is 9, and the eldest child, Aboudulaye, who is 12.
Zack and Maguy live here in a long structure of a building that has a raised veranda along the front and individual rooms opening from there. The first room is a living room, nicely furnished and with a television. Then come the bedrooms and finally the kitchen. Maguy is sitting on a low stool on the veranda, tending a small charcoal brazier and preparing a snack of fried yams for all of us. On the ground of the compound below the veranda are several chairs and a large table. The presence of bulging school bags attests to the importance of schooling in this family but at this time of the evening homework is completed and the kids and adults are free to visit and to share experiences of the day.
All are present, including Zack’s third brother Alaza, but with the exception of Miss Rudy who is too shy to come out of her room. She calls out to her mother and Zack brings her unwillingly into our presence. She is not at all interested in anything I say to get her to talk to me and she tries to hide behind Zack, looking for a chance to escape back to her room. I decide that the best person to talk to a child is another child and I take out my photographs of Kalie and Galien. She chances a look at them and then takes the pictures from my hand for a closer look. Okay, maybe this stranger isn’t as odd as he first appeared, she may be thinking, for she stays and listens to stories about my daughters, translated by Zack and Maguy. And so I have new friendships now with Zack and Maguy’s family, including Miss Rudy, and with Tobe, at least for this visit.
After visiting for about an hour, Zack, Maguy, Eric Yota, a friend of Zack’s, and I leave to return to SODEP House. On the way, we stop at Maguy’s mother’s house to collect Faustine, Maguy’s sister, who is to spend some time accompanying Salimata tomorrow. We are welcomed to a comfortable home, through which we pass to the cooler patio at the back, and I am introduced to Mrs Tcheou and other members of the family. Faustine is still getting ready and Zack and I wait for her in the front room while Maguy visits with her family. Zack and I are chatting when I become aware of a presence beside me. I turn and look up, then up again, and there is Faustine, all six feet two inches of her 23 year old exquisite self, dressed for an evening’s social visit.
The five of us then leave and continue on our way to SODEP House where Salimata has prepared a wonderful dinner. The plucked chickens have been converted to a delicious casserole cooked in a tomato-based sauce. Chilis have been added but the stems of these have not been removed. Salimata tells me that this allows the chili to absorb the flavor of the stock but does not allow the chili to release its flavor to the dish.
We begin our meal with a salad tray made of sliced avocados and tomatoes with chipped tuna on a bed of lettuce. The chicken casserole follows, accompanied by a dish of rice. Invited to the table are Zack, Faustine, and me with Salimata hosting. Maguy and Eric sit in the living room watching television, which I find a little odd. After supper, Zack, Maguy, Faustine and Eric take their leave and shortly afterward Salimata turns in for the evening. Kokuvi and I watch some television together and then I retire to work on the diary entries, leaving the house in his charge.
SODEP House sits inside a walled compound with a lawn and trees, driveway and carport on its front side. Leaving the carport, one walks onto the veranda and then into the house through the front door which opens to the combined living room and dining area. Past this area, one comes to the kitchen on the left and access to the backyard and upstairs through it. Keeping to the right, one enters a small lobby off which are doors to the three bedrooms and the single bathroom. Kokuvi has his own room in part of the structure connected to the carport. Most of the house, with the exception of the kitchen, is air conditioned by way of individual window-mounted units. Lawrence has the largest room, complete with ensuite, mine is the corner room and Salimata’s room shares walls with the kitchen. The room she is occupying will soon become another office, complete with telephone, fax and internet connection for the computer. I hope that Kokuvi will have an opportunity to work here as part of the office staff, as well as the keeper of the house.
Monday, November 25
Today in Lomé. I’m awakened at 0700 by my alarm radio and by Kokuvi’s gentle knock on the door. Salimata has already finished with the bathroom and so I take my turn for ablutions, shaving and showering quickly. Kokuvi has breakfast ready consisting of two hardboiled eggs, toast with preserves and instant coffee. Kofi arrives to take Salimata and me to the PATC office. The day begins at full gallop.
Arriving at PATC I’m greeted by several of the staff, including Carole and Perpetue. Assibi Napoe stops in before leaving on a trip to Berkina Faso where she will conduct a Promotion of Women in Education (PWE) workshop. Lawrence arrives from Ghana around 1000 after nearly five hours on the road by public bus to Lomé. Soon all the staff assembles in the new meeting room and Lawrence conducts the Monday morning general staff meeting. I’m on the agenda to talk about the website project.
