By Morgann Lyles, Greenheart Travel Volunteer Participant in Benin
Dirt roads? Check. Tin shacks? Check. Children running around with little to no clothing? Check. But that doesn’t begin to describe all that I have seen during my first days in Africa.
My name is Morgann Lyles, and I am a rising junior at the University of Georgia studying French and African Studies. I am interested in public health and have conducted research on malaria over the course of the past semester. Starting tomorrow, I hope to participate in a month-long volunteer medical program through Greenheart Travel in Abomey, Benin. So far, though, my fellow volunteer Eline and I have gone through an orientation process in Cotonou – the capital city.
My arrival here was quite miraculous in nature. In an attempt to save money, I chose to take a flight from Atlanta to Chicago and then Chicago to Paris instead of going directly to Paris from Atlanta. Air France operates a flight from Paris to Cotonou every other day, and it is the most dependable way to get here. “Bon.” I had a pleasant flight from Chicago talking to a Christian man from Jordan – a rather unusual find. When I got to Chicago on Saturday, though, I found out that my 5:30 flight to Paris had been delayed until 7:15. And then 7:40. I was still pretty chill because I had planned for a 5-hour layover in Paris. But even after we boarded the plane, we experience more delays due to mechanical problems. The overhead bin containing my duffel bag and a very heavy suitcase belonging to a woman in front of me broke and almost came crashing down on the head of another passenger.
A flight attendant and a mechanic struggled with the bin for a while and received a standing ovation upon getting it to close. Then they found out that an AC valve was broken just before we took off. That’s when I started praying for a miracle. By God’s grace, I made it onto my connecting flight to Cotonou on Sunday with hardly a minute to spare. I immediately found out what everyone meant when they told me men would hit on me big time here. My neighbor on the plane was a 28-year-old radiology student who called me “intelligente et belle” – smart and intelligent. We discussed politics in Africa and in America and relationships between Africans and Americans (hint hint). Admittedly, I was pretty out of place on a plane full of Beninese businessmen. I was very happy when we arrived in Cotonou. But my backpack with my clothes, sandals (I wore tennishoes on the flight), and my large toiletry items did not make it. Don’t worry. I am learning to make do with the little that I have. And what better place to learn that lesson than here in West Africa?