this little piggy went to Dantokpa market
(Photo taken by my friend & fellow crew member, Giles Smalley. Check out Giles and Adrienne's blog for their perspectives regarding Mercy Ships.)
My bunkmate is a highly adventurous Aussie woman named Margot. She was given AUS $50 by a coworker to buy musical instruments to give to children in a local orphanage. Yesterday, Margot invited me to come along with her as she went to the market with Matthieu, one of the ward translators, to search for said musical instruments.
An acquaintance who served two years with the Peace Corps in Benin warned me that I might be so overwhelmed by the market that I might cry. For the record, I did not cry. But I did pray.
You can find nearly anything you want at the Dantokpa market: beans, chilies, vegetables and fruits, assorted seafood, herbs (I recognized aloe and eucalyptus), eggs, live hens and doves, chipmunks (or a close cousin), cement chunks, dish soap, DVDs, fabric, cow patties or coal, and musical instruments. We would never have found our way without Matthieu, who stopped to ask directions at least twice as we wound our way through the muddy, narrow aisles, watching both where we stepped and also all around us as people bustled in every direction.
We paused to let a man pulling a wheeled metal cart pass us. His cart became stuck briefly on a large concrete chunk, and to make matters worse the nearest woman selling her wares began to tug his cart in the opposite direction, preventing him from continuing on his way. Apparently she was angry that he had chosen to pull his cart so close to her corner. A shouting match ensued, settling down only after the man violently yanked his cart off the concrete block and the woman threw a bowlful of water at him, narrowly missing me as I scurried to get out of the fray.
We finally found the two stalls that sold musical instruments, and I settled onto a concrete stoop to people-watch while Margot decided what she wanted and Matthieu did the haggling. I received many stares--some curious, some less-than-friendly--as I sat there, but almost no one stopped to show me their wares, so I simply took in the general 'ambiance.'
It's hard to even know how to describe what I saw displayed for sale in the market stalls across from me. Will you believe me when I tell you what I saw? Monkey heads and skulls, dead songbirds and vultures, dessicated lizards, hippo feet, hippo skulls, live fish in water bottles, long shanks of golden and black hair (lion mane?), leopard skins, and all sorts of other dead and decaying things.
Margot asked Matthieu about these things, but the most he could say--or would say--was that they are used in traditional religious ceremonies.
While many of my patients wear a double strand of beads around their waist as a protective fetish, this little trip into the market opened my eyes to the more macabre side of Vodun, also known as Voodoo. Benin is called the birthplace of Vodun, and although only 18% of the population practice it, that still amounts to about 1 million people. Often traditional Vodun beliefs are syncretized--I think of it as layered--with Catholicism or Christianity. (For an in-depth, academic explanation, including a brief discussion about what the response of the Church should be, check out this link.)
So with the hot African sun beating down on me, I sat on the concrete stoop and thanked God that the war has already been won. I prayed for the people of Benin--strong, dancing, passionate--who reflect Imago Dei, the image of God. I prayed for the people involved in this kind of belief system--that God would break through their darkness and make Himself known, for He is light and in Him there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5).
And after a little while, Margot and Mathieu called me over to help carry their purchases: assorted drums, rattles, bead-covered gourd shakers, and what can only be described as cow bells. I wrapped a heavy yellow and red wooden drum under my arm and followed them back out of the maze of the market.
I've thought about it, and I did not feel an oppressive sense of evil or darkness while I was there. Rather, I felt sadness that today, in 2009, people are still living in belief systems that require darkness and death. It was hard to see all the dead animals--beautiful creations of God--rotting and laid out in rows for use in ceremonies. And I was once again thankful for a God of infinite power and love, who calls His people out of the darkness and into the light.
Not all of the patients that come to Mercy Ships are Christian. Some are Muslim, and some have layered traditional religion plus Christianity. But we tell people over and over that we have come because we love Jesus, and we tell them that through Him we have new life and freedom.
As one of the translators said during the VVF dress ceremony I went to this week, "God has seen your sufferings and has made a way through the sea for this ship to come."
We have come on this ship as people with a story: a story of how God has led each of us, both individually and collectively, out of darkness and into light. He has cast out fear with His perfect love. And as we seek to love and heal the people we meet, we pray that they too will come to know Him.
The war has already been won.