Volunteer Abroad - Benin, Volunteer Abroad Programs

Learning to Say “I’m Satisfied” in Benin

by Morgann Lyles, Greenheart Travel Volunteer Abroad Participant in Benin

Wow! Sunday, I traveled 40 minutes on a motorcycle taxi through little villages not large enough to be identified on a map of Benin to arrive in Covè. Eline told me that the town was commemorating the 30-year anniversary of a local woman’s death. Thus, I expected some bells and whistles. But I got drums, and trumpets, and dancing too! We attended mass together that morning at a huge church that was packed with citizens young and old dressed in beautiful fabrics. It was a typical Catholic service. Even if the priest had been speaking English and not Fon, I probably would have been just as lost since I am a Protestant. At one point, he randomly switched to French to say something about getting married before having children. Eline and I looked at each other excitedly because we actually understood that part. Marriage is actually pretty rare here, especially among younger couples. It is seen as something you do later in life after having raised a family together for years and years. So maybe the priest wanted to re-emphasize the point in French to make sure everyone understood.

Benin coins

After church, we met up with Eline’s host family for the start of a parade. As the band played, the family members of the deceased woman waved portraits of her in the air and danced. We walked along in the procession for a while then took “zems” the rest of the way to the house because it was too hot to walk that far. It was set up like any outdoor formal event in the States, with tents and folding chairs in the lawn. We waited for the parade participants to arrive. And then we ate. A lot. They kept putting more and more food in front of us. I was quick to use one of my few Fon expressions: “N’goho” or “I’m satisfied.” The videographer kept coming up to our table, probably to ensure that he had footage to prove that a white person had attended the ceremony. I was glad to finally get Orange Fanta to drink! Everything is “Fanta Citron” in Abomey. So that was nice. It was a little weird when the family danced up to Eline and me with the portrait of their loved one outstretched and the band blaring behind them. I started trying to dance along because I thought that was what we were supposed to do. Apparently they wanted a donation. Once we were made aware of this, we placed a few coins on the portrait, and they left us alone.

What an experience! Everyone was so happy and carefree. I have found that to be the case with all Beninese people so far. Even if an old woman works hard all day long trying to sell oranges or t-shirts for next to nothing from a basket on top of her head, she is proud to be Beninese. I kind of imagined that everyone here would be pleading for outside intervention from France or America, but most folks just “make do” with what they have. They, like the apostle Paul, have learned to be content no matter what their circumstances. And that is admirable. I will sign off with the name I am called around the hospital:

“Doctor”

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.

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