Tuesday, 29 November 2011



Beetroot salad with baked banana and beef patty.
Homemade yoghurt with black currant syrup.

That was our supper tonight.  After having driven out to Migbowotomey in order to inspect the plot of land on which the church there is to be built. Some 6 kilometers along the paved road north from Dogbo,in the direction of Djakotomey, then on to a gravel road 3 or 4 kilometers westwards toward the Togolese border past Gohomey, then southwards again for another 2 or 3 kilometers along a dirt track to Migbowotomey. Left and right cassava and maize fields, with along the edges spindly tomato plants and hot peppers. Houses mostly red mud and thatch, though here and there an enterprising person has at least started a concrete block building. The most permanent looking structures seem to be the storage barns and bake ovens sponsored by DVN and other aid organisations. And the hospital at Gohomey, a well-kept compound, designed with German thoroughness and laid out with an eye for the natural beauty of the surroundings.

The dirt track is passable, though incredibly rutted. Average speed probably 10 km per hour for the last 5. Just as well our pace is restricted, actually, because there is a lot of traffic. Foot traffic, mainly, particularly women carrying loads of unlikely dimensions on their heads, no hands.

We arrive at Moise´s atelier; he is at work weaving sleeping mats, together with his apprentice, a young mother with a baby bound to her back. She rushes off, and comes back with an enamel bowl full of water which she offers to us to drink. We each take a small sip: though each well is a potential health hazard, to refuse is an affront to their hospitality. We talk, he assigns someone from the village the task of showing us the plot of land, and then he gets back to his weaving; those who don’t work don’t eat, in Benin. After our inspection – what can one say, one quarter acre with manioc and maize growing on it looks an awful lot like the next quarter acre – we go on into the village. Children appear like seagulls round a Tim Horton’s box as soon as it is clear that we have cameras and are using them.  I am so thankful that digital has replaced film; their mirth at seeing themselves on the TFT screen is hugely contagious, almost making me forget the poverty every rag they are wearing displays.

We visit with A........ and his wife. Or not yet quite wife. Marriage isn’t a fact until the agreed on bride price has been completely paid. And with cash being elusive in a subsistence economy, A......... has a problem. Not only with the wife’s family, who have cash problems of their own. But also with the church. A......... is working on the problem, though. He sells medicine. We are allowed to look into the wooden box with his stock of pills, which he loads onto his bicycle regularly for another tour around the villages. I spy a bundle of blister packs of Diazepam. Does A......... have a license, training, anything in the way of knowledge of what he’s peddling? Better not to ask. Besides, I learn, talking about it later, most of the cheap medicine comes from dubious producers in India and further East. No guarantees about what’s really inside.

On the way back we stop in at the hospital at Godomey. We meet the doctor, a Frenchwoman in her thirties called Helene, who inspires more confidence (with me at least) than A......... did, medically speaking. There is a well-equipped lab at Godomey, as well as a fully stocked dispensary. Good basic care, should we be looking for that. She gives us her number and says we can call anytime with whatever questions we might have. Good to have started working on our network.

Monday, 28 November 2011



Monday morning. Mariette (born AGOSSOU) came with her mother Didi (officially Leocadi) to talk about terms of employment. Born in 1975, already a widow. We were impressed by her friendliness, her ability to think things through, and her determination to provide for herself and her children, Stephane (17), Marie-Louis (14), Cynthia (9) and ExaucĂ© (4).  It’s only a first impression, but we think we’ll be happy to have her around. Didi did a lot of crying, partly for relief that one of her many worries seems te be resolved, partly because handing over the key to the house and taking backstage means the end of a long and honourable role as housekeeper for her.
While we were wrapping up, T............ showed up with his junior wife. Yesterday, after church in Djakotomey, we had been invited by his senior wife M (in total he has either four or five) to her home for a cool drink. T............ is a hugely interesting man, in some respects mainstay of the community, and – as far as we have been able to discover – a devout Christian; but he has a decidedly African view of marriage. He does care for his wives and many children well, that must be said. But the multiplication of spouses does not promote domestic harmony. M is the peacemaker, we are told. This morning he came from his farm (where he has been living with number four – or five – for the last while) to pay his respects to le nouveau Pasteur. We had an enjoyable visit, and said our farewells with mixed feelings. T............ was barely gone, and KOFFI Moise showed up, leader of the church at Migbowomey. A reliable, intelligent and respected man, Moise came to discuss the building plans of his congregation. The group has saved up their share of the money to buy a piece of property, on which a proper brick church can be erected. DVN/Gowa is supportive, but to promote independence and selfreliance, policy is that the local congregation must always provide the initial amount for both property and building before our finances become available. The letter from his congregation which he came bearing was a joy to read, and conversing with brother Moise was a privilege. What makes it particularly special, however, is the fact that Moise is blind. African Lesson One: do not focus on impossibilities.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

First day on our own


At 6:30 this morning I was woken by the sound of drums and gongs and shouts and singing. The moment before, I had been in Zwolle, climbing up and down the central staircase of the GH (why there, I’ve been there maybe two or three times in my whole life?) and looking in all the toilets and shower rooms for my briefcase and for Marijke’s CERAN bag. Without success, for all of Africa was making noise just outside our bedroom window and my dream was abruptly replaced by something even stranger. By the time I had disentangled myself from the mosquito net and had pulled on my shorts, the procession had passed by. I have no idea what it was about, but this was definitely a cheerful way to wake up.

