Alive in Africa

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

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Flag of Benin  ,
Saturday, January 15, 2005

On the way from N'Dali to Parakou yesterday, I had a small awakening. I don't know if it is worth talking about, but I am going to anyway. So, forgive me for the following philisophical/lessons you probably already know crap.

Two of my friends, a nurse and a midwife, and I finally found a taxi with enough space for the three of us, and we prepared to put out bags in the trunk. No such luck...trunk's full of bleating goats. We would have to carry them on our laps. The chauffeur opened the door, and just as I was about to climb in, I noticed another goat on the floor of the car. What?! We piled in anyway, and I arranged my feet and legs around this animal that was calmly sitting on the floorboard. He was a lucky one; the other goats could be heard crying like battery-operated baby dolls in the back. Waaaaa! Waaaaa! My two friends climbed in beside me, and then an old, thick-and-wrinkly-skinned Bariba woman shoved herself in on my other side, crunched my hip, imprisoned my arms, and proceeded to scream at me in Bariba. I think she was trying to marry me off to the chauffeur (who later in the trip said she wasn't all there mentally). I sighed and closed my eyes, taking in the heat, the stench of goat mixed with exhaust, and tried to settle in for the ride. I wished I had had an arm free enough to pull out my book so that I could try to tune out of this experience.

Not too far down the road we stopped for God-only-knows what reason. I wasn't the only one sighing at this point. All of us in the car, except for the old woman and the chauffeur, it seemed, were annoyed by the smell, the heat, and the unplanned stop. The woman got out for a minute to check something (the goats?), and I reached over to roll down the window. The heat and the smell was beginning to make me a little sick to my stomach. Unfortunately, a rooster was hanging down over the window, so I had to shut it. The woman stuffed herself back into the car and said a few comments about the "Bature" and her husband, the chauffeur, and we commenced our journey down the potholed road. Once again, I tried to get as comfortable as I could and tune out.

Flashforward ten minutes. We drove into a town. The wrinkly woman adjusted her voluminous headscarf and indicated a place for the chauffeur to stop. It was a mosque. It was ten minutes before the 14:00 prayer was supposed to start, and the chauffeur and the woman, along with the several other dozens of folks kneeling on the prayer mats, wanted to get a headstart with Allah, I supposed. They hopped out, and the chauffeur mentioned that we would be stopped for five minutes for prayer. The rest of us non-Muslims sat in the hot car and continued breathing in the not-so-refreshing odor of goat, roosters, exhaust and sweat. One man, who shared his front seat with another woman, angrily opened the door and got out, pacing behind the car. He was frustrated, and when the chauffeur got back, the man let him have it ("You could have at least politely made your excuses and told us you were going to stop when we were on the road!!"). Back in the car again, the man and the chauffeur hollered at one another in French. The man and my nurse friend yelled at each other in Fon. The Bariba woman screamed Allah-knows-what in Bariba. And I, where was I in all of this? I desparately had an urge to cover my ears, but couldn't because of them being smooshed between two women. Eventually, I found myself yelling as well (in French, for those who care) for everyone just Leave It! After about 10 minutes, there was a tense quiet.

I turned to look at my friend Colette, and I laughed. Unfortunately, she didn't quite laugh with me. I continued laughing inside and thought, Wow. Guess I can't tune out this ride. Then, I thought, that man in the front seat probably wishes he could have gotten out to pray like it was no problem, just to take a break from the stench and the bleats of the goats and to ignore the travails of travel for a few minutes to be with God, but his religion doesn't prescribe five prayers a day. Then, I thought about how we don't have to get out of the uncomfortable car to be present where we are, yet so many of us often do. We go to yoga classes. We exercise or meditate. We journal. We do so much to be present, to live in the moment, and then, we say, I've done my duty for today. And we so often tune out, which is fine to do every once in a while. But do we conciously or unconciously tune out? I certainly want to tune out sometimes, as I did when I first got into the taxi. But, what I learned in this taxi is that sometimes the most uncomfortable situations can make me feel the most alive and that it all depends on how I look at it. Once I was able to laugh at the whole thing, I actually kind of appreciated it. All of it. The pain in the left side of my back. The goat at my feet beginning to move around and bump the back of my legs. The rooster's head hanging down outside the window. The "Waa"s and thumps of the goats in the trunk. The Bariba woman constantly elbowing me while adjusting her headscarves. The feeling of the taxi scraping bottom as we went over another pothole. (Appreciate doesn't mean the same thing as enjoy, though! I wouldn't go that far!)

I felt very connected to everyone participating in this taxi ride. We were all in this together, this stuffy, stinky voyage from N'Dali to Parakou. We were all alive journeying in Benin, West Africa, somewhere between N'Dali and Parakou, and tuning out of that particular journey was pretty difficult.

Now that I have sufficiently bored you all, I am going to rush out of the internet cafe and sweep out the paillote so that I can meet my friend Ibourahima for our yoga session. Hee hee. At least yoga can help work out some of the kinks in my back from that taxi ride.

My next travelpod will feature some more travel-y type stories about elephants, voodoo holidays, and other such wonders. Stay tuned!
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