Things a Moto/Car Horn Can Mean

•             I’m behind you, don’t move, I’ll go around you.

•             I’m behind you, move to the left or I’ll have to maneuver but I probably won’t run you over.

•             I’m behind you, move to the right or I’ll have to maneuver but I probably won’t run you over.

•             I’m behind you, I don’t care if I run over you.

•             Hello! I know you! How are you? What are you doing? How is your day going? I’m fine thanks. Yes, my wife/husband is good. Yes, the kids are good. Yes, I woke up well.

•             Hello! I don’t know you but how are you?

•             Oh look, a Yovo!

•             Oh look, a Yovo woman! I want to sleep with you.

•             Oh look, a female between the ages of 12 and 60. I want to sleep with you.

•             I like your bike.

•             (jokingly) Give me your bike!

•             (not jokingly) Let’s trade bikes, yovo!

•             You’re a good driver.

•             You’re a terrible driver.

•             I’m coming around a blind corner/curve and will stop for you if forced.

•             I’m coming around a blind corner/curve and will do so quickly, but might be able to stop.

•             I’m coming around a blind corner/curve and will not stop for man, woman, child, or goat.

•             Hurry up!

•             Slow down!

•             The cops are giving tickets for not wearing helmets while on a moto today.

•             Happy [insert most recent or upcoming holiday]!

•             Do you want a ride?

•             Are you SURE you don’t want a ride?

•             I see you want a ride but for reasons you’ll never figure out I’m not going to stop.

•             Watch out for the obstruction in the road.

•             Road’s all clear.

•             I’m turning left.

•             I’m turning right.

•             I’m going straight.

•             One of your chickens fell off your moto.

•             One of your goats fell off your moto.

•             An important-looking part of your moto/car fell off.

•             Your child on your back looks like he/she is about to fall off.

•             I’m 13 and driving a moto. Woooooo!

•             You are in the part of the large, empty road that I want to drive on.

•             I’m home!

•             I’m leaving!

•             Goat/cow/sheep get out of the road!

•             I’m going to drive really really close to you, looking like I’m going to hit you because you are a yovo and I think this is an appropriate way to greet you when you are walking or on your bike.

Stop looking so scared, as long as you don’t react in any way you’ll be fine.

•             I’m going to drive really really close to you, looking like I’m going to hit you because you are a yovo and I think this is an appropriate way to greet you when you are walking or on your bike.

Stop looking so scared, as long as you move to the left/right you’ll be fine.



Christmas in Benin

“Papa Noelie, kaabo!” is a singsong phrase used around the holidays here in Daagbe, meaning “Santa (Father Christmas), welcome!” Even here, Santa is a fat man in a red suit – some things really are universal.

The holidays are an odd time for most Volunteers – there are things you’re missing back home, so homesickness can be more prevalent than the rest of the year. Yet for me, it’s hard to feel like the holiday spirit when it’s 90 degrees and there are palm trees all around, and you’re still eating beans and rice instead of Christmas cookies. But there are some holiday traditions here that felt wonderfully (or sometimes uncomfortably) like home, and some that are unique to this corner of West Africa.

Christmas songs for Francophones tend to be almost exclusively Catholic hymns, some of which were familiar to me even if the formal French words were not. But I also have a neighbor who is a Nigerian preacher, and his household often listens to English language radio.

The Nigerian stations often play some of the same Christmas songs I grew up with, religious or otherwise. It’s odd hearing “Jingle bells” when you’re covered in sweat. It’s even odder and more difficult to try to teach your 7th grade students “Let It Snow” when they don’t know what snow is. (Note for the record: “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” went over ok but the kids weren’t all that excited. “Let it Snow” was a bit of a disaster. My third class didn’t behave well enough to merit learning a Christmas song.) The Christmas songs have also continued after Christmas, so I’m not sure how long the season of joy will last.

I’ve never had carolers come to my house in the States, but I imagine it’s a bit like having a boy you like sing you a song while playing the guitar: the idea is wonderful, but in execution it’s just a bit awkward. Here in Benin they don’t have carolers, they have something way better: Kaletas. Kaletas (Kalaytas, Kaleetas, not sure how you’d write it), as it has been described, is sort of like the voodoo spirit of Christmas. Groups of four to five boys, aged about 7-12, go around to different houses, playing drums or whatever they can find that is sort of like drums. One boy is Kaletas, and he dresses up from head to toe so no skin is showing (tube socks on hands and feet), a grass skirt around his waist, and plastic masks on his face and sometimes on the back of his head too. Kaletas comes to dance for you while the others play the drums, in exchange for a bit of money or some candy.

(When I get the drawer in my house unlocked that holds my camera cord I’ll upload a picture). It’s significantly cuter than any carolers.

Papa Noel does make it to the West Africa as well, but here he comes a few days before Christmas – maybe with the price of gas he can’t make it across the globe in one night anymore. As far as I can tell, he doesn’t have a naughty and nice list, though that may be because I did a poor job of explaining it. I tried to say that if a kid “fais lepagaile” (makes trouble), he or she doesn’t get toys but gets coal.

But I didn’t know the word for coal, so I used charcoal, which they use for cooking fires. But I realized that while it isn’t as good as a toy, it’s probably not the disappointment that coal is to kids in the US.

And while people talk about Papa Noel bringing things for kids, the Beninese don’t seem to have much dedication to the charade that Santa is the one who brings the presents. In fact, a woman came around to our concession selling toys and Santa hats and childrens’ shoes on her head (I bought a Duke blue Santa hat, which should surprise nobody who knows me), the parents let the kids pick things out and bought them right then and there on their porch.

As for my Christmas? I spent it on the beach, staying in a tent on the beach at a bar run by Rastafarians. It was wonderful, though not at all like Christmas. I did, however, have a nice cross-cultural moment with a Rasta kid trying to fix a broken plastic Christmas tree with a palm leaf and some dental floss. Certainly not like Christmas back home in Indiana.

Much like in the U.S., Christmas is a time for family and New Years is a time for fetes (parties)! They generally fete during the day on the 1st, and this sometimes continues onto the 2nd. I fully plan on not being able to walk because of all the good food at the four fetes I’ve been invited to for New Years, plus the small gathering of Volunteers tonight (the 31st). Hopefully I’ll still be able to fit into my teaching outfits for when school gets back on Thursday.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Benin