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Column: Africa offers a look at another world

Northern Togo is a beautiful place, primarily agricultural, but hidden in some of the cliffs are caves where local villagers would escape to when other tribes and invading colonial powers attacked.
Northern Togo is a beautiful place, primarily agricultural, but hidden in some of the cliffs are caves where local villagers would escape to when other tribes and invading colonial powers attacked.

What, my sister asked me shortly after we landed in Accra, Ghana, makes a country part of the so-called Third World?

The term is no longer in vogue. Coined during the Cold War to refer to countries that didn't align themselves with either the U.S. or the Soviet Union, the Third World now refers to less developed countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

There is no official definition on what makes up the Third World, but I think I have a pretty good understanding from my 3 weeks in Ghana and Togo of why these countries are still struggling.

Example No. 1:

A loud thud caused half the bus passengers to turn around, craning their heads to look out the back window.

A man lay in the middle of the street, leaning on his elbows. His bike lay at his feet. The wood he had been transporting in bundles on the back of his bike was shattered.

The bus slowly pulled over.

Half the passengers – primarily the male half – stood up and calm as you please made their way off the bus and sauntered down the road to take a look at the man who had just been hit.

I was still on the bus, sitting next to my sister, Teresa Houston.

We were in Togo to visit our cousin, John Barlow, who has been living in a small village outside of Dapaong for nearly 2 years as part of his stint with the Peace Corps.

This was our second time on the Poste bus, a bus service operated by the country's postal service and supposedly one of the most reliable forms of long-distance transportation.

On our first trip, we hit a bird. The feathers stayed stuck to the window for several long minutes.

This incident was obviously a bit more serious – although you'd never know by the utter lack of urgency displayed.

About a half hour after the man was hit, someone – my cousin said a family member – arranged to have a motorcycle take him to the nearest hospital. No ambulance service here.

John had told us about a time where he paid for a man to be transported to the hospital because the taxi driver wouldn't budge until he was paid and no one else would pony up.

Everyone made their way back to the bus, and for a few glorious seconds, I thought our 8- to 10-hour bus ride was going to get back on track. (At this point, we were already 6-plus hours behind schedule because of mechanical problems that prevented us from leaving on time.)

The bus driver, though, had other plans. He should, he at this point decided, call the police. The police, it seems, said he needed to come to the next town to pick them up.

Leaving the majority of his passengers on the side of the road on the outskirts of the town, the bus driver took the police officers back to the scene of the accident.

We eventually learned, hours later, that upon arriving at the scene, the officers decided it was difficult to write up a report with most of the evidence removed and the victim in the hospital.

To solve this dilemma, the bus driver and police officers went to the hospital, pulled out the man and took him back to the scene of the accident.

We arrived at our destination at 4 a.m. instead of about 6:30 p.m., about 9 hours behind schedule.

This, I said to my sister, is what makes this a developing country.

I shouldn't make it sound all bad, though. It wasn't.

Ghana and Togo are beautiful countries. Both are taller than they are wide, with short shorelines along the Gulf of Guinea. Togo is narrower and more mountainous, but Ghana's government has made a concerted effort to restore its wildlife and protect its national parks.

(My sister and I spent the night in Kakum National Park, a rainforest populated with forest elephants and monkeys. We saw neither. Instead, we saw bugs the size of small animals, including tarantulas and crab spiders.)

The locals were friendly, especially the children who in sing-song voices cry out, "Yovo, yovo, bon soir," or, in English, "white person, white person, good evening."

My cousin has taken on the unenviable task of explaining to children why many foreigners consider this offensive.

Many of the people I spoke to before I left on my trip were confused about why anyone would ever go on vacation to Africa – and after reading this column, you might be wondering that yourself.

I can assure you, however, that spending time someplace other than America makes you very appreciative of running water and working bathrooms.

About this column

Dateline Dixon is a weekly column discussing whatever Dixon is discussing.

Emily Coleman has "office hours" from 1 to 2 p.m. Wednesdays at Books on First, 202 W. First St. Feel free to stop by to ask questions, suggest story ideas, or just chat.

She also can be reached at or 815-625-3600, ext. 526.

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