Friday, January 28, 2011

Weekly Update: 1.24.11

-Sunday Fete in Tchaada. My closemate Lou invited me (+ my friend
Sam, who was visiting me for the weekend) to a big church fete in his
village. Dressed in our Benin-style finery, we showed up to the tail
end of a four-hour mass, took a couple of pictures, then found it
absolutely necessary to join the dance procession down the center
aisle. There were between 800 and 1500 people, and the second we
started dancing Beninese style (crouched-over booty pop with chicken
dance arms), there was a huge wave of giggles, clapping and cheering.
As we walked out, we were getting compliments left in right – awesome.
One woman grabbed my arm and said, "Yovo sais dancer!" which is,
roughly translated, "Girrrrrl, you shake that ass!"

-Getting Ready for Devoirs. Our second round of devoirs – schoolwide
exams – begin next week, and after seeing the ridiculously difficult
tests, I decided to spend this entire week reviewing vocabulary and
activities they'll see on the devoirs. Problems with this plan: it's
not new information, so they're not all that interested in it (not
that they were fascinated in the first place), and reviewing makes it
depressingly obvious how much they haven't studied. I don't get how
they can just not study or care about school. I. just. don't. get.

-Chaleur, She Is A-Coming. The last month or so was Harmattan, or the
"cold" season (wasn't actually cold, but maybe a little brisk some
mornings at 4am). This week I started feeling the creeping heat
stealing back into my apartment, which means that Chaleur is about to
arrive. Chaleur is the season (literally named "Heat" in French) that
makes all volunteers and people who have experienced air conditioning
hate their lives. Lord help me through the next four months.

-Two goats wandered into my classroom Monday. My student immediately
raised his hand and offered to slaughter and cook them for me.

-Spelling Bee Practice! Wednesday was the first practice session for
the English spelling bee I'm doing ("with" the English department). I
walked into the classroom and saw only 16 kids, all from my classes… I
guess that's good, but I was hoping for much more interest from
classes that weren't mine so I could meet new kids. A little
disappointing. The other English prof showed up and we started the
session – we went over rules, tantalized the kiddos with a trip to
Natitingou for the winners, and put the first 40 words on the board
for them to copy. Students were trickling in the entire time, and at
one point I suddenly realized that there were a lot of people in a
very small room. I counted: over a hundred students…!!! I had a
great time being goofy and correcting spelling, the other English prof
seemed like he was having fun, too, and the kids LOVED the
competition. I'm excited! E-X-C-I-T-E-D. Excited.

-Sam's Moving Near to Me! My friend Sam recently had to leave her
village, and now she's moving to a village 10 minutes from me – yay
more company! We've got plans: look forward to a Peace Corps Cribs
episode on each of our houses. :)

-I'm Angry at My 5eme Class. I told them to study before our review
session. I planned a fun competition review session. They showed up
to the class, and they somehow knew less than they did a month ago –
how?? I slogged through the lesson, gave them the best lecture my
French could handle, and stormed out angry. Seven out of 40ish passed
the last round of exams… I'm expecting about the same this time
around, despite my best efforts.

-Another Great AP Meeting Conversation. This week's English
department meeting ended up being another really great conversation.
We started out talking about classroom management, and fairly quickly
one of the profs brought up a current issue he was having. Last week,
he hit three kids on the butt with a stick "just to scare and motivate
them." One of the girls subsequently passed out and was taken to the
health center, where the doctor told her it was because she hadn't
eaten that morning and it was too cold out for her. The girl's family
now thinks that the professor wants to kill her (I can't explain that
one), and is spreading rumors throughout Daagbe to that effect.

So he's mad about that, and the fact that no one from the family has
come to talk to him about it. After a little bit of chatting, we kind
of merged that convo into one about corporal punishment. It was a
really interesting exchange of ideas, and I got to explain why I don't
think beating kids with sticks is a good idea. I don't think I got
anyone to stop hitting the students, but I did get a couple of them to
concede that it's our job as teachers to hold our tempers and try to
find more legal and Gandhi-friendly forms of punishment. And I feel
pretty good about that.

Weekly Update: 1.19.11

-HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MANDEE! So proud of you and all you do, little sister.

-Lizard in the Shower. Sometime between boiling the water and shaving
my left leg, a large, warm, squishy lizard joined me in the shower. I
know he was warm and squishy because in a moment of off-balance-ness,
I put my hand out to steady myself… surprise.

