Best time to visit:
In a word:
Neh-àh-dèh-gbòhng? (how is it going?)
Mandatory vaccination: yellow fever; anti-malarial prophylaxis is recommended.
Spend a night in the huts on the stilt houses of Ganviè admiring the daily lake life; Attending a voodoo witchcraft ritual in a village of Abomey; Visit what remains of the splendid buildings of the Dahomey Empire
In this unforgettable adventure we rented a van with a driver in Accra and traveled all the way Ghana from south to north up to Benin through the small Togo.
Visiting these countries it is possible to have an almost complete picture of these lands so far from us: the nature of tropical forests, the wonderful beaches still guarded by colonial fortresses, the tribal village ceremonies with the sorcerers who still practice the ancestral voodoo rites with impressive fetishes, a lived experience trying to establish a more direct relationship with the inhabitants.
Flying with the Royal Air Maroc we had the chance to take on two baggage of 20 kg each; the right occasion to bring with us help for the various orphanages that we will visit along our journey: medicines, games, educational material, dressed up to a water pump in a van requested by a missionary in Djougou, Benin. It will not be an easy journey, we will find ourselves sleeping in the most disparate places, from the benches of a church of Carmelite nuns to the huts on stilts; we will be stopped dozens of times from makeshift checkpoints by corrupt police officers looking for bribes but we will be able to say, at the end of this experience in West Africa, to have received more than we have offered. The smiles of the children of the orphanages, their innocent questions, their looks will fill our hearts forever.
Get on board with us: here we go!
Arriving in the north of the country we head directly to the mission led by the jovial Father Brice with whom I had made arrangements from Italy ... I expect a lot from this meeting.
He spent 3 years in Padua, speaks excellent Italian and coordinates, among other things, an orphanage near Djougou.
We soon visit the museum curated by Zoumarou Alassane which prepares us for a visit to the Taneka villages.
We climb on dusty and red streets ... the first children with big eyes, dressed in rags and with a swollen belly ... we distribute games and stuffed animals ... they jump mad with joy.
We are suddenly projected into a new dimension and received by one of the three Taneka kings who, from an old wooden chair, gives us his blessing ... then the king of another tribe, then another one.
This ethnicity of another world strikes me deeply, I cannot believe that there are people who still live so primitively today; they live in mud and straw huts, millet and have no idea what the world is outside of Copargo.
We are enchanted to wander among the huts, in that peace broken only by the festive cries of the children who play with the balloons we have brought.
At last today we go to visit Father Brice's orphanage in Tchoutchou. We are greeted by all the children, about fifty singing a welcome song ... a beautifully made-up girl welcomes us pouring a bowl of water on the ground in front of us ... the water, the most precious thing for them, used to pay homage to the guests important.
Sitting in their midst, on the benches, we listen and answer their questions: "what job do you do?" "How is the flag of Italy?" ... we soften when they ask us "what neighborhood are you from?"
We deliver some gifts, clothes and the famous van water pump that they had requested from Italy.
We leave the orphanage even if a piece of our heart remains there ...
We return to our mission in Djougou.
This is the time of the Women's Day and here we all celebrate together, cooking, eating, resting under the shadow of the mango trees and then gathering in the courtyard and discussing the condition of the woman.
We immerse ourselves in their culinary world, we are enveloped by their colors so bright that they shine in the sun ... their smiles light up all around.
As soon as I woke up I went to see in the big courtyard if the activity of the women of last night continued ... but instead of the beer of the festivities just passed, now the pots and pans were full of oil to fry pancakes ... very inviting! I delight to observe their daily life and what strength they emanate!
We leave the mission and greet Father Brice and his sweet face.
We set off towards Abomey (300 km in about 6 hours) and arrive in a very nice little hotel where masks are hung on each tree.
The rooms lack light and water ... but we are in Africa and that's okay ...
We are going to attend a voodoo ritual but first we have to buy a bottle of gin for the "sorcerer" (which has 12 wives, 50 sons of whom died) ... this mysterious man invites us into a small room where, on the ground, we find the classic fetishes made up of a wooden head, a hen and a bowl with pieces of goat and albino blood.
The king dips his finger in this compound, tastes it twice and then spreads a little on his navel; after drinking 3 sips of gin and spitting it on wooden statuettes, he begins to recite a series of rituals to invoke the "thunder god" and continues outside the room in a sort of courtyard with other voodoo fetishes ...
In another room he decides to do a ritual of good luck with circles drawn on the ground, dust to blow, shells to tighten and phrases to be repeated over and over again ...
The road between Abomey and Abomey-Calavi is quite tortuous ... a continuous zig-zag to avoid the carcasses of the many rusty trucks left there to rot for years, there where the engine drew the last sigh.
Abomey before leaving we can visit the fetish market ... creepy! Animals of all types and sizes left to dry or ready for sacrifice ...
Mice, dogs, cats, crocodiles, monkeys, owls, chameleons, hawks, parrots ... even a deer ... what an extravagant place. The smells are very strong, what a strange world ...
Once in Calavi we board a lance that slowly leads us to Ganviè ... a magical place ...
The sun has just set, small boats driven by noisy children line up to fill various cans with water from the only dispenser in the village ... the queue is very long but life is slow and quiet here!
Ganviè is a surreal place!
We will sleep on piles with little light and poor water ... we are happy!
We return with the spear to the mainland ... what a sight to sail in the morning on this lake ... the pirogues loaded with fruit and vegetables guided by women with at least one baby on their back; boats with children at their head that have had a maximum of 4 direct years who knows where; another boat full of schoolchildren, fishermen who unload their nets and immediately ready to retry a launch.
Ouidah, we will stay here tonight at the Maison de la Joie, a structure designed by an Italian lay person to help and give a future to the most unfortunate kids in the area. Great project!
We leave the backpacks and set off for the 4 km long city beach, high waves and strong currents while a group of cows guided by a peul, the nomadic herdsman of the place, listlessly grazes on the shoreline ...
We arrive at the Temple of the Pythons and after the explanation of the sacred tree we know better these sacred reptiles. They tell us that every night the pythons are released about three o'clock to get food and a couple of hours later they go back to the temple ... but it often happens that some families find themselves an unwanted guest at home ... no problem ... just bring them back to the temple!
We return to the Maison de la joie where we spend a wonderful evening.
I follow the call of children who studied, read, wrote on the blackboard on the wall, others bathed in a basin ...
As soon as I got out they made me write my name on a small blackboard and everyone came to read it and introduce themselves. The children hugged me tightly as they embrace friends who haven't seen each other for a long time, how much warmth, how much beauty!
Sitting next to them I watched them reading the same page in French aloud aloud ... I was sitting there, watching them, I felt part of them even though I had known them for 10 minutes ...
Meanwhile the two women were cooking cassava; first they cut the tuber into small pieces, then they boiled it and finally racked it all into the large "mortar" and, with strokes of "sticks", first one and then the other reduced the mixture to a sort of polenta.
We leave Ouidah and head towards the border.
Customs formalities are very slow, a couple of hours to write down the names, surnames, passport data ...
We salute Benin among the usual chaos of African borders!
Thank you Africa because every time you welcome me you make me feel full, you make me feel good just like your red earth and your big sky can do it!