Saturday, December 31, 2011

Un Peu En Ritard: Music Videos by 5eme Students!

Can't get them to upload here, but check them out on YouTube:

1. 5eme M5 sings "Jingle Bells" -- watch the kid (Innocent) in the front left.  He was really into it.
2. 5eme M1 sings "Ain't No Mountain"... because I felt like it.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Thank you SO SO SO much for donating!  The entire almost $3000 is done in under 3 weeks, which is really, really fast by PC standards.  Thank yous will be out soon (as soon as PC sends me the list of donors).   I'm so excited!  I get to start as soon as I get back!

Other things to say:

  • People keep asking me if they can send me books for the library.  Short answer: yes, but I can't pay you back for shipping.  It's not in the grant that I wrote, so it's not acceptable for me to pay for shipping for donated books.  If you want to send me books (kiddie lit and young adult novels would be best), I'd love to have them, just send them to my package address.  I will be getting books from France for most subjects, though, so it's not a big problem if yall can't send me truckfuls of them.
  • Somehow yall managed to donate all of the money for my project before I even got the chance to put the apron money in.  Amazing.  Since there's no more space in that fund, I'm going to take the money from the aprons and divide it equally between the Camp GLOW fund and the Camp BLOW fund, for which we still need to raise lots of money.  Thank you so much for buying!
  • Know anyone who still wants to donate? We still need to raise $2,581 for Camp GLOW and $4776 for Camp BLOW.  Those links are here: Girls' Camp  Boys' Camp
  • Home is amazing!  I've been here exactly a week and I've already gained 4 lbs.  I'm gonna make it to 10, just watch!  Will update on all of the lovely people I've seen and all the delicious foods Mom keeps handing me (she's dedicated to my goal, too).  But now, have to go shopping for my friend Lauren's wedding dress!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Cool Site

Just found this site, which tells you the percentages of donated money actually go to the projects you're charitably supporting.  It's kind of like giving grades to charities and NGOs.

In other news, we're within $160 of being done with my grant!  That's AMAZING!  Thanks, everyone, for  the perfect Christmas gift!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Notes in Transit

(In Paris Airport:)

- Just had a really weird emotional response to coffee. It went like this: I get to my gate and, since I have 20 euros leftover from France on July, I decide to buy myself breakfast #2 for today. I get a cappuccino and a giant cookie, and without the stare-down and daily arguments that happen with Beninese mamans, the guy gives me the correct change. I sit down and take a sip of real espresso with real milk. And suddenly my trip home here and it's today and i'm going home to hug my Dad and Mom and baby sisters and there's a tear running down my face. Not sure how it got there. Will try to rein in the weirdness in public, promise.

- American parents seem neurotic and way obsessed with their kids. I'm watching a dad who just got on the floor to roll a ball with two-year-old Addison. Her mom just said (direct quote), "Want some more yogurt, Addison? Maybe? Okay, I'll come to you." in Daagbe, you (moms only, dads never) strap the kid to your back and forget about him till he cries, and when he's too big for that, you let him wander around the general area (playing with chunks of rusty metal and old plastic bags, eating dirt, etc.) until he either does something stupid (gets too close to an oncoming zemidjan) or cries for food. If stupid, you hit him. If hungry, you feed him. End of story. None of this playing with the kid or following him around with food... Kinda seems ridiculous to me now. Hah.

- This country is FREEZING. I'm wearing the warmest thing I brought to Africa (Jones jacket, thanks Caroline!), and am still shivering in my seat. Time for socks, and maybe even the spare tissu pagne I somehow thought I needed in America.

- I can smell melted cheese from my seat in the terminal. Not even joking. No one (except spoiled little Addison) is eating within two rows of me. This place is magical!

- The Frenchy-French accent is tough, but I really do speak French now! Sometimes, people even speak to me in French first. Probably just good manners in a France, but still. Win for me!

- It's looking like I'll almost definitely miss my flight to Cleveland because of customs and my layover time. Oh well. There's another flight a couple of hours later, so I'll get home tonight barring a blizzard or volcano explosion in Pennsylvania. Which I think is pretty unlikely, truth be told.


-On the Paris-to-New York flight: am seated next to an entertainingly cranky gardening lady, who keeps badgering the staff about giving her another double-sized glass of free merlot. She's on her fourth.


- At JFK: Sprint through the airport at top speed, caring not at all about how crazy and potentially homeless I look. Hair is at cavewoman-level disorder, and have forgotten to take off socks before putting on my duct-taped flats. Despite many strange looks, i make it to the gate on time! This time I'm sitting next to a lawyer who's doing really interesting cases... Between him and Leslie, I'm starting to believe that law is actually (gasp!) interesting to learn about.

 - I'm HOME!  Family picked me up in Santa hats, and we're now going to my favorite restaurant for a feast before I sleep for 20 hours straight.  So happy!  So cold!  Merry Christmas, everyone!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Weekly Updates: 12.21.11

  • The Grant: Uhhh... so, I was planning to post an update on the percentage we've earned so far, complete with an elephant graphic to show where we're at.  Little problem: that elephant would be pretty much filled up already.  We've earned over $2500 in two weeks! That's AMAZING! Had already written a blog begging people to advertise and donate again, but after seeing the donation page and the giant number of people who have been Facebooking and sending in money... Yall are way ahead of me. In fact, you're kind of ridiculously on top of this, and you deserve a huge THANK YOU!! So much closer than I expected to be by now- thank you so much.
  • I've got pledges already to cover the rest of the grant, and I haven't even put the apron money in yet, so that will now go to girls' and boys' camp, which still need funding. Merci bien, merci beaucoup, and mibayi keke (kekekekeke!) -- I don't know how I got this lucky in terms of friends and family, but thank god I did. :)

  • World Map Is DONE!! Yaaaay! And I gotta say, it's really pretty. The best part has been seeing students' reactions, though. When I started the project, I assumed that only a couple of students would actually use the map for school reasons.  The others would regard it as a giant artwork that the crazy white lady did, and forget about it as soon as the novelty wore off.
    I've been amazed at how many students now hang out next to the map and stare at it, telling their friends all of the countries and facts they know (most of which the other volunteers and I taught them). Others stand there and just let the country names roll around in their mouths, tasting their vowels and consonants for the first time. "Madagascar" and "Australie" seem to be their favorites.

