Saturday, June 26, 2010

Goals for PC Benin

1. Write in my journal almost every day.  But actually write -- not just "I did this and this and this," but reflecting, digesting, taking time to think.  Writing's the best stress reliever for me, so I'll probably need journal time anyway.  Sub-goal: to remember to make it visual.  My Italy journal is full of little mementos  -- tickets,  candy bar wrappers, newspaper clippings in other languages -- and it's fun just to flip through all the little pictures and things.

2. Learn enough French to be comfortable in it (not fluent, but comfortable).  Learn enough of my village's tribal language to communicate.  And remember to not hate myself when I don't magically acquire both overnight.

3. Have some really hilarious/awkward culture shock moments, and learn to deal with them gracefully.  I anticipate having a couple of oh-my-god moments, some embarrassing misunderstandings and at least one accidental insult.  Goal: to roll with them, do what I can to fix them, and then move on. 

4. Control my temper when Beninese gender roles make me angry.  Two major issues to watch: dramatic gender inequality in Benin, and general intolerance of LGBT relationships.  Goal: to bite my tongue and breathe deeply before I accidentally kick somebody in the face.

5. Make a Beninese friend.  Not just someone who'll have me over to chat, but someone I have a connection with, even over the language barrier and cultural differences.  Tough goal, but I'll try.

6. Go on adventures, and come back with stories.  As long as I'm in Africa, I might as well travel, and I hope I get lost at least once.

7. Get over my somewhat debilitating fear of bugs, particularly cockroaches and spiders.  Right now, my main line of defense is to trap the offending insect/arachnid under a glass bowl (so I can see that it's still there), name it something like "Voldemort," and wait until someone with a stronger set of nerves gets home. I'm guessing that's not going to work in Africa.

8. Eat something scarily exotic, something delicious, and something I don't think I'll like.  I hear they serve gigantic snails over there.

9. Respond to every letter I get.  I'll need mail to remind me that people care about my existence and work, so I'll make it worth the $0.98 or whatever it costs to mail me a letter.  Promise.

10. Be a good teacher, and a good investment for the Peace Corps.  It sounds a little too idealistic to say that I want to make a difference for Benin as a whole, but I do want to do something positive for the people I work with.  I want to, above all else, show them that education is important and worth the effort/money/frustration.  In Benin, education above primary school is all private, and it's often really expensive, so lots of kids drop out at a young age. If I can get a couple of kids to stick it out a little longer, it'll be a big thing to me.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Thoughts Before Departure

Watch out, this post is going to have feelings in it.  Ew.

I'm excited.  I'm terrified, I'm nervous, I'm worried I've packed too much/not enough/the wrong things, and I can't stand sitting at home waiting for time to go.  Not that I want to leave home, exactly (though some break from boredom would be okay)... I just want to freaking start this adventure already.

I'm not really sure why I'm joining the Peace Corps -- it seems like exactly what I want to be doing now, and it seems right in a way that's kind of hard to articulate.  Logically, this is the best time for me to go: I'm young, I have no job, no significant other, no kids, nothing to tie me down.  And the Peace Corps hits a lot of the right notes for young, idealistic me: I get to travel while at the same time working as an educator in a poverty-stricken country.  I've never really been a logic-heavy person, though, so the main thing is that it feels just exactly right -- as terrified as I am, I can't wait to step on that plane.  

On the flip side, though I'm excited, this is going to be rough.  I'll be 5711 miles away from home (I looked it up), in a completely different culture surrounded by people speaking languages I don't understand.  I'll be showering from a bucket.  There will be a bajillion different challenges, from buying food to reconciling Beninese gender roles with my own feminism, and I'm going to be pushed in every way possible.

I'm brainstorming a list of goals now, and I'll post those soon.  In the meantime, I'm thinking, reflecting, shoving things into my backpack with wild abandon, and wondering if I'll be feeling the same things two years from now, when it's time to come back home.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Rundown: How the First Week Works

I just got a little more information on staging and departure, so just in case you're curious...

 - Starts July 14th at 11:30am in Philadelphia.
 - To get there on time, I fly out from Columbus at 6:45am. Ew.
 - Consists of a lot of intro-to-the-Peace Corps stuff: presentations, crash course in our purpose as volunteers, a bunch of vaccinations, and some getting-to-know-you stuff with the other Benin trainees.
 - Ends at 3pm on July 15th, at which point we'll board a bus, drive to New York (why??), and fly out from there.

 - New York to Paris: 7 hours (+1 hour layover)
 - Paris to Cotonou, Benin: 6.5 hours
 - Arrive at 7:05pm on Friday, July 16.

First Week:
 - Stay in camp thing for first four days, then move in with host families.
 - Includes visits to local authorities and the med. clinic, where I get even more vaccinations.
 - Also, intensive mini-courses in PC Policy, TEFL (my job), how to survive/shop/be safe/find my way around, and, obviously, French.
 - Days are packed from 8am to 7pm.

Sounds totally and completely exhausting.  I'm excited!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

A Month and a Day...

The past several weeks have been intensely boring -- I spend my time reading (so far: two of Chelsea Handler's books, Half of a Yellow Sun, and Barrel Fever), watching French movies, and wandering across the vast plains of the interwebs.

The positive side, though, is that internet surfing frequently leads to internet shopping, and I have a lot of shopping to do before Benin.  Now that I've made friends with Amazon and Ebay, I'm over 3/4 of the way there... yay!

Other major update: while shopping with la Mamacita yesterday, I found and bought what may be the cutest pair of ugly sandals on the earth.  I know because I tried all of the other pairs on already. Having accomplished the shoes, the sleeping mat (a good one for $30 on Amazon -- snaps for good deals), the one-piece swimsuit, and having found a backpack to buy, I'm feeling much less stressed about this whole thing.  Still need to learn French, and haven't really progressed there, but hey, I've got a month and a day, right?

