Originally published on PassionPassport.com
A roaring crowd. A dusty arena. The sound of galloping hooves.
Horses adorned with flamboyant decorations of every color. Riders racing them back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth in front of the cheering stands full of people.
Families and friends coming together for the sole gathering of the year. People from all over Benin, but also neighboring countries Togo, Niger, and Nigeria.
A homecoming of sorts.
Men demonstrating their dominance of the horses.
Majestic, powerful animals racing up and down. Jumping. Dancing. Rearing up on their hind legs.
Kings of the Beninese sub-regions approaching from every entrance. On horseback. In SUVs. Ensconced.
Their arrivals announced with trumpets and horns.
The sun beating down. The smell of horse droppings.
The shade of a nearby tree. Millet beer stalls. Street vendors selling voodoo medicines.
A portable printer. Polaroid portraits. Warm smiles.
The fathers and sons and dancers from the festival. The man by the tree. The girl who looked upset until her mouth pulled up into a wide smile.
Rudimentary French. A corner seat kept empty at the sidewalk diner. A press pass. A constant, faint awareness of absent safety protocols.
Long, 12-hour days.
Every year, around 100,000 people attend the three-day horse festival in Nikki, a city in northeast Benin. Every year, only half a dozen foreigners are in attendance.
In 2016, Kevin Perry, a 6’4, 250 pound American, stuck out like a sore thumb.
This is what he experienced.
This is the Fete de Gaani.