It’s 5:00am as I stroll down the sidewalk next to the beach in Lome, the coastal capital of Togo. Now for me, getting up before 10:00am is just about as enjoyable as I would imagine getting a colonoscopy from your ex girlfriend’s father to be. Especially after a few rounds of 6.2% 22oz Togolese beers the night before. But for some inexplicable reason I managed to pry myself out of the dingy, by this point sweat soaked sheets, wrapped around the plywood they somehow pass off to be a mattress at the $12.00 a night, (believe it or not, by Peace Corps Volunteer standards, fairly midrange) ‘hotel’ just a few blocks from the beach. Now that I mention it, I guess it wasn’t that ‘inexplicable’. I mean I wasn’t quite like I was pulling myself away from a down comforter on a pillow topped mattress at a ski resort in Vermont.
As I’m trying to wipe the remnants of last night’s intoxication from my eyes, discovering the plethora of new mosquito bites popping up all over my body, and praying that my malaria meds aren’t going to fail me for a second time, I slowly emerge from my zombie like trance (Sorry, is that a politically insensitive term nowadays)and my eye catches exactly what I’d been looking for on this ass-crack of dawn expedition.
My flight back to the States was leaving that night and being the master of procrastination that I am, I decided that 6 hours before getting on the plane would be an appropriate time to get some pictures of the country I’d been living in for the last eleven months. So I stroll out onto a section of the beach intermittently scattered with a variety of old, large, hand built, fishing canoes. From a distance, each identical to the next, but as you get closer, the individual intricacies of the hand carved symbols and now mostly faded bright colored paint jobs give them each their own unique character.
I’d passed by these old fishing boats a number of times before but the closest I’d ever been to seeing them in action was from the comfort of my couch at home in NY watching Anthony Bourdain make some sarcastic comment as he nursed a hangover with another luke warm beer on the beaches of Ghana just a few miles down this very same beach. At this point a little hair of the dog probably would have been up there on my breakfast menu if it weren’t for the fact that most tiki hut beach bars in Togo aren’t quite open for business at this ungodly hour. Luckily for me though I’d soon find out I wasn’t exactly the most informed person in that field of study, and I certainly wasn’t the only person whose liver needed a little kickstart for the day.
So I pull out my camera and somewhat shadily start snapping pictures, trying to avoid the full on Hawaiian shirt and fanny pack tourist attention I was inevitably about to attract. Luckily I had gotten there just in time so catch some shots of a group of fisherman riding the waves in in their wooden canoe after setting the net out in the open sea. I tried to get as many pictures in before being swarmed by anyone who could catch me in their crosshairs to ask me to give them something or, god forbid, the worst case scenario jumping around the back of my head, anyone who might want to mug the one white dude on the entire beach.
I continue to snap pictures of the fisherman as they battle the strong current and relentless waves pounding them and the boat as they try to secure it to the beach. As I expected, once everything was all tied up they came up to check out the Yovo with the camera taking pictures of their daily work. This I didn’t mind at all. It was the random sketchy people lurking behind me and ominously walking up the beach towards me I was a little less than excited to interact with.
In an effort to remove the giant ‘TOURIST’ stamp from my forehead, I throw out a few greetings in a couple different local languages that I’d picked up in my village and quickly correct their assumptions that I’m a Frenchy, telling them that I am indeed from the land of Obama (Togolese people seem to innately dislike the French and emphatically love Americans, or anything that has to do with America). This seemed to work like a charm. Before I knew it they were telling me to come across the street and take shots of a local moonshine called Sodabi they make here in Togo. The best description I can give of this stuff is that it’s probably similar to what I would imagine the feeling rocket fuel gets when it has indigestion. My immediate thought was, no fucking way. First of all because I didn’t really feel like breathing fire at 5:30 in the morning. This wasn’t quite the ‘hair of the dog’ I’d been thinking of. And secondly because I became immediately suspicious and somewhat fearful of being mugged.
But I figured, what the hell, my experiences so far with going to get drinks with random Togolese people have resulted in some positively unforgettable experiences. It is 5:30 in the morning, and these guys are clearly working class dudes who’re probably just looking for cool story to tell there buddies about taking shots with an American on the beach at the ass crack of dawn. This seems like a great idea.
Why the hell not.
To Be Continued…