  • Read Book #75! Seventy-five was my original goal, and I made it with months to spare. Ah, the Peace Corps life. :) So... On to 100?
  • Aprons. Forgot to say earlier, if you ordered an apron (they're all sold now), wash it separately in cold water-- the dyes here aren't as set as what we're used to in the States. I have killed many a t-shirt by washing it with tissu.
  • Africa Loves My Mom. Two different families have given me gifts to bring to Mom: my couteriere Pierrette made her some clothes just because, and my host family in Porto-Novo went on a shopping spree for presents for Mom and my sisters. Pierrette also tried to give me a giant chicken (the biggest I've ever seen in Benin) to bring to Mom, explaining that I could just tie its feet together and put it under my seat like people do on busses here. We had to have a talk about customs regulations...
  • Wake-Up Call. At 5:30am last Wednesday, I woke up to my next door neighbors (two construction workers in their late 20s) blasting Shania Twain's "From This Moment On" at full volume. Best part: they were singing along with made-up gibberish words. In falsetto.
  • It's "Cold Season." By that I mean that in the early morning, it MIGHT hit 68 degrees. People are wearing multiple layers, ski caps, and heavy windbreakers. All of my friends have been complaining about it being "too much" and "dangerous for the health." The cold ("harmattan") also has been cited as the reason for why my students couldn't do their homework and why we had to end our weekly English department meeting early. Harmattan is hilarious. Remember this when I can't function in Ohio in December.
  • Remember The Week Before Christmas when you were in middle school? Remember how impossible it was to concentrate and how distracted you were? Please say a silent thank-you prayer for those teachers who managed not to kill you during that time. Having been on the non-student side of that situation this week, I am now aware of how much self-control it takes. God bless you, junior high teachers of America, and God save my three classes of hellians.
  • Merry almost-Christmas everyone! I had my kids sing some songs in class (when I wasn't quite as mad at them), and will upload the videos soon. Prepare yourselves for a total and adorable butchering of your favorite songs! And Ohio, see you tomorrow night. Eeeeeeee!
Pictures from the last week and a half:

Femi and I.  Femi is Pierrette (my couteriere)'s niece,
and one of my bffs.

Sayidath and her mom, who's 6 months younger
than I am.  No wonder Auntie B fell in love
with this baby.

My students, working on a group project.  It was hard. :)

Friday, December 9, 2011

Donate! Projects I Really Care About

a.  Read the last post!  Lots of info on my school library project, plus a pleasepleaseplease for donations.

b.  The quick version, for those of you with real jobs: donate to Peace Corps Benin projects!  Here are the three I most care about (emphasis on the first one, which is my baby).  All contributions are tax-deductable, go directly to the projects (no overhead or organization fees) and can be done with a credit card or "ACH Bank Check," whatever that is.  Click on the name to go to the donation site.

CEG Daagbe School Library: Help build a library for my secondary school!

Camp GLOW: Fund a weeklong camp for 10-14 year old girls, where we'll teach them about health, their rights, education, goal setting, and how to take control of their own lives.  Read my blog from Camp GLOW last year:

Camp BLOW*: Contribute to a weeklong camp for 10-14 year old boys.  Basically the same thing as Camp GLOW, except we'll focus a lot on treating everyone (girls included) with respect.  This is our attempt at hitting the girls' empowerment thing from every angle, while at the same time enriching the lives of smart, motivated boys in our villages.

*Yes, I know, ridiculous name, but the girls' camp is "Girls Leading Our World," so we went for consistency rather than respectability.

Books for a Brighter Future: Help Me With My Library Project!

And now, for the featured act.  After over a year of working on group projects, it's finally time for me to  introduce my very own, big, intimidating, and hopefully amazing project:  I'm creating a library for my school.  It's a huge project, and an important one, and I need your help.

Kids almost never have access to books here.  Out of my 130+ students, under ten have the textbooks they need for their classes, so they're left to study whatever they've managed to copy off of the blackboard, spelling mistakes and all.  Most have never used a dictionary or even seen an encyclopedia, and the thought of reading a story for fun is about as foreign as I am.  There are no books.  I want to bring some here.

With school administration, I'll be creating a library where students and professors will have access to reading materials: textbooks, picture books, stories, magazines, reference books, and even maps and visuals for science classes.  Giving the school a library will change the whole learning environment, not only for the students and teachers, but for the entire community.

So now that I've climbed the first mountain (writing the grant application -- getting budget numbers was like pulling teeth), it's on to Everest: fundraising.  I need to come up with $2,824.89 by January.  Here's the thing: I don't have that.  (Weird, I know, for an English major not to be swimming in $100s.)  Which brings me to my main point: I need your help.

1.  Donate! (Please!!) The link is here, you can use credit or debit cards, and every single dollar will get us closer to CEG Daagbe's school library.  I personally promise that every cent is going to the project, not to admin costs or organization fees.  And I'll get the kids to send you a cute thank-you note, complete with marker decorations and frequent misspellings.  :)

2. Advertise!  I know it doesn't often come up in conversation, but if you can bring up the whole "hey-my-friend's-building-a-library-in-Africa-and-do-you-have-five-bucks-to-spare?" thing in conversations with family, friends, coworkers, and church groups, that'd help a lot.  Facebook posts and emails would also be amazing.

