King Allada XVI

Posted by martin.parnell |

Quest completed:

  • Comrades Quest 87

  • The Comrades Marathon (87km)
  • Sunday May 29th 2011
  • Durban to Pietermaritzburg
  • South Africa
  • Finish Time (target): 11hrs 59 mins 59secs
  • Finish Time (actual): 11hrs 51min 23sec
  • Course: Stats and map
  • Video: Comrades in 8 1/2 mins

In my last blog, Robert, Caroline, Heather and myself had arrived in Cotonou, Benin in West Africa. At 8.00am on the morning of May 31st , Himi, who works for Right To Play, was waiting for us at the front door of Hotel Ibis. As we left the building, a blanket of heat engulfed us. Himi drove through the crazy rush-hour traffic to the local offices of Right To Play. We were met by Marie-Josephine (Country Manager), Romeo Essou (Program Manager) and Christiane Boton (Project Coordinator). These three staff members were born and raised in Benin. Marie-Josephine explained the work which Right To Play has been doing in the country. In 2011, the programs will reach over 167,000 children in 1,052 schools and 48 youth centres.

Our first school visit was planned for the afternoon. Lunchtime traffic was no better than the morning. Himi is a gifted driver and we survived the trip to the school. Dogoudo school goes from grades 1 to 6, has 295 students, but only 6 teachers. The lack of teachers was a recurring theme. The three open-air classrooms boarder on to a large dirt court-yard. We were greeted by a group of grade 5 and 6 boys and girls doing a traditional dance. Then it was right into the games. The first was a team event with three teams of ten members. We had to fill a ladle with water, run down a course, put the water in a pail run back with the ladle and pass it to the next team member. I raced two grade 4 kids and managed to win my heat. The kids loved this and were yelling and cheering. I was then taken over to a set of drums and became part of the school band. The temperature was 35C and I was soaked. The kids found this funny.

After saying goodbye, we were on the road again, heading out of Cotonou for a very special meeting. We had been granted an audience with King Allada XVI. Benin has 12 domains or provinces and there are several Kings in each one. They still hold a lot of power over the local people and it's important to get them to support the Right To Play programs. With us were five children, three boys and two girls, from five different schools and they were going to make a presentation to the King. We entered a large room and it was stifling. We were shown to the comfy chairs but the rest of the King's 70 strong entourage were seated on the floor. We waited. Then King Allada entered and sat on his leopard skin covered throne. He had a fan lady and an umbrella lady with him. There were a number of speeches. I haven't mentioned before but, Benin is French speaking. This was a bit of a challenge for me because, unfortunately, my French is not good. It was not much of an issue with the kids because I can communicate with gestures, but formal speeches were tough.

We each had to introduce ourselves so I'd learnt "Je m'apelle Martin. Je suis Courier Marathon" and that seemed to work. Then the kids gave their presentation on children's rights. It was in French but it's meaning was crystal clear. The room was hushed as the children stated that they had a right to education, they had a right to being looked after, and they had a right to play. For a moment the place was absolutely still. Very powerful.

In a future blog I'll talk about Day 2 of the visit, the inaugural run of the Right To Play Benin Running Club and the visit to Houekegbo school for "Tree day".

Dr Randolph Randolph's book of animal jokes

Q. What do you get if you cross a frog and a dog?
A. A croaker spaniel!

Quote of the Day

"The person who answers the starting gun of their first Ironman is not the same person who reaches the finish line"

Ray Fauteux

Robert and Caroline chat with kids at Dogoudo School


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