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1/4/03

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Happy New Year!
 
I have had a great holiday and hope that yours was equally enjoyable.  My holiday really started on December 30th, and whether you like it or not, I'm going to blab about it...
 
It all began at that elegant party at the Ambassador's house on the 12th.  There was a raffle to raise money for girls' scholarships and a dear friend of mine won a certificate for brunch at the Sarakawa hotel for two.  Greer and I knew we could push it to Lomé before that date, so we beat this friend up, tied him to a palm tree, stole his certificate, and left him for dead.  Okay, okay.  He actually couldn't make the trip down before it expired on the 31st, so he generously gave up the certificate of his own free will, no violence necessary.
 
That certificate was the only thing that got me and Greer through a couple of tough stretches in our journey: 144km from Babadé to Atakpamé and 120km from Atakpamé to Tsevié.  You can imagine my frenzy, then, when I realized the night of December 29th that the certificate was for a Sunday brunch at the Sarakawa--it was Sunday night when I looked at the certificate and there were no more Sundays left before December 31!
 
Greer and I slept very poorly that night; she because the air conditioner wasn't working and I because I had blown our opportunity to eat in an amazing hotel.  The sleepless hours between 1:00 and 4:00 gave me time to come up with a multi-step plan:
     First of all, we'd ask to speak to the manager whose name was on the certificate.  We'd tell him that it was a generous offer and that we (poor, starving) Peace Corps Volunteers really appreciated it.  Then we'd ask him if we could take advantage of the certificate on Monday instead of Sunday.
     If he said no, we'd explain that we had biked all of Togo.  Every Togolese person we'd met so far had been impressed by that.  Surely, if he understood that we couldn't have possibly made it from Christmas Eve dinner in Bafilo to Lomé before Sunday at noon, he'd take pity on us (poor, starving) Peace Corps Volunteers and at least let us have a regular breakfast, like maybe some eggs and bread, instead of the buffet promised to us on the certificate.
     If Plan B failed, too, our last resort was to pitch a crying, screaming, kicking fit right there in the lobby of the hotel.
 
Unfortunately for the reputation of Peace Corps, it came to Plan C.  Alright, alright; it didn't come to Plan C.  In fact, Greer and I were so overwhelmed with the warm welcome we received that it was all we could do not to tear up.
 
As soon as we presented our certificate to Mr. Affo, the manager on duty, he whisked us away to a beautiful table trimmed with a bouquet of Birds of Paradise overlooking the gardens.  There were doves singing in the trees, and we could see not only the ocean, but the trail the horses took out to the beach.
 
Mr. Affo even invited us to "open our stomachs wide" and eat a little from the buffet, rest a little, then eat a little more from the buffet, then rest a little.  We had arrived a bit after 6:00, and he said the buffet didn't close until 10:00, so we could stay as long as we wanted and eat as much as possible.  Now, Greer and I are (poor, starving) PCVs, so we had planned to do precisely that, but we had just thought we'd have to ignore dirty glances for freeloading.  It was such a relief to find out that we were actually welcome to eat the 45 lbs. of food we consumed over the course of those few hours.

And the food; oh the food!
I started off with a chocolate croissant, a piece of pound cake, and a bowl of granola cereal, all of which went wonderfully with the pot of hot chocolate they brought to our table.  Round two was a doughnut with chocolate in the middle, yogurt cake, and a club sandwich made of nine-grain bread, three cheeses, turkey, ham, and salami.  I drank pineapple juice that time.  Next there was chocolate cake, fresh yogurt with mango purée, and pineapple juice.  After that, I had scrambled eggs, bacon, and sausage with a piece of yogurt cake and watermelon cocktail juice.  Finally, I had a chocolate crêpe, a glass of orange juice, and a glass of mango juice.  Greer and I toasted Greg for giving us the certificate, Peace Corps for staying in Togo for 40 years so that we might enjoy this brunch, JFK for founding Peace Corps, Mr. Affo allowing us to keep a shred of our dignity by avoiding Plan C, and nearly each of the blessed staff that kept refilling the buffet. There is no possible way to express how delicious everything was, how full we were after all the eating, or how pampered we felt after napping for two hours on the lounge chairs beside the larger than Olympic-sized swimming pool.  The experience was phenomenal!  We have even decided that it is worth it to scrounge up the $10.15 it costs for the buffet each time we are in Lomé.
 
To our disappointment, the fairytale did have to come to an end, but we continued to enjoy ourselves for a few more days.  We went back to the hostel and realized that we were too poor to spring for another night in Lomé, so we packed up to head back upcountry.  We stopped in the Peace Corps office to submit our vacation forms and encountered the only person who hasn't seemed terribly impressed by our little voyage--our boss.  Anyway, Greer headed back to post for the holiday and I visited the friend who had given us the gift certificate.  New Year is a cause for several days of celebration in villages, so it was more fun to be in Gbadjahé than it would have been to be in Lomé.  I had a blast watching drinking villagers dance and sing, and Greg's colleague fed us delicious food each of the three nights I spent there.
 
This has been a great start to the New Year.  I hope yours has been just as fantastic!
Phynessa

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