Big Up from Aribinda

Friday, October 31, 2008

Political Rant

So, what do I have to say? OK, let me start talking about politics that I can talk about, the ones regarding the United States. All things considered, I hope Barack Obama gets that coveted victory. I have been going with him from Day 1, when the people who believed really thought he had a chance. I am so excited to have him as my President.

Not only am I excited, but many Burkinabe are excited as well. One little guy in my village, don’t know his name, loves the fact that an African-American can become the President of the United States. But that one little guy pales in comparison with respect to sheer numbers. Africans all around are going for Barack Obama. I want that to be known. His campaign has energized my colleagues and the villagers that I live with. You could say that a whole continent loves their son, a son of Africa. I think it is wonderful. But not only does he represent Africa, he represents the whole world in my eyes. He is different (read: not white). He can bring a sort of credibility to what we thought was a too-long dominated “strictly white” position of office. Therefore, people in the Comoros, Lucknow, Colombo, Singapore, Sucre, Port-au-Prince, Havana, amongst so many other places can actually feel like they have a brother in the White House. Not some dopey oil-rich, legacy-title holder.

Speaking of that guy, it’s also about time for change of direction. I mean, don’t mistake me, I never voted for him once! What a bad decision, huh? I hope a lot of people are kicking themselves (and hard!) for voting for him, even once! I mean, what the fuck? Where have we gone? Where are we now? September 11 was a terrible thing, but the Republican strategy of scaring has left so many people freaked out. I’ll tell you what, Bush has done a good job targeting terrorism. He has instituted many safeguards, security and otherwise, that will help make us more safe. Forensic accounting for tracking terror money, counterintelligence (which hopefully has gotten better), amongst other things. Homeland Security Office, a joke. He has done some good things, but let’s move on to the wrong ones.

Number 1: Iraq. He created a lawless state, helped in its young days by Paul Bremer, that walking piece of human excressence. Just do it, chuck all the Baath Party out into the street, let’s see what happens? Wow, the genius, taking an indigenous population that was integrated, now take their jobs, give them nothing, and try and start from scratch. Heh, funny joke on the Iraqi people… And it makes the American people look so stupid.

I can’t even start to scratch the surface on Iraq. Opaque accounting, security outsourcing to the private sector (see Blackwater and soldiers-of-fortune whom the administration wanted to grant impunity), Abu Ghraib, etc. I could fill a page. The administration sexed up data and intelligence, granted credence to the LIE that Sadaam and Osama were in bed together. News Flash: I guarantee you that Osama bin Laden hated Sadam Hussein. You wanna know how? Sadam Hussein was a tyrant, but he was a self-proclaimed liberalizing-tyrant. What I mean is Sadaam ruled with a secular style. You think Osama bin Laden wants to be engaged with secular governments or their populations? Osama bin Laden wants you to be riding camels, making sure all women are covered from head to toe, only their eyes showing. He wants your kids to play with dolls that don’t have faces. He wants a purely Wahabbi Islamic state, replete with the legal doctrine of Shari’a. He wants basically the worst possible system I could think of. And he would get along with a leader in Arabia who wants to rule in a secular manner? Stop deluding yourselves.

Back to the US. Bush limited habeas corpus to the detriment of everyone. X-Ray at Guantanamo is a terrible topic, as is tapping everybody’s phone. Does anyone remember the moon base establishment he wanted to put into the State of the Union address one year? We need to build a moon base and put him on it! But, let’s be reasonable, let’s not put him in a position of any kind of authority. Something would surely go wrong.

