First, I apologize for me PUNy attempt to continue my pun fun. (I promise to balance out being cheesy by being vulgar, too. I’m trying to appeal to all audiences). I should be PUNished. “Just PUNch yousrself, Jeremy!” Okay. Done. Ouch. Now my belly hurts.
Last weekend some friends and I traveled to two countries most people have probably never even heard of (but they do exist, I promise): Togo (pronounce Tow….Go, rhymes with Tro-Tro/Yolo,/Cocoa/Solo/Go-low,and OH!NO!) and Benin (pronounced like “I’ve REALLY Benin to reading your Blog, Jeremy! You better not disappoint me in your future posts!”). They are East of Ghana, towards the center of Africa. Both are French speaking, said to be less developed, and notorious for being rather welcoming to young, handsome, and hairy bloggers from America.
I decided to shave everything on my face and leave my mustache for the trip so I could look French and creepy. My passport didn’t fool any of the officers at the boarder, though. And, if anything, my French appearance probably just ended up confusing people when they realized my French accent sucked and my vocabulary resembles a 7 year old’s. But, it was fun to look like a rapist! I highly recommend it to those open to trying new things. Just don’t become a rapist.
Our trip began early, (left around 5 am), and we didn’t arrive at our hotel in Benin until around 4 pm. It was cool to get to the station so early and see everyone start their day. I can’t say I’ve seen loads of come out of a taxi trunk before.
In our first van from Accra to the Togo border, we were stopped along the way (I think mainly because he saw white passengers) by a police officer. After about 20-30 minutes on conversation, our driver finally reached an agreement (I’m almost positive a bribe) with the officer, and then we continued on our way. My Ghanaian friend previously responded when I asked him why I haven’t seen any police officers that you’ll see them in long drives, as they often pull cars over. If you are pulled over, as a kind gestures, people in their cars give the officers a small sum money….so they can eat. So….at the sign of white people in a van, this officer became hungry and decided to stop us. Understandable; I get hungry whenever I see white people, too…
Crossing the border took a while, but once we got to Lomé, Togo, I flipped my French switch on! We got into another taxi and headed for Benin. The drive through Togo was cool. We drove along the for most of the ride, saw lots of , African /jump suits, and informal stations that served oil from recycled bottles. At last, we arrived at our hotel 11.5 hours later, checked in, and started to make plans for the evening.
With no idea where we exactly were, no form of transportation (taxis were almost nonexistent), and limited French conversational skills (except Kate), our group went off wandering the streets looking for a restaurant that “seemed” to be close by. After sometime, it became so dark and we were completely lost. Then, we somehow managed to find a man who left his girlfriend, got on in his motorcycle, and returned with two taxi-motorcycles, or “Taxi-moto”, who would us to the area we were looking for. We enjoyed a nice meal on the beach at some Lebanese restaurant, and celebrated St. Patties day with some French-African Win (not sure if that makes sense). The highlight of that meal was definitely Hummus and falafel. I cracked up when my friend ordered, “Homos” (that’s how it was spelled on the menu), as if he was hoping for some flamboyant evening entertainment. We tried some local beers, but they tasted like someone had already drunken them. One of the bottles didn’t even have a label on it. Of course, I still managed to finish them. My motto: No job goes unfinished.
After getting back to our hotel, I experienced the one of the worst nights’ sleep of my life. The air conditioner didn’t work, and I felt as if there were a colony of mosquitoes nesting under my pillow. I didn’t put on enough bug spray, and the only thing keeping the mosquitoes away was the dripping sweat that covered my body. The highlight of my sleep was while I was awake at about 2:30 in the morning, unsure what to do because I was so sweaty and itchy, when my friend, Harrison began sleep talking. After a few seconds, I realized he was speaking in Pidgin (a local language of broken English spoken in Ghana that is sort of like Ebonics on steroids). I yelled at him to shut up, and proceeded to think of ways to get revenge on this hotel for giving us a room with broken air conditioning. My options included: urinating on the beds, stealing everything that we could fit in our bags (they had some nice Jesus memorabilia), or refusing to pay (even though we already paid). At one point I seriously contemplated going to the girls’ room to sleep on the concrete floor in the nude.
When the sun finally rose and I felt like I was living straight out of the movie, “Fight Club”, (without the fighting) I opted not to seek revenge on the hotel. My darling friend, Kate(also the winner of French-conversationalist of the weekend) told them in French that I was sad about the air condition not working. “Je ne suis pas triste…je suis furious!!” I buzzed. I tried to express my anger in French, but ended up failing to do so, which lead to me taking a picture with the receptionist in his outfit. He gave me his e-mail and wants me to send him the picture. Why not!?
