Roch, a resident of Puerto Novo participated in a teachers’ exchange program in Vienna years ago. Only days before departing for Benin I learned about this through my friend Linde Magg, who hosted Roch during his day in Vienna. He answered my mail immediately and met me already on my first day in Cotonou. Quickly it was decided that I would welcome the New Year with his extended family in Puerto Novo.
New Year’s Eve was rather quiet. Roch’s adult children had invited friends from Nigeria and hung around the house before leaving for a club. But January 1 was an unparalleled life time experience. The day started with a visit to Roch’s church, afterwards about 100 people gathered in the house of Roch’s parents. Luckily I was there early enough to watch the final preparations. Beer was cooled in big vets full of crushed ice, freshly harvested palm wine brought in and the open kitchen behind the house was super busy with women preparing tons of food.
Stereos were dragged into the yard, chairs and table set up and soon the relatives and neighbors poured in, all dressed to the nine in colorful clothes. Roch’s father gave a speech and soon some a serious party was on the way. I was not the only foreigner, the Nigerian students I met the night before were also invited, Hausa from the north of Nigeria, which made conversation a lot easier for me.
Some members of Roch’s family spoke English, he himself German and I had to dig up all the French I ever picked up.
Days later, I met Roch at the Protestant school in Cotonou, where he teaches German. I was given a grand tour to various classes, met the administrator and learned that the issues of discipline were very similar to those in my school, students being late, skipping school and being cheeky. Interestingly enough, it was mainly girls who dared to ask questions in English or German. Unfortunately, the first one was always “How old are you? Although it is a private school, up to 40 students fill the classrooms, squeezed into tiny desks. The only equipment is a blackboard, where students write down the teacher’s notes, did I love this!