Lome Airport – Corruption Central

“Where is my gift?”

I couldn’t believe my ears. A Togolese passport official had just asked us for a “service fee”, which we refused, and now the customs guy was requesting his share. And what blew my mind was that he was asking for a bribe just like that, in front of four other customs officials. Do these kind of things really happen in real life?

“Why should I bring you a gift?” Eduardo played stupid. “I haven’t even bought my mother a gift.”

The customs guy started opening up Eduardo’s backpack.

“What do you have in here?” he asked, trying to dig in deep, searching for something valuable, and pulled out our bag with dirty (and pretty stinky) clothes.

“Just clothes. Just dirty clothes. You want that as a gift?”

The guy finally gave up when Eduardo offered him a handshake as a gift, thinking we were especially thick who didn’t get his point.

As we picked up our bags, and took two steps towards the exit, the next official wondered:

“Do you have the money for my coffee?”

There was no “Welcome to Togo”. No “Can I buy you a coffee?”. No “Thanks for visiting our country”. Just corruption all the way.

So we felt very welcome to Togo. And got ready for a rough trip.

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Lome – Dog Heads, Bat Wings and Other Voodoo Ingredients

“Why did you want to come to Togo and Benin,” Eduardo asked every day of the first week in West Africa. “There’s nothing here.”

But with my interest in everything spiritual, especially indigenous healing methods, Togo and Benin had beckoned me for years. I wanted to discover the roots of vodou, the original white magic version of what Hollywood later branded as “voodoo”. I thought that everything African was cool, sacred and genuinely good. After all mankind and spirituality both have their roots in this corner of the world.

This belief died the day I visited the Marche des Fetisches in Lome, the voodoo market. A guide explained that sick people go to the vodou doctors and then come to the market to buy the ingredients for their healing concoction. The market is full of dried, half-rotten heads of dogs, cats, monkeys, camels, leopards. There are tables with hundreds of dried bats, rats and scorpions. Among the staples are rarities like a gorilla foot, monkey claws, a whole kitten and elephant ears. All ready to be ground down, mixed with water and drunk for a rapid recovery of whatever you suffer from.

A vodou doctor showed us different non-animalistic fetishes to bring luck on travels, in relationships, in health. All of which have been empowered by the vodou doctor and – of course – are available for sale.

Feeling pressured to buy, we decided to get a small relationship totem that had a very strong, vibrant energy. The vodou doctor asked four shells to give him the price. The first price was 35,000 CFA ($70), which we said we didn’t have. The shells then agreed to the lower price of $50, then $25, then – last price – $20. We said we could only pay $5, which the which doctor finally agreed to without consulting the shells.

I still believe in the power of African shamans. But the vodou I saw was as distorted and fake as all other organized religions I’ve seen.

Maybe if you travel to a small village in the middle of nowhere you can find the true vodou, where witch doctors do not have to hunt down and kill dozens of dogs and cats for their medications.

Until then, Reiki will do just fine for me!