So, I liken Bush to a drunk driver. We’ve been in this car all along, which, of course, represents the USA, and he pushed the other chauffeur out, the guy who actually won the popular vote. We had only been driving for a little while and then we got hit by another car, going in the ideologically different direction. Well, at first the car did OK, it actually gained speed after a few miles of spinning it’s tires. But then, after another few hundred miles, the driver threw his cigarette out the window and started a fire. Well, that fire has raged on, but we drove so far from it. In fact, Americans can’t even see it really, except for all the tax payer money that gets lost (how many times over could we have fixed Social Security?) and the bodybags that fill up and come home. The people that really see it are the Iraqis and American soldiers. And the rest of the world (minus Persia and the other Arabian states plus Turkey: they feel the effects of conflict on their borders ) gets to see our idiocy. Now, finally, we’re almost to where the drunk driver gets out of the car. Except, the car is now on fire. Barack has his work cut out for him.

Sorry, where did that all come from. Just my shout out to Barack Obama. It just turned into a Bush tragicomedy. A list of grievances. Too bad I’ll never see shit from it.

Ramadan... Again

Written 29 October

Another year, another Ramadan. My second trip around the block, needless to say, was a totally different experience.

I am a mainline veteran now, a grizzled, burly Sahelian. I have been in-counry for nearly 17 months, 17! Even I can’t believe it sometimes. This Ramadan, however, I was ready. There was no getting drunk at my muslim proviseur’s house, no going and eating a lot of food. Just a lot of the whole ‘bonne fête’ (good party) thing and then my mixed reactions to it.

First of all, let me explain to you how it works. People who have a little bit of money, they get hit up by villagers. Let’s call them the bereft. Or children. Mostly women, or small children. OK, women and small children. When men said bonne fête to me, they just continued by, big grins on their faces. I think they don’t want to start taking from me. Well, if someone says bonne fête to me and I say it back, that means I need to give them something (read: money). Well, I like to give money to the community in other ways: my missed opportunities in America add up to money being spent here. Also, my American sponsored money is going to Africans. And, I have been planting trees in the community. Is that selfish of me? No. As I have said, I am giving my time and I already spend money in the community. So, I give candy. In special cases I will give money, but it isn’t much. I learned it was OK not to give money from the Burkinabé themselves. My colleagues showed me that much last year.

So, the kids start coming over, but not in the droves I thought they would come in. I start handing out toffee. No problem. Day goes by, I tell my buddy Adama I’ll take him for a beer. Issouf jumps in and says that I will buy him a Fanta. Well, I do like Issouf. I’ll buy him that Fanta. But, I don’t like the way he chimed in like that. You don’t pull shit like that in the States I thought. But hey, Africans who eat millet all the time without fail, who don’t and never will have an idea of what variety is, hell, this time I’ll buy him the Fanta.

We head down to the local watering hole, CPL. We get some beers, Issouf gets a Fanta. But, Issouf doesn’t sit with me. I take that as an affront. I buy you something, you should show me a little respect, sit with me for a while. Adama and I are enjoying our cool SOBBras when two of my students show up. We do the whole exchange:

Me: Bon soir, ça va?
Them: Oui, bon soir monsieur. Bonne fête.
Me: Bonne fête.

The candy comes out. That happens a few more times. I recognize my friends greeting me, a few drunks want to talk to the local nasara. I see my students come by, giggling, their smiles light up in the single vertical tube suspended above the raised circular cement dance floor. Then, I spot a few Mossi women, one is my vegetable lady. They come up to me. Bon soir. The hand shake. Bonne fête. I reply. Then, the people just stand there. I am caught in this weird spot. Can I give candy to this middle aged woman who rips me off on vegetables? Adama and a few others, while she stands above me, waiting for her present, explain to me that now I have to give her something. She wants a Fanta. Here we go again! I am a volunteer, I live here like you, I don’t make a lot of money. Sorry, here’s some candy. She was actually satisfied with that. But you know, I tell people I’m a volunteer. They don’t care, to them I’m rich. Well, I am going back to the States. I am not rich over there.

Time goes along. I meet the guy who manages the water situation in Aribinda. He’s a real nice guy, we talk for a little above the blaring Ivoirienne music that’s knifing my eardrums. He’s so drunk he buys me a beer then he gets on his moto and he’s going home. Issouf’s brother comes up (forgive me, don’t know his name! Too many faces in village!). He bullshits me into buying him a Fanta too. Adama tells me to stop doing that. I tell him it’s for the brothers. I am stopping at that point.

