by Morgann Lyles, Greenheart Travel Volunteer Participant in Benin
Monday was my first full day in Cotonou, Benin. It was a holiday – the Monday after Pentecost – so my host parents did not have to go to work. Eline and I mostly played with the children during the day. One boy in particular, my host brother Daniel, was quite obsessed with my straw hat. We watched the same episode of Tintin over and over again. In the afternoon, my host parents held a beach party with their friends. Eline and I ventured into the water a little, but the currents were too strong. We ate really good pork along with many sides. Most of the time, everyone was speaking in Fon – the local tongue – so Eline and I had no idea what was going on. We played soccer and discussed politics. I tried to describe the immigration crisis in America in French.
Everyone here thinks I am best friends with Barack Obama! It’s like “Hey how are you? Oh, you’re American? How’s Obama doing?” I’ve seen many shops and restaurants named after him as well as goods for sale displaying his image. Since I am from Atlanta, people usually bring up the 1996 Olympic Games or Martin Luther King Jr. There is actually a statue of Dr. King here, but I haven’t seen it yet.
Yesterday was spent on the back of “zemis” or motorcycle taxis. My host mom is a natural at riding them but I was hanging on to the bar above the license plate for dear life. Imagine go-karts or bumper cars … but on a real road with real cars and motorcycles mixed together darting in and out of traffic with horns blaring. (Actually, that’s what is going on outside the window of the Internet cafe where I am writing.) At first, I was mad that I had my straw hat on because it was blocking my view; then I realized that I preferred not seeing what was happening. Still, we arrived everywhere safely, thank God. I bought a fabric map of Benin at a small artisan marketplace instead of the huge, bustling tourist trap known as Dantokpa Market. We also visited a nice bookstore (with AC!!!) where I bought a Beninese play.
Today has been largely free of organized activities because I was supposed to leave for Abomey. But my mom called and said that my bag should be on tonight’s flight to Cotonou. So I got permission to stick around until tomorrow. This morning I registered at the American Embassy. It was a long and tedious process that I endured alone because my host mom left me there in order to get Eline to her Embassy. It was really funny when we arrived at the gate of the US Embassy, and the guard refused to belive that I was the American and Eline, who is white, was not. He checked my passport then tried to hand it to Eline. When I reached over and took it instead, he was like, “What do you think you’re doing? Give that back to her now!” We were like, “Dude, look at that picture again. Whose passport is this?”
Except this entire exchange was in French. The guard inside carried on a long conversation with me because he said I looked bored sitting there all alone in the waiting room. Then a guard outside stopped me as I went to call a taxi as if I had forgotten to do something important. Actually, he wanted my phone number. I told him I didn’t know it (which is true because I was just given this phone yesterday) and that I was leaving for Abomey tomorrow. He was disappointed. I was impressed with his fluent English though.
I was also impressed with myself today because I took a taxi back to our volunteer headquarters (SYTO Benin) by myself and later explored an area of town using taxi transportation as well. I didn’t know how to pronounce the area of town that I wanted to visit but the driver figured it out. I mailed some postcards – which hopefully will arrive in the States before I do – shopped in the Marche Ganhi, and searched in vain for a souvenir refrigerator magnet for my mom, who collects them. A vendor at the market had a bag with the University of Georgia logo on it. I was like, “Uh, where’d you get that?” That was definitely my weirdest moment of today.
Now I will probably go hang out with my family until time for dinner, then go to the airport to pick up my bag. Woohoo!
Until next time, your sweaty but fearless adventurer, Morgann Lyles.