Benin Guide – Dress, Transportation
Benin, West Africa
Dress is really important for West Africans. You will see many people in dirty rags because they are extremely poor. You, however, are not extremely poor, but a relatively rich westerner. Take care in your appearance, as it shows that you respect the people of Bénin. Take some time to get some pretty Beninese fabric and have a tailor make you a couple traditional outfits (bubus and bombas). It is cheap, and comfortable.
In general, men should wear trousers (not shorts), and a clean shirt. T-shirts are hot and don’t dry well. Translation: you will be wet with your own sweat all day if you wear a t-shirt. I recommend a loose woven button-down shirt with short sleeves. Women ideally will wear skirts that are past their knees and a modest shirt with short sleeves. Women should never show off their upper legs, which are considered a very sexual part of the body.
Loose, pre-made clothes are cheap and beautiful, found at any market. There is no excuse to look like a slob!
Modes of transportation
Traveling in Bénin is the most dangerous thing that you’ll do while there. I can’t overestimate this enough. Be careful, and ask for help if you don’t know how to get to where you want to be, or if you don’t know what the price should be! People really are nice and helpful. Always figure out what the correct price is (ask a few people who are not going to be making profit from the transaction), and agree upon a price with the driver before entering any vehicle.
There are really only 3 paved roads in Benin. Two that run north-south, one that runs across the bottom of the country from Togo to Nigeria. The rest of the roads are dirt, in ill-condition and can be very dangerous during the rainy season (summer).
Gas is fun. There are not really any gas stations, especially in the south. Most gas in the south is smuggled from Nigeria and sold in glass bottles at the side of the road. Inevitably the person selling the gas is a young child or a pregnant woman. Brace yourselves.
Don’t be upset if you are stuck on the side of the road with a flat tire or broken down car for hours at a time. It is all part of the experience. Time is not money here!