A Very Sweaty Christmas

Nothing puts you into the holiday spirit like getting detained by the police. The day before Christmas a few volunteers came to stay at my house wanting to do the usual tourist activities in the area. I had arranged motorcycle taxis and we were going to visit the German castle and a waterfall, then finish off with some good food and beer. It would have been a great way to start out the holiday.

So we traveled up the mountain to the castle that I have visited many times and when we arrived a man rolled out of the bush. Now, in Togo you can usually tell who has authority. They are usually dressed nicely and speak French well, this man however did not fit that description. He demanded money to visit the castle and said he worked for the district. I said that I had been here before and never had to pay. He began to scream at me and push me so I walked around him and went into the castle. We are often stopped for money by random people on the street so this didn’t feel out of the norm. About 15 minutes later the police roll up on their motorcycles and we realized we were definitely missing something. The police officer came into the castle and I went to greet him with the sign of respect where you shake hands and grab your right elbow with your left hand while greeting him in Ewe. To which he responded in French, are you trying to teach me my own language? I knew that things would go downhill from there. He brought us back to the station, where we asked if we could simply pay and leave or if we needed to go to the district to pay and get a permit to visit the site. He continued to yell at us and not give us a reason for holding us. We called our security officer at Peace Corps and the police officer yelled at him as well. After over an hour we were getting frustrated and asked the police officer if we could leave. He turned to us and said ‘you didn’t come here voluntarily, I brought you here’ at which point we started to freak out. We called our security officer again and as PC has connections with the police throughout the country he said he would call the police in Kpalime to come release us. During this time two huge tour busses roll up this horrible rocky road and a man gets off, he told the police that he works for the office of tourism in Lome and that we were with them. He told them we were under their permit to visit the castle and he had to release us. So we were released and for the first time I wasn’t able to get out of a situation by being culturally appropriate or using local language or knowing the right people or any of the skills I have developed from living here for two years, but instead we got off by pretending to be confused tourists. On the way down the mountain and back into town we were stopped by the Kpalime police who apologized and told us that they really respect Peace Corps and were ashamed of what the police officer on the mountain had done.

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So we left the police and went for a swim in a waterfall and ate good food and drank beer because after all it was still Christmas Eve.

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For Christmas Day several other friends came from around Togo to have Christmas together. We made a lot of good food at my house and gave gifts to the kids in village.

After the New Year I had a conference up North on raising rabbits, which is a project I will be starting next week to improve nutrition. Now that Harmattan is in full swing the dust storms are terrible and travelling home from the conference was filthy. In some areas the dust was so thick you couldn’t even seen oncoming cars or motorcycles.

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It is good to be back in village and after a long few months of slow work first from rainy season and then from the harvest, it is finally my busiest time of year for work. I have several projects that I need to finish up in my last 6 months! Then next month a good friend from home is coming to visit me and then I go to Tanzania!

From a Northern market.

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