Thursday, 1 December 2011



Bulghur with raisins and bacon bits,
Lettuce, cucumber and beet salad,
Freshly cut pineapple for dessert.

Sound good? Today’s supper. As mixed as our experiences today. Spent the morning learning French, and practicing it over coffee and Milo with our housekeeper Mariette. She’s not only a diligent worker, she’s also a good teacher; good to have around! The coffee and Milo I had to go buy at the local grocery shop. Too far to walk, and the car was away with Gerrit and Titia. So what does one do? One walks out onto the street and hails a zem. Short for zemidjan, Fon for ‘get there quick’. Not only quick, but also cheap: a CFA100 coin (about €0,15) will get you anywhere within Dogbo. Powered by clandestine Nigerian gas, unfortunately. Crude oil liberated from pipelines and refined in primitive (and dangerous, as well as polluting) refineries, then transported past back-road border crossings and sold from bottles at roadside stands wherever you go in Benin. CFA300 sec/CFA350 mixed per litre, incredibly noxious, but about half the cost of gas bought at the pumps. What would you do if you had to support your family driving one of the there-are-nine-million-zemidjans-in-Benin-in-Benin?

In the afternoon we were going to receive a few key  women to discuss possibilities. Unfortunately they cancelled at the last minute, so we spent an hour rejoicing with Gerrit and Titia about the call they have received to the congregation at Den Haag-Zuid-Rijswijk (shh, don’t tell anyone until it’s official). Then Gerrit and I went to the telephone office to talk to the man about our phone, which has been out of order for over a week. He sat in his office, gleaming. We talked to him (well, mostly Gerrit, in French with the occasional Adja to help lubricate the gears) about his family and his fine office and his hopefully future good health before we got to the point of the defective phone line, relations being everything in Benin. After having received his assurance that he would personally come to the house tomorrow morning at 8.00 a.m. to see what might be the problem, we went to the post office next door, where there was a similarly gleaming postmistress in a fine office with hopefully equally future good health. And then we went to pay a courtesy call on the head man of Quartier Avegodu, he who must be informed whenever someone takes up residence or wishes to build a church or start some aid project. In Benin, as in much of Africa, traditional authority structures and postcolonial administration intertwine, elected and appointed officials on the one hand, and old village family heads on the other. The head man wished us well and went back to shucking corn on the porch. We went to see our landlord about the present contract, but he wasn’t at home; so we talked  to his wife instead. Yes, about the family and their fine house and their hopefully future good health.

By the time we got home, the afternoon sun was hovering just over the roof of the  house across the road (different landlord) which we would still like to rent, possibly. No rush, it was telling us. How much time did you have this afternoon? What had you planned? What did you do? Get it? Nothing goes quickly in Africa. Except zems. And meat going bad. But that’s another story.

Tomorrow we are going to Cotonou: there are officials to visit, there are things to buy, there is Sinterklaas to meet at the embassy, and there is the church family there.


  1. Geduld is een schone zaak, vooral in Benin:) Maar zo te horen eten jullie in ieder geval goed! Nog geen pate?
    xx Hannah en Ghis
    Ps. hebben jullie zaterdagavond trouwens tijd om te skypen?

  2. Ik krijg zo'n honger!! Maar 'meat going bad'? Vertel! Love you!

  3. No bike yet? Or a motorbike?

    Love you guys.


  4. Wat schrijf je toch heerlijk! Dit wordt ook ooit als boek uitgegeven.. :)
    kus van M&M