October 8, 2012
All Beninese parties (or at least those of my limited experience) seem to follow the same pattern. Take for example this past Sunday when I accompanied my neighbors to a party I think was held in honor of an engagement. Regardless, some event occurs – wedding, funeral, promotion, etc. – giving the family an excuse to celebrate and to show their friends and neighbors how well off they are.
Small groups of said friends and neighbors arrive, dressed to the nines in their best boombas or models. They greet the hosts, but generally stick with the clusters in which they arrived, making use of the scattered plastic chairs and tables rented for the occasion. In a similar, staggered fashion, each group is served the first course of the fete food – fancier Beninese dishes again designed to show off the host’s resources. Yesterday’s menu included ablo (steamed rice based cakes), jus (sautéed onions and tomatoes), and some chunk of some sort of poultry. Each guest likewise receives their own bottled beverage with offerings of assorted beers or soda. This always leaves me at a slight disadvantage as I’m not a fan of carbonation. My hosts will accept my rejection of beer, but my stilted attempts at explaining – je n’aime pas les boules dans la boisson - only receive a confused smile and the offering of a Fanta or some other variety of fizzy juice cocktail instead of a more generic sprite or coke. I, in turn, return a slightly pained smile of my own and drink the thing for the sake of politeness and integration, well at least until I can find a petit to pawn the thing off on.
After some time for sitting, digesting, and further salutations and congratulations to the hosts, a second complete course appears, again with its choice of carbonated beverages. In Sunday’s case, this consisted of fete rice (rice mixed with carrots, cabbage, and spices) and fish. Throughout it all, music is a constant complete with several (again rented) speakers and a DJ who randomly makes comments or shout outs in the middle of all songs.
Then, when your group is done leaving, you are free to go, happy and well fed. Before you go though, and at some point throughout the celebration, it’s also polite to give a small sum of money to the hosts, a gesture to help offset the expenses of the event. Again – not something I think I’ll ever successfully pull off myself, but it’s still a fun way to spend a weekend afternoon.