A Day in Ouidah

Ede was looking out the window when she saw Hank drive up. Immediately her heart began to beat faster. “Pastor Hank is here,” she told her grandmother.

“Good. I’m looking forward to meeting him.”

Ede went to answer the door. Hank’s face broke into big smile when he saw her. “Good morning, Pastor Hank.”

“Good morning, Ede.”

She stepped aside for him to go inside and after closing the door, she took him into the living-room where her grandmother was. “Grandma, this is Pastor Hank. Pastor Hank, this is my grandmother, Mrs. Amadou.”

“Hello, Pastor Hank. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

Hank went over to Mrs. Amadou and shook her hand. “Hello, Mrs. Amadou. It’s a pleasure to meet you too.”

“Ede told me that you are the new pastor of Harvest Seventh-day Adventist Church.”

“Yes, I am.”

“You’re from Portland, Oregon which is in America.”

“Yes.”

“You’ve come a long way.”

“Harvest needed a new pastor and God chose me.”

“How do you find Cotonou?”

“I think it’s a beautiful place and I find the people very friendly.”

“Can you speak French?”

“Yes. I learnt French when I was five years old.”

“Ensuite, vous n’aurez aucun mal à communiquer avec les personnes qui ne parlent pas anglais.”

“C’est vrai. Parfois, j’aime parler français à ceux qui peuvent parler et comprendre l’anglais.”

Mrs. Amadou smiled. “You speak French very well.”

Hank smiled. “Thank you.”

“So, you’re off to Ouidah.”

“Yes. I hope you don’t mind that I invited your granddaughter to come with me.”

“No, I don’t mind at all. Ede has never been to Ouidah so it will be a nice outing for her.”

“One of church members suggested that I visit the city. She said that I would find it very educational.”

“I’m sure you will.”

“Grandma, will you be all right?”

“Don’t worry. Isoka will be any time soon. And Aisosa’s upstairs.” Isoka was the nurse and Aisosa was the housekeeper.

“All right, Grandma.” Ede leaned down to hug her and kiss her on the cheek. “I’ll see you later.”

“Pastor Hank, I hope you could join us one Saturday for lunch.”

“I would like that very much, Mrs. Amadou.”

“Good. Let Ede know which Saturday works for you.”

“I will.”

“Goodbye, Pastor Hank.”

“Goodbye, Mrs. Amadou.”

They left the house and walked to his car. He opened the door for her and closed it behind her. “We’re going to visit three places,” he told her as he started the engine. “Pythons Temple, The Ouidah Museum of History and La Porte Du Non Retour.

“We’re not going to Foret Sacree de Kpasse?”

“No. Would you like to go there?”

Ede shook her head. “No. I don’t want to go to any place where there’s voodoo.”

“That’s why it isn’t on my list. There are several divinities there and large ritual ceremonies are performed. If I were to go there, it would be to hand out literature, encouraging people to turn to the one true God and to give their lives to His Son, Jesus Christ.”

“We can pray for them. Pray that they come out of the darkness and into God’s light.”

“Yes, at Harvest, we can designate one Sabbath to be a day of fasting and prayer.”

“That’s a good idea.”

“So, Ede, what do you like to do in your spare time?”

“I go for walks, read, watch TV and listen to music.”

“Do you play any sports?”

“No, but I like to watch them.”

“There’s a football match on Sunday afternoon at Stade de l’Amitie. Would you like to go?”

“Yes.”

He smiled. “Good. It has been a while since I’ve been to a live football match.”

They talked about other things and then, they were at the Pythons Temple. Ede watched in trepidation as Hank and other people freely interacted with the giant snakes, petting them and taking pictures. “I wonder if the serpent that tempted Eve was a python,” she said to Hank when they were on their way to his car.

“It’s possible. Apparently they worship pythons here because they are considered holy and there’s an ancient folk story about a python helping a king against invaders.”

“I know God made them but I can’t stand snakes. I find them scary.”

“Most people do.”

“What does a Pythons skin feel like?”

“It feels warm and dry. Like most snakes, the skin is dry and scaly and made of a strong material a bit like our finger nails.”

“I read somewhere that snake skin, like crocodile skin, is often used to make fashion accessories.”

“Yes.  Snake skin is not half expensive as crocodile skin. And python or anaconda skins are often used to make handbags, purses, shoes and belts.”

“I don’t agree with using animal skins to make accessories but I can understand why they use snake skins. Although I find them hideous, they came in all sorts of beautiful colors and patterns.”

“Yes, they do. And there are existing laws in many countries to make sure using snake skins to make accessories does not impact on animals at risk.”

The next stop was the The Ouidah Museum of History. Restored and reopened in 1967, the museum was once a Portuguese fort and slave trade center. On the compound were a chapel, military garrison and barracks and a residence. In the residence, there was a variety of memorabilia and archaeological relics, some dating back to prehistoric times. Admission to the museum was free. It featured images showing how the west African slaves their food, dance and culture over to the Americas. However, it was hard for Hank and Ede to see the artifacts and images from the slave trade because of the horrible conditions the slaves people had to endure. In spite of this, it was worth taking the tour and at the end, they each gave a donation to the guide.

