So there I was sitting at my desk, working up a storm (my boss reads this and mid-year appraisals are around the corner), where was I… yes, I was working really hard when an email innocently made its way to my inbox. I opened it and lo and behold it was an invitation to a workshop in Manila. I did a double take, really?! Me, now? Really?!
It was weird, usually I am immediately excited and start planning how to optimize the work trip but I was a bit travel weary and my pockets hurt. I had just come back from London and it felt like I had been travelling non-stop for months. So my first thought was “nah, this is probably optional” so I wrote back asking if I could just join by teleconference. Alas, the answer was no we want you here. Shrug. Hello Manila!
I quickly got over my reservations which must be brought on by old age and started thinking of all the Asian possibilities. I had skyscanner.com open to check the possibilities and Google maps open to check proximity of locations to my primary travel destination. Boracay, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Bangkok, Hong Kong… the list was endless! I have always wanted to go to the more oriental part of Asia and the excitement was growing by the second. While looking at travel possibilities it occurred to me I would be missing a vital training which clashed with the workshop dates. Solution – go to Lomé to join their training session. Et voila! This is how one good trip begets another.
After a long first day of training we made a quick stop at the hotel to freshen up and head out to dinner. Our destination was the Citè OUA area of town which is the preferred area for diplomats and expatriates living in the city. The restaurant our hosts picked was called Le Patio; it looked promising from the outside and getting in, I was not disappointed. Interestingly it was a former residential villa that was converted to a restaurant by an industrious couple and had a nice fusion of nature, African accents and contemporary style.
Le Patio’s menu was quite unusual and when the food arrived it was well presented, quite hearty and colourful. Not a bad thing at all.
Conversation and banter was lively and in the process we discovered the Togolese educational system had an edge over Nigeria’s seeing as they are taught French, English and German in school. They decided to impart some of this precious knowledge by teaching us how to say Ich bin gezund loosely translated to mean I am gingered. Random, no?!
Dinner marked the beginning a weeklong of discovery Lome’s restaurants, cuisine and hotspots. It wouldn’t be fair if I did not share.
Premium Shisha Club
The name says it all. It’s a club with traditional and electronic shisha (at least that’s what they called it) I decided self-respect was more important than discovery and stuck to the traditional stuff. It was here I first discovered that Nigerian music was a big hit, it felt like I was in Lagos save for a few Togolese jams played here and there. The use of the word jams was not a mistake, the music was upbeat and it was fun to watch the youngsters getting it on the dance floor.
First Class Lounge
It’s a small sized club with a pole in the middle which is apparently used on Wednesday by the ladies who know how. Again mediocre ambience and scanty crowd on a week day but the DJ was above average. With such an intimate crowd I was not shy to try out the steps I learnt by visual osmosis at Premium Shisha Bar. My hosts look of surprise and joint choreography told me I learnt well.
Here I picked up another couple of dance steps and got to experience some truly local food. You know your friends are #bae when they get the local after club food into the club. Honestly you haven’t experienced life until you eat eko, fish, pepper and mustard with a side of Hennessy while dancing to Iyanya’s Kukere. C’est bizarre mais c’est tres bon. In case you are wondering, yes I said mustard, fish and Eko. This strange combination induced fits of #bellybliss that only Hennessy could understand and elevate. At the risk of sounding like a glutton-alcoholic, I’ll leave it there. Again, low rating on the ambience but spot on with the music.
We happened to go on a themed night where they were giving out masks! It was a great atmosphere (possibly something to do with the masks), one of the better spots in terms of the vibe, kind of crowd and ambience. The music had a bit more Togolese songs that others but by now I was singing along so it was all good.
The place is branded with four stars on the door which is about right. Modern and sleek décor with touches of art here and there. Not bad at all. The DJ did not disappoint, the cocktails were on point so it was a top notch spot in my book. Definitely recommended on a Friday night in Lome.
Apparently a must do after a late night out is to have watchi. They should just name it after club rice for the gods! Nothing more local than this seeing as it’s served in a rubber bowl, with or without cutlery! I tried it and I almost made it my screen saver.
Life in Lomé – Restaurants & Cuisine
Speaking about food, the Togolese know how to eat though. They eat properly at every single meal – entree of salads and bread, main dishes and dessert. The highlight of my days in Lome was the food and the nights, the dance and music. There were fascinating combinations like gizzard, lettuce and tomato salad. It just worked just like the other interesting things I got to sample over the week. Honestly staying in Lomé is a threat to the waistline. My conclusion was that French hospitality was all encompassing, your entire wellbeing would be taken care of.
On our second day of training the MD decided to host all the training participants at dinner and the chief planner picked a Lebanese restaurant called Nuit d’Orient. All I have to say is food over load! It’s funny how you work with colleagues for years and you don’t know much about their lives. Little events like this bring people out of their shells and you get to appreciate them beyond the friendly office chats. Ended up having a long and surprisingly open conversation with a colleague about everything from education to lifestyle to sports to marriage, the list goes on. The other surprise was one colleague attending the training session from Cotonu who has a talent for singing and is an understudy for an artiste called King Mensah who is popular in francophone West Africa. He like actually performs on his behalf or as back up. Amazing!
So the team felt dinner was not enough of a fun activity and planned go karting for the next evening. It was a rather long drive but getting to Afrik Karting I was super excited because the race track was worthy! Of course at this point everyone one started bragging and talking about who was going to be left trailing. As the only female I was written off very fast, I decided to just keep quiet and let my driving do the talking. It was tough and I ruined my manicure but I did not come last sha.
So it turned out that I had pretty good timing as the MD in Togo was throwing a BBQ for his team at his and was gracious enough to extend me an invite. He stayed in a pretty nice area with lots of bungalows with picturesque lawns and pools. His place had a nice gazebo where we all settled down to enjoy his music, great selection of Belgian beers, scotch whiskies and wines from all over the place while he grilled the meat. Life is drinking wine with the French and discussing the taste and best food combinations without the slightest hint of pretentiousness. Coincidentally the wine was a white from New Zealand a suggestion from our patriotic host. Polite guests, we decided to forgo the French and South African red options to try it. Not a disappointment at all but then it was just the starter after all.
It was almost time to round up the trip but apparently I wasn’t allowed to leave without visiting the beach offerings. First stop had shisha, a trampoline and again good music. But the second stop Beach Café was more noteworthy as it was on a roof top of an almost art deco building facing a long stretch of beach. The vibe was very chilled and had a great atmosphere but I might just be biased because it was painted in my favourite colour.
I thought back over the week – the work got done, the great hospitality, food, spots and getting to hang out with friends again. It was definitely a nice way to round up the lively trip enjoying the gentle sea breeze and a glass of bubbly.
Au revoir Lomé!