what to do in Cotonou
The last two days have been a nice respite from being cooped up on the ship. Yesterday I walked with some girlfriends to the nearby Hotel du Lac, where for 2500 CFA (US $5) you can relax and swim in the piscine (pool). We enjoyed jumping off the high dive (not terribly gracefully on my part, I admit, but it was fun!) and swimming around. On the way home we went into a supermarket which sold everything you might ever need, from sausage and cheese to underwear and foie gras. We gambled successfully and did not get rained on all day!
Today we walked to the Centre de Promotion de l'Artisanat (CPA), also known as the craft market. Getting there is quite the experience as you have to walk quite a long ways along the waterfront, dodging in and out of the crowd of semitrucks waiting to pick up cargo at the port and the inevitable mass of zemidjans. Add in lots of muddy puddles, men randomly peeing in public, semis jacknifing while trying to make u-turns, a multitude of roadside vendors, and noxious black clouds of exhaust, and you have a fairly good idea of the obstacle course we walked! The craft market turned out to be inside an area surrounded by a sculptured and painted cement fence. I expected hordes of people jostling around, lots of hissing and shouts of "sista" and "yovo" (white person), but was pleasantly surprised at the calm. No crowds of people and very few aggressive or persistent vendors...definitely more my style than the Dantokpa marketplace which was a zoo.
Highlights of the day: practicing French with the vendors; bartering for my one purchase; explaining (in French!) the words of an English hymn to a painter, who then proceeded to sing the first few lines of the song to me; stopping on the way back home at a quaint little boulangerie where for $1.60 I enjoyed un chausson de pomme (apple pastry).
One thing I still don't understand is why it is acceptable to just shout out "yovo!" as we walk by. At home, it would never be all right to holler "black person!" or "foreigner!" or "tourist!" at people as they walked by.
I do know that the longer I am here, the more comfortable I feel being out and about. Cotonou will never feel like home, but it has mercifully ceased to be the full-on assault on the senses that it was initially.