Following my comments, most of the staff leave for their respective duties with Lawrence, Zack, Salimata and me carrying on concerning details of the website project and workshop. Our discussions seem profitable and there is consensus about how we should proceed and what needs to be done. At lunch time, Kofi drives us to the Viva Royale restaurant where we have a nice lunch.
Returning to PATC, we continue our discussions and talk about the kinds of things that member organizations would find helpful in the world of internet access. Salimata provides a lot of helpful and insightful input from the point of view of an organization secretary general.
Salimata is an interesting woman. When I first met her at the airport, I guessed she might be in her mid 30’s as she is very youthful looking and attractive. Just five months ago she had a child. But Zack tells me she is well up in her 40’s and he attributes her beauty to the part of Côte d’Ivoire where she was born. “There, everything is done to develop and maintain feminine beauty,” he tells me. If Salimata is an example, then the effort certainly pays off.
At about 1500 Salimata leaves us to go shopping for fresh food for our supper. We know she is enjoying her time here, just being away from the serious situation in Côte d’Ivoire. Rebels have captured the northern part of the country and control radio and television stations there and many people have already been killed and displaced. Refugees are fleeing south to Abidjan and are causing more problems there. Salimata talks of not sleeping well for many nights for fear of people breaking into her home and harming her family, such events now becoming all too common in the southern part of the country. She is enjoying the peace and normalcy of Lomé, sleeping well here at the house, having discussions with us as one of the PATC board members and engaging in the joys of shopping and cooking. And she is a very fine chef.
Lawrence, Zack and I carry on planning the content and timing of the website workshop for the West Africa region. We estimate this will involve up to 14 representatives and, if the board meets at the same time, they could be invited to observe for a day or two following their meeting. We agree that this should be a prototype workshop, to be tried, fixed and flown elsewhere in Africa in subsequent years.
I agree to prepare a proposal to present to CTF asking for funding that will help support participant travel and accommodation costs while the ATA provides funding to cover the costs of sending two workshop leaders from Alberta. The workshop and its components will be one part of the proposal and Zack’s visit to Alberta for training will be another. If CTF pays his airfare to Canada, he will stay with my family and work for a week or two with Dean McKinney at St Albert Catholic High School with Dean serving as his mentor. At the summer workshop, Zack could then be a co-tutor, working alongside the Alberta Computer Council representatives.
Our meeting ends at 1630 and by that time we have covered quite a lot of productive ground. Zack and Lawrence return to their normal duties and I begin photographing the staff. These pictures will be used on the PATC website to identify who does what and to add some personality to the website pages. This photography is lots of fun for me and, I trust, for my subjects. When I finish taking photographs of the staff present at the time, I give a little demonstration of the camera to Kwesi Sam and Collins Nyantakye who both try their hand at some portraits.
I then spend some free time working on this journal before Lawrence drives Salimata, Carole and me home for supper. Carole and Salimata head directly for the kitchen to begin preparing supper with Kokuvi. Lawrence and I are chased away, he to the front room couch for a nap and me to my bedroom for the same. In half an hour another wonderful meal is placed before us—fresh shrimp salad with avocados and tomatoes, grilled fish with cassava and a spicy tomato sauce. After our meal, we all help to clean up, over mild protests from Salimata, and the evening nears an end. Carole will take a taxi home from the nearby gas station and Kokuvi and I walk the four blocks with her. She eventually flags down a taxi and negotiates a fair price for a ride home, I pay the driver and off she goes. Kokuvi and I walk back to SODEP House where I have a coffee and some of Salimata’s yogurt and millet concoction.
Tomorrow, we will leave Lomé to visit schools in rural areas north and northwest of the city. I’m looking forward to the travel.
Tuesday, November 26
Breakfast is underway at 0700 with Kokuve, Lawrence and Salimata. A menu of boiled eggs, toast with apricot jelly, coffee and papaya sets us up for a good day of exploring and visiting.