Then, I am done, tired, I’ve had enough of this scene. Adama tells me I should buy beers for his two amigos sitting with us. Huh? No, I didn’t bring money for that. For me, you, and a few others. What is this system of giving cadeaux (gifts)? How did it start?

Well, I was happy when I got home and lie back on my cot. No more cadeau giving, no more bonne fête bullshit. Well, sure enough, more little girls show up around noon. I tell them to go away, the party was yesterday. It continues to happen. I continue to scold the children, telling them they’re crazy. Then I go into town to eat. Some people ask me if I am coming to the fête tonight. I tell them no. Ehh, attendez. La fête elle continue ce soir? Oui. La fête continue pour combien de jours? Ehh, 3 jours. I ask some other people. They give me 7 days. What is going on? I mean, that’s a gap there. Sure enough, close to the time I get home, I hear voices of women. Sounds like they are coming closer to the house. Bon soir at the gate. Then, bonne fête. OK, there are 4 of them. Give them 100 francs (about 20 cents) and be done with it. They accept and file out. I punch my lights out then start reading with my Freeplay lamp.

Next day, no more bonne fêtes. I am glad that was my last Ramadan in village. It is confusing and it just makes me feel bad. I mean, am I giving enough? I guess I just don’t know.

Now, I am going to extend this blog to a few other things that have happened that caught my attention. I recently ran into Edouard, a Burkinabé guy who lives in Aribinda who speaks English well. He studied it in school and used to be a translator for FESPACO, the international film festival that rotates between Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso and Tunis, Tunisia every year. In 2009, come February, I’ll be at one of the biggest parties in West Africa, let it be known. Back to Edouard. He works at the medical center. I asked him how work was, a very important question in Africa for the most part I believe. He told me it had been hard of late. He spoke of infant mortality, talked about how he knows it’s not their fault, but whenever a child dies, it still feels like it’s their fault. Man, ground zero as far as I’m concerned. Child mortality is a big thing here. I guess it never touches you until you witness it. It was a touching conversation. I tried to sympathize with him, telling him I can only imagine. I always am so careful, never saying ‘I know’ when I know that I don’t know. That’s the wrong thing to say. Sympathize and try to empathize, that’s my thing.
What a good guy, doing such a tough job in a marginalized place such as this. Kudos to that guy.

Another conversation stands out in my mind. Issouf, one of my neighbors came over the other day to just have a conversation with the local American representative. Namely, this guy. We talked about random this, cette chose-là, this other dealie and that. Then we got on the topic of there being no work in Burkina. The population here is truly jobless, I don’t know what the unemployment rate is, but probably on at least 80-85% of the peoples ID cards it says ‘cultivateur’ or ‘cultivatrice’. He told me that he was redoubling the 4th level. That means he didn’t pass his freshman year, so he has to do it again. But, he says after he gets past that year, he’s going into the military. He tells me it is possible to get into the military at that point and at a certain age if you can pass a certain test. I tell him to do it, it would be a good opportunity. Then he tells me he would like to be placed in the south, far from home. I ask why not Djibo, why not be close to home? He tells me that if it were like that, with everyone from home so close to him, it would be too easy for them to frequently ask him for money. If someone dies, if there’s a wedding, if there’s a baptism, the list goes on. My buddy Pete told me the same thing about one of his buddies, a teacher colleague. He was getting sent back to his birth region, back to where he knows a lot of people. He expressed the same hesitations and fears to Pete that Issouf convince me of. Burkinabé, yeah, if they’re broke… Yeah, they’ll ask you for money. It’s just that way. I don’t question it anymore. You would lean on your patron, hell, I would lean on mine if I had one. Any spare change? I need to get some rice with sauce man, I haven’t eaten in a day and a half. Yeah, I would definitely be begging too! Gotta eat some how…

Togo, Le Beau

Written 29 October

… which started at the border crossing. The Beninois border officials were ridiculous. Didn’t care for them. And before then, I was already feeling like we had been in that country for a little too long. Grand Popo wasn’t that cool. I mean, Busua Beach in Ghana was much better for the swimming, the seascape, and partying. But I was happy to get into Togo. And lucky for us, it was a short drive.

