Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Togo and Remembering Post-colonialism

A weekend get-away to Togo. What could be better, jet-setter?

Jessie, JHR colleague, and Mia, new lawyer and UNHCR intern, join me on a weekend jaunt to Lomé in Togo. Ghana's neighbour to the east. The road to Togo on the Ghanaian side is atrociously pot-holed. Our tro-tro driver feels like speed is a good way to deal with it. Winding through the pot-hole minefield, at night, an unbelievably starry sky overhead, we speed. The border divides Aflao, a small town in Ghana with Lomé, the capital city of Togo. A short walk across has you in a new country, a very different place, and yet exactly the same.

Togo is a former colony of France, and so French is the official language. Togo is just like Ghana, except smaller, only 5 million people in a skinny country that goes north from the coast, with cleaner beaches and 10000 times better coffee. People don't really drink coffee in Ghana, so you can only find instant freeze-dried stuff or not very good imported bricks. In Togo, the espresso and cafe au lait are simply to die for. Going to Togo it is almost impossible to miss the influence of the former colonizers.

After a weekend of beaches-plages, bars-brasseries, restaurants, market throngs seeking tourist dollars, supermarchés, a room in a cheap hotel, the swimming pool of the most expensive hotel in Togo, great music by the Togolese BB KIng and the Cameroonian Bootsy Collins, motor-cycle taxis, non-functional bank machines and crooked but not too crooked money changers, we return home to Ghana. The border crossings are pretty easy, and guards on both sides, English and French are nice and don't ask for bribes. The Ghanaian guards even joke with us about the Canada-Ghana Women's World Cup of Soccer tournament game that Canada won 4-0. I remind them that their goalkeeper is terrible.

Returning, I'm struck by the clear picture of French colonial influence in Togo, and am reminded of the current post-colonial influence in Ghana. Everywhere I see the English language, where French had been in Togo, is a reminder that Ghana is living a post-colonial experience. What had been easy for me to slip into, and send to the back of my subconscious, was brought clearly to top of mind.

Two countries that are divided by an arbitrary border and different colonial masters now share in the post-colonialist experience. The challenges of re-creating one's sovereignty, and even cultural identities, after colonization are great. An English-French divide that further separates neighbours that are bound by geography is something that can be understood particularly well by Canadians. When dominant cultures can't communicate with each other, the road between neighbours becomes spectaculary pot-holed.

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