This is the 8th journal, that means that for eight days, we’ve been sharing updates here about what it’s like travelling across West Africa.
The journey has barely begun, but we’ve breezed past two countries already. Breezed because, in all honesty, if you spent 6 months in these countries, you still wouldn’t get a complete sense of the zeitgeist here.
At best you’ll only get to feel the pulse in that little time. And maybe that’s sufficient for this purpose.
Togo and Benin had the same colonial masters, that means they both speak French. They both speak Fon, but you’d find more people speak Ewe in Togo. Quick fun fact: Togo is actually Togodo, meaning “behind the lake” in Ewe.
Things are quite different everywhere else. I’ll start with the vibe.
Benin people are pretty chill. No one’s in a hurry. No one’s overspeeding. No one’s shouting. Not even in the market the day we went there.
Entering Togo – or more specifically Lome – you can literally feel the energy levels in the air. I saw a car almost hit a bike. There’s a stronger police presence – still doesn’t come close to what I’m used to in Nigeria.
The night we entered, one woman pulled off her slipper to hit someone who bumped into her.
Togo is GMT +0. That makes it one hour slower than Nigeria and Benin Republic and 4 hours faster than New York.
But, the weather is just about the same with Benin and Nigeria. Even more interesting is that the weather is just the same. That means even though Togo is one hour behind, the sun still sets the same time with Benin Republic.
How about the food?
The Benin temperment, or the lack of it, spills into the food. The spices aren’s sharp. There’s little or no pepper. But when you eat in some places in Togo, they even give you a small paste of green pepper. The food has pepper, for the most part. The spices are sharp.
What about commercial activity and developement?
You’d think Cotonou would dwarf Togo because they share a border with Nigeria and play a huge role in fuelling Nigerian consumerism. But no, Togo trumps Benin.
First, there’s the Port of Lome, which is the biggest in West Africa – it has more capacity than Nigeria, and there’s still no traffic like Lagos’ port. There are more banks – Ecobank for example, has its headquarters facing the beach. There are more Range Rovers, and generally more SUVs – clearly more spending power.
I have more questions than answers, and today, just before we leave Lome for Ghana, I’m going to ask Osahon and his Ecobank colleagues. They’d know about these things, considering they’re in both countries.