Beninese culture is extremely rich. Once know as the Kingdom of Abomey, this region has remained a melting pot of West African traditions. I won't bore you with a history lesson (just check out the "About Benin" tab above!) but I will take some time to tell you about one of the more colorful pieces of Beninese culture.
Tissu is the traditional fabric here in Benin. It ranges in quality from cheaper low- quality weaves to pricey wax prints from Holland. Each design is brightly colored and boldly printed. The fabric can be purchased almost anywhere: from a street vendor, in the marché or at a boutique. When purchasing, it is customary to barter with the seller, a practice we are all growing more accustomed to.
The fabric itself is sold in varying lengths. A pagne (pronounced pahn-yea) is 2 meters in length and is often worn wrapped around the body as a skirt. These can also double as towels, aprons, baby carriers, dresses, hats and a multitude of other items (the Beninese get creative!). A demi-piece is 6 meters in length and often the common size for sale in the market. A piece is 12 meters, which would be a lot of fabric for any one outfit, but a great idea if you want matching clothing with a group of people.
Once you have picked out and properly haggled for your fabric, you can either use it as a pagne (any way you want) or bring it to any one of the many tailors in town. Like in the U.S., there are tailors that specialize in either men's or women's clothing, and each of their respective boutiques is wallpapered with potential clothing designs.
Having spent some time looking through dress designs on Google, my host sister took me to a local tailor for my first dress. Once I explained that I didn't want any huge ruffles, glitter or large buttons, we negotiated a price ($5 to make a dress) and I was fitted. It was a very quick process and I was told to come by in a week to pick it up.
Fitting day arrived and I love my first tissu dress! It's hot pink with bright yellow fish, what could be better?!
The RCH group spent the weekend celebrating Samara's birthday. Her host mother threw her a party at their house, complete with the tradional alcohol Sodabe and plenty of couscous. We had a great time hanging out without the prospect of another lecture looming ahead of us.
On Monday, we spent the late morning learning how to light coal fires and make flan over an open flame. Our facilitators helped us make the first one and then we made one on our own. When we finally ate them in the afternoon, they all admitted that ours was better. RCH for the win!
We were in Lokossa today for more medical, admin and safety classes. One of our PCMOs (PC Medical Officers) spent 2 hours talking to us about HIV in Benin: with about 10% of the population diagnosed, it's a harsh reality that many of us will face in our villages over the next two years. In admin we completed paperwork to open our own Beninese bank accounts and learning how to submit for reimbursement. Any questions we asked was answered with a simple "there's a special form for that." Figures. Our safety meting focused on transportation in Benin: always wear your helmet, travel restrictions (no Nigeria or Niger) and how to request leave and travel abroad. Total information overload.
We will be spending the rest of the week here in Sé before meeting up with the whole group on Saturday for a field trip to Ouidah (the voodoo capital) and Grand Popo (the beach!!).
Off to do my nightly spider sweep and head to bed!