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Published: February 25th 2008
the house of Joy at Ouidah
responsible travel inBenin and Togo
Each time we go to Africa there is some novelty. Sometimes pleasant, sometimes sad or even dramatic.
This time Maison de la Joie looks quiet. Children are growing up, their number is growing as well, from ten to twenty and others are waited.
My wife and my daughter are there since one month. My arrival is welcome with a breakfast based on rice and chicken at 5 am. After a few hours sleep the noise and the kitchen smell wake me up. I meet the new children, there are stories to learn and to tell.
Among them, a child of about twelve who behaves like a little mama for my daughter. She never attended school, so I can only communicate with her with a few words in French. And yet, she seems to understand my questions. With my daughter, she developed a creole language made of Italian, French, Fon, Dendi and Yom that would surprise my brother, a linguist and a poet.
In the House of Joy all children wake up at 6:30. They do some house job, then they wear the uniform, and go to school. Before leaving, they all come to
Ouidah voodoo festival
voodo festival at the Ouidah bech
greet me. It's obvious: I am the only man in the house. Therese, my wife, never forgets to remember it to me. Advicing, correcting and punishing children is up to me. I was perplexed at first; I'm finding it almost normal, now. Here, children still obey the adults. They find it right that they are severely punished when they do something wrong. They must be ready to face a hard life, where you must be prepared to make enormous sacrifices. For thos who attend the school, competition is very high. Those who don't, they have no chance to find a decent job. In Benin, at least a half of the youngs do not have any possibility to attend a school.
When I try to explain how people live in Africa, I tell of two tracks that never meet. On the one hand, life in cities where one survives with businesses that not always are legal, but are always tolerated. Who went to school, has better chances. On the other hand, life in the savannah. Open spaces, an agriculture that barely assures subsistence, games of animals who know your smell since you were able to look after them. In your adolescence you will already be father or mother, and your way of living is the sole heritage you can leave to your children. Chooling is the only way out. If your mind opens itself, even in the savannah you can make a decent life, possibly better than in a city barack. You can cultivate understanding the market, you can think that it's wise not to rely on cotton only, for its price is made in Wall Street and that wall may be too high for you to climb.
The 12-years old girl who cares about my daughter is called Joshiane. They gave her to Justine, the head and a founder of the House of Joy. Here in Benin, children are often "lent" to affluent families, where the parents hope their child will have a better life. In reality, many of these children are handled as slaves.
Joshiane has already experienced two families, it was no fun. One day I asked what that big bump is, that she has on her shoulder. They answered that in the family where she was leaving she was beaten and blessed with a knife. They tried to heal her at home, the treatment included a red-hot iron on her shoulder so the bump formed. Her parents took her away from that family and gave her to another one, where she received the scares she has on her brow. She was finally sent to us, but it's too late to send her to school. Just the time to know a quiet place before adult life.
Justine, the head of the Maison de la Joie, handles her children just like all other children in the house. The house runs in harmony through learning, playing and domestic works. The elder children help the babies when it's time to eat and to wash. Suddenly, in the evening, the all go sleeping and you only remark it because they're no longer around. My daughter soon joined this company. She doesn't look for her parents, her kinks are over.
Sometimes, Justine is so stressed that she forgets her dates and commitments. Children to send to school, sick children to heal, their mothers to manage, the house still waiting to be finished... My wife and I know, so we act as living agendas, repeating her several times what she has to do during the day.
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