Au travail

I had hoped by the end of the day to be mostly clear on what will happen on Monday, but I have still a ways to go and fell asleep in the middle of the day. There is always Sunday I keep telling myself.

In the meantime I have taken care of some other important things. I have a local phone number now from the Move company. When one stops anywhere along the road boys with packets of any of the major cellphone companies stream like flies to your car, as if the window was covered with honey. Compared to the lengthy control process in countries such as India, Bangladesh, South Africa, where obtaining a simcard requires a trip to a store, a passport, a letter from the hotel and many forms to fill in, here it is a transaction that takes seconds. If it takes any time at all it is because of the negotiation about the cost (in the control countries the cost is neglible, a nominal fee, like 1 Rand in South Africa).

Next stop was the pharmacy. Although I knew that malaria is a big problem here, I hadn’t put one and one together and procured myself some malaria prophylactics back at home. Now, staying in an hotel on a lake and observing the mosquitoes in my room, I realized I’d better get some medicine. My co-facilitator is a doctor and he got me the medicine (WHO prescribed he told me, 200mg artesunate and 250 mg mefloquine, 3 days in a row), good for curing me and also protecting me, even as long as 6 months into the future. Oof!

And then the bank. Luckily I had some money left over from my trip to Cote d’Ivoire, which is the same currency they use here. Going to ATMs is always a bit of a crap shoot, you never know which card will work at which bank. It took only 2 tries and now I am good for local meals and more call minutes.

After several failed attempts to get into the office to see what was prepared for Monday we gave up. In between attempts we took a break at lunch time. My co-facilitator took me to a restaurant that was clean – me remaining in good health is critical to him (and to me for that matter). And so we had lunch at Mama Benin who announced on handwritten panels on every corner of her restaurant, in two languages, that food, once ordered could not be taken back to the kitchen or altered for reasons of hygiene (“thanks for your undestanding”).

A long counter with several pans sitting side by side replaced a written menu. The waiter explained patiently what was what: fish cooked in a variety of ways: smoked, stewed, grilled, cut up, whole (we are both on a lake and at the ocean), rabbit, poulet bicyclette (sinewy skinny chicken with long bicycle legs), gizzards on a stick, mutton, leafy sauces, red sauces, rice, manioc, fries or couscous. I asked whether any of the dishes were ‘piquant.’ ‘No,’ the cooks told me, ‘food here is not piquant.’ This, I discovered later, was not true.

I ordered a salad of quail eggs, a regular sized egg decorated with finely chopped greens, the most delicious avocados and lots of onions and tomatoes as a starter and then the leafy greens with a grilled piece of fromage (paneer) and grilled fish with too many tiny little bones. We ordered baobab juice to wash the fish bones down. According to the label it was full of the whole vitamin alphabet.

And now I am waiting for my colleague who is somewhere in the ‘interior’ of Benin to call me back, waiting for something that looks like an agenda and figuring out who is going to do what when the events start. From Monday on these ‘events’ will continue non-stop, with a brief weekend pause, until I leave on the 25th.

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