In the meantime we already stayed two weeks at a French missionary post / farm in Sokounon with the brothers. Originally founded by frère Vincent a few decades ago to spread Christianity around here. The trip from Cotonou to Parakou took us along a wonderful road, accompanied by non-stop loud African music in the background, through the southern part of Bénin. Soon we left the busy hustle of everyday life in Cotonou and it became clear that life was more chill here. The poverty was not as prominent as in some parts of Cotonou. Once arrived in Parakou, we were met by Pierre-Benjamin, the manager of the farm and one of the brothers. The farm is very picturesque and self-sufficient on several levels. Crops such as soya, corn, bananas and mangos are cultivated, but they occupy themselves as well with a lot of different animals. Most of the required energy is generated by means of PV installations, some of which are the work of Humasol. It serves as a knowledge hub in the environment where both local farmers as university interns work together on agronomy.
During the first week we spent most of our time looking for contacts who can help acquire all the components we need as well as discovering the neighbourhood. We received a lot of help from Parfait, the local technician who does the maintenance of the installations on the farm and the surrounding installations. A scouts group from Nethen brought a lot of life to this otherwise very quiet farm. Together we visited the surrounding villages, where the everyday life is vastly different from the scenes in Berendrecht or Lummen. The villagers often don’t speak French, but with the help of an interpreter we can have a conversation. Often it is only the children who speak French, since the adults are not educated and speak only Batingu, the local language. In the meantime, we can already have small talk in their language, which is as follows: “Akpounando”, “Alafia”, “Oh,” Ooh “,” Mmm “,” Oho “… (continuation of Mmm and Oh until one has had enough)
On the farm we got friends with the bio-engineer students of Parakou. After some conversations it became clear that their level of education is like ours. They are highly intelligent guys, whose french is superb. Nevertheless, they have very different visions about life. Opinions differ in particular about marriage, life in the West and religion. For them it is self-explanatory that a girl leaves everything behind and goes live with the boy when they marry, thus becoming ‘inferior’ to him. This must happen of course after the boy’s studies, otherwise the parents stop financing him. This is the main reason why the youth doesn’t go or finish school. The concept of ice and snow is very hard for them to grasp, which makes it a lot of fun for us to explain. We also went to play football with the scouting, the students and the youth from the village. There is no point in denying that they could handle the evening temperature of 30°C far better than us. It is nice to have guys from the same age around here.
To give you an insight how we spend our days here, we will provide you with a general schedule. Most of the times we make a planning of 1-2 days in order to get all the stuff we want to have done in time.
A regular weekday:
6:50 : Wake up and breakfast (Baguette with peanut butter, mango jam and Earl Grey)
7:30 : A small jog in the field (Doesn’t happen that often :D)
8:00 : Shower + preparation
13:00 : Zemi-john to Parakou: There we look for components or contacts, we negotiate or visit something.
13:30 : Lunch (Excellent combination of African and French cuisine from the brother-cook Jean-Pascal
14:00 : Siesta
15:00 : Similar to the morning
19:00 : Dinner
… : Games with the scouting, bio-engineers, reading, …
This is always different. Normally the Beninese work until Saturday lunch. In the weekend we don’t work and try to do something relaxing. With the other Humasol students we chilled at swimming pool. We also found a real European dinner one night, which is also nice in a while. On the French national holiday we went out dancing, but until now we didn’t find a big gig in Parakou by night. Apart from these activities we went visit a Peuhl-Village on Sunday. These are nomad tribes situated in whole West-Africa, who are specialized in keeping cows.
After two weeks spent in Bénin, we are proud about our accomplishments so far. Thus far we have found the main components of our PV-installation like the solar panels, the batteries, the charge controller (for the non-technicians: This provides the right (de)charging of the batteries) and the invertor (this transforms DC-current into AC-current). The negotiations about the prices at Garba & Fils took two hours, but this made sure we didn’t pay 500 EUR to much. This would be unthinkable in Belgium, where fixed prices are the norm. After a visit to monsieur Charles of the Centre Recherche de Téchnologie Agricole, we managed to acquire the mechanical part of our solar mill. Now the only thing to find is the support for the panels and the safety components and then we can start mounting everything. Because of the rain season, we’re stuck on the farm. Hopefully the sun will chase the rain away together with the Belgian-weather feeling soon.
P.S.: Feel free to send us a hammock. Unfortunately, there are no official addresses in Bénin, but if you label it as ‘Ferme de Sokounon, Parakou’, it will surely find its way.