It is hard to describe the attraction of an African market to someone who has never experienced it. Part of their allure stems from the fact they are the main form of entertainment for people who cannot afford or have no access to theatres, television, or other forms of entertainment we take for granted. One is bound to meet one's old acquaintances there and make new ones over a calabash ot tchoucatou....
....men in Togo think nothing of urinating in public. They usually select a wall in some prominent spot where throngs of people are milling about. Perhaps because of tourism, the government attempts to discourage the custom by painting défense de uriner, in bold block letters on the walls. This only seems to encourage the otherwise law-abiding Togolese males. They invariably targeted a wall painted with this stricture, preferring it to an adjacent blank expanse of concrete.
Shame on us Peace Corps volunteers that none of us wrote a book as good as Togo, Portrait of a West African Francophone Republic in the 1980's, by A. A. Curkeet. (Instead, what do we offer the world? The Village of Whining... I mean, Waiting.)
Curkeet went to Togo with her husband for a summer in 1983 to visit a friend who was a Peace Corps volunteer near Kpalimé. During the course of her stay, she travelled extensively throughout Togo, and apparently meticulously recorded her experiences. She has also done considerable research on Togo and the region, and she blends her experiences and research together in this book in a way that generally works quite well. In one chapter you'll read about her experiences at the Ketao market; in another you'll find about Ewé naming customs, or the history of post independence Ghana.
It is clear that Curkeet grew fond of Togo during her visit, but she does not romanticize life there. She talks about its poverty and political repression. She sums up her view of Africa well at one point when she says Africa, like the rest of the world, has to be allowed to contradict itself -- to exist simultaneously in several centuries, to produce people capable of charity and cruelty, invention and superstition, idealism and corruption..
Curkeet's book is not an adventure story, nor is it great poetry. But it's first rate journalism and travel non-fiction; for those with an interest in Togo (and you must have one, or why would you be here?), I rate this book ***½ (out of ****).
This book can be ordered from McFarland Company, Inc. Box 611, Jefferson NC 28640 for $23.50 plus $2 shipping and handling. NC residents add 6% tax. Or, phone 910-246-4460.