Coconut palms and papaya trees dominated the road along with the occasional pineapple grow. It was a nice ride along a beach that the great, late Ryszard Kapuscinski once called the longest fishing village in the world. He witnessed a coup in Benin back in the late 60s, if I remember correctly. We got into Benin and within 10 minutes witnessed a more capital development, more than anything I had seen in Burkina: heavy industry. A large campus devoted to cement manufacturing was positioned near the beach, a port very close by probably. If African countries are by the ocean, they have a much better time, I believe, as I witnessed with Togo and Benin vis-à-vis Burkina. If you have a coast, you have a medium by which to more easily take things on/move things to or from the exterior.

We got through that industrial park-by-the-sea and we were in Lomé, a bustling little city of less than a million right on a wide expanse of yellow, flat sand. The wide beach-side avenue was a crumbling disaster of a “road,” if you could call it that. There were hovels all along side it, the denizens living in an utterly bereft fashion. As the main beach road continued, there was a nice hotel tower and then the presidential palace. That’s Africa, hovels situated right next to the commercial eyesores and palatial estates. There were trash cans, something Burkina lacks in great numbers and many anti-HIV/AIDS advertisements, something good to see. It was a charming town, at least I thought. We took a stroll and had a street sandwich after dropping our gear in the Copacabana hotel. After the sandwich, we walked through the marché. Man, what a sight. It was crazy, a true frenzy of African market activity. Dried fish stalls right next to the pagne vendors, fake nikes and papayas and cabbages all rammed up close to one another. The buildings were tall, stacked up next to eachother, some in disrepair, others not completed, just spires of looped rebar jutting 10 feet into the sky. People hollering, cars honking, it was frenetic. It reminded me of the marché a little in Accra. I really liked it. All those pagnes, which are the bolts of cloth that you see Africans haggling so much. Lomé was cool.

After one night, we had to make a run for it. Our time was running out. We got a reasonable cab ride to Kpalimé (say paul-ee-may). It came highly recommended from Radhika, another PCV who recently COSed. Well, she was right. Even the ride was incredible. Mango, papayas, palms. Then, these trees that resembled Ceiba, the huge Mayan trees standing in Southern Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and elsewhere in Central America. The mountains looming up. The thought of waterfalls, just the thought of water after being in the Sahel is magical. It was my favorite town of the trip. Wish I could’ve stayed for 4 nights instead of the two we had. Got street cheese that was great, the food was extra spicy (yea!), found Castle Milk Stouts the night before our departure. The people were nice, a lot of the Yovo thing going around (white person in Fon). David and I were stopped by some muslim brothers who didn’t want me taking a picture of their mosque… unless I gave them some baksheesh. I declined and we moved away, laughing with the Africans as we went. Mount Agou hung in the distance, a flat-topped peak in the distance, mingling with the gray-black swept sky in the foreground. Behind us the church loomed, the sky also looking uninviting.

The next day, we tripped to Kpimé Falls. After fighting with the “guides,” we finally got into the area for a decreased price. Thanks to Zach again for being willing to go at it with the guides. The trip was cool, up at first through tree cut zones to a higher plateau, where we came to a damned pool. Kpimé Falls itself was a damn with a valve-controlled culvert. Bust! I mean, it’s not even a vrai cascade, as I would say in French. The journey continued down a rich green trail, riddled with coffee bean, Ceiba trees, and the typical wicked black ants. Wild bananas and papaya trees everywhere. We came to a natural 50 foot cascade where we lingered, David and I trying to get pictures of the ridiculous butterflies while the others took a dip in the scummy looking pool. Then we hiked back out. Not nearly as cool as Wli Falls people, a vrai waterfall, the highest in West Africa, on the Togo frontier in Ghana. Go there instead.

