Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Porto Novo, Republic of Benin

There are no two places more divergent in architecture and economy than the cities of Porto Novo and Cotonou of the Republic of Benin.

While I was in Nigeria in May, I went to the Republic of Benin. Why? Because it is so close geographically. It is bordered by Nigeria to the east and a trip from the heart of Lagos into the Seme Border will take you just about two hours by car. Also, my dad wanted to visit a few of his friends so I tagged along for the free ride, free food and ...well, free everything.

When we got to the border, I wanted to take pictures but as is typical of many African states, there were fierce looking border patrol people in khaki-like uniforms, that I dared not act the tourist. Truth be told, the best bet in a place like that was to act as inconspicuous as possible and in a grey and black dress with cream-colored cropped cardigan, I blended quite well into the dusty air and grey clouds. Although the border is notoriously known for "unofficial transports", it is still well guarded and required a passport and/or student ID (if you are a student with a guardian present).

My first impression of Porto Novo were the adjectives, brown and dusty. After leaving the sweaty border behind, We rode along the very quiet and unpopulated villages until we got into Porto Novo. Porto Novo is the official capital of the Republic of Benin, however, it did not look like a capital, economically nor by architectural standards (when compared to Cotonou). Porto Novo has a relaxed and cultural atmosphere.

On the road to Porto Novo 
Cows on a small hill!

Our host family were very warm and inviting, most of them spoke French, Yoruba and English quite well and so communication was not much of a problem. I met a young lady who is a polyglot. She is just about 16 years and speak at least 5 languages fluently (or close to fluently). She speaks English, French, Yoruba,and is learning German and Spanish in school. Impressive!

My room was bare and cool, a refreshing sight from the stuffy, humid air outside. There was also some very traditional attire waiting on the bed for me. I assumeed it was customary, however, I politely declined wearing them. Although I am not exactly mysophobic (more commonly known as germophobic), I do have a fear of contamination, but not of germs. If that makes sense (⊙_◎)?

traditional clothes (center) left for me on the bed, next to my "normal" attire (left). 

Our host graciously took us around the city, describing the various sites and buildings of importance. And although it was 7pm, it was still light out and the city was vibrant with people buying selling or simply going home after a day's work.

The next day, we were invited to service. I had a plain simple skirt and a blouse which I thought was presentable. But our hostess took one look at me and went fishing for one of her daughter's traditional dresses. I definitely could not refuse this time, as she insisted that they would look so much better than my so-called "everyday clothes".  And so, I bravely wore a more conserved, traditional dress to service that morning.



After the service, we got ready to leave Porto Novo. We said goodbye, o dabo and au revoir to our host family and said hello, bawo ni and bonjour to our new host as we headed into Cotonou. Porto Novo has a village, community-based vibe,  it has a rich culture, with very open-minded and welcoming citizens. I'm glad I got to experience it.

Back in my normal clothes and loving it!
A very nice statue on our way out of Porto Novo.

2 comments:

  1. Excellent post i am very cool to read this and thinking about more on this blog well its very appreiciate able and knowledge able.
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  2. The first material ever read on Benin Republic. Quite involving piece. I like those cows on a small hill and the simple environmental settings . Feel like undertaking my own trip there.

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