Golden Beach Togo Lome
When we were in Cape Town earlier on our trip, we enjoyed talking to the locals about the upcoming June FIFA World Cup in South Africa. We asked which was the best African team in the competition and the word on the street was Cameroon. I hadn't realized that most African players worth their salt play in the various elite European soccer leagues.
Fast forward to Togo. We had driven from the port city of Lome for a day out in the countryside to visit a bush school and a rural mountain village where we were welcomed personally by the Chief - a very tall, striking man who looked quite regal and comfortable in his role as his surrounding entourage performed a welcoming ceremony involved a dubious looking brew.
On the drive from the port we travelled past miles of waterfront flanked by deep yellow sand. It was Sunday morning and the locals were enjoying various activities on the beach, the most prevalent of which was soccer. Men sported various uniforms but were playing barefoot. We were told that this is how Togo produces such great soccer players - running and kicking in the sand is like extreme training for when the game is played on grass.
As we left the beach area and drove inland through rural Togo, every now and then a soccer pitch would manifest itself between the palms and cocoa plantations. And even though the temperature was in the high 30s with sweltering humidity, it was clear the game was the thing.
Our stop at the bush school was glorious. While it was Sunday, because of our visit, the teachers had given the children Friday off, making Sunday a school day on this occasion. Imagine being greeted by all those smiling faces and big curious eyes.
Today was a day that reminded us that this is why we travel. While homes were no more than huts, and conditions basic, the people seemed so happy - perhaps as much bemused by our presence as we were by theirs.
While most Togoans are Christian who retain their indiginous belief in voodoo - there was no mistaking the universal religion of soccer - colourfully reinforced by the many international team shirts worn by the children. It goes without saying that the outcome of the World Cup will be watched in Togo with great interest.