The journey (by road) to Benin Republic was one of the worst experiences ever in my life. And I’m not just talking about travelling experiences; I’m talking about all the different kinds of experiences I’ve had. Yes, I’ve had some pretty shitty (excuse-moi) experiences and the trip to Benin is right up there on the list. Try to picture Nigerian immigration corruption versus Benenois immigration corruption: a great recipe for a lot of money exchanging hands, ruthless demands (of the officials) and the helpless frustration of the traveller. And if he doesn’t speak French, he’s doomed! Anyway, I was feeling frustrated as I entered the small country and I wasn’t as keen about the sights and sounds as I was, prior to embarking on the said trip. In any case, my final destination was Ouidah, the little historic town with several tourists’ attractions like the Snake Temple, The Sacred Forest, The Gate of No Return, the Basilica, The French Fort, etc. It was quite the distance from Port Novo (the capital), but not too far from Cotonou.
The first thing that struck me immediately as I entered the country was the quietness of it. Coming from Nigeria, and more specifically, being a Nigerian, I was used to noise from people and cars, loud music blaring from car stereo speakers, people shouting, quarrelling, conductors yelling while hanging from precarious positions in their ‘mangled’ buses, sellers on the highways weaving through traffic as they do business, beggars and the disabled begging for money…need I go on? So you could try to picture how shocked I was when I didn’t see any of those happening; talk about culture shock! It was like travelling to the village; in fact villages in Nigeria are more rowdy nowadays. I have been here three days now and I am yet to hear someone playing music either from their cars or houses. Well, maybe they are just not that into music and ‘jollification’. But seriously though, it is too quiet and even though I like the occasional quiet, I love noise (in the form of music and dance and just the general kinds of noise people who are ALIVE, make as they go about their business). Well, it’s a good thing I came with my laptop and my phone (yeah, they both contain music) and each day I get on my knees and pray against either (or both) of them developing a fault during the period of my stay in Benin, because if that happens, hmm I’m screwed. It’s not funny at all!
Someone told me, “Oh, Ouidah is less cosmopolitan than Cotonou”. Oh puleaze!, I passed through Cotonou to get to Ouidah, and I didn’t even know we had gotten to Ouidah until I read the signposts on the road. But one thing I like about this place is their cobblestone streets (known to us in Naija as interlocking tiles. Sshh…I also didn’t know that’s what it’s called until I got here, so don’t despair at your ‘bushness’ lol.
You know, my siblings and I have always wondered and asked our mum what the ‘Old School’ times felt and looked like. She did her best to describe how it was, but you know, with things like that you had to have been there physically to fully and truly understand how it was. Well, guess what? As I entered Benin and Ouidah specifically, I suddenly knew what ‘Old School’ looked and felt like! It was like an epiphany, seriously. It’s just as if, the year 2000 hasn’t arrived. No, strike that out and get this. It doesn’t feel like 1995; it feels like 1965. I am so glad that I am experiencing the Old and New Schools at a young age. Would it be the same as reincarnation or like vampires that live for hundreds of years? What the heck am I talking about? Ahem, so it wasn’t a culture shock for me (save for the lack of noise), I mean we are practically neighbours and we have many things in common like the food. I saw Banga and garri (which pleased me very much). It’s just like travelling to another part of Nigeria; that is, a village; that is, a very remote kind of village in Nigeria; you get my drift, okay. In any case, I am so looking forward to the next 7 weeks and some days more. I really hope I enjoy it and above all, that by the end of that time I would be ‘rapping‘ in French, lol. I wasn’t kidding about the rapping part though.