Sunday, September 19, 2010

Shopping for Post and... Swear-In!

The last couple of days have been an absolute blur – we got our move-in allowances on Thursday, so we’ve been shopping like crazy since then. Then yesterday we had swear-in in the morning (Yall, I’m a REAL volunteer now! Yaaaaay!), shopping and eating in the afternoon, and a big party last night. And more shopping today with my host sister Madjidath (she helps me avoid getting ripped off). And probably tomorrow. I’m exhausted.

Swear-in was held in the ambassador’s back yard in Cotonou, which meant that we weren’t really allowed to take many pictures (sorry!). Each sector chose one tissu design, and each person in that sector takes a couple of meters and makes an outfit out of it. It looks pretty cool when everyone’s together, actually – it’s surprising to see how many different things you can make out of one piece of cloth.

Oh, okay, so besides the clothes, swear-in: we got there, sat down, began the ceremony, and it began to monsoon. It did not stop monsooning for about 2 hours, at which point we were drenched and coated in a fine layer of mud. There were lots of speeches, most of them boring and/or in a local language that I don’t speak, and after the ceremony they gave us a bunch of meat- and cheese-filled pasteries… Mmmm. I think I ate 15.

After heading to the PC Bureau to do a whole bunch of paperwork and admin stuff, we went to Eravan, which is Benin’s Target. It was absolutely crazy to walk in there: it was air-conditioned, there were shopping carts, and there were American foods like Snickers and Pringles. We were so overwhelmed when we walked in that it took us a second to start actually shopping… I’m going to be incompetent and weird when I get home.

Fast forward a couple of hours, and we were back in Porto Novo having a party on the roof of a hotel. It was fantastic – good music, fun dancing, great people, and finally a chance to cut loose and shake the stress of stage off. I’m going to miss these kids over the next couple of months – we’ve gotten pretty close over the past 9 weeks, and I’m fairly certain that by the time we head back home, we’ll be our own little family.

I’m A Chameleon, Watch Me Change


So I’m practically Beninese now. Not only can I eat pate with slimy gombo sauce (most of the time without gagging), I can also argue with zem drivers (who still give me bad prices) AND tie a pagne as a skirt (I wear full-coverage granny panties on those days in case the knot comes undone). Other advancements in my African-ness:

- I ate a whole fish today – it was cold, covered in slimy sauce, and full of bones. And I ate the whole damn thing.

- I can wash my clothes by hand by myself. It took my host family a full 3 times to not demote me to sitting and watching as they did my laundry, but I made it! Evidence: my raw, oozing knuckles.

- I have a tan line! It’s on my foot, and it’s definitely not pretty, but this might be the first time since I was eight that my skin hasn’t been glow-in-the-dark white.

- I write my numbers in the Beninese way some of the time. This means that my 9s look like lowercase Gs, my 7s have a moustache, and my 1s look like tents.

- I can now have a conversation in French at the grammatical level of a Beninese five year old. Having arrived as a newborn, I feel that this is progress.

Over the past 2ish months, I’ve made lots of mistakes, said a lot of accidentally offensive things in French, and eaten lots of weird foods. I’ve cried for hours by myself, and I’ve laughed for hours surrounded by new PC friends. I’m pretty sure the next three months will be full of similar surprises – culturally, personally, and language-wise – and I’m excited to see what new changes I’ll be able to report come December 20th.


Just so no one (Mom) freaks out when I don’t write for a while, here’s a warning: I’m not going to write for a while. This is not a matter of personal choice, but rather of location – I’m pretty sure my village doesn’t have a cyber cafe. There might be one in a surrounding village, and I’ll ask someone when I get there, but I’m banking on not being able to update for a couple of weeks after I move to Daagbe.

Current plan is to visit Porto Novo or Cotonou after 2-3 full weeks in village… we’ll see if I can make it that long without the interwebs.

Also, I will survive the next couple of months, mainly by venting through letters, phone calls, and any other means of communication I can manage. I’m setting mini-goals. I learned during stage that saying “Just make it to the weekend/the field trip/tomorrow/lunch” helps a lot, so I’m staging regular holidays to keep myself motivated. My major (mostly invented) celebrations:

9.17 – Swear in as a real PC Volunteer
9.26 – Survived 1st week at post
10.1 – School officially starts
10.15 – Meeting in Cotonou
10.21 – School actually starts (probably)
10.23 – 100 Days in Benin!
10.31 – Halloween
Mid-November – TEFL Workshop in Parakou
11.25 – Thanksgiving (I’m making a pie!)
12.12 – 150 Days in Benin!
12.25 – Christmas AND End of Lockdown Period – yay!

It’s going to be a busy celebration schedule, but I am dedicated to the full observance of every holiday listed (and others, if you email me more ideas). I will be making myself presents and/or something delicious for each of them.