Cheerfulness was welcome, because during the night both Marijke and I had been struck by stomach cramps and diarrhoea, she a bit worse than me, poor thing. Whether it was the food (I don’t think so, really: because I had prepared the mutton couscous myself and everything was either well-stewed or properly disinfected) or the water or the sweet Fan-Milk treat Didi had given us when we dropped in to see her at her shoe stall yesterday afternoon we will never know. But it was an interesting experience. We decided not to go anywhere today, just to stay at home, get used to the heat (somewhere around 30 this morning, a bit above that by now), and to organise the cupboards and clothes shelves.

Oh yes, and to look at the house across the street. Almost completed two years ago, and then the lady for who it was being built died. Didi (the ex-housekeeper of this house) knows the family, and she arrived around 8.30 with a key. So we took some time away from the toilet to go look. And we were very pleasantly surprised: a little smaller than what we have now, but with a huge walled in garden, and new…! That is important here, because things get run down quickly, and repairs are done creatively. The ceilings need to be put in, the walls need painting, but that’s it. And the garden… There is a lemon tree, a mango, an avocado, a coconut, cassava and tomatoes and lots of room for anything else we would like. And ‘look!’ said Didi, ‘une latrine. Pour les etrangers noir…’ Outside, near the gate; black visitors would not have to use the white man’s toilet…. We laughed about that; what a sense of humour the lady has. She’s had a very hard life, she has worries for her children and her grandchildren, most of whom are dependent on her, but she know how to laugh.  She’s retiring now from housekeeping, and is sad about that (also because she’s been in service to DVN-people since 1997 or thereabouts), but her daughter Mariette will be taking over, if it works out for her and for us. Mariette has four children (only one of whom can live with her at the moment),  no husband, and no means of support. If she proves to be the person we’re looking for, she will be able to live with Didi and bring her family back together again. We’re meeting her on Monday, and we’ll work with her for a month before deciding.

Tomorrow is Sunday. Time to meet the church family here.

Friday, 25 November 2011



Today we said goodbye to Holland and our African adventure began in earnest.  I don’t remember ever having been so  completely envelopped in love as during the hour we had at Schiphol. God has truly blessed us with a wonderful family! Alwin and Erika were there, with Anne, Aline, Gerard and Willemijn; so were Bastiaan and Maria; as well as Hannah. Ian would have been there as well with Rosa and Gabriel, had we not discovered last night that his roof rack didn’t fit the rails of our Agila: and without enough space to transport suitcases and passengers both, there was no way he could drive us to Schiphol.

We departed an hour-and-a-half late; for most of that time we could see our loved ones standing on the roof terrace waiting to wave goodbye; but in the end they left before us. In spite of the delay, we were in plenty of time to catch the connecting flight from Paris to Cotonou. I spent most of that flight sleeping or reading: the latter in an amazing book called ‘Voodoo in Afrika’ by Marnel Breure. I have almost decided to translate it from Dutch into English as a special project during the next few years. The writer believes neither in God nor in reason, but she demonstrates an uncanny knack of fathoming the depths of voodoo culture, discovering by personal experience how destructive it is.

“My eyes fell upon a power image in front of which a sacrificial bowl had been placed. ‘What exactly is that, a bo or a vodoun?’ ‘That is a vodoun.’ ‘Could you explain the difference to me?’ ‘A bo does evil, a vodoun does good.’ ‘And what is this, then?’ I pointed to a little wooden doll, sticky with sacrificial blood, wrapped with string. ‘That is a bo.’ ‘So that one is used to do evil.’ ‘No, it helps ward off sickness.’ ‘Ah. So a bo can offer protection.’ ‘Yes, it can attract good luck and offer protection, but it can also destroy.’ ‘And a vodoun?’ ‘In certain situations it too can destroy.’ ‘But what then is the difference between a bo and a vodoun?’”

This is the world we will be entering into.  Last night, after supper, Arjan read Psalm 135. “For the LORD will vindicate his people and have compassion on his servants. The idols of the nations are silver and gold, made by the hands of men. They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but they cannot see; they have ears, but cannot hear, nor is there breath in their mouths. Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.” (Psalms 135:14-18)

My guess is that I will be reading passages like this with African eyes before too long. Belonging to Jesus Christ, body and soul, and being delivered from all the power of the evil one takes on a whole new dimension there, I imagine.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

In the beginning

Here we are. Still in the Netherlands. But in a couple of days - on Wednesday to be exact, we'll be on our way to Benin. Sad at having left our children and grandchildren behind; but excited about the new adventure God has led us into... What will it be like? What will we be able to contribute? How will Benin change us?