My Fulbright experience

Benin, West Africa

Netiva Caftori


Hello Benin

• Being a Fulbright scholar means I am one of approximately 800 U.S. faculty and professionals who travel abroad to some 140 countries for the an academic year through the Fulbright Scholar

Program (or one of approximately 105 Americans who have been selected to teach or conduct research in 27 African countries).

• Established in 1946 under legislation introduced by the late Senator J. William Fulbright of

Arkansas, the program's purpose is to build mutual understanding between the people of the

United States and other countries.

• The Fulbright Program, America's flagship international educational exchange activity, is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State,

Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Over its 63 years of existence, thousands of

U.S. faculty and professionals have studied, taught or done research abroad, and thousands of their counterparts from other countries have engaged in similar activities in the U.S. They are among more than 250,000 American and foreign university students, K-12 teachers, and university faculty and professionals who have participated in one of the several Fulbright exchange programs.

• Recipients of Fulbright Scholar awards are selected on the basis of academic or professional achievement and because they have demonstrated extraordinary leadership potential in their fields.

• Among thousands of prominent Fulbright

Scholar alumni are Milton Friedman, Nobel

Prize-winning economist; Alan Leshner, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS); Rita Dove, Pulitzer Prizewinning poet; and Craig Barrett, CEO of Intel



The Republic of Benin is a small, culturally rich nation in West Africa with an ethnically diverse population and a varied landscape stretching from the coast of the Gulf of

Guinea in the south, to the Niger River in the north.

Danhomé (in the entrails of the Snake) is at the origin of all Voodoo cults, known not only as the cradle of the traditional Voodoo but also to have played a great part in the fight against colonial establishment



• 50% of the population is not educated

(analphabets), or illiterate.

• Most “educated” ones do not finish high school.

• Many dialects. In school one learns


• Some study abroad through grants.

• Grant money is hard to come by.

• Visas to leave the country are hard to get.

• The rich, usually are educated.

At the institute

My women students

• Few female students in science and math

• Well respected by peer. Mostly single.

• DESS: Nike, Marlene

• Doctorate: Laure,


• Engineering: Pelagie

• Computer science:


• Math instructor:


The women

Wives of colleagues

• Not equal partners

• Some are from polygamist families

• Many are business women on their own

• Usually they are not academicians

• Girls are there to help mothers

• Girl slaves under disguise


• Often held and carried on backs as babies and young children by mothers or siblings

• Very happy and content

• Big families. Many orphans

• Children are often raised by other family members, elsewhere

• Many mothers don’t talk to their children

• Work at a young age to learn a trade despite compulsory education



Modern slavery in Benin

• Benin is a source, transit, and destination country for children (seven to 18) trafficked for the purposes of forced domestic and commercial labor, including child prostitution. Estimates on the numbers of trafficking victims range between a few hundred and several thousand each year.

Beninese children are trafficked to oil-rich

Nigeria, Ghana, Gabon, Cote d’Ivoire, and

Cameroon into forced labor situations, including agricultural labor, quarries, domestic service, and prostitution .

Family life

• Red earth stone or cement brick houses

• Life happens mostly in interior court yards

• No running toilets most times

• No paved roads:

Hens, goats, and pigs run free

• Cooking on a small charcoal stove

• Mostly no refrigeration, no electricity

• Zem, taxi or foot transportation

My villa


• Kerekou was the same president in the last three regimes

• Old French colony

• French are still there committed

• Some but very few women in politics

• People close to the government get the money

• Corrupted regime, but peaceful and safe country


• Everyone is invited to join if dinner time

• Women prepare all day with the help of neighbors

• Fresh fish, chicken or meat

• Staple food: manioc, corn, rice, potatoes, platens, served with sauce made of hot peppers, pimento, special red dates and tomatoes

• No desert most times

• Beer or wine (vine, palm, corn)

• Eat with hands or silverware

• Dishes washed by hand. Sometimes share dishes (guests eat first).


My own story:

• Torn ligament

• Broken crown

• Broken glasses

• Unsafe water

Life expectancy = 50

Preemie story


Typhoid fever

Bend back to do laundry or clean

No garbage cans


Beautiful teeth


Zion and So What


Door of no Return

Door of return



• 80% of the people in agriculture  40% gnp

• Corn, manioc, beans, pineapples, rice

• Export cotton (80%), palm oil & peanuts

• Industry is poor: textile, cement, mines, alimentation.

• Commerce: Cotonou is between Lome and

Lagos & closest to

Mali & Burkina Faso.

Benin, home to ancient kingdoms

• Allada,

• Abomey,

• Porto-Novo,

• Kétou,

• Tchabê,

• Nikki,

• Kouandé, and

• Djougou

• They thrived on the commerce of slavery till its abolition in

1807, then on palm oil.

• England, Denmark,

Portugal and France

• 1704-Ouidah-French

• 1752-Porto-Novo-


Being happy is better than being king. - Hausa


Before healing others, heal yourself. -




You have 3 friends in this world: courage, sense, and wisdom. -


Vodun ceremony


It is better to travel alone than with a bad companion. - Senegal

Muslim tradition

Religion in Benin

• 30% are Muslims: women are head covered

• 20% are Christians

• 50% voodoo s

Most people still practice Vodun which is not just a religion but a culture and a way of life.

Old secrets though are dying with an aging population of wise men. Women are mostly left out, though they do consult the féticheur.

Socio-cultural groups

• Fon (35%),

• Adja,

• Yoruba,

• Goun,

• Bariba,

• Dendi,

• Somba,

• Peuhl, etc..


• Fongbé, Gengné or

Mina, Yoruba,

Baatonu, Dendi,

Bariba, Adja-gbe,

Ayizo-gbe, Ditammari,

Tem, Peul

6.2 M Beninese:

• Cotonou: 850,000

• Porto-Novo: 200,000

• Parakou: 110,000

• Abomey: 70,000

• Natitengou: 60,000

Burkina Faso