I remember quite vividly when we left the University of Ghana campus on a bus en route to Benin. You read right! A bus trip to Benin! Long trip but it was actually fun. After about 13 hours, we arrived in Cotonou. I had previously visited Benin but this time, I was going to stay for about 9 months and I relished the idea of living there.
Oh what an experience it was! The scenery and how calmly citizens strolled about minding their own business was definitely a different sight. My goal for being there was to study French and because it’s widely spoken in Cotonou (to my surprise because I was expecting some local dialects in there just like it is in Ghana), I picked up the language pretty fast. Did I mention that, they could speak some English too?! Just as Twi is widely spoken in Ghana, Fon is widely spoken in Cotonou but almost everyone speaks French. I did pick up a few words in Fon too. I might just do my next post in Fon if I manage to download a fon keyboard.
Well, we weren’t in Cotonou to only learn French, cultural immersion was also necessary. As Ghanaian students, and as adventurous as some of us were, we organized our own excursions to some of the wonderful sites in Cotonou. This, we did by commuting on motorcycles through the city. Motorcycles are the most common means of transport round the city and are popularly known as ‘k3k3’ and the motor rider known as ‘k3k3nor’. My first experience on a motorcycle was a bit a scary. You have no idea how I respect motor riders now. While in Cotonou, we visited the Étoile Rouge, the Cotonou Littoral Monument, the Cotonou Craft Market, Fondation Zinsou, Grand Marché du Dantokpa, Obama beach, just to mention a few.
Built in the 1970s, the Étoile Rouge is one of the biggest monuments one can find in Cotonou. It is situated in a very big roundabout. It’s a very busy place and like the name suggests, it is a red star. The star can be seen when one has an aerial view. In the middle of this star is a statue of a man with a gun slung over his shoulder, a bundle of wood in his left hand and a hoe in his right.
After your tour of the Étoile Rouge and you feel like grabbing something to bite on, there is a restaurant close to this site. You could get your local and intercontinental dishes from this cozy restaurant. I tried eating a couple of local dishes like “pate” and “ach3k3’ but I prefer the “ach3k3” more. I don’t want to get started by how good ‘ach3k3’ is. Yummy!!
Another place I visited was the Grand Marché du Dantokpa which is an open air market. I ended buying textile print so I could sew a ‘complet’ because I wanted to look more like the Béninois who loved their local textile prints. Now the fun part; there’s a ‘juju’market section.Yup! A fetish section! They don’t joke there.
Normally after a hectic week, we will go to Obama beach or Erevan beach, which is between the International Conference Centre and the Novotel, to cool off during the weekends. It also became our ‘base’ for celebrating birthdays.
I had a wonderful time in Cotonou. You can visit the place some time and if you like a bit of adventure like I do, you can travel by bus.
By Roger Amanor-Ofori