Sunday, November 11, 2007

SLEEPLESS IN BENIN

Finally, a non-Asian visa.

I was invited to attend the Africa and culminating round of the International Network of Alternative Financing Institutions’ (INAFI) global conference on microfinance, migration and development on 4-13 November of this year in Cotonou, Benin. I was also a participant in the previous Asian round that was held in Tagaytay, Philippines in 2006, and would have given a foot to attend the Latin American and first round that was held in Zacatecas, Mexico in 2004.

I did not sleep much on the eve of my departure and have to perk (and treat) myself to a despedida lunch of soya chicken mami on my way to the airport the following day. It is a special occasion for me having fulfilled 3 longstanding wishes: (1) to be out of country at least once a year, (2) a non-Asian visa finally pasted in my passport, and (3) going to Africa. (These are actually a great leap from my single pre-2002 wish of having my passport marked before expiring, which I upped to having a visa because all my travels before 2005 were in southeast Asia that do not require one, which led me to my non-Asian travel wish. Yeah, I just upgraded my wish list to include travels to Europe and North/Latin America and Australia and Antarctica because the aim now is to have the bragging right of having been to the 7 continents). The mami did not fit for the occasion but it is pansit so it will do.

It was a long and sleepless flight. Manila to Hongkong is almost 2 hours and we have to kill 3 hours at the Chep Lap Kok airport for the connecting flight to Paris. Which is a good thing because we stumbled on the Taiwan Beef Noodle restaurant, self-proclaimed King of Beef Noodles with a prominently displayed 2006 King of Catering medallion, where my boss treated me to a huge bowl of beef spare ribs noodles. Then a 13-hour haul shooting across 7 time zones which tested the flexibility of my body clock. The Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris was a disappointment because the restaurant in our terminal do not have noodles in its menu. And we have 7 hours to count off before the plane to Cotonou.


There is not much in Cotonou but Hotel Du Lac where we stayed is along the Oueme River as it empties into the Atlantic Ocean offering a great view on all sides. The Cotonou time zone (-7 hours to Manila time) is yet to sink into my psyche so I pulled through my first night surfing the French language TV programs, counting the lights of the ships moored in the Atlantic coast, reading Harry Potter’s encounter with Sirius Black, and answering the crossword puzzles I brought along. At 5 am, I went down to the al fresco restaurant and took my first photo of a fisherman in a boat crossing the river mouth. The buildings across the river are still asleep and the lights of the Ancien Pont Bridge is faintly etched on the water.
The next nights are not any better but the daily 10-minute nap during the ride from the hotel to the Palais des Congres where the conference was held is enough to recharge me. Perhaps it is the energy of the century-old Notre Dame des Apotres across the bridge, vibrant and noticeable in its alternating red and white color, pulsating through my sleeplessness every time I passed through. Or the pansit that was served on the second day of the conference which tempered our protein-heavy fare.


My body clock finally adjusted to the Cotonou time. But then, it’s time to go home…

PHOTOS (top to bottom): (1) Soya chicken mami at the NLEX, (2) my boss working on a bowl of noodles at Hong Kong’s Chep Lap Kok airport, (3) the sun rising at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport, (4) the mouth of the Oueme River and Atlantic Ocean as seen from Hotel Du Lac, (5) pretty Beninese mademoiselles who served as conference ushers, (6) Beninese lunch with pansit, and (7) Cotonou’s 105-year old Notre Dame des Apotres.

1 comment:

jun of zerogravity said...

Para naman akong nagbabasa ng Da Vinci Code. Ang yabang ng upgrade mo ha, seven continents. Anung conference naman ang ihu-hold sa antartica na makakapag-participate ka? Global warming? Congrats, di na ako pwede sa ganyang mga ambisyon, homebased na ako. gosh. san na ang fertiti icons mo?