3.  Aprons for Africa!  I'm coming home for Christmas, and I'm bringing 55 aprons with me.  Each of them was made with African fabric (tissu) by my seamstress, who's a really close friend.  I'm selling them for $15 plus shipping, and all profits (about $11 each) will go directly to the library.  Can't guarantee a specific pattern (I only have 2-4 of each), but let me know if you hate yellow or only wear stripes and I'll do my best to oblige.  To order, email my mom at*

Thank you so much! Tell your friends!  And an even bigger thanks again, because without all of yall's overwhelming support (financial, emotional, spiritual), there's no way I could be here doing something this big, complicated, and community-changing.

Love love love,

*Leslie, Tara and Alex, I have your orders already, but email Mom anyway just to double check.

Weekly Updates 12.7

  • World Map: Still Not Done! Worked on it 7+ hours this week outlining and labeling countries, and I've still got Asia to go. My shoulder muscles are very angry at me, but I'm getting closer. I am GOING to finish this sucker before Christmas break, even if my arm mutinies.
  • In Mispronunciation News... I've been teaching my classes music and instruments vocabulary, and on Monday we ran through some flashcards for review. They got guitar and drums right off, struggled with saxophone and piano, and totally failed at accordion (note: I did not choose this random array of instruments). I flipped the next card up (of a singer), and the class genius raises his hand.
    "Madame," he says confidently, "it's fuck."
    Um... What?
    "Yes, it's a fuck, Madame, fuck!"
    (I wonder briefly if they can hear me when I mutter at them under my breath.) "That's not... uh... correct." (I giggle.)
    "Yeeeeeeess, it's fuck!"
    (rest of class chimes in: "Yes Madame, fuck! Fuck, Madame!")
    No, still not correct, another word?
    "frenchfrenchfrench, Madame, fuck! Frenchfrenchfrench copybook!!"
    I go to look at his copybook. Discover the word they're determined to say is "folk music band." Later a girl tells me she saw a penis on tv. She was watching a piano concert.
  • Compliment of the Week: A professor told me I looked like Mary, the mother of Jesus. Thank you?
  • Grant is online! Further info in the next post. Here we go!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Weekly Updates: 12.2.11

  • I'll be on a plane in 18 DAYS!!
  • The Adventures of Shadow (and my poor floor).  This week I puppy-sat for my closemate Maeghan's new puppy Shadow.  A few things you should know about Shadow: he is a puppy.  He has a teensy little puppy-sized bladder.  His body magically produces about 17 gallons of pee a day.   And he is a Basinji, the second least-trainable breed of dog in the world.

    Things we achieved in a week (sublist):  Shadow pees on floor a record 10 times, despite hourly trips outside.  He poos in my bedroom once.  House is now coated in bleach water.  I manage to not commit caninicide.  (That should be a real word.)  We also manage to make my cat royally and hilariously jealous.  After spending the first day stalking and then running from Shadow, who REALLY wants to play, Popsicle spends the rest of the week perched just out of reach on my porch, glaring at the puppy in his house.  He also snuck inside on multiple occasions, only to be surprised and then viciously defensive when Shadow, again, wanted to play.  I rescued him.  He sat on the porch and glared.
  • Learned: Owls Are Sorcerers.  Along with spiders, ants, cats, dogs, and fireflies, owls are animals that sorcerers can inhabit to come kill or injure people.  Funny, as the owl is also my college mascot.  During a conversation with my Nigerian friend (6 months younger than me, and she has a 7 month old baby girl), I learned that sorcerers in my village often posess owl bodies to come to people in the night. 

    If they come to you and you're the target, the owl will pull the soul out of you, maybe through your mouth or eyes.  Once your soul is gone, your body's dead, and your family will bury you.  It is after your burial that the sorcerers dig your body up, have a child chop up the body into meat, and then they drink your blood, which is "like water to them."  Then, she pointed out the child who is rumored to be the local body-cutter.   All the adults say it's him, and she told me that because he's started so young, he'll be the boss of the sorcerers when he grows up.

    Halloween, you've got nothing on Africa.
  • Grant Is En Route!  Finally got my grant application reviewed and sent to headquarters, so as soon as that's looked at, it should be online!  Watch out in the next week for a post/email about how you can help me out (hint: donate and advertise!) and the link to the site.  :)
  • Bridget's Birthday Weekend.  This Monday is my really good friend Bridget's birthday, so we're celebrating by pampering ourselves all weekend.  We ate delicious food last night with fresh pineapple juice, gave ourselves manicures, and at 1pm, will be going to get massages.  Yes, my friends, there are massages in Benin.  They're hella expensive on our budget (an hour is 7 mille, or about $15), but we're doing it -- we've earned it after the grants we've just written.  Later, we're going to drink hot chocolate and eat cookies that Sam and Alicia made.  We're spoiled, it's okay.
  • Next Week... I will go to a church party (free food!), eat real turkey and pate rouge at Kalyn's friend's house, take lots of photos of Pierrette and family with me, get more Christmas presents made, try my hardest to get almost done with my world map.  Because this is getting embarrassing.  Wish me luck, and see you all SO SOON!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Jim Talks Back: On Our Ghana Trip

The guest author for this post is Jim Doty, my fellow Jonesian and Rice classmate. We got to visit him in his Peace Corps post -- Senya, Ghana -- in September. Amazing trip, and an amazing friend.   This post should have been written up a few weeks ago, but I was getting used to being a teacher, so better late than never.

   In September, Lissa and two of her friends from Benin came to Ghana.  Bridget and Victoria were coming to run in the Accra International Marathon.  Lissa pretty much hits the highlights of the events that happened on her blog, so I think I will just point out some things that I noticed.

   First, It was really nice to see a friend from Jones/Rice University again.  We could have gone on for hours swapping stories about life in Houston.  We did spend a good amount of time swapping stories on people that we were keeping track of.  It was also reassuring to see someone I knew already a year into their service.  It was really cool to see how calm, self confident, and adventurous a volunteer could be after just one year in country.  I got the feeling that things were tough in the beginning.  I was still very new in country, and was nervous about hosting someone.  I was thinking they would be bored, or uncomfortable, or wouldn't like the food.  Instead I got the three best guest one could wish for.  I think a lot of that came from the fact that they had been around the block before.  In summary, it really gave me something to look forward to.  When times are tough here, I am going to remember that the girls were quite happy after a year.

