Big Bad Giant

Published by Brian on

The school year is starting to wind down now, only a couple of weeks left in the school year. The last couple of weeks it’s been nice and rainy, just the way I like it, and you can sort of tell that things are slowing down at the school. Our final tests are scheduled for next week, so class will probably be winding down not too long after that.


After the final tests the next last thing at the school really is something called Journee Culturelle, aka culture days, aka make the kids dance and sing for us. Over the last months a lot of profs have been using whatever free periods there are at the school to work on different presentations and what not to make for culture days. I’m planning on doing a soccer and a football match between the girls I’ve been working with and an assortment of young, small boy students, and then also some songs/poetry reading in English.


The other coach I’ve been working with (Frederic), though, had a different idea. I’m just going to put up a rough translation of our conversation.


“Frederic: You know, for the journee culturelle you should really sing a song.


Brian: I don’t think anyone wants that.


F: You could do like a rock number. Or, wait, what about, what is called, the slow soft kind.


B: Oh, what, you mean like soft rock or something.


F: Yeah, you know (and here he sings something kind of slowly and)


B: Right, in English we call those ballads. I guess I could maybe try and look for one.


F: You could do Kenny Rogers, do you have any Kenny Rogers?


B: I don’t think I have any Kenny Rogers.


F: Oh, okay, well what about Michael McDonald?


B: I know I don’t have any Michael McDonald.


F: Do you have any Phil Collins?


B: I have like 1 Phil Collins song.


F: Oh, wait, I know, Michael Bolton.


B: I don’t have any Michael Bolton.


F: You don’t have any Michael Bolton.


B: No.


F: None, not any. I don’t believe that, check again.”


The music here is something that I’ve been interested in more and more lately. They listen to basically no American or Western music (but they did have the Thong Song on the radio a couple of weeks ago). As far as modern pop-like music goes, it mostly comes from the Ivory Coast, Nigeria, or right here in Benin. But really, that kind of music is only really popular in bigger cities like Cotonou and Parakou. Also popular in those bigger places is salsa music, which I am happy to say I’ve been acquiring a taste for.


In the villages, however, the dominant form of music is traditional music. A fun game I like to play is “traditional song or baby goat getting attacked,” and it is more difficult than it should be.


The other thing to happen is the dog that I had for like a week back in January is back! The neighbor who I got her from has brought her back from the fields to spend time at the house (probably to protect the crops in the garden), and she is always hanging around our concession.


I recently told some of the young neighbor boys that I can speak dog, and that I regularly communicate with the dog (all dogs really). About a week ago I was horsing around with her, when two boys, Philemon and Silas, came over to say high. I then pretended to have a conversation with the dog in front of them, basically repeating what they said.


After saying to the dog, “Philemon did what?!?! He wouldn’t play with you, and said that he never wants to play with dogs again because they’re dogs and dog’s are terrible,” Philemon blurted out, “it wasn’t me, it was Silas,” which triggered Silas’ response of, “that dog is lying, that dog is a liar. Don’t believe anything that dog says.”




Transportation is one of the largest complaints that Peace Corps volunteers have in Benin. When I’m around a group of them it is super easy to instigate “why are Bohicon taxi drivers such dicks” and other such conversations.


The main modes of transportation in country are buses, for more long distance travel, taxis (which are really just cars from the 1970’s made by companies that don’t exist anymore), which are for more medium and short distances depending on where you are in the country, and zemi’s, the motorcycle taxis that are mostly for short distances but sometimes more medium ones if you live in the bush.

There isn’t much to say about the buses, they overload them and play Nigerian films, but a bus is a bus no matter where you live.


Taxis are a little different. There are two kinds of taxis, 5 seaters (which in my experience can have up to 13 people in them), and the bigger 9 seaters. I have never taken a 9 seater, but I imagine its mostly the same.


The taxi drivers actually all belong to a union, which brings a lot of order to the process usually. I’ve never actually haggled prices with a taxi driver, because the union sets rates for the entire country, so if you are going from taxi station 1 to taxi station 2 there is a listed price for everyone to see. Sometimes they will try and make you buy two seats (so 1 real seat), but that is mostly something that happens in the south from what I can tell.


Taxis are also often used for transporting goods, so there might be a pile of yams or ice or fish or something in the taxi with you. They also frequently stop to let people off or on, or to buy candies, or to go to the bathroom, or to avoid police checkpoints, or for any other reason. Trips can be an hour a half, or they can be three hours depending on the breaks.


Zemi’s are kind of a crapshoot in that you have to negotiate prices each time. In village I’ve stopped negotiating beforehand since they all pretty much know I know the real price and no the jacked up hey it’s a dumb foreigner who doesn’t know anything price.


The new thing in Benin, though, is this service called the Baobab Express, which bills itself as a taxi that is faster and cheaper. They aren’t part of the syndicate, and try to operate more like the bus lines, but with vans and on short to medium routes. I’ve taken it once, and there is more space, but they still stop a lot so the express part leaves something to be desired.


Big Bad Giant


The giant of Africa, that is the nickname around here for Nigeria. It is both true and utterly frightening. One thing I have realized is that Nigeria is the 500 pound gorilla in the room that is West Africa, and the fortunes of all the countries around it are tied to this giant.


A lot of Americans don’t really realize how big Nigeria is. It is massive, both in terms of its economy and its population. Nigeria now has the largest economy in Africa (with a hat tip to oil), and it imports so much that during peak times its ports don’t fully have the capacity to deal with all the ships coming in (this is part of why Cotonou’s port is seen as a growth opportunity in Benin). I also recently read that something like 10% of the people of African descent in the world are currently living in Nigeria.


It is, of course, also frightening because Nigeria is an unstable country rife with divisions. The recent news about Boko Haram has brought this to the attention of many people in the world, and being in Benin has given that some perspective.


People in Benin don’t fully understand Nigeria, but they do have some vague notion that it is dangerous and that it should be avoided. For instance, I’ve asked a couple of teachers at my school if they’ve heard about the kidnapping in Nigeria. None of them had heard anything about it, me telling them was the first they heard of the story. Of course they also cautioned about how Nigeria is dangerous and what not. If nothing else this highlights how hard it is for Beninese people to get news. The primary source of information is village gossip (nobody owns TVs or even really radios), so the information tends to be more local focused.


I’ve also been able to pick up some FM radio stations out of Nigeria too though (what what Ibadan), and they too have only mentioned the kidnapping in passing. Long story short, no one here really takes it that seriously. While it certainly is a tragedy, the sad truth is that human trafficking is alive and well in West Africa, so while the magnitude is greater, the subject matter is not at all shocking or unfamiliar.


That’s about all I’ve got for now, I’ll try to put up another update after the school year is over. Also someone stole okra from our garden, the administration’s solution has been to have students stand guard. Also here’s a link to some stuff on Nigeria


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