Oh, how I love a car ride! And today, Kofi is driving me, Abas Tchagnao, Madame Lebide and Zack’s friend Eric Yota to the hinterland to visit schools. We start from the PATC office and head out to our first school located 23 kilometers northeast of Lomé. The community is Adetikope and we will be visiting the secondary school. Before leaving Lomé, we stop for a short visit at Abas’ school and he leaves instructions with his staff concerning the parents’ meeting that he will miss later today. I didn’t realize it at first, but this is the school I visited on my last trip, photographing teachers marking final examinations and children playing soccer. Abas is the headmaster of this school. I feel a bit badly because when he tried to organize the soccer players on that previous visit, I had to ask him to be quiet and just let the kids play. Oh well, he did offer to ride along today and I’m very happy for his company. His heart is certainly in the right place because he also serves as secretary of information for FESEN, the Togo teachers’ federation that is a member organization of PATC and Education International.
We leave Abas’ school, after I retrieve his fallen wrist watch from the dust, and head out of town. Eric is along to serve as my translator but I’m not sure he is happy with his assignment at first. I believe Madame Lebide is along to meet teachers in different parts of the country. She serves as the FESEN treasurer. Kofi is along to drive Lawrence’s Rav 4 Toyota and I’m in the centre of all of this activity, the Canadian who asked to see some rural schools.
After traveling for about 20 minutes, we arrive at Adetikopi Primary School. Kids are interested in our arrival and in seeing me, this old white haired dude with the camera, in the front seat. Of course I grin, wave and speak my pidgin French as we pass by their classroom buildings. We are following the headmistress through the grounds of her school to the neighboring secondary school. Her students start to mob the car but she turns, and with a few shakes of her finger, sends them back to their classes. No yelling or wild gestures on her part, just a silent finger shake and a determined look on her face. How wonderful I think she is!
The secondary school is a series of open-sided thatched buildings, each one of which contains a secondary grade. We meet the principal, Mr Kokou Messanh M’Bo-M’Bo, in his separate little thatched office that is situated in the middle of the school complex. He has some of the boys bring their desks for us to sit in while he describes the makeup of his school. He tells us there are 374 students in seven classes, all being taught by eight subject specialist teachers.
We proceed on a walk around the grounds and in each thatched building I am introduced by the principal and welcomed by the students. This is a fairly quick affair and I try making pictures in the classes of each grade. Sophisticated subjects and topics are being taught and taught well, from what I can gather from a quick glimpse at several student notebooks and from the material in place on the single blackboard in each classroom.
The buildings themselves are cool and breezy, despite the hot and humid air outside. It’s amazing to me what a bit of shade and a slight breeze can accomplish. I feel very comfortable under these roofs and compare these places of learning to our own hermetically sealed classrooms back home.
At the end of the tour, I present the football and air pump from Kalie’s Canadian Tire store to the principal. Mr M’Bo-M’Bo seems pleased to receive this little gift.
We now return to Lomé, despite Kofi’s complaint that a shortcut across country would save time. In Lomé, we join another highway that takes us to the northwest and toward the border with Ghana. After passing through several villages and small towns, we eventually reach Kpalimé, quite a good sized city. Our first stop is made to pick up a gentleman who has been waiting at the side of the road to greet us. His name is Nicolas Zanou Kwazci and he is the general secretary of the Catholic teachers’ organization that is part of FESEN. None of this is known to me when we pick him up and I just go with the flow of events, knowing that there is method and purpose in everything we do. With six of us now in the little utility car, we carry on to the office of the district inspector of primary schools, located in the heart of Kpalimé. We climb a flight of stairs and are ushered in to the office of the inspector.
I have met several government education officers in my Africa travels and many of them are just a bit officious, probably due to the nature of their work. This gentleman, Lawsman Anani-Soh Boevi, welcomes us warmly from his side of a massive desk and talks about his district and the education of primary school children to his visitors, lined up in chairs on the opposite side. Desks such as his just seem to emphasize the importance of their occupants and magnify their authority. We chat amiably with Eric providing very good translation. I learn that his district includes 60 primary schools, nearly 11,000 students and 345 teachers paid by the government. Teachers at so-called private schools are considered volunteers by the parents and receive much lower salaries.
Eventually the topic of lunch comes up. Lawson makes a few telephone calls and all is arranged. He escorts us from his office and we form up in a little convoy comprised of our Rav 4 and Lawsman’s old but much-loved Peugot station wagon. He leads us first to visit with a fellow inspector and then on to lunch at an interesting out-of-the-way restaurant. Lawsman’s car was paid for by the parents of the district who took up a collection to provide him with a descent set of wheels with which to visit schools. Good food can often be found in restaurants off the beaten track in African towns and the Macumba Restaurant is a good example. We follow narrow alleys and roads lined with container units until we reach the restaurant where we all eat, with the exception of Abas, who is fasting. We enjoy delicious grilled fish and “frites.”
