Tag Archives: Benin Dialogue

You Know You’re a Yovo if…

  • You think women should probably wear shirts, most of the time
  • You like your roads paved, and with potholes fewer than three feet wide
  • The only thing you knew about Vodoun before Benin came from movies
  • You wear sunscreen and bug spray, have a bug net and carry bottled water everywhere you go
  • You talk about showering more than you actually do it
  • You had never heard of Benin before you decided to go there
  • …but now you can’t wait to go back
  • You don’t wear heels to walk in the mud, but you DO carry your own bag
  • You don’t know how to successfuly carry things on your head
  • You’re afraid to cross the street, never mind get on a motorbike
  • You will probably never attempt to breast feed while carrying something on your head AND riding a motorbike
  • You’ve never authored a “Nigerian Prince” email
  • You refuse to swim in the standing water, and maybe even the ocean water too
  • You eat peanut butter
  • You point and yell (or perhaps whisper) every time you see a Yovo you don’t already know
  • You’ve been kidnapped (in a good-natured, well-meaning sort of way) at least once
  • You’re still annoyed by street harassment
  • You’re taken aback every time people ask if you’re a Christian
  • Your shirt and pants don’t match EXACTLY, and your family does not wear matching clothes
  • Your head has a maximum of two braids at any given time
  • You’re still a little surprised there’s never any cold beer–oh yeah, and you drink “Beninoise”, not “33”
  • People laugh when you eat with your hands
  • You don’t speak Fon, Yoruba, Goun or many of the other local tribal languages
  • When you go home, you’re confused by all the white people, and the fact that everyone speaks English
  • You have an awkward Mean Girls-style moment of assuming every black person you see speaks French
  • You don’t know the end of the yovo song, because no one ever finishes

Bienvenue a Paris!

After eight hours in Logan and another eight on a plane due to volcanic ash-related re-routing, I’m finally in Paris!  Here’s a smattering of photos from our dinnertime stroll.

The view from my Apart'hotel (The Citadines) in 1ere Arrondissement, Paris
Saint Michel, near where we ate dinner and a short walk from our place.
The Seine at sunset.
Notre Dame Catedral
My new fox friend that I made at our restaurant tonight. He was perhaps the most normal aspect of the entire experience.

What About Benin?

I’ll be going to France on May 8, and after a week in Paris I’ll go to Benin until June 5.

Benny-what?

Benin. It’s a small country in West Africa.  It’s mostly known in history for its sad part in the slave trade as a major departure port.  I’ll be spending some time in Cotonou, as well as the capital of Porto-Novo

The Basics

Map courtesy of the UN website

I’m going through Northeastern University and the Dialogue of Civilizations program.  Instead of taking summer classes, I’m doing this.  I’ll get the normal summer credit for it (8 credits/two classes) and will be graded and such.  It’s like what I did in Egypt, except entirely different. 🙂

French is the official language of Benin, so I’ll be taking some lessons while in Paris and practicing my rather dormant French skills while there.  Many people also speak Fon, of which I know nothing, and Yoruba, a language that found its way to Cuba (and modern Cubañol) via the slave trade.  The country is considered very safe, but is severely lacking when it comes to infrastructure.

For our safety/for the sake of NU’s lawyers, we aren’t allowed to ride on motorbikes and will only be eating from a select few restaurants.  I have malaria pills and got my yellow fever vaccine, whose injection site still kinda hurts.  Blast, yellow fever, you’ve done it again!  I’m waiting with bated breath for my visa to come back (this seems to be a theme with me…) and already scoping out luggage and drawing up packing lists.  Here we go again!

Service-Learning

While in Benin, we’ll be meeting up with local NGOs (non-governmental organizations) to learn more about the country, such as development, culture and politics.  We will each be working with a local NGO for a few weeks, ranging from health care to orphanages to micro-enterprise(!) and lending a hand any way we can.  More on this later, since it’s most of the reason I chose this program.

Songhai Center

I’ll be living in the Songhai Center in Cotonou.  There are several of these throughout the country, and they are used for training Beninese people about agriculture and such.  It’s also thoroughly Green with a capital G, with each part of the center helping to fuel another.  Which brings up another point: I’ll be taking chilly rain barrel showers for most of the summer.  Basically, I’m going to refer you to the video contained in the link below, courtesy of BoingBoingTV, because it does a far better job of explaining than me.

Songhai Video link

Perspective

Reasons I’m suddenly happier about Cuba:

Going home doesn’t seem so far away. A weird paradox, but knowing it’s soon frees up some mental space to stop stressing and start enjoying

We went to Santiago. For one thing, I love that city.  Another is that we got a change of pace, making Havana seem fresher, and my time there more precious, in addition to giving me an entire new perspective on Cuba

I emailed Ilham. She was a faculty leader on the egypt Dialogue, and she’s on of my personal rock stars.  All throughout Egypt we had to keep journals for reflection, and I was very conscious that Ilham was reading it, at times almost treating it like a conversation with her and expecting her to react the next day about something I had written the night before.  Something about writing her a conversation for real was comforting, and reminded me of the person I’m trying to be, both personally and academically.

Our Group. The people I’m with includes Michigan and NU students, house staff, Casa staff.  I’ve noticed that the whole group is a lot more zen lately, especially about interpersonal relations.  I’ve seen people cutting each other slack where they wouldn’t before, and spending time with people they hadn’t before.  The relaxed attitude makes our house so much more pleasant to live in.  It fills it up with boisterous, friendly chaos, instead of jarring, staccato coldness.


I watched some American TV.
Dumb, I know, but it helped.  It was also fun to just be American kids for a little while.  We could’ve been anywhere at home, lounging on a couch, eating (fake) pringles and watching television in English.

Food. Aliesha’s mom sent a giant box of goodies, and Kristina’s mom brought some homemade cookies and pancake mix.  We also got great, filling breakfasts in Santiago, and decently priced, delicious food for lunch and dinner.  That was probably one of the only times I’ve felt truly satisfied with a meal her.  To boot, there aren’t as many shortages right now on staples like bread or eggs.

Home is a wee bit more organized. I know when my flight leaves for France, and when I come home from Benin.  I can go to Andrew’s graduation (after missing so many important events in his life this past year) and I can go to BMG’s first communion.  The first thing she asked was whether I would be there, and I hated that I didn’t know and wasn’t really in control of the answer.  Cuba has made me really laid back (in some ways), but I feel calm knowing I won’t let Miss Bridget down.

It’s amazing how much your perspective can change by seeing your world through someone else’s lens.  It felt good to have someone well-traveled recognize that Cuba is indeed strange.  We’re not imagining it, this really is hard, and it really is different from going to Australia.  I also loved realizing that what comes to mind about Cuba for me is all the good stuff, and I see all the bad stuff in a good light.  Things that other people found strange, stressful or scary rolled off my back with a laugh.  Someone said that we’re a funny group, but I countered that no, it’s just Cuba that’s funny.

I really do believe it.