In honor of the holiday I've done almost nothing Easter-related. I wasn't at church, I wasn't with family, I didn't paint any eggs or eat any chocolate. I didn't even buy any lilies and I love Easter lilies. It's too bad because I've always really loved Easter, but we had a four day weekend at work and a pretty awesome trip became available so how could I resist? (Anyway, I did Easter in Nigeria last year.)
Instead, I spent the past several days in Togo, enjoying all those little freedoms that come with being away from my 'critical threat' post. Most of my colleagues went to Western Europe, but I really wanted to do some more traveling in the region. I feel like we miss out so much on seeing Nigerian culture that it can be easy to write off the country as one long line of visa applicants. As a remedy for that attitude I like to think of my trips through other West African countries as proxy adventures for what I miss out on in Nigeria, whether it's walking through a beach town in Benin, climbing a 'mountain' in Togo, or taking a taxi (gasp!) in Ghana.
As I mentioned above, the majority of this trip was spent in Togo - though we did drive through Benin - and primarily we spent our time in the hills north of Lome. Yesterday and today we went hiking and it was one of the highlights of my time in West Africa. We walked through the forest, picking up mangos and avocados, starfruit and limes, cacao, papaya and what seemed like every fruit ever. It's amazing how full the forest was with goodies. We got some great hilltop vistas, swam in a waterfall - for those that were a little more adventurous - and saw some interesting wildlife, including my first scorpions. By the end of the trip I was identifying sites for my future 'garden of Eden' vacation retreat and that's always a good sign. I also really, really loved wandering into villages and markets and just interacting with people. It seemed like every time we emerged from the forest we heard drums, bells, and local flutes. I'm sure Easter weekend was the cause of most of the celebrating, but it felt like it was just for us.
There were, of course, the inevitable moments when we were 'Lagos-ed'. The border crossings were the best example - despite the fact that our group all had the proper visas it took us about one hour on both sides of the border to get across (four hours total since we had to do Nigeria-Benin and Benin-Togo in one day). Why does it take so long? Mostly corruption - rather than a line, there's just a crush of people waiting to see the immigration officer, and the one who bribes (or bribes the most) gets to go first. Being expatriates we just couldn't stomach adding to the corruption, and we paid for that choice with a lot of hot, sweaty waiting. The other answer is that at each border crossing the immigration official writes down all the passport and travel information for every single person in an old-fashioned log book. One could ask - what on earth for? It isn't digitized anywhere so it's utterly useless - but I've found that sometimes it's better not to look too hard for a reason.
Anyway, these moments were luckily few and far between and mostly we met with warm hospitality, a relaxed pace of living, and the chance to see local society on a much more intimate level that we see in Nigeria.
I'll try to post some pictures when I'm back home in sunny Lagos. In the meantime, I'll just be enjoying the last few hours of a very much needed vacation.