Wednesday, January 13, 2016

When Two Families Collide

Sharing my experiences in Benin through this blog, skype calls and snail mail is one thing.  Showing it is a whole other story.

This past week, my entire family was able to join me in a whirlwind adventure around Benin.  Here are some of the highlights, our travel itinerary and our favorite photos from their first African experience!

Our first sunshine selfie as we left Cotonou for our journey northbound.  The ladies took up the back of our mini bus while Dad rode shotgun.  Not only did this give us more napping space, but it saved Mom from watching all the near collisions out the front window.  Dad, as usual, kept shooting out a steady stream of questions that we all took turns translating.  God Bless our driver!

Mom kept herself occupied trying out my new guitar.  
While Maddie worked away at a friendship bracelet!

Dad rode shotgun and was responsible for "front-seat selfies!"

The Trip:

Day 1: Late night arrival in Cotonou, Benin

Everyone arrived safe and sound on the flight from Paris, wearing snow boots and long sleeved shirts that looked completely out of place among the sandals and shorts here in Benin.  We loaded up the car and rode to Calavi, where we kicked off the trip with a Beninoise, the Beninese beer, and hot showers.

Maddie enjoying her first FanChoco, the Frosty of Benin!
Day 2: Bohicon, Batik and Bound for Village

Picking out stamps for our batiks!
We woke up to enjoy a simple Beninese breakfast: Nescafe, omelette and a big bowl of sliced baguettes.  We made our way up to Bohicon, about 2 hours north, as everyone adjusted to the scenery outside.  Things that seem so normal now, like goats strapped to motorcycles and women carrying huge baskets overflowing with bread on their heads, elicited ohhs and awws from the back of the bus.

Maddie picking out her batiking stamps
Our first stop was a Batik session with Pauline, the owner of a art coop in Bohicon.  We each got to pick out a couple stamps and batik a meter of fabric.  After the wax set, we dyed the fabric, removed the wax and left the tapestries to dry.  Abby got to do her favorite color, pink!


It was late afternoon when we arrived in Adourekoman, another 2 hours north of Bohicon.  We were greeted with a swarm of happy kids who quickly became our village entourage.  Daniel and his wife prepared a wonderful meal of fried ignams and pimant sauce with soja, giving the family a taste of village cuisine.  Maddie and I camped out for the night while everyone else went to Dassa, excited for another village day.

Day 3: Market Day and Village Exploring

Having never seen, or ventured through, an African marketplace, the entire family was looking forward to participating in my Wednesday trip to the Glazoue market.  As I've mentioned before, this market is the third largest in Benin, being a central location for vendors from Cote D'Ivoire, Togo, Nigeria, and other surrounding countries.  We started the day with a stop at the attcheke stand, where everyone got their first bite of this Cote D'Ivoire delicacy.

Enjoying attcheke in the Glazoue market!

One of the highlights of market were the tissu stalls and the countless bowls of spices and foreign African foods that lined the alleys.  We tried to take pictures of the goods at the Vodun (Voodoo) section of the market, but the vendor wasn't too happy with us.
Mom and Dad at the Glazoue Marche

After a couple hours in the heat of the African sun, we headed back to village where Dad promptly fell asleep in my hammock.  The ladies cooled off with lemonade while getting acquainted with my house and playing with Wowo!  We ventured out in the afternoon for a more complete village tour, visiting the church, health center and Peuhl village.  
Dad enjoying village life with a new friend
Maddie and Abby quickly made friends in village

Cotton Angels!

After another jammed packed day in village, we rounded it out with another delicious meal chez Daniel.  Fortune brought over pentard meat (another poultry) and Vincent joined us from Kpakpa!

Day 4: The Dahomey Empire

Maddie and I woke up and put on our meme tissu, the agreed upon family outfit for our tour of the Dahomey kingdom.  After leaving the house to go buy doughnuts (the only hot food I can readily buy in village), we returned home to plates of macaroni delivered from Daniel's wife.

