Archive for October, 2007

Filed Under (General) by Rob on 27-10-2007


It’s 2CV time again soon! Today, the next fleet of Citroën Deux Chevaux leave Brussels for another epic trans-saharan Touareg Trail to Benin.

Here are some more of the cars that made the trip last year:

(click to enlarge)

Sugar Free 2CV!
(click to enlarge).

At the moment this post goes on the blog, the launch will be taking place in Brussels (10:30am today) with the departure scheduled for midday. Read about it here and watch this space in a few weeks to see photos of their arrival.

The BBC recently put this article on their site, which praises the low emissions of the Deux Chevaux and cites it as a great car for London driving. I’ve been a big fan from a young age, but have never owned one yet (maybe I’ll wait till I have my mid-life crisis in my 40’s, then get one!!!) Incidentally, the first ever post on this blog, was of a 2CV, posted by Reggie.

If you’re interested in buying a 2CV, then the 2CV centre – bizarrely in Frome, Somerset – is the best place to get your tin duck these days! Also, Francophones, check out this cool 2CV site. Here are a couple more pics:

Cool combi!
(click to enlarge)

Nice blue one!
(click to enlarge. More photos in my 2CV gallery).)

Finally, if you click on nothing else, read this article from the New York Times (listed on the Touareg Trail site), which doesn’t mention 2CV’s but has some important and interesting stuff about Benin. It’s so well done, I’ve added it to my links on the RHS.

Thanks for reading. Please leave a comment if you can.

Filed Under (General) by Rob on 23-10-2007

This is by no means the first post on this subject!

Previous posts on the subject include: What’s it like having malaria?,Madelaine has malaria , What a sweet and sour time we’re having and Rob has malaria.

This is not surprising when you look at the map below, showing areas at risk from malaria. You’ll notice that Cotonou (far south of Benin, the broccoli-shaped country in West Africa) has a very high risk – hence the red dots!

(this photo from the World Health Organization site – click here and here to find out more)

Did you know that worldwide there are 300-500 million clinical cases malaria a year, 90% of which are in Africa. Malaria is endemic to more than 90 countries and causes between 1,500,000 and 3,000,000 deaths a year. (Found out at this great site).

So, what’s it like having malaria?

Well, it zaps about a week of your life away (and probably a few months at the end too, for all I know!) The secret is quick diagnosis and appropriate drugs. I’ve had the malaria blood test about 15 times in the past 3 years, but it’s only been positive about 4 times. Here’s my exciting week:

Tuesday: Wake up feeling like I’ve had a lousy nights’ sleep. No bother – it happens (especially in this climate).
Wednesday: Wake up again feeling weak and tired, even though I had an undisturbed night. Mmm – this is often a tell-tale sign for me that the big ‘M’ is on the way. I also notice I’m sweating a lot today, even though others around me aren’t…
Thursday: Wake up and can hardly stand up! Feel like I have the flu, only worse. Also feeling a bit shaky/shivery. Go for malaria blood test at 11:00am, positive result be 1:00pm. Start treatment on Co-Arinate, which is a mixture of Artesunate, Pyrimethamine and Sulfamethoxypyrazine – mmmmm, sounds tasty! Cancel trip to jazz club and some stuff planned tomorrow and sleep from about 3:00pm.
Friday: Sleep most of the day and take second dose of Co-Arinate. Getting up is an effort and I walk like an old man! Too tired to watch TV or use computer much and even reading is a strain on my brain, and when the kids get home their every sound is painful!
Saturday: I wake up and feel good for the first time! I have some energy and get up. However, this does not last and I’m exhausted by mid-morning. This is the point at which the Artesunate is making me feel better, but I’m not fully recovered. Also, the effects of the other drugs soon make me feel lousy too! I take my final does of Co-Arinate and sleep for most of the afternoon, then make it out for a friend’s birthday meal in the evening, but am decidedly ‘spaced out’.
Sunday: Get up and feel a bit better, but still only on about 50% energy. Sleep all afternoon and also have a splitting headache most of the day, so survive on Paracetamol, Ibuprofen etc. The inside of my mouth feels sore tastes almost metallic – don’t know why. Around 7:00pm I go out for a short walk, as it’s cooler out now and not quite dark. I feel better for the exercise, but and shattered afterwards. I go to sleep with a headache and more Paracetamol (that’s acetaminophen for our trans-Atlantic cousins).
Monday: Wake up with headache and aching neck. I remember now, I always get aches and pains for about a week after malaria. Not sure why. Still taking it easy and feeling better every day.

Now try this MALARIA QUIZ , which is not the same as the quiz previously posted on the blog (that one, it would seem, is defunct).

That’s all folks!

Filed Under (General) by Rob on 21-10-2007

The month of October is probably my least favourite climate-wise.

Firstly, the temperature is fairly warm:

(NB That’s not Fahrenheit!!)

