Saturday, August 1, 2009

Vive L'Independence! Vive Le Benin!

August 1st 2009 means it is officially my second Independence Day in Benin. It is strange to realize that I am hitting “round 2” of my life here. Strange to think that I already blogged about Independence Day in Benin one time before: granted I was knocked out with a 102 degree fever last Independence Day so it wasn’t overly memorable, but it did happen. I’m coming up on my second and last Holiday season in Benin, Voodoo Day, long dry season…etc. It is exciting and still a little sad at the same time.

Still slightly bitter about my experience last year, I decided to fete it up this time around for Le Premier Aout to make up for it. Benin gained its Independence in 1960, making this its 49th anniversary. Every year the government puts on one big national celebration or fete and the location changes on a yearly basis. This year they chose to have it in Lokossa, the regional capitol conveniently located approximately 30 minutes away from Dogbo via bush taxi.

Several friends of mine were heading down here yesterday for the celebration and I decided to meet up with them so I taxied over this morning. Being a Beninese occasion, the fete involved much standing around waiting for things to happen. But when they did, it was interesting to see. The government had been putting in a lot of work to get ready for the past year so it was really cool to see the final culmination of their efforts, especially since I pass through Lokossa each time I go to Cotonou. They really “beautified” a park in the city, constructing cement benches, walkways with lights, and even a fountain of tiles in the Beninese flag colors. There is this thing in the center of the “park” in Lokossa that I am pretty sure is supposed to be the base for an as of yet unfinished monument. Pretty drab since my being here, the government had it retiled in red, green, and yellow for the occasion.

Today tons of flags were flying all over Lokossa and there was an extreme military presence (unfortunately the uniform doesn’t deter some tenacious gents and I had to walk in front of a line of soldiers and listen to “tu es jolie, non?” to which I now flatly reply, “oui, je sais.” –“you are pretty, eh?/ yes, I know”). It was pretty amazing to me to see such a sense of national pride, actually. Everyone that I came across in Dogbo and Lokossa were really excited that the fete was here. My maman in Porto Novo called me to wish me a bonne fete (She is excited because next year for the country’s 50th anniversary the national fete will be in Porto Novo meme) and was telling me that this was the 49th anniversary. She asked me what year we had just celebrated in the states and I had to pause and admit that I didn’t even know off the top of my head. I’d be willing to wager that most Americans don’t. So I guess I was really pleasantly surprised. It was fun to feel the charged excitement of all the Beninese in the air.

Pictures: The car with President Boni Yayi (he's the one all the way to the right, waving; battalion of women

There was a parade that included all branches of the Beninese military (very impressive to see them all in their uniforms and I was surprised to see several large battalions of women as well). The highlight of the parade was definitely when a truck came by containing a standing President Dr. Boni Yayi waving to the clapping crowds (he looked a lot younger that I thought he would from pictures—granted—mostly pictures printed on Tissu here that people wear for political events). I guess coming from an experience where I have seen the measures used to protect our President it was surprising and interesting to see the Beninese President just sashay out in public like that. I mean, I suppose he was technically surrounded by the military, but still. The women across from me were holding wooden guns…doesn’t exactly inspire fear.

After he passed, our little yovo contingent turned back toward the park where there were 2 helicopters making a show of turning on and off. It seemed like most Beninese people were pretty enthralled with the display. Personally I was just happy to see that they existed because I had thought that I saw them a few days back and thought maybe I was losing it It’s not like you see planes and helicopters ever here unlike at home where my house is under a flight path. That was actually something to get used to again. When I got back to Benin I kept thinking a plane was flying overhead when I had to remind myself that it was thunder because no planes ever fly overhead here. This past week when I heard them, I was really thrown.

