These past two months have been crazy for me... and after a whole week back at post (working very hard I might add).. I went to Cotonou to pick Erik up in the airport!!
At this point I don't know how much time he has had to process Benin – He has seen the craziness of Cotonou and met a few of my neighbors. I still thought it might be fun to give you some of his first impressions :)
This is a country of energy. My introduction to Benin was my first night in Cotonou. As my plane was descending into Cotonou, I saw a city spread out as far as I could see. There were no tall buildings, just a massive horizontal expanse blanketing the earth along the shores. The heat and humidity were stifling. Cotonou airport was abuzz. We were shuttled from the tarmac to the baggage claim and madness ensued. Everyone was fighting for their bags and eagerly offering to help with mine (for a price of course).The security guards were yelling at me to open my bags, but I could not understand their language. They finally got so frustrated they just told me to go through. I was relieved to see Zoe in the crowd, and this was closely followed by my first Zem (moto-taxi) interaction.
Negotiating a taxi ride is an exercise in haggling, with the drivers and Zoe yelling out conflicting franc amounts and calling each other crazy. I've come to learn that this is entirely normal, and she is very good at it! The drivers themselves are impressive, as well. I've seen them carrying 100lbs of luggage and a passenger; they carry livestock, building materials, basically anything you want, and they are EVERYWHERE. I've never seen so many motorcycles in my life. After a quick stop at the hotel, we took a short walk to meet her friend Amber for some felafel at a local restaurant, then returned to our room for some long awaited rest.
The next day, we got up early and I saw much more of the city. The tropical trees and interesting architecture make for a beautiful locale. People line the streets offering various goods multiple times, regardless of your reply. It is a very loud place, and drivers of all kinds LOVE to use their horns. We went food shopping at a Lebanese grocery store, had lunch at a veggie shwarma place (Karim 24), I took a nice long nap on the beach near Erevan (a giant Target like expat store), and toured the artisans market. There we found several huts in a park selling hand made souvenirs: masks, drums, sculptures, etc. In the evening we had a lovely dinner at Tandoori Nights, a local Indian restaurant (a treat from my Aunt Cindy), and wine with a fruit salad for dessert at a restaurant called New Livingstones just a block away. We both went to bed exhausted. The heat definitely takes its toll on my sensitive western body. Zoe has gotten used to it and is less affected.
The next morning I awoke very sick. I'll spare you the gory details, but my digestive system is having a lot of trouble adjusting. I've spent the entire second day in mild agony, finding it difficult to eat, drink, move, and think. This made for a less than bearable taxi ride to her village, about an hour outside of Cotonou, near the city of Porto Novo. I wasn't sure exactly what to expect, but I am happy now that I'm here and can see how my other half lives. The village is a maze of dirt roads lined by vegetation, goats, and curious children. The people here are clearly not accustomed to seeing white people. We march through a chorus of chants, “Yovo, Yovo, Yovo!” (It basically means whitey). At first I found this amusing, but it does make me a bit uneasy knowing just how much we stand out, that everyone sees us, that everyone is watching us.
Zoe's home is quite nice, relative to most. She lives in a concrete house behind the walls of a small compound, home to about 4 other families. Everyone is happy to see me and eager to speak. I wish we could understand each other. My conversations with the locals have consisted of “Hello. I don't speak French. Thank you, goodbye.” I'm getting frustrated because I'm used to being social and friendly and I can't do that here. We traversed her local market and Zoe introduced me to several of her friends, and I met the older women from whom she buys her food. They all seemed very nice and happy to meet me. Even though our cultures are drastically different, I get the sense that there are indeed people here who really care about Zoe and would like to make her fe
el comfortable and welcome. This is very encouraging.
Anyway, I'm still feeling a little sick but I'm starting to recover. I just hope this clears up by tomorrow so we can get out and explore! To everyone at home, I love and miss you all and I look forward to sharing my stories and pictures with you in a few weeks! Au revoir!
Hope you enjoyed that – I sure enjoyed a break from writing this week and I'm enjoying having Erik here to spend time with me :-D