One of the side benefits to spending several days with Volunteers au village was that it gave the stagiares the opportunity not only to learn first hand how to get around on the bush taxi system, but it also gave us an immediate opportunity to use what we learned. Although the Peace Corps had driven us to the live-in posts, the stagiares were expected to get themselves to the training camp at Pagala by themselves, on bush taxis.
On the way to the live-in, we had driven through the junction at Langabou that led to Pagala. The Route Nationale, the main (only) paved north-south road that went from Lomé to Ouagadougou, formed a “T” junction at Langabou, and the only other road connecting to the Route Nationale there was the road to Pagala, so it wouldn’t be at all hard to get there.
We all woke up early. We had been told it was always best to get an early start because with the bush taxis around Bitchabé, you never know what’s going to happen. It rained like hell for about a half hour, then we went out to the taxi stand. Bitchabé is on a dirt road well off the Route Nationale, so it doesn’t have the best access or service. Not many taxis would be coming there that day because the heavy tropical rains turned the dirt road into a muddy soup that the taxis could get stuck in. Pam would accompany us to Bassar and make sure that we got on a taxi there that was bound for Sokodé. To get to Pagala, we would have to get off the bush taxi at Langabou and find a local taxi that made the Langabou-Pagala run. After you do it a few times, it’s no more difficult than changing trains on a subway system, but for the very first time, Sally and I were just a bit nervous.
We finally got a place on a bush taxi. It got a flat on the way to Bassar. They fixed it. Then it couldn’t get up a small hill with the load it was carrying, so we all had to get out and walk up. But finally we made it to Bassar and got a taxi right away for Sokodé, where we were to spend the night at the Peace Corps maison de passage. There was no way to make the trip from Pam’s house to Pagala before nightfall unless you were being driven there in a well-maintained Peace Corp vehicle which didn’t make any stops.
Maison de passage was a rather glamorous name that evoked a gently decaying colonial mansion serving out its final years as a hotel for Peace Corps Volunteers who were passing through. No doubt it was staffed by the Peace Corps and although the place was old, the rooms were clean. This charming fantasy couldn’t have been further from reality.
Peace Corps Disgusting Filthy Flophouse was far more accurate. It wasn’t staffed by anyone, just used frequently by the PCVs in the region and was available as an overnight stopping place for any PCV passing through.
As there was no one to let you in, the method of entry was ingenious. The front gate was secured with a combination padlock. Affixed to the gate was a small sign with clues to the padlock combination which were impossible to decode by anyone but the PCVs. For example, for the first number, the clue was “an American TV show named ____ is Enough.” They don’t get American TV in Togo, and most people don’t even have TV sets, much less electricity, plus very few Togolese speak English, so there’s no way any Togolese would have ever known about that program.
Walking through the gates, you had to watch your step, as the sidewalk was broken and you could easily trip. The maison was on the second story of a dilapidated building. The handrail on the steps wasn’t fully there.
As the maison was not staffed, no one was responsible for cleaning it, either. For payment, you just left $1,000 CFA per night ($2.00) in an envelope in one of the drawers in the hall bureau. From time to time someone from the Peace Corps would come to collect the money.
It was so disgustingly filthy that I couldn’t even stand the thought of taking a shower there. It seemed ridiculous anyway, as I had no clean clothes, there not having been enough time to wash them when we visited Pam.
There were some quaint and charming filthy mattresses on the floor for people to sleep on, with dustballs as big as tumbleweeds floating around everywhere. About the only positive thing I could say about the place was that because there were no wooden bed frames for bedbugs to hide in while they waited for their next tasty meal, I didn’t get any bug bites there. But I never stayed at a Peace Corps maison de passage again.
Went out for a beer that night with some Volunteers who were also staying the night at the co-ed Filthy Flophouse. They had been in Togo a year, and like most Volunteers, the majority were women in their early 20s. A few of them had really crappy attitudes towards the Togolese, especially one woman who was extremely rude to a Togolese man who saw us all sitting there and came to introduce himself out of curiosity. She refused even to try to speak French with him and rudely ran the guy off, saying how sick she was of these obnoxious African men. I told her it seemed to me he was simply being friendly.
The rudeness and nasty attitudes of these Volunteers were embarrassing to me as an American representing my country in a foreign land. I hoped that not all Volunteers became as cynical and bilious as these people were. Once again, I was sorry that I had gone out somewhere in a group.
One of the reasons we were there at the bar was that one of the Volunteers was taking an Early Termination. He had a really bad attitude concerning the Peace Corps work he was doing, despite the fact that the country director had allowed him to change his post and his job responsibilities more than once. But at least he liked Africa and the Africans and spoke French with them. Two Togolese musician friends of his who he jammed with, came by to say goodbye and give him a parting gift.
Practically no Volunteer except the soon to be departing Volunteer spoke to the two Togolese musicians, partly because their French was lousy (the Volunteers’ not the Togolese) but mostly because of extreme lack of interest. After I finished pumping one of the women Volunteers for information on what it was like to be a Volunteer in Togo, I turned my attention to the musicians and had a very nice conversation with them. They were impressed with my French and assured me that any time I’m in Sokodé, I now have friends there. They gave me their phone number.
I don’t like Sokodé. It’s really hot, really dry and nothing about it is interesting, but now I want to return to listen to Inoussa and Esso play guitar.
I then went to dinner with a health Volunteer who was close to my age. We had a nice conversation, but she was not very social and I did not at all get the impression that she was interested in developing a friendship. So much for my support system in Africa.
Couldn’t wait to get the hell out of Sokodé the next morning and get to Pagala, where we would train for the next 12 weeks. I had brought only one change of clothes for the three day live-in at Bitchabé, which normally would have been enough, but not, as I discovered, when it’s humid. Not only was there no time to wash clothes, but they took several days to dry if they were hung up inside. I couldn’t wait to get to Pagala, get cleaned up and be reunited with my suitcases and some clean clothes.
Finding a bush taxi to Pagala was easy. There was a gare, a taxi staging area, a couple of blocks away from the Filthy Flophouse. Anything going south would get us there, so it was just a matter of waiting for the next minivan to come along. I was happy to leave Sokodé, but we would meet again.