Thursday, January 28, 2010

My first drives through Lome...what did I see? What did I learn?

My first drive into town from our hotel was an adventure of its own. It was early afternoon, we had time for a 30 minute nap, followed by a long lunch near the sea shore. Our mini bus pulled out onto the main road, and I immediately began to take pictures out the window. My thoughts were captured by the elegance of the women balancing their purchases or wares upon their heads. Each one, carried their load with strength, grace and confidence.

I noticed the smells, of once burning plastics, or was it oils, I was not sure. The grounds were covered with small fire embers, piled to the sides or in the middle of some of the smaller roads. I really did not notice piles of garbage, or the huge over crowding I found regularly in Calcutta, India, many years ago. I saw lots of goats; big goats, small goats, momma goats, the whole shebang. So though there was poverty, there did seem to be a sense of order about the town.

Why the goats? Why the little embers? Both these tools tackled the same problem...garbage. Yes, the people of Lome, burned the garbage in small piles every night; this accounted for the smokey smell about the city. The goats roamed free to take care of the remainder of the garbage. It was an interesting way to deal with an issue that could wreak havoc in a city where I saw no garbage collectors.
I also learned the basics of sales and store ownership through our minibus window. Have you noticed the picture of the outdoor lean-to with the hanging shoes? Yes you guessed it, the local shoe store. That store owner provided quite a display of his wares; other vendors had far fewer shoes to sell. Attaching items to poles, or letting them hang was the official style of display.

Would you like a little gas to run that motorcycle, or Moped for the day? How about a bottle of petrol? The roadside gas stop. It was a table with a variety of bottles filled with oil, or gasoline, or whatever made your engine go. It is sold in small alliquots, just what you need for the day. The new 'just-in-time' lifestyle. You purchased what you would have used for the day. This concept extended to everyday items of food and spices. In the opposite picture you see a stand, selling sugar by the cup or less, or even tablespoons of salt.  Note the pre-measured cans of charcoal, just the right amount for the days cooking. In reality, just-in-time becomes, just enough.

Shopping for a little food everyday, or if you happen to be among the poor, you are shopping only on the days you have a little money. It is a hard life here in Lome, Togo, for those with materially little. There is no refrigeration, nor running water at your home. Your home may only be a 6 by 8 foot steel shack with steel rooftop. Imagine that as your 'castle' for your family of six. Oh, did I mention the temperature was up to 95 degrees and the humidity was above 70%? The floor was pounded dirt, and a bench was hidden inside. The treasures of the family were stored neatly up the side of the walls inside your home. This was the picture of the simple steel shack you saw in this post. This really was the home of Liza, my sponsored child. Their reality, they will not have food every day, and her stove/oven was the size of bucket. In fact the clay oven was formed in a bucket, I could see the imprints of the bucket seams on the side. There was a tree just outside the front door, a place where the neighbors and family members would sit to keep out of the heat of the day. It was a house like this, and many others which were hidden behind the tall walls lining the streets of Lome. If we had never been behind the walls, I would not have known or seen this poverty. Lome, the city of 'poverty hidden'.

But within these hidden areas, there was also a richness and wonder to life, that did not escape my notice.  But for this next adventure, it really meant, getting out of the bus, moving beyond the window panes, and learning the 'more' lived out by those with so much less...all discovered when meeting my families in Africa. 


  1. Maxine, You made me miss LOme and all our Children. I feel so blessed that I was able to leave a part of my heart in a country so far from home.

    Love Rita

  2. Wonderful post; thanks so much for writing it.