CULP trip 2013 – Benin – Cadet Papia

Here’s the report from Cadet Papia, who visited the West African nation of Benin.  I always like to read the stories from the Cadets that visit an economically challenged country like Benin.  Seeing the challenges some people have on a daily basis is life changing.  James also got the opportunity to see a World Cup qualifying Soccer match.  That is definitely something special.

My name is James Papia and I will be an MS3 in the Golden Knight Battalion this fall.  This summer I had the opportunity to travel to the country of Benin, in West Africa, on a Cultural Understanding and Language Proficiency (CULP) deployment. The history of Benin begins in the 15th century as a kingdom, it became a French colony in 1872, the people achieved independence in 1960, and the country held its first free elections in 1991.  I spent three weeks in Benin teaching English to Benin Army cadets.  On the trip to Benin I was accompanied by fifteen other cadets from across the country and a cadre.  Our trip started off with meeting at Ft. Knox, Kentucky to conduct pre-deployment training.  We finished our pre-deployment training the first two days we were at Ft. Knox. Due to extenuating circumstances we were at Ft. Knox for two weeks instead of three days.  While waiting to leave for Benin we had a firsthand experience of the old army saying “hurry up and wait.”  

When we finally left for Benin we had to leave behind six cadets and a cadre member.  We landed at the International airport in Cotonou, Benin.  Our mission was to teach English at the National Officers Academy in Toffo.  After landing in Cotonou we traveled to Toffo; Toffo is about 50 miles away from Cotonou.  The trip took over four hours.  Back here in the US the trip would have taken just over an hour.  We stayed at the academy for the next two weeks.  We taught English during the week and traveled on the weekends.  I taught seven cadets while at my stay at the academy.  My students were very excited to have me there and spend time with an American.  All my students knew how to speak English and could read English well.  Every day we talked about the differences in the Benin culture and compared it to how life is in the US. 

Benin Army Cadets and my teaching partner Brad Fratangelo (Pennsylvania State University) on top of a training tank.
Benin Army Cadets and my teaching partner Brad Fratangelo (Pennsylvania State University) on top of a training tank.

Teaching was a great experience and I would love to do it again. We also volunteered our time with the local Peace Corps volunteer; we helped build a fence around a new field for planting. The villagers were very welcoming.  I also really enjoyed the sightseeing.  On the weekends we travelled to the cities of Abomey, Ouidah, and Porto Novo.  In Abomey we saw the Royal Palaces of Abomey.  The kings of the Dahomey lived in the palace.   Ouidah was even more exciting.  The Voodoo religion has its roots in West Africa and more prominently in Benin.  Ouidah is considered to many one of the birth places of Voodoo.  While in Ouidah we went to the Python Temple.  Pythons are sacred according to Voodoo.  This temple celebrates them and is a place of worship for the people who believe in Voodoo.  The last city we traveled to was Porto Novo; the capital of Benin. 

Attending a Soccer Match in Benin
Left to Right: Brady Robinson(University of North Dakota), Matt Geiger (University of Portland), and me at a 2014 World Cup Qualifier Soccer game in Porto-Novo, Benin played Algeria and lost 3-1.

During our stay in Porto Novo we were able to go to the 2014 World Cup Qualifier Soccer Game between Benin and Algeria.  This was one of the highlights of the trip for me.  I have always been a soccer player and fan, attending a World Cup Qualifier was a great experience.  Although, Benin lost to Algeria 3-1 the game was great.  We sang and danced with the Benin people during the game.  I could not have asked for a better last day while in country.  It is great to be home but someday I wish to go back to Benin and explore more.   

These CULP trips continue to be an amazing opportunity for our Cadets to experience another culture.  I haven’t had a Cadet yet who regretted the opportunity.

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