– Sophie Shiznit Njenga
About 2 weeks having been in Kenya, I found myself sited in Nairobi traffic with my mind wondering back to the good ol’ days: My Benin Days.
Yes, I have been quite lucky to have seen a bit of the world, but no place has left an impression as interesting as Benin. In my opinion, Benin is not the classic type of tourist destination. I think you should visit Benin because of the culture shock that will literally slap you across the face. You could take a 10mins walk down the street and by the time you get home, you have a Cheshire smile smack across your face; you are beyond fascinated. So let me hit you with some these discoveries that I made and hopefully inspire you to hop on the next flight to Benin like yesterday.
Benin is a small country (whoop whoop! No traffic). About 10million inhabitants in total (roughly the size of my capital city alone). She is found right in the middle of Togo (to the left) and Nigeria (to the right). The fact that she is situated next to Nigeria is like she is constantly standing next to the star-child of the family. You know, overshadowed.
Let give you a few examples that led me to this conclusion. If you are searching for something e.g. events coming up, it’s easier to write on Google ‘Events coming up in the Republic of Benin’ because if you don’t, often you get results to do with ‘Benin city’, a place in Nigeria. When I moved to Benin, many people would ask me (after pleasantries and all that) ‘Oh Benin? Where is that?’ And after noting that stating ‘In West Africa’ wasn’t helping much, I resorted to saying ‘Near Nigeria’, which was better understood. Though Nigeria is an English speaking country, Benin is a French speaking country. This is because while Nigeria was colonised by the British, Benin was colonised by the home of the French language, aka France. So if you find yourself in Benin and you don’t speak the language, you best know the basics at least… else your struggle will be beyond real because the next available language to communicate with is Fongbe, their most widely spoken local language aka (Lol) GOOD LUCK.
The country’s backbone is its ports. It is cheaper to import/export your things in their port as compared to e.g. big sister next door Nigeria. Most merchandise comes in in Benin, and is sent off to Nigeria and other countries by road for various businesses. This is apparently why there are many Lebanese in the Benin. Yap, this surprised me as well. They have been in the country long enough for some of their culture to sip in. For example, Shawarma, a common Arab dish, is a now a common popular meal or snack to eat on the go in Benin. Shisha bongs are easily found in their clubs or right off the shelves in their supermarkets. So interesting seeing how culture is shaped.
I know by this point your eyes are the widest they’ve ever been. Yes culture shock does that to people. If you think this is fascinating, next week’s article will blow your mind. Hint : Voodo is the ‘new’ norm.