Monday, 12 December 2011


Sunday mid-afternoon. Big Momma Dancing. Pelvis rocking like one of those oil derricks that once dotted the landscape at faraway Schooneveld. Showing off for the camera. Much skinnier partners in a dance of their own. Particularly good moves rewarded by loud ululations from the women spectators and raucous yells from the men. Little boys, hardly out of diapers, clothed for the occasion in the same family pagne, getting into imitatory rhythm. Little girl, large basketware tray on her head, determined to sell as many crunchy sweet deep-fried pretzels as possible. Me, Yovo, the only white person in sight. No surprise: the only other white person in Dogbo is Marijke, and she is at home trying to nap. I wish her well, because the music from the huge party tent – though 300 metres from our house – vibrates the floor and rattles the windows. Africans are incredibly loud! Especially when there is a ceremonie to be held.  This one is for someone´s uncle who died a year ago today. And to send him on to the next stage of the afterlife in style,  there is a street party. Street. The bache, the nissen-hut canopy, spans the entire street, and there’s no way through. Saturday afternoon preparations were already underway, Sunday morning the musicians came and the festivities began. It´s a blessing that this party is daytime: the last one started at nightfall and the music went on went on until past sun-up. Not that anyone was there during the early morning hours: also Beninese need to sleep, especially after starting on the sodabi well in advance of the party.  But the music (canned, in that case) was turned up a notch to compensate for the absent audience and continued. A powerful ancetre, deceased, needs a good ceremonie to keep him happy. And as long as it’s loud it’s good.

Dancing and loud music: we had it in church, too. The Reformed Church in Dogbo is on the same street as our house, about 600 metres the other way from the party tent. Titia was sick, Gerrit had to preach in a church in Bohicon, so Marijke and I went together, for the first time without company. We were greeted at the door by a small child, turned out to be Amos, son of Joseph BLEOUSSI, one of our night watchmen. Joseph was responsible for the service that morning: fulfilling the role of sexton and worshipleader combined. He was the only adult present at 9.15 (the official time to start is 9.00) and with him were his daughter Ali Clemence and a little neighbour girl called Felicitée. We talked a bit, waited some, read the text for the sermon in advance, and greeted others as they slowly drifted in. Yes, everyone was late (European time), but that was because of the harmattan. It didn’t quite become clear to me what the connection was, but perhaps it had to do with temperature? The harmattan is a dry wind from the North. Hot during the day, but cool during the night: the temperature dropping to perhaps under 20 degrees. We slept really well, because of that, but it seems the locals find it uncomfortably cold…

The predicateur, Emile, arrived, 9.30ish. After a little while he came up to me: would you perhaps like to preach this morning? he asked. I was honoured, I said, but probably it would be better if he himself did the honours, since for me French was still a bit difficult, and I was sure that he had prepared a very good sermon. He didn’t seem surprised at the answer, and I concluded that the request was probably intended primarily to show respect. I did have to go sit up front, though. On one of the two chairs behind the liturgical table.

The service started: Joseph, a relatively new Christian, did his part with dignity and enthousiasm. The liturgy is set out in a small booklet, including prayers and other fixed elements, but around the fixed ‘backbone’ was filled out with ex tempore flesh, in which members of the congregation also took their share: responding, praying, singing, making music, and dancing… And yes, it was loud. Reverently loud. Shout to the Lord! I remember reading somewhere.

The sermon was long. But that was partly due to the translation: Every sentence Emile spoke, Joseph translated into Adja. Children sat, amazingly well-behaved. No drawing, no fidgeting: listening! And we understood most of it!!! The French bits… Two-and-a-half weeks here, and suddenly we notice it isn’t a strange language for us anymore. Yes, we still have lots to learn, and we miss lots as well, but we can communicate!!! After the sermon Emile turned to Joseph, and Joseph asked me if I wanted to add anything. So I did. Not much, because it had been a good sermon, well-prepared, well-delivered, and obviously well-received.

Best part of the service: closing prayer. Joseph invited a girl on the front row to pray. She cannot have been older than 9 or 10. But she prayed. In Adja. Long and loud. No hesitations. And by the amens that the congregation uttered, what she said made sense. Out of the mouths…

11.30. And then the service was over. We thought. Until Joseph turned to me and told me that tomorrow all the schoolchildren would have an important day: some kind of test, in all the grades, which would determine what would happen for each student in the new year. If I, the new pasteur, would perhaps pray for them and bless them. All of the school-aged children came to the front, knelt down, and waited… So I prayed and blessed them. Mostly in French. Wasn’t quite the miracle of Pentecost, but perhaps a tiny little bit of it…

And then we went. Back into the world of voodoo and ancestors that need appeasing and Big Momma Dancing.


  1. Nice that your French is improving! I think that will make it much easier to find your place there! Love you both! xxhannah

  2. But don't be satisfied until your French is as good as your English. I liked reading this again.


  3. It sounds like you're getting a bit more settled - I'm so happy to hear that!
    We love you, and love experiencing a bit of Africa through you.

  4. Love your description, Joe! Would have loved to be there to experience that with you! Coba

  5. t'is praise worthy and celebratorious! So much different than our 'non-participatory ways, which I wonder if that makes us more apathetic? On the other hand if we lived like that all the time, perhaps our ways might seem majestic and reverant to them?? Wonderful to read along Joe and Marijke. Our God is so great..from the ends of the earth He calls His poeple! So wonderful you have been given that opportunity to share.