I had brought along cash to pay for today’s meals but it turns out that my money is simply no good in Kpalimé. Lawsman and the Togo teachers have taken care of the bill. “When we have a guest, it is our honour to host him,” I am told. I tip the waitress, at least, and buy some carved wooden elephants from one of the waiters. I also photograph in the restaurant, showing its open roof and pleasant layout, and take individual and group shots of the kitchen staff, much to their enjoyment. One of them is wearing a tee shirt with the slogan “Life is too short to drink cheap wine” and I will give a copy of this photograph to Wayne Chambers back in St Albert, a friend who keeps that very slogan on a little tablet in his dining room.
After lunch, we begin the last leg of our outward journey to the second school. The inspector’s car, containing the driver, Lawsman and Madame Lebide, leads the way. This gives those of us in the Rav 4 some extra room, something we will appreciate on the road to Kalakala. Our route takes us out to the northwest corner of the city and right up to the barriers on the border with Ghana. This ends our travel on an excellent paved road and we turn south onto a track that leads through quite hilly terrain. The vegetation becomes thicker as we rock and roll along the trail and we see crops of bananas, cocoa and coffee being grown on small cleared plots.
We continue along the track for about ten miles, with Kofi exclaiming all the while that the road is too rough for the little car. Then we enter a clearing that contains a small school and just a little bit further along yet another school at which we stop. This is the Kalakala Primary School and the object of our travel through the bush. We are warmly greeted by the headmaster, the kindly Adou Mawuena. He has spent his entire career in this school that currently houses just over 200 students. The classrooms are individual buildings made of large mud bricks and have either galvanized metal or thatched roofs. Each building holds one grade of students. The school was built in 1964 and it is now in pretty bad repair with many of the bricks having eroded, leaving gaping spaces below many of the windows, and with the galvanized roofs rusting and showing signs of wind damage. Adou teaches the first year children in a small lean-to attached to the end of one of the mud brick buildings, a space that also serves as the school office.
Inside each building sit some very determined children, sitting at least two to a desk, and being taught by an entirely male teaching staff. Inspector Lawsman leads the way and speaks to each group of children. I am introduced and after a few quick photographs, we walk on to another classroom. Eric translates a comment from Lawsman that because the children’s education is considered so important, we cannot interrupt for long. Parents give up a lot of their income to have their children in this school and they expect time to be spent directly on task. I am clearly not in the category of “teachable moment” and I content myself with photographing these beautiful children.
At the end of our visit to the classroom buildings the staff escorts our party to the cars. I hand over the second soccer ball and pump to Adou Mawuena and he in turn hands it to one of his staff. This young man holds the ball under his arm and there is a broad smile on his face—I think the staff may enjoy having a new ball as much as the children.
On the way back to the main road, we make a stop at Adou’s house. He emerges with a beautiful cluster of ripening bananas on his shoulder and hands it over to me. This is his gift for our visit to Kalakala School, its students and staff. We also stop briefly at the little private school that is situated near the main school. I photograph here as well, particularly some of the staff who are “volunteers” and who are paid directly by the parents.
Afterward, we head back down the track, with Kofi muttering comments about the kinds of roads he is required to drive on. “Africa!” as he often says. We say farewell to Lawsman outside his Kpalimé office and then travel on to the Catholic Cathedral to visit this beautiful building and to meet Hugues Agbenuti, the priest who is in charge of Catholic education within the district. The church is an imposing European-style structure that was started by the Germans in 1897 when they controlled Togo. It was completed in 1903 and 2003 will mark its 100th anniversary. Over the years, the building has fallen into disrepair but a lot of effort is currently underway to restore the church to its original condition. Nicolas, our Kpalimé guide, had asked if we could meet with the priest. He seems pleased that we could do so and I am delighted to meet Father Hugues. He is a young man and seems to be just the right sort of person for an education posting.
After some photographs at the cathedral, we have a fairly uneventful drive back to Lomé. The trip seems longer in the darkness of the evening but as we approach Lomé we are entertained by sheet lightning that stirs the sky’s blackness. Salimata greets us at SODEP House and she and Kokuvi have supper ready for us. Our day’s journey comes to a most satisfactory end.