Picture: The helicopters

There was a lot of music and dancing, and a voodoo day like display of national themed zangbetto dancing. Once again a lifting of the zangbetto revealed nothing underneath and we are still speculating how they pull it off each time to do that. It is maddening! Afterwards we went out for delicious igame pilee with sauce d’arachide and “fromage”—that is pounded igame with peanut sauce and wagasi (igame is kind of like a potato—this bland root that is the staple of Northern cuisine in Benin. Igame pile is actually a northern thing, and thus northern volunteers tend to whine about how much it costs to eat it down south, along with the wagasi since cows are much more plentiful with the Fulani people in Northern Benin. Wagasi costs about 100CFA down by me for one piece and up north can cost about 25CFA). All in all, I’d say I had a pretty swanky Independence Day the second time around and am very happy about it. Tomorrow Michele and Angelina are coming over to spend the night so we can start planning out our Christmas trip to Mali—trekking in Dogon Country and mayyyyyyybe visiting Timbuktu if Al Qaeda stops kidnapping westerners in the general vicinity by that time.

Oh, I almost forgot. Today marks the first time since July 5th that I rode on a moto. I wouldn’t really call it a great first ride since the streets in lokossa were crazy during the fete but I live to tell the tale for today. I decided to ride the high (huh, pun not intended) and took a zem back from my marche as well just to see how it felt zemming around Dogbo again. I was sure to wear my helmet. It was interesting to see the meat in my marche for the fete. Normally I can find meat only on marche days (except for like Christmas and stuff, apparently like Independence Day) at one place—the meat section where whole cows are hung off large butcher hooks and they honk off pieces for you when you order. Today though there was chicken already killed and plucked sitting out partout with flies in the marche. I probably should have bought some but I wasn’t in the mood to cook it.

Wound status. Apparently wicked moto burns and post accidental cuts all over my feet are nothing. It is apparently a blister and a mosquito bite that are currently threatening to take me out. Frankly, I’m getting tired of having to walk like a putz. I had this bite on my lower leg that I scratched and it is now quite infected. I woke up this morning and it was throbbing, oozing pus, and flies kept landing on it at the fete—that can’t be good. Then I had these monster blisters…and when I say monster I mean HUGE…like take a ping pong ball, cut it in half, and stick each on the back of my ankles (it was from going out for a walk in my sneakers for the first time since being back here). Unfortunately, one of them popped and was looking red and oozing quite a bit. And then there is my toenail, a continued malodorous and oozing source of pain that also attracts flies like meat in my marche. Fortunately, my own wound care skills have really improved since coming to Benin and with a little conseil from my mom, I think it’s going to be juuuust fine. On va voir. A bientot!


Maman et Papa said...

logHi Catherine,
Well I am surprised but I believe the heat and humidity can do things to the brain. So to help you out try this date 7/4/1776 and go from there. (lol) I know there are a lot of things going on in your world so I am sure people here in the states will not let you down when you come back - they will remind you about this important date.
What you have written is refreshing and a pleasure to read. Wish everyone Happy Independence Day and if they ask - it's our 233 one.
Love you!

Aunt Loretta said...

Hi Catherine ~

America, referring to the United States, was officially 233 years old on July 4, 2009 ... are you impressed??? Sorry I have been slacking on the comments and calls. With Mike's Dad passing it's been a bit crazy the last few weeks. I'm putting a box together for you ... is there something you are in need of? Let me know. Baby Egan still has not arrived, but we are eagerly anticipating the arrival and I will keep you posted. Love you to the moon and back.

Aunt Loretta

Aunt Nancy said...

Your Independence Day Extravaganza sounded great.If I calculate correctly you will be there for the 50th celebration and that should be quite a shindig!!. I'm glad you're starting to get back into the Benin-groove. If you insist on being there I'm happy to hear(read) Happiness in your words. Your blisters and bites and injuries sound awful though. I actually had the shivers and eebee-geebees when I read about flies landing on them. Gross!! I may be sick! Clean them and clean them and then clean them some more. I love you and miss you. Be well and be safe. Love, Aunt Nancy xxxxxxxxxxxxxx