A few minutes before 6 am, a familiar looking man holding a briefcase but wearing no shirt walks in. My new friend says, “manager don come”. All I could think of was why the manager wasn’t wearing a shirt. Anyway, I managed to stop looking at his potbelly and pay for my ticket. If someone told me that would be the least dramatic thing to happen on my ‘Lagos2Dakar’ road trip, I just may have turned back. But for better or worse, I had passed the point of no return.
A couple of months ago, I got possessed by some spirit and became convinced that traveling by road from Lagos to Dakar, and stopping in every country along the way was a good idea. Little did I know that I was about to embark on a journey of a lifetime, one in which every new experience seemed to surpass the previous one. I should have known this would be anything but a normal trip when I arrived before 5 am that Monday morning at the bus stop in Lagos and no one was there.
Two days prior, I had visited the bus station to inquire about bus times, so I knew there was a 5am bus and that I had to get to the bus stop at least 15 minutes before departure. The manager told me this. So I was a bit surprised when at 4:55 am, 15 minutes after I arrived, there was still no sign of life at the office. The surrounding area was so dark that my taxi driver was actually concerned for my safety and refused to leave me there. At 5:45am, just as I was starting to wonder if I would travel at all, two men arrive to open the office. My excitement is short lived when they tell me that the manager is the only person who can sell me a ticket.
Where is the manager?
He is coming, sah.
He told me to be here at 4:45am latest, because the bus would leave at 5am sharp. It is almost 6am now!
Don’t worry sah, the bus will leave on time. Manager go soon come.
A few minutes before 6 am, a man holding a briefcase but wearing no shirt walks in. My new friend says, “manager don come”. All I could think of was why the manager wasn’t wearing a shirt. Anyway, I managed to stop looking at his potbelly and pay for my ticket. If someone told me that would be the least dramatic thing to happen on my ‘Lagos2Dakar’ road trip, I just may have turned back. But for better or worse, I had passed the point of no return.
Cotonou, Benin: Next!
Cotonou is a lovely place, no doubt, but the only memory I have of the place is the stress at the border crossing. It matters not that all your papers check out, nor that you are West African and so qualify for easy border crossings around West Africa, you must pay the bribes asked of you. And if you don’t, well your trip will end right there. Not after they frustrate you even more for trying to sound intelligent.
Lome, Togo: Oleiya
My baby (because he is still a baby to me) brother’s friend was gracious enough to host me in Togo, but it got off to a rough start. I got off the bus at the bus station expecting to meet my host. When I didn’t see anyone that looked like him, I decided to call; two hours later and after what must have been at least two dozen tries, it was time to panic. I called my baby brother to see if he could try his friend, but he wasn’t successful either. What made this more bewildering was that I had just spoken to said friend on the phone 15 minutes before I alighted the bus and he had told me he was waiting at the bus stop; it made no sense that not only was he not here now, but his phone was off.
I asked a gentleman to use his phone thinking that my phone was no longer letting me roam, but when the man responded in a strong accent, “mon frère, je peux pas te donner mon portable parce qu’ici, c’est un quartier dangereux”, – my brother, I cannot give you my cell because this is a dangerous area – and walked off, I knew I had to make a move. It was getting dark.
I saddled my backpack unto my back and started walking. I had no idea where I was going, but I was determined to find some kind of hotel to spend the night and strategize. I couldn’t access the internet from my phone, so I had to go hotel-searching, the old school way. I also refused to ask anyone around for directions. From my travels, I have learned that in some cases, especially in dangerous places, it is ill advised to ask for directions when you are carrying all your belongings. Take my word for it!
The first hotel I found looked shady AF, but I wasn’t sure I would find more options so I hopped in thinking I would manage for one night, get online to sort myself out, and be out the next day. When I found out the hotel didn’t have internet access (no surprise), I decided to give my would-be host another half hour. I also decided to give myself another half hour of ‘fire and brimstone’-level type of prayer.
Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, I did not get to say any prayers, because about twenty minutes into just moping about, my brother called and jolted me out of my daydream. He also told me he had gotten in touch with his friend, Roger, who was now on his way to me.
Turns out Roger had phone problems; when he was called back in to work, he was not able to let me know, nor was he able to answer calls the entire day. It was such a relief to see him that I may have hugged him a little too tight. Roger, if I held on too tight, now you know why!
The next day I found out that my movements would be quite restricted because of the daily protests against the government. For us, it would be even more restricted because Roger lived deep inside the opposition strong-hold.
My first interaction with the protesters was from afar; I was perched on my friend’s balcony when the vuvuzela-sounding sirens started. Grabbing my camera, I took a few shots until two men noticed, then turned in my direction and waved warning fingers at me. I retreated back into the apartment.
The second run-in with the protesters was more eventful. I had gone to have lunch with Roger and on my return home, I flagged a motorcycle taxi, “oleiya!”; jumped on the bike and off we went. Unfortunately for me, my taxi decided to be a bonehead and take the same route where the protesters were marching. By the time he realized his stupid mistake, it was too late. He tried to turn the bike around but the protesters stopped us and demanded we get down and join them. That was fine until I stupidly brought out my phone to make a video.
Anti-riot policemen appeared from nowhere and threatened to make me disappear if I didn’t make the phone disappear. I apologized and returned my phone to my pocket, but it was too late. Some of my newfound friends saw it fit to defend my rights to document the protests. That is when all hell broke loose. The more my new friends shouted at the police, the more other protesters joined in. The more protesters joined in, the more agitated the police became. I didn’t ask to be a martyr, so I turned around and found my taxi guy motioning at me with his head to get the heck out of there. I joined up with him and then we meandered our way of there as fast and as quietly as we could.
Protests aside, it was quite a pleasant time in Lome. Much of that can be attributed to the people I came into contact with, from my host, Roger, to new friends I met, like Deynee. These guys were great in terms of where to go and not go, what to do and not do, etc, but one of the recommendations I got will haunt me for a long time.
I had planned on going to Accra, Ghana with one of the reputable bus companies, but because Lome itself is a border town, I was advised to just walk over to and across the border at Aflao, after which I would find a plethora of buses going to Accra. It was going to be easy and straightforward. At least, that’s what I was made to believe. Unfortunately for me, it was anything but.
Song of the Day: Partout by Mr. Leo. The artist is actually Cameroonian, but I discovered this song in Lome, so it’s the logical choice! Plus, I have friends partout!