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December 8, 2001

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Today we left Togo and entered its eastern neighbor, Benin. Three days, three countries. Our whistle stop West African tour took a breather at a beach called Grand Popo. We lay in the sun and talked to a pair of other Western visitors, two aid workers from England. They told us about Benin. The ancient Dahomey kingdom encompassed modern day Benin; ancient Benin sat in Nigeria. This draws a parallel to another African misnomer: ancient Ghana actually resided in modern day Mali. Confused? Africans have a habit of renaming countries to suit current trends. In Benin's case, the country's dictator, Kerekou, renamed Dahomey 'Benin' to break with the colonial past. Why he chose to 'break with the past' by rekindling an old name makes no sense to us, at the very least 'New Benin' would have been more appropriate. The important news is that Benin's current political situation runs smoothly. Africans say this country has developed a healthy democracy and economic reform after decades of Marxism, military coups, riots, and crackdowns. If livestock prices are any indication of economic strength, then Benin is doing well. We tried to buy a pig but couldn't find one for less than 30 US dollars. We settled for three chickens for half as much money. We suspected the prices were inflated, but we couldn't comparison shop. We found these animals running around a villager's hut. There's no butcher's counter or neighborhood grocery store - infrastructure still lacks in this country despite claims of economic miracles.
The best thing we've done on the beach: release just-hatched turtles into the ocean.
Whose better looking? Okay, the turtle. But who can run faster?
Even Andres, an Estonian marathoner, grew tired swimming in that surf.
The ocean isn't the only dangerous place. This huge branch fell near our tent during the night. The crash made a terrific noise.