Tuesday, 20 December 2011


Waiting. In a long dark hallway with chipped Formica tile floor. Sweat is beading my forehead, crawling down the side of my body under the armpits, and sticking my shirt to the skin of my back. Police Hospital in Cotonou. No, I am not in need of urgent medical attention. Urgent is a strange concept here, now that I use the word. Every zemidjan, every car, every bus apparently has more need to get its driver across the intersections than anyone else’s. But the result is such chaotic congestion that no one’s zem, no one’s  car, and no one’s bus moves at anything approaching efficiency. The same truth applies in queues at the grocery stores, the exits of parking lots, the desire to be heard in a crowd. Urgency, ever felt, never met.

And yes, here I still am, waiting in the Centre de Santé de la Police Nationale in Cotonou for the results of my blood test. Next stage in the process of obtaining a resident’s permit. We arrived one and a half hours ago, were sent to the secretariat, were sent back downstairs to the Caisse, sent back upstairs to the secretariat, from there to the lab and then back to the secretariat, and thence to the long dark hallway with chipped Formica floor. All of which sounds much more efficient than it was. Because the secretariat first said that malheureusement there was a coupu, so it would not be possible to print the necessary form, then sent us off anyway to make payment. The Caisse was a tiny barred window looking out of a hot, dusty and noisy courtyard: and those of you who have ever tried to communicate into a thus positioned black hole in a language unknown to  a person speaking indistinguishably will remember how well that works. And then the secretariat, having been returned to with proof of payment (two copies: one white, one yellow) first said that the doctor was not present today, so we would be better off returning tomorrow; and then was contradicted by someone more well informed, after which the secretariat said it would be a good idea to go to the lab but to be sure to keep the right copy of the proof of payment. Having  been both bled and relieved of our white payment slip, we were assured that the results would be ready in half an hour, after which the doctor would see us, but would we please go to the secretariat for further instructions. Secretariat suggested that since the coupu had not been solved yet, the analysis would not be completed until this afternoon at five at the very earliest. But she would be happy to phone us if there was any change in the situation. At which point all the lights came on. And it was the hall for us. Our waiting was rewarded. 15 minutes later two sealed envelopes appeared, and we were informed that the doctor was waiting for us in his office downstairs. Which he wasn’t, of course. But we were cordially invited to wait on the bench nearby. Which we did, of course. And lo, the doctor did appear after 10 minutes (just after we had opened the sealed envelopes from boredom). He acknowledged, us, more or less, and walked past into his office. We did not follow. Wrong decision. Venez, venez! He instructed, with a note of irritation, when he discovered we were not on the same page as he. Which we did, of course. Up on a cupboard, overlooking his hugely cluttered desk, a television on a sports channel, commentator effectively preventing our understanding more than a bare minimum of the doctor’s words. It did not take long for him to stop talking. One relevant question came through the babble: why did you open the envelope? The only answer I had: I always do that, didn’t really seem to satisfy him. That’s for me! he said. But then he proceeded to fill in the declaration, signed it, stamped it, and gave it to us. Relief! We were finished… But no. Please take this to the secretariat, he added. Which we did. Secretariat was happy to see us again, took our papers, stapled them together, reached for a ledger, and began to write down a few numbers and letters. Then she stopped. Not to pick up the phone, which had been incessantly ringing since we got in. But to begin a conversation with what seemed to be a colleague. Conversation became somewhat heated, then blew up into a tropical storm. Totally ignoring us the ledger and the documents, secretariat and colleague let the storm run its course for as long as it took. Ten minutes or so. And we waited.

What time did I say we arrived at Cotonou Police Hospital? Nine? We arrived at our next stop, the immigration office a few streets over, just before noon. With the required documents! Unfortunately, the Caisse there was closed for the day. So that was that. No resident’s permit this visit to Cotonou, since we have to go back to Dogbo tomorrow morning. It will have to wait. Like us.

I understand that mission work is largely a matter of waiting.


  1. Aaahhh, wat lijkt me dat frustrerend!! Mooie oefening in geduld :) !

  2. Goeie mannike! (don't know how to spell that interjection, if it still exists!)Wow. Wow. And Wow, again! Impatience obviously has no place here! I do not know what else to say! Coosje

  3. they say : patience is a virtue... You both must be very virtuous now :)
    Much strength and joy in this your calling ♥

  4. I think Coba means GOEIE MIKKIE, and no, I haven't heard anyone say that for years....

  5. Hmm, I think I know one thing God wants you to learn while in Benin. Patience while driving. Oh, and for other things too. I shouldn't say it publicly, I guess, but: who knew? (teehee) Love you guys so much! And we love hearing all about the new tricks God is teaching two old dogs :-).
    Alice, your ever-loving daughter.

  6. what does it mean?? "My Goodness?"

  7. Linda, something like that. It is just an expression one does hear at times, but I also think it depends on where you live in holland if you hear it. Joe, you will be a the most patient man around by the time you get back to holland! I do not know if I could handle the tempo there,and I am not really am impatient person. I also know for sure I could not handle the heat!, Jeanette