Monday, January 24, 2011

Double, double toil and trouble, fire burn, and cauldron bubble

We met our favorite border bureaucrat while crossing into Benin. After we filled out the immigration forms, he carefully went over every single answer with us; double-checking certain entries against our passport, asking us questions, and each time he came to a number seven he’d verify that we meant seven and then add one of those small horizontal lines to each one. As it slowly dawned on him that we hadn’t included these on any of our sevens, he increasingly cast sideways glances at us as he corrected each one. His look said something like, “You think you are so smart, but you don’t even know how to write the number seven. I laugh at you and your inferior Western ways.”  Haha.

Benin is only a sliver of a country, but it’s full of charm and history. Ouidah, a small town about an hour outside of the capital, is considered the birthplace of voodoo and we made it there in time for their annual voodoo festival. Given the vulture skulls and rotting bat carcasses found in voodoo fetish markets throughout West Africa, the festival was surprisingly tame: cool outfits, presidential speech, etc. The voodoo priests shambling through the streets wearing layered robes and mittens with their faces covered by thick-woven veils were one of the most interesting sights. When we gave one a 100 franc donation he waved his stick of power at us in annoyance and uttered something. Luckily we still don’t understand French (or believe in voodoo) or we might have been disturbed by whatever he had to say. Gauging by the dire looks on other people’s faces, however, as they spoke to the priest (or rather to the plaster head on his kneeling back) they believed every word he said.

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