My village was Blitta (BLEE-ta), halfway up country on the north-south “highway,” one of the few paved roads in the country. It was also known as Blitta Carrefour (crossroads) to distinguish it from Blitta Gare (rhymes with car, French for “station”), a village five kilometers west of the main road, where the freight train line terminated. Blitta Gare was also the capital of the prefecture, a geographical division similar to a county in the United States.

Blitta Carrefour is a significant village because the road is wide enough there for truck drivers to pull over and park their trucks without impeding through traffic. Most of the north-south highway was a two-lane road in battered, miserable condition. It was pockmarked with potholes, and some stretches were unpaved. From Lome to Atakpame you could make good time because the road was reasonably decent between those two points. It got much worse the further north you went. As Blitta was the halfway point to the Burkina Faso border, many truckers would spend the night, rolling out a grass mat and sleeping under their trucks.

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This is a view of Blitta taken from the north end of the village showing a small portion of the houses on the east side of the road. The land to the west of the road had a large clearing and a forest but no houses or buildings of any kind except an abandoned three-compartment latrine. The clearing with its waist-high grass served as a giant outdoor toilet for the villagers, another reminder of how poor these people are. No family in Blitta had a latrine. No one could afford to buy the cement to build one. The clearing was also where they threw most of their garbage. No one had the money for a hoe (shovels are not commonly seen in Togo) to dig a hole to bury the garbage, nor the education to understand why that was better sanitation.

Motel Road

Blitta was also famous for having a street light, a motel and a telephone! All of these amenities were operated by the motel, which was one of the few establishments in the region with a generator. The motel was a group of a half dozen huts with grass roofs. Because the motel had a generator, the rooms were equipped with fans. There was also a decent latrine. Even with all these amenities, most truck drivers could not afford the few dollars to stay the night there and slept on the ground under their trucks instead. The motel also had a restaurant, but there were a couple of other restaurants in the area, so they were not uniquely known for that. (The photo above was taken during the harmattan season, Togo’s winter, where winds carry fine dust particles from the northern region, creating hazy conditions and white skies.)

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The shack in the photo above was one of Blitta’s roadside restaurants. It was little more than a covered table with a bunsen burner offering cooked eggs and extremely simple meals. There was bread with waxy, fake imitation margarine (yes, I know how redundant that is, I’m trying to emphasize how horrible and nasty this crap really was), which had to be used because there was no electricity and real dairy products would quickly spoil. The waxy, fake imitation margarine was so fake and waxy, it hardly ever melted, even in the African heat. There was powdered coffee with powdered milk and of course fufu. It was cheap, so truck drivers ate there a lot. I quickly got familiar with the restaurants in the village, and this was one I where I never ate.

In the foreground on top of the logs, and looking like small logs themselves, are piles of ignames (IN-yams), a huge, potato-like tuber used to make fufu, the favorite Togolese dish. Fufu is to the Togolese like hamburgers, pizza and apple pie are to Americans. They’d eat it five times a week if they could.

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