Wednesday, November 27
Anything today will be anticlimactic after yesterday’s adventure. Finding such a perfect little school at the end of a trail through the bush was quite astonishing. It is, I think, the purest education setting I have ever encountered.
Zack and I go downtown today with Kofi who drops us off at the Softel computer company that services PATC, EI and many other local organizations and businesses. There we meet three young men who teach computer courses and install systems. We are looking for a site to hold our website workshop and these folk have two network training labs. It all looks very promising and they agree to submit a proposal outlining what it would cost to hold a week-long session at their facility. I’m really very impressed by their knowledge and competence and they have a good working relationship with PATC . We leave there and walk a few blocks to the Hotel Ivoa to check on the availability of rooms. Again, this looks like a good fit for space and service and the manager agrees to forward an estimate to accommodate 20 persons.
Zack and I carry on further downtown, looking for some personal items he needs. We come close to the Palm Beach Hotel and I suggest I go to the Air France office to confirm my flight back to Paris. Even though I don’t have my ticket with me, the agent proceeds and tells me that I am confirmed on Saturday’s flight. This is the first step on the journey home.
Shortly after, Zack and I take a taxi for the ride back to PATC. Each taxi, I learn, has its own route and the driver picks up additional passengers along the way. We are passengers two and three and are shortly joined by passenger four. Once we reach PATC, Kofi takes Carole and me back to the ocean-side for lunch. The two of us have a nice visit, a good meal and then Kofi returns to take us back to the office. Such occasions as this help me stay in touch with the staff and learn more about how they see the organization developing.
In the afternoon, Zack and I visit the University of Togo to have a look at their computer instruction centre. The director is not available when we arrive but we are given a tour by other staff. Along the way, Zack visits with professors and students he knows from his time here as a student. An older man comes out of a class and joins our conversation group. It turns out he is a minister of the government and he is here learning about new computer applications. He is very personable, about my age and hair coloring and his middle name is Seth. I tell him about my Seth.
In the evening, it is agreed that I will host Salimata, Carole and Lawrence for supper at the Barracuda Restaurant, the first eating establishment I visited on my first trip to Lomé. Lawrence drives tonight and, with Carole’s good instructions, we make our way along the coastal highway toward the harbour. We turn in at the beginning of the huts belonging to the families of the fishers and the air becomes full of the odor of fish being smoked. We proceed to the now familiar wall and pass through its doorway into the pleasant setting of the restaurant. Apparently the PATC directors came here for supper one evening with Barbara MacDonald. The place seems to be turning into the unofficial PATC dinner location of choice.
A superb supper by the water’s edge follows after which we head back into the heart of the city. Our passage is interrupted by two soldiers who have set up a “robbers’ roadblock,” a simple and straight-forward way to extort money from passing motorists. Carole carries on a conversation with the spokesman for the two until he spots me sitting across from her on the back seat of the car. He comes around to talk to me personally, explaining that he and his cohort are doing a good job of providing for my personal security. I should feel obliged to thank them, he suggests, by paying them some money. These little schemes are quite common here because the soldiers, although paid regularly to assure their faithfulness to the President for Life, really aren’t paid very much. Talking to a young man, armed with an automatic weapon and somewhat steeped in cheap alcohol, is somewhat disconcerting. Carole hands him a few francs and we are allowed to go on our way.
Lawrence really doesn’t like these episodes of highway robbery and speaks his mind on the subject. He’s upset that a soldier has to stoop so low as to converse with a woman and extort money from her. We all compliment Lawrence on having just kept quiet during the incident and acting only as the driver. I reach forward from the back seat and pat him on the shoulder saying “Good work, Kofi,” in reference to our regular driver. This breaks the tension and we all have a good laugh.
We carry on to SODEP House, put Carole in a cab for her home and then to bed.
Thursday, November 28
My morning start finds me in a dither. I have looked everywhere for my little black book in which I record my journal but it’s not to be found. When Kofi comes with the Rav 4 we search it together but there is no sign of the book. Perhaps it’s at PATC. On arrival there, still no trace of the thing. My camera bag is on the table in the small meeting room and it suddenly occurs to me to look in its back pocket and, as Salimata would say, “Voi—la!” My outlook on the day improves.
