Posts Tagged 'Togo'

Change in the air

After what feels like a very long time on the ground (counting our California trip as being on the ground), it was wheels up time again for this last week of summer.

I am in Togo where I arrived late at night after an interminably long wait in Paris for an ever delaying flight. The airport and all the planes were packed with travelers for the ‘rentree,’ the official end of the French summer.

I caught some of the stragglers of the conference last week for African rehab officials. I know a few of them through our various projects with ICRC and the wheelchair folks.

We had 28 people in our program, focused on getting teams of rehab center managers and both local and expat staff from two major ICRC programs. Their role, upon their return, is to launch a leadership and management improvement initiative in their center or country.

I knew a few from previous events.  Some had participated in the senior leadership program that we completed last year, others had participated in the English version of this same program two years ago. One young man had participated in this English program claiming he could follow a course in English – but later we found out he could not and nothing much happened after he returned. With three new colleagues and the program delivered in French, we have hopes that we can jumpstart the stalled effort.

This was the first time I was working with two co-facilitators who, like our Togolese friend, had been in the English program two years ago, as members of the other francophone team (DRC). But unlike our friend, their  English was good enough for them to run with the new ideas. They were my co-trainers this time, giving me the immense satisfaction of handing over the baton.

Running into skepticism about the practicality of what we were proposing is normal and we usually counter it with something close to ‘trust us,’ which I don’t find all that compelling. But this time, when people raised doubts and anxiety flared up, our co-facilitators were able to tell the newbies that they too had been in their place, less than two years ago, with the same anxieties and questions – and look at us now!

I have done this training of trainers three times now, twice in English and this time in French. This last one was the best – we had a fabulous team, working truly in partnership during all the sessions; we also had great participants, from Benin, Cote d’Ivoire, Haïti, Burundi, DRC, Togo and Mali. They were engaged and critical, keeping us on our toes.

The days were long and there was much work before and after hours, but this never felt like a burden. When people are touched ‘dans les tripes’ as the French say (in their innards),  you can see something shift – for some it’s a small shift, for other a leap. This is what I love about my work.

A long wait

And so I spent Saturday morning, tired from the interrupted sleep and distracted about Sita, with my friend A and his wife at a lovely beach restaurant, relaxing, eating fish brochettes and drinking fresh pineapple juice. We talked about his plans to start a rehab center in Cameroon and how to get ready for the big jump to actually set it up. It would mean leaving his paying job with ICRC and risking the savings from friends and family, his salary and savings, career for the sake of a dream. I encouraged him and added bits and pieces from our course to the conversation. I have never taken such a jump and am not sure I’d have the courage. But then again, I pointed out, just about everything around us, except for the sand, the wind, the flora and sea, started as a glint in someone’s eye. I pointed at his latest model iPhone, yes, that one too. It also carries the message that you don’t get to the supermodel right away, so start small to show that one can deliver the dream in reality. It was a wonderfully inspiring conversation. I promised to support him in whatever way I could.

We left for the airport in the hotel shuttle. A few miles before the airport we encountered a huge crowd of cars (with the opponent of the President at the head, who had apparently just come in on the plane I was to leave on). He was followed by thousands of followers, in cars, in trucks, on motorbikes and on foot. Many were dressed in orange, the color associated with Dutch football fans, playful and dedicated. But these people didn’t look so playful. They stared at us, white folks stuck in the crowd in our little bus that could easily be upturned. I kept hoping that the generally good natured Togolese would stay that way. Still, it remained unsettling to find oneself in an immense crowd of people. I know crowds can easily go from friendly to nasty – we see this over and over on the television.

There was no visible presence of people representing the law; no uniforms anywhere in sight, only self-appointed traffic regulators with whistles in their mouth. But then, as quick as it started, the parade had gone by us and we resumed our trip to the airport. Our very alarmed French passenger let out a sigh of relief. I fear that in the excitement I dropped my travel (smart) phone on the floor. That my phone was missing I discovered too late after having gone through all the security check points. The receptionist at the lounge was not helpful and refused to let me use her phone to get in touch with the driver.

