Monday, August 4, 2008

To Ouidah and Back

by: Katie Wanless

We have seen some pretty amazing things here in Benin. We stayed in Ouidah, which is the original slave port of West Africa. They have the monument of "The Point of No Return" (the last place slaves set foot on land). Their orange dirt roads are lined with people wearing brilliant colors and patterns. The women and girls carry everything for sale on there heads. The girls are usually working for a family who has bought them as slaves.

Most people in Ouidah practice voodoo. Our tour guide through the history museum was also a voodoo priestess. This village has never seen or heard of VBS. But God is good. This scraggly team of 9 Americans (all who speak caveman French) led 70 faithful volunteers from Ouidah for 4 days of VBS.

Day four of VBS in Ouidah. Jesus is our Savior. 1800 children packed in to the auditorium. Songs of worship (in French) flowed out of their lips, while their hands danced to the gestures. Each child made craft of streamers and ate snacks of pretzels and goldfish. Outside under the trees games of Tug O’ War, Duck Duck Goose and local song and dance were played with sounds of laughter.

I had a young girl slowly approach me. She was carrying her items for sale on her head. She was young and the same age as the other children playing in the yard, but she was working. Most likely she was bought to work for a family. And not just out selling things, but to cook and clean while the rest of the family is sleeping. Her name is Neta (or it sounded something like that under a soft spoken voice). She reached out her arm and wiped it on my arm as if to dip it in whipped cream. She smiled in astonishment and looked at her friends as to try it themselves. My cheeks were hurting from smiling so much. She went from being afraid to approach me, to touching my skin to see what it felt like, to hugging me and holding my hand. I suddenly had a entourage (the kids with who could not join the play because they had to work). For a moment the kids with no shoes and work on their head smiled like a child free to live. They smiled like children, they laughed like a child, and they were loved like a child.

To top off the day the mayor of Ouidah came out to close the ceremony. A podium was set up, couches were set on the stage, national and local television stations lingered. After his political speech over 2000 people followed the mayor and our team of 9 down the streets of Ouidah. The children were singing praises, as the neighbors stood out their doors to cheer and watch and listen. It was a spectacular site to see. This is the first time Ouidah has seen something like this. It was beautiful.

The next day was the Independence of Benin. After a local parade the mayor invited us to his house for lunch. All the government official, the town king and high figures sat with us. I thought it was strange that we were so honored. It showed me how much the mayor believed in the vision of Sanctuary of Moses.