-Comptable Chased All My Students Out Again. Monday morning I had a
big set of lessons planned – I'd drawn pictures, written activities,
and slept well the night before in preparation. Three minutes into my
first lesson, the comptable (school accountant) marches into my class
with a whip and kicks all but 4 of my kids out because they haven't
paid all of their (ridiculously expensive) tuition. There goes
another half-week of classes…

-My Kids Called Me Yovo. I got out of classes on Wednesday and heard a
group of kids yelling "yovo" at me. Upon calling them over, I
discovered that they were my students. I explained (again) very
calmly and logically why "yovo" is inappropriate, especially for
school. The second I finished, one of my troublemakers looked at me
and yelled "YOVO, YOVO, YOVO, YOVO!" I gave him two hours of manual
labor… some 12-year-olds are just little jerks, I guess.

-Night at the Chef du Village's. I'd been wanting to saluer (say
hello) to the chef du village of Daagbe, who's I guess like the chief
of the town. I couldn't find his house for months, but then on a walk
one day my friend Juliette mentioned his name. We ended up visiting
on Tuesday evening. We showed up to his house, where he greeted us in
a pair of shorts with a ten-inch rip along the back seam, and nothing

Between shots of rum and shots of Bailey's+wine liquor (ew), he made
lots of jokes in Gún (he doesn't speak French), introduced us to his
five wives in two different housing complexes, and told me about 500
times that he was really happy I had visited. Why? Because his social
status would soar the next day when people were talking about a white
woman saluer-ing him. Then he gave (drunk) me and (drunker) Juliette
1000 CFA ($2) because he didn't have any food to offer us… hah. I
gave my half to Juliette, smiled at his wives and bajillion children,
and left maybe a little in love with the hilarious old guy with ripped

-Upon Returning to My House. My neighbor dropped by to change my
porch lightbulb, and immediately afterward launched into a tirade
about how I left a pineapple on my porch two weeks ago. The French
was really fast, and I was… uhh… not sober (did I mention I hadn't
lesson planned at this point?)… so I was pretty sure he was reaming me
out for some horrible culture faux pas I'd committed with my rampant
pineapples. Days later, I finally asked Juliette what he'd said. He
was just trying to warn me that the village people might poison me if
I did that again. That's better, I guess?

-Bad News: Another ET. One of the Southern Belles, Becky, just ETed
(Early Terminated – left Peace Corps). Sucks, because she was
hilarious and smart and fun to be around, and now we're one fewer in
the Oueme Plateau area. Her reasons make sense – she didn't have any
work at her NGO, and living in the capital city makes it really hard
to get close Beninese friends. Still, we'll miss her. We spent this
weekend cleaning out her apartment (Becky, how in the world did you
get that many clothes here??)… good hangout time, but kind of under
not-great circumstances.

Weekend Update, Part 2: 1.14.11

…and here's the not-school-related stuff.

-I hate ants. I have bleached everything, wiped down my walls and
tables, put all food items in plastic, and sprayed my life down with
insecticide. And yet, the tiny little ants still reign in my house.

-There are purple ducks! I went on a couple of walks this week, and
among the more entertaining things I saw was a family of bright purple
ducks. I was really excited about it (Mr. Spreng's 11th grade
bird-watching class came back to me in a rush), until someone told me
that the family that owned them had dyed them to identify them.
That's right, they dunked their ducks in a vat of violet dye.

-Walks. I went on a couple of walks this week down the road in the
direction I don't normally go in leisure time. And you know what? It
was tough to convince myself to go conquer new territory, but it was
totally worth it. I made a bunch of new friends, discovered soy
cheese and saw purple ducks, got fed, and convinced lots of little
kids to call me something other than "yovo." I also found the house
of the village chief, which I was supposed to find but couldn't for
the last 4 months. Score!

-I Went Tissu Shopping. Again. I know, I know, it's an addiction…
this time I bought a lot of pieces for volunteer birthday gifts,
though, so I at least feel a little less selfish and extravagant.

-My Hair = Not Falling Out. I started taking vitamins and eating a
more varied diet. It's working, I'm not bald!

-Culinary Indulgences. This week I have been a vrai Peace Corps chef.
It's a combination of things, really: I went shopping for veggies in
Porto Novo, I got Uncle Phil and Aunt Dana's amazing cooking package
full of fun spices to play with, and I was bored of beans and rice.
Oh, and I discovered soy cheese in village! This is huge – it's like
tofu, so it's super easy to mix into dishes and is an amazing protein
source. Yay! Headline dishes this week were chickpea fajitas with
real sautéed green peppers and onions (homemade tortillas), roasted
eggplant/tomato/onion pasta, and spicy peanut stir fry with soy cheese
and cabbage. My stomach is confused about all of the non-rice things
going through it, and my tastebuds are throwing a party.

