Archive for February, 2008

Filed Under (Beninese culture, General) by Rob on 28-02-2008

Our friend Joanna was hungry and fancied getting a wee bite to eat…


So, she strolled down the road to find some take-away food. Unfortunately, the place she usually went to was closed, but there was a lady selling street meat, so she thought she’d give it a whirl. There were only a couple of pieces left on the griddle, so she decided to take them. As it was getting dark, she didn’t get too close a look.

However…when she got home, she opened up the bag and here’s what she found – one ear and one snout:



Mmmm – tasty!

I’m sure there’s a moral to the story somewhere, but I haven’t figured it out yet. Needless to say, her appetite was somewhat diminished at the sight of the above fare and she decided to give it a miss!

Filed Under (Beninese culture, General) by Rob on 26-02-2008


Well, in spite of all the comments, nobody quite hit the nail on the head. It’s actually that there’s a French-style phone box in the middle of the photo and nobody here actually uses them. They must’ve been installed a few years ago, but in some cases only a concrete base remains. Furthermore, I’ve never seen anyone making a phone call from them. No, in Benin if you want to make a phone call, you go somewhere like this:


That’s more like it – just the job! A wooden shack with a conventional telephone inside. The phone is connected to a device which counts your units and there’s a person in there who tots it up at the end and tells you how much. I guess Africans are much more into person-to-person interaction then putting coins in a machine! Incidentally, this box was just a few yards from the green one in the same village.

Just thought you may be interested…

Filed Under (Trivia Question of the Week) by Rob on 25-02-2008

Earlier this month, it was Pancake Day or Shrove Tuesday. What does the word shrove actually mean?

Answer to last week’s question: Nora Jones is the daughter of Ravi Shankar, the famous sitar player.

The winner was Jayne Bacon – well done!

Filed Under (General) by Rob on 24-02-2008

The Petit Four – arguably the best place to go for a coffee and pastry in Cotonou…

Almost the only place, I suppose, apart from in hotels.


Whenever we’ve felt the need to ‘escape’ the madness of West Africa and chill out in a relaxing atmosphere (and all with nice food at a reasonable price) this is where we’ve come. Add comfy sofas, air-conditioning, wireless internet and friendly service and you’ve got a recipe for success, right?


Well, apparently not, as I was distraught to discover the the Petit Four had closed a few weeks ago. There are major roadworks outside, so we figured this was merely a temporary closure. But, no! They’ve now gone and turned it into a nightclub – quel désastre! Here’s what it looked like a few days ago:


It really is the end of an era. The Petit Four was the one place we took all our UK visitors (though not the entire Wood family) and at Christmas it was always nicely decorated. Why did it close? Someone said it wasn’t making enough, which I can understand during the roadworks, but prior to that it always had folk inside. Here’s one more reason why it should have kept going:


Mmmm! Now, if you like their pastries, they are now on sale at the Supermarché du Pont in Haie Vive and at the one across the old bridge, but it’s hardly the same as sitting in an coffee shop that could conceivably be somewhere like Cheltenham and browsing the morning papers over a latte. Shame.

Pourquoi a-t-on fermé le Petit Four? S’il vous plaît – que quelqu’un fasse un effort pour le rouvrir bientôt – ça nous manque trop!

Sorry about that – forgot where I was for a moment!

Other places to chill with a coffee and pastry include:

Le Gerbe d’Or in Ganhi
The Marina Hotel (bit pricey, though)
Le Festival des Glaces – we like the one in town best.

Other News:

* Ruth & Rob have their joint birthday on Monday.
* We’re having a ‘yard sale’ every Thursday to sell off unwanted stuff (and some friends are joining us with their bits too).
* The Harmattan mysteriously returned for a couple of days and was thicker than ever.
* The Land Rover had some steering joints repaired last week, but can no longer navigate sharp left turns as a result!
* The blog is averaging 101.57 daily visits this month, and had a record 145 visits on 15th Feb! Thanks for yours (unless your a robot!!)

That’s all for now…

Filed Under (General) by Rob on 20-02-2008

If you could buy a car which cost next to nothing to run, did not pollute the environment but which still had a maximum speed of 65mph and could do 200km on a full tank, would you consider buying one? And if you knew that this car would only cost you about £2,500, then surely you’d succumb?

Take at look at this BBC News article on the air-powered car, invented by Frenchman, Guy Nègre:

Wow – could this be the way forward? Sounds amazing – I want one! And just imagine if this technology caught on in Africa. Scenes like this in Cotonou would be a whole lot cleaner:

Dantokpa traffic
(click to enlarge)

And we could even do away with these:


Click here for the BBC’s website account of the car and here for another cool video of it. I think they need to give it a name pretty soon, as ‘compressed air-powered car’ is not too catchy. Let’s hope the idea catches on!

