Brother James and students from the College arrived safely in Lomé, Togo at 6.30pm yesterday. The group were up at 6.30am this morning for breakfast and were reported to be in good spirit, they will be travelling inland to Kara on a 5 hour coach journey later today. The temperatures of 31 degrees centigrade and 81% humidity levels on the Coast will be left behind, clearly a period of acclimatisation will be needed! For students and parents wishing to follow news and events from this expedition please sign up to receive automatic reminders of updates and stories on the main page.
It’s now Sunday Apr. 1st, Palm Sunday, and I’ve got my first chance to get to a cyber café in Kara to tell you the story so far…
There are 18 of us this time, 15 Yr. 11 pupils from our Southampton school where I teach, 3 former pupils of mine from Liverpool who are now at university (each has been on at least one other Team Win! African adventure (one has been on all 3), a parent of one of our Southampton bods, Bro. Michel from Rennes, Brittany, and me.
After a coach journey from Southampton to Heathrow on Thurs. morning (29th) we braved the gauntlet of the Air France checkin for our flight to Paris, bracing ourselves for a protracted negociation over the collective weight of our extra 14 sports holdalls full of gear (inc. 2 data projectors, 2 dvds players, 2 sets of powered speakers, umpteen football kits, balls, arts and crafts equipment, etc…). In the end we got through incident-free… and no misspelt names on the tickets!!
The biggest drama of the whole journey here to Togo came when we got to Paris and found that one of our Liverpool lads, Andy (aka Rolo) couldn’t find his backpack amongst that which was on the conveyor belt. In the end we were told that his bag would go straight through to Lomé, our Togolese destination, although we had asked to be able to pick up all our bags in Paris as we were staying the night there. Indeed, Rolo was reunited with his backpack once we got to Lomé.
In Paris we stayed the night in the Brothers’ community where I lived for 4 years while studying at the Jesuit university faculty, Centre Sèvres. 3 to a room, roll mats in use. After a hearty French breakfast, we bid the Brothers there farewell and headed for the airport once again, via Denfert Rochereau RER suburban train station. This place is legendary for the worst automatic ticket barriers in the whole world!!! (Really) Perfect for trapping unsuspecting backpackers, as Josh found out to his cost in 2007…
… and as Anthony + Eddie discovered this time around.
Once on the Air France Airbus the group settled down to watch a range of high-quality films on their personal entertainment screens (The Muppets, Despicable Me, The Chipmunks…)… well, to be fair, The Muppets are genuine quality, and there were other offerings for the more discerning, cultured viewer.
Off the plane and into the furnace, or at least that was the expression I read on their faces as we got off the plane. Hot and VERY humid, perhaps more so even than in 2007.
My friend Frère François Milin was there to welcome us (it was now Fri. evening). He had organised our programme in Togo for us, for which we were very grateful. He’s been in Togo for a year and a half since “retiring” as Head Teacher of one of our Agricultural Colleges in Brittany. I have the greatest of admiration for these Brothers who, in their mid-late 60s are prepared to offer themselves for mission work in the Developing world. As we English Brothers are so few it is not something that has been possible for us, but a number of French, Canadian and Spanish Brothers especially has done this over the years and I find it an inspiring example of what it means to be a Brother in the service of God and young people.
Our first night in Togo was punctuated at 4am by the Muslim call to prayer and at 6am by a local football team out on a morning training run complete with singing and drums beating out their stride rhythm. Welcome to Togo!
Yesterday, we celebrated Marylousie’ birthday in style at breakfast with candles in a baguette, a Happy Birthday banner and a few presents from the Team.
By 9.30 am we were onboard our museum piece Nissan transport for the 430 km (270 mile) journey north to Kara. The road north was, for about 2/3s of the way in reasonable tarmaced condition, but for the other 3rd it was a case of dodging the crater-sized potholes. To be fair, we did see a fair bit of road works going on in these areas, though the repairs in many cases were very short-term. In one case, we had the delightful sight of a worker using a watering can to lay tarmac. A first.
After a lunch stop at Atakpamé, we headed off into the mountains and what I would call the lorry graveyard: a reasonably steep mountain pass (c. 900m) where you are not dodging the potholes so much as dodging the broken down lorries and other vehicles. Our Nissan wasn’t the fastest vehicle I’ve been in in Africa, but it was dogged, determined and (despite appearances and noises) reliable. The driver was also very much up to the task, proving very patient, polite and pleasant.
The oppressive heat with which we were welcomed in Lomé built up all day till at last it broke with a heavy cloudburst in our last hour of travelling (5.30-6.30pm) by which time is was getting rapidly dark. This provided much relief. However, Kara itself didn’t get any rain and so here it remains humid and heavy, though not quite as bad as at Lomé on the southern coast. Including the 2 hr stop for lunch, a journey of 9 hrs.
We are staying at the same retreat centre in Kara run my the Little Sisters of the Poor as we did in 2007, 10 min. away from the ophanage where we will be working from tomorrow. This morning we were not able to get to Mass unfortunately, as the onmy ones available in the local parishes all started (exceptionally) at 6.30am. I couldn’t inflict such a start to the group after the journey we’d had, especially as the Mass would go on to last for in excess of 2hrs 30min, not in this heat. We’ll hopefully make up for it during the Easter Triduum, but again being sensible given the heat. After breakfast we had a little time of prayer and reflection at the outdoor shrine in the grounds of the convent.
So today it’s a breather before the activities start tomorrow. Tonight we will almost certainly be going to the orphanage for their welcome ceremony. I’ve arranged for a tailor to visit us and take our measurements for some African lothing that we will be getting made for us as souvenirs.
The group are all eating well. The options for food here at the convent are generally more vaired than they were in Senegal: rice, couscous, spaghetti, with either a little chicken, beef or fish. Yesterday during the lunch stop we were able to treat them to chips at a slightly more expensive eaterie. Bottled water and soft drinks are available (and the price is within our budget) so we will make use of them, certainly for the evening meal, though the youngsters will still be using their purification tablets/drops for their general water supply which they get from the taps here. The tap water looks fine, and surely is for the locals, but our fragile stomachs might not be used to it. Not worth the risk.
‘Bye for now!