Published: November 23rd 2008November 23rd 2008
mmmmmm ginger. In Gran Popo, Lion bar, where I stayed, highly recommended.
Benin, Benin, a stable democracy and what seems to be a good president investing in healthcare and education. lots of NGOs working all over the place,roads are crumbling and it doesn't seem any much better than it's dictator ridden neighbour that get no funding whatsoever, ok, not looking at numbers, just the visible signs. Granted, Lome in neighbouring Togo is really not tidy, if you see what I mean.
Throughout my journey in Benin though, I was constantly bugged by one statistic, all the economic progress made by it is rendered null on a per capita basis because they have so many children!!!! so the population grows so fast that all the economic growth just goes to sustaining the current level and conditions the population lives in! talk about giving out free condoms!!!
In fact, correct or not, in terms of cultural sensitivity, I brought up the subject with the Beninese a number of times. The different worlds we live in are vast generations light years away from eachother. The simple argument that "the government aint gonna pay people to work my land are they?" !!!! or the more typical "don't you want to be remembered?" to which I
say: "my friends will, or my adoptive children will", is just met with "and how about your name?" "don't you want it to live on?". I'm sorry if any of you share those people views, and I mean fair enough if you want a couple of children of your own, but in this day and age, 8 plus, the Beninese avarege, is just not necessary to "spread your name!!!!". Logic, the main foundation of my life, which I do understand is not followed by all, really, seems very underdeveloped in some places. OK I'm being very patronising, I have also seen that the most basic concepts just have never been explained to most people. -did you know the earth is round? -no? ok so it is, now imagine I'm on this side of the papaya, and you are here. mmmm
I'm a painter, you mean you paint houses? -no an artist. oh, so you paint signs for shops (cultural notes for all those litirate folks who read my emails) :here most shop signs have drawings on them to help people know what they sell, a very entertaining thing to spot!
Cultural misunderstandings and extreme differences appart, Going to
Ouidah, after the gate of no return.
The shimering sun on the white foamy waters.
Benin was a great experience. Such generous people. I was shown arround houses in traditional tribal areas, went to fantastic waterfalls, waw what beaches, lovely sunset, tasted millet beer in the morning, and yam goo with sauce for luch, delicious shrimp pasta for dinner, ON the beach, ginger flavoured, under the coconut leaves fluttering in the wind, making the sweetest drip dropping sound of non existant drops of water onto the ground.
The highlight might be the 5km walk and back to the beach where most of the slaves were sent out to Brazil from. it was a long walk. after a long day walking in other cities, so appropriately, it was not an easy one. it is still a sandy path, with many trees, and some buldings and monuments to the end of slavery, the african diaspora, and the sort. Again appropriately, I was followed by a bunch of racist kids coming out of school, agressively delmanding money, as kids do in this or that town, a clear reminder of present innequalities, resentments and a reminder of past sufferings, some of them at least, which the people who made this path before me have had to endure.
An illustrated sign for the barbers, Benin.
It was with a calm feeling of finality and conclusion I arrived to the beach. For a number of reasons, it was in fact the first time I had managed to get to the actual beach in my travels, since I left Mauritania, a good couple of months and a good few thousand kilometers away. It was like getting to where I should have been going, and I felt light. the roaring waves, echoing the pain of the millions that were forced to enter them headed to the slave ships. the mighty atlantic waves, pounding with incessant force the shore, saying I HAVE NOT FORGOTTEN, I have seen them suffer, and half of them lie deep within my waters.
There is a monument at the beach. a gate of no return, as it is called. which I weznt though, and retuned through after my time sitting on the sand. the sea is indeed a spactacle to be seen. so complex and happening and alive. so all pervasive and thundering. the coconut trees arround, the beautiful sun reflecting of the white foam. a clear beautiful evening, setting, ending, concluding, a long day's walk, search, path.
Earlier that day, in Ouidah, where this beach is, I had been to an exhibiton house, managed by Brazil, very nicely done. at which the guardian was so kind to welcome me with many an excited smile on knowing I was Brazilian. He surprised me with offering me Acaraje, a bean and cassava paste deep fried dough dish, the brazilian freed slaves brought back to Benin, when some made the journey back. The spicy tomato sauce, as much umph as our hearts, esxited to find commonality after centuries, oceans and peoples appart. His huility wil remain with me, and his kind smile.
I can only try to conclude this entry on Benin with the end of this day. at a restaurant on the way back, simple and cheap, trying so hard to please, making such an effort, you wonder what will come from teh kitchen. Only to discover the 45 minutes you waited for the salad were because the lettuce had obviously just been picked, if not the tomatoes too, a delicious dressing mixed, and if the fish for main course wasn't from the evening it had to be fresh from that morning. Yes it was one of the best fish dishes in Africa once again, every country with a town or two trying to outdo the last.
Lots of love to all, Doug.