Carla Seidl: Bowing Before Gods

Seidl goes wandering in voodoo waters in Benin @ Newfound.

Yovo, you will be beaten! Don’t you see what’s ahead?” The Beninese locals are terrified. Actually, I do see the otherworldly figure walking towards me, but as a foreigner and yovo (the West African term for white person), I am not sure of the danger. Would spirits from another land, another belief system, really want to hurt me? Secure in this logic, and anxious to get home before it gets dark, I continue to push my bicycle through the astonished crowd.

It is the evening of the annual International Voodoo Festival in Ouidah, Benin, the coastal West African town where I teach music at an American-funded arts center. The major festivities of the day were held on the beach in front of the giant archway marking the Point of No Return, the beach from which Europeans sent shiploads of slaves to the Americas in past centuries. Benin is on what is called the Slave Coast, and on my days off I sometimes ride my bike on the Slave Route from the historic auction square, Place Chacha, where slaves were selected and branded, down to the water, where an enterprising hotel has set up a saltwater pool with views of the ocean.
On this sandy road, I’m frequently taunted and asked for money. Once, when trying to take a picture of a little boy in his boat, the kid threw mud at me. At which point, my friend Lydia, also a white foreigner, turned to me and asked, “What did we ever do to them?” to which I smiled and raised my eyebrows. “Wait, don’t answer that,” she said.
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