Akasia News

Awful traffic

What is the most chaotic place on Earth? It has got to be Cotonou due to it’s 150 000 zemidjans in a city of one million people. And what is a zemidjan? It is a moto taxi usually driving recklessly and a profession for approximately every sixth or seventh person living in Cotonou. Zemis are also the source of massive amounts of exhaust gas in a city known to be one of the most poluted ones in West Africa. Not to mention the cause of death for numerous drivers and passengers every year (I‘ve never seen a zemi driver or a passenger wear a helmet in Benin, except for a few people that looked like American voluntary workers).

Busy streets and grey air of Cotonou by Jen

But guess what? The townhall of Cotonou has announced a new public transport system to be launched in the city in 2012. It will comprise 52 buses and over 200 bus stops. If this is really taking place, the buses will surely reduce the amount of zemidjans and their negative consequences in the city. The air in the city will hopefully be less grey and it’s habitants a little bit healthier.

But then again, how to find new jobs for the zemi drivers that will lose their clients to the buses?

More about this topic on Adjinakou (in French).

The get an idea about the traffic in Cotonou, take a look at the video on this blog.

Afrikka vierailee taas Helsingissä / Africa visits Helsinki again

Afrikka-aiheinen Ars11 päättyi eilen, mutta helsinkiläiset saavat joulukuuksi peräti kaksi uutta Afrikkaa sivuavaa tai käsittelevää näyttelyä.

3. joulukuuta Villa Karon kevään 2011 stipendiaatti Antti Seppänen avaa Beninissä ja lähimaissa kuvaamaansa video- ja valokuvamateriaalia esittävän näyttelyn galleria Volgassa. Unien portit -nimeä kantava näyttely pujahtaa taiteilijan omiin uniin:

”Joku voisi väittää että kuvat olisi voinut lavastaa ja kuvata missä hyvänsä. Kuitenkaan kokemusta joka nämä näyt synnytti, ei olisi voinut lavastaa. Ehkä minun ei Afrikassa tarvinnut nähdä unia öisin, aika hereillä oli liian vahvaa. Mutta olinko sittenkään Afrikassa? En ole ihan varma. Nämä kuvat ovat portteja uniini. Ota avain ja astu sisään, ole hyvä.” – Antti Seppänen

Viettely - Seduction by Antti Seppänen.

2. joulukuuta avautuu Amos Andersonin taidemuseossa Mami Wata ja jumalan puupalikat -niminen näyttely. Se on kahden Villa Karon ystäville tutun keräilijän vuosien työn tulos. Juha Vakkuri ja Matti-Juhani Karila ovat tahoillaan keränneet mittavan kokoelman afrikkalaista taidetta monilla matkoillaan ympäri mannerta. Näistä esineistä koostuvan näyttelyn on koostanut kuraattori Tintti Timonen.

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This week is a real treat for friends of  West African art and culture living near Helsinki as two different exhibitions will be opening.

Villa Karo’s last spring’s scholarship holder, filmmaker Antti Seppänen will have an exhibition in Galleria Volga focusing on video footage and photographs depicting his dreamful experiences in West Africa.

In Amos Anderson museum will take place an exhibition presenting the works of two African art gatherers well known by friends of Villa Karo: Juha Vakkuri and Matti-Juhani Karila. Along with curator Tintti Timonen the two gentlemen are putting on display their favourite pieces, sacred and profane, collected from numerous travels in Africa.

Antti Seppänen : “Unien Portit” / “The Gates of Dreams”
3rd-23rd December
Galleria Volga
Museokatu 34
00100 Helsinki

Karila&Vakkuri: “Mami Wata ja jumalan puupalikat”
2nd December – 30th January
Amos Andersonin taidemuseo
Yrjönkatu 27
Helsinki 00100

Helmi Kekkonen blogging on Benin

Finnish author Helmi Kekkonen is staying in Villa Karo as a scholarship holder and blogging about traveling in Benin on www.MTV3.fi. The blog is about her preparations prior to her trip and her experiences there as both a writer and a traveler.

How does Benin and Villa Karo look through Helmi’s eyes? To find out, click here.

And sorry! This is only for those of our readers who know Finnish…

A Crash Course in Beninese French: Part II

As I already discussed in the first part of this writing, Beninese French is often used in a different way than European French. Here are some more useful tips for visitors of Villa Karo and Benin.

