Ouidah, Benin, Africa
The lesson was held on the porch outside of the kitchen/dining room and overlooking Quartier Gomey, our road. Motos and cars and people pass regularly, throwing red dust/sand through the rails and in progressive wafts through the open windows. Dust here accumulates on everything and sweeping is an endless chore. Even showering feels futile because you scrub, scrub , and scrub, then trek across a fine coat of dust and are painted red all over again…
Anyway, Aminata did a basic evaluation and we reviewed very simple things for the first lesson. She had me explain my history with languages. It was all conversation in French, of course, but she had much difficulty getting me to understand her and then she would correct my Parisian-esque accent. I had to bite my tongue. I wasn’t exactly brought up to say “très” with a rolling R.
I was so tried that I took a nap between classes. At 3pm, I was feeling so bad that Aminata told me to sleep and that we’d add an hour to the next three mornings to compensate. I agreed and slept for a few hours. It helped, but I think I was also going through a caffeine withdrawal. I did, after all, come fresh out of finals.
Before my first nap, though, I did force myself out with Manon and Ryan, another student/worker. We tried to go on Ryan’s moto to get some shwarma, but it was closed so we went to Thaty’s sport bar instead. Thaty’s is just down the block from the apartment. I had a cola, salad simple, and fries. They put mayo on everything here and menus don’t exist. Nothing was on their bigt screen, though.
After all my sleeping, we went to dinner at our house cleaner’s new restaurant. Roukia is a really sweet lady, a hard worker, and a good cook. She’s also very pretty. I had an African beer (Beninoise) and a salad with frites. Manon half-joked that beer is all you have to really drink here and that all there really is to do is drink, especially at night and in order to “get through” being here. It’s not so bad, it’s just obvious how money threads the tapestry to life here. Fixed prices are rare and haggling is a constant chore, especially if you’re not from here – or a “Yovo”, a Fon term here used to describe non-blacks. Well, non-Africans at least.
It’s true; walking anywhere and adults call you “Yovo”, children scream, dance, should, and sometimes even cry in horror at the sight of you. Others follow you, asking for “cadeaux”. These are generally the children not in school and so they hardly speak any French. Somehow, they all know the Yovo song:
Ça va bien,
It’s absolutely tiresome. I never give cadeaux to annoying kids. I have, however, handed out 10 francs to polite, quiet children.
That evening, we met up with some of Ryan’s friends from his work with people in the mangroves. Eric was a very large guy; Eud was less large, but talkative and apparently pursuing Manon. He didn’t want her to realize he has a wife and child, but Manon knows. It was bizarre. There were lizards on the walls in the bar. We shared some chicken and spices that Eric had brought. The beers here are all the same and almost all large bottles for about 500 francs – or $1. After we left, I learned from Ryan that Eric now loves me. I rolled my eyes and went to bed (finally!).