Filed Under (Beninese culture, General) by Rob on 08-09-2006

Last night, I went to pick up our Landrover from Martin, our Beninese mechanic, who’s been doing a spot of work on the bodywork. His garage is a couple of miles away, so the only way to get there is by zemidjan. Now, on the few occasions I have to prendre zem, I prefer to find one with a motorbike, rather than a moped. About 90% of zemidjans are Yamaha Mate50 or Mate90, but some fortunate zem drivers have actual motorbikes (usually of Chinese origin). The reason I prefer them is that the seat and suspension are much more comfortable and, 9 times out of 10, the driver is a bit more mature and sensible. Alas, this was clearly the 10th time, as my driver was a tad on the crazy side, (unless you think 2 feet is a reasonable stopping distance at 40km/h !!!) Still, it does wonders for ones prayer life…

To get to the garage, we have to go round the infamous Etoile Rouge roundabout, the largest in the city, with a huge red star (only recognizable from above) in the centre (a throwback to Benin’s communist era). Well, going round it in a car is bad enough, but on two wheels you really end up fearing for the welfare of your legs! (If you’ve ever driven round the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, then you’ll have a bit of an idea of what I’m talking about!)

We eventually make it to the Vons Cyclone, which – roughly translated – means ‘Cyclone Street.’ (The noun ‘La VONS’ is specific to Benin and stands for Voie d’Orientation Nord-Sud, although this one goes from East to West!) Martin has done a fab job on the car, welding new bits of metal into two areas where there were holes or damage and respraying them, as well as a few other odd jobs. I ask him for the bill and he says “C’est 15,000 francs” which is £15 !!! How cheap is that??? I offer him £30 and he accepts £20.

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