Ode to my Porto-Novo Family

Mama Sangronio explains  something to me in French and I am doing my best to comprehend.

Mama Sangronio explains something to me in French and I am doing my best to comprehend.

After we were sworn in as Peace Corps Volunteers I took a family photo with Mama and Papa in matching tissue.

After we were sworn in as Peace Corps Volunteers I took a family photo with Mama and Papa in matching tissue.

Younger brother Steve holds baby cousin.

Younger brother Steve holds baby cousin.

My younger sister Benedict is not very happy that I took her photo.

My younger sister Benedict is not very happy that I took her photo.

My older brother's wife is thrilled I took her picture.

My older brother’s wife is thrilled I took her picture.

An outing in the neighbor Adjarra, Papa and I pose for a photo before we feast on rabbit.

An outing in the neighbor Adjarra, Papa and I pose for a photo before we feast on rabbit.

Nephew and niece pose for a quick photo on the night of his baptism.

Nephew and niece pose for a quick photo on the night of his baptism.

More nephew and niece photos.

More nephew and niece photos.

Mama and me are happy to just have eaten a big feast.

Mama and me are happy to just have eaten a big feast.

I am not smiling because this is how typical Beninese photos are taken.  It is rare to see Beninese people smiling in their photos.  My little brother gets a kick out of my straight face.

I am not smiling because this is how typical Beninese photos are taken. It is rare to see Beninese people smiling in their photos. My little brother gets a kick out of my straight face.

My nephew Marco and me on the night of his baptism.

My nephew Marco and me on the night of his baptism.

My brother Boris and me.  He studied in Ghana and speaks "small small" English.

My brother Boris and me. He studied in Ghana and speaks “small small” English.

Younger brother Josie and me.  He was my favorite brother because he seemed to idolize me.  I just visited him and he must have grew 2 inches in the past 6 months.

Younger brother Josie and me. He was my favorite brother because he seemed to idolize me. I just visited him and he must have grew 2 inches in the past 6 months.

The family before our feast on rabbit.  Steve is taking the photo so he is not pictured.

The family before our feast on rabbit. Steve is taking the photo so he is not pictured.

My older brother and his niece.

My older brother and his niece.

Josie and me before dinner.

Josie and me before dinner.

My big brother and me give a thumbs up to the cameraman.

My big brother and me give a thumbs up to the cameraman.

My aunt and uncle and their niece and nephew on the night of his baptism.  Notice the colorful clothing.  This is the traditional clothing that I often wear minus the hat.

My aunt and uncle and their niece and nephew on the night of his baptism. Notice the colorful clothing. This is the traditional clothing that I often wear minus the hat.

It goes without saying that I miss all my friends and family in the United States, but I never would have thought I would miss the host family I stayed with my first two months in Benin.  About two weeks ago I made a trip to Cotonou and on the way I stopped in Porto-Novo to great my host family.  My host mother was overjoyed and delighted to see me.  Every time I am around I feel like the returned prodigal son that is the family’s pride and joy.  As customary, (though I don’t think I will be doing it every time for money purposes) I brought a gift for the family upon my visit.  Pork is abundant in Djidja, as there are plenty of free-roaming pigs rummaging through the disregarded trash piles.  So, I brought back two kilos of freshly chopped pork from my favorite pork lady.  The gift was received well, as was I.

As I entered the outskirts of Porto-Novo I had this overwhelming feeling that I was returning to a city that once felt so strange but now awkwardly seemed to be identified as my first home in Africa.  I remember upon my initial arrival to Africa I kept comparing the cities to the likes of Chicago.  Now, after only a couple months in village I see myself contrasting every other town or city with Djidja.  Needless to say, PN now seems like a bustling urban sprawl compared to the tiny Africa town I originally had judged it to be.  Even though the tallest building in PN has no more than 6 or 7 floors, I now understand why it can be called the capital of Benin.  There is actual commerce that exists in PN.  You can buy nearly anything you want in PN.  The people in PN are educated, and all the citizens speak French.  People dress well in PN.  It is a city in all African standards.

