Volunteer Abroad - Benin, Volunteer Abroad Programs

Settling in to Benin: Host Siblings and Hospital Tours

by Morgann Lyles, Greenheart Travel Volunteer Participant in Benin

Hello all. First, let me reassure you that my bag arrived (finally!) on Wednesday night. Thank God! I really didn’t want to have to borrow all of my clothes from my host sister in Cotonou. Here’s the day-by-day rundown of what has happened in Benin since I last wrote you.


I woke up very early with the intention of taking a coach-style bus for the 2-hour ride from Cotonou to Bohicon. Too bad it was full. So my host mom bargained with the driver of a smaller van-like bus to take me to Bohicon, even though they did not originally intend to go there. At each stop, vendors approached our windows and shoved bread and water in our faces. Of course, everything was in Fon and not French, so I always had to verify exactly how much something cost with a kind neighbor who spoke French. The roads were not as bumpy as I imagined, and we arrived around 10:00 a.m. in Bohicon.

I waited in the market at the bus station for my host father to arrive in his spacious car to take me the 9 km to Abomey. But, alas, he arrived on, you guessed it, a motorcycle! So I had to hang on tight to keep from falling backward due to the weight of the backpack. My duffel went in front of him. Somehow we made it okay. I dropped off my stuff at the house and accompanied him to school to pick up his son and niece. Again, I don’t know how, but we fit 4 people onto his motorcycle. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised any more at what people manage to put on these bikes; I saw a passenger carrying a long saw with the sharp edges precariously close to the driver’s back on the road to Abomey. So yeah.

After lunch I got my hair braided. It only cost 15 US dollars, including the purchase of the hair I had added!!!! (If you have no basis for comparison, such an operation could cost a couple hundred dollars stateside.) I saw rain here for the first time too. And it was a torrential downpour! The dirt road in front of the salon was literally impassable. Once I arrived home, I found a very shy 7-year-old brother who didn’t remember that I had already met him at his school because now my hair was braided. He kept asking his dad questions about me in hushed French. Finally, I told him it would be okay if he talked to me directly. But Alex was the least of my concerns. His little sister, Merveille, was absolutely terrified of me. She kept peeking around the corner and shrieking. She is only 3, so I guess that’s understandable. I managed to win her affections by giving the family their gifts after dinner. She loved her Minnie Mouse doll. And Alex was eager to play with the American football and frisbee I gave him, but it was pitch black outside. We watched an international equivalent of MTV, and I tried to translate songs like “Fireflies” into French. Oh, I forgot to mention that the family has a framed picture of Britney Spears underneath the poster of Mary, the mother of Jesus. So I knew right away that American music was important to them.


My first day at the hospital! I had no idea what to expect. After a breakfast of hot milk, which is eaten with a spoon like cereal, I was dropped off on the spacious campus of the hospital and told to go up the stairs to the Administration wing. I handed my paperwork to an important-looking guy, who began asking lots of questions. They don’t have “undergrad” here, so it was hard to explain exactly who I was. He was like, “Are you a doctor or a nurse?” So, after lots of awkward back-and-forth, I officially became a medical student who had only completed one year of school so far. I figured that was about the equivalent of my scientific knowledge in their system. He led me to the “surveillance general” of internal medicine, who led me to the medical director for internal medicine. This doctor then questioned me about my goals for my three weeks here and proceeded to make a few phone calls. He had me watch a video on his computer (!) about the difference between Type I and Type II Diabetes. I knew this information in English already, but not in French. Suddenly, two young guys appeared in white coats.

The director introduced them as sixth-year Beninese medical students and instructed them to take me around with them for the day. One of them was pretty cute, so I was content. They didn’t like the beige color of my American scrubs, so I had to change into disposable ones. I took a tour of the grounds, which included a blood bank, a morgue, and pretty much the same departments that our hospitals have. But everything was spread out over the land and connected by walkways instead of being a tall building. This hospital is the hub (CHD) for two states here, Zou and Collines, which is why it is so expansive. I chatted with Cyriaque and Pascal as we waited for one of the patient rooms to be cleaned. They were funny, and I managed to make a few jokes in French myself. We made rounds to several patients together. The students switched to Fon for the older patients and made sure to translate for me. Sometimes they asked if I had any suggestions. I thought to myself, “If only they knew just how inexperienced I am….” I saw a man with a puffed-out chest that made him look like a superhero, except for the fact that he was in great pain. Most of the cases related to issues with the stomach or lungs. I was shocked by the lack of technology. Everyone just had an IV, and that was it. It was really hot due to the lack of AC, so I took a break and ate at the cantine. Pretty soon, they dismissed me for the day around 2 pm.

I napped for a while and then walked up the street to look for a “carte de recharge” for my phone. I ended up finding a Baptist church close to my house, so I made note of where it was in relation to a few landmarks, since the streets here are not named, and planned to come back. I chilled with the family some more and threw the Frisbee and football around.

About Greenheart Travel

CCI Greenheart Travel is personally invested in providing cultural immersion programs that change lives, advance careers and create leaders. We achieve this by partnering with organizations and governments overseas that empower their local communities through experiential learning and practical development. We provide others with the same positive travel experiences in which we ourselves engage. Through travel and cultural exchange, we help individuals reach their full potential, leading to a more tolerant, peaceful and environmentally sustainable world.



  1. Pingback: Ten Things I Learned in Benin « Greenheart Travel - July 21, 2010

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