   Next, in Benin, their trainers gave them some good advice during training.  First, "Not my village, not my problem."  At first this seems like a callous bit of advice, but here in Peace Corps, we don't get to fix everything with a magic wand.  Instead, we have been given the opportunity to work in a really small site, to win the hearts and mind of a community, and to make a difference there.  So when you leave your site, you can't stress out, and try and change people that you have not been building bonds with.

   Second, "Every Peace Corps Volunteer's experience is different."  This one is kind of obvious, but I often forget about it when I get together with other volunteers.  The living conditions vary quite widely between the sites, and even more so between countries.  Sometimes when I meet up with volunteers, it can feel like we are trying to one up each other on who's site is tougher, or problems are rougher, or counterparts are better, or customs are stranger.  But, this ends up being really unproductive.  It is good to swap stories about site, but not even considering for a moment that your service is supposed to be the same, at least for me, has allowed me to try and use those stories as times to see if people have thought new solutions that I haven't thought up before.  At the end of the day, humans are amazingly adaptable.  What usually throws us for a loop is when you change the game on us.  So I know I could get used to no electricity, but I have it most of the time.  I have gotten used to not having a refrigerator, but I don't really think someone else should have to.  When you have one convenience or another, it changes the amount of time that you have to do other things.  If you have absolutely no conveniences as a volunteer, you spend a lot of your time doing things just to survive.  If you have every convenience in the world, you could use that to spend more time and energy on the people around you.  "Every PCV's experience is different."

   Third, "Don't speak to much of the local language in someone else's village."  All of us have varying levels of difficulty with learning these languages.  This is also compounded by the difficulty of learning the language with out a tutor or teacher for the most part.  If you come in and blow your host out of the water with your mad language skills, you take a little bit of their credibility away.  So Bob is always kind and doesn't show me up in town, and I don't embarrass myself when I go and visit him.  These little lessons I have been finding rather useful when interacting with other volunteers.

   In return, I would like to offer an idea that came from our Country Director Mike.  It came in the context of his fireside chat on how to be a successful volunteer.  He stated that we, as Peace Corps volunteers, are agents of change.  However, he made it very clear that we have to be very careful what kind of change we try to implement. "A Peace Corps Volunteer is not an agent of systemic change."  The Peace Corps is an organization that focuses on grass roots style organization.  We work on providing the ability for the host country nationals to solve some of their own problems.  This is done in a variety of ways.  However, we are not the panacea of volunteer organizations.  We can't solve systemic problems like corruption, canning, or how well teachers get paid.  We have to be careful to make sure we tackle problems we can solve.  There are enough of those without burning out on issues that we can't solve.  

From Ghana with Love,

[Thanks to Lissa, Bridget, and Victoria for coming to visit.  We had a blast, and although we can't promise we will make it out, we will try and see Benin.]

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Pictures! (It's Been A While, Huh?)

Got my hair braided!  Long, heavy and purple.  Yes, purple.  This is with
my friend Ashley in Parakou for Halloween.

My 14 year old friend/spider exterminator Epiphane.  He saved me
from the evil designs of this Anyphops.  Tee hee, Anyphops.

Still working on the world map! Not done yet, but with outlining and labeling, it's looking really good!

See that line snaking its way through the school yard?  That's a two-inch
thick line of marching soldier ants.  They stop for nothing, eat everything,
and according to Gabriel, attack people if they get in their way.
My legacy as an English teacher in Benin.  I'm so proud. 

Visited my friend Claire's village, Ketou, where the main landmark is this GIANT sacred
pile of trash.  Apparently there's a voodoo priestess buried underneath.
This week, I killed my first chicken!  Here it is alive.

After giving it its last drink of water (in Benin, you always
give the animal a drink before you kill it, because you
don't want it to have to die thirsty), I did the actual
cutting of the throat.

With Pierrette, post-chicken killing.  She was proud
of me!  I mainly just wanted to wash the gunk off
of my hands. :)

List #2: Things I Want To Do America

- Go shopping and get a pedicure with my mama

- Dress up, wear heels, feel pretty

- Go grocery shopping, just for the shock of it

- Get a beer with Dad, watch a movie and drink tea with Mandee, and make Katie laugh. :)

- Have a girls' night with the ladies

- Gain 10 lbs in 10 days. It can be done, bring on the milkshakes and melted cheese!

- Use a washing machine (described by my village friends as "a computer that washes clothes..." Which I denied existed, until I realized it does.)  microwave, and fast internet.

- Dry my hair with a hairdryer (and get a haircut).

- Get new music!

- Catch up on YouTube videos (send me your favorites)

- Wear a coat. And boots. And jeans that actually fit. 

Can't wait-- less than 4 weeks!!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Weekly Updates: Thanksgiving!

- Finally allowed myself to open a jar of American peanut butter Mom brought with her in July. Horrible discovery: after a year and a half of Beninese peanut buttter -- just ground peanuts, period -- Jif tastes like sugary lard. The flavor is kind of... Weak. Sad. It'll just never be the same.

- My village's central transformer or something blew up, taking with it all of the electricity and water in the entirety of Daagbe. No pumps were working, meaning that I was living out of the two trash cans of water in my kitchen. Fun! Ended up being only a week and a few days. Bathing out of a bowl... Now normal.

