Blog of Johannes Thyssen

First impressions

Undoubtedly the first thing that caught my attention when I arrived to Togo were the 37-38°C the moment I stepped out of the airport. At first it was actually pretty nice, since that same week I had seen snow falling in the cold Berlin and the warm weather gave me the feeling of vacation at the beach. However, two hours later it was hell. My plane arrived in Lomé, the capital of Togo. Lomé is located in the south of Togo and on the coast with the Atlantic Sea, which means that the weather is humid and that it's pretty much impossible to hide from the heat. You blink, you sweat. At night, the best solution is to basically spread in the bed like a star and stay still.

Right on the next day after my arrival we headed north to Kara. It was a 7 hours ride on a two lane road that crosses pretty much the whole country. Along the way I got to see some of the small towns that are located next to the road. I got to eat some delicious fruits in Atakpamé, learned a little about the history of the country in Wahala and saw some amazing mountain landscapes close to Sokodé. One thing that really caught my attention was the apparently precisely calculated chaos in the streets with the hundreds of motorcycles beeping at everything that moves.

By the way when I say "we" I mean the very skilled driver Ako that drove us to Kara and Elias HARAKAWA, a teacher of the German language at the university of Kara and our main contact person in Togo.



Before my trip to Togo I had to get quite a lot of vaccines. If I remember correctly I was stung for yellow fiber, rabies, meningitis aaaand I don't remember the rest. I'm like captain america now. The thing is that there is no vaccine for malaria, a very common disease in tropical countries that is transmitted through mosquitoes. So for malaria there are some medicaments that you can take that are only preventive. Among these I think that there is one that you take every two weeks or so, and there are pills that you take everyday.  In my case the former was not available, meaning that I had to buy about 12 boxes of pills as if I was to start a drug dealing business in Togo. I really hate to take medicine and I was really scared of taking one pill everyday for four months, so I decided to take them only on those days when I would go out.

Weeelll bad idea. After about a month or so I got malaria. I can still hear my dad saying: I told you, you should've taken the pills everyday. It all started when I went to Lomé for a week's vacation. There I ate many new things like a delicious dish with fish and a kind of couscous salad called Attiéké, dog meat, some local cheese and other meals whose names I don't remember. When I came back to Kara I started to have diarrhea and fiber. It wasn't really a big deal since about three days later I was ok again, but just to make sure that everything was ok I went to see a doctor for some blood tests. There is were I found about having malaria. I honestly believe that I just felt sick from something I ate and because of that I went to make the tests which resulted in early discovered malaria that had not yet manifested any symptoms. I had to take more medicine for three days to deal with it. The locals told me that it was a welcome sign of Togo and took it very lightly. Welcome to Togo!



Food in Togo

On thing that was definetly not so easy to get used to was the food. I have tried many different dishes in Togo that I now find very delicious. Probably my favourite is the dish that I described in the malaria blog entry that consists of fish with some kind of couscous salad, however there are some other dishes that I like. One of the most famous ones here in Togo is foufou. Foufou is a kind of dough that is made out of a root/vegetable called yams. This thing is huge and potato-like looking that is brown from the outside and white on the inside. Traditionaly the yams are smashed into this kind of dough by using some kind of wood bowl and wooden sticks. It is very impressive to see how it's done since usually there are like three people smashing them in a synchronized manner. The foufou is normally eaten with some kind of sauce or soup that can contain vegetables or meat. Sometimes it can be very spicy, too. Another one is la pâte which is also a kind of dough but made out of corn that similarly to foufou is eaten with some kind of sauce and meat.

The cool thing about these dishes is that they are mainly eaten with the hands.  Basically you take a small part of foufou or la pâte and then you sink it into the soup grabbing meat or vegetables in the process and to your mouth it goes.  This way you can lick your fingers when you are done!

Now you might be wondering that this can be unhygienic but a little bacteria never killed nobody (most likely it has, but bear with me) and you get some nice antibodies out of it. But seriously, before eating you usually get a bucket or jar with water and soap so that you can clean your hands.

