Cinder blocks (made locally) and concrete dominate as building materials, especially in larger towns and cities. This building is down the street from our host family’s house in Porto Novo, Benin’s capital. The store on the bottom right of the photo sells cell phones, the store to the left of that sells baby accessories, and the next to the left is a locally made shoe shop. The sign on the cell phone store, “Operation Un Beninois Un Portable” roughly translates to “A cell phone for each Beninoise”. Cell phones and cell phone stores are ubiquitous. Most people have a cell phone. Lots of people carry multiple cell phones, each with a sim card from a different cell phone company to maximize coverage. Land lines are rare. A Peace Corps volunteer who served here ten years ago and recently returned to visit said that the proliferation of cell phones is perhaps the biggest differences between Benin now and Benin ten years ago.
I brought my Henckels chef’s knife with us. But I couldn’t resist buying this hand-made knife in our market. The handle is hand carved from wood and was rough. Several splinters convinced me to sand it down. The blade was extremely sharp when I bought it but the metal in the blade is weak and has developed lots of nicks already. Still, a fun purchase at about $1.00.
Women are the primary care givers for kids here and carry their babies with them to do housework, to go shopping or, like this woman, while they sell items in the market. In addition to the stalls in the market, lots of people carry items (mostly on their heads) to sell. A head nod is usually enough to get them to stop and sell you whatever it is they have. I don’t know the name of the plant that she is selling but it is used as a traditional medicine to treat upset stomachs. The leaves are soaked in hot water and the ensuing tea drunk.
Yesterday I came home hungry. There was leftover jerk chicken from the previous night’s dinner. (I had used the jerk seasoning recipe from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything). Usually I don’t like chicken breasts as they are dry and boring but the breasts were the winner on this chicken. Local Beninese chickens run free and eat whatever bugs and grains they can find. Thus, their meat is tougher and less fatty than the plump, juicy chicken we get in the U.S. I also burned the hell out of the legs and thighs as I put them on the grill before the charcoal had sufficiently died down. But I digress. Back to lunch.
Jen had bought a baguette with—you guessed it—spicy tomato sauce and left me half. Inspiration struck. I shredded the leftover chicken breast, chopped up some fresh pineapple and red onion and then piled it on the baguette. Hmmmm… Close, but it needed something. The cilantro and mint growing on our patio aren’t ready to eat yet so I tore some basil leaves from the bush that I was given a couple of weeks ago. Sandwich now complete, I took a hungry-boy bite: a clear winner.
Don’t have any Beninese spicy tomato sauce on hand? Substitute some mayonnaise or a little olive oil and vinegar or whatever else you like on a sandwich. Any herb would be great though I think cilantro, mint, basil or a combination would be best. Try it. Let me know what you think.
I bought a grill for $2 at our market; the grate for cooking cost me another $2. I grill in the shared yard in front of our house. Cooking is almost exclusively the domain of women here so I get some funny looks and questions from our neighbors when I’m cooking.
Dinner: Grilled jerk chicken, pineapple and onions with sweet potato fries, cabbage & carrot salad. I burnt the chicken a bit as I’m still getting used to the new grill. The sweet potato fries were the winner this night.
Jen and I set out one recent Sunday for a long bike ride. The map we have shows about a half dozen roads in our area but there are hundreds of dirt roads like this that crisscross the area. It’s a lot of fun to explore the roads and see where we end up. Those are palm trees (for palm oil) on the left and small corn plants in the rows immediately to the right of the road. Papaya trees are behind the corn in the right of the picture.
A farmer that we stopped to chat with along the ride standing with his bike. There’s manioc growing behind him and some sweet potatoes in the right side of the photo.
Jen zipping through the fields and trying to catch bugs in her mouth.