- The pope visited Benin. That's wonderful for the Christians in the country, a truly inspiring visitor. Minor problem from my point of view: to prepare for the highest-ranking visitor in all of Catholicdom, Benin decided to "straighten up" Cotonou. How? They razed hundreds of shanty houses and businesses from all across the city. As the hundreds of now-homeless men, women, and children stood and watched, bulldozers leveled row after row of shacks made of scraps of tin and salvaged sticks. Then they burned it all. The people I've talked to, most with steady jobs and cement houses, said it was a good thing: this way the people will be forced to pay for their space rather than "mooching" the unclaimed alleyways they inhabited before. And if South Africa and India are any example, razing shanty villages is nothing new. Still, it's disheartening that the most marked change in Benin after the visit of the most famous (currently-living) Christian figure was the leveling of hundreds of homes.

Upon My Mother's Request...

...I introduce The Lists. This is how I stay busy at post (while not saving the world, obviously). Things I Want To Eat/Drink While Home:

- bacon
- toast with butter
- hot chocolate with marshmallows
- orange juice
- a chicken breast
- cheese!! Chevre and sharp cheddar, mainly.
- frozen green peas
- glass of 2% milk
- a good, juicy hamburger with pickle relish
- broccoli
- a cappuccino
- ham sandwich
- pizza and soup from broken rocks
- gala apples
- spaghetti with meat sauce
- good beer (something stout)
- frozen blueberries with milk and sugar
- cereal with milk!!
- grilled cheese with tomato soup
- mashed potatoes
- cheese-its
- gingersnaps

Friday, November 11, 2011

For maybe the first time in my PC service, I am stressed about getting things done. Yay! I feel productive! Besides teaching, I'm working on the world map (so pretty!), getting aprons and family Christmas gifts made, a scholarship program for a girl at my school (yet to be chosen)*, and of course, that giant grant application for the library. 

The library grant is what's really stressful, mainly because of the budget. Getting exact estimates from my director and carpenter has been SO difficult, and I'm still not even done. Plus, I have to figure out how much it'll cost to ship 200 books from France, and despite searching on the Internet, emailing the NGO and having Gabriel calk their office, we still have no idea what it's going to cost. No budget means no grant, so I'll be really anxious until I get it all together. Want this thing up before December, and praying desperately that it'll happen.

Other than projects and things, not too much is going on. I took the purple braids out and lost a bunch of hair in the process, but oh well. It'll be cooler in hot season, right? Visited a couple of friends last week -- Juliette, mother of the twins Doloresse and Dorothe -- who moved to Porto-Novo. I miss them... She was one of my best friends in village, and her adorable kids always made me laugh.  Have also been visiting the new volunteers in their posts, and am happy to report that none of them seem to be wallowing in depression or going insane! Yay new PCVs!

Last thing: today I was walking and a raindrop hit my cheek. My honest-to-god first thought was, "Dangit, a lizard peed on me AGAIN." What has Benin done to me??

*Scholarship Girls is a program run by our PC Benin Gender and Development committee. You create an application for the girls at your school, then form a selection committee with members of your school and community. One girl at CEG Daagbe (winner is chosen based on financial need, grades, and essay responses) will win a full year scholarship and money for her uniform and notebooks. Lots of organization required, but definitely a worthwhile program.

A little late: blogs 11.1

I haven't updated in a long time. I feel guilty about it... :/ I have a good excuse though, and that excuse is that I was in a small African village for the past couple of weeks without Internet. And I was tired of coming to Cotonou all of the time. Forgiven?

Main updates from 10.24-11.1:

- Discovered that I have a student named Manlick. Teehee.

- Got a terrible sinus infection somehow. Made a fairly successful DIY NettiPot, then subsequently found a dead ant in my snot.

- Went to the doctor, got lots of antibiotics and Mucinex, which is an amazing drug. Felt better in two days. Thank god, because...

- I went to Parakou for Halloween! Dressed up as Nicky Minaj, which wad basically just an excuse to get my hair braided with long purple weave. Long, heavy purple hair! Every girl's dream 'do, no?  (Unfortunately, my memory card reader has decided to quit working -- I think it's in cahoots with my computer -- so no pictures just yet.)

- Main update here: Dance parties are awesome, no matter which country you're in.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Christmas Request

As most of you know, I'll be hoooooome for Chriiiiistmaaaas! (pause to reflect on predictability of last sentence.) What that means:

1. Guard your fridges. I'm coming for your cheddar and Parmesan.

2. I won't be in Benin. Thus,

3. I'll be getting my fill of most things American: ice cream, broccoli, hamburgers, wheat toast... Yay America!

Here's what I'm asking: I have a huge project coming up that I need to fund. This library is going to cost upwards of $2000. Instead of sending me a package of wonderful things, please save that money and donate it to my school library. Pleasepleaseplease and thank you! And Loudonville, get ready for December 22nd!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Biweekly Update: 10.22.11

K, so, pressed for time, and couldn't prepare a blog this week (see explanation below), so here are the super-quick updates from my life:
  • Canoe Tour of Stilt Villages!  Visited new volunteer Jessica in her village Azowlisse, and she took me on an amazing canoe tour of the surrounding villages.  All built on the slow-moving edges of the Oueme river, the villages are full of buildings built up on stilts above the water: churches, schools, houses, animal pens, etc.  You wade, swim or paddle to wherever you're going.  So cool!  Lots of gorgeous photos, which I'll share as soon as I have internet for a long time.
  • My Second Computer Seems to Have Given Up.  Africa, really?  wtf.  So no more prepped blog posts or photo montages, unless I get really sick and have to stay in Cotonou for a while.  Sigh.
  • Power Cut.  Because they wanted to.  Had to pay 3.5 mille ($7) to get it reconnected.
  • Director Says Library A Go!  Yaaaay!  Working on the grant now. :)
  • Asked My New Class Why They Shouldn't Call Me Yovo.
  • New Fun Student Names: Innocent (two of them, neither of them all that innocent), Valentin, Mouchidatou, and Norbert.  Norbert!!!
  • The Difference A Year Makes.   Feel so much more confident this year, like I actually know what to do in class.  Have classes gone smoothly?  Not necessarily (one class has been terrible so far), but at least I don't feel lost.
  • Accidentally Caused 4 Kids to be Hit.  Did they need to be disciplined?  Definitely.  Did I want administration to whack their hands repeatedly with a paddle at full force?  Definitely not.  The kids were perfect after that, though, and I've now learned not to go to admin for discipline unless I absolutely can't handle it myself.
  • See You In 2 Months! Yaaaaaaaaay!
  •   Correct answer: because you're a teacher, and we should respect you with the name "Madame."  Students stare blankly.  One boy tentatively raises his hand, stands up, and responds, "We shouldn't call you yovo because... you're not white?"