Now there are warmer times of the year than this, but because of the combination of sunshine and rainfall, then the humidity is very high – between 70% and 90%!!


You see, March and February are unbearably hot, but there’s no rain, so the humidity is low. Then there’s June, when it rains almost more than the rest of the year put together. But it’s cooler then. October, however, is too warm and too humid:


(this graph from The Africa Guide, which has more info on Benin’s climate).

Click here to see the weather forecast in Benin for the next few days. Shouldn’t complain I guess, as it’s probably snowing back in Ol’ Blighty!

Other news…

*Rob is recovering from yet another bout of malaria and has been grateful for Facebook at this time!

*Ruth has also been selling flours to raise money for the poor and has so far raised 2,250cfa (= about £2.25 or $5.00)

*The kids are enjoying ‘The Sound of Music’.

*We went to a birthday curry last night, for our friend Brian.

*No definite visitors scheduled before our return next July – would you like to come out and see us??

Filed Under (General) by Rob on 17-10-2007


This is a rare occassion, I (Lois) got to travel and Rob got to stay home with the kids!
Now you know why I look so happy and relaxed!

Last Wednesday I and four other members of staff set off to Ghana for the conference of the Association of International Schools in Africa (AISA). Here we all are:

(I’m afraid just about all the photos I have of the conference are around the meal table!!)

Now Ghana is one of those places I have wanted to go to since I was in Cote d’Ivoire in 1992-1994. Accra, it has to be said, is not too much like Cotonou. We really did feel like the villagers come to the big city. Check it out by clicking here.
Unfortunately time was too short to get some good shopping in!

The conference was at a very nice hotel called La Palm Royal Beach Hotel:


There were 500 hundred teachers there from across Africa and it was a real joy and privilege to meet with people from so many different backgrounds. That said it did have that eerie feeling of many other teachers’ conferences I have been to. In many ways I could easily have been back at the IOE in London. Here is a picture taken immediately after lunch when our workshop leader very wisely got us making something so as to waylay that siesta feeling.


Unfortunately traveling is very rarely straightforward and on the way there we were delayed at the border for three hours (remember we have to cross the Togo border and the Ghana border. They are only 45 mins apart but border crossings can be very time consuming!). The air conditioning in the car also decided to pack up, I should add this was not our car this time! So we arrived late for the first day and felt very left out as all the other participants had already received there very nice goodie bags and we had to wait until the next day for ours. We also had to leave the conference a day early because of elections in Togo on the Sunday. We knew that the borders would close some time on the Saturday but had been unable to establish whether this would be midday, 6pm or midnight. Not wanting to risk it we left early Saturday morning.

That said we enjoyed some very good workshops between us. Mine were entitled; Schoolwide Enrichment, Teaching Methodologies and Improving the Hundred Chart…with Symbols and a Twist. Two out of the three were excellent which I guess ain’t bad!

Rob and the kids survived admirably without me and I was treated by a rendition of Doe a Deer when I got home (they had watched The Sound of Music two or three times in my absence!)

Filed Under (General) by Rob on 14-10-2007

One thing we miss living in West Africa is all the regional accents from around Britain. So this afternoon – just for fun – Rob made this video (with Madelaine’s help). I hope it is even slightly as much fun to watch as it was to make…

[youtube pdx3PP5XStc]

Other news…

*Lois got back from Ghana, with only hours to spare before the Togolese boarder was shut for elections!

*Back to school on Monday.

*The Land Rover was in dock again this week with an alternator problem.

*Lois has also joined Facebook now too.

*At the moment, we’re enjoying watching ‘House’ on TV (sent by a friend from England).

*Cotonou has puddles everywhere and is very humid at the moment.

Filed Under (General) by Rob on 10-10-2007

No, I’m not referring to the Lamb’s Book of Life (although I hope you’re in there too!) I’m talking about FACEBOOK

Rob succumbed when our American friend, Lauren, (here’s her blog) got set up and it’s such FUN!

Basically, you find friends (by generally perusing names or by looking at friends’ friends), then add them to your profile. Then you can send them messages, do quizzes or even throw a sheep at them! Being where we are, this is a FAB way to keep in touch with our worldwide friends. If you’re on Facebook, look me up and become my friend! A word of warning – this is seriously addictive, and I’m going to have to limit my time on it, especially as I have half a dozen local musicians and church leaders to interview in the next couple of weeks!

Other news…

* Lois is travelling to Ghana for a schools conference. Pray for a safe journey, especially as there are elections in Togo this Sunday.

* School is on an extremely early half term break this week (due to the aforementioned conference…)

* Rainy season persists and, even though it’s supposed to be the petite saison des pluies more rain is falling than in the big rainy season.

* Lois is planning on joining Facebook too – watch this space!

* There are roadworks in central Cotonou, which makes driving chaotic (what’s new??? Should I say even more chaotic than usual?!).
Actually, all this work will improve driving in town significantly, which is a good thing.

