Today was the type of day travellers dream of. Top to bottom, the variety of activities, intensity of experience and confluence of good fortune led to an entire vacation’s worth of wonder in less than 24 hours.
Morning had us visiting three of the micro groups that are the ultimate beneficiaries of all the hard work undertaken by Sylvie, Renė, Elyse, Augustin, et al. We visited their home base, were introduced to the seven or eight members who comprised the group, reviewed their business plans (which were clearer and more concise and realistic than much of the tripe that makes its way across my desk at home), and felt the joy and energy of the three groups eager to apply their recently received grants and loans in a way that will dramatically expand their current earnings. To qualify for the program each micro-company has to have been in existence for a minimum of three years and have demonstrated hard work and determination.
The groups we visited worked as a co-op. Each individual member has a personal outside job – hair stylist, shoe sales, Internet card vendor, baker, seller of fish, etc. as a group member, they set aside one day a week to work on their joint venture. The first of the three we visited produced natural herb medicine and liquid soap. The second group prepared tasty tidbits from wheat along with soap. The third group also made tasty bites. The benefit of obtaining this additional financing will serve to augment their earnings dramatically. It was agreed that they reduce their commitment to their other outside jobs and dedicate more to this group project. The return from the increase in production will dramatically and positively off set any reduction in time dedicated to shoes, hair, or fish sales.
At each visit we were welcomed with a fresh splash of water poured onto the entrance of their abode, a sign of welcome and respect, followed by a mini song and dance procession leading all the way in to seating area where the group’s formal business presentation wold be made. Lori and I both sensed a real turning point in the development of women’s rights and empowerment. To underscore the optimism, Sylvie, bursting out of her skin this morning, was over the moon in announcing a student interest shown by the Beninoise government to lend a hand in the promotion and development of Promotion des Femmes de Porto Novo, which, if brought to fruition will turbo power the organization into the future. The last minute notification resulted in a change of plans for the group. All for the good, since Lori and I were planning to head to Ouida for the day. The change in plans for Sylvie vis-a-vis government dinner worked out perfectly.
Following our visits to the women’s groups we headed to Ouida for the March 10th Voodoo celebration. We passed the airport along the way and were advised that the plane that has been sitting on the runway since 1978 is being prepped for our flight Saturday night. This may be our last entry.
|Fly Air Voodoo. We Take You to a Better Place.|
Ouida is the epicentre of voodoo spiritualism. Tomorrow is the annual celebration of the deities associated with the religion. Their version of Rosh Hashanah. Our guide, Apo, was only too pleased with the re-route as there is no place where he’d rather be. On the way here we stopped at a tarot reader with whom I consulted on pathways for my life for the future. Without going into too much detail, I seem to be on the right path and will generally continue my ways with (very minor) modifications. While having my discussion with the consultant Lori was visiting with a local rasta who lived on the beach, made sculpture out of whatever washed ashore, printed outstanding designs on fabric, and had a look and a smile that exuded radiance and confidence. Since we have a son with similar interest and looks, Lori was particularly taken by Samson. He was charming and perhaps Trevor may end up on the beaches of Cotonou hanging out with him.
Visit to another World
Spiritually, having had my Tarot thrown, discussing life with the shaman then spending time with Samson was cleansing and refreshing. Apo got us to Ouida mid afternoon. We stopped for a beer and a meal at a local eatery called Eidelweiss. I did not see a single blossom of snow either bloom or grow at all, let alone forever. However our meal was cut short as a result of a phone call. Apo was advised that on the eve of the most important celebration of the year His Majesty Dada Hounon Houna II, the Supreme Spiritual Chief,
|Dada’s Welcoming Committee|
had agreed to a private audience with us. Imagine Obama and the Pope rolled into one. This is who we were about to meet. We drove to his residence as he was showing up. Apo, Modeste, a friend of his who is a member of the entourage, Lori and I were given chairs and sat in front of HM and his courtiers. Not knowing what was coming or what to do, I watched Apo remove his shoes, approach the king, lie prostrate before him and kiss the ground. When in Voodoo land, what else could I do but follow suite. Had I access to a reverse strung Fender, I’d have ripped out a few chords of Voodoo Chile, but in this instance kissing dirt was the right choice. So after a few Baruch Ha Bahs from his acolytes we got down to business. His Dadaness was very happy that we showed the level of respect accorded him by his followers so the tone was set from square one. He asked us why we were there and what we wanted to know. I did my best in broken French to describe my quest for truth and unity in terms of religious interpretations. At the end of the session I made a donation to their cause (no receipt, unfortunately) and he and his acolytes laid their hands on me and offered a spiritual blessing.
The leader, aside from being gracious and charming, was erudite, worldly, and possessed a calmness and understanding that transcends most people I’ve met. It is difficult to convey the moment. Surreal is an overused platitude but this is one of the times that fit. Voodooism is not sticking pins in dolls. It is ultimately based on respect and love, without limiting the two qualities to people, or what we perceive as animate objects. There is an order and a set of deities associated with natural and spiritual phenomena. The underlying message of this religion, which is being recognized by UNESCO as a genuine and acceptable pursuit, is one of love and respect of all things, animate, inanimate, existing in the present, past or future. There is a simple message underlying the tenets, one that at the same time transcends all religions while simultaneously linking their essential principals. I received a benediction from DadaHounon Houna II and it felt no different in essence from the chanting of the Kohanim, from a Salaam Alekhem from an Imam, or a Go in Peace from a priest. Bottom line, the more Lori and I travel, explore and learn, the more the similarities, rather than differences in cultures and religions emerge. Bottom line- we’re all in this together, folks.
The evening led us to a visit to the Sacred Forest, the Voodoo equivalent of the garden of Eden. We arrived at dusk and visited the original holy ground of the religion. Having a host of bats circling overhead screeching their welcome only added to the atmosphere. Within the confines were sculptures of the various major deities. Each had a story and our guide, Modeste, explained their origin and function within the realm of Voodoo. Having the opportunity to photograph the statues in the evening gloam added to the spirituality, sanctity, and eeriness of the place. Personally after years of searching, I have finally found my personal deity to whom I will dedicate my life. His name – Rocketballz, Lord of the Seven Iron.
Given the choice, I’d go for this particular demonic deity but finding underwear that fit will be a problem.
|Lord Boner. God of Horniness.|