Friday, October 7, 2011

Weekly Update: 10.6.11

·      First Week of School.  Most of the days were comprised of me sitting and waiting for long stretches of time while I waited for important things to happen, such as: getting my schedule, getting them to fix my schedule, getting them to fix my schedule again, and getting someone to tell me the rooms I’m in.  I also played hangman with my students for four hours, and had one class just completely not show up.  Not a bad start to the year.

·      Snag in the Library Plan. I’m trying to write a grant application to build my school a library, which requires a loooot of organization and math and stuff.  I’m really excited about it, my friend Gabriel the Professor is really into it, and the director seems really happy about the project.  But this week, while working up the budget, a wrench managed to throw itself into my plans.  The grant application requires the community to put in 25% of the money or supplies, which I thought would be no problem – we get to count the room that they’re letting us use, so I figured if they just put in the librarian’s salary, we’d be good. 

I thought I made that part clear when I pitched the project, but somehow that must have gotten lost in the “hey, we’re getting a library!” stuff, and he forgot. This week when I talked to him, he told me there’s a good chance the school won’t be able to raise the money.  Which would mean that I can’t do the project.  Which would make me (and Gabriel, and the African children) very sad.  :( 

·      Finally Catching Up On Letters. Sorry, everyone, I sucked at mail this summer!  Am catching up now, promise.  In other news, I organized the school supplies in my house before school started, and I have over 4,000 stickers currently.  Don't send me any more, or I will have to start using them as wall paper.  Don't test me.

Ghana, Part 2: Everything Else!

·      Mothers and Fathers and Parents, Oh My!  Bridget and Victoria’s parents met us in Accra.  You know those movie scenes when two people who haven’t seen each other in 27 years finally meet (generally in an airport or on a beach) and run towards each other in slow motion?  That was Bridget and her mama.  A high-pitched shriek, a couple of suitcase-encumbered shuffle steps, and the biggest hug you’ve ever seen.  Victoria and I both teared up.  Cheers to mamas and their babies.

·      Bridget and Vicky’s Marathon!  So this one time, my two friends ran a marathon.  It was truly an African-style race event, in that it was close to an hour late, was short on all sorts of supplies (including medals for those who finished) and had maybe the least awesome marathon course ever: Pollution! Dead dogs! Dodging semi trucks on blind curves with no shoulder! Despite the obstacle course nature of the thing, the girls finished AND argued the lady into giving them medals AND have really hilarious knee sock-like tan lines now!  So proud of them. :)

·      Ghanaians Are So Nice.  All six of us (three of us, three parents) got a free ride home from a late dinner.  Some lady I didn’t even know asked my name, told me she loved me, and then traded me a whole handful of coins (coins!) for my one cedi bill. This is a true story.  She gave me change!

·      Sexual Harassment: Even in the Land Of Milk and Honey.  The first couple of days in Ghana, Bridget, Victoria and I were with Jim and Bob, and because of that we didn’t get harassed at all.  We thought the country was this magical place of unicorns, bubbles, and respect for women!  Then, when we were on our own, we learned that that was not actually true, and that being harassed in your own language is somehow more jarring than in French.  On the upside, though, it’s kind of twistedly really nice to know that it’s not just Benin. 

·      There Was A Mall! With a fake Costco, a fake Apple store, and a real live food court.  And some sort of teacher store, which I avoided on principle.

·      A Short List of What We Ate:  Accra (not Ghana, just Accra) is like America.  Thus: Diet Coke, a cheese, bacon and avocado sandwich, real wood-fired pizza, a cappuccino, egg rolls, a cheesy grilled chicken sandwich, watermelon, a margarita, so many plantain chips, frozen peas, wheat bread (and wheat toast!), a quesadilla, and a beef and bean burrito. Boom.  It should be mentioned that most of my caloric intake would have been impossible without the support (emotional and otherwise) of Bridget and Victoria’s parents.   Thank you!

·      Day Trip to Winneba.  We took the parents on an adventure via tro-tro (the transit choice of the masses, minibuses with benches in them) to a little beach village an hour outside of Accra.  Well, we thought it was a village – upon arrival, we learned that it’s actually the third largest city in the area!  So we found a hut on the beach, got a beer with the parents, and watched the waves. :)  It was a semi-successful outing anyways, mainly because we got to see the parents eat African food, and I got to try bush rat!  (Google: agouti, grasscutter, or bush rat... mmmm.)

·      Batik Fabric! K, we’ve been over my addiction to textiles, yes?  Particularly tissu.  In Ghana, they have batik: hand-dyed fabric in incredible colors and cool, African-looking patterns. I bought too much!  And it made me so happy!!

Dear Ghana, thank you for my latest adventure, a reminder of why I love Rice kids so much, my exciting fabric purchases, and my newest, most ridiculous Band-Aid sunburn line yet.  Now, as Victoria says, “from the land of milk and honey to the land of dirt and gari.”  Benin, we’re hoooome!

Ghana, Part 1: Visiting Jim

Senya is beautiful.  It’s green, first of all, with a huge blue sky and brightly colored little shops and houses on the road that leads to the ocean.  The people are friendly and incredibly nice (we got two or three free rides from people we didn’t even know, just because they wanted to help out), there’s watermelon and fresh pineapples, and on a cliff overlooking the beach, there’s a whitewashed castle where you can sit and drink a cold beer with friends.