Other good news/news in general:
 - I get to keep my ear piercings! According to one of the volunteers, pierced ears are sometimes the only way you can tell gender over there, because everyone has their head shaved.
 - My amazing Auntie B sent me a grad gift that will really, really improve the pictures I post here... I'm fairly excited.
 - Jeans, in Benin, are considered professional attire -- guess who's going to work every day in jeans?  Andrew, Katie, BillyandBryant, feel free to be jealous. : )

That might be about it -- with no work, no school, and no major art projects, I lack exciting things to tell le blogosphere.  In closing here's a picture of Kenzie's latest amazing cupcakes (dark chocolate cake, 100 Grands inside, vanilla buttercream frosting, and caramel, 100 Grands, and sprinkles on top), just because they're so pretty.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

French Lessons and Cupcakes

Having opened and closed my French book several times now, sometimes even looking at the words on the page, I have decided on a multifaceted approach to learning the language.  I will continue to "read" the book (or more accurately, have my 15-year-old sister read it to me), but I will also enrich my studies with the following:

1.  French films.  So far, I've watched The Red Balloon, which is a great story but had very little actual French in it.  I'll have to find something a little more verbal next time... luckily, this house has Netflix.  Score.

2.  French videos on YouTube.  French pop stars are, just for reference, totally bizarre (though I guess they'd say the same about Lady Gaga.  Actually, I'd say the same about Lady Gaga.)  See Yelle's Cause de Garcons video -- is that a person-sized kidney dancing on the bed?

3.  French Facebook.  After switching my Facebook language to French, I've gotten a lot of emails I don't understand, but I've also learned that wall is "mur" and "supprimer" means something like "delete." Last time I switched to Pirate English, I accidentally posted "Yarrrr!" on about 10 different friends' walls, so I'm hoping I'm more competent (or at least more eloquent) en francais.

Other major update: I have rediscovered Goodwill, and am now the proud owner of two long knee-covering skirts, a can opener, a truly (fantastically) 80s purse, and a pair of little speakers. Thank heavens for thrift shops.  Also for Target, since I just knocked out about half of my list there... I feel so accomplished.

In more exciting news, Lauren and I made strawberry sorbet from fresh, garden-picked strawberries yesterday.  And my amazing friend Kenzie made me a batch of the best cupcakes I've ever tasted (see pictures).  Not related to Benin, but definitely delicious.

PS.  I just figured out how to set it so that this site sends an email every time I post -- let me know if you want me to add you to the list.


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

It's Official: Benin!

It finally, finally came -- almost a full year after I started the application, I finally got my invite...!!!!  I'm assigned to Benin (info/map here) as a secondary TEFL teacher, which means that I'll be teaching English classes for 7th-12th graders.  I'm so excited that I think I just emailed everyone in my address book, and I'm still brainstorming to think of more people to tell.  Happy doesn't even begin to cover it.

So now I have to prepare, in three main areas:
1.  Complete the 8,000 lb. packet of paperwork that the Peace Corps just sent me.
2.  Learn French (or at least start to).
3.  Shop for important Benin-friendly things like deodorant, a solar charger, and knee-covering skirts.  To quote a particularly fantastic Facebook group post, in Benin, "knees are like boobs.  Keep them covered."

I think I'll probably knock the paperwork out within the next week or so, because the application for a Peace Corps Passport (different than a normal one) has to go in ASAP.  Learning French is... well, I've started.  All of the French books I can find use only examples about France, which means that my conversation starters in Benin will all have to do with the Champs-Elysees or baguettes.  Oh well, the Beninese eat too, right?  So I'm trying to study a little every day -- the faster I get to intermediate competency en francais, the faster I get to learn a tribal language.

And then there's shopping.  Making a shopping list for two years in a developing country is intimidating.  Thus, I'm copy and pasting from other websites, hoping to somehow build a magical master list that will preemptively solve all of my cravings and needs.  It won't happen, but it's a nice goal.  I'll post it after this -- feel free to suggest other important items (remembering that I can only take 80 lbs. of luggage total).

That's it for now... *&#^$(*Q&#^0598 SO EXCITED!

 - L

Working Shopping List

Current volunteers say to bring the basics and have a lot of clothing made there, because it's cheap and more culturally appropriate.  So that's what I'll be doing.
 - lots and lots of underwear
 - hiking (ugly) sandals
 - 2 long skirts (below the knee)
 - 3 pairs of pants, at least two nice ones for teaching
 - 4 t-shirts
 - 2-3 thick-strapped tank tops
 - one-piece bathing suit
 - hat or bandana thing for shade
 - better sunglasses

 - Toothbrushes for two years
 - Toothpaste for six months
 - Lots of conditioner (hard to find there)
 - Tampons and chapstick for two years
 - Lots of deodorant
 - Razors for two years
 - Bottle of Claritin
 - A cycle of antibiotics, just in case
 - Multivitamins

 - Can opener
 - Good pair of scissors
 - Zip-lock bags, maybe small Tupperware containers
 - Measuring cups
 - Spices (cinnamon, chili pepper, etc.)
 - Tea.  I need tea to live.

 - Duct tape, and lots of it
 - Swiss Army knife
 - Satellite short-wave radio?
 - A watch with 24-hour time
 - Solar charger (Solis, probably)
 - Rechargeable batteries (+ charger)
 - Head lamp
 - Sticky tack and classroom craft supplies
 - Transformer
 - Cash in fresh-looking bills (or they won't exchange them, apparently)