Everyday life in Benin – at home
The population of Benin is growing rapidly. The families are big. There are many children and often other relatives or even children of friends live in the house. Every woman in Benin has almost five children on average. Overall, there are many more children and young people than here in Germany. About half of Benin’s population is under 15 years old!
Many families are poor. Life takes place outside, especially in the country, but also in the city. Pigs, chickens, goats and dogs roam free in the villages. Cooking is also done outside in the country. There is a fireplace in front of the house.
The houses are made of clay. The roofs are made of straw. In the city there are also stone houses. Usually they are covered with corrugated iron. It crackles loudly when it rains! Not all houses have electricity. If there is electricity, it is turned off in the evening. Because not enough electricity can be produced for everyone in Benin.
You get up early and the children also do some work in the house. The yard is swept, the chickens fed or washed. It also takes some time to cook.
The baby is always there
Babies and small children are carried around on their backs, by the mother, but also by the older girls. The babies are always with you, doing field work, in the house, cooking and fetching water. All children learn to take responsibility at an early age. They have to help parents in the fields, fetch water from the well, or sell the harvest in the market.
Where does the water come from?
Most families do not have running water. This means that they have to drag in all the water – for showering, washing or cooking. If there is a fountain, consider yourself lucky. Some people also get their water from pools or streams and this water is not necessarily clean. It is hauled home in buckets or bowls upside down.
Of course, there are no flush toilets either. Then you have to use a hole in the floor or an outhouse. Or there is a toilet, but you have to pour the water in from a bucket to flush it. There are also plenty of communal toilets.
There is usually no refrigerator either. Electrical devices are expensive and are of no use if you don’t have electricity! Therefore, dairy products are not eaten – they would quickly go bad without refrigeration. The laundry is washed by hand in large tubs – washing machines are also rare.
The children hardly have any toys. You play with what is there. This can also be old bicycle rims that are driven with a stick. In any case, the game is played in a group and not alone! There are no televisions and computers in the villages and only in the city if the family is a little more affluent.
On page 2 you can find many photos from everyday life in Benin!
Everyday life in Benin – on the go
Everything you need to live, especially food, can be bought from stalls on the street. There are also many street vendors who carry their wares with them, mostly on their heads. This can be bananas or mangoes, but also towels or water. Water is sold in plastic bottles or in small plastic bags. Warm dishes are also available from street stalls everywhere in the cities. Then delicious corn on the cob or meat skewers sizzle.
Countless cars and especially small motorbikes roar through the streets of the cities. They also serve as taxis and are called zemi-john here. You can recognize them by the yellow shirts on their drivers. The mopeds are refueled at one of the many small petrol pumps that can also be found on the roadside.
When children see fair-skinned people, they shout “Yovo, yovo!”. That’s what they call white people here. If white people come to a remote village, small children may cry at the sight of them because they have never seen white people before.
The women mostly wear dresses or skirts. Often shawls are tied as a skirt. Colorful woven or printed clothing is more common on women than on men. Most men tend to wear plain clothes, pants, and t-shirts or shirts. Colorful robes tend to attract them to parties or gatherings.
The voodoo belief has its origin in Benin. Even those who are Christian or Muslim often still practice the voodoo cult. Many festivals and ceremonies are held for it. People believe in the voodoo god and his spirits and use fetishes and amulets for protection (called Bo or Gris-Gris).
Many people also believe that they can protect themselves from evil spirits by scratching small wounds in the skin and sprinkling a powder made of coal and plants into them. Chicken feathers, cowrie shells and animal bones are found as protective magic at house entrances or paths.