We went back to Kpalimé and did a tour of some of the art places (good ones there) with a few purchases being made. We then got really good Togolais street food one last time. As we were sitting there eating admist the blasting music and general chaos of the candle lit street, we watched a little kid, about 4, pull up his one-ply thick cardboard pad, his improvised bed. He curled up on that and his mom lay on him a small blanket. That reminded me of Africa, the odd juxtaposition, the melange right there where it just doesn’t seem to work, but they make it work. Resilience, resourcefulness, that’s what Africa is.

We nearly got out of Togo the next day, making our way to Daopaong, a town 30 km from the Burkinabe border, after about 13 hours of transport. Yeah, it was kinda ugly. There were some good waterfalls gushing from the ridges along side the road. And I guess I got to share the back seat with my in-country wife, so that was fun! Togo, I wish I had more time for you.

Now, to the whole question: Are Peace Corps volunteers, when travelling in their region, ever really on vacation? I think, yes and no. First off, we bitch about prices unlike real tourists. We earn a pittance. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a generous sum that Africans would covet. But not enough to do the real tourist thing. We also know the whole dependency bit and see it too much. There is to some extent a reliance on volunteer work here. Look at the footprint of NGOs busting ass. When you see so much of it, it becomes tiring. That’s another factor. But then again, we are traveling and seeing different cultures, hearing different languages. Guess we just have to suck it up and deal with it. Plus, it’s cool that I get to do this. Travelling as a PCV with other PCVs is fun, especially when you meet PCVs from other countries, even in their site, like Grand Popo. We met the a girl, Elizabeth, who had just been sent their for only one week. What a place, what an experience. I am just blessed to be traveling francophone West Africa at all… but it’s super cool to trip on the US government’s dime!

Bienvenue a Benin

Written 29 October

I want to start this blog off with a prefatory note. I have always intended this to be a travel blog as well as a Peace Corps experience. I figure, we work hard, we gotta play hard too, right? But, I have to ask a question: Are Peace Corps volunteers, when in their region, ever really on vacation? I will try to answer that at the end of my next blog, le blog qui concerne le Togo.

So, West African travel is bad. Let’s just leave it at that. We get on a bus around 7 o’clock, all of us with questionable seats, I don’t think we could consider a single one comfortable. Well, the 7 of us, before we know it, are on the side of the road, about 10 minutes out of Ouaga. Our bus had already broken down. We waited roughly 4 hours for a new bus to show up at which point we go back on and started the long haul to Cotonou, Benin, what I have heard is a 24 hour trip. We don’t stop till we get to the border, I’m guessing a trip south from Fada-N’Gourma 3 hours. We finally cross the Pendjari River, the border area where there is a nice national park. Benin becomes greener and greener. Then, we break down again for another hour and a half roughly. We get back on the bus and travel another few hours, at night now, to Natintingou. We stop and eat. Wow, they have cheese (street cheese, at that) in Benin! “I’m gonna love it here,” I said to myself. Then, we get back on the bus. We finally come to a rest in Penessoulou, Benin. It is about 11 pm. The driver says we are going to sleep here. Oh, jeez, all my luggage is racked on the top of this thing. What am I going to do? It’s cold as heck out here!

