Hello from Benin.
Made it here tonight about 8:00 right on schedule. Our plane from Paris was a huge Air France Airbus 340 airplane that seats about 275 people. There were probably less than half that many on the airplane so we had a lot of room contrary to what we experienced on Delta from Salt Lake to Paris. They also eat well on Air France and we had a very nice meal on the way. We left most of the white faces behind in Paris although there were quite a few French people (Caucasian) on the plane also. Only a handful of Americans. Going through customs here is an interesting experience. It seems as if you have a choice. You can either (A) choose to go it on your own and face the prospect of opening all your luggage and exposing all the underwear stored therein, along with everything else, to the customs official as well as the room full of people all trying to get through 2 or 3 doors with all their luggage, or (B) hire a little Beninese guy, of whom there are plenty offering their service, and all you have to do is to stand there and identify your bags and he takes it from there. In that case, he loads your bags on a cart and you go right by the customs inspectors and out into the open and very warm, humid, tropical air of Benin. Having been forewarned by Elder Southam, we chose B. Only problem is the price isn’t fixed on what to pay him after you get to your vehicle. Elder Southham had warned us that the average worker only makes $10-12 per day so not to pay more than $3 or 4 for the service. Having purchased a sandwich in the Paris Airport and received a bunch of Euro coins in change, I determined to use them as my ticket out with our baggage. That worked quite well and we had seemed to settle on 5 euro’s for the service until he saw me digging the coins out of my pocket. Then he made his way over and informed me that he couldn’t accept coins, it would have to be bills. My fallback position was $5 which he wasn’t as happy with as the 5 euros but he still continued to gather up the bags. I didn’t ever figured out if he was speaking French or English. I couldn’t pick up much of either. That may have been part of the plan for an increased fee. Anyway we met the Southhams and made it to the 2 seat Toyota pickup not unlike Dave’s Dodge. I thought I was doing real well and mom gave him $7. He was pleased with the 5 but frowned at the 2 one dollar bills. I think he was hoping to exchange them for another $5 but by then it was a matter of pride and principle so I held firm. I told him in the best French I could muster that we had bargained for 5 and we gave him 7 and that was enough. I don’t think he was unhappy although we tried to make us feel a little cheap right up until the end. As soon as he left. as we stood in the parking lot visiting, another guy came by with a guitar and played a nice welcome song earning himself a $1 tip from Mom with which he was very happy. Interesting place this Benin.
The Southhams have their Son and Daughter in law visiting until the end of the week so their apartment is full. They have made arrangements for another apartment for us but it isn’t ready until tomorrow so they dropped us off at the best hotel in Cotonou for the night. It isn’t Little America but not too far behind. It is very nice and clean and comfortable. At Little America they don’t give you a cool moist towel when you walk up to the check in desk nor is there a beautiful African girl giving you a drink of pineapple juice with a piece of fresh pineapple on the side as you leave the desk to go to your room. Here you don’t handle your own bags either. The bell boy meets you at the car outside, brings them in and patiently waits until you check in, then ushers you to your room, opens the door, make sure the air conditioning, TV and everything is working and that you are comfortable before he leaves. A dollar or two tip produces a big African smile. I walked outside a while ago to find Mom a bottle of water. Victor, our bell boy was sitting by the elevator on our floor, I think just in case we need something. I had a nice visit with him, received a nice complement on my lousy French and a quick tour of the hotel, then walked down by the pool where there was a little bar that sold me a cold bottle of water. The air was warm, moist and sweet, almost intoxicating, and a big African moon was shining brightly. We are a long way from Blanding but so far we like Benin.