Water streets

 DCIM\106GOPRO\G0059450.

Once within Benin with my passport stamped, I could clearly feel the enormous stress that Nigeria (and everything that is said about her) had generated in me during all the months that preceded my arrival. Although everything went extraordinary there and I fell in love with the country, the psychological weight had still been present in one way or another. Now, when I got on the bike, I felt a lightness of body and mind difficult to describe; almost as if they had taken a Batsuanan elephant that I had been dragging since southern Africa off the back of my bicycle. Suddenly, I had the feeling that from now on and until I would reach the shores of the Mediterranean, everything would be easier. There would definitely be a before and after Nigeria.

I left the border post determined to arrive in Cotonou that same night to celebrate a reunion that I had been yearning for months. About 5 months ago, in Luanda, I had met Germano, one of those great brothers that the roads of this world put on your way. During all that time in which I sorted one odyssey after another to get here, Germano had moved for work from Angola to Benin and there, in his new home, he was waiting for me. When one travels alone around the world for a long time, you get used to the fact that no one is ever waiting for you in the place where we are going. Therefore, the illusion of the friend that awaits for me, gave me the necessary energy and motivation to continue pedalling late into the evening despite the fatigue, and complete the 135 km that had brought me from Lagos to Cotonou on this tiring day.

Apart from spending time among friends and continuing with my physical recovery process, the reality is that there is not much to do in the city. On top of this, it is the first place in Africa in a long time where I do not feel the kindness on the surface of people, to which I was already so used to. On the contrary, here the faces are cold, tense and there is a strong apathy in the air, especially towards the whites. This should not be surprising since Benin was for 300 years one of the most brutal slave trade ports in the world and the pain of the past is still felt in the air.

20151125-IMG_4551.jpg

Water streets

It never ceases to amaze me that any place in the world where there are houses on water, becomes the perfect excuse to call it "The Venice of ..." and consequently we have "The Venice of ..." in each continent. Ganvié is not the exception and for that reason it is known as the "Venice of Africa". Although honestly speaking, the only thing they have in common with Venice is water, because far away is the modest Ganvié with its little houses made of corrugated sheets and wood, from the onerous Venetian Gothic structures. Neither do African women selling fruits wrapped in colourful dresses have anything to do with the gondolieri on the Grand Canal taking wealthy tourists.

Leaving the stupid comparisons aside, Ganvié is certainly unique with its sometimes quiet, sometimes chaotic landscape of streets and avenues of water full of life with people coming and going in their canoes. People fish, trade, talk and go on their daily lives on the water, just like everyone else does in our urban world.

The magic of Ganvié is not limited to its aquatic landscape but also to the life that takes place inside its houses. In one of them we were lucky enough to personally meet Olori Oluwo Keye, who is no other than the King of Ganvié and, who wrapped in his colourful attire and ornaments received us in his home. His task as a King is not limited to politic issues but rather to spiritual ones. Olori Oluwo Keye is the most prestigious voodoo priest of Ganvié to whom all come with the greatest respect.

Voodoo is an animistic spiritual tradition that has its origin in this region of western Africa where even today it is widely practiced. From here, and through slavery, voodoo landed in the Americas, especially in the Caribbean region but also in the United States and Brazil. The West, on the other hand, especially through Hollywood, has used its intense rituals to create a completely sinister and distorted view of what voodoo really is and means spiritually for the lives of thousands of Africans and African-Americans. The king takes us around his house and shows us his altars and sacred objects, in a journey that feels like a transfer to a parallel dimension.

Losing your arm in Cotonou (or almost)

It's one of my last nights in Cotonou. Germano takes me to dinner with some Lebanese friends at a very good restaurant in an upmarket neighborhood. While we are havng an open-air dinner, some people stand up at a few tables down from ours. Everyone turns around, but I do not understand why, until I see him and recognize him. Do you remember that black warrior from Nubia character in the movie Gladiator? A man of few words, he is as much a slave and bloody warrior of the Colosseum as he is also a kind of spiritual mystic who comforts Gladiator with his calm and philosophical speaking.

Right there, in that restaurant in Cotonou, Djimon Hounsou had just finished having dinner with his friends. There, I discovered that his origin was Beninese and that he was surely visiting in his homeland. Of course I did not want to miss the opportunity to take a picture with him as a unique event on this trip, that's why I got up to approach him. However, it was when I extended my arm to greet him when I was a only few meters away, that I discovered that his group was not only made of friends, but also his bodyguards, at a point in which one of them took me by the wrist and almost tore my arm off before I got to Djimon. Meanwhile, Djimon, the fucking Nubian gladiator smiled at everyone as he passed while I couldn’t even feel shoulder anymore, after his bodyguard released me. Motherfucker "I will meet you again, but not yet, not yet ...."



My days of rest in Cotonou come to an end. I have recharged my energies as never before, not so much for having slept comfortably and eaten much better, but for the invaluable company of my friend Germano who has looked after me like a brother. On the other hand, I also had the great joy of meeting Jiang Lei, a young Chinese who has been following me for a long time and lives in Benin teaching Chinese. Jiang Lei had the kindness, like a good Chinese, to invite me to eat those wonderful dishes that I used to eat during my life in China. But even more, I had the honour that, before leaving, he made a short documentary about myself. Here it is for you to watch.

MV5BMjIzMjM3NjUzMV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjQ0NjcxNA@@._V1_.jpg

My days of rest in Cotonou come to an end. I have recharged my energies as never before, not so much for having slept comfortably and eaten much better, but for the invaluable company of my friend Germano who has looked after me like a brother. On the other hand, I also had the great joy of meeting Jiang Lei, a young Chinese who has been following me for a long time and lives in Benin teaching Chinese. Jiang Lei had the kindness, like a good Chinese, to invite me to eat those wonderful dishes that I used to eat during my life in China. But even more, I had the honour that, before leaving, he made a short documentary about myself. Here it is for you to watch.