After trying to sleep in the sand, getting eaten by mosquitoes in the process, I decide to try the concrete under the bus. You ask why I didn’t stay in the bus? Ever sat in the back seat of a bus with 4 other people when the seat was made for 4 people for, eh, roughly 10 hours? Yeah, it was like that. Well, the pavement was warmer. But, a strange noise was beckoning from the north along the road. “ Is that the muezzin? I know it is the month of Ramadan right now, I guess it wouldn’t surprise me,” I said. Sure enough, the muezzin was belting out the call to prayer with a bullhorn… at 2:00 in the morning! Where am I? Shortly after that, the driver had had enough. We got on the bus and took back off. Slowly, sunlight graced us with her presence, sending glowing yellows over the wonderful hills and low rock escarpments that make up Northen Benin. So many papaya and mango trees. Nimes all around, palms shooting up with ever increasing frequency, pineapple and banana grows all along the road. A lack of donkeys also. Where were the black sachets that Burkina is famous for? Did I mention electricity in the upper reaches of the country, at least along the main thoroughfare. We finally get to about halfway down in the country at my estimate. It must be around 5 am. The road gets bad, really bad. We get into Abomey-Calavi, the road is a shambles. No bicycles, tons of motos, lots of people wearing complets. A great number of the motorcycle drivers are wearing yellow or orange shirts. A frenzy of people outside the university, students gathering at the admin buidling, looks like they are about to start classes.

We finally get into Cotonou. The place is crazy. I see no bikes, just organized chaos, a plethora of taxis and motos jockeying for position, the colorful complets abound. The air has a stale, smoggy garbage strewn weight to it. We get to the gare. It’s about 1 pm, meaning the trip took 30 hours. We find a hotel and crash. I come to find, right away, that the Beninois are a very helping, very friendly people. We all want to get out of Cotonou. So the next day, we head to Ganvié, the stilt village on Lake Nokoué. On the way there, we learn about the zemi-johns, the moto-taxis that are everywhere. That explains the yellow and orange jerseys these guys wear. The smog again overwhelms us. We wonder why there aren’t more bikes. Well, who would want to ride a bike where you were sure to get killed by a moto or taxi?! We went through an intersection where I didn’t see any kind of traffic control, just drivers eyeballing one another, wondering if they should take the plunge. We get out to the landing and hop a pirogue (a dug out canoe made for about 11 people). We take a tour of the village, everything on stilts. It was very neat. Our guide tells us that part of the reason the people built their village out here was to avoid the Dahomeyan Empire, the slave trading, war mongering regime that kept a capital in Abomey, just north of Ganvie about 40 miles. They couldn’t capture those sharp oarsmen and women out in their environment. And you should’ve seen it, the little 4 year olds in their 4 person dugout, in the rudder, wheeling those things around like it was nothing. Really fun to watch. However…

…the place was a tourist trap. You couldn’t take a picture of anyone unless you paid. So, we were careful, taking building shots, shots of ourselves, etc. When we did venture to take a picture, we made sure there was no one watching or their backs were turned. A few people got some cool pictures of a market on the water, consisting of canoes only, people peddling their tomatoes, okra, and onions from the water, like little produce islands bobbing up and down in the questionable looking water. The lodge was also a joke. While relaxing on the deck of the stilt hotel, people of all age would come up to us. Cadeau, cadeau, argent, argent. It was sickening. The people were so used to tourists and so dependent. I hated that part. Another thing was funny. When we found out how much it cost for rice or cous cous with sauce, we almost soiled ourselves. 3500 francs! What, it costs 5000 francs for a room! Hey, in village I get riz sauce for 200 francs! I ain’t payin’ that! So, we searched all around for food. We bought bread at the water market and got some other food (with a good and spicy sauce!) for 1000 francs and shared it. A few Africans were amazed that we were eating with our hands, slopping the sauce on our shirts, being well integrated. Well, we sure as hell were not paying 3500 francs for a meal we get in village for 200 francs! This is where the whole ‘Are you really ever on vacation when you are a Peace Corps volunteer?’ question comes from. The woman who made the food was pissed we never ordered anything. Her evil eyed looks told us to stay away.

