Back to Africa

Tuesday, April 04, 2023
Lomé, Maritime Region, Togo
We have started what will be a long pastoral trip, which, if all goes to plan, will take us to Togo (that much is certain at this point), Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Mauritius, Reunion (these last two are islands in the Indian Ocean), a transit through Paris(!), a brief stop in Tanzania to do some research, Kenya once more for the International Leadership Program, a few days’ vacation in Kenya with friends, to view some wildlife, and a last Sabbath in Paris before returning home. All told: a few days under six weeks.
Just a note: I’m traveling with Marjolaine this trip and she gets priority on my time in the evening which is also when I write, so please be patient if I fall behind. I’ll do my best.
We started last Tuesday, 28 March, leaving home about 1:00 pm for the drive to DFW airport. I had bought tickets on Air France because they currently have a non-stop flight from Dallas to Paris, which shortens any transit through Paris by at least six hours. We had hoped for a complimentary upgrade but it was not to be. During the flight Marjolaine sat next to an older woman originally from Indonesia who had an interesting life story. As a young teen, she was married off to an Indian man she didn’t know. She said she was lucky, he was a good husband. They lived in India for a while then moved to the US, passing through California on the way to Texas, certainly a far cry from Indonesia. Now she was lamenting the unpleasant aspects of aging. There are so many interesting stories in the world, happy, sad, indifferent. We slept about two hours each on the overnight flight
Transiting through Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris has become stressful since the 911 attacks because security is now so tight, and because the terminals were not designed (at least so it would appear) to process so many passengers. In last few days, there have been massive strikes in France over a new law that will raise the retirement age from 62 to 64. Retirement is sacred in France. So is the right to labor strikes. I suspect some of the security agents at the airport were on what the French call une grève du zèle, a zeal strike, or what we could call more mundanely a work slow-down. The scanners were terribly backed up, and many agents were chatting and wandering around, not expediting anything, some not even working the line. The frustration was palpable among passengers hoping to make close connections, of which we were two. Everyone kept it together (never anger a bureaucrat), but I’m sure blood pressures were higher than usual. In the end, we needn’t have worried; our flight was delayed nearly an hour for an unexplained reason somehow connected to the strikes. We had time for a brief visit to the AF lounge.
The flight to Lomé, Togo, during which we slept about two more hours, included a 90- minute stop in Niamey, Niger, one of the world’s capital cities with the highest average temperature, over 100°F every day for four months each year and in no month does the average drop below 90. Much of Niger is in the Sahara Desert. We never left the plane, just peered out the windows to see the parched landscapes.
90 more minutes took us to Lomé, where we started the entry formalities. I had already obtained e-visas for us online. So, we were in order, but the process was still quite slow. After we had the visa stickers in our passports, we had to show our COVID vaccine cards at the health desk. The Yellow Fever cards used to be a big deal, one had to show one when entering almost every country. As Inspector Clouseau said when told the piano he had just destroyed was a priceless Steinway: “Not anymore!” Just COVID. Yellow fever has apparently ceased to be a threat. Our luggage arrived in pretty good time, but we lost all we had gained when going through the exit scan. In a number of African countries, luggage is scanned once more before passengers are allowed to leave the airport. And there was only one scanner for all the passengers of an Airbus 320! It took a long time.
When we finally put ours bags through, two of our cases were flagged by customs. I was escorted with one suitcase and one carryon, into a small room. “We want to have a look” I was told. I opened the suitcase which is full of old eyeglasses, that I hope to distribute to needy members. I gave my usual explanation: “I’m a pastor, there are used glasses donated from other countries for people too poor to afford them here, so they can read. There’s no value to them, I won’t sell them.” The agent looked at me dubiously. “A pastor eh?” He looked in my rollaboard which had an SLR camera and lens in it. He called his supervisor, and explained what I had told him. The supervisor said to let me go. “Wait” said the agent, how do I know you’re a pastor? Where are you stationed in Togo? I said I was not stationed in Togo, just visiting. “Anyone can say he’s a pastor, many men say they are pastors...” he protested.
I tried to joke with him, humor can sometimes ease such situations. “Well”, I said “would you like me to give you a sermon, I can give one right now.” With a smile I wagged my finger at him “repent of your sins”. The supervisor laughed, the agent smiled but wouldn’t let go. “Do you have proof you’re a pastor?”
I thought of telling him that selling a suitcase full of old eyeglasses in Lomé, if that were my intention which it was not, wouldn’t even pay tiny bit of the cost of travel. But I didn’t. He wouldn’t understand all the parameters.
Then I found out, I think, why it was an issue. “I too am a pastor” he said. So, this was, in his mind, professional verification by the Pastors’ Guild. He did say “too” so he rather conceded the point, but he wasn’t going to make this easy. I pulled out my travel Bible which is marked up. “Anyone can color his Bible!” he said. I finally thought to rummage through my wallet full of half a dozen currencies, and was happy to find a few old business cards, which I hardly ever use any more. I handed him one, “The print is too small, I cannot read it!” he complained. I told him, with what I hoped was a sly smile, that I could give him a pair of reading glasses. He refused my offer, took a photo of the card with his phone and expanded it on the screen so he could read it.
When he saw my card was from a Church in Texas, in the United States, he was flummoxed. We’d been carrying on in French, and I was having a good day in the language of Molière (I have good ones and bad ones), so this was unexpected. He looked at me carefully and seriously, handed the card back, and said simply “you may go.”
Ah to be back in Africa!
Pierre, our deacon in Lomé was patiently waiting outside. We pushed the luggage to his car and loaded it in. It was twilight by this time, the drive to the hotel wended it’s way through heavy evening traffic. Oncoming headlights were often blinding because all the windshields are scarred from the sand that blows in from the beaches.
We arrived at the hotel and rolled our luggage to the entrance. Checking into hotels in the region is time-consuming, because even though I had entered all my information online when I made the reservation, one must do it all again by hand. Staff photocopies one’s passport, but then one must fill out a paper form and include all the passport information, and the visa number and where one is coming from and going to next, etc.
Finally, we had our keys. Marjolaine headed up with the porter to get the luggage in the room. I sat with Pierre for a few minutes to lay out what we would do over the next days. Mainly, a visit to a possible property, a Bible Study, and a Sabbath service.
In the room as our sweaty clothes dried in the air-conditioning, we discussed dinner. To go out to the poolside restaurant, or room service? We room room service: a salad for Marjolaine, a bowl of soup for me, and some rosé wine. A pleasant end to a long day.
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Margaret Villaescusa

Hello Mr and Mrs Meeker, I am always happy when you can travel together - a double blessing for you and the brethren. Praying for a successful and edifying trip. Looking forward to the next instalment.

Tess Washington

Hi Mr. and Mrs. Meeker, glad to know you're together this time. Just one word to all you've described: LOL!! I laughed so much! May God bless you and your wife's trip to Africa!


Safe travels, my friend. Prayers are with you.


Happy to follow along your always interesting trips. This is the first time you’ve been interrogated for being a minister? What a reserve of patience!

Rochelle R Boyce

This is the most interesting so far of all your travel experiences! You are a saint w/the patience you have.