Ganni, Career Day, and More

Trip Start Jun 02, 2003
Trip End Dec 31, 2006

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Flag of Benin  ,
Friday, May 21, 2004

About four weeks ago I climbed into an SUV and with Abib, a fellow professor, Deng, a Chinese PhD candidate, and some other folks from N'Dali and headed down the dusty road that runs past my house.

Destination: Nikki.

We were headed to the Ganni festival in hopes of being wowed by glorious horse races and the best traditional dancers in Benin. After rolling into town, we made our way over to the grounds in front of the King of the Baribas' palace. On our way there, we passed Fulani and Bariba decked out in their finest: bright headscarves, silver bangles, and elaborate make-up. Horses wearing colorful trains down their backsides and pom poms on their bridles raced by us carrying princes and kings in cascading white robes and turbans or funny hats.

We fought through the crowds and took our place in the special seats reserved for volunteers and people who work for NGOs (basically all foreigners and some Beninese) and waited for the procession to begin. The horses came racing in bearing Kings and Princes from throughout Benin (and even some from Nigeria). Just in front of the palace, musicians banged gigantic drums reserved for special occasions; others blew long, thin, brass trumpets. The music was very interesting, distinctive. The riders waited around for their opportunity to present gifts to the king. The sun was hot, and the riders suffered in their elaborate garb. Tradition holds that none of them are allowed to drink or eat anything until the end of the ceremonies. Some of the riders looked like they might have been 90 years old. Not an easy feat.

That evening Abib, Deng, and the others headed back to N'Dali. I stayed on in hopes of seeing more of the festival. The next day I went with a bunch of volunteers to see the horse races. We stood on a precarious stone wall to see over the crowds and watch as young men riding bareback galloped down the dirt road in hopes of being declared a winner. They whipped their horses along with wiry tree branches with one hand and grabbed hold of reins made out of either rope or torn material with the other. Quite exciting.

Unfortunately, I did not see any traditional dancing this year. Apparently, there were quite a few problems in the planning of this year's Ganni, so the festival wasn't as exciting as in years past. It was still interesting to see though. Ganni, by the way, is a festival for the Bariba ethnic group. It celebrates (hopefully, I will get this right) the Baribas defeat of the colonizers way back when. During the festival, the kings also pay their respects at seven sacred sites around Nikki.

After Ganni, school continued. Exams and various events were pushed back at CEG N'Dali this year due to a gigantic storm that passed through town. The wind was so strong that it blew the roof off of a couple of classrooms. The students were inside at the time (I was in the Director's office), and three students were injured when the beams for the roof fell down into the classroom. Luckily, no one was too seriously hurt, but it was quite a scare. Also, the school had to scrape together enough funds to replace the roof before we could have our exams.

In more positive school news, Cecile and I held a Career Day at school. The day was geared more towards the girls, though, of course, everyone was invited. We had invited a few professional women - ex. a journalist, a dentist, an accountant, a midwife - from Parakou and N'Dali to come answer students' questions. We invited women in particular to show the girls that they did have some options in life beyond working in the field and having babies at the age of 15. The Girls Club also performed a skit that was a huge success, though a bit controversial; a few people were not happy with us. Can't please everyone. The skit was about students who have leadership roles at the school (if you can imagine school prefects and hall monitors) sexually harrassing girls and/or punishing them for not becoming their girlfriends. In general, though, it was a successful day. The women who came were wonderful with the students, and some of the professors really pitched in and helped Cecile and I out.

In a couple of weeks, school will be over. During the summer, I will hopefully be working on a Moringa tree project with Jenny, a volunteer from Bemberecke, in addition to Camp GLOW. I am excited for the break.
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