Tag Archive: Embassy of Benin


How I Got My Goat Back

Last weekend was Halloween, and considering the nature of the holiday, we thought, how better to spend it then to go to the Voodoo capital and try our luck with the fates? Although the trip was one of the best I have been on since I have been in West Africa, I succeeded in scaring my mom more than the time that I ran in to her room screaming about burning my hand only to find out later I had also melted the kitchen floor with a hot pot… She took it really well then too.

 

We were going for 5 days, and I guess I did not properly pass on that message to the most important of people, so my mom sent a frantic message to everyone she knew I knew, asking where I was. My friend Kobe, after receiving the message, tried to call me a couple times and when I didn’t answer, he thought I had been Voodooed. Oops.

Well, I am happy to say, that I am currently unaware of any effects of Voodoo taking place against me, but pleased to report that on this trip, I successfully got my goat back. Problem solved.

We left at 4:30am in order to catch a bus at a station that we (and seemingly none of the Ghanaians) knew about, in order to jump on a bus by 6:30. Luckily, we for once,  had no problem getting to the station and we were on the bus bound for Benin by 5 AM.

Photo by Zakary Pearsall

Photo by Zakary Pearsall

There were some very obvious differences between Benin  and Ghana.  I noticed the moment I got there that Benin is a much poorer country than Ghana- apparent by the type of buildings and houses that we saw outside of the major city.  There were hardly any car taxis, and so we traveled by moto taxi or as they call it- zem.  (Most of the people I saw driving cars were white). A moto taxi is a taxi by motorcycle. There was really no other way to get around Benin, but regardless, when I jumped on the back for my first ride, I thought two things.  The first thing I thought was, “I can’t believe I am on the back of a motor cycle in the middle of West Africa with no Helmet”  I would never have guessed that this is where I would have ended up last Halloween! The second thought-that came very quickly after the first was, “My mom is going to kill me when she sees pictures!”

I’ve heard that most people look back on experiences like this twenty years later and say, “That probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do”.  However, I am fully ready to admit, not more than a couple days later, that the moto taxi thing was a tad risky.  However, it seems that my Voodoo omens are promising; I made it out alive despite the poorly paved streets, the lack of helmets, and the blatant disregard for speed limits!

I felt like I was inside one of those stories that you hear from older people talking about their travels, when they were young. It was (almost miserably) hot, we carried all our stuff on our back, risked our lives several times a day by jumping on zems, ate cheap (but delicious) food

Yes, that's a chocolate croissant. There is a GREAT French Bakery in Benin!

and stayed at hotels that cost the equivalent of $5-10 a night. Needless to say, they were not five-star rooms- one guy even tried to tell us that we only get one towel per room (there were 2 of us in the room). However, I am stoked to have a backpacking across Africa story to tell in 20 years or so.

Obama Beer! Photo by Zakary Persall

While we traveled around, we drank a considerable amount of water, and for some reason the only waters we could find were bottled.  In Ghana, everyone has bagged water! So, we bought numerous bottles, and the moment any of us finished one, people asked us for them.  At one point, I had an empty bottle in my bag and when I handed it to the lady that asked, another person ran up and snatched the one I was finishing out of my hand. We assume that people are able to resell the bottles at the markets because some stalls at the market we visited had nothing but baskets full of empty plastic bottles of all shapes and sizes.

Photo by Zakary Pearsall

There are also very few gas stations in Benin. Most of the gas is sold on the side of the road from glass jars sitting on tables. From what I understand, a lot of  the gasoline smuggled in from Nigeria, because it is so much cheaper than to have it imported from other places and buy it from a gas station.

Photo by Zackary Pearsall

On Halloween night, we stayed in the place where Voodoo was supposed to be the most prevalent in Benin. We visited the Python Temple where people worship their python Voodoo God, and the guide tried to get us all to hold snakes. He assured us that the pythons were defanged and could not hurt us; however, I have held snakes before and am now perfectly happy standing 3 feet away. I would have hated to drop one of the Gods, knowing I was going to have to leave the temple risking my life on a zem.  The additional worry of possibly facing some bad Voodoo on top of that was not appealing.

Photo by Zackary Pearsall

We also visited the Sacred forest, where thousands of people visit every year for a Voodoo festival in January to me it looked like a “Secret Garden”.

That Halloween night, we stayed at a hotel where we are pretty sure we were the only guests.  There were tons of spiders crawling around the room, and they were BIG spiders. (A great Halloween experience, no?) Luckily, my roommate Mie,  is brave and killed all the spiders–although she said she felt bad about it. At home she never kills spiders, she just gets her vacuum out and vacuums them up. I told her not to worry, that I am fully ready to accept all the blame.

Mie, the brave big spider killer!

My mom sent some Halloween candy in a package for me as well as some Halloween Mad Libs and spider rings.

Happy Halloween in Benin (it rhymes!) Peanut M&Ms, mini Oreos, and Goldfish crackers!

At the end of our meal-we all dug in.  All the Americans in the group enjoyed a taste of Trick-or-treat candy from home. After dinner, we taught Mie, from Denmark,  how to play Mad Libs (she loved it). Then we stayed up really late laughing more than I have laughed on this trip, while playing cards and Uno.

Overall, I had a very happy, creepy-crawly Halloween.

