Driving in Benin

Cotonou Taxi  This is in front of the pickup - just part of driving in CotonouSoeur Black and I have spent most of the week lost somewhere in Cotonou. One of the problems with having some wheels is that you have to drive them if you are going to get around the City. That presents two problems. One is the Motos, on which I am now revising my estimate of the count to millions. The other is knowing where you are. We have tried unsuccessfully to buy a map of the city. Elder Southam finally came up with an old one that was hanging around his apartment but it doesn’t help a lot. First of all there are almost no street names or numbers. Each area has a neighborhood name of which taxi and moto drivers seem to be aware. The chapel and Southams apartment is in Gbedjdromede. I can’t tell you how to say it but if you leave out the G and the j and say the last e and a long A, you will come close phonetically. Our little house is in Houeyiho. Don’t even try that one phonetically – it won’t work. Those must be Fon names because they aren’t any French I have ever heard before. Once you get to the neighborhood, you are on your own as the only addresses are behind a school, next to a store or across from a post office or internet café. It seems to work out fine and asking directions is not frowned upon but it doesn’t do much for finding your way around. Every once in a while we pass something and recognize that we passed it once before but we can’t remember when and even if we could we didn’t know where we were that time either. We have learned to get from our house to the Chapel and back. Also we have a couple of the main streets and roundabouts identified so we feel a little better.

A sampling of the Cotonou MotosNow if we could just get the motos to leave us alone. Most everywhere you go your are traveling in a virtual sea of motos, in front, on each side, and behind. There seems to be basically two traffic rules. One is that there is strength in numbers and the other is if there is a space, move into it. The motos are quicker and better at it than I am. The amazing thing is that it seems to work. Everyone is in the same boat so everyone just tries to look out for themselves and in so doing everyone is taken care of. Actually we probably get more than our share of being watched over. I have learned to make the moto drivers my friends and allies. When you make a left turn, for example, you just wait until you get a good brigade of motos on your right and then they will kind of wade into the oncoming traffic and overwhelm it so you can cross without any problem. Honking is fairly constant but it isn’t malicious. It is just to let you know they are around. So far we have only observed two moto accidents. In both cases the victims just gathered themselves up and got back on the moto. Yesterday, coming back from a meeting to which I took the elders, we were coming around a roundabout with the usual moto escort when one driver reached over and put his hand on my fender so he could keep the required inch or two away from my front wheel and away we went around the roundabout. You also have the occasional driver, usually someone rich in an SUV who seems to feel like if he can get past just one more car, he will be in the front of the line of all the cars in Benin. These people are the most irritating. It is going to be a challenge to drive 18 month here without wiping one out but we will give it our best effort. Slow and steady seems to work.

Missionary work wise, it has been a good one in spite of being lost. We have gone with the Elders to 5 or 6 meetings. A couple of them have fallen through but others have been great. A man named Hillary (there seems to be a lot of cross over between what we normally think of as girls or boys names) was invited by Elder Southam when he went to get some copies made and showed up at church on Sunday. He is an accountant at an appliance store and a clean cut good looking guy. He seems to have a great interest in the Church. On meeting last night was with Mama Rose. Her son is one of the missionaries serving from this Branch but she has never been baptized. We had a really good meeting with her. It was our first chance to observe Elder Niambe (he is from Ivory Coast) teach and we were impressed. He not only knows the gospel, he knows how to teach it. Comparing these missionaries to what I remember from my first mission in France, they are miles ahead. I suppose that comes from better training at the MTC than we ever received.

There are a couple of other driving hazards. One is the sand. Our little pickup isn’t 4 wheel drive so it can get trapped in the sand quite easily. The only time it has happened so far, Elders Howard and Niambe who were with us along with some friendly neighborhood natives provided the 4 wheel drive and it worked quite well. The other is the weather. We really haven’t had to deal with that yet. This morning, however, it is blowing and raining with lightning and thunder. We will have to see how that goes. Maybe it will thin out the motos.

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