Archive for May, 2008

Filed Under (General) by Rob on 30-05-2008

Rob has a 6’4″ Texan working with him for the next few weeks…


Ben is fresh out of college and is here in Benin to learn more about ethnomusicology. He’s a talented musician, speaks French very well and seems at home here in West Africa! He did some village research with Rob last week, has been editing sound recordings and is shadowing Rob when he interviews folk for his thesis work. Nice chap, but don’t take my word for it; his blog is spanking brand new and is well worth a visit. See BEN’S BLOG HERE and enjoy his fresh new perspective on Benin (even if he has used a couple of photos I was going to post on my blog!)

Of course, he doesn’t get to come to Cotonou without the mandatory right of passage, namely the TUK TUK:


Filed Under (Benin wildlife, General) by Rob on 28-05-2008

Last night, between 9:00pm and goodness knows how late, I killed no fewer than EIGHT mosquitoes in my house! Here’s one of them:


Every year it’s the same – rainy season hits and the mosquito count quintuples, almost overnight (here’s last year’s post on the subject). This is largely because there is a lot of standing water, in which the wee beasties breed. I’m far from an expert on the subject, but here’s my understanding of the two main types of mosquito we have here:

Firstly, the smaller, brownish ones with bent rear legs (like the one above), called anopheles. Click here for a great site about the anopheles mosquito. This is the one that can give you malaria, but it’s only the females which do so. They tend to bite during the night hours and sometimes you don’t even notice you’ve been bitten (crafty blighters!)

Secondly, there are the larger, blackish mozzies with striped legs, which bite more during the day, but do not give you malaria. Instead, they can pass on dengue fever or yellow fever instead and their bites can be itchy. Nice! Just as well I am armed with my mosquito electrocuting racket at times such as these!

If anyone reading this knows more about mosquitoes than me (not difficult) then leave a comment to enrich our knowledge on the matter! If not, then you can also click here for information on bites you can get in Africa (aka fast food for insects).


Finally, don’t forget the Creepy Crawlies album in the Photo Gallery.

Filed Under (Beninese culture, General) by Rob on 26-05-2008

There’s not an awful lot to do in Cotonou at the weekend, so sometimes one has to improvise…


Actually, this photo was taken at the Fondation Zinsou, Cotonou’s best (and only?) art gallery. The gallery is in Ganhi, not far from Notre Dame Cathedral.

Notre Dame Catherdral

Entry is free and the whole place is air-conditioned. Also, there’s a nice (if slightly overpriced) tea room, which does tasty cakes and good tea (even Earl Grey).

There were some interesting photos from Africa and other parts of the world on display when we went…and then there was the dressing up room! By the way, there is one extra person in our family in the photo above – anyone know who it is? Can you identify all five Bakers too??

Incidentally, if you’re looking for things to do in Benin, then I stumbled upon this site, which has some good ideas.

That’s all for now.

Filed Under (Trivia Question of the Week) by Rob on 26-05-2008

Q: Who, in 1701, was inspired by looking at a church organ to go and invent the seed drill?

Answer to last week’s question: The dolphin is the mammal with the most teeth. To be precise, the long-snouted spinner dolphin (which, incidentally, is neither a marsupial nor a monotreme!!). More spinner dolphin info here.

The winner was Anne Anderson (well done for giving Tim and Eddie a run for their money!)

Filed Under (Beninese culture, General) by Rob on 24-05-2008

By now, you should all know what a zemidjan is, but you may not be aware of their sleeping habits…


This is the somewhat amusing sight you will see around Cotonou during early afternoon. It is common for people to take a siesta here, from around 1:00pm until 3:00pm. As the zem drivers are work around the town centre, their homes may be far away. So, for a siesta they have two choices: (i) To sleep on the floor (uncomfortable to say the least) and (ii) To balance themselves precariously on their bikes and take a wee nap, which is what they invariably opt for. I sometimes wonder what would happen if one of them forgot where they were and turned over in their sleep. I guess you’d only do that once, though…

The less brave zem drivers seem to go for the safer option of keeping their feet on the floor and leaning forward – not so conducive to a good nap, but slightly more balanced:

Other news…

* Rob just got back from yet another trip up north, this time with Ben, a short-termer from the USA. Read his first impressions of Togo/Benin on his blog.

* We are beginning to sell our belongings, ready for our departure in July.

* It’s rainy season and the streets are very wet.

* Lois took her class to see a collection of dead insects the other day, and now knows how to identify a malarial mosquito (with a microscope!?!)

* The Land Rover is up for sale – good runner, one careful owner (and five careless ones!!!)

Filed Under (General, Trivia Question of the Week) by Rob on 19-05-2008

Q: There is one mammal which has more teeth than any other – up to 260 in fact. Which mammal is it?

