Gautier K. Amoussou is coordinator of ISTO-Africa (International Social Tourism Organisation-Africa) and coordinator of Eco-Bénin. Benin Ecotourism Concern (Eco-Benin) is a non-governmental organization created in 1999. It works for the promotion of ecotourism and local development projects throughout Benin, for a responsible, fair and supportive human development. More to discover on www.ecobenin.org
Hospitality is a prestigious act in Bénin. It’s an interaction of great value between host and guest. We talk about it with Gautier K. Amoussou, coordinator at Eco-Bénin. ‘A guest makes the effort to make the travel. That is a big deal we encounter with respect. Even if he is a stranger, he still takes up the challenge to visit. For the host, it’s therefore an honor to welcome the guest.’ A host will choose his largest sheep in the flock to serve. He puts on his best suit. No effort will be too much.
‘When people welcome you in Bénin, they’ll not only ask you about how you are doing, but they’ll also ask you about your family and friends, and even your community,”
But the value of welcoming the stranger is not only found in material things. It’s also in the genuine interest they take in their guests. ‘When people welcome you in Bénin, they’ll not only ask you about how you are doing, but they’ll also ask you about your family and friends, and even your community,” Gautier explains. For ‘you’, in Africa it is not only your individual self only, it is all about you being related to everything that surrounds you.
Gautier tells me that hospitality in Bénin secretly serves as an instrument of welfare as well. Western healthcare isn’t that present in the small villages, he explains. So, telling your host about the way you’re feeling and the problems or challenges you’re experiencing often is a kind of mental healthcare.
"If we could be more open and welcoming to our guests and actually listen to what they have to say, we could make Europe not only a better, but also a happier place.” Anneleen Adriaenssens
My guest in this conversation is telling all of this with a warm and welcoming smile on his face. And I can’t help myself from thinking: Could this be a solution for the rising numbers of depressions, burn-outs and other psychological issues in our Western society? Maybe, I dare to dream,… if we could be more open and welcoming to our guests and actually listen to what they have to say, we could make Europe not only a better, but also a happier place.”
After saying thank you and goodbye to Gautier, I find myself musing about what he told me. Maybe, I think: this is what social tourism should be about! Welcome guests from around the world, listen and learn from them and giving them the gift of being seen as they are, part of a family, a community, a world.
Hm, and isn’t this a fine merging of values with my work as a Storyweaver? Because, this also is what Connect Your Story is about: listening to a story and turning it into a gift for everyone involved.