The morning is taken up with photographing staff, repaying Carole the money she loaned me to cover the cost of last night’s meal and sending home an email to Kalie Jeanetta Johnston. I had emailed home on Monday, reporting that I had arrived safely and that I would write again “tomorrow” or Tuesday. Of course on Tuesday I was high in the hills of southwest Togo, at the end of a track in the bush. Email access was not an option.
Kalie wrote to me on Thursday: “Timothy Allan Johnston! It has now been two days since tomorrow, and we’d really like to hear from you. French keyboard or not! Write soon.” And so this morning I reply to let Kalie and everyone else at home know that all is well.
I spend some time with Rachel Crabbe, a retired teacher who has been brought in to help run the book program. Mrs Chris Adejo, who was in charge of the program, has now retired from EI/PATC and returned to Ghana. We examine several of the publications produced here for schools across Africa and Rachel shows me two shipments that are ready for Liberia and Malawi. The book program has been a flagship program of PATC for the past ten years and it has a quite successful track record. PATC holds seminars to teach teachers how to write and illustrate such books and then compiles and prints the results on the PATC press. Carole serves as editorial assistant for the French language books and Sam Kwessi does the same for English language books. Other staff members are involved in laying out pages, procuring supplies, printing the final editions and shipping the product. Altogether, the book program consumes a lot of staff resources but the product is well worth the expenditure of time and creativity. Funding assistance is provided partly by CTF IDAP funding.
Around noon, Lawrence, Zack and I leave the office to collect Salimata at SODEP House. She is returning to Côte d’Ivoire this afternoon and we are taking her to the airport. She has cooked a final meal for us and it will wait on the stove for our return from the airport. We drop her off at the airport departure area, along with lots of additional luggage and our fond farewells, and we then return to SODEP House for lunch. The place seems empty without Salivate, and Lawrence and I eat our meal accompanied only by CNN news.
PATC closes between 1200 and 1430 each day and, while Lawrence usually stays at work during that time, today he is at home for lunch. We decide to spend some of the time exploring the neighborhood and start out on a walk through the nearby streets. We encounter telephone linesmen installing cable to a nearby house and Lawrence asks if they are there to wire the telephone at SODEP House as well. He ordered and paid for telephone service in May and eight months later there is still no sign of the telephone.
We return to the office and Zack and I head back for another visit to the University of Togo. This time we have a set appointment with the director of the computer centre, the gentleman we missed meeting with yesterday. He tells us that it will be possible to use the centre’s computer classroom for the website workshop. We then visit Professor Lawson-Body, director of the university’s language centre known as Village des Benin, who also serves as an editorial consultant for the PATC book program. Professor Lawson-Body tells us that his centre will soon have a new computer lab, fully networked and internet capable. He also has a number of guest rooms that could house all our participants and instructors in air conditioned comfort. Zack and I like this possibility because it builds on an already strong PATC-U of T bond.
Back at PATC, I take a few moments to photograph Kofi Senior sitting on a bench in the shade of a tree just outside the gate. Kofi Junior, the watchman at the office, observes me and I give him the Nikon to try some shots. At a little kiosk near the roadway in front of the office is a group of young women and girls having their hair braided. I ask Kofi if he would like to photograph them and, of course, over we go! The young woman who owns the stand has a baby, just a toddler, and I pick her up and just stand in with the women. Kofi takes lots of pictures and enjoys doing that. I enjoy holding a baby again.
My last visit of the day takes me to the EI regional office to see Nana Ababbio. Lawrence walks with me and a very official looking guard, complete with night stick, allows us into the courtyard. It’s good to see Nana again and the three of us have a “catch-up” kind of visit. He has recently returned from ten days in Namibia with Maureen Morris and today he drove from Accra to Lomé.
It’s deep twilight when Lawrence and I leave and the sky is full of beautiful shades of pinks and blues. It is also full of thousands of very large bats flying home to their evening perches. Apparently, this migration takes place daily as the bats fly out in the morning and back in the evening. Lawrence drives us home to a house empty of everyone save Kokuvi and we have our supper in the company of a German television news program broadcast, fortunately, in the English language.
And so the day turns out rather well with a farewell to a new friend from Côte d’Ivoire and introductions to some people who may help make our website project a success this year and in the future.
