Africa | Benin | Boukoumbe – Boukoumbe
Usually after a shitty day comes a good one, and thats exactly what I had today.
Im in Boukoumbe, a village in the mountains of North Benin, 4 km from the border with Togo. Got here this morning on a beautiful mountainous dirt road and of course went straight to the market. Im far from being the first white person to arrive here but I certainly feel so. Everyone at the market was looking at me, watching every move I make, counted the hair on my legs, found my sandals funny and anything else you can think of. We have a saying in Israel that goes something like this If a black man turns his skin .. which comes to say that people dont change their personality, turn from good to bad or vice versa, just like a black person cant turn his skin and become white. Walking In the market, this saying kept on running in my head maybe because I wished I could turn my skin black like them if only so I can watch them without raising un necessary attention.
Thinking about this saying now something doesnt add up. Who said the other side of a blacks skin is black? Maybe its brown? If it is, this can explain how come, since childhood, I feel that Im black inside. Before I was born, up there in the sky, someone simply dressed me up side down.
From all the types of people in the market, the most remarkable were the woman who in the middle of their lower lip was inserted something that looked like an elephants task shrinked to a size of 5 cm. In the lobe of each ear was inserted something that to me seemed like a wine bottle cork.
One of the things I was looking for, and found, at the market were pipes that the locals use for smoking tobacco. Its one of the only places in Benin where its possible to find original pipes that were not made for tourists (if the old man who sold me the pipes would rely on tourist to buy them he wouldnt have reached his advanced age. He would have died of hunger). Another old man helped me choose a pipe so seriously as if I was about to start smoking now every day. I didnt tell him I dont smoke at all not to disappoint him.
Sitting out side the place Im staying, that Ill soon tell you about, looking at life in the village passing in front of me as if it was a movie. A young woman under a tree is frying pieces of fish non stop since this morning. A fried piece fell on the sand. Without any hesitation she picked it up, blew on it twice and returned it to the tray. I think Ill have lunch there tomorrow (not because of that).
On the way here I met an American guy, a Peace Corps volunteer that has been living here for the past 2 years. Waiting for him for dinner. Tomorrow, in a village about 16km from here there is a market. Dave, the American guy, is going there and invited me to join him. He will arrange bicycles so we can get there.
Im sleeping in a small family restaurant that also has one room for rent at the back. The conditions are very basic and Im being polite. Toilet is a hole in the ground, in a structure made from clay, with no door. The shower I have just taken was from a bucket of course but behind a wall that was hiding me only up to my belly button. That is no problem of course but why did it have to be in front of the front door where anyone who was passing outside, and eating in the restaurant, was looking at me scrubbing my underarms. Although in Africa breasts are not considered a sex organ I wonder how a western woman would have taken a shower here.
An old woman with a huge bucket on the head passed in front of me just now, stopped, bowed and said Bonsoir. Amazing. In general, everyone who passes here, from small children to adults, stops and says good evening. What a refreshing change from the swarms of pests in the big cities.
8 am and Dave and I are on a motorcycle he borrowed from a friend, heading toward the village where the market takes place. The population in Boukoumbe where I sleep, and in the surrounding area is from the Betamaribe tribe. This tribe has managed to resist Christianity and Islam and remained animists. One of the most fascinating things about this tribe is their houses, called Tata. These houses consist of small, rounded huts that look like mini fortified castles. The animals stay on the ground floor and the kitchen is on the second. The 3rd floor, which is basically the roof, is where you find the rooms for sleeping and for storage of food.
Although most of the Betamaribe are dressed today, it is a common sight to see woman half naked and men walking with a bow and arrows.
So here we are, Dave and I, on the motorcycle passing amidst cultivated fields with a Tata every now and then when suddenly on the dirt road ahead appears a group of about 30 girls 14-15 years old, most of them half naked, running together as if they were an army platoon on the morning jog. As they saw these 2 whities on a motorcycle they stopped and started waving to us enthusiastically. Later Dave explained that these girl serve as a platoon of working girls and each day they raid a different field and help work it.
When we got to the village, the market was only in the early stages of getting organized so we walked around the village while every now and then friends of Dave would invite us into their house.
At noon we sat in the market, at a local mama stand, to drink chouk a local alcoholic brew. From a huge jug, full with muddy, thick and bubbly liquid, that looked as if its boiling, she filled a wooden bowl to the edge. 2 of these bowl and you dont remember your mamas name (dont worry mom, I had only one). Didnt stop burping chouk until the next morning.
The market itself was quite similar to the Boukoumbe market I visited yesterday. 10 minutes after we returned to our village it started poring rain. I guess my luck didnt totally leave me.