So, after a single night on the lake in that tourist trap, we left and headed out for the old capital of the Dahomey Empire, Abomey. There, we expected to find cool palace ruins, like the West Africa Lonely Planet advertised. Abomey is a UNESCO World Heritage site after all. Well, it was a disappointment. That being said, just the ruins were a disappointment. I found the Beninois in Abomey to be extremely pleasant and helpful. That’s also where I learned a new “White Person” song:

Yovo, Yovo, Bon Soir
Ça Va Bien, Merci

All the little kids are saying it. I like it more than the

Le Blanc/Toubakou/Nasara
Il n’y a pas de cadeau?

that all whites get in Dori, a shit hole of a town in Northeastern Burkina. But yeah, we hit up a museum that was neat, got to see the throne that sits on human skulls, learned about how the Dahomey kings would parley with the Germans, Dutch, and Portuguese. They mainly sold slaves to the Portuguese, but slaves ended up from Hispaniola to Brazil, the so-called sugar colonies. Those Dahomeyans, they were somewhat of a blood thirsty bunch. They employed powerful Amazons, you know, the women warrior badasses, built short stunted walls with humain remains, the kings siring hundreds of children with thousands of women, purportedly. Yeah, everybody who buried a king had to die too, only like three people in the whole empire knew the location of royal graves. Glad I wasn’t an indigenous anywhere near where they were pillaging villages for slaves!

After two nights in Abomey (which also had a great marché), we cut for Grand Popo, a small beachside village lying about 40 km from the Togolais border. Beautiful, nestled close to a river with a steep beach, on the Bight of Benin, Slave Coast, Grand Popo was a cool spot. Nice people, beautiful palms, cool, small marché on the river. We stayed at a place called The Lion Bar, a reggae inspired hotel nestled amongst the coconut palms. Paintings of a lion, Haile Selassie, Bob Marley, and Peter Tosh dominated the, of course, green, gold, and red façade of the buidling. They had some reggea phrases translated into French that didn’t really flow from the English that well. But we all know we lose something in the translation, either way we go. The food was good, the people were nice, the drinks were good. They made a drink called a Coco Zion. First, they had to climb a palm and cut a fresh coconut then cram a ton of rum into it with some pineapple juice before they gave it to you with extra coconut milk on the side. Yeah, it was good. But a little short of paradise. The break wasn’t as kind as Ghana. I didn’t want to take a full out swim in the water, it was just too mean. I am not gonna fight a riptide like that for anybody. Second, the beach was so steep. Not much frisbee throwing went on. Then, David and I got hit so hard by bed bugs, my God. I must’ve gotten bit about 100 times on both my ankles/feet! It was terrible.

While we were there, we went to Ouidah, which is called the present day capital of voodoo. We didn’t see much voodoo stuff though. Traveling on a Peace Corps wage is difficult to say the least. We checked out the old Portuguese slave fort that had been converted into a museum, then did the Path of the Slaves. This is the historic route where the slaves took their walk from the fort to the beach along a sandy path. Statues commemorated the journey along the way, with everything from a few Amazon statues to a serpent eating it’s tail to symbolize the continuity of the Dahomey Empire. We got to the beach where a large ceremonial gate had been erected. The Point of No Return the portal is called. It has a relief of slaves in chains, being pulled out onto lighters that take them to the moored slavers (the big ships) that would take them on the long haul to the Americas. An eerie strip of beach, wicked, black and grey clouds floating in the back, gesturing to me a little, “Be ever thankful this wasn’t you.”

After Ouidah, we spent two more days in Grand Popo, then we hit up Togo. I did like Benin, but it was too touristy. That goes with experience and pricing. The voodoo stuff was so prohibitively priced. My brother’s a pilot. I wanted to buy him a fetish for good luck. You never know when it might come in handy. Well, when they cost a little over a hundred dollars for a small trinket, you have to decline. Ouidah was definitely cool, Abomey was a cool town too. The ruins were a disappointment, but hey, not all ruins are like Chichen Itza and Tikal (big up Guatemala and Mexico!). The food, good and spicy, with good cheese, a great change to the boringness of Burkinabé food. But the people: great. The Beninois are pleasant and helpful, just like most West Africans. But hey, still got to deal with the people from Togo, the next episode…