Then, we ate a complementary French breakfast (coffee and bread….or café et du pain), but decided we were nowhere near satisfied and walked the streets to try to find omelets. I ended up making a friend who claimed he was a musician, and next thing you know we are rapping in French as he is escorting us to an omelet stand. They were delicious! (Baguette #2 on the day). He ended up spending the entire the with us, answering our questions, showing us where to go, making sure our money was hidden, and keeping our group together in return for us buying him just an omelet and some pineapple (which was under a dollar). He didn’t speak any English, but I could understand most of what he said.
Next, our friend helped us get motor taxi’s to the grand market where he helped us explore. At one point he held my hand while crossing the street (which was like crossing a 5 lane highway). What a nice fella! Holding hands isn’t a sign of intimacy in West Africa (at least from what I’ve observed). Though, pinching each others nose is…..I think. At least for me. (Hmmm).
We were the only white people there, and the market seemed to be more of a maze than a market, but we eventually made our way to the “Fetish Market” where we saw stands full of animal , animal , and other strange, crazy, yet remarkable objects. I saw a few live rats. Some guy tried to sell me a live fish! Another demanded that we pay ($4-$5) to take pictures, but as I spoke in French to some seller, I was able to take photos of his “” with out him noticing. Then, I pretended to be on my iPhone and took as many shots as I could. That seemed to be the go to move for the weekend, since they didn’t recognize it as a camera.
Some guys showed us some voodoo pieces and figures that, when done properly, cured AIDs, and could also find you a handsome husband. I tried to explain that at this point in my life, neither of those outcomes were desirable. He asked what I wanted, and I said “Je veux être hereux pour tous le temps”, which is (probably an incorrect form of saying), ‘I want to be happy forever’. The next thing I knew, I was bargaining for some voodoo magic piece that could apparently make me happy forever. And they say money can’t buy happiness! Well, apparently it can, although the man didn’t understand how his price was too high. He laughed when I told him that I did not want to pay anything over $5 for “eternal happiness”. I was hungry at the time and thought my money could have been better spent on more delicious baguettes.
We made it back to our hotel, and wandered the streets for some street food with our Beninoin (?) friend. We ate a delicious sandwich (baguette #3) that included spaghetti, avocadoes, potatoes, some fishy sauce, salad, and some sort of salsa, and it was delicious. We all agreed that we’re bringing back spaghetti sandwiches to the US. Still hungry, we ordered avocado filled baguettes (#4) for desert. Delicious!
After a 50 minute walk from the hotel (they told us it was 15-20 minutes) we spent about 20 minutes bargaining for a taxi (in French), said goodbye to our unofficial tour guide who asked for 50 cents so he could get a taxi home, and took off for Lomé, Togo. We got a very cheap price….only to realize it was because we’d be cramming in 7 people into a compact taxi for a 3 hour ride. That was fun!
After losing power at the boarder, getting like 5 stamps, and saying ten merci’s, we survived the Togo/Benin border, met up with another taxi driver, and made it to our hotel. Then, we celebrated St. Patties day again. This hotel had tap beer (the first time I’ve seen it in West Africa). It did not taste pleasant, but the sight of a keg truly made me feel like I was back in Madison at a house party before a football game. Maybe not exactly….But the inebriation levels were comparable.
I ordered some scrumptious frog legs for dinner, accompanied by complimentary bread (baguette #5 and $6). The streets were dark, we didn’t know how we could get a motor taxi, and we had no idea where to go and what to do, so we just stayed in and went to bed early. Our room didn’t even have a toilet. That was awkward.
The next day we went to La Grand Marché, did some shopping (I truly enjoyed bargaining in French….at any given time I could just say “je ne comprend pas”), took some “” the be on phone, ate a few more baguettes (#7,#8, and #9) road some motortaxis, and then headed back to Ghana. At the boarded, almost got pick pocketed. It was quite scary. I got excited when I saw NBA playing on the TV. “Which team do you like?” I asked the officer.
“I don’t like basketball”.
In our ride back to Accra, we were stopped in the Volta region, and demanded to show our passports to the officers. Racial profiling on ze white people! Hooray! They ended up searching our entire van, and we learned that we were stopped simply because we were white. I thought I was going to get in trouble when I opted to urinate in the bushes instead of the restrooms (they tried to charge me 10 pesuwas….why would I pay to stand in urine and go pee-pee in the corner when I can stand on grass and go on a tree for free!?), and one of the officers asked where I was and saw that I wasn’t using their facilities. Luckily my friend Ryan talked him out of it, “I’m sorry, I’m sure he didn’t know. But, I’ll make sure to tell him for next time!”
As I dosed off in my seat, I began dreaming that I was bargaining in French. “Oh, c’est trop chére! c’est dingue!”
‘Oh, it’s too expensive. That’s ridiculous!’
We made it back to Ghana safe and sound, and we even murmured the song “I’m coming home”, in our last Tro-Tro ride. My stay here is now about half way done. Though, I do refer to my room here as home.
No more motor taxis, no more baguettes, no more French, and no more mustache!
No more to blog about, either. Sorry(or…hopefully your welcome?) it was so long.