-Three Cheers for Six Months! Saturday is our six-month anniversary of
being in-country, and I have to say that I am really, really impressed
with everything my group has done so far. We've had a bajillion
scrape-ups and hilarious culture-oops moments, learned one or more new
languages, conquered new jobs, survived without our friends and
families, and somehow learned to live in a place that is so not
America. Cheers, PSL23. We've made it to now.

Weekly Update, Part 1: 1.14.11

This week started out miserably boring – I had a six-day weekend
(explanation to follow), and by about Day 0.5 I was bored out of my
mind. Luckily, the end of the week rebounded. (I just finished
writing this and realized it's years long, so I'm going to split it
up… hope that works for everyone. It's like a chapter book!)

-Six-Day Weekend. I may have written this already, but I still think
it's ridiculous, so I'm going to say it again. After two weeks of
Christmas break, some genius thought it was a great idea to schedule
teacher training for the Thursday/Friday of the week we got back.
Saturday and Sunday passed normally, and then Monday came and
surprise! No school. Voodoo party that none of my friends would take
me to. Tuesday is my normal other day off. Thus, a six-day weekend,
and an American volunteer ready to count her eyelashes just for
something to do.

-Voodoo Fete. I am still angry about this. Not actually, but a
little disappointed. I'd been hearing about this voodoo fete for
months – it's the one official day of the year that people get
together all over the country to really celebrate traditional
religions here. They eat and dance, and then big, colorful
haystack-looking things come out and dance and intimidate people.
It's awesome… or so I have seen on TV. This is because somehow I made
friends with all Catholic people, and no one would get within a mile
of voodoo… That's the funny thing about religion here. All of the
imported religions – Islam, Catholicism, Protestant(ism?) – have
instilled such a hatred of voodoo that they won't go near the parties
or traditional medicine center. They will, however, tell you that an
injury or a death was caused by gri-gri (black magic), and that the
only way to get rid of it is to wait it out or send gri-gri back.
They believe in voodoo on some scale, they just refuse to admit it

-Sorry. That last one should have been its own post… I may expand on
that idea later. It's a big one.

-6eme Classes. I taught three surprisingly fun lessons this week. The
first two were with 6eme, and I did a review of stuff we learned last
week. Why? Because last week I taught telling time, and while
looking over their homework, I realized that over half of them didn't
know how to read a clock – I was getting clocks with 26 hour lines and
three hands. After the review, which was surprisingly fun, I feel a
lot better about comprehension, and the kiddos seemed more comfortable
answering my questions.

-Fun Way to Distract A Class. I took a minute in my 6eme class to
redo my hair – the kids were copying from the board, and my braid was
falling out. I shook it out and twisted it up in a bun really
quickly, and when I looked up, every single person in the class was
staring at me in amazement. I'm not sure why… but it was hilarious.
Me and my magical Tresses of Distraction.

-5eme Class. I usually hate my 5eme class… well, okay, not hate, but
dread. They're loud and rambunctious and tough to control. Thursday,
though, I somehow had a really kickass class – I'm learning slowly
that if I talk to them like adults and then bribe them like
three-year-olds, I get better results. I taught Can/Can't, and after
doing all of the boring stuff (how to use can/can't in sentences and
questions), we did a gender sensitivity activity that the PC handbook
suggests. It. Was. Awesome. We took a bunch of verbs, like "drive a
car," "cook," and "be a doctor," and in groups sorted them into a Venn
diagram labeled "Boy" and "Girl." Then, as a class, we made a master
diagram on the board.

It got loud and argumentative (in a happy kind of way), and it was
fantastic to ask the boys why they thought that girls couldn't do this
or that, then argue logically until they didn't really have anything
but tradition to stand on. Surprisingly, the most difficult to
convince them of was "playing the drums" – some of the boys really
thought that girl hands were biologically incapable of tapping out a
steady rhythm. Also surprisingly, a lot of the boys are wildly proud
of their abilities to cook and clean the house. One of the most
popular boys in class stood up and said proudly, "When I wash dishes,
I can make them so clean they're the cleanest in Africa."

