Thursday, January 17, 2013

Kpalime -or- La Crise d'Essence

Our second week in Lome, I was lucky enough to get a surprise visit from my friend Ian (otherwise known by his more appropriate nickname: Fâché). Fâché and I met in the Peace Corps, so our first few days together again in West Africa were spent rejoicing in the glory that is ex-pat living. We lay by the pool, we went to the grocery store and bought CHEESE, we savored the air conditioning, we played on, and downloaded things with, our computers and fancy internet, we relished being in a West African country that had beer (and bars!) and we lamented our lack of these glorious novelties during our time as PCVs. This took a solid week of our time.
We are drinking beer! And eating cheese sandwiches! And being happy!
 The second week of Fâché's visit Mr. Kate suggested we try to go outside a little, while glancing at our growing beer bellies.  After pretending to be offended for another day, Fâché and I got out, played around town and planned a weekend excursion to Kpalime. Mr. Kate was ecstatic-- Kpalime was a birder's paradise. We were also thrilled-- we had heard rumors of waterfalls and ruins --and a little Belgian lady who ran an amazing restuarant with imported beers.

The day our trip was to begin, as I was picking up the rental car, I recieved a text from Fâché: "Demonstrations and gas shortages expected for this weekend."
"So, what you're saying is, we're in Africa?" I responded.
"Basically. Pas de problemes."

Soon after, we loaded up our stuff and the dogs and went on our way.

The happiest dog ever.
Most of our weekend was spent climbing, hiking, swimming and eating at Le Bon Vivant-- the small,  miraculous, hidden-away, mirage-like restaurant that actually does exist! Mr. Kate even woke up early and got some good, quality bird-watching time! We were able to take the dogs almost everywhere with us-- on the hikes, to the waterfalls, to the restuarant and through small villages. They were "well" recieved by most everyone (from a very far distance), until Loki took it upon himself to take a refreshing dip in the hotel's swimming pool. No one was really thrilled about that.

So far, traveling with dogs in West Africa has been relativley easy and oddly helpful. Do you want to escape your car for a few minute break on the side of the road, but have concerns about being overwhelmed by gateaux ladies? Let the dogs out! Do you need to use a toilet (aka. side of the road), but you don't want anyone else to stop to see whats going on? Have Mr. Kate stand by the car with the dogs! The gendarmes want a bribe? Perfect time for a doggy pit stop! In fact, I may never again travel without dogs.

Because upon seeing our two large dogs exit the car, most Togolese in the immediate proximity run away screaming and flailing. And that's just the men. Next the children scream and cry hysterically, and usually the mamas stand their ground, grab their babies and laugh at the men, while maintaining an appropriate distance from the dogs. But the level of overall fear exhibited in response to the dogs is only equaled by the level of astonishment shown in response to dog "tricks."

Our dogs can sit on command. That's it. One can sometimes do another thing called a "prarie dog." But that's it. They sit. And yet the enthusiasm is endless. Anytime you make the dogs sit, everyone gathers around as though you have been touched by the hand of God-- or at least the hand of the Dog Whisperer. And then they get up, you make them sit again, and voila!! The magic never ends!

These girls were literally running from us- until I made the dogs sit. 
Then they ran back towards us and wanted a picture taken with Loki, the magic sitting dog.

We had an amazing weekend and we made some great friends (mostly through dog tricks), but Sunday afternoon, it was time to go. As we were leaving town, we noticed the gas gauge was a little low. We were slightly perplexed. "How did the gas tank get so low?"
It turns out that, during Mr. Kate's early morning bird pursuits, he had driven far and wide to find as many birds as possible-- leaving us with no gas.

This is a blatant plea for Mr. Kate's birding buddies to come visit.
This normally wouldn't be a problem, but we were stuck in the middle of a "Crise d'Essence!" There actually was no gas in the entire country. At that point, we did what any normal person would do.
We found a gare full of taxi men and asked them to buy the gas in their tanks.
The transfer of gas was going smoothly until one of the taxi men looked in the back window, saw the dogs looking back and screamed. At that point, all the men dropped their funnels, their filters and their bottles of siphoned gas (they came prepared), and stepped back. One man jumped back about 10 feet and wouldn't stop screaming "Whoop! Whoop!" while running back and forth between the other cars, keeping as many vehicles and as many people as he could between himself and our car at all times.
Eventually, Mr. Kate and Fâché pulled the dogs out, made them do the sit trick, and voila! Everything was right with the world again. The guy even stopped Whoop-ing.

The taxi-men resumed pouring the gas, all while complimenting our glorious beasts, at which point Mr. Kate jokingly told them the reason we were keeping them was to take them home and make some great brochettes (meat-kebabs).* He expected a chorus of "No! No! Why would you eat magic dogs that do everything you say!?" But instead he recieved a cacophony of excited mumurs, head nodding and doggy fat pinching-- all acknowledging the promise of a fine meal. One man offered to let Mr. Kate give him the smaller dog (Kima) in exchange for the gas. They were really ripping us off with that gas, so we thought about it for a minute. But in the end, we got the magic dogs back into the car with a half tank of gas and empty wallets and made it home.**

It was a great weekend.

*Sarcasm is not a language spoken in West Africa. Ever.
** Upon returning home Loki dug a hole in the yard and we are currently re-evaluating the brochette decision.