Pictures: The Sky

Pictures: Grand Popo

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to post pictures, so here are the most important ones from the past couple of weeks: Grand Popo, model school, Ouidah, etc.

Grand Popo

Monday, September 13, 2010

Field Trip: Ouidah (“wee-dah”)


Yesterday all of the stagiers took a field trip to Ouidah, which is Benin’s most historic town – it used to be the major port where all Beninese slaves left the country. Even though most of the places we saw were pretty sad, it was interesting to learn about and, I think, good to know if we’re going to be living here.

We visited a memorial where they used to put slaves in a dark room for days to get them ready for the voyage overseas, and another memorial where after the dark room they buried the sick/unfit slaves alive in a mass grave. We also saw the tree each slave walked around 9 times to make him forget his family, memories, and culture. Very moving and very sad, but I think good to have seen.

To perk us up a little, after all of the slave trade memorials we got to go to the sacred voodoo forest (full of statues of gods) and the voodoo temple of serpents, where there’s a whole room of pythons to be worshipped. The snakes are completely used to being manhandled, so we got to pick them up and take pictures with them. Sooo cool… I now want a pet python when I get back to the States (Dad, pleeeeease?).

Me wearing a python at the voodoo temple of serpents
The Point of No Return
The bus driver's apprentice fixing the leak in the bus.  It was raining and water was streaming in, so he stuffed an old rag in the crack between the door and the roof.

A Great Day

Today was a great day, and since I keep writing miserable-sounding updates, I thought maybe I’d write one to show that sometimes life in Benin is really awesome.

The highlights of my excellent day in Porto Novo:
- Slept in, ate breakfast, and then took a nap just because I could.
- Argued a price successfully for a zem (in French!), and learned that flirting with your zem driver often leads to getting what you want. Will apply this tactic in the future.
- Successfully yelled at another zem driver when he tried to charge me more than we agreed on. He laughed and then conceded – I won an argument! In French!
- Ate a real chicken sandwich, with grilled onions, lettuce, tomato, and mayo. Mmmm…
- Had a fun conversation with a boy at the marche, wherein Elyse and I got him to agree that we were Beninese. He then informed us that for a Beninese person, every single day is a party… life is one huge fete. That is a lifestyle I could get used to.
- Told a kid that my name is Madonna. He later yelled “Madonna!” and waved at me from across the street.
- Played with kittens! One of whom will be mine in a couple of weeks – yay!
- Made a friend with a 22-year-old Beninese girl who’s a biomedical analyst. Smart, unmarried, gainfully employed AND my age – whoa. Mind blown. We exchanged contact info, so maybe we’ll hang out in the future.

I also chatted with Maman, talked on the phone to my real Mom, and made lists. The world is a wonderful place right now.


I can’t remember if I mentioned this, but for the past month, my host family has been fasting for Qarem (I’m spelling that wrong, I think). This means that they wake up at 3 am, go to a very loud prayer session across the street at 4am, eat a huge breakfast at 5am, sleep most of the day, then come back to life at sundown. Anyway, so it’s been a long month, and 9.10 (Fri) is the fete (Ramadan) to celebrate the end of the fast.

There were a couple of snafus* leading up to my Ramadan activities, but everything turned out beautifully. After school, 3 other stagiers came home with me to hang out with my family. We walked up to my apartment/penthouse thing, and there was a beautiful table set on the terrace for us to eat at.

Maman and Papa got home, and they + other random relatives joined us to eat a big Beninese meal: akassa (fermented pate), grilled fish, tomato/piement sauce, bread, rice, bananas, and chicken (I think) kebobs. Papa apologized for not having real wine (Islam forbids alcohol), and when we assured him that the meal was amazing without it, he seemed really happy.

We had some good cultural exchanges, I practiced my French a little, and we just kind of hung out with the extended family. All in all, I think, a perfect first Ramadan.

*Note: “Snafu” is a fantastic word.

PCT Mail – It Exists!


After two weeks of begging Peace Corps to give us our *#$^& mail, they FINALLY brought it today. You’d think they’d want to give their 50+ homesick stagiers their encouraging, loving mail from home on a regular basis… but I guess that’s not always how it works in Benin.

Anyway, thanks for the mail, guys! I got lots of letters (again, my team rocks at mail), and three packages – it felt like Christmas. House decorations, food, photos, notes from my cousins, a book… I’m spoiled rotten, and I love it. One of the packages has body butter and soap in it, but I don’t know who it came from. It’s from Euclid, OH… let me know if you sent it so that I can thank you!

Also, my Sarahbelle took a card to the LHS and had a bunch of my favorite high school teachers sign it, and that was such a surprise that I was tearing up as I read it. It’s really good to know that even a bajillion miles away, my entire hometown seems to be wishing me luck, strength, and happy thoughts. Thanks, all – I’m pasting that up on my wall when I get to village.

