Once we cross the border into Togo, busses and Tro-tros disappear. Taxis and motor scooters replace them as the primary form of public transit. We notice harsher conditions in the French-speaking countries of Togo and Benin.
“In the English speaking countries, people walk, then they get a car,” Apollo explains. “In the French speaking ones, people walk, then bicycle, then many get a motor scooter, and very few of them get cars.”
We pay an extra fare to the taxi driver so that three of us can sit in the back seat of the little Fiat, rather than the usual four passengers. Three also sit in the front seat. Mind you, none of the cars are larger than an economy size vehicle. We drive through a more lush countryside crossing into Benin from Togo, and notice that most people garb in very colorful, traditional attire. The dwellings, in small villages we pass, often are made from mud-brick and palm thatched roofs.
Gas stations become roadside stands, with a variety of shapes and sizes of bottles, full of gas, and on display. At first, I think that they are selling palm wine. (African moonshine)
The religious breakdown in Benin is: 20%Muslim; 30%Christian, and 50% traditional belief such as Animism and Voodoo, which is practiced under the name of Fetishism. Christians and Muslims also practice some forms of Voodoo. All religions coexist peacefully and respectfully.
Our US dollars mean nothing here, and we cannot even exchange them for CFAs, the currency for all French speaking countries. At a rare automatic teller, $200,000CFAs equal about $400US dollars, which maxes out my daily banking limit.
We ride the final leg of our journey today on the back of small scooters. Bouncing over top gravel and dirt roads, I am not used to riding on the back of a bike. I find it frightening at first, not being in control, but these riders quickly prove their expertise, weaving in and out of ruts, rocks, and raw sewage, as if competing in an exotic obstacle course.
Apollo leads us to the resort “Chez Theo,” in the town of Possotome. He is proud to say that a black man owns and operates this business. Our painted clay hut looks similar to the one where we stayed back in Ghana at the KO-SA. Only, it offers a private bath/shower and air conditioner. I should mention that we have not seen a shower with hot water thus far, not that we need it, because the African sun keeps the water plenty warm.
We relax on a stilted terrace, overtop Lake Aheme, and the three of us share beers. Apollo explains that his family has slaves, purchased a few generations ago. The slaves are like part of the family, but are not entitled to any sort of inheritance.
“Once a foreigner, always a foreigner,” he explains. Then he pulls out a dark, plastic bag. “I have a special treat for you.”
Apollo opens up the bag and offers us a few pieces of “Grasscutter,” the cooked meat of the “King Rodent,” that he knows we want to try. Yes…it is a rat…but a big one, who eats only grass and is hunted throughout West Africa.
After that appetizer, we feast on the two available dinners: rabbit and fish, before calling it an evening.