Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Travel Essay Contest -- Entry 11

I Must Be Off! is having its first annual Travel Essay Contest. Each entry will appear at first without byline or bio. These will be added at the end of the contest. As you enjoy these travel essays from around the world, please feel free to comment; but if you offer criticism, remember to be positive. These writers are my guests.

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VISITING A VOODOO LAND
by BEDE ADAZIE

INTRODUCTION
This is not Haiti in the Caribbean. It is Cotonou, the commercial capital of Benin Republic, in the heart of west Africa . The city was founded as a colony of the French Dahomey in the 18th century by some French expeditions team. Originally it was part of the ancient Yoruba kingdom stretching from ile ife Osun state in Nigeria through, Lagos Badagry, an area covering some 700 miles along the south Atlantic. The French took the part from Seme (a border district) down to the west, while the British colonized the eastern part of Badagry-a part of  Lagos. Both Nigeria and Benin republic share a common border and coastline.

ARCHITECTURE
The five to six lane wide roads immediately across the border with Nigeria is an architectural masterpiece built to international standard, matching any other road in the world. The road leads into other better things -- good roads, clean drainages, a free flowing traffic with standard traffic signs, organized street and homes and most importantly, ‘I saw fresh air in Cotonou’. Although the city does not have skyscrapers the much as in central business district of Lagos , it is a well organized city, with fine houses. The streets and homes are designed and numbered as in any other street in the developed world.

Only government approved pharmacies are found located in neighborhoods’, as designed in the master plan of the city , these pharmacies are complete with air conditioning . I was shocked by the fact that I could not see a single generator in the city. Electricity supply from the national grid is constant and almost 100% efficient. Contrast this with the neighboring Lagos where virtually every household has a generator with the ever noisiest carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide gases polluting the environment due to epileptic power supply from the Nigerian national grid.
I can state categorically that there are no problems of traffic snarls or congestion or hold up in Cotonou, despite it being a commercial hub. The roads are well designed to take care of the present and future traffic needs.

THE PEOPLE
Cotonou is populated by many men and women from Pakistan, India, China, Nigeria, Niger, Chad, lvory-coast, Senegal, France  and of course the indigenous people and a host of other nationalities too numerous to mention. It was indeed a revelation to me to discover this “international community” just at my back door here in Lagos.

ECONOMY
Cotonou is the commercial hub of Benin republic and the economy is import-dependent. The government has a regime of low import tariff which encourages a lot of business men in west Africa and beyond to make it a “one stop shop” for importing goods into other parts of west Africa. It has a seaport, an airport and very good road networks.

POLITICS
The current president of Benin republic is Boni Yayou the previous African union chairman. The over charismatic Mathew Kerekou - the president of the country then when l visited a few years back- encouraged the import business to thrive and flourish during his tenure. The country is currently undergoing port reforms and anticorruption measures are being put in place by the current leadership of the country.

FOOD AND DRINK
There are a variety of dishes to be served, being an “international city”. I had a taste of the local rice and corn meal but switched over to my own local delicacy which is readily found in the city. All manner of local and international drinks are found in Cotonou but I take mostly bottled water and non alcoholic malt drinks believe it or not!

RELIGION
Roman Catholics are in the majority, with protestants  slightly gaining in roads as a result of migrants from other parts of west Africa. Voodoo is also recognized as the unofficial state religion of the locals with some special festivities marking voodoo as a religion. Voodoo temples and also witch doctors also abound in Cotonou.

THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLE
The Seme, Yoruba-Egun tribes are the locals from the place, the women are generally hardworking and loose, but the men also were lazy and get busy drinking all evenings. Thus cotonou has one of the highest drinking bars and joints in Africa. Currently, due to mixing up of the locals and foreign migrants, the men and women are fast developing an enterprising spirit with great emphasis on education.

HOTELS
Hotels are mostly owned by foreigners and there is a massive investment in infrastructure, formally by the French, and currently by the Chinese.

INSTITUTIONS
There are few internationally recognized institutions and universities in the area. However, a lot of Nigerian investors are building more post primary institutions and businesses in the area.

ANGELA KIDJO
The internationally renowned musician Angela Kidjo is a proud native of Cotonou, where her parents came from. She is also a UNESCO ambassador for peace with billboards of her adorning strategic locations within the city

CONCLUSION
Cotonou is a peaceful city and a hub of commercial activities, mostly due to importation on cheap tariff as a key government policy. The people are hospitable and I enjoyed myself a lot there. I invite u to take a trip to the city where dreams come true!

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Bede Adazie was born some 35 years ago in Lagos, Nigeria. His parents came from an average-income working class background. The father--now late--was an insurance practitioner and mother--still living--is a businesswoman.


He has a college diploma in mechanical engineering as a first degree and is now pursuing a post graduate degree in education. He enjoys reading, politics, and is an ardent fan of Chelsea football club of England. Currently, he is a volunteer teacher in mathematics and sciences with the "Lagos Eko Volunteer Teachers Project" for public schools in the state.

Also, he does educational consultancy for schools and conducts research on contemporary sociopolitical and ethical scientific issues of his day. His watchword is 'making the world better than he met it'.

RESULTS OF THE CONTEST ANNOUNCED ON JULY 20!