All in all, when I got back to Accra, I felt like Africa had practically thrown my goat back at me, deciding that it no longer had use of it. If anyone decides to go to Benin- make sure you have Mad Libs and Uno on the necessities side of the packing list.  Maybe a helmet would be a wise addition, too…

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Most days, I wake up ready to take on Africa. I wake up knowing nothing will happen that I can’t handle.  I know I will most likely learn something new. All I have to do is roll with the punches, not lose confidence, keep a strong head on my shoulders, and keep thinking that I can do anything and that nothing will get the better of me.

Well, today I was a bit…tired…borderline cynical…OK, full blown cynical. I had a dream that I went home, and really really missed Ghana, but when I woke up…I couldn’t remember what I would miss . On a regular day, I can give you multiple reasons why I would miss Ghana, but today, the gloomiest of all my days so far, I had some trouble.

Reason #1
I am tired of public transportation.

Every time I get in a tro-tro I find myself wondering how, and if, the tro -tro is going to make it to the next stop. The doors take a good amount of force to shut, and when they do shut, the whole tro-0tro shudders. The seats sway back and forth when the tro- tro brakes or speeds up. Tro-tros are always braking or speeding up. They are a  little smelly, OK…I’ll say it, they stink.  And they’re hot.  On top of this, you have to fight for a  seat!  Have you ever fought for a seat on hot, smelly, shaky public transportation that you are 90% sure is not going to make it to your destination without breaking down?

There are options though.  There are taxis.  They are more expensive than tro-tros, of course. Plus, there are no street names, no GPS, and no big landmarks to help the drivers. If you are going someplace obscure (or not so obscure-such as returning to the University of Accra) you kind of have to know where you are going, so you can direct the taxi driver on how to get there (and back). I would not recommend trying to get to the Embassy of Benin by taxi.  That’s what I had to do today. The taxi driver didn’t know where it was.  I didn’t either, but I had the address from the embassy’s Internet page.  The Embassy of Benin had the wrong address listed…

My mom told me told me to look at the  situation and ask myself, “What can I learn from this?” Well, I was being cynical and responded, “When I am lost, when it’s 95 degrees outside with 97% humidity, in a taxi with a driver that speaks very little English, and I am under a time constraint…I’m not really looking to learn anything.”

Maybe tomorrow there will be something new to learn.  Not today though. Today I am totally frustrated.

Reason #2
I am a  done with eating rice and beans, and fried chicken.

I’m sick of joloff rice, I’m sick watche (rice and beans together). I can’t bring myself to eat any more red-red (beans-similar to refried), and I never really liked fried chicken in the first place. No more! I want sushi, and pasta, and Indian food, and huge salads, all of which are very expensive in Ghana. I could buy dinner for a month for the price of one meal of sushi, or pasta or a salad. My mom said “Go get some then! Then go back to the Ghana diet.” Honestly, I think that’s what started this issue.

Weeks ago, my mom asked me what food I wanted when I got home. I told her that honestly, I have forgotten what food tastes like. I don’t really remember the things I used to love. I was telling the truth. I was totally happy with fried rice and spicy sauce. Yumm.

Well, then, the next week, I had sushi. And pasta. And Indian food. And salad. I remember what food tastes like now, and all I want are big expensive meals, without rice, beans or fried chicken. Humph.

Reason #3
At first, I was adjusting well to “Ghana time”. Fifteen minutes behind schedule? Nooo worries. But now, I just want to get things moving!

I went to lab today, and after 30 minutes, I started drawing the specimens because, let’s face it, I have other things I to do (like getting a taxi and going to the Embassy of Benin). Cynical moment, I tell you! Well,  I got into trouble for starting to draw!  I was informed I was not allowed to start the lab before we do the “pre-lab”.  Together.  “What’s the pre-lab?” you ask? The lab assistant reads the questions out loud!  Great. Helpful.  Good use of class time, don’t you think?  I had already read the lab questions, by myself, to myself (while waiting for the lab assistant to arrive on “Ghana time”!  So, why did I need to waste an additional thirty more minutes while the lab assistant read the questions out loud?

I could have spent that time ordering more rice and beans and fantasizing about sushi. Or looking up the wrong address of the Embassy of Benin on the Internet.

Reason #4
Being stared at is getting old.

When people stare at me on campus, I want to let them know, that I, and many other obrunis very much like myself, have been on campus for 2 ½ months so, “Why are you still gawking at me?”  Of course, the feeling intensified today because I was already irritated.  Honestly, who wants people staring at them when they are in a bad mood?

It’s amazing how much attention I get. One guy (who looked homeless) asked me if I wanted to have his baby, like he would be doing me a great kindness! Another guy ran after me with a cell phone, trying to get a picture of my hair. Others see me and Mie walking around and scream out the window “Obruni, let me take you somewhere! I will drop you off!!” Once I timed the number of honks, only honks, I got in 10 minutes.  Each individual car (no matter how many honks from that particular car) counted as one.  TEN! Ten in ten minutes.  Don’t tell me that’s not annoying.  You multiply that out by 2 1/2 months and a minimum of four walked miles a day.

Hmmm…maybe when I get back I will miss being a center of attention.

Reason #5
I stopped reading Harry Potter and went to swim practice only to find out it was canceled. Ghana should know better than to interrupt my quality Harry Potter time for nothing!

The coaches told me to come back at 5:30 AM tomorrow morning.  That did nothing to lift my mood either.

I’m hot, fantasizing about food, wasting time on “Ghana time”, harassed…and now Harry Potter is involved. This just got serious.

That’s all I’m saying.

I’m going to go take a cold shower now. Only forty-nine to go. If the water holds out.