Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Bandit Country Fiction: Cafe Cola

So we’re sitting out front of Cafe Cola, a rusted iron clad shack nestled into the indistinct fringe of the Dantokpa Markets. The miracle of African demarcation and deep understanding of territory means that we are somehow separate from the bustling flood of shoppers. Benoit leans over to clink bottles. “Did you know that Cotonou means `Mouth of the River of Death’?” We are both wearing backpacker tourist gear. Loose button shirts, shorts and sandals. Packs with Canadian flag patches.

He shifts on his yellowing plastic chair. “Most of the slaves passed here on their way to the New World. Prisoners of war sold to the Portuguese. And even now, it is still a market.”

I can smell herbs and leafy vegetables, yams, meat, fish. But mostly I can smell people. African sweat.

Benoit is a native of the French sub species of European expat. Clinging to the cracks of a Post Colonial Africa that is industriously paving over the ghosts of recent history with alternating bricks of war and commerce.

“This is the birthplace of Voodou. One of the better models of human conflict, yes? People have been competing here for as long as there have been people. See how we are not heckled? We are at Cafe Cola. If you took two steps from here you are in a different land. You have crossed a border. Africa is borders.”

We share an easy silence and watch the markets pulse. Women haggling over piled trestles, children working the crowd for dropped coins and the ever flow of colours and smells under a smog of two-stroke fumes. I am told that Benoit originally came to Benin as a part of the security team that oversaw the transfer of French nuclear waste for storage and disposal in the 80’s. But it is hard to wear one hat in Africa. He soon went off the radar and was no doubt stitching new borders of his own.

Across the alley, glimpsed through the passing crowd, a young man is erecting a collapsible satellite dish and then pegging up a dirty sheet to conceal it. Benoit stands; “It is time.”