I have rarely seen someone here eating the junk food to which I am used to. Most of whats eaten here is also grown locally. The markets have some delicious fruits and vegetables. There is one fruit that comes from a huge tree called baobab that is called telim. The fruit has the size of a coconut and is green and hairy from the outside and white from the inside. This white thing is usually sold in the markets as powder that you can mix with water to make telim juice. I fucking love telim juice. Supposedly it is very healthy and contains a lot of vitamin C.



During my stay in Kara I lived in a small apartment located very close to the new market. I payed around 200 Euro/Month, a rent which I expected to be cheaper based on the standards of the country, however I changed my mind regarding this as soon as I got to see the fully furnished apartment and met the very friendly people working there. For anyone travelling to Togo, I can certainly recommend you to stay in the apartments of Maria Antoinette.

Even though I was told that I was going to live alone, I was actually accompanied by a few friendly roommates: mes amis les geckos. At first I was scared of them, so I asked the guys working at the place if they could help me deal with them. I was expecting them to take the geckos out, but they killed them all. From that day on, I chased geckos pretty much everyday around the apartment to catch them and get them out. Honestly I got pretty good at it, however I think I became schizophrenic. Every time I saw something moving I thought it was a damn gecko. Eventually they stopped bothering me and I only took them out every once in a while to avoid having too many of them.


People in Togo

When I arrived in Kara, I immediately noticed that people would stare at me all the time. I assume that this is due to the fact that there are pretty much no white people or tourists living in Kara. Even for me when I saw one I was like "Holy shit who is that?" This constant staring can sometimes feel a little weird and some faces might not look so friendly, but I can assure you that people in Kara are very kind people. Since the moment I arrived to Togo everyone was nothing but friendly and helpful. I even had people tell me that they wanted me to feel as if I was home in Mexico.

Among all of these people there is Mr. HARAKAWA, who was there for me since the day that I arrived. He helped me to settle in in Kara by showing me around and in general he made my first weeks much easier and pleasant. He was always there when I needed help and he supported me both in life and work during my whole stay in Togo. Thank you very much Elias.

There is also Mr. SAMAH. Since the Campus where I worked in Kara is a bit far from where I lived in the city, Mr. SAMAH offered to drive me every single day to the campus and back. After 4 months I got to know him pretty well and I can easily say that he is one of the kindest persons I have ever met. It seems like he was always in a good mood and happy to help me with anything. Mr. SAMAH also helped me a lot with my French. Thank you very much Mr. SAMAH. Merci beacoup mon ami!

Probably the person with whom I spent the most time with is Mr. DOUTI. We worked together pretty much everyday and I learned tons of new things from him. We had some great philosophic talks about many different topics and I got to learn from very interesting perspectives that he has about life. While most people treated me as if a was a tourist, Dam-bé was the one that pushed me into living more like the locals and really introduced me to the culture. For this and many other things I am very grateful to have met him. Thank you very much Dam-bé.

When I arrived in Togo I spoke no French at all and communication was a challenge since many people didn't speak much English. Naturally this affected my social life, however I met a person that I can now happily call my friend.  That person is Ditoma. I met Ditoma during one of the workshops I gave at the university. I taught about a 3D modelling software, so to participate students required a computer. Even though Ditoma's laptop was not working properly, he followed along the whole course without it and resulted to be one of the best.  Additionally he speaks very good English and the impressive thing is that he taught it to himself. Thanks to this our communication was really good and I got to work with him in many projects. His motivation to work and learn is something that will surely take him very far in life. Thank you Ditoma for your friendship and for all that you taught me. You are an amazing person and I hope to come visit you soon.

I could go all day thanking all the very nice people that I met during my stay in Togo, but this would then result in a small book. I would like to thank Mr.  KATA, Mr. KOLANI, Mr. ADANLETE and all the other teachers who I met and of course also my friends Chérif, Mabafei, Akiza, Marcel and everyone else that made my stay an awesome experience. Thank you.