As words such as “bonsoir” sometimes find new meanings, expressions may also take new forms. That is the case of the exclamation “doucement!”. Literally this means “gently”, but the expression translates perhaps best into “behave yourself“ or “be more careful” in English. Whilst in France the phrase would be most often used by a authoritative figure such as a teacher to give immediate negative feedback to a raging pupil, that is not the case in Benin. Remember, that when you hear that word, it doesn’t mean that you’ve done something wrong. It’s merely something to say when, for instance, your napkin falls down from your knees. “Woops” would perhaps be the best translation. No need to apologize when you here it!

Phrases actually tell a lot about mentality. One of my favourites is the friendship- or deal-sealing “on est ensemble!” (Eng. “we are together!”). This one has multiple uses. It’s almost a substitute for goodbye. It’s a phrase to say when negotiations are going in a bad direction as a reminder that everybody want this deal to happen. It sometimes means “no problem” if you apologize for some harm that you’ve caused.

Another one I personally like very much is “le sang est rouge” meaning literally that blood is red. It has got something in common with “on est ensemble”, but this one is used when white and black people are doing business together. I’ve heard it as I’ve been bargaining at the market, in Grand-Popo, or discussing the rent with the landlord. Sometimes it is wise to state something that has real relevance: human beings come in many colours but blood is always red.


Real, traditional, seductive and communicative music by MIDJOUBA from HEVE, a suburb of Grand-Popo, delivered the goods on Saturday night re concert of the month.

Midjouba, a folkloric group founded in 2006 presented a great show that attracted thousands of souls from the beginning to the end.

Midjouba, in their concert, tried to send a message to the younger generation about the danger of severing our ancestral link by importing and mixing too much of western tradition into our daily lives . The key to traditional communication lies in the link between the young and old folks and their capacity to merge ideas for good results in community development was the message throughout the concert. All these were demonstrated by short musical sketches to strengthen their message to the audience, especially the youth. A message well digested by all generations, young and old is already in the archives of the folks.

Finland-Benin Friendship Society’s Autumn Soirée 12.11.2011

The Finnish-Beninese Friendship Society arranges it’s annual autumn soirée at Harjun nuorisotalo in Helsinki on Saturday 12th November. A great opportunity to meet friends and to participate in helping the schools and schoolchildren in Grand Popo!


A Crash Course in Beninese French: Part I

La Francophonie, the community of French speaking people, is worldwide. French takes different forms all over the globe as over 250 million people speak it as either first or second language. For those of us who have learned to speak French in Europe, the Beninese version of the language has some interesting elements. Let’s take a look at the French spoken in Grand-Popo’s streets.

Although I suppose that “bonjour” is probably the most well-known French word in the world, you won’t hear it often in Grand-Popo. For a curious reason the locals prefer to employ the expression “bonsoir” at all times. And it’s almost always “good night” in Grand-Popo, even at 8 o’clock in the morning!

“Comment?” is the question you often hear in Benin when you meet somebody you know. Of course, this is a shortened version of the common phrase “Comment ça va?” (Eng. how is it going?). As you answer to the person by saying “ça va bien” or even “très bien” he or she may pursue with other questions that tend to be as short as the first one: “et la santé?”, “et la famille?”, “et madame/monsieur? “et le travail?” (Eng. “and health?”, “and family?”, “and the husband/wife?”, “and work?”).

But before asking you any questions, the person will greet you. If he or she is not using the typical “bonsoir” and especially when you arrive somewhere, you will probably hear the words “bonne arrivée” instead of the typical “bienvenu” (eng. “welcome“). Directly translated in English this means “good arrival”. Sometimes, in the morning, you may also hear people ask you if you’ve slept well or if you have woken up alright (Fr. “Bien dormi?”, “Bien réveillé?”). What a bunch of nice questions! According to Herman Rechberger’s French-Mina dictionary these are cases of the main local language, Mina, influencing the official one.

“Tu as fais un peu?” is a something you’ll hear when the day’s work is done. A literal translation in English goes “have you done a little bit?”. It’s always heart-warming to hear that the premise is that one has only time to do a little work during one day.

Last but surely not least comes “yovo”. Every person in Grand-Popo with light skin will very, very soon become very, very familiar with this word. Yovo is from Mina And Ewe language and it’s used to describe white people. Some say it also means “guest”. The word is part of a lilt probably known by heart by EVERY BENINESE CHILD (and some adults as well): “yovo, yovo, bonsoir, comment ça va, merci!” If you ever go to Grand-Popo or Benin, you’ll hear it.