Henri Navarre, or Henri IV, is everywhere in Paris. For those of you who are not obsessive history nerds/did not take AP Euro with Dr. Ryan, Henri Navarre was a Protestant nobleman from the Basque region, or Navarra/Navarre (of ETA fame) who eventually became the most beloved king of France. During the Revolution when the people destroyed the statues on the pont (bridge) of the kings of France, Navarre’s was left untouched.
Henri pragmatically switched religions as needed in order to be king, but stayed true to his Huguenot roots and eventually passed the Edict of Nantes, which ensured religious freedom for all in France.
Henri’s name is now invoked for civil societies a la the rotary club, and there’s a large statue of him near Pont Neuf. If you have the time, I highly recommend watching La Reine Margot to learn more about Navarre and the St. Batholomew’s Day Massacre of the Huguenots.
That’s me right now. I feel strange going to Benin. I’m not even sure how to pronounce it.
We went to the embassy today, and it was great to meet the ambassador, but I was embarrassed. I didn’t know the square footage or population size. I already spoke French well, so I look and sound more prepared than I am. I knew about some of the languages, but only because of Benin’s ties to Cuba and my mind’s sponge-like properties.
I feel very unprepared for this trip. Part of that is great; I’m laid back and go with the flow. I don’t need to know everything, to schedule everything, to be in charge of everything. But part of that disgusts me. Some travellers discuss the virtues of going with a totally open mind, of being sure “not to over-research.”
Over research? Is that even possible? To me it just sounds like an excuse not to do your homework.
I’ve never been somewhere I knew so little about before. And yet I remember saying that about Cuba. I was rather prepared for the French exchange in high school, and I deifnitely know more about Egypt than is expected for an American. But that doesn’t mean I was prepared enough. In-country I was embarassed and frustrated by my poor Arabic skills, by the fact that I’d only taken one semester of formal Arabic. I’m not used to not being the best at things like languages, to not knowing all the answers and to not always being right.
So maybe I’m never as prepared as I think. There are always excuses: Arabic is hard, Cuba is soon, no one does research on Benin. But there are also millions of people who travel every year without studying the language, religion, geography, culture and economic situation of the destination before packing their bags.
Perhaps, its just time I let travel teach me that I don’t always have to be the best, and that being unsure (or heaven forbid: wrong!) is acceptable and even kind of interesting.
I’ll be going to France on May 8, and after a week in Paris I’ll go to Benin until June 5.
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
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!
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.
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.