One of the things I did always take for granted as a middle class, white American was my safety. Growing up I never felt my life threatened or endangered. It seemed in Togo that type of blind safety was more of a privilege than a norm. One night while driving back from party we drove by a man sprawled out in the middle of a dirt road. I gasped, he looked badly wounded but instead of slowing down Uncle sped forward. I learned later he was scared this was a roadside gorilla trick to get a vehicle to stop. Then other men jumped out of the darkness and ambushed the car
A couple days later with the roadside incident still fresh in my mind we headed north to see a famous waterfall. I was squeezed in the back seat with my arm sticking out of the window. At one village a group of kids saw my arm and ran excitedly after us yelling, “Yavoh, Yavoh.” This meant white person. Many of these kids never saw a white person before. I waved and smiled thinking about my responsibility to be a good ambassador of a new thing.
As we continued north a large army truck approached on the opposite side. In the back 20 men in uniform sat next to machine guns. I quickly drew in my arm but it was too late. Uncle and Aja’s mom talked fast back and forth to each other. I sensed their fear. The army vehicle slowed down and crawled past us. I stole a sideways glance looking into the emotionless eyes of a squat man. I knew in that moment he could shoot me dead and go home to dinner as if nothing happened. The tank went 20 yards past us and then turned back around. This time the men were standing erect with their hands on the guns. The car was absolutely silent as they moved even slower. I felt their eyes glaring in at us and was preparing myself for death, or rape or whatever it is my dad read happened to women like me here.
They didn’t stop though. And, again Uncle and Aja’s mom spoke rapidly to each other but of course I couldn’t understand anything they were saying but I knew this related to the pending election. We continued to the waterfall and walked through a village to visit some of Aja’s mom’s relatives. This visiting was always a long process. In Togo there is a traditional greeting that sounds similar to the call and response songs I learned in Capoeira. People lined up across from each and each person goes down the line asking several questions like, “How is your mother?” “How is your father?” “How are your goats?” It could take almost an hour just to be introduced before an actual visit began.
Once were done in the village we met the three men who would be our tour guides. Uncle had told me that the men in Northern territory got shorter, thicker and tougher. Two of these guys fit that description exactly and were holding guns. The third was tall, wore a brimmed hat and appeared almost friendly. I felt my hands dampen and heartbeat quicken as they lead us into a forest. It was uncle, five women and three men with guns, the odds were stacked against us should anything happen. I remained silent. There was nothing to do but walk forward, but each step felt weighted like I was walking my own plank of doom.
A Warrior Princess