Dahomey Diary: Notes from Benin Dahomey Diary: Notes from Benin
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Dahomey Diary: Notes from Benin
by Xeni Jardin
Boing Boing, and producer of the blog's daily Boing Boing Video program. In March, 2009, she traveled to the West African nation of Benin. Following are excerpts from her travel journal. Longer form video and audio features are planned for future release through Boing Boing Video.
1.A few days before we left, I looked into a camera and failed to impress a television talent director. "Where do you look to find the future," he asked. Screen test for a tech show pilot. I knew what he meant: what blogs, which super secret hacker mailing lists, whose tweets."Africa," I said.Wrong answer for the casting call. But 30 hours of flights later, we're finally in Cotonou, Benin, and it's true. Every time I'm back in the barely-held-together whirling here, I am closest to the past, and through it, whatever is next.Swarms of zémidjans, screaming moped taxis, clog the streets in the port capital tonight. Facemasked, daredevil drivers swoop up passengers in technicolor African robes, passengers clutching cassava or cellphones or jerrycans of smuggled Nigerian gasoline.We're a few miles away from the slave port which was once the single biggest freight point for America-bound human cargo. And just outside the hotel tonight, old ladies sell fermented corn mush and grilled sugarcane-rat by candlelight, under a baobab tree.Breathing here is like sucking an exhaust pipe. It's the hot hot steam month before rainy season. Mosquitos buzz through that haze, lugging malaria payloads. French-Hausa hiphop blares from the corner bar. Cheap palm wine inside. An amputee beggar boy dances on stumps in the gutter for spare francs.Tomorrow, the long drive north, toward Burkina and Niger, to a dry village where our fixer's father was once king.
2.Driving is dodging, it's a video game, Grand Theft Togo.We're in a beat-up 1980s Benz with more kilometers on it than the counter can display, on a sometimes-dirt, sometimes-asphalt highway hugging the Togolese border.
3.Dankóli shrine.Blink, driving by, and you'd miss it, but we were brought here by someone who knows. A great, asymmetrical black mound of rotting offerings, pierced with a white voudun flag on a tall staff, laced with strands of beads. An overwhelming, accumulated mass of remains: sacrificed doves, chickens, hooved creatures. Skulls, matted feathers, black earth. Prayed over, over and over again, by devotees on pilgrimage.
4.A Bariba settlement near Kouandé, in the far north near Nigeria.Our car pulls as close to the center compound as the dirt path allows. We open car doors, step out into dust, through grass thatch gates. A crowd of women are dancing, drums and high trills. We landed mid-ceremony. We're here to pay respects to a healer-queen. A few steps inside her hut, bags of blackeyed peas, flour, and hard candy are stacked like cash along mud walls-payment, tribute, from villagers. We're seated on the ground, swatting clouds of flies, awaiting her audience.
5.Midnight in Savalou.Full moon climbs through blackout branches. I'm in malaria-med delirium, Lariam waking dream. Leaves on those branches are thin blades. The night birds cluster them together with twigs, craft them into messy nests up there. The night birds sing louder as moonlight opens wide. The night bird songs are a rain of blades, slippery sharp waves; descending, singing staccato knives that blot out all but sleep.
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