As I took in all those things I took for granted before I moved to village, I wondered to myself what kind of greeting I would receive from the family who I had only stayed with for two months and now been away from for the same amount of time.  Would it take them two months to forget all that we had forged in the two months I had been a guest in their home?  The answer: No.  As I entered through the tall garage scattered with bay plants throughout the floor I hear my Mama Sangronio say, “Ah mon enfant!”.  She was thrilled to see me and soon after my sister, younger brother, and even the domestique (maid) all were out greeting me with hugs and high-fives.  It was midday so my brother was home from school on lunch break while my sister was working hard in the kitchen preparing lunch.  My mother was sitting on the steps with the domestique sorting through corn kernels making sure there were no impurities before they bagged and sold them.

I spent about an hour trying to explain to them my new life in village, because it seemed even strange to them that I came to Africa only to be place in a small village in the middle of nowhere.  I told them about how integrated I had become; washing all my laundry by hand, cooking meals for myself, sweeping my house and the dirt in front (which I now designate the neighbor kids to do), dusting the cobwebs that seem to form weekly in the corners of my ceilings, shoeing away bats when they somehow make it into my house at night, riding 60 kilometers roundtrip to Bohicon to do my banking once a month, getting to know my neighbors in local dialect, going to the market and negotiating prices with the marché mamas, searching for furniture, ect…  All of which really don’t amaze me, because I do most of these in America besides washing laundry by hand and chasing bats out of my house.  However, here in Benin most of these tasks are expected to be done by the women in the households.  The men are supposed to be at work all day, bringing home the paycheck.

After an about an hour of me blabbing I was handed a plate of food (beans and meat) and graciously excepted even though I had been eating beans for a week straight.  After devouring the large plate given to me, (of course I was offered seconds and refused) food coma kicked in and combined with the heat of the dry season I seemed to be dozing off.  Mama Sangronio noticed and told me to go take a nap in my old bedroom, but instead I asked if it would be okay to use the couch instead because I didn’t want to completely seclude myself from the group.  It was then that I felt as if this Porto-Novo family had truly accepted me as one their own.  There was no reason to sit and bullshit for hours about what was happening in life, they were just happy that I was there at their home again.  We did not need to talk, they were perfectly fine with me just being there on their couch, relaxing in the comfort of their home.  In a glimpse of the past, it was reminiscent of me spending a weekend at my mother’s house in Nebraska, laying on the couch relaxing in the comfort of a safe and loving home.

Only being able to take a quick kip, (don’t know why I wanted to use the British word for nap there, but I did and it sounded good) I snoozed for about an hour before saying my goodbyes to head off to meet up with some other volunteers.  All together my visit was no longer than 4 hours, but it was a reminder to me of the kindness and hospitality that I have already witnessed in Benin.  Below I am posting some photos of my host family that I took while staying with them the first two months.  I hope you all enjoy. *Note: I will post the pictures at a later date when I have better a internet connection.

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About le exploreteur

Since a very young age I have always been fascinated by the uniqueness of different cultures in our world. Life is too short to live within your own bubble. I believe that it is in human nature to explore and learn about the unknown.
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4 Responses to Ode to my Porto-Novo Family

  1. Lori Hoesing says:

    Ah mon enfant, your mama in Nebraska misses you parked on the couch in front of that big screen t.v. But she is also happy you have Mama Sangronio watching out for you in Benin! We will chat as usual this weekend during the Husker game! – Much love, your other mama!

  2. Ashley says:

    I see no mention of you missing your caring, loving sister. 😛 Miss you!

  3. Lois says:

    Glad to hear you enjoyed your visit back to your host family. We will miss you at Thanksgiving but so thankful you are happy and helping those less fortunate than us and enjoying it as well. Love you bunches.

  4. Katie says:

    Hoesing! Just wanted to say we sure miss ya and loved the post card you sent, that was really sweet of ya! Hope you are enjoying your stay and just wanted to reach out to you and say hello and we miss ya!

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