Model School Updates, Week 4


While this week has been basically pointless in a lot of ways – we gave them their final early on Wednesday, so since then we’ve just been playing games – it’s also been relaxing and entertaining (despite PC’s inability to deliver the mail for 2+ weeks)… the opposite of weeks one through three.

Highlights of the week:
- Vocab-inspired Hangman/Taboo/Pictionary – essentially all we’ve done since we gave them their final on Wednesday
- During my lesson, a girl had to draw “diarrhea” for Pictionary. Her drawing was excellent, and the entire class had their hands raised. The first response: “Is it ‘to shit’?” Um, no, that’s not a vocab word.
- Rosa teaching the whole class “Sorry Ms. Jackson” as part of her lesson on apologies. If you’ve never heard a classroom full of African children belt out an American song, you’re missing out.
- I didn’t get to see all of the other classes, but other groups have taught their classes “Bad Romance,” “What Is Love?” and the Happy Days theme song.

Tomorrow we (Dione, Rosa and I) are team teaching a two-hour lesson, and we’re doing nothing but games and an original song to the tune of Rihanna’s “Disturbia”. Our version: “Malaria”.

by Dione, Rosa, and Lissa

Bum bum beedum bum bum beedum bum x2

Got a fever and chills
And I need to vomit,
Have you heard what’s been said?
We need to speak about it about it.
Got a pain in my head
And I feel so tired
Feels like I’m going insane, yeah

If you stay out at night
They’ll come and bite you,
If you sleep with a net
They can’t infect you,
The disease can be stopped,
It won’t control you
You just need a doctor.

Malaria! Prevention is the key.
Malaria! There are a couple things you need.
Malaria! It starts with you and me.
Malaria! Malaria!

Bum bum beedum bum bum beedum bum x2

Tuesday, September 7, 2010



Today one of my favorite trainees and closest friends here, Maggie, started the process to go home. She looked happier than I’ve ever seen her here, and she finally started laughing again (she got stressed out a couple of weeks ago and never really seemed to rebound)… so while I’m really sad for me, I’m really happy that she’s making the right choice for her.

I don’t want to speak for her (Mags, if you read this, feel free to argue in the comments), but I think there were a lot of things that added up and made her life au Benin not awesome – she missed her family and boyfriend a bajillion times more than she expected to, and to be honest, Peace Corps didn’t do a great job with setting up her post situation. In the end, it came down to whether or not the work she would be doing here was worth the sacrifice of living so far away from her people, and PC just wasn’t right for her. I fully expect her to save the world via AmeriCorps or Doctors Without Borders or something in the future. Just not right here and right now.

I’m really excited for her. For me, not so much. Realizing how easy it is to get home was kind of difficult to forget – you just say you want to go home, go through a bunch of exit interviews, and PC buys a ticket home. And right now I’m so, SO jealous that she’ll be eating hamburgers, hugging her sister and not arguing prices every three seconds… and PC hasn’t delivered our mail in a week and a half, so I’m missing yall even more lately… I don’t know. I’m determined to stick it out here, but seeing her head back to the States without me in tow is rough.

Before she left, we (Jenny, Elyse and I) made her promise several things. First, she can’t get married until we get back, because we want to wear ridiculous African tissu dresses to the reception. Second, she has to mail us some seriously kickass letters. And third, she has to hug America for us. Yes, the entire country.

Maggie (in case you manage to figure out how a computer works and/or locate the internet sometime soon), I’m going to miss you and your laugh like crazy, woman. You’ve been one of my favorites here since the beginning, and every time I hear “sha-la-la-la-la-la-my-oh-my” you’ll be the first thing that jumps to mind. Drink a margarita and watch some trashy TV for me, k?

In the Future…

Upcoming: the last(!!!) week of model school (I’ll teach 4eme again), then a week of everything-we-have-to-finish-up classes, then swear-in on the 17th! That’ll be a big celebration – we’ll have made it through stage! (Oh, btw, Friday was our 50-days-in-country anniversary.) After swear-in, a couple of frantic shopping days, then we head to post permanently… scary, but exciting!

For the first three months at post, we’re not allowed to leave our village (except for 2 mental health days/month). It’s to help us integrate and really get into our work, but I’ve heard it’s pretty tough – lonely, mainly, and really stressful language-wise. Thus, I will need your letters more than ever… which brings me to my next point: new address!

This is tricky, so read carefully. If you’re sending me a package/padded envelope/anything that’ll cost me money to pick up, send it to my old Cotonou address. That’s the PC headquarters, so they’ll front the money to pick it up from the post office and I just have to swing down, repay the money, and pick it up from PC. Easy peasy. If you’re sending a letter, though, sent it to my school:

Lissa Glasgo, PCV
CEG Daagbe
BP 131 Avrankou
Benin (Afrique l’Ouest)

I’m hoping that that address will be faster and easier for letters. But don’t send packages there or my director will have to pay for them, which would be bad. Summary: letters go to Daagbe, packages to Cotonou. Thanks, everyone!

