Candles and Converters

After a few days, I felt mostly adjusted. I liked what was I doing and I had gotten used to fans only at night. I was sitting at Alide at 3pm at Friday when the electricity went out. The A/C stopped its whir, the computers had to be turned off to save battery. The water had already been off for 2 days.

We wandered outside. For the rest of the day, the young people of Alide talked in Fon, French, and faltering English. I showed them my photos, they made fun of me, they switched back to Fon to gossip to each other. When the electricity had not come back 3 hours later, Alain drove me home.

Using the light from our cell phones, Alain helped me light candles in the empty house, as Vivien was not home yet. When we had put on two candles, Alain turned to me to say good-bye. As I walked him out, I resisted the urge to ask if I could stay at his house. In the shadows, I could see the homeless people in the sandy alley, the women selling their wares with candles, unaffected by the outage. I locked the gate behind Alain, contemplating the slimness of the veil separating me from the street.

I double, triple locked the door to the house. I was shaking. Inside it was completely dark. I thought, this calls for some chocolate cookies and Audacity of Hope. The only problem was the candle did not yield enough light to see the book’s pages. I lay back, frustrated, trying to sleep, soaked in sweat. Something bumped the window. I pulled out my cell phone. No signal as usual. I would have cried, but it was much too hot. I mastered myself.

I would read outside! I threw open the doors, placed my candle on the stoop, opened Barack’s book. The tiniest wind blew, threatening to snuff it out. Not enough light to see; not enough wind to provide relief. Desperation forced me to my neighbor’s door, where I could see a light.

¨Bonsor,¨I said. “ Can I read on your stoop?”

“You can read inside,” she answered.

“Sarah,” I introduced myself.

“Honorine,” she said in return.

They must have their own generator, I thought, as she gestured me towards the couch and flicked the channel from Béninois to French without my requesting it. (As I write this later, the lights flick on and off for the second time tonight). Her three children stared at me. I think adults are too composed to stare, but if they had no inhibitions they would stare at me with the same intensity as their children.

“Salut,” (Hey) I said to them, trying to be casual.

“Bonsoir,” (Good evening) they answered, taught to be formal with strangers.

I sat on the couch for the next two hours pretending to read but smiling at the kids as the kids pretended to do their homework and stared at me. I was so happy to be there, out of the darkness. The second oldest girl was old enough not to be shy of me, too young to pretend that she was unsurprised by my presence. She brought the baby over, and I cooed at it and she played with it and I tried to talk to her, but she didn’t really understand me.

Presently Vivien (my homestay) came home. I made to go, but first walked to the back where Honorine was speaking with her sister.

“Merci,” (Thanks) I said. I really meant it. Maybe she understood how grateful I was, maybe she was just being polite, but I think we both knew how much of a stranger I was to the neighborhood.

“Come, come,” called Vivien. There was light in our apartment, and I wondered how long it had been there.


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