Benin 2002-5

Sketches from Benin, when we were living and working in Cotonou. 

Cotonou is buzzing with small businesses, millions of people, fumes from motorbikes and concrete. I had the opportunity to get back there last septembre, after 5 years, and there is more tiled buildings with corinthian styled columns, less trees, about a million more motorbikes, with some funny chinese brands, new high-end supermarkets, and the heat. 
I really enjoyed getting back in the west african groove, so much more to it than down south, smells, madness, things to see, people to talk to over a beer, or for no reason.

 Trucks are a danger. Thy know they are the biggest on the road, they know they have little brakes, the driver know the pieces that are missing from his engine. Trucks stop anywhere, trucks do not have lights, trucks have accidents, fall in the ditch... In a place where everything means trade, trucks are kings, moving loads from the harbour to Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Niger, or between cities in the country.

 The zemidjan, kekeno, is the number one public transport in the cities, and the bush. It can carry up to 5 people (2 adults, 3 kids, one of which is a baby), 3 adults maximum, or one cow, 3 goats, 2 big fridges, 50 empty 20-liter drums, a 3-seater sofa etc. The cost for a new chinese bike is around 300 usd, but it can take the zemidjan up to 3 years to pay it off.

Long-distance taxis, dreamliners of potholed roads, full to the brim, and even more. Old peugeot, 3 seaters carrying 12 adults, newish Toyota stinking of petrol from an added tank, to smuggle some fuel from Nigeria, long conversations about the horrendous driving style of the taximan, how he will have us all killed in no time, snacking on anything that has been passed through the window (snails, nuts, bread, meat, fish, bananas...). Those long rides are very... interesting.  

The tata somba from the Otamari people north of Benin and Togo. Small castles spread at an arrow throw distance from each other. Beautifull sight, with cliffs and dotted plains, changing colours every season. We use to love going up north everytime it was possible (9h long taxi drive), to see our friends, drink the local brew, ride bikes to go to the next market to taste their brew, and enjoy the north, its dry climate, its mountains and beauty of the land.

Great mosk of Porto Novo. Its brazilian-churchy style comes from the ex-west african slaves returning from brazil, to come back to Africa and, sometime, continue the trade. There was 2 such mosks in west Africa, one was in Lagos, but has been destroyed to build a bigger one to gather the community. The one in Porto Novo suffers from time, added extentions and low maintenance. Pitty for it is truely stunning.  
 During the Gaani Festival, at the northern border between Benin and Nigeria, skilled horsemen, knights and nobles show their respect and skills to the king. Horses are heavy with broderies, rich cloths and silvers. Trumpets and drums are calling, riders are pushing their horses in the dust, making them dance and run untill exhaustion.
 Guardians of the peace, ghosts coming to life, the Egounouns are walking in the streets in southern Benin, speaking in tongues, watching...

The zangbetos are spirits dancing. I've seen 2 having sex, and giving birth to a baby one, fully capable of dancing and turning. Oh, and when they collapse, under the straw, one can find fully grown python, a croc or other funny things. It is always nice to have a bit of magic in life.

I drove the Honda, and Louise the Piaggo. We rode the honda through the bush, from south to north Benin, and it was a great bike ride, with my brother, and boris. The piaggo had its share of mecanical twists, and we can definitly recommend underage mecanics. ha. 

They say that Dantokpa has more than 50.000 sellers. It is huge, a city in a city. Organized in departments, structured, amazing. One can find anything, sky boots, rice, sundried monkeys, batteries, elvis memorabilias... 

the coffee and omelette - house are often open 24/7. feeding zemidjan drivers, often with TV and great quality speakers. The one down our appartment was attracting huge crowds during the night, we knew it was not for its condensed-milk-coffee, nor for the quality of the scotch bonnet-filled omelette on the menu, but for the top quality porn movies shown on the TV. Listening to Celine Dion, sweating from a chillied-egg and sweet local moccachio whilst watching an east german version of a foursome doggy style party, together with 20 other people commenting is definitively a life changing experience. 
Our hang-around ghanean bar, serving Star beer, nice meat kebabs and always good company. The Zion Bar is Eric's, it is still on, now it's on the beach, on the way to Ouidah. 

Benin has great cuisine, an amaying variety of dishes and tastes. I really feel for those who do not like it, have problems with gooey stuffs, unrecognizable meaty parts, hot chilly pepper, or look for the hygienic condition of the cook and kitchen before tasting. Too bad. the food is great.
 Cotonou-Natitingou, 9 hours. Market in the morning, local beer brewed by the women, great company and drinks, talking crap. Next morning, riding bikes 2 hours to Boukoumbe, market day, same brewing and beer tasting experience. Then 2 hours ride back, 9 hours taxi, and great WE.

Sodabi, triple distilled from palm wine. Lots of experience, lots of headache, and losses of memories.

Really got the name because it is a village on the water. The comparaison stops here.Maybee the smell, and the touristic focus. Then again. And definitively not a romantic city where to bring your girlfriend and think about asking her to marry you, on the terrasse of the 5 stars hotel. There is only one bar. I am sure rooms can be rented by the hour somewhere.
 Monument symbolizing the place where west african were boarding ships to be brought as slaves to the americas. Ouidah still has the forts and the trading places. 

Disabled people have special rights and consideration at the border between Nigeria and Benin. They deveopped a specialty of bringing loads of fuel through the border, on redesigned vespas, with 3 wheels, and a 100 liter tank. these fuel machines, driven by a smoking crippled on the most busy road of the coast, have a reputation to catch fire and then explode. Hence the name. 

Pulling nets to catch fish. Fishing on african coasts is vital to the population, commercial longliners are catching anything ashore, destroying the fish population, and the food local people are looking for. Those longliners benefits from trade agreement, cooperation clauses, or the incapacity of local government to control them. Fishes caught are thrown away if not good, turned into fillets for asian or european markets.

Pagne seller in Dantokpa. Million of waxes, batiks, etc. Louise loves them. 
Across West Africa, from Senegal to Cameroon, there are Peuls, herders, nomadics.  
Local electric appliances shop.

and the wales... amazing. 

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