Friday, November 29
I decided last night that I would change residences today to make my movements on Saturday easier for everyone concerned. On arrival at the office, Zack books me a room at the Hotel Deux Fevrier. I had packed my luggage earlier and Zack, Lawrence and I head back to SODEP House to collect it and for me to say goodbye to Kokuvi. The car is loaded in short order, including Lawrence’s luggage as well as mine, for he will drive to Accra later this afternoon. I leave Kokuvi with ten US dollars for all his work looking after me and we then depart for the hotel. My room is near the top floor and Zack tells me he is not comfortable going up so high in the elevator. The view from the room, however, convinces him that being so high up can be quite fun and he enjoys taking in the splendid view of Lomé that is presented to him. He and Maguy have been joking with each other because she comes from the highland region of central Togo and Zack comes from the lowlands in the north. On our return to the office, I let her know that Zack enjoyed the heights after all. Eric Yota teases both of them, saying that the lowlanders eat snakes while people from his part of the country can will themselves to fly around inside large baskets. Such is the regional humor of Togo.
Lunch today is with Assibi Napoe and she drives Lawrence and me in her old Mercedes sedan to a nice little French restaurant. Assibi knows how to maneuver in the heavy traffic and she navigates across town quickly and with only a modest number of frights for her passengers. We discuss the PWE (promotion of women in education) program that she operates for EI but out of the PATC office and we talk about how the program might find a fit inside the expanded world of the Centre. (As we discover in 2003, Assibi is named as the replacement for Tom Bediako as EI Africa representative. The future of the PWE program will need to be reviewed).
I stop to visit little Nono after lunch and I make some photographs of her and her Mother. She is a beautiful little child of about two years of age and she sits on a little table in the shade of Kofi Senior’s tree chatting away to me. Nono’s mother sells strips of fried yam to passers-by from this location and Nono and other little children her age are often found playing here. Later, I take out an envelope with Nono’s name on it and ten US dollars inside and ask her Mother to buy something special for the little girl.
My journal-keeping takes up some more time inside the office and as I write, Nono, her Mother and a young gentleman are shown in to the room where I am writing. They just want to thank me for the little gift. I get a hug from Nono and that is my reward. It means a lot to me.
At 1530, Maguy walks with me to the FESEN office across the street from PATC. We are very careful crossing the road because it is the beginning of the Friday rush hour. Cars and scooters wait for no one on foot. FESEN is one of the federations of teacher organizations in Lomé and Assibi serves as its general secretary. With her this afternoon in the back room of the converted garage are the general secretaries of seven of the union member groups plus some additional national FESEN personnel. Nicolas from Kpalimé has driven all the way down for this meeting and I assume it is a regular meeting of the leaders. Turns out it isn’t and everyone has assembled just for my benefit.
Before the meeting gets underway, I start photographing each secretary in order to place them onto the FESEN portion of the PATC website. I keep track of everyone by having them print their name and organization on sheets of paper that I include in each shot. Then the meeting gets underway. All present are introduced and Assibi then explains the website project and the upcoming workshop. She opens the conversation for general questions and we have a good exchange. The best question concerns what could be done to help teachers in Togo who earn very low salaries. This problem needs to be addressed across the continent.
Enthusiasm for the websites seems solid and I think these sites will be helpful in raising awareness of issues like teacher salaries and teaching conditions. We pause for refreshments and Assibi and I share a large bottle of Flag beer. More questions and discussions follow and a sidebar request is made by Assibi for a new computer for the FESEN office. The existing computer is really a joke and doesn’t work well at all.
The meeting begins to wind down and I spot a beautifully wrapped box being brought to one of the union secretaries. This is soon presented to me, toasts are made and one of the secretaries takes pictures of us using the Nikon. I’m then whisked away from the FESEN office in a beautifully maintained 1982 Peugot sedan, the pride and joy of one of the secretaries, and deposited at the Hotel Deux Fevrier. Inside the hotel, representatives from the government of Côte d’Ivoire and the rebels are meeting under the auspices of the President of Togo who is trying to find some way to help end the nascent civil war. Zack refers to the rebels as robbers, as they were the ones who held him and Lawrence hostage for nine days in northern Côte d’Ivoire and who took possession of their possessions when the two were hurriedly flown out of the country by the French army. I bid my friends and the green Peugot “bonne chance” and settle in to a hotel for the first time on this trip.