Let's recap the little boomba emergency of 2016: Word quickly spread in village that Maddie's boomba top was too big.  Not even 2 minutes later, we were shuttled to the tailor where Maddie was stripped of her shirt while it was immediately mended.
Maman's infamous maca

We finally left Adourekoman and met up with the rest of the clan in Dassa, where they had spent the night.  From Dassa, we visited a settlement of underground dwellings that were used to hide from slavery during the reign of the Dahomey kingdom and wars of enslavement.
The family sporting their meme tissu at the Archeological Park of Agongointo, outside Bohicon.

From there, we traveled down to Abomey where we toured the ruins of the Dahomey kings Ghezo and Glele.  The history was fascinating and gave me a whole new perspective about Benin.  My history buff parents even liked the tour!

Day 5: Off to the Beach!

After spending an exciting night in Azove, complete with lack of water, soupy ice cream and a real taste of life here in Benin, we packed up for our trip down to Grand Popo.  Before hitting the road, we stopped to tour Sebastian's (our driver and amazing guide) village.  Little did we know that he was the direct descendant of another empire! 
Visiting the Essou "Estate" with Sebastian Essou, our fearless driver and wonderful guide for the week.  The lion was the symbol of his great-grandfather who ruled over land outside of Abomey.

We arrived at Grand Popo just in time to enjoy an afternoon of sunshine on the beach.  It was Mom's first real tropical experience and everyone's first glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean from Africa!  Despite not being able to swim in the ocean due to rough currents, we all soaked in the gorgeous views and poolside payotes.

We were all smiles at the beach in Grand Popo

Catching up with Mom who enjoyed her first view of the Atlantic from this side of the world

They're too cute... I couldn't help myself.

We spent the night in a little Auberge along the ocean with a restaurant that specialized in seafood.  

Beachside dining!

Day 6: Ouidah and the Point of No Return

We bid farewell to the beach and headed an hour east to the city of Ouidah, a capital of Voodoo and the historic slave port of West Africa.  After a tour of the sacred forest, we explored the remains of a Portuguese fort that was used to hold and sell slaves before they were shipped to the New World.  After the tour, we drove along the 4 km Route d'esclaves, which connects the forts to the Port, where slaves boarded ships and, according to our guide, left their African spirits behind.

The city of Ouidah was bustling in preparation for the Annual Voodoo festival, which is celebrated on January 10th of each year.  We watched as they set up tents and vendors began to unload their wares.  Some of us partook in fresh coconut water while others turned away for the machete wielding coconut man.

The Point of No Return at the Ouidah Port
Day 7: Ganvie and Farewell!

We woke up in Ouidah to the sound of drums and the beginning of the Voodoo festival.  After a quick breakfast, we walked along the beach to the port where dancers were preparing for the festivites and chairs were being set up for all the guests.  We took our time in the craft stalls, bartering for earrings, tapestries and a hand carved chair that somehow miraculously fit in my Dad's suitcase for the trip home.  Although we didn't get to truly experience the festival, we had other exciting things in store for the day.

Ganvie is a stilt village located in Lake Nakoue, about 30 minutes north of Cotonou.  Known as the "Venice of Africa," the city houses about 30,000 people, who make their living harvesting their fresh water environment.  We met a guide at the boardwalk and enjoyed a breezy 20 minute boat ride to the heart of the city, passing fisherman and small boats along the way.

Boat with rice sack sail making it's way to Ganvie
While many houses are on stilts, like the one below, we were all surprised to see houses, churches, schools and even a couple hotels built up on man made islands in the middle of the lake!
The houses of Ganvie and the only mode of transport: boat

Dad and I enjoying an afternoon cruise to Ganvie
Making our way back to the mainland, we hopped back in the car bound for Cotonou.  We did a brief tour of the city, complete with drive-bys of Embassy row before enjoying dinner at my favorite Indian restaurant in town.

The week-long adventure came to a close when Sebastian and I dropped everyone off at the airport for their red-eye flight back to Paris.  I can't begin to tell you how wonderful it was to host my whole family here in my new home, how enlightening it was to see the country through their eyes, and how blessed I feel for their endless love and support.

Now it's time to adjust back to regular life here in Benin, start implementing all my plans for 2016 and getting ready for upcoming February trainings.  Stay tuned for some guest blogs as my family (as promised) will reflect back on their visit in Benin!

The whole family at Grand Popo

1 comment:

  1. This is such a lovely journal of your family's visit. Thank you for sharing!