Back from holidays! I took ten days off to cruise around Benin with Brad. It was a really good, relaxing trip. One of the best things about the heat here is that you don’t feel like you have to accomplish too terribly much on any given day… and the hours from 12-4 are essentially for lounging about and eating. The most noteworthy moments:
-I went on a voodoo tour in Possotomé, and learned a bit about baobabs, voodoo Gods, temples and pythons. Pythons are very beloved here as it is the “totem” of this area (meaning that people never kill it, and it is good luck to see one crossing your path). If a python were to stop in front of you, blocking your path, do not cross the python because it is delaying you so as to protect you from a danger that lies ahead… once the danger passes, it will carry on and you can keep going! Well what do you know, walking back from the hotel restaurant in the dark, a python is stopped in our path! We waited maybe a minute or so, and then it started slowly inching along again. How wierd that the same night I learned about what to do if a python crosses you, it happened! Apparently a very good sign. I was terrified.
Later on, we went to the python temple in Ouidah, where we got them wrapped around our necks and took loads of pictures. There, they have about 25 pythons (the numbers change) that they let out every seven days to cruise around Ouidah and find their weekly meal, then the ones that dont return to the temple (some eat too much, some are pregnant, some newborns), the locals just drop off as they find them. Can you imagine!
-We saw the Pope Benedict, and more exciting, the President Yayi Boni! It was great, and funny to see such an event here in Ouidah because it took us three times to try and see these guys. Anyone we asked in the street was unsure of their actual whereabouts or the route… when we asked one zem driver if he could take us to the Pope responded “is that a bar?” Haha. But in the end it was ideal, the crowds that came out in Ouidah were numerous (for Ouidah), but not nearly as intense as in Cotonou and we had no trouble getting a good spot. Much to our surprise, we landed up less than ten feet from the President, who got out of his car to shake the hands of citizens!! (Brad would want me to add that he wanted to cross the street before the President came, because the other side had shade, and I didn’t want to, and so it is entirely my fault that we didn’t get to shake the presidents hand 🙂 I agree, and will eternally kick myself for encroaching on the lifelong friendship Brad and Mr. Boni would have no doubt fostered). The Pope passed quicker in his Popemobile, waving and smiling at the crowds. People were very excited, many wearing fabrics printed for the Pope, and selling all sorts of things with his picture on it. Nuns and drummers all over the place, everyone was dolled up!
-Lots of other highlights, I think Brad most enjoyed the slave route that is 4 KM from Ouidah to the beach. This was the last leg that slaves would walk, cuffed together, before boarding ships to go to Brazil which would take 3-4 months in the six centuries of slave trade, 75 million arrived in the Americas. That doesnt include the 3 or 4 times that that died en route, whether its walking from Ghana or Nigeria to Ouidah, or on the boat and thrown to the sea. We followed the same route they took, including the Market Place where slaves were once traded outside of the Da Souza home, the Portuguese trader who was in charge of Ouidahs trade. The eighth generation Da Souzas still live there, and are still wealthy from so many years ago. The people traded evolved from being only male prisoners of war, then to a full on hunt of any man they could find, and finally women and children were also taken. Women were typically more expensive to buy as they were often impregnated on the boat so that when they arrive in the Americas its two slaves. From the marketplace, the slaves walked at night towards the beach (so that it is harder to know where they are and escape), stayed in a hut with no windows until the boats came, walked around the tree of forgetfulness to forget their past and origins and identity, and eventually were branded by their owners and shipped off. Boats would typically continue to Senegal where the slaves were moved onto bigger boats. I could go on for days about this, in the past few months Ive learned a lot about the horrors of the slave trade.
Thanks for comments, emails, and donations! I’m back at work now, so an update will be coming in the next bit of our goings on. ** One tidbit: about two weeks ago, our NGO worked with another organization in Ouidah to record three songs of one of the Associations that we work with. It was great fun, and you can read/hear more about it on their blog, www.ciamobenin.blogspot.com . Scroll back to their post for Nov 11!