Tag Archives: showers

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.


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!


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

Things I Miss/Crave

I already wrote before I left about the things I thought I would miss, so here is what I cannot WAIT to have when I’m back in Amurica.  I’m sure I’ll be thrilled to have even more things (like a cell phone and the Celtics) that Cuba has just conditioned me out of thinking I need, at the moment.  Don’t worry, I’m sure that later on this week I’ll be posting about all the Cuban stuff I miss.  But for now, all I can think about is home home HOME!

  • honey bbq wings
  • honey mustard wings
  • bbq bacon cheeseburger
  • BMG and DMG
  • My giant family
  • New Baby Alexandra Murphy!  And Coming-Soon Baby Harrington!
  • Andrew Robert Brady
  • Chicken Lou’s TKO
  • cereal
  • milk
  • steak
  • thai food
  • REAL Italian, where the pasta isnt overcooked
  • Mondo buffalo pizza=my life force
  • really any meat that isn’t a mystery
  • hot showers
  • quiznos, $5 foot longs even moreso
  • comfortable beds
  • back rubs (because of the aforementioned lack of comfy beds)
  • American tv, sort of.  But that’s way down on the list.  I’d take the food, showers or bed over television any day
  • It’ll be nice to have more of my closet back, but I was doing just fine with what I packed
  • I WILL love the ease of laundry in the states, however
  • fast walkers
  • rapid restaurants (although I think I’ll be overwhelmed at first)
  • personal space
  • not being harassed by men on the street.  Yeah right, I live in Boston.  But Reading will be nice.

If you spent three months in a developing nation where food was scarce and not many people speak your first language, what would YOU miss?

El Baño

Spigot-shower. Hot water on the left, cold on the right.

Oh bathrooms, you can bring every traveler such joy and delight, but rarely both at once.

In France I had the scalding shower with no curtain or visible place to mount the shower head (think Cirque du Soleil while I tried not to scream my favorite American vulgarities or slip in the tub), Egypt brought bathrooms ranging from European with bidet to hole in the ground, and now we have the Cuban take.

At the Residencia, we have bidets (always hilarious and adventurous) as well as low-pressure European toilets and a feisty shower.  The shower is like a spigot that kind of pelts you in the torso with water that’s either lukewarm, freezing, scalding, or alternating all three.  On very rare occasion does one experience what might be thought of as a sustained, normal temperature.  I would describe any shower experience here as “aggressive.”  As far as the curtains, well, there’s one in each shower but I don’t think it makes a difference.  Luckily we now have mats on the floor so we don’t all have to go take advantage of our free health care by getting stitches.

Bano y bidet

The toilets.  We’re definitely rocking the yellow, mellow/brown, down adage, and of course all non-bio products get thrown in the trash.  One of the…perks of a trip like this is that everyone knows each other’s GI status.  While we aren’t quite as frank about it as the Egypt crew (who were sharing in hilarious, graphic detail from day one), people have started realizing that chatting about your bowels around the dinner table is as normal and helpful as Gram has always treated it.

Outside of the Residencia?  Well, it consists mostly of what I’ve been calling a Squat Situation.  No toilet paper ever, like in Egypt, but at least there are rarely attendants motioning towards their mouths and asking for baksheesh.  There are often no doors, meaning that bringing a pack of girls with you to the bathroom is (for once) actually a worthwhile enterprise.

Tub and bathmat. It's in especially rare form today, don't hold that against Maria.

Think this is a little graphic?  It’s a good deal more euphemistic than most actual conversations on the subject.  Be aware, though, that this is a very real part of travel, and definitely a factor I advise you be fully educated on before you buy a plane ticket.  People can be very particular about bathroom habits, and I find it’s best to know what you’re getting yourself into.

Of course, all this is null if you just stay in American hotels everywhere you go, but then (some might argue) so was your trip.