What d’you think? Leave a comment!

Filed Under (Trivia Question of the Week) by Rob on 18-02-2008

The singer Nora Jones has a famous Dad, who plays a different kind of music. Who is he?

Answer to last week’s question: The deepest lake in the world is called Lake Baikal

Filed Under (General) by Rob on 16-02-2008

Yes, it’s official. Today was a very historic moment for the country, as George Bush set foot on Beninese soil – the first US president ever to do so.

Click here to see the Yahoo News article and a photo his historic meeting with the Beninese president, Yayi Boni. He flew in at around 8:00am and out again at 11:00am. A friend of ours managed to get a photo of one of the jets as it was taking off. Have a look – it’s not something you see every day in Benin!


The US has pledged a significant sum of money to help the development of Benin, which is great news. Here’s what the USA Today website says about it:

“Hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars are helping to pay for an aggressive anti-malaria campaign, the training of tens of thousands of teachers and reforms to Benin’s judiciary, port and financial systems.”

Nice one! Read the whole article here. His visit was part of a tour of five African countries. From Benin, he flew off to Tanzania and will then visit Rwanda, Ghana and Liberia. Read more and see a map on the BBC website.

Did we catch a glimpse? No! Didn’t even try, as we’d heard the security was tight. However, it was eerily quiet in Cotonou this morning and when we took a drive past the airport at around 11:30am there were still lots of important-looking folk milling about outside.

And for francophones, voici quelques informations sur la visite de Bush au Bénin.

That’s all folks!

Filed Under (General) by Rob on 15-02-2008


Well, here’s a clue: his first name is George, and his surname rhymes with whoosh…


Oh, and he’s the president of a big country across the ocean. Guess that’s why Cotonou is full of these flags! (The other flags you see are Beninese ones, in case you were wondering). So, if all goes to schedule, the man himself will be landing about 300 yards from our house tomorrow morning and – according to local sources – will be visiting Benin for about three hours on his way somewhere else. I don’t think we stand much chance of a glimpse, as it’s sure to be very high security, but I’ll keep you posted!

Exciting stuff, but Uganda had the QUEEN to visit a few weeks ago – that’s not fair!


Filed Under (Ethnomusicology, General) by Rob on 13-02-2008

Week before last, Rob was on another workshop to Dapaong – the northern-most town in Togo, and only 20 miles from Burkina Faso…

It was a very long journey, about 700 miles from Cotonou. This was all the more tiring as I’d only got back from England two days earlier. Still, a colleague called Lois (the one who – curiously – is also married to a Rob!!) needed to make a trip up north, so came along and shared the driving.
After Kara, it’s about 3 hours’ drive further north, past the Gando turning, and then through a place called Mango:

Dapaong, I have just discovered, is twinned with the town of Issy in France. The name Dapaong actually means new market in Moba (the local language), although it’s an unlikely venue for horse racing (British joke!) I didn’t get to see the market or even much of the town, but this is what the area near the workshop looked like:


The weather was chilly for Africa and only about 10% humidity – quite different from southern Benin. Mid-morning felt like a British summer’s day, but then it got far to hot for that!

So, as ever, we began with some teaching. This was a little different from other workshops, as the aim was not only to compose new songs, but also to encourage folk to use traditional Moba song genres in their churches – something which is not happening across the board. There are, however, loads of traditional song genres. Here are a few:

Talkudg…………..Used for rejoicing and at funerals.
KÉ”nbenn……………Played at initiation ceremonies (male or female) and at celebrations.
JÉ”ug……………….For processions.
Naal……………….Sung when crushing millet.
Kpanbalgingann…..For singing the praises of the chief.
Saab……………….For the initiation of a boy (nothing to do with Swedish motoring).
Kpanjam……………Used when telling a story.
Here are some photos of the workshop:

Composing a new song

Performing the song to the rest of the group

Recording the new songs on the last day

The percussion section

This was also a special workshop because we composed songs for the dedication of the Moba New Testament, which takes place in March. Three groups wrote a song each and one of these will be chosen to be sung by a choir at the Dedication Ceremony – wow! Exciting stuff! In fact, have a listen yourselves and let me know which song you prefer. (NB This will in no way influence the judges’ final decision!!) Here’s a short extract of each song:

Moba Dedication song based on Hebrews 4 verse 12:

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.

Moba Dedication song based on 2 Timothy 3 verses 16-17:

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.

Moba Dedication song based on Romans 15 verse 4:

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.

That’s all for now folks – leave us a comment!


Filed Under (Trivia Question of the Week) by Rob on 11-02-2008

Q: Situated in Russia, what is the name of the deepest lake in the world?

(and no cheating on Google!!)

Answer to last week’s question: Spike Milligan’s tombstone reads “I told you I was Ill”. The winner is Eddie Arthur (if ‘Spike!’ counts…)