The phone was supposed to receive the signal that the baby had arrived. Now some unknown person has gotten that message, unless the phone is still in the bus but I am not counting on seeing it ever again. I can only hope that whomever found it, if not willing to part, will erase all names and phone numbers. If anyone who reads this gets a sketchy call from Togo, beware. It is not me.

And now I am waiting to board my flight from Paris to Boston. It will be about 14 hours before I will see the new baby. It seems an eternity.

Hip hop a l’africaine

I tried to replicate something that I had been enchanted with in Madagascar where a large group of people was randomly divided in smaller groups and each assigned a dance. The Malgaches are very playful. The idea, when transferred here, didn’t take quite as well. Our European facilitators weren’t all that hot about being silly in front of others,

My Senegal co-facilitator and I had left the session and taken two moto taxis to go to the market where he skillfully negotiated the purchase of 7 baseball caps for my team that was assigned to showcase hip hop. The caps had logos of random businesses and sports teams in US and England.

I had no Europeans on my team which was probably a good thing. The West africans were more playful and willing to be silly. One woman of high societal and hierarchical status, and always dressed in fine boubous and head dresses, took to the idea. She studied some You-Tube videos on hip hop and figured the main movements of arms and legs and the sounds one makes in the process. With the baseball cap sideways on top of her headdress she was quite a sight. We practiced to together whenever we heard music that we thought was hip hop, giggling like school girls.

The talent show, to be done during our soiree sociale on Thursday niight didn’t work out as planned. The restaurant was essentially a streetside cafe. There was no stage or room to perform. Two giant TV screens ran music videos, showing scenes that I would classify as soft or medium porn. I sat next to sister Annnemarie from Central Africa. She didn’t seem to mind. I couldn’t stand watching the videos and traded places, preferring to look at a bare wall rather than the screens.

But when the hip hop music came on (or what we thought was hip hop), Madame and I put our basecall caps sideways and started to dance. There are now videos floating around Africa with the two of us dancing hip hop (or so we think).

Although the food was lousy, the company was good and many of us had a good time.

Breakfast treats

I have been getting up early every morning, and have been able to take advantage of a fast internet. It disappears around 6 AM and remains slow from then on. Everyone in the hotel is on the internet at night, so I go to bed early.

The workshop is going very well. My colleagues from Yale are working on the planning process – something I struggled with in Addis when there were just two of us. With our two colleagues from Yale I can breathe, as they take care of it and the one who teaches the sessions is French, so no worry about language. My colleague from MSH, also a native French speaker, does the sessions related to governance, which allows me to focus on what I love most and that give people insight into the dynamics of their team and what they are contributing to that themselves. The teams were rather rickety when they came in. Now I see some movement.

Around 6:30 each morning breakfast is ready in the large “hut’ by the pool. When you are there early you get to enjoy the sight of about 30 muscled men in their 20s lined up along or inside the pool. Their bodies look elastic and silky. Out of the water they move like gazelles, but inside they don’t move much at all. At first I thought I had chanced upon the national swimming team. Our hotel might well be the only Olympic size pool in town. But then I watched them in the water and the action was rather confusing; a lot of splashing and bobbing but not much else. And then, as suddenly as they appear they disappear into the changing rooms, from which they emerge in their shorts and shiny soccer shirts, running in unison. The only thing missing is the music, Chariots of Fire kind of music. The women from Madagascar are also early and we stand there, looking at the men the way men usually look at women in bathing suits. They even take pictures!


I learned how to be a guide for a blind person, the signals one gives with one’s arm to indicate the road ahead. I had been watching how one of our nearly blind participants would always arrive with a colleague who he called his ‘driver.’  This morning I offered my hand. It turns out one doesn’t offer a hand but rather an elbow. The movements of the arm then produces the signal that an opening is narrow, or that people are coming this way, or that one has arrived.

In the world of (physical) disability one talks about ‘reasonably accommodation’ which is what we do for these workshops on the UN convention on the rights of people with disabilities. It is the choice of a hotel (ramps, elevators, wide doors, accessible toilets) and adjustments for the time it takes to do written assignments or self-evaluations. It also means reading everything that is written on a slide, against everything we have learned about presenting slides, and making the text available in 28 point, the smallest print our participant can read. None of these are automatic reflexes for me. This program has made me more aware of the complexity of living with a disability and how easy things are for me, even with the recent shoulder problems.

