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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Memories of Togo

We just got back from a great long weekend in Togo, where we were interviewing folks about the colonial splitting of the Ewe people, who now reside in Ghana, Togo, Benin, and Nigeria (plus about 50 other countries where some have gone to work). They originated in Nigeria and slowly made west for greener pastures and fishier waters. We had heard of an Ewe independence movement; there was even an armed uprising on Independence Day (March 6, 1957) in Ghana.

Things have calmed considerably since then; even the proudest Ewe seem to hold the Ewe nation as more of an ideal than actual goal. They would be happy with fairer treatment. In Ghana they are a minority; in Togo they are an oppressed majority ever since their guy was couped and murdered in '63. So it goes.

We went with two of my co-workers; Miia was our French translator but was also so much more. She was the best among us at building a report with people, gaining their trust, etc., and she also found plenty of leads and asked great questions. Hopefully there will be some articles appearing in the paper on this later this week.

The more personal side of the story is that Kpalime, the bordertown we visited in Togo, is stunningly beautiful and refreshinly devoid of hungry eyes and chants of "white man white man!!" Or, if they were there we just didn't know the Ewe word for white man so we didn't notice.

Togo also has some nice french bread and a sandwich culture, something I've been sorely missing. I ordered a 'cheeseburger' and received a really nice sandwich with some bits of beef, lots of cheese and veggies, oh yeah. Miia talked the owners of the burger joint into taking us to their village to meet the chief, who was a close personal friend of Togo's first president and paid dearly for it. The chief was officially spanked and humiliated after his friend Olympio was murdered, and his village has been neglected by their government ever since (it is still run by the son of the man who overthrew Olympio.

After our interview our guides gave us a ride on a rented motorbike out to the nearby dam, that had been started by Olympio and completed by Ewe nationalists trained in Yugoslavia after Olympio and Tito's deaths. They also showed us what was left of the nearby waterfall - a sheer rock and greenery face a few hundred feet high. Stunning even with the water diverted to the dam.

Once we returned to town, which received electricity and water from the dam operation three decades before the village providing the goods, our guides asked us for an exorbitant price, of which we gave them a fraction. Lesson learned: set a price up front.

Back on the Ghana side we went back to the Xofa eco-village we had visited at xmas. The service had somehow become even slower in our absense, so we cancelled a meal order and walked to the nearby village of Dodi. There we met two young Daniels, who introduced us to the chief and some women elders. We sat under a power line as they told us they had no electricity - some jerkface had run a power line right over their village and not bothered to hook them up, what a slap in the face!

Same story on both sides: the Ewe are neglected by the powers that be. So, a bunch of them who have moved to Germany start an Ewe independence movement, trying to get Ewes from all nations a proper homeland. It will never happen and it seems strange to me that a group in Germany is pushing this, but the Ewes we met said it was good, if unrealistic. They'd be happy with more attention, and dollars, from government.

On this visit to the Volta region on the eastern edge of Ghana we received far less attention and whiteman catcalls for some reason, maybe it had just been the xmas rush before. In general the Ewes seem more laid back than the city slickers of Accra.

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