I had just begun my 8:00 class of 5eme. I was battling my students’ waned interest in language acquisition as usual. They didn’t seem to want to believe that 1. there is difference between object pronouns and subject pronouns (SHE goes to the market with HIM, not HE) and 2. that they had acquired this information in first year English. As I was about to fall to the floor and start crying for my mother, the Surveillant General entered the room.
“Soon the bell will sound. All the students and teachers will walk to the city hall where we will gather to greet our president, Boni Yayi.” After explaining in a few different ways until I actually understood his French, he left and I tried to continue my class. Naturally, the next five minutes were miserable, and I was grateful when the bell sounded.
We walked to the city hall and waited . . . three hours. It seems that there are several things that all head-of-state visits have in common, first world or third. The first is that they are never on time. The second is the presence of paranoid security. I can’t imagine that anyone would have it out for the president of Benin, but safe better than sorry. I was chastised for taking pictures by one of the gaurds. The final commonality is that the crazies always come out and try to steal the show. The only difference here is that here, the police get out their crops and beat them.
My host country’s president has a heightened presence in my region, the Borgou, because his “Crawford ranch” is 30 kilometers south in the same commune (Tchauorou, where my post mates Steve and Jaren can be found). He had come to announce that a good deal of money would be given to our village for the construction of new market stalls and a youth center. He made that announcement, greeted important people (Unfortunately, I didn’t get the “show off our token white-person” treatment this time), and left quickly after.
I’m impressed by my community’s ability to throw together a patriotic party in such a hurry. They found out he would be coming last night. They went to the rich people in village and asked to borrow their pleather couches, and put them under a giant mango tree. The ceremony was complete with the official sweeping ladies and a group of drummers and dancers performing traditional Bariba music. They performed for about 2 hours, thinking that the president was “about to arrive any minute” the whole time.
It doesn’t take a lot to get people’s attention here. They have time to absorb every event. A car accident or a brush fire can gather a crowd. Honestly, I barely saw the president. The real joy in an occasion like this is seeing the whole community come together and put on the show – the villagers dressed to the nines in their traditional boumbas and patterned fabric dresses, the dancing and music, the excited students, and crazy folk trying to steal attention from the president. It’s always a fun ride.