I loved watching the girls get into the arguments, and loved even more
when some of the boys were arguing louder for girls' abilities to be
doctors and drive cars than they were – I'm raising baby feminists,
yall! I left that activity on an absolute high, and then gave them
the bribe: a song. We sang/shouted "Anything You Can Do, I Can Do
Better" in teams, and they loved it. Some days I hate teaching, and
then there are days like these…

-English Club Is A Go. I finally got some movement towards my English
club with the director (lots of nagging is the key, apparently), so I
presented a formal proposal to my English department meeting. Once I
made it clear that I had a solid plan and wasn't asking them to sign
their lives away, the other 5 teachers were really supportive: they
asked lots of questions, thought about what they could do to help, and
even volunteered to advertise in their classes. We're going to start
by doing a spelling be in English for 6eme-4eme kids in early March,
and then see what we want to do after that. Exciting, stay tuned!

-Girls Club is Confusing. As excited as admin seems about my English
club (several non-English teachers have come up to me and said, "This
is really great!"), they seem generally confused about the girls'
club. I get a lot of "Well isn't that nice? (pat on the head)"-type
remarks… which is actually fine with me. I don't really care if they
get why I'm doing it, as long as they let me have my club.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Pictures: So Far In January

Thanks to the discovery of new protein sources (chickpeas!  soy cheese!), and the arrival of Uncle Phil/Aunt Dana's jaw-dropping cooking package, I've been on a culinary kick lately.  These are chickpea fajitas with homemade tortillas, fresh tomatoes, and sauteed onions and real green peppers.  Mmm...
This is my version of ratatouille -- tomato sauce on the bottom, then roasted eggplant, onions,
tomatoes and garlic.  I put it on pasta, and ate it all in one sitting.

I told my neighbor kids that I was going to take a picture with them... they responded by
posing in confusing ways.  I'm not sure what Toby imagines he is holding up.

Neighbor kids!  I told them they had to show their teeth.  Left to right: Toby, Gaultier,
Dorothe (boy), Dolores, Parfaite, and Chancelline.  Cuties!

A slightly more successful version of the group shot... will have to try again in the future.

Pictures from the Niger Adventure, Part 2

Our amazing dinner at Ziggy's, a buvette on the Niger river.  The sunset, the water, the peas
with REAL BUTTER... fantastic evening.

Bevin kept doing cool poses, like eating, in front of the sunset.  I now
have 800 pictures of her silhouette.

As we left Niamey, we went on a giraffe safari.  This is when our bus got stuck in loose sand (because there are no roads in the wildlife reserve), and we had to get out.  About 8 boys/men magically appeared out of nowhere and pushed the van to less loose sand.

Just when we thought we weren't going to get to see giraffes, Bevin spotted this one on the horizon.  We drove over and snapped a bajillion pictures before it ran away... by the way, giraffes run incredibly slowly sometimes.  Like in slow mo.

Our happy "we saw giraffes!" faces.  L to R: Rosa, Bridget, Dione, and Bevin.

I swear there is a giraffe in the background somewhere.

After leaving the first giraffe, we found a group of 3 others.  This one galloped in
front of our van as we were driving out of the park.

Right as were were about to leave Niamey on an early-morning bus, I saw this zem driver (to the left) wearing a Buckeyes championship sweatshirt. He wasn't feeling pretty enough for a picture, so he made this other guy pose with me.  Hah!

After Niamey and Malanville, we visited Jenny's village in Sori.  This is her with the kids in
her concession -- isn't that little girl cute??

Maybe my favorite picture of Jenny ever.  That girl is SO cute!

I let them braid my hair... subsequently spent a year wrestling with my hairbrush and a bottle of conditioner. :)

Pictures from the Niger Adventure, Part 1

Our taxi broke down (again) on the way to Malanville... Dione was obviously displeased.

Rosa and Bevin are Christmas reindeer!  This is at Matt's in Malanville.

Matt, Dione, Michelle and Sam on Christmas morning -- we did a Secret Santa gift exchange! 
And that is Matt's fancy schmancy hookah.

Bevin was my Secret Santa!  She made me a banner of handmade origami cranes and flowers.  So pretty!

This is how I spent Christmas afternoon: in a pool.  We ate a ridiculously awesome meal (steak and real green beans!) then borrowed the hotel's pool for a couple of hours.  Left to right: Dione, Matt, Bevin (jumping) and Michelle.

Man at the Benin/Niger border.

Another man on the Benin/Niger border, which is surprisingly pretty.

Zemming to the Benin/Niger border.

Nigerien villages are tiny.  My village is little, but at least we have cement.

Dione, Sam and Rosa on our first night in Niamey, Niger.  We got fancy meals and drank actually delicious Biere Niger (which sort of rhymes!), and toasted to an amazing adventure.

This camel was right outside our hotel.  The guy wanted a lot of money from us for a close-up...
but I thought this picture would suffice.

