Alice Goes to the Dentist, Bikes, and Celebrates Voodoo
There’s something ignoble about suffering a sinus infection in Africa. Regardless, I picked one up last weekend that lingered throughout the week, tingeing everything with a very down the rabbit hole type feeling. And I guess when it comes down to it, some of our Peace Corps exploits would fit right in with a children’s adventure plot.
For example, this past Sunday, I spent a portion of my day watching teeth being pulled, the process aided only by surface anesthetics. Mama Christine, the directrice of the clinic, had sweet talked a dentist into giving free consultations at the NGO headquarters and second clinic located in the much larger, nearby city of Calavi. After an obligatory bit of watching, I politely bowed out to mingle with waiting patients and catch up with the headquarter staff. They laughed at me, as usual, for being scared at the sight of blood –a slightly false impression but somehow I cannot convince them that it’s just a dislike of seeing people in pain while knowing that my voyeurism can do nothing to help.
I used the excuse of that weekend working and the lingering cold to take it slow Monday, that is until the biking crew showed up. A group of my fellow volunteers are in the process of biking across Benin – from the North down the west of the country and then turning around to do the other side back up. I know Benin is a small country, but I’m still impressed especially as I think they are clocking somewhere between 80 and 120 kilometers per day. When they arrived, we had our own style of Mad Hatter Tea – bean tacos with various salsas and a pineapple upside down cake courtesy of the 13 pineapples they were gifted along the way: what can I say – I live in pineapple country and Beninese tend to take hospitality seriously.
I joined in their trek for a bit on Tuesday, helping them cross my nearby river by canoe and biking partially across the peninsula. They continued the rest of the day, finally reaching the other side and taking another canoe to arrive north of Porto Novo. It was not the smoothest ride – the lack of anything other than foot traffic ensured only single file paths through the fields, while the area’s seasonal flooding ruined any of those existing routes. Nonetheless, it was a gorgeous stretch – fields without interruption, no buildings and only the occasional famer passing through. Our string of white bikers, needless to say, created quite a sensation for the few people we did pass. I’m just happy that my Fon stretches enough to explain and to ask for directions as we had definitely entered a territory where very few of the villagers spoke French. A wonderland indeed.
Last but not least, this pas Thursday was Voodoo Day – an official holiday in Benin to celebrate indigenous religions. I did not do much to celebrate as our ceremonies started late, slipping into evening hours when I’m usually already tucked in my house. Still, in my mind, I like to think of those fetishes as the Beninese versions of the chesire cat. After all, with all that, Lewis Carroll himself would be well pleased.