They Are Singing in Benin

Welcome to the Stories of Good series. This is curated series of stories submitted by readers and writers: diverse points of view from all over the world on what "good" is and how we find it.  Here, ex-Marine Lydia Davey talks about finding the good in the rituals of daily life, both her own and in the songs of Benin.

I remember the singing most. Out there, among the dust and the chickens and the flies and the lush green jungle and small, carved wooden hippos, and among all those thousands of military uniforms—a hut filled with singing.
— Lydia Davey

 

Each morning, just as dawn was breaking, a big red truck would deposit well water into a tank above the hut. And we would stream in, women white and black, in all sizes and shapes. We would close the doors, turn on the faucets, and let the water flow into large sinks as we used brushes to clear the counters for our shower goods.

 

We would sweep, sweep, sweep away the delicate layer of lace-winged insects that had fluttered to their exhausted deaths the previous night. They were drawn by standing water, we thought, and by the light. At night, the shower hut was one of the only places in miles that had an electric bulb burning.

 

Then, as the equatorial sun lit up the world outside, the singing would begin. The African women sang in French, and in tribal languages – their throaty, powerful voices as strong as their dark bodies. Such contrast, I thought, between them and us. We were pale, silent, and private in our rituals – even in an open room we were private.

 

They, on the other hand, were a frothing, splashing, dancing, laughing bunch. From time to time, one would sing out what must have been a naughty verse, because it would bring forth shrieks of approval from the others.

 

Most of my female counterparts from the Navy, Army and Air Force (I believe I was the only female Marine on the exercise) would quickly enter the room, clean themselves and leave. Some even expressed annoyance at the "noise" made by our African friends. I couldn’t understand that.

 

I stayed longer than the others in the shower hut because I enjoyed the singing, and because my morning ritual involved hair and makeup. I was determined, even though I lived a solid nine hours from the nearest hotel, and even though I knew I would be fairly melted by noon, to maintain my dignity. No matter how hot the day was, or how apathetic I felt, I would layer on the serums, products and colors, because the ritual made me feel human. But more than that – in a world where only five women existed for every 95 males – it made me feel like a woman. The ritual separated me from them.

 

Was I a Marine? Of course; many days I collapsed into my rack, covered in dust, sweat and grime, and stinking of whatever I’d had to crawl through that day, exhausted physically and mentally. But I was a woman too! Red lipstick has a way of persuading people to let you fire the AK-47, the Tokarev and .50 cal. It has a way of opening doors for interviews and photo ops, and for conversations about work, home and humanness that you might not have otherwise.

 

But the men weren’t the only ones who noticed my effort. Those female Benenise soldiers, their presence so large, saw too. And two days before I left the base at Bembereke, one of them approached me.

 

“You ah beautiful!” she said. “Every day…” and she patted her face and pointed to my toiletry bag. She smiled broadly.

 

“Merci!” I said. “I love your singing!”

 

She smiled even wider, her teeth flashing white. She looked back to the beaming community behind her and said a word, then broke into song. She sang a verse, they sang the chorus – or maybe it was the other way around, but they sang.

 

And as I stood there, clad in a tank, shorts and combat boots, my hair wrapped in a towel, I grinned. We were connected, these ladies and I, by a shared appreciation for the effort of beauty – whether through kind words, music, or the determined daily application of red lipstick.

 

And I thought of Maya Angelou’s wise, wise words: "Glamour is profound. Glamour is saying, “I want to be as beautiful as I can be – first to myself, then to anyone else smart enough to see.”

-Lydia Davey

 

Lydia Davey is an entrepreneur, published author, speaker, and media relations pro. She is founder/CEO of Moriah Creatives PR, a fee-only public relations firm that pairs her team's extensive journalistic experience with a strong understanding of the digital landscape to provide small business with fresh, intelligent ways to connect with the with their clients. Lydia served as a Marine sergeant for eight years and deployed to Afghanistan in 2006. She has worked extensively throughout Africa, Asia, and Europe and applies leadership lessons learned in the service to today's small business terrain. Plus, she writes. You can follow her on Twitter @ LMDavey

 

Leave a comment of like or share below. I love it when you do that-and I'm sure Lydia will too. Great story, Lydia. Thank you for sharing your good. AGA