a different style…

Thank you for joining me on my travels through Benin. It has been a pleasure to share a piece of my life with you. As this chapter of my life is coming to a close, I plan to work on a little redesign of this blog and will continue to update it in the future. Updates will not be as frequent, but they will happen. The next six months will largely be filled with finishing the dissertation, but then the travels will start up again as I head to East Africa for a couple of months of fun at the end of December. For now, I hope you enjoy the last bundle of posts.

saying goodbye

I believe that a proper “goodbye” is important. It is important because it provides closure. It does not mean that the person or place will be forgotten. It does not reduce the memory. It does not remove longing. It does not mean that you will never see that person again. Rather it honors that person, that place—the relationship. It means that those times were worthy of saying goodbye to as we feel no need to say goodbye to the unimportant things in life—they simply slip into our past.

Today is the age of quick travel from one place to another, seemingly reducing the need to say goodbye. In 24 hours of travel I can make it from West Africa to the Midwest, US of A. We have internet and phones. When I am in the bush I can use a satellite connection to phone or email as needed. It is an age in which I can travel to a country thousands of miles away six times for my doctorate research. No slow ships or trains making that too timely, no state laws or cultural norms preventing me, as a woman, from pursuing graduate degrees. All of this worked together so that over six trips, four of which were summers based in one village, I could fall in love with a land and a people. Not just a people, but certain people.

Today we give business cards and trade email addresses like they are sports cards. You are checking my blog, which instantly allows friends—old and new, and even, possibly, people unknown to me, to check up on my life and travels. This has taken away the old fashioned goodbye. Now we say, “See you later.”

Over the past week I said, “Goodbye,” to a country and people that I love. I said goodbye because these things that seem to make my world so small do not translate to life in the bush. I can hand out piles of business cards, but that does not enable long distance communication. Internet has come to the town where we go to market weekly. Unfortunately, many of the people that I love most do not even make it in to market but a couple times a year. Forget the hurdle of physically manipulating a computer and the internet or finding the money to use such resources—they are hardly ever in town. It would be beautiful to return to the village again in the future, the village where children great white people by yelling, “Pameeeeeela.” It would be beautiful, but it would not be the same.

The twins would be too large to throw into the air as their lungs filled with laughter. Little Felecite would no longer be able to get piggy-back rides (almost too big for that now), and she would be able to out run me. Big Felicite would no longer grab a bucket to join me for my nightly shower. Pascal would no longer run to great me as I walked past his house. New mud houses might have been built, old ones fallen apart. Trees, even the large Baobabs, might have fallen due to old age or insect influxes. Time changes both the land and the people.

Maybe some things would be the same. I could still sit in Martine’s kitchen filling my clothes with the aromas of burning wood. She would still laugh when I suggest such odd combinations as peanut sauce with rice for dinner. Fortune would still be working to get one step further, to educate his children. I would still hear Andre’s deep, booming voice before I could see him. Remi would still take me to see his expansive farms. The women would still use large mortars and pestles to pound yams, and stones to grind peanuts. Morning would still be greeting time. The red dirt road would still be red and the jagged hills magnificent. These are things I imagine and hope would be the same if I were to return in 5 or 10 or 15 years.

But I don’t know if I will go back in 5 or 10 or 15 years. Even if I do, it will be different. Regardless, my relationships in Benin are such that they warranted a proper goodbye—no “see you later.” So I said goodbye. A good, hard goodbye. I cried. It has been good.

parents: a top 5 list

A week with my parents and we were able to explore Benin from the south to the north, from the east to the west. Much could be said about this week, so I have reduced it to a top 5 list. Thanks Mom & Dad for coming!

1 – Meeting the Team
My parent’s first night in Benin was spent relaxing in Cotonou meeting this year’s team (minus CR who had stayed in village). When we entered the section of the hotel where our rooms were I heard several squeals as the girls busted out of their rooms. Even though it made her uncomfortable, RC managed to use my parents first names. Later in the trip mom made the following comment, “I knew it would be wonderful to get to know your village, but I had no idea how wonderful it would be to meet your girls.” Yeah, I love them too. (Picture: the village team.)

2 – Village Life
The morning after they arrived we tackled the visa situation and then headed north to village. During our 45 hrs in village we got to go to market, greet a ton of people, eat my favorite village foods, listen to a big rainstorm early one morning, work with a couple people from another village to finish training on one of the water quality monitoring instruments, go for a walk, deliver gifts, take outdoor showers, get bit by mosquitoes in the latrine, sleep under mosquito nets, and say goodbye. It was packed, but it was perfect. I do not think I could have asked for anything more. (Picture: Me and Dad in front of some of the beautiful rocks & trees near my house in village. Our clothes were made locally with fabric bought at market during previous trips.)

3 – Beautiful Land
Benin is beautiful. As the country is not large, we were able to drive most of the way north and almost east to west as well. I think the most beautiful regions are where I live…the beautiful hills that give the Colline Department its name are fantastic, and at the north (north of Natitingou) where there is a stunning mountain pass. This was my first trip north, so it was exciting to see how the land, villages, and people changed. (Picture 1: Me & mom in front of the lower waterfalls in Tenengou, on the border of one of the national parks in the north. Picture 2: Mom & Dad relaxing.)

4 – Rich History
We stopped in Abomey, the ‘capital’ of the Fon people, which was the largest Kingdom in old Benin, where we toured the palace. Benin’s original name was Dahomey, after this kingdom. In the south we spent some time in Ouidah where we saw a Portugese slave trader’s home and did a tour of the slave route. In the US of A the history books seem to start on the slave boats, but the story began long before that with a rather dehumanizing process that occurred along the slave route. For me, these pieces of history are important as it creates a framework for both history and the modern culture. (Picture: Monument at the ‘Point of No Return” where the slaves boarded the ships for the Americas.)

5 – Cassa del Papa

The second to last night was spent at a nice, European / American style hotel. Only 7km from Ouidah, the hotel was located on the beach, had several pools, various other forms of entertainment, hot water, big towels, and great food. It was perfect after nearly a month in Benin for me and a week for my parents. We were able to be lazy around the pools (there is dangerous undertow along the beaches in Benin, so we enjoyed the pools while listening & watching the surf crash), play some speed scrabble, and just relax. Oh…and my first big breakfast in a month was eaten in the morning. It was luxurious. (Picture: View from our balcony of the storm rolling in just before sunset.)

. versus !

As so happens with many things on the French keyboard, the “.” and “!” are not on the same keys as they are on the American keyboard. However, I find it interesting that on the French keyboard you have to press the shift key to access the “.”, but no shift is required for the “!”. I guess people are just more expressive in French!

back to cotonou

A week later and the trip is just about done. I have a few more hours with mom and dad before they leave tonight and then I leave tomorrow night. Since last writing we had several days in village, I said a tearful goodbye to my dear friends there, we travelled most of the way north, then back down again, did a few tours of historical areas, and had a fantastic 24 hrs at a nice beach resort. Over the next day I hope to write a few blogs with pictures to give you a snapshot into all that has transpired during this trip, and will post them as soon as I land myself in the US of A. Thanks all for following me with this last journey through Benin. Much more to come on Friday…