Rogatien. His second visit since we arrived. Earnestly greeting us with wishes of happiness, health, wealth and all good things for the new year. A week after New Year’s Day: almost anyone we speak to, stranger or acquaintance, still greets us with Heureuse Année, Bonne Année, or the expanded version of Rogatien. Greetings are never hurried, New Year or otherwise. Greetings are savoured, repeated, chewed on and enjoyed again. Last week we were taken to meet the police commissioner; exchanged greetings, spoke of our families and their families; traded phone numbers, shared a drink and after an hour went our separate ways. But the courtesy call is not really finished: tomorrow, I will phone M. David and thank him for le derniere fois. And he will ask me how I am, and how Marijke is, and how the children are, and that I can call him anytime I have a problem; and then it will be my turn for all those same questions, and then we will hang up. Greetings are serious business in Benin; and the youngest of children are already adepts.
Back to Rogatien. He has come to explain to me what his plans are for the cooperation between his ONG and our church. Not that there has been any talk of such cooperation from our side. But he is passionately earnest. He has a dream for Benin, and it is important that we find ways to work together for the advancement of the church and of the Beninese. Especially the orphans. These are the proposed beneficiaries of his ONG. No, there are no orphans currently being supported or assisted. No, he has no experience with orphanages. No, he has no funds… No, actually he has nothing but his own private ONG. And if he can only find the right partners…
Rogatien is 25. He is student at the University in Cotonou. Well, he was student, but presently he is somewhere between years, in search of the money to pay for tuition. His plans for his own personal future are entering the diplomatic corps. That, and taking care of Benin’s orphans. What he would also like to talk about is the possibility of moving to Canada for the next ten years or so. To advance his education, particularly his command of English, all the more effectively to work with the churches and other possible sponsors.
Look, he says, opening his briefcase, I have a letter saying that there are good possibilities. I read the letter. Emailed in response to his (free!) registration on emigrationexperts.com. Our organisation is well-placed, the letter says in spotty English, to help him fulfil his objectives. No, at present he does not exactly meet the requirements for a student visa, but there are excellent possibilities, and if he will please take the next step in the registration process, they will be pleased to assist him, as they have ably assisted hundreds of others before him. Yes, there is a slight expense involved, for administrative purposes, but he can have full confidence in a beneficial outcome.
I explain to him that not all emigration experts are bona fide. He seems genuinely surprised that this particular club is not part of Canada Immigration or any other government agency. That it is, in my estimation, a moneymaking venture specializing in dashed hopes and broken dreams. I explain to him that he is better off checking out the official Canadian government websites. And that obtaining a student visa for Canada is probably beyond reach, unless he can demonstrate that 1. he has sufficient financial means, 2. he has been accepted by one of Canada’s universities, and 3. he has made all necessary arrangements for health care insurance. His eyes widen: but that is my problem, I have no money, I cannot apply at a university at this time, and what exactly is health care insurance…? And then I add, in response to a feeble suggestion, if someone does have a student visa for Canada, he is not allowed to take employment under any circumstances. But then how can I pay for my studies and for my living expenses and for my plane ticket… and for my health insurance? Exactly.
It is not nice to be the bringer of bad tidings. But Rogatien does not become less polite. He is a true Beninese. Brimming with creativity. Adept at the fine points of etiquette. And eternally hopeful.
*This blog was written a week ago, as you can deduce, during the long internet outage which hit most of west Africa. I never got round to posting it…