Saturday, 31 March 2012

Buying shoes in Togo

Having grown up in a place where we get an abundance of seasons (winter/spring/construction/fall) in all their glory, I tend to have one or two sets of shoes that are appropriate for each season, and wear them until they fall apart.  I'm not very fashion conscious, and that's okay with me.  I'll get a sturdy pair of sandals that will last me through one or two summers and be very happy with that.  Because it's all about function, right?  When in doubt, there's always the convenience of my mother's shoe closet... her feet are about the same size as mine, but her shoe collection puts mine to shame.  Pick a color and a style, and she probably has it.  It's great!  
Now, being a couple of continents away from this amazing resource has meant that whatever I have has to last me.  I found out in my first 6 months straight of summer weather that sandals, even well-made sandals, don't stand up to a beating.  Especially when worn daily.  And if you know me, you know that as long as it's warm enough (and even frequently when it's not), I avoid wearing socks.  Which means I'm barefoot or wearing sandals.  
While home at Christmas, I went sandal shopping.  You try finding sandals in a Winnipeg winter.  Not an easy task.  I had order them in by mail.  It just wasn't a possibility.  So I have a total of two pairs of sandals, one dressy one functional but not always the most comfortable.  Which makes it less functional.  Anyways...
When the ship got to Togo, people started talking about the guy who makes shoes at the Artisinal market.  And I was intrigued so I made a plan to go there.  I kept hearing how he made them to order, they fit really well, they were comfortable, and they were cute.  What more can you ask for?  Oh yes, they are also reasonably priced (approximately 12$ US).  
So one day we all had off, myself and 4 friends set out for the Artisinal market.  One friend, Anna, had been there 2 years ago when the ship was last in Togo, and she was reasonably sure she could find it again.  It was close to the "Grand Marcher" so that was our planned starting place.  We walked out of the port as a group, stopped at the gas station and flagged down a taxi.  We bargained for a decent price (there are no meters in the taxis, you have to tell them where you're going and agree upon a price before you get in), made sure he knew the destination, and set off for the grande marcher.  Four passengers in the back and one in the front makes it a little tight, but you see the locals do that and more all the time, so what's the big deal?  Big deal is when the gendarmes (local cops) pull the taxi over and take his license for a bribe/fine for transporting too many Yovos (local term for white people) in one car.  I say too many Yovos because they wouldn't have blinked an eye at an overstuffed car full of locals.  
Anyways, he drops us off at the grand marcher and we start our wander through it.  It's like a combo of a giant farmers market and a flea market and a craft market all jumbled together, blurring the lines at the edges but kind of organized by what is being sold.  There's a street for fabric, there's a fish market, a meat market, there's an area with vegetables and fruit, there are dishes and music and anything you can think of, if you can just find the right area.  
Since Anna thought she knew where to go, we set out following her vague direction ideas.  She was pretty sure we needed to be near a certain hotel with a pool on the roof, and thought we had passed it on the way there, so we headed in that direction.  We zigzaged through stalls, people yelling at us from the sidelines, trying to get our attention.  We went back out the the main road for a bit, then somehow bypassed the rest of the market, finding a dead-end when we thought there might be a way back in.  
No worries, we were still going where Anna thought we needed to be.  About 30mins of walking later, beginning to think we didn't know where we were going, we saw a small restaurant at the side of the road.  Getting thirsty, the girls had me go ask (as the only french speaker) if they had any pamplemousse (grapefruit pop).  They did.  So we decided to grab a table in the shade and all get our own bottles (which turned out to be 1L bottles, but that's fine with me!  Sooo good!).  The main dish this restaurant made was Fufu.  Anna being partial to fufu she asked if anyone else wanted any.  Most of us were willing to help her eat it so we (I) ordered a dish and we all shared it.  Fufu here is made of either cassava root or white yams (or a combo), soaked/pounded/boiled into a paste.  It's about the consistency of raw playdough.  A little sticky but malleable.  Tastes like a slightly sweet mashed potato.  First you pour soap out of the old waterbottle turned soap bottle sitting on the table into your hand.  Then you have a friend pour water from the water jug over your hands which are over an empty bowl.  Now your hands are clean and ready to be your utensils.  You grab a chunk of fufu in your right hand, and dip it in the sauce/soup that comes with it. Very spicy soup, with chunks of random meat.  Actually, after much discussion, we decided that our fufu sauce was made with pig skin, or something of the sort.  Too tough to chew.  So we ate the sauce and left the skin.  When the waiter came by to ask if we were done, I told him we were and that we didn't want the rest, but he could have it if he wanted.  Sure enough, as he walked away with our dishes, he was digging right into the meat/skin in our bowl.  Glad we could make him happy!
Moving on, we zagged our path back to the main beach road, and at one of the intersections I asked someone if they knew the craft market.  They pointed me back to where we'd come from.  We were much too far to be going back at least a couple of kilometers away from our starting point,  and I was already developing some nice blisters.  He then mentioned that he was an artist and made hair barrettes from carved coconuts.  I think I need to learn to enunciate more, my swift translation back to english for my friends had them thinking he carved breasts from coconuts.  They were leery of going.  I re-explained... and we followed him across the street to the small cabinet where he stored his carvings.  Sure enough, barrettes and many other carvings for sale.  We ended up buying a few items off of him, and considered that to be our craft market for the day.  Continuing on, we walked the rest of the way back to the ship.  Got our exercise for the day and some fun experiences, if not much else.
A week or two later, having talked to a few people about where the craft (artisinal) market was, I set out again, with a couple of the same people, and some different ones.  Once again, we got dropped off around the same area, a little closer to the actual hotel that Anna had remembered.   This time we found ourselves right in the middle of the craft section.  Lots of carvings, paintings, and cloth creations.  But it wasn't the building we had been told about, and most people there didn't know what we were asking about... or pretended not to.  Finally, one guy said he knew it, and offered to show us the way.  We walked with him for about 10mins, but got more and more nervous about how far it was and finally decided that we were done following a stranger, no matter how friendly he was.  So we stopped, and turned back.  We shopped for a bit amongst the crafts they had at the grand marcher, and then headed back to the ship.  Once again, no sandals, but great experiences.
Another week or two later, finally I set out with someone who had been there before.  Same routine, same drop-off point.  Even followed the same path our "friend" had went down when offering to show us the way.  Apparently he did know the way!!  Shoot!  So we found our craft market, and the first shop you come to is the shoe store.  A space about the size of a half bathroom or small walk-in closet was occupied by three men, sitting on the floor and working on various shoes.  The walls were covered in leather bags and leather shoes in all colors of the rainbow.  About 40 or 50 main designs were displayed hanging by nails in the soles of the shoes.  Look around, find a design you like, have them trace your foot, specify what color leather for what part of the shoe, write down your name and give them a down payment.   Wait a week, and presto, shoes made to fit you exactly.  The leather is soft and comfortable, the colors are vibrant, the sandals are well made with good grip on the bottoms.  LOVE IT.  Only problem is, there are so many good designs, I kind of want to go back and order more.  As it is, I picked two!  They're already my favorite shoes! 


Anonymous said...

Great story. Reminds me of the great adventures on the West Coast. Fufu, pamplemousse, great artisans, and the journey to find them. But you forgot about getting shoes for me! Next time......since you know how to get there now! Thanks for sharing and keep having fun!
Lindsay H

Anonymous said...

Your foot looks great in both of those sandals. You really should get more to have for a long time. I am tracing my foot right now to send to you.(joke). I like the rug under your feet too.
Auntie Shelly