“That was a very emotional journey,” Ede said when they left. “They experienced such unimaginable cruelty. I will never understand how some people could do that others.”

“Slavery is something that was never meant to happen. It began with Abraham’s descendants. Slavery is definitely not of God. We were all created in His image. It says in Galatians 3:28 there is no longer any distinction between Jew and Greek, slave and free man, male and female—We are all one in Christ Jesus.”

“Many of the slaves had their religion which sustained them through those terrible times.”

“Many of them, though they were in bondage, they were free because of their hope of salvation.”

Ede blinked back the tears. “Yes. They were spiritually free.”

Hank reached out and squeezed her hand. “Do you feel up to going to La Porte Du Non Retour?” he asked.

She nodded. “Yes.”

La Porte Du Non Retour or the Door of No Return was a memorial arch in concrete located on the beach. It was erected in 1995 by the initiative of UNESCO and commemorates the deportation of millions of captives enslaved to colonies across the Atlantic in the slave trade. It was the point of no return for the slaves. Ede teared up again as she imagined men, women and children were taken from their land and carried away on ships. Many perished at sea and those who survived were forced to live in horrific conditions. Many died in slavery.

There were art shops nearby where Hank and Ede went. They browsed but didn’t buy anything. They went for a walk on the beach before they drove to Restaurant L’Amicale to have lunch. Over very tasty food, they talked about what they had seen. Then, it was time to head back to Cotonou.

Before he took Ede home, Hank made one stop. He made sure that he was parked in such a way that when he came out of the shop, Ede wouldn’t see what he had bought. He put it in the trunk of his car. “Ede, I hope you had a good time in Ouidah in spite of the a very painful history.”

“Yes, I did. I’ve always wanted to visit Ouidah.”

“I’ve heard so much about it that I had to visit. The next city I’d like to see is Porto-Novo.”

Ede glanced at him. “Is it because it’s the capital city of Benin?”

“That’s one of the reasons. I heard that the city produces palm oil, cotton and kapok. Petroleum was discovered off the coast of the city in the 1990s and has since then it has become an important export. I’m curious to see its cement factory and its colonial buildings like the Brazilian-style Great Mosque. And of course, the Musée Da Silva with its collection of the history and culture of Benin and the Museum of Ethnography with its large collection of Yoruba masks.”

“Those are a lot of reasons for wanting to visit Porto-Novo.”

“The main reason is that it’s where you’re from.”

“I haven’t been to Porto-Novo since I left.”

“Maybe you would like to come with me and give me a tour of the place.”

She smiled. “There’s a lot to see in Porto-Novo. You may have to make at least two trips.”

“I don’t mind how many trips it will take to see all of Porto-Novo.”

They talked more about Porto-Novo and other cities he was thinking of visiting. When they go to her grandmother’s house, he parked the car and got out. He opened the trunk and took out the bouquet of yellow lilies and pink roses. Holding them behind his back, he opened the door for her. When she got out, he turned and faced her. “Can we go somewhere more private and talk?” he asked.

“Yes.” She took him to the garden at the back of the house. They stood facing each other. She was on the top step leading to the backdoor, looking down at him. They were eye-level.

When they stood there facing each other, she on the top step leading to the back door, “You mentioned that it was your birthday is tomorrow and since I won’t see you, I thought I would give these now.” He held out the bouquet.

Ede’s eyes widened in shock and delight. “Thank you, Pastor Hank. They’re lovely.”

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Hank chuckled. “”You’re welcome.”

“These are from Mrs. Boukari’s flower shop where I bought the yellow roses for my grandmother for her 70th birthday.”

“Yes. I didn’t see you go inside, though.”

“That was the whole idea. You weren’t supposed to.”

She laughed. “That’s why you put them in the trunk so that I wouldn’t see them.”

“Yes. I didn’t want to spoil the surprise or have you think that there were for someone else.”

“It was a definitely a surprise. I can’t wait to show them to my grandmother. They’re beautiful.”

“There’s a card inside as well.”

She beamed up at him and then, spontaneously, she leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. When she drew back, he was no longer smiling. There was a tense expression on his face. “You’re welcome, Ede,” he said quietly.

Then, she realized the mistake she had made and was mortified. “I’m sorry,” she mumbled, wishing the ground would open up and swallow her. What was she thinking, kissing him like that? What if one of the neighbors had seen?

“Don’t be,” Hank told her. Her kiss left a lasting impression.”

She held the flowers close to her face, breathing in their sweet fragrance. “Thank you for taking me to Ouidah.”

“It was my pleasure. I’ll call you tomorrow for your birthday. Goodbye, Ede.”

“Goodbye, Pastor Hank.” She watched as he walked away. She hoped that her impetuous act wouldn’t ruin things between them. As she turned and unlocked the door to go inside the house, it dawned on her that since she met Hank, she hadn’t been thinking about Father Desjardins as much.

Sources: Tripadvisor; Wikipedia; TripHobo; Object Lessons; Antislavery Usable Past; Inspirock; Trip Advisor; Wikipedia; CS Mcgill; Inspirock

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