Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Fantasy in C. (Wanderer)


Except for a few exceptions, the past week hasn’t really been full of noteworthy events. I’ve mostly just been resting and finishing with work before the holidays. After the trips into villages we had the arduous task of writing reports. Thirty-five page, single-spaced reports. As much as I was somewhat uninterested by the whole process, it was, at least, a chance for me to actually be useful. I found out I have more computer literacy than my boss, which didn’t really surprise me. On a more interesting note, after running into my Japanese friend on Friday night she invited me to go to Japanese lessons the next morning. So in the local library, with one shelf of books, myself and twenty or so African kids from eight to fifteen years old learned some basic Japanese. It was quite the scene. We then learned how to play Kanpokurri. Essentially you punch two holes into an empty tin can, attach a string through it, put it under your sandals, and have a race weaving through cones. It was probably the highlight of my week. We also celebrated Anna’s birthday at which we had beef for the first time in Allada. The meal cost 500 francs though, about 1,25$, which is a little pricey. For Christmas dinner we’re dishing out 2,50 each so I’m expecting something really special.  


So, given the lack of personal experience stories this time, I’m going to comment on a few noteworthy Béninois realities.


Traffic: At first I thought traffic rolled without any form of organization. I was honestly surprised every intersection we crossed that didn’t have an accident. I have since learned that there are a few fundamental rules. The entire rulebook essentially comes down to two things: the horn, and the break. When you’re on the road people are constantly honking, because this is the way to let other drivers, bikers, pedestrians, and animals be aware of your presence. When you’re approaching an intersection you honk, and if you don’t hear a honk back, you’re free to go through. When you pass you honk, when you go around a corner you honk, and when there’s inevitably traffic coming straight at you, you honk to tell them the get back into their lane, or at least their side of the road. This is especially true outside of the city. On the dirt roads everyone takes the same path, the one with the least potholes and erosion, so going around a corner you have to lay on the horn in case someone is coming straight at you. The only other real rule is that if I am bigger than you, get out of my way. The sixteen wheelers have the right of way, because if there’s a crash, you’ll die and they won’t. If you’re on a moto this may mean going into the bush or ditch to let it go by. As a pedestrian I don’t even have to look anymore. You’re walking down and hear a little horn, take a step to the side, hear a deep one, move out of the way. Beyond these basic rules everything is fair game. And yet, surprisingly, I haven’t seen a crash yet. Everyone knows the rules, and in its own little way, it works. Oh yah last thing, to drive a moto you don’t need a license plate or a driver’s license.


Kids: Ok, kids here are amazing, especially the ones in the villages, they are cute, but that’s not what I’m getting at here. I’ve seen a girl who may have been five, probably four, pick up her little sister; of about two, and by no means thin, throw her on her back and walk for a good couple minutes. When we were driving back from Nianrin, there was a boy of about five years carrying a full size bundle of firewood on his head, and the road went on for at least a kilometer without interruption. His little brother, I’m guessing two and a half, was trying his hardest to keep up with a quarter-size bundle of his own. You see eight-year-old girls carrying water I’d struggle to take in the heat. And what really gets me is the fact that these aren’t chores or time for work, this is life. It’s survival, It’s necessity. In the city it is different, but when you find a nine year old girl (guessing at age) responsible for her two little sisters while her mother is gone to the market, carry, clean, feed etc. You get thinking.


TV: TV here is hilarious. I try to avoid it; feeling there are better things to do, but every once in a while I sit around with someone and watch. There are the basic local news channels, and funny African sitcoms, but what I really find hilarious is the 70s action series. The is the South-American Soap Operas, which seem at least 10 years old as well. But little can beat Starsky and Hutch or ‘L’homme qui tombe à pic’. And due to this, lots of people think that disco is still in style and everyone has a muscle car.

This is all I have for now. I wish everyone some happy holidays and until next time.

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