Answer to last week’s question:

My two favourite renditions of ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’ are by Eva Cassidy and Israel Kamawiwo’ole.
The winner was the inimitable Tim Slade, but could’ve been Eddie Arthur!

NB If you know any other good renditions of the song, let me know!

Filed Under (General) by Rob on 17-05-2008

My blog posts usually aim to make you smile, or even laugh – to brighten up your day a tad. This post is unlikely to cheer you up, but it could save your life…


This is the sign by a beach near Grand Popo, which warns:

“The sea is unpredictable and dangerous, do not exceed your abilities.”

There have, sadly been too many cases of people drowning or almost drowning of the coast of Benin during our time here. We were at Grand Popo a few weeks back and witnessed a polish lady very nearly drowning. We honestly thought she was a gonner, but then someone managed to pull her out. She was in a bad way though.

The sea here is indeed dangerous for a variety of reasons. Firstly, the current is generally strong and the waves big. Secondly, there is an almost insurmountable under-current which tugs you down with unbelievable force. Thirdly, a big wave can come up and surprise you at virtually no notice – even if you’re on dry sand a couple of feet away.

It’s no wonder your average Béninois is scared of water and won’t go near the sea! Mind you, that’s not to say you cannot enjoy a wee paddle in the shallow water, as long as you exercise extreme caution.


Click here for the World Travel Guide info on Benin, which also mentions how dangerous the sea is. However, this article from says how lovely Grand Popo is without even a mention of how dangerous the sea can be.

Well, if all this has put you off swimming in the beninese ocean, you could always try a pool instead (go Micah, go!):


Happy swimming – stay safe!

Filed Under (Beninese culture, General) by Rob on 13-05-2008

Many t-shirts from elsewhere in the world make it to West Africa, where they are sold at local markets.

You may remember this occasion, where I saw a lady wearing a Newnham Middle School sweater at the market. Clothes like this are sent over from charity shops in huge bags, which market traders buy and then sell on the individual items. Once I bought a Marks and Spencer suit for 9,000 cfa (= £9-). I was delighted to see the old price label, still inside, which read: British Heart Foundation £10-. Wow – I saved a pound, even after its long journey here!!!

There are also plenty of imported second-hand t-shirts, which come from the same sources. Here are a few we’ve seen during our time in Togo and Benin: an Asda t-shirt (a British supermarket), the rather confrontational Mind your own business t-shirt (of course, he had no idea what it meant), a Britney Spears t-shirt (before she shaved her hair off) and a Michael Owen top:


These are just a few of the many t-shirts which raise a smile on the average yovo face when we see them! To top it all, I was walking down a local street the other day, and saw a guy selling this t-shirt for a pound:


I couldn’t resist it – for nostalgic reasons – but somehow don’t think I’ll wear it back home!

Thanks for reading!

Filed Under (General, Trivia Question of the Week) by Rob on 12-05-2008

(You’ll love this one…).

Q: On my iPod, I have the two greatest EVER renditions of the song Somewhere over the Rainbow.
One is sung by a man, one by a woman. Both artists died in the late 1990’s, less than a year apart. They both came from somewhere in the USA.

Answers please…

(NB In the event of a tie, spelling will be taken into account!)

Answer to last week’s question:

(i) Reginald Dwight = Elton John
(ii) David McDonald = David Tennant
(iii) Priscilla White = Cilla Black
(iv) Harry Webb = Cliff Richard

And the winner was Alex

Filed Under (General) by Rob on 09-05-2008

Unlike the UK, Benin is not well-endowed with fun places for young children to play. Until NOW that is…


A few months back ‘MAGIC LAND’ opened just opposite the airport in Cotonou. Our first visit (back in December) was a little disappointing. However, since then they have got their act together somewhat, and it really is a fun day out for parents and kids alike (well, let’s say a fun half-day). Here’s a brief low-down of its attractions:

Merry-go-round, dodgems, flume ride, up-and-down-froggy ride, large bouncy castle, trampolines, mini roller-coaster, mini-helicopters, rodeo bull, ball pool and various electronic games.

In fact, when we went today, our kids had their first experience of playing tennis using wii technology. Wow – clever stuff! As I’m going through a ‘multi-photo collage’ phase at the moment (in case you hadn’t noticed) here’s another one showing what Magic Land has to offer:


There’s also a small café which does fairly edible pizzas and the like. There is a strict notice as you go into the park, saying: “For the well-being and education of our children, no smoking or alcoholic drinks are allowed in the park.” Good idea, but we did laugh when we noticed that the café in the park actually sells beer!!

It’s 500cfa for kids to get in and 1000cfa for adults (about 50p and £1 respectively). Then rides are 500cfa each, but the dodgems are 1,000cfa per car. Not bad value for money! Health and safety standards are reasonable, though not like back home. The park even has litter bins and decent toilets (is this really Africa?!?)

So…fed up of taking your kids to the beach or the pool? There’s now an alternative – Magic Land. Have fun!