Once I get the correct key for my room (two trips up and down on very infrequent elevators), I do a bit of unpacking and then take a hot, long and high-pressure shower. The hotel is really quite nice and apparently has received lots of renovations over the past two years. Refreshed, I return to the lobby to wait for Zack and Maguy; and there they are, along with Eric who served as my translator on Tuesday’s expedition. Instead of eating in the hotel restaurant, we walk to the little restaurant nearby that we have used on two earlier occasions, the Viva Royale. We enjoy our meals and end up paying a fare perhaps one third of what the hotel might have charged. The meal is to be my treat but Zack pays with CFA and I promise to reimburse him when he comes to see me tomorrow, as we have arranged. We walk back to the hotel in the dark, warm coastal air and I help with the cab fare to get my companions back to their homes.
In my room, I unwrap the gift from FESEN and discover two beautiful carvings of what I at first believe are the facial profiles of two girls. I immediately dub them Kalie and Galien. This will come back to haunt me after I arrive home in St Albert and everyone sees that the carvings are really of a boy and a girl. Bed time, and a good sleep. . .
Saturday, November 30
. . . from which I awake at 0600. I had left the room curtains open to view what I expected would be a spectacular sunrise but instead the light is subdued and the sky uniformly grey. A heavy fog blankets everything and so I sleep on and off for another hour then rise and shower. When ready for the day, I take the elevator 32 floors to the lobby only to discover that the restaurant is on the penthouse floor, 36 flights above. That room has a view to the west, toward Ghana, and somewhat to the north where fishing boats drift on the ocean swell.
I have purposely planned this as a quiet day in order to better endure the 20 plus hours of flying that will commence for me this evening. I’m also waiting for Zack, who said he would come for a visit before my departure. The hotel has agreed to let me stay in my room until 1600 and I do so, repacking my luggage and making some photographs from the vantage point of my lofty room, once the fog dissipates and the sun comes out to shine.
At 1600, I check out of my room, cash $5 for CFA, and then rocket to the airport in the hotel van. I check in, pay my departure fee and enter the waiting lounge where security seems marginally better from what I remember in 2001. The Airbus 340 has arrived from Paris and Lagos and sits on the apron being cleaned and replenished. We will soon walk out to the foot of the air stairs where Air France’s own “fly along” security folk will check tickets and passports once again and have a look in any pieces of luggage that pique their interest. I’m looking forward to reaching my seat, 37K, and settling in for a good sleep on the way to Paris.
Once on board, I find the plane’s interior very cool and I’m suddenly overcome by severe shivering. I bundle up as best I can with my one skimpy blanket but the shaking continues throughout the short flight to Lagos. Once on the ground there, I pull on a windshirt, get a second blanket and manage to finally stop the shakes. I sleep more or less soundly all the way to Paris, wrapped up in my shrouds.
The City of Light is reached at about 0630 Paris time and I have a few hours to waste in the terminal before my Air Canada flight to Toronto. I purchase a liquid breakfast, as my systems are not doing well, and manage some fitful sleep in a quiet part of the terminal. I’m not feeling at all well and I’m not looking forward to the long journey still ahead.
At 1100, I board the Air Canada 767 for the flight to Toronto. It’s so nice being on a Canadian aircraft. The seat pitch on the Air France aircraft was so tight that I believe I have suffered permanent damage to my back and knees—terribly crowded. Air Canada coach seems luxurious by comparison. I sleep most of the way across the broad Atlantic, drinking lots of liquids during my waking periods. Solid food holds no interest for me whatsoever. I think I might have picked up some food poisoning at breakfast at the hotel—good reason to stay at SODEP House until the moment of departure.
Toronto is reached and after another wait I start the last leg of the trip home to Edmonton. My luggage stays in Paris, to be delivered in a day or so. I plan to take two days off to recuperate and then head in to the office. I am hosting the Queen’s Medals ceremony for ATA recipients on Thursday and I need to be in good shape for that.
My second mission to Togo is complete, apart from reports, photographs and the completion of this journal. While the meeting with the members of the board did not come off as originally planned, I did succeed in finalizing a number of details for the computer website workshop and cementing good relations with the staff of PATC.
Overall, this has been a very good trip and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to visit dear Africa once again.
Monday, July 14
The final transcription of this journal of my trip to Togo in November 2002 takes place today. At noon, Dean McKinney and Edna Dach take off for Togo as representatives of the ATA Computer Council. I trust the work done up to this point on organizing the website event will pay off for all of us, Africans and Albertans alike.