West Africa – after 13 years I am back. Not much changed, I feel the same as before, nothing is foreign to me. Same landscape, same people, in a certain way it is like I am coming home. Green lush landscape in the south, dry red earth in the north. It is like many years ago, like centuries ago. The smell of the tropics reminds me again of Bougainville mixed with dust and burned firewood.
I love the smell of burned wood, it is kind of perfume for me. Traveling again long ways on dirt roads, hours for hours, just looking out of the car window. Stopping in little places, eating arrachides – fried roasted peanuts, drinking Malta Tonic, tasty malt beer without alcohol, trying fresh bananas, mangos and papayas. Everything is available in little stalls on the street.
From time to time I am looking at the driver who has to manage the road with lots of goats, sheeps and chicken which are crossing unexpectedly. I told a woman in the bus that I like roasted peanuts and at the next stop she buys some in an empty Gin bottle, offering it to all the travellers. I am just letting my mind go, back to those days in the heat, to those hours when the electricity broke down for hours, sometimes for days. I remember the sand storms, when the Harmatan came down from the Sahara, covering our house with yellow dust.
I remember the lack of running water and how we managed to go in the garden, very glad to have huge tanks filled with water from the rainy season, which we could use for days. I have memories of our maid Assana, who stayed in the house when we were travelling, taking care of our animals, the papaya trees and pineapple plants in our garden behind the house.
I have memories of our guard Chabi, who came every evening, sitting the whole night in front of the small guard house at the entrance to our garden. Passing the night and the dark there in front of a fire, with a Machete knife close by, just in case of some danger.
I remember some late evening when we came home by car. He did not open as quick as usual the gate, because he was falling asleep. Then our dog came out of the house, barking at the gate, waking him up. Things I have to smile about now. Even when at that time I have not been amused to see our guard falling asleep. Only at night when we went to bed we shut down the door of our house. It stayed open all day, airy, only covered by Mosquito door.
On the flat top of our house we had a “Paillotte”, kind of a big wooden straw umbrella where we were sitting and watching the sunset above the Savannah which surrounded our house. I remember the Gin Tonics which we had with friends and colleagues, who came on the weekends from nearby houses because there was nothing else to do.
Remembering the incredible warm nights when we slept under Mosquito nets at the roof terrace. The last view before I closed my eyes was the dark sky with many stars.
The first look after I woke up has been to the dawn and to the neighbours which start the day early. I watched them going with yellow canisters to the well, getting the amount of water they need for the day. I looked down from the roof into the mud compounds where the women started to light the fire for cooking and to boil hot water. I saw the kids going out with the sheeps and goats in order to provide them some green food on the plain and dry earth in the North of Benin.
Sometimes on the weekends we drove 40 Kilometres up north to the water place of the elephants which came out of the bush. Sometimes only two, sometimes ten, sometimes much more.