Senya is where my friend, Jim, lives.  Jim is a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ghana, but more importantly, he lived in the same college (dorm, house, whatever) as I did in college for all four years.  This means that he gets all of my inside jokes from two years ago, knows all of my college friends almost as well as I do, and will happy chant “JIBA, JIBA!” at the top of his lungs with me after a couple of beers.  Or, you know, before.

Anyway, so after a year in Benin, it was amazing to see someone from my previous life.  And lord, did he treat the three of us like princesses. He and his friend Bob picked us up after a hellish trip from Benin to Ghana and not only did they take us to a place with fresh fish and dollar beers ON TAP, but they also found us an awesome hotel WITH AC for the first night.  Which was good, because the first two hotels we’d planned to stay in were... um... full, and/or nonexistant.

  • Jim ‘n Bob then organized our entire first couple of days in the old Gold Coast – I think the biggest decisions we made were what new beer we wanted to try (Ghana has milk stout!) and whether or not we wanted mayonnaise on our morning toast (they have toast!).  We were in Accra the first night, and then went to Jim’s village.  Highlights from our village sidetrip:
  • Jones nostalgia, hands down.  Remember how I melted my favorite Jones water bottle while trying to make tea last August?  Guess what he brought me all the way from America?  Yep.  Not even kidding.  Oh, also we made a pact to get his friends and my friends together at Flying Saucer before the end of 2015.  Friends, save the date.
  • Milk stouuuuuuuuuuuuut!  Real beer, what?
  • Cool photo ops: fisherman boats slipping in between big waves, 6-foot-tall red dirt termite mounds, and that one lone car coming down a hill after nightfall. 
  • Sitting on the top of the old castle (yes, it’s really from back in the colonial days) with a cool drink, a camera and some good friends.  Next time, I’ll wear sunscreen (and/or take off any band-aids I happen to be wearing), but besides the unintentional rosiness of my shins at the moment, it was a pretty spectacular afternoon. 

Thanks, Jim ‘n Bob, and can’t wait til you come to Benin – get ready for a crash course in voodoo, sodabi, and the many joys of zemidjan transit.
The tall things are termite mounds.

Jones reunion!  Note how well we color coordinated.

Walking to Senya's village center from Jim's house.
Rediscovered the long exposure setting on my camera...

Feel like this should have a really dramatic
caption, but Victoria's just walking to meet
Jim at the top of the castle on the coast...

The view from the top of the castle

Four of us (thanks Bridget for taking the picture!) drinking cold beers
on the top of the castle.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Pictures (Took 3 Hours to Upload)

Phil sent me real beer from a real Trappist monk brewery in
Belgium -- sooo happy.  Look how dark and delicious it is!

With my new closemates Kalyn (left, in Tchaada) and Maeghan
(middle, in Gbozoume).  Yay new closemates!

With Claire, my host family little sister.  Adore her.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Weekly-ish Updates: 9.18.11

  • Happy Swear-In to PST 24!  As of the 15th, there are now 54 new volunteers in Peace Corps Benin.  So exciting!  Peace Corps put five of them kinda near me, so guess who’s going to force them to come hang out in Daagbe?  Yaaaay new friends.  Okay, I promise not to be creepy or stalk them too much or whatever.  But, you know, maybe a little bit.
  • HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO MY BABY SISTER!  Katie, who once packed me an entire box of Oreos and nothing else for lunch, turned 17 on the fifteenth.  Yay you!
  • Training = Awesome.  Training the new stage was so much fun, mainly because I felt brilliant.  They had so many questions, and I, somehow, had SO many answers! I got to walk people through pre-going-to-post stress and shopping, hear hilarious getting-used-to-Benin stories, wear/show off ALL of my tissu... Plus, they as a whole are a really great group – positive and interesting and easy to talk to... I’m excited to hang out with them au village.  Oh!  And I got to hang out with some fellow my-year volunteers from up north (I never get to see them) and cook crazy-awesome meals with them.  We ate BLTs.  I’m not even joking.  Bacon!!!
  • Bridget Visited Daagbé.  My friend Bridget, who is the sweetest volunteer in country, came to visit my post for a day before we head out for Ghana.  We ended up having to leave early because oro was coming out again (last time, they swear), but it was still really fun to walk around and show her my school, friends, life... it’s nice to have people who can picture where you’re living.
The new TEFL volunteers -- yaaay!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Weekly Update: 9.10.11

Whoa, today's 9.10.11.  I love patterns.

  • Stage!  I'm in Porto-Novo this week training the new stage (Peace Corps trainees) before they swear in as volunteers on the 15th.  Despite the fact that stage is draining, frustrating, and sometimes boring for the trainees (and, hey, for the volunteers that have to sit through the sessions with them), I'm really loving getting to meet everyone.

    This group is pretty fantastic -- lots of great personalities, stories, and conversations.  And no one, not a single one, has gone home (ETed) yet.  It's amazing.  To give you a benchmark point, my year lost four people during stage.  And I think 12 have left in total up to now.  Kudos to them, keep it up, and congrats in advance for making it all the way to swear-in!
  • Model School Hilarity.  One of the stagiers was overseeing the model school exams.  She told the students to silently bring her their completed copies, then sit back down and wait to leave.  The students stand up, walk toward her in a giant mass, and all start MEOWING as they hand her the exams.  What??  I was giggling hopelessly in the back of the class with another stagier... What is it with this country and cats??
  • Lou Left. :(  Lou, my closemate in Tchaada, finished his service this week and flew out for home last night.  Hope he and his puppy Rex have fun in l'Amerique! Eat some sushi for me, sir, and remember not to discuter in supermarkets.
  • Bryant Identified the Spider!  This is huge, as now I can yell at the spiders by a real name (though "person spider" was entertaining) as I hop around them with my broom and can of bug killer.  It is some species in the Huntsman spider group (Sparassidae), and its relatives in Australia can get up to a 12-inch leg span, but mine was only about a 4 inch leg span.  Ho hum.  It looked way bigger on the wall.