The german legacy

We met for the first time as a complete team, responsible for the facilitation of this second of three workshops that we conduct in collabroation with ICRC staff from six francophone African countries.

Our new and revised team is comprised of one Senegalese, one American of German ancestry, one of Caribbean ancestry, one Dutch/American (me), a Quebecois, and one Francaise. We told stories about how we got to be here, some of us complete strangers to each other, thrown together in Lome on this adventure. The stories illustrated an interesting mix of talent, passion, expertise, but also of opportunity that came knocking, sometimes in disguise.

We worked throughout the morning to make sure we were all on the same page, clarified roles, reviewed and fine-tuned the program and looked at the homework the teams had completed since we last met in April in Addis.

The afternoon was more play than work and much greetings of familiar and unfamiliar faces. Participants started to trickle in from Tanzania, Chad, Madagascar, Geneva and Niger.

I had not brought a bathing suit this time – I usually do and don’t use it. Luckily one of the team members brought two suits and I was able to swim and exercise my repaired shoulder in the enormous swimming pool. It felt good. I swam slowly and without much effort until my shoulder protested.

For dinner we walked a little ways from the hotel to a German restaurant (Alt Munchen) where I tasted Togo’s german past. On the recommendation of an ICRC chief who had just flown in from Geneva, I ordered sauerkraut, steamed potatoes and a porc leg (jarret de porc).  It was delicious but also rather heavy, as one might expect from a German winter meal. I was thinking again about those 5 pounds.

Points of compass

The advocacy workshop ended on Wednesday afternoon on a high note with everyone knowing a little more about political advocacy. They also know more about the importance of knowing one’s audience and my colleagues are now quite at ease teaching the workshop again and again as needed. I rewarded myself with a dinner of foie gras accompanied by a delicious South African wine and nougat ice cream for dessert. This trip I will, once again, gain about 5 pounds although the foie gras may take me a little over.

Thursday morning I walked to the office to remove some of the foie gras and ice cream calories, knowing I would have the same meal again before boarding my flight to Paris and then to Togo.

The team that has been involved in the virtual leadership program that I facilitated between February and May is also the team I usually work with when in Tana. So we switched hats and they told me all about what the experience had been like on the other side of our virtual connection. The stories, including a short video that is still under construction, were heartwarming and inspiring. They showed one again that a virtual program can be just as motivating and transformative as a face to face program. This program, which is now in its second phase where the teams implement what they constructed during phase one is not over until September. At that time we will bring the teams together in a virtual event and learn what each has been able to accomplish.

I said my farewells took some time off to relax and listen to Harper Lee’s ‘To Set a Watchman,’  read by Ms Weatherspoon while finishing the cross stitch wall hanging that will be in the new baby’s room. Only the name and the date are missing. And then it was time to go for a wholenight and day in planes – from midnight, going from the east of Africa to the north (Charles de Gaulle), and then after a very brief touchdown, during the day, going south to West Africa, touching all the points of the compass.

The Tana-CDG flight remains an unpleasant affair in a overcrowded plane though this time without a 4 year old kicking and screaming next to me. All the babies on the plane were sound asleep by the time we took off at 3 AM. My neighbor was a man much too big for the seat but a trooper nonetheless, he didn’t move at all, mostly because he couldn’t. I slept half the trip and watched French comedies the other half.

On the Lome flight I was upgraded to premium economy which is a mini business class with its separate 3 row cabin and curtains to keep the riffraff out. I finished my trip report and watched more French comedies. It was a short flight, compared to the TNR-CDG ordeal. We arrived in chaotic and steamy Lome and we got to meet the new members of the team.

The hotel is within view of the beach but a dirty strip of marshy land separates us from the sandy beach. A watchman tells one not to go there. But the hotel has an Olympic size swimming pool. The hotel is a low stretched out structure, two stories high but with wide arms, embracing a lovely garden with the pool as centerpiece and looking out on the Bay of Benin with its enormous container ships passing on the horizon. There is plenty of seafood and other great French delicacies, though no foie gras. I see another 5 pounds iin my near future.

May 2017
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