Volunteer Abroad - Benin, Volunteer Abroad Programs

Off the Beaten Path in Benin: Going to Church and Chatting with Locals

by Morgann Lyles, Greenheart Travel Volunteer Participant in Benin

I imagined that my family would sleep in a little on the weekend instead of rising at the crack of dawn. Nope. I heard them awake by 6:00 or 6:30 a.m. I got up around 8:00 a.m. and ate an omelet for breakfast. It started to rain really hard just as I was about to leave for the History Museum. I played around with Merveille as she mounted our mom’s motorcycle and made the appropriate sound effects. I forgot to mention that little kids here can understand both French and Fon, but tend to speak only Fon. Every once in a while, my host mom would translate for me, but mostly it was just a lot of nodding and smiling, which has become the story of my life here. (They should really stop lying and saying that the national language is French!)

Eventually, once the roads had dried out some, my host uncle drove me to the History Museum of Abomey, which was listed as a “must-see” in my guidebook.

photo courtesy of Abomey Historical Museum

I ended up getting a personal tour since no one was there. The coolest part was when we had to remove our shoes to enter the tomb of a former king. The tomb is a clay hut with a thatched roof in which a bed, jars of water, and pots of food rest. The spirit of the king needs a place to eat and sleep after all! Apparently someone still replenishes the food every once in a while. Unfortunately, cameras are not allowed, but I did buy a book that shows the prettiest parts of the surviving palaces. I ate lunch and bought yet another phone card. It costs 100 CFA francs / minute to call home, which means that I go through the 2500 CFA franc cards rather quickly. My host mom took me to purchase fabric and then to a tailor who took my measurements in order to make me an authentic outfit. She showed me about 300 choices for the cut of the blouse. I never knew African clothing was so diverse! I spent the rest of the day leisurely at home with my family, until late when my host uncle returned to “show me Abomey by night.” We watched Hulk Hogan wrestle some poor soul at a local hangout. That was nothing new for me, but quite entertaining for the Beninese audience. Then a local comedy show came on, which was pretty funny, even though I didn’t understand the words.

On Sunday, after breakfast, I put on my fanciest African outfit from Atlanta and headed to the Baptist church that I had seen the other day. When I approached, a small group was praying in Fon. That’s when I realized that this could be a looooong three hours if I had no idea what was going on. Thankfully, the Sunday School instructor, Job, found an interpreter for me during the lesson. He taught quite powerfully about the blind man who was healed when Jesus spit in the dirt, formed mud, and rubbed it on his eyes. He explained that God may not always fix our problems in the way that we imagine. (For example, my bag did not come exactly when I expected it, but I got an extra day in Cotonou waiting for it!)  The church service was unbelievable!!!! As a rule, I don’t record or photograph worship services, because I feel that they are sacred experiences that need to be, well, experienced and not put on display. We sang and clapped and danced, and everyone was so excited about God. It was refreshing. Job translated most of the service for me from Fon into French. He even walked me home so he could practice his English. In fact, it is Job who accompanied me here and is waiting patiently for me to finish typing.

But don’t make the mistake of thinking that he is the only guy I picked up today. I went to eat lunch next to the hospital alone. After I finished eating my rice with a boiled egg on top, I consulted my guidebook to see if that restaurant was listed. An old man came up and asked what I was reading. He said it must be interesting if I preferred to read that instead of participating in the general conversation in the restaurant. (As you well know, the reason I wasn’t participating was that I don’t speak Fon!) He sat down and struck up a conversation about the importance of traveling to expand your worldview. Mr. Germain ended up being this really rich guy with a car (!!!) who offered to pay for my food. He told me that that restaurant was not a good example of Beninese cuisine and offered to show me where to get the good stuff. First we stopped by his house so I could meet his family. The house was luxurious and full of photos of him. His grandson was a spitting image of my brother as a child! Mr. Germain welcomed me as his daughter and explained that he always met kind strangers when he traveled (in West Africa), so he wanted to return the favor. He took me to Bohicon where I tasted rabbit for the first time. He was treated like royalty wherever we went. And I do mean wherever we went, because he kept stopping to introduce me to people or show me places I needed to visit. When he drove me home, it turned out that he already knew my host family very well. I spent the rest of the afternoon playing frisbee and American football with Alex and his neighborhood pals. I also taught them the French version of “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” that I learned in elementary school. We had a blast.

Looking forward to more great experiences,

Morgann

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.

Discussion

2 thoughts on “Off the Beaten Path in Benin: Going to Church and Chatting with Locals

  1. That’s cool. Traveling helps me change a lot of my beliefs that I previously had on reality. Definitely a good way to get an education. If you get a chance, check out my website – i think we agree on a lot.

    cheers,
    Mike
    http://www.themapmakers.org

    Posted by MapMaker Mike | June 10, 2010, 12:09 am

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