And finally…

Madelaine has been getting creative with Uno cards:


That’s all for now!

Filed Under (Beninese culture, Ethnomusicology, General) by Rob on 04-10-2007

Last week, Rob did a song-writing workshop and recorded many songs of the Ditammari people of northern Benin/Togo and made some interesting cultural discoveries…

First off, here are some musicians (and one intruder – can you spot him?!?) dressed in a traditional costume: a ‘hat’ with animal hair coming out of it (goat, monkey or horse, I’m told), sticks, beards and glasses(?!?) I’ve no idea why!


Day 1
The journey north was tricky as ever, but nothing out of the ordinary – I must have been up and down this road at least 12 times now, and this journey was a round trip of over 1,000 miles! The Land Rover did well most of the way, until I got to Natitingou, when the front right wheel started making an awful noise. Thankfully, there was a garage right there, so I pulled in. “I think it’s your wheel bearings, Monsieur,” says the garagiste “we’re unlikely to find any replacements in Natti, but probably in Kara.” Kara is in Togo, but only a couple of hours’ drive away. I leave the car and get a lift to a hotel in the town and crash.

Day 2
The only way to get to my destination of Boukoumbé in time for the workshop is on a motorbike taxi, so the hotel calls one and we’re on the road by 7:15am, with my travel bag and recording equipment on the front of the bike, just behind the handle bars (only my mic stands I leave behind – that would be just too tricky!) It’s a bit chilly on this 35 mile journey over the mountains on a dirt road, but I still manage to get my camera out for a quick shot. Have a butchers:


I get there in time and meet Norbert, my contact there. Some folk are still arriving on foot from a village about 15 miles away, so we don’t get started until around 11:00am, looking at song genres and composition techniques etc. I quickly realize that this workshop is going to be different from most others in the following ways: (i) over half of those attending were not Christians, even though it’s a Bible song-writing workshop. Instead they follow traditional or animistic religion and (ii) because they are almost all men, with only about 5 teenage girls attending and (iii) there are NO DRUMS!!! Hang on, this is Africa – where are the drums?!?

Here are some of the folks reading one of the scripture verses in the local language. The Ditammari are fortunate, as they already have the whole Bible in their language, whereas the majority of Benin’s 52 languages only have some Bible or none at all.


There’s no mobile phone signal in Boukoumbé, but I find a cabine téléphonique and call the garage in Natti – to my amazement, the Land Rover is mended!! He found the bearings in the town and it’s all done! So, I decide to catch another motorbike back, stay in Natti, then drive back the next morning – that way I can have my microphone stands at hand. Unfortunately, there’s a HUGE thunder storm on the way back and I get completely drenched. In the end, the driver stops for shelter and I wring out my shirt. Click here to see the video of the storm. I get to the garage, but by then it’s closed, so I find a hotel …and crash.

Day 3
The garage is not open until 9:00am, so I get the car then and head back to Boukoumbé. The guys are already composing when I get there. Later, I present three parables: The Prodigal Son, The Good Samaritan and The Sower. These work well in Africa, where story-telling is such an integral part of the culture and where the way of life is still similar to that in Bible times. In fact, as I’m explaining the Parable of the Sower, I notice that, just outside the door, there is a field of maize, in front of which are weeds and then a path. Wow – how very fortuitous – shame there was no rocky ground! Dinner with Norbert then – finally – a night in Boukoumbé!

Day 4

Breakfast at a local joint with a colleague. No coffee or bread, but instead this:


Mmmm! Very nutritious, and all for 30p!! Back to the meeting place and folks are practising their songs. Today, we begin recording and the local school seems the best location as it’s still school holidays and the site is far from the road and has plenty of open spaces and trees for shade. It takes a while to get and extension cable and the key to a classroom. We also go on a wild goose chase for drums and find one small drum, which some local nuns lend us! Recording starts by midday and all nine new songs are in the can by 5:30pm. Although there’s not much drumming, there is other percussion, including these plaited palm leaves which act as shakers round the legs (a bit like Morris Dancers’ bells!)


Day 5
Although the new songs are recorded, there are several musicians here who have their own songs they would like me to record and that’s today’s job. I’m back at the school by 7:50am, setting up mics etc and we begin recording by 8:20 when the first folk arrive. Some of the songs are Biblical, but many are educational songs, on subjects such as deforestation, literacy, child trafficking and bush fires. By 12:30, we’ve recorded 22 songs – that must be a record! Other instruments they use are metal ‘castanets’ which they click together for percussion, a small 3-holed flute and…traditional gourd guitars:


I’m all packed up and off by 1:15pm and manage to get over half the way home before dark. Phew!

Videos of the trip:

Traditional Dance (men)
Traditional Dance (women)
Recording session

Audio files for you to listen to:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Filed Under (General) by Rob on 02-10-2007

There have been several decapitations recently in southern Togo and one in Benin. Click here to read the BBC’s news article about it.
Please pray about these dreadful events. Thanks.