First Impressions of Lome

I don’t believe too many Americans make it out to Togo, because it is French-speaking, and certainly not too many five year old white children make it out here, because it is number 166 on the Human Developmental Index. It is a zone for various tropical diseases, and does not offer any particularly famous sights. In fact, we would not probably stop here, were it not that they offered the transit visa, and easy transport into Benin.

Before bed, the first night we arrived in Lome, Ryder asked me if I liked Portugal or Togo better. I said I didn’t know yet, and he also said he didn’t know. Less than 24 hours later, Ryder said he preferred Togo.

It may be due to where I’ve picked to stay. It’s called Robinson Hotel Plage, and it has a playground and is right on the beach.

DSC01367 The room is rustic but has AC, and there is no hot water, but neither was there hot water at the similar place we stayed in Accra, Ghana, only a three hour drive away from here, in 2011. There is a restaurant with decent food, and other children (French-speaking) are also here.

But what Ryder loved the most, was swimming out to the rocks at the beach, and walking along until we came to the settlements along the beach. It appeared to be makeshift housing, which more than likely did not have electricity or plumbing. I wondered casually how they managed the toilet. There were tens of children there, in various stages of dress, who unsurprisingly ended up standing around us, grinning, as I explained in the most basic French possible, “Je ne parlais francais, parlais anglais, de America.”

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Ryder says he is shy, and tends to ignore people he doesn’t know. Even when they ask him direct questions, he just pretends he cannot hear them, despite any urging from me. But these kids chipped away at him, though they could not talk together at all. They saw he was making a sand castle, and handed him instruments (well, trash from the beach) in which to build it, and another dug a hole in an attempt to keep the water from destroying the castle.

The men, muscular and shirtless, were all kicking around soccer balls or congregating at the housing doorways in groups, and the children were playing on the beach together. But I did not see one woman–except, was it a woman or man, I could not tell, who came to offer me a drag of a cigarette, who I thanked, appreciating the gesture, but explained I did not smoke. Where were they? Busy working, cooking, cleaning, breastfeeding? Were they not allowed to come to the beach? Did they not have any spare time to play with their children outside? It was a mystery I mused over as I sat in the sand and observed the children.

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They mostly had runny noses (maybe from swimming?) and mismatched or nonexistent clothing. One wore a green frock-style outfit and pink slip on shoes who may or may not have been a boy because he had no braids with brightly colored beads as the others had; one girl had a shirt on but no underwear; another boy unbashfully had no clothes whatsoever. Others had clothes with holes or the wrong sizes.

One man, who claimed to be a fisherman, carried Ryder out to the dam area while I swam alongside. Men were there with nets. I did not see them with fish, only shells. The man then took us back on the local fishing boat, essentially just a tree trunk. He then asked for ‘help’ and I gestured that I’d come with no money (after all we were just swimming).

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Before long, Ryder was imitating them diving into the ocean, and telling me that he would like to learn French, so that he could talk to them. When we left, Ryder insisted he wanted to go see his friends and swim with them again-that he had ‘a lot’ of friends.

It felt so idyllic that I had to remind myself that this life was surely not as perfect as it seemed the whole time I was there. It was a strange time warp.

Because despite the ragged clothing, and the lack of toilet access (the beach seemed to be the go-to) the children appeared so sweet and content. The older children were holding hands with the younger with no concern of looking ‘cool.’ One little boy shared a shell (which did not look edible to me) back and forth with his sister, one bite each, no fighting. They laughed and splashed. They had no toys, and countless friends.

One was left wondering why the West has moved in the direction that it has, isolated, indoors, neurotic. Could we not develop the technological and medical advances that we have without eliminating the ability to live life together rather than separately?

One could not be lonely here, on that beach, living that way. Ryder has no sense of that communal kind of life-he’s had almost the opposite possible existence, in fact. No siblings, and a constant change of scenery and exposure to outsiders, living away from nature and extended family, sequestered inside with technology and books and plastic figurines. All he knew was that he loved it there, in this, his 59th country, and did not stop asking to go back to the affectionate, playful friends whose names he did not know and could not ask as we walked away, the weather warm, the breeze inviting, the ocean coming in and out, in and out.

Kalli Hiller

Article by Kalli Hiller

Kalli Hiller is a voluntary vagabond who, with her husband Jacob, has traveled full time for the last eight years.

Kalli has written 377 awesome articles for us.

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