Monday, May 4, 2009

Some Recent Images

Here are some various photos to illustrate and recap my last couple months of blogging silence.

My dad visited Benin in February, and actually managed pretty well for three weeks. We spent our time touring some southern and northern sites like Ouidah’s slave coast, Grand Popo’s tourist coast, and the Pendari Nature Park. We also did 10 whole days in Nikki, which was probably the most insightful leg of trip as far as getting the true picture of life in BĂ©nin.

Ever wonder where all those presidential aid to Africa dollars go? At the end of February I and my work partners realized a small project educating local secondary school students on HIV/AIDS, and facilitating testing for those wanting to know their status. This photo is the result of group brainstorming during an event held before, in which united the project partners came together for training and to talk strategy. The project encountered several hiccups along the way, but in the end a couple hundred students were educated and tested.

In March I hosted 16 other volunteers for Nikki’s annual Ganni festival. This two-day event celebrates the Barriba kingdom (whose historical seat is Nikki), and features a lot of formal salutations, pomp and ceremony, decorated horses and riders, and some other sideline events. Crowds, horrible traffic, power outages, and hot afternoons usually figure in too. All in all your staple Beninese cultural festival. Always a good time.

On one fateful return voyage from Cotonou in March, I was sitting in the back of said bus when the back began smoking. I won’t narrate the not so fun subsequent 3 minutes, but fortunately the end of the matter was that everyone made it out all right before the bus completely went up in flames. You would think that after a month the bus line would have taken the incinerated wreckage off the road, but apparently this kind of publicity damage control doesn’t figure into their marketing concerns. For myself, the charcoal monument remains as a reminder to always sit at the front of the bus. Otherwise a roadside exhibit testifying to the chronic poor quality of Chinese imports (the bus was practically new).

My Nikki Shea Project was funded back in January, and we’re now in the middle of realizing the project activities—the grand vision always being to organize and offer trainings to 15 Nikki village producer groups which will render Nikki’s shea sector more commercially competitive and profitable. Already we’ve held several general assemblies, have drafted the Association’s founding documents, and have successfully finished a training event on production/quality control, and also one of the fabrication of a simple Shea-based soap. Also in March I accompanied Nikki’s shea association president, and the president for another in Parakou, to an international shea conference held in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, which was very informative for us all. If you find yourself in the strange minority of people interested in this shea work, I’ve put up a simple blog that better tracks the project’s activities.