Wednesday, 30 September 2009
The concert on Sunday evening comprised a local Beninoise group followed by a South African cappella group, Amaryoni (Zulu: The Lions). The setting was a lovely open-air jazz cafe. I really enjoyed the evening and both groups were brilliant. The SA group sung many songs in Zulu and even sung the National Anthem of South Africa, Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika (Xhosa: God Bless Africa). The whole audience stood as the national anthem was sung. It was really special.
The following evening a group of South Africans from the ship, along with the band Amaryoni, and representatives from MTN (a South African cellular network provider which is a large player on the African continent) and government, joined the Ambassador at her Official Residence for a buffet dinner. We had a swordfish starter followed by a barracuda fish main course with jollof rice and vegetables. Dessert consisted of crepes and fresh fruit. Amaryoni put on an informal, impromptu concert and the evening wrapped-up the Heritage Day celebrations at the Embassy here in Benin.
It really is lovely to meet up with fellow countrymen and women in a foreign setting. I also enjoy that all political affiliations are no longer important when we're outside of our country. We see each other as South Africans and find unity and a common spirit - despite our diversity. I've been really impressed by the South African Embassy here in Benin. They've really welcomed us and have made me even more proud to be South African. (Not that I have ever not been proud of my heritage - but it's nice to be reminded of home and our wonderful Rainbow Nation.)
Sunday, 27 September 2009
The event was kicked off with the playing of the National Anthem of South Africa, Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika, and then some speeches from dignitaries and the Ambassador herself. It was lovely to see some familiar sights from back home and celebrate SA culture in a totally different nation. The festival continues tonight with a concert featuring an acapello group from back home along with a local Beninoise group. I'll tell you more about that later. But for now here are some photos from yesterday's little exhibit.
Wednesday, 23 September 2009
Driving in Benin is a whole new experience. There are literally thousands of motorbikes and scooters, locally called "Zemidjans" (not sure on the spelling of that one - there are many differing versions of the same word), and it's always quite, well, interesting - and hazardous - driving in traffic surrounded by groups of these bikes. Never a dull moment driving in Benin.
The Market itself was a new cultural experience - although not too dissimilar from Duala Market in Monrovia, Liberia. We wandered up and down endless rows of stalls; stalls where one can by literally anything - from car batteries and shiny watches to fabric and goats. There was even a bicycle loaded with live chickens tied by string to the handlebars. The SPCA wouldn't be too chuffed. Although I doubt there is an animal anti-cruelty organisation here. The colours and smells are so pungent, powerful, bright too - it really is a vast kaleidoscope for the senses.
Many people shouted "Yovo, yovo!" ("White person, white person!"), trying to make a sale as we walked past, and I got quite a few comments because I was wearing my South African cricket shirt. "Hey, you from South Africa! You my friend!" in broken English. Indeed, South African business is booming here in Benin - well, certainly in the area of telecommunications. MTN, a major South African cellular network provider is everywhere here. They certainly have branched out into Africa and are doing really well - with advertising for the 2010 World Cup on posters and billboards in many different, strategic locations - including the Market.
It was a fun experience and is always good to soak up the culture and atmosphere of a new place. But soon the time had come for us to bundle back into our trusty Mercy Ships Land Rover and head back to the ship. And soon enough, we were all safe and sound onboard our big floating home here in Benin.
Wednesday, 16 September 2009
I know that my hair is quite a mess, but don't worry, for I have now had a really sweet haircut and so it's nice and short. And I'm now clean-shaven (although still sporting a gotee), which makes a huge difference when you have to wear a uniform each day!
Work this week has been busy and a little tiring, but otherwise I'm still enjoying it. It's great to play a small, but important role in supporting the general crew and (of course) the medical staff on this wonderful ship of mercy. We are all, after all, part of one body.
Sunday, 13 September 2009
But anyway, let's move on to Casa Del Papa. Here we had a great time swimming in the rough sea, relaxing and reading in the sun, kicking a rugby ball around, and enjoying some time away from the ship. I also went kayaking on a large lagoon nearby and that was a really fun experience. So all in all it was a good day out making some new friends and before long we were all heading back to the ship.
However, the drive back was rather tiring as we got stuck in traffic for over two hours and this was not fun. But the quality people in the Land Rover made up for the stress of constant clutch control and shifting from neutral to first, first to second, and second back to neutral again as we came to a grinding halt! By the time we reached the ship by 18h30 I was pretty exhausted from sleep deprivation, too much sun, and driving. And so I found myself catching a really early night. Going to bed at 21h00 and sleeping for over ten hours straight is bliss!
Here are some more photos from our day out... Enjoy!
Sunday, 6 September 2009
Being back is strange. In many respects it feels as if I've never left. Many of my good friends from the 2008 Liberia Field Service are still here (and a group of them made a really nice big card that they put on my door to welcome me back - thanks guys!) and all of my Gateway friends are here too. But the major difference is of course the country. Benin is a far cry from Liberia. The port is busy (right now I counted over five ships at anchor waiting to come into dock) and there are many ships currently docked. There is even a port control building fitted with radar installation (like at Table Bay Harbour, Cape Town) and a vibrant, colourful fishing harbour within the port. One of the fishing boats was even flying the South African flag! A lighthouse a short distance away warns ships of the hazards of venturing too close to the shore. In the city, most of the big roads are tarred or paved and there are even traffic lights. There seems to be some prosperity here - such as modern hotels and resorts and many big (privately-owned) SUV vehicles. But there is certainly much poverty and desperation too.
I start work tomorrow in the position of Team Leader for Reception. I will be working normal day job hours and will be there to oversee the smooth functioning of the department and to support the Reception team. I'm really thankful that I am back here on the Mercy Ship and am looking forward to getting back to work!
Here are some more photos from my travels to Benin and a few photos of the port and the ship.