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Jan
29

Good-bye, Ghana… Bonjour, Benin!


Last Thursday I packed my two suitcased, taught my last class at Naa Kordey Memorial Primary and headed to Accra to board my  bus to Benin.  It was really hard for me to say good-bye to my students, but to soften the blow, I left each of them with an American coin. I had so much random change in my wallet when I arrived and no Forex would exchange it all, so I figured this was a good way to use it. The kids LOVED it, and kept asking me how much each one was worth. By the time I had to leave, I said good bye and they were so entranced by money that they hardly cared I was leaving, LOL. Thank goodness kids are so resilient.

Then I bid farewell to the school’s youngest pupil, Emanuella. She is four months old and stole my heart… I can’t wait to see how much she has grown when I come back to visit.

Early the next morning, I boarded the ABC Transport bus for the nine hour ride across Ghana, Togo, and into Benin. I purchased  my Benin visa last week to avoid problems, but yours truly didn’t think about the fact that you have to go Togo  before reaching Benin, and I did not get a Togo visa. (Go me, really smart.) I have also heard and read really scary stories about bad things that happen to people at borders in Africa, like their things get taken, they get robbed, passports stolen, etc. Thankfully we had a personal bus escort who was there to help me get through at the border…(as  you are about to read, this did not prevent my own momentary nightmare.)

So, we get to the Togo/Ghana border. And the escort lady asks me to get off the bus. Me, alone, no one else. I guess that I was the only person that did not have a Togo visa. So we get off, and I leave everything on the bus except my passport and money. She walks me to the border control and I apply for the visa. She waits for me to finish and the bus drives through the border and stops a bit  down the road so we can catch up. THEN, after I get my visa, she says, “Give me your passport for safe keeping, people will try to take it from you. Walk to the bus and I will meet you there.”

She walks away, and I turn to walk to the bus. I look around, left, right, the bus is GONE. Like, nowhere to be seen. Then I turn to call to the lady and SHE is gone, too. (mini panic attack starting…) So I start walking down the road and a man walks up to me and asks me, (in French, because Togo is also francaphone) where I am going. I told him I was looking for the ABC bus. He smiles and says, “Ok! come, I show you.” Whew, ok. Then he gets on a motorcycle and motions me to sit on the back. I tried to explain that the bus should be close by, but he insisted that I should get on so I did… We drove along the beach highway, and the farther we got, the more nervous I became. I started screaming at him, “Turn around! Go back,” But he wouldn’t… it was about then that my life flashed before my eyes.. here I was, NO passport, NO phone, speaking basically NO French.. I kept thinking, “OMG, I am going to be one of those missing person’s that becomes a 30 second segment on the six o’clock news back in the U.S.” As I was imagining my demise, a woman that I recognized from Accra pulled up on the moto next to me. She waved and said, “ABC this way! Come!” So basically the bus had driven 7 frickin’ miles down the road and the “escort” lady did not think to explain to me that I was going to have to take a motorcycle taxi to get to it… Go figure, African customer service!

Needless to say, I was VERY happy to see the bus and arrive safely at the Togo/Benin border a few hours later (pictured below.)

As we entered Cotonou, which is the cultural and business capital, (the technical capital is Porto Novo, but everything including Embassies and UNICEF is in Cotonou)  we passed the largest Muslim cemetery in the city.

For those of you who know me well, you know that I love cemeteries. I think they are beautiful, spiritual places. I know I am weird…

The bus dropped me off at the Stadium, where I had my first Beninese beer while waiting for my friend, Boris, to pick me up.

Castel beer is eh, okay…. Not as good as Star beer, which is the most popular beer in Ghana. I have so much more to share with you, but for now will leave you with my laundry list of first impressions and comparisons of Benin to Ghana:

1. Holy Mosquito! Those little guys are aggressive here! You can actually feel them bite you and the bites are smaller but way more itchy. I have also been told by a guy who works in malaria prevention that the mosquitos here are far more malarial… guess I will be wearing extra bug spray.

2. Police Corruption. While it does exist in Ghana, it is far more severe here. I know this from both watching the police demand money from my friends as they are driving, and from stories that Boris has told me.

3. Pigs!? In the five months I spent in Ghana, I saw one wild pig. One. In my first day of being in Benin, I have seen a bagillion..(yes bagillion is a word.) While walking through the trees near the beach and watching the pigs, I felt like I was in that book, Lord of The Flies.

4. Beaches.  The beaches are nicer here with less trash. I assume this is partly due to the fact that Cotonou is much smaller than Accra.

5.Muslims.  Benin has a much higher Muslim population at almost 30% where as Ghana is about 16%. In fact, the house where I am staying is across the street from the largest Muslim mosque in Cotonou. It is beautiful!

6. Drinking Water.  People here, especially people who have lived here a long time, will drink the water from the faucets. In Ghana, everyone drinks  water out of those little plastic bags I posted photos of earlier in my stay. I am going to stick with bottled water until I know my guts are 100% acclimated to a new environment.

I know I have so much more to share, but I will stop here for now. More to come soon. Au Revoir!

2 comments

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  1. lila says:

    Fun stuff Sy! Soooo glad you made it across safely without being a news story! Now I can’t wait to see how much the Haggen Daas costs in Benin. LOL
    Much love from the mountain! lila

  2. Alex Mills says:

    Hey love the info, thanks for sharing!! Have fun!! -Alex

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