Thursday, 26 January 2012


Brilliant sky-blue. Someone was once proud of that wall. Perhaps it was the first wall to receive paint in the couple’s new home in Quartier Avegodu. Paint is not common-place here. Red mud serves most people well enough. But for a special room in a special house: paint. Brilliant sky-blue paint.

Matches well with yellow. But not today. The yellow is an angry roaring bulldozer leaving a trail of destruction through the quartier.  Papaya, banana, cistern, bedroom: all is crushed beneath its inexorable progress. Some are pleased: for verily, it is not easy to wind one’s way through the maze of Avegodu. And vehicles larger than the ever-present moto or the manpowered push-push:  not just difficult, impossible. So yes, the quartier needs access. But others are hurting. Tonight they will be sleeping in the open, if their family elsewhere won’t have them.

Second time here in Benin I’ve seen the hurt caused by an raw bulldozer gash. Two weeks ago in Cotonou as well.  No camera then. Quartier Fidjrosse. Five families of fishing folk from Grand Popo found shelter there fifty-eight years ago. Legal shelter. They still have the  documents granting them permission to build their shacks, to ply their seaborne trade, to occupy and fill their equatorial Goshen. But these didn’t stop the bulldozers now.  Thinking of the future, of potential hotel magnates and tourist revenues, the city decided the beach needed access. Progress tore thirteen strips, a neat one hundred metres apart, through the belly of Fidjrosse. There was no money for lawyers.

And today it was Avegodu’s turn for progress. What can one do? Not much more than be there with the people watching their homes being destroyed. The quartier folk don’t understand progress very well. The mairie, or the gouvernement, is just as yellow to their blue as the bulldozer is to the naked wall. So if their house has to go, go it will. But they do seem to appreciate the strange yovo Pasteur being there as it goes. All in a morning’s work, first road finished before lunch.

We go to Lokossa, on a visit to a baby born yesterday. Thinking comfortable thoughts about the second access road skirting, not crossing, our property. Naturally. These things happen to the poor, not to the Pasteur. And come back two hours later to much of the quartier gathered around our house. Not a bulldozer in sight. But sledgehammers are breaking down the wall just outside our bedroom window.

Yes, our wall! The wall underneath our mango tree. The wall behind which we park our HiLux each evening, the wall with the gate before which sits our guardian from sunset until sunrise, the wall which keeps the quartier out and us safe in the dark. The owner of our house, Robert Sodovo, he who counts on being mayor come the elections next June, is exhausting the batteries of his portable, but the sledgehammers do not let up. The surveyors have spoken: our wall is outside the property line, right where the second access road is to be drawn. It was a nice wall. Not that we were proud of it. But it did what it was intended to do. Until today. And then it had to come down. Not just metaphorically speaking. Somehow it feels right, for a missionary. The quartier is not to be kept out. When one member suffers, all members suffer. Where did I hear that before?


  1. you need us to guard your property? Is your new house safe for now? But think of all the stories you can tell your grandchildren when you're older. And I found a spelling mistake in your story :)
    We love you and hope you will sleep safely despite the missing wall.


  2. Alwin, keep the teaching in the classroom!!
    Are you getting a new wall papa and mama?
    Love you!!

  3. Wow! A different life, all right! Love your perspective on it. When one suffers, all suffer. Also love the analogy of the blue and yellow to the villager and the government. So how was your sleep, by the way? Or did you move to a different room? Coba

  4. Hannah:). Papa corrects me everytime I make a mistake to help me ......I think. I was returning the favour.

    1. But I thought that papa and you never made any mistakes! liefs, je mama

    2. Just like all Pluggies, Mama:)!

    3. Almost never. That's why other people notice right away when we correct each other on those very few occasions a mistake is made. Keep up the good work Papa. Your effort is still worth an A+.

    4. ...ik zie niets, ik hoor niets en ik zeg maar niets!....lijkt me het allerverstandigste!
      een wijze vrouw

  5. An interesting, thought provoking quote that has been in my mind for a month or so: “One who is committed to the poor must risk the same fate as the poor” Ita Ford (missionary, El Salvador). Seems to apply here. We love you!