(the way home)
I enjoyed Benin so much that I stretched my stay an extra two days, cutting everything else from my itinerary. Instead of using them to go somewhere far, I chose to hang out — at the beach, at the badminton court, at Miguelle’s house, at my hostel with Firmin and Clementine.
With my French finally at a basic conversational level, it was all the more refreshing to get to know people better… tragically, just as I was about to leave. We coached Kesley through her interviews for a volunteer opportunity in Canada. Aubin and I exchanged music and learning materials related to informatics. Maman and her gang at the shop gossiped some more, teased me about potentially dating African women, while I dished right back to them. Lots of time killed on Youtube, huddled around a smartphone. I played a bit more badminton… and at least scored a single point. Watched a few telenovelas with Clementine and her family, then received a few bags of peanuts and tapioca flour to bring to her brother in Boston. I was killing time and enjoying company. I felt like I could stay… I really didn’t want to leave.
Abomey and Porto-Novo, Benin
Kesley pointed at the neighbour’s door excitedly. Before we had any chance to walk more than two steps out of our hostel, a set of 8 dots caught her eye. She called Miguelle and told her we’d be an hour late.
Next thing I knew, the two of us crammed ourselves and our stuff on the back of our hostel owner’s motorcycle, heading towards… somewhere. The 8 dots on the door meant there was a Fa priest inside. When Kesley asked the hostel owner, he mentioned that his brother was one, and that he could take us there instead.
Knowing that I had absolutely no idea what they were talking about, they gave me an example. A former president of Brazil, before becoming president, was in Benin and went to see a priest. The priest was able to divine his future, but told him that there were many evil forces acting in his life that were preventing him from his potential. Afraid, the future president gave some money to the priest to perform the rituals and sacrifices necessary (in this case, buying 8 goats and simply releasing them), and followed all instructions related to dietary restrictions. Few years later, this guy becomes the president of Brazil. Believe it or not?
Kesley did, certainly. She knew that there were people out there channeling evil energy towards her, she just needed to get rid of it. So it was decided!
Another day, another trip on the backseat, another badminton errand to run. It was a long ride from Cotonou to Lokossa, back on the dusty construction-filled road towards Lomé, needing multiple literally-on-the-road stops to fill up on gasoline. (Gas stations are few to none; vendors sell gasoline in bottles on the side of the road, imported illegally from neighbouring Nigeria.) Traffic is anything-goes: separated local traffic lanes (like “collectors lanes” on the 401 in Toronto) run adjacent to the fast lanes in the middle, but with the roads frequently blocked due to construction, everyone just ends up driving anywhere on the dirt, on sand, through fields…whatever means necessary to get to the next surfaced road. Motorbike traffic u-turns at will, driving up and over a median to go to the side of opposite traffic. Chaos, but it seems to work better than Ghana.
The night before and all through the morning, before heading on the road Aubin and Miguelle’s mom were warning me about “la poussière”. Didn’t know what that meant until I was covered in a layer of it, skin turned ashen grey, nasal passages burning. I let Aubin keep the helmet he brought to protect me from it — he was driving, he needed it more.
Cotonou and Ganvié, Benin
After 3.5 hours of waiting in Lomé for a taxi to fill up, I was finally en route to Cotonou. Never mind the fact that I was the first passenger in the car because the taxi driver pretended to be a passenger for an hour before he revealed himself as the driver. Never mind the excruciatingly upbeat and… morally questionable, non-sequitur Christian music he played for at least an hour ad nauseum — something along the lines of “You are stressed from work or exams? In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, I command you to be free!” *canned cheering* “You are gay or suffering from sexual immorality? In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, I command you to be free!” *canned cheering* (How do you go from exams to that?!) Never mind the chaotic border crossing, the bad and very dusty roads, and the fact that it took another 3.5 hours to get there. None of that was the problem. (At least this taxi wasn’t overfilled. It was comfortable, for once.)
The problem was one I knew would happen, but there wasn’t anything I could do about it anyway.
Kpalimé and Lomé, Togo
Ghana clearly didn’t want me to leave. Hey, I was even tempted to stay.
The distance between Hohoe and Kpalimé is not far, maybe about 1.5 to 2 hours tops by vehicle. Naturally, this would be a route with plenty of travellers, right? Nah. After sitting in the parking lot, in the only tro-tro going to Kpalimé, under the hot sun for 2 hours, we were still missing our last passenger. I decided to buy the last seat just to speed things up. It got me a bit of goodwill from the other passengers, but also what seemed like a little derision for my impatience. Hey, at least that means everyone has a teeny bit more leg room, right? Nah.
So then we’re off! Well, the tro-tro driver’s gotta tie all the tags up top and tighten the screws on the wheels first. Sure, just a couple minutes more, no big deal. Off we go on a bumpy unpaved road! Oh, whoops, gotta fill up on gasoline too with the world’s slowest automatic pump. Okay, now we’re really going…30 km/h!
About thirty minutes in, we hit a particularly large pothole. THUD! Oh, false alarm. Wait… THUNK!
Tafi Atome and Hohoe, Ghana
I readily admit to burning out. At Mole National Park, I stressed over my next destination: northern Togo? Transport was possible to Kara, but to Natitingou, Benin from there? Having to negotiate everything in French? Not knowing how frequent (or rather, how commonly people take the route, given how vehicles only leave when full unless you charter the whole thing) transport leaves and whether I’d be stranded? The possibility that I would have to arrange my own costly private transport? It turned me into a little ball of stress.
Mole National Park, Ghana
It took two miserable days of travel to get to Mole: an 8 hour bus ride from Kumasi to Tamale arriving at 5:30 pm, a 4 am wake-up call to buy a Tamale-Mole ticket at the station after every local I encountered told me they’d sell out (they didn’t, and the bus wasn’t full), and a 2 pm departure that ended up being at 5:45 instead, on the dustiest road known to man in a bus with open windows. At least Jessica, Felix (both rejoining me direct from Accra), and I entertained ourselves during the long wait for the bus by chatting with children (after school, selling sachets of water, ginger, toothpaste, candy… anything their parents sold) who taught us some words in Dagbani and Twi. My poor attempts certainly got the other locals laughing. At least know I know how to say things like “good afternoon” (Dagbani: antsere), “what is your name” (ayuli), “ginger” (kakadro), and “is your mother in the house?” (Twi: u maame wo fie?) And of course, “thank you” (Dagbani: nan desugu, Twi: medaase), which always brought pleasantly surprised responses without fail whenever I used it.
We arrived in Mole around 10 pm, sweaty and covered in red dust. We all looked like we changed ethnicities and dyed our hair. All of this trouble is definitely worth it.