This Christmas I spent the holiday in Grand Popo with some of my fellow volunteers.. For those of you who don't know Grand Popo is the Beach Resort town of Benin.. it is “touristy” (even in Grand Popo it is a stretch to call anything in the country touristy).. and it is beautiful. Grand Popo is in the south western corner of Benin near the border of Togo.
The whole week was a lot of fun. Sunday before going to Popo a group of volunteers in my region got together at my house and had an early holiday taco night (yum!). Monday morning we left with the best taxi driver ever (a friend of my work partners).. he took us straight to Grand Popo... avoided all of the holiday traffic (we made amazing time) AND came back to drive us home to Porto Novo on Thursday morning.
Once in Grand Popo we stayed at Lion Bar. Lion Bar is a very small Rasta Bar/Inn located right on the beach. There are only a few rooms but you can also pay for a tent and they have a beach area where they set them up for you right on the property. Because there were so many of us we rented out a room to use for our bags and then slept in tents. We had originally planned to stay at a fancy beach resort hotel, Awale Plage, but we had a lot of issues with them during the reservation process... so we decided to stay at Lion Bar instead. It was really really the right decision. The owner, Lion, was really cool... it was very safe, they watched out for our possessions just as much as we did, we were all able to stay together in one place, and he also ran an awesome little cocktail bar where you could get rum drinks in coconuts. Who wouldn't want to spend their holiday sleeping on the beach and sipping rum out of coconuts with a huge group of friends at a reggae bar?
Christmas Eve was spent catching up.. sitting in the sand.. drinking.. dancing.. talking about our posts... it was a really great time.
Christmas morning a few of us decided to go on a really touristy excursion where we got to see the Mono River, a zangbeto, Mangroves, a local village, and Sea Turtles (at a sea turtle conservation NGO). This was the first time in the six months that we have been living in country that any of us got to do anything touristy.. and even though we do live here and some of the activities were a little silly (like seeing a village) we had a really great time and we were glad that we went. - - HOWEVER if you do go on this tour.. and the tour guide tells you afterward that he also runs a restaurant that makes pizza (for a really really good price) do not believe him.. it is too good to be true. My personal opinion is that he had never made.. or even seen a pizza before.. but knew Americans like pizza. It was interesting however that none of them had cheese.. since a friend and I specifically asked that he not put cheese on mine.. and put the extra on hers.. and he said yes he would put lots and lots of cheese on hers. C'est la vie.
To celebrate Christmas I had made little “Christmas stocking” handkerchiefs filled with candy to give to the Environment volunteers that I had trained with (I would have loved to have made them for everyone but that would have cost me a lot of cfa). Our Environment group also did a white elephant in the Afternoon.. which was a lot of fun (we might do another one at our April training just because) so that everyone (not everyone came to Popo) can be involved in it. Later in the evening some German volunteers who were also spending Christmas in Grand Popo went out and bought fire wood and brought the wood over to Lion Bar.. we built a big bonfire on the beach and some Christmas carols were even sung.
Mostly, I spent my holiday laying in the sand.. staring at the Atlantic.. and thinking about everyone on the other side. It is weird that knowing we are connected by the same giant body of water makes me feel a little closer to home.
I hope you enjoyed your Christmas as well!!
Lots of Love
PS – I wanted to add a really big THANK YOU for everyone at home who sent me Christmas cards and Christmas packages. I really enjoyed opening them. AND I used the pretty cards and and other decorations I was sent to decorate my house. My neighbors thought the cards were really great – but did not understand that they were letters from home.. Greeting Cards aren't a thing here. Candy Canes took a lot of explaining too.