I’ve always been somebody who has viewed human beings to be inherently good. As I grow older I can honestly say that this theory is only strengthened day by day, especially in Benin. Since I can remember I have enjoyed sharing with others, whether it is sharing possessions or thoughts. Sharing physical objects always plays out better than sharing my thoughts. I am not one to keep things to myself regardless of who I am among. Sometimes this has incurred inconvenience in my life, but most often I find my openness and sharing personality to be beneficial. I had a conversation tonight that validates my assumption.
A typical night in village I will stay home and cook rice and beans or something comparable, however tonight I felt the need to treat myself to a beer and spaghetti and omelet. I know it doesn’t sound like a 5 star meal, but you can’t knock it until you try it! So, I went to my local cafeteria, which is a roadside restaurant that really only serves two things…eggs and spaghetti. This cafeteria is the only one in my village so I really don’t have a choice, and it is where I end up if I want to get a good spaghetti omelet. Tonight, there were no other customers so service was fast (for Beninese standards).
I got my spaghetti omelet before my beer, and finished it well before they even got to giving me my beer. When I finally got my beer, I was complacent with my meal and took my time enjoying my beer while I watched African music videos on the small television in the corner of the kitchen. Before long a friend from work showed up out of the blue and I offered him a beer to join me. Thus accustom in the Beninese way of life I assumed that I would be paying for his beer. (If you invite somebody for dinner or a drink in Benin it is assumed you are paying.) A couple minutes later another co-worker showed up and offered me another beer. I of course, with not much to do and it only being 7 o’clock accepted his offer. Afterwards I tried to pay for my food and drink and the other co-worker would not allow me to do so and said that he was paying for everything.
I thanked my co-worker and decided I would head home and buy some street meat for that cat on the way home. I stopped by a friend’s shop in village on the way home and they invited me in to chat a little. After sharing a couple of pieces of street meat, they offered me a bowl of salad. It consisted of cucumbers, carrots, tomatoes, lettuce, corn, onions, and salad dressing. This is unheard of in village, but this particular family has their own farm and grows all their own produce. They are extremely generous and the mother is of Nigerian decent and speaks English! After the salad they must of thought I was still hungry (I wasn’t), but I didn’t want to be rude as they plopped down a spoonful of hot veggies on my plate. As we were sitting their chatting and eating the husband versed me in his perceptions between Americans and French. He flat out told me that he preferred Americans to the French because Americans are “more open”.
He went on to elaborate his reasoning. Apparently, he still holds a grudge about the colonization of Benin by the French. It is not the colonization in general, but the state of the country that the French left behind. Remember, what I am writing is coming from one individual and does not reflect the viewpoint of all Beninese people. He went on to talk about another volunteer who can from France and was only in village for two months. She did not learn any of the local dialect and was unknown by many in the village. After hearing his insight, I found it uplifting to know that I already in a month was connecting with my village, without even knowing the language of the country before I arrived.
This was one of those moments when you realize why you have been waiting to be a part of something like the Peace Corps. The people in your community have intense respect and overwhelming inclusion towards you. They share their lives with you just as much as you are willing to share your life with them.