Grand Popo! The Mini TEFL Vacation

Today all of TEFL went to Grand Popo (everyone else is on post visits, which we did a while ago, so they decided to give us a trip, too). It was a whole day just to relax – we needed it after 3 weeks of model school – and it was absolutely amazing. Summary: good (free!) food, gorgeous sun, big waves, and excellent company. I’m really starting to love the TEFLers, and hanging out with them all day was awesome. Pictures at the bottom of this post.

Other random updates: I killed a spider with my bare hand this week. I might buy furniture from another volunteer for cheap – yay! Except the menusier’s already making my table and chairs… Oh well. Can’t have too much furniture for an empty house. The other sectors went on post visits this week, and my friend Maggie’s didn’t go very well… she was really upset the first night she was there. That’s fairly normal for post visit, based on my experience and the stories I’ve heard, so I’m hoping she can rebound soon… she’s hilarious and awesome, and I reeeeeally want her here to entertain me over the next 2 years. It’s going to be a rough 3 months alone at post (oh! I should explain that) for all of us, but I think the stress will be worth it in the end.

Teaching Updates: Week 3


This past week of teaching actually wasn’t so bad. I was really worried about it because these are the oldest kids I’ll have to teach – 4eme, which is somewhere around 9th grade – and I was anticipating crazy discipline problems… I didn’t sleep the night before I taught my first lesson on Tuesday. Luckily, it all worked out. A couple of highlights:

- Kept my class quiet for 2 hours – yess!! Maybe because they were older and lazier (I had more of an issue with kids falling asleep this week), but still. Score.

- Have been working on my teacher glare, and I think I have it down now. I silenced three children on Thursday just by whipping my head around and glaring at them. That’s right, punks.

- Am learning that I’m just naturally a pretty strict teacher – I demand and expect silence, and I have no problem kicking you out of class if you’re bad – but my students usually get the lesson by the end of the day. I’m hoping that’s something I can carry over to post… we’ll see.

- The past couple of weeks I’ve been working on discipline and lesson plan organization, and I’ve gotten better at those two things. This week, I’m going to continue to work on discipline and organization, but I’m going to add “energy and smiling” to the mix… Because I want to be able to motivate through both scariness and positive reinforcement.

- One of my brilliant fellow TEFLers said something like, “Model school will be awesome to have done. Not to do, but to have done.” That’s absolutely accurate, I think.

- My main motivator this week was the fact that this Saturday (tomorrow), all of TEFL gets to go to Benin’s resort town Grand Popo. We can’t wear bathing suits or shorts, but no worries – sun-and-sand fun will be had by all anyways.

Visit to Daagbe, Take 2


When I did my post visit (years ago during week 4 of stage), I stayed with a host family, and they were awesome. Unfortunately, right after I left, the host papa came down with a really sudden health issue and passed away – he was one of my favorite people in the whole village, so that really sucks.

Peace Corps said that it would be a good idea to go pay my condolences to the family, so I went after school with some admin people to saluer and talk with the host mama and kids. I think it was a really, really smart move – everyone there seemed really happy that we’d taken the time to stop out, and the mama told me that once I got to village, she’d love to help me with anything I have trouble with.

It wasn’t exactly a happy trip, but I did learn something: Customs may be different – we did a weird funeral greeting thing where we tapped our heads against each other’s four times – but funerals are basically the same no matter where you are. It’s incredibly sad when someone dies, but it’s important to celebrate the life lived rather than just grieve the loss.

On a slightly happier note, I got to see my house, and get this: I have a floor! And a ceiling. I know, I know, I’m spoiled. Still no screen on the windows or roof on the kitchen, but hey, they’ve still got two weeks.

I found a zip drive!

But no .docx converter yet.  Thus, pictures of the week's two most important events: Grand Popo and Maggie heading home (that's her in turquoise-ish tissue next to me).

Frickin' A.

Over the past two days, I've tried to go to the cyber 6 different times, and this is the first time I've been able to get online.  Unfortunately, I managed to find a cyber that only has computers from the 1990s... I can't find a USB drive on this thing for the life of me.  There is a floppy disk drive; though, so if I can just teleport back to 3rd grade, I might be able to copy and paste my updates.

Anyway, so it's been an interesting week, and I have lots to update on.  We went to Benin's resort town Grand Popo one Saturday, and that was awesome.  Then one of my closest friends here made the really tough decision to early terminate (go home to America), and that's been pretty rough for everyone.

Summary: Africa technology sucks, life's still going, and if PC doesn't f***ing deliver our mail soon (it's been a week and a half since anyone got a letter or package), I'm gonna have to kick someone in the shins.