    Upon further spider investigation, I think the big but less scary flat wall spider is called a "wall crab spider," Selenopidae (Anyphops or Selenops). "Anyphops" is a hilarious word.  I'm going to call them by name from now on.
  • All for now.  Plans for the next week include: lots of shopping with new volunteers before they go to post, going to swear-in and the swear-in party!, and enjoying time with the awesome other trainers I'm hanging out with this week.  And then... in a week and a half... GHANAAA!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Weekly Update: 8.30.11

This being my last week at post before I leave for most of September, I spent most of the last couple of days working on my world map project.  Good lord, is it a lot of work: you have to draw the countries/islands/territories, then prime them in white because the yellow isn’t strong enough otherwise, then finally paint them the right color.  And frequently, even that’s not strong enough, so you have to do a second coat.  Sigh.

·      There are WAY too many islands in the south Pacific – roughly 84,012 billion islands and atolls.  I counted.  Micronesia and I are not friends.
·      I’ve made mental lists of countries I like (mostly large ones with not-too-hard-to-follow-borders) and countries I will never be friends with.  On the positive end, we have China, Australia, Mongolia, Russia except for the fjord-y part, India, Brazil, the –guays, And most of the countries at the top of Africa.  On my hate list: Indonesia, Micronesia, the entirety of the south Pacific except for Australia, Thailand, Central America, Finland and Canada.  Have you seen Canada recently?  Ridiculous.
·      Many countries appear to have faces.  Did we plan this?  Croatia is Pac-Man. Kazakhstan is eating the Caspian Sea.  And Pakistan has a dog’s head.
·      Spending 7 hours a day with your iPod means lots of time for new music. Thanks to fellow volunteers Matt and Erin S., I now have years worth of mash-ups (Best of Bootie 2005-2010) and Jay-Z/Kanye to keep me entertained. :)
·      I have 65 countries completely done as of Tuesday night!  Hoping to knock another 20 or 40 out by the end of the week. (Update: as of Saturday, 117 countries done!)

Enough of that.  Other updates:
·      Jenny’s visiting this week!  She lives in Sori, waaaay up in the north (I visited her when I went to Niger at Christmas), and I’m excited to finally show her around.  Unfortunately, though, we’re going to have to leave a day later because of oro... I guess that’s a mild taste of southern culture, right?
·      Gabriel, Elise and I watched “Diary of a Mad Black Woman” dubbed in French on his computer.  Fun to explain American culture and quirks from it.  Gabriel wanted me to see this one part where “the people all jump up and start moving together in this really cool dance, they all move together!”  It was the Electric Slide.  I started doing it with the people, and he now can’t wait to learn.  Cultural exchange!
·      Killed another truly giant spider, and decided I desperately want to identify the species, just to know.  Here are pictures, any ideas?  Also found a moth that looks exactly like a peeling twig – cool!

Moth that looks exactly like a twig.  Crazy.

Big, scary spider.

Big, scary spider, now dead.  Can you see the hair on it?

My homologue, Epiphane, working with me on our CEG World Map a few days ago.  SO. MUCH. WORK.

Evenings Like These

After the heat of the day has passed, Daagbé comes alive again.  Around 6pm, when the sun slowly makes its way toward the palm trees and rust-colored dirt road, we gather at the water pump.  First it’s the woman with the big smile who runs the pump, sitting there and chatting with whomever wanders by.  Then I come out to wait for the grandmama who sells akassa.  I sit next to the water lady and we talk a little, greeting in Gún the little French we share. 

My neighbors join, Elise and Gabriel, and kids from around the neighborhood play on sand piles, rolling old tire rims with sticks and laughing at the faces we make at each other.  The women start to come.  Every morning and every evening, the women of the neighborhood arrive at the pump to carry water home, each with a big, brightly colored plastic basin on her head. 

The women meet and talk, share stories about their husbands, chickens, or naughty children, about funny things, about sad things., about life.  They chatter as they fill their bowls then walk them home, their hips swaying so that the water won’t spill. We sit and watch them, welcoming each with a smiling “Kualé, kualé-o!”  The water pouring, the women talking, and the singsong greetings punctuating it all.

It’s a beautiful thing, this life, this community.  Being here in this place.  I don’t understand a thing they’re saying, and still they treat me like I’m one of them, including me in the elbow nudges and group jokes.  A mama leans over and hands me a piece of kola nut to chew, and laughs heartily when I make a face at the flavor.  The akassa lady claps her hands in delight when I order from her in local language.  She gives me an extra leaf-wrapped piece of it just because.

The sun is almost gone now, and the bats start to tumble out of the mosque tower, swooping up through the air to eat the mosquitoes that come out at night.  It’s time to go inside and make dinner, maybe get some work done.  And yet I stay just a couple of seconds longer, silently willing myself to store this up for later.  This perfect place, these amazing people, this beautiful village evening.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Mid-Service Exams: Surprise!

I have finished half of my Peace Corps service in Benin.  Yaaaay!  At the one year mark, every PCV has to do a mid-service physical exam -- blood work, samples of all kinds, a head-to-toe going-over, that sort of thing.  

Discovered:  I am in great health!  With one minor exception.  I have amoebas (amoebiasis)!  That's right, my friends, my first tropical parasites, all living in a big happy family in my digestive system.  I imagine them all having parties down in there, drinking cocktails and dancing to amoeba-esque music, perhaps with a Hawaiian luau theme... 

Mai tais and hula!

Anyway, so there were no symptoms, and I have no idea how I got them (I'd guess water from peoples' houses when I visit them).  Cheers to PC Med for making us come in for all of this stuff -- kind of a hassle, but worth it.  And hey, I've got a cool story for when I get back, right? :)