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 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.
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...