In case you missed part 1 of my Togo trip, get updated here. Today I’m sharing the rest of my time there. I’m warning you now this post is going to be a little on the lengthier side. There is just so much to say about this trip.
One of the highlights of the trip was getting to meet the US ambassador to Togo, Mr. Robert Whitehead. Bryan Christy, the host, interviewed him to talk about how Lome was being used as a hub for the illegal ivory trade. It was one of my first assignments on the job was to take behind the scenes photos during the interview (talk about pressure!) But luckily I came out with this shot.
The picture below is the entire crew after we came home from dinner at the ambassador’s house (NBD!) I wanted to steal a napkin but of course I didn’t have pockets hah. It was very surreal to be eating dinner there and have his staff waiting on us. I’m talking white blazers and gloves.
The ambassador and his wife live in a beautiful house with a tennis court and pool and they have the cutest dog. Can’t say that I’ll ever be at another US ambassador’s house again anytime soon!
Pablo (the guy all the way to the right) and I were having a moment during dinner where we said how crazy life can be sometimes and you never know where you can end up from week to week.
Pablo Durana is such a positive person and is also incredibly accomplished with an extensive resume. He’s filmed all over the world and speaks three language (English, Spanish, and French!) We were able to meet up in San Fran and Washington state this past March on our LA to Seattle Road Trip.
The super tall guy in the back is JJ Kelley who is the friend who invited me on this epic adventure. He and Dave worked together years ago on another project with National Geographic called Knights of Mayhem.
I met JJ in Washington DC at a screening of one of his adventure films Go Ganges, we went to a wedding together in Washington state, visited him and his girlfriend Katy twice in beautiful NYC, and then we traveled to Togo together. He’s an Emmy nominated filmmaker and is quite impressive and is so witty.I wanted to take a picture of the breakfast I had everyday because there wasn’t any variety. We joked it was like groundhog’s day. And every morning I’d bring down my malaria pills so I’d remember to take them. I took the pills for a few days before and after the trip. The one thing that I remember about the side effects of the pills were the very vivid dreams I would have. I don’t remember specific ones but I remember talking to the crew about it because some of them experienced it too.
The picture I took of Bryan was at the voodoo market. It was, as you’d expect, full of really weird, sad things, skulls of different animals and such. Here is a video about it: voodoo market in Togo
I also got to hold that snake that Bryan is holding, pretty sure it was the first time I’ve ever held a snake. It wasn’t as scale-y as I thought it would be. Toby asked if I wanted to hold it, I originally said no and he said that I should and if I felt uncomfortable I could hand it back to him. I’m glad he made me do it, because it was really cool. The host of the doc, Bryan Christy, is an incredibly accomplished investigative journalist, lawyer, wildlife activist, and author, and now I’m lucky to call him my friend and my unofficial life coach. He is very wise and charismatic, I’m a big fan.
This picture is taken from our lunch date at our hotel. On my second to last day there, we filmed on the beach in front of our hotel. Here is the crew busy at work, doing what they do best. The beach was packed in the morning. People were running and playing soccer. They’re a very physically active country. That morning Toby the main cameraman, was flying his drone (the helicopter with a camera attached to it) and at first everyone was just going on about their business. Then slowly people starting watching and gathering. And when he landed it, there was a bit of a crowd rush. It was pretty crazy for a second there. Glad we got out of there when we did. After the beach we showered and got ready for a round of interviews. And a fun side note I want to remember that Pablo got fresh coconuts for all of us from the beach 🙂
We went to a prison (oops sorry Dad! I may have left this detail out when I told him I was going to Africa, just so he wouldn’t worry. I was with Toby, JJ and Bryan the entire time and was completely safe) and sat in one of the offices and waited for the interviewees to come. I, of course, don’t have any pictures of it.
The main reason I was brought on this trip was to be a translator for a Vietnamese suspect who was accused of shipping containers full of elephant tusks back to Vietnam. He was awaiting trial and had been waiting in jail for a few months. I was incredibly nervous but it helped that I was speaking as Bryan and had no interaction with him outside of that. He was cooperative and answered all the questions asked of him.
That night we all went out to dinner and said our goodbyes. I will always look back on this trip fondly and now I have a bunch of new lifelong friends, who I will continue to support as I follow their incredible careers and lives. It’s a special bond we will always share.
I am so grateful I was able to join this crew and help with this documentary. And this group of guys were all such gentlemen. They opened and closed doors for me, made sure I had everything I needed, let me order first, etc. I felt very protected and taken care of.
Mich, the guy on the left is a friend of Bryan’s and he is a foreign service officer at the U.S. Department of State and was on a post in Togo. He is a wildlife enthusiast and loves bird watching. He was so warm and welcoming and he and I got along really well. Next he is off to Nepal! The biggest lesson and take away from this trip was to “Feel the fear and do it anyway.” I was very nervous about this opportunity. I’d never been to Africa, I only knew one person going into it, I had never been an official translator and didn’t want to let the crew down, was worried about the person I was going to be interviewing (what if he was a psycho? or screamed in my face the entire time?) and had only done one small transcribing gig with National Geographic before. This experience taught me it’s okay to be scared and nervous and that you can use that fear to propel you forward instead of hold you back.
I was so comfortable in my life, in my Santa Monica bubble, and this really threw me for a loop. It shook up my world and took me way out of my comfort zone. I was nannying and waiting to hear back from a big job I applied for, and then this fell into my lap. Things really do work out the way they should. Because if I had gotten that big job I wouldn’t have been able to take all that time off to go gallivanting in Togo.
There were lots of fears, uncertainties, but I just couldn’t say no to this incredible, once in a life time opportunity. And of course I had the most amazing time, met phenomenal people, got educated in the world of illegal ivory trade, added a stamp to my passport, got to add a National Geographic credit to my name, and I will be forever be grateful to have had be invited. (Thanks JJ!)
This also opened my eyes to what a large world it is and how much of it I still have yet to explore and see. It also made me think about how cool ‘work’ can be outside of the typical 9 to 5 world and seeing my friends in their element was really inspiring.
To this day it was one of the best, most rewarding experiences I’ve had in my life. I am so glad they took a chance on me and let me tag along. I’m so proud of this team and the great work they are doing and am so glad the documentary is getting so much great press right now.
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