I bought a beautiful hand-dyed batik as a souvenir. : )

From Before Christmas, Take 2

a.  I apologize for the layout of this page -- I can't get the alignments to work out because the connection here sucks.  Oh well.
b.  In case you watched/have heard about the 20/20 episode on Kate Puzey's death in PC Benin a couple of years ago, don't worry.  After she died, Peace Corps restructured the entire Safety and Security structure and staff here.  They briefed us about the situation within the first two days of being in country, and they have emergency action plans for each of us (Benin is incredibly stable as far as an African country goes, so we likely will never need them).  Don't worry, I am safe, and I'm thrilled that I have the chance to live and do positive things here. 
c.  More pictures to come! But see the full albums (links two posts ago), because there's no way I could load all of my pictures onto here.
My Porto Novo host papa slaughtering goats or sheep (can't remember) at Tabaski. Delicious.
This is the mosque next door to my house -- somehow always really picturesque. 

When I visited Elyse in her village, Challa-Ogoi.

Elyse took me to eat ignam pilee (pounded yams). Usually there are three women who beat the yams in perfect rhythm with those club things, but they let me try... pilee-ing is definitely not my culinary forte.

Piment (spicy peppers) drying in the sun on Elyse's colline (hill).

Elyse and I at our official Peace Corps sponsored training conference in Parakou. The first thing we did there? Go to a Beninese beer festival.

This is Scott, who acts as my personal bodyguard, and Elyse, my travel buddy for the week. 

TEFL family picture!

At Beerfest, I made friends with a Japanese volunteer, Rika.  She invited us over to her gorgeous mansion (NOT fair) to make sushi and have a girls' night.  Fun!

TEFLgangers party -- everyone drew a name and dressed/acted like that person for the rest of the night. I was Sam (who I'm standing next to), and Sam was Michael.

Jared was me! I think he rocks this modelle better than I do... scary.

I got my hair tressed again! This time I actually really liked it...

... except when I took it out, alarming amounts of hair fell out. It's fixed now -- I'm back on multivitamins, eating more protein, and switched malaria medications. I will try very hard not to come home bald.


This is out of the window of a taxi right after it rained.

Friday, January 14, 2011

From Before Christmas

 Waaaay long ago, some of the other volunteers in the south came to visit -- this is at my local buvette, where we had an amazing smarty-pants discussion about foreign aid, women's rights, cultural boundaries, etc.  Then we made fajitas. :)  (This is Katie and Becky)
Read #1.  I did not teach this child anything even vaguely related to that sentence.

This is a picture of me with my husband.  Thanks to Bryant for sending it!

K, now the internet is being dumb and won't let me upload pictures.  More later, promise.  Also, just as a sidenote, I've written a bunch of letters but am completely out of stamps, so no one's getting mail in January/February.  Sad face.

So, I Forgot My Blogs At Post...

I wrote a long, detailed, happy blog post last night, and then the zip drive malfunctioned and won't upload it.  Actually, I wrote two.  Anyway, instead of a words post, I'm just going to use my time to upload a bajillion photos from the last two months.  The full albums on Facebook are here (let me know if you can't see them and I'll try to figure it out... I think you have to have Facebook):

Africa, Part 1:

Africa, Part 2:

Welcome to Niamey:

Friday, January 7, 2011

Weekly Update: 1.7.11

My first week back to post after break was relatively unexciting – no dramatic breakdowns, no Nobel prizes awarded, nothing too much going on. A couple of the highlights, though:

- HAPPY NEW YEAR!!  I have no resolutions.  I feel that living for two years here is enough of a goal.
- Who The Hell Schedules These Things? The first week back to school was a half week. Not the logical kind of Wednesday-to-Friday half week, but Monday-to-Wednesday followed by a five-day weekend… there’s a teacher training Th/F, then the traditional religions fete on Monday. How do they expect us to get in any sort of rhythm if they keep canceling our damn classes?

- Besides That… Classes went well this week – I actually had an awesome day with my 5eme (my worst-behaved and lowest-scoring class) on Monday. We learned Can/Can’t constructions, and I added in verbs that they didn’t know like “whistle” and “drive a car” and “count to ten in Spanish.” I gave examples of the new verbs, and when I counted in Spanish, they freaked out and were SO excited. I even heard one kid say, “Whoa, Madame! How do you know that??” Score one for Madame Melissa.

- I Ate A Weird Fruit. I saw some kids eating a fruit that I didn’t recognize. When I asked about it, they just handed me one and tried to tell me that it would do something to my lips – I thought they meant that it was sour. I bit in, and it was like a super sour peach… that glued my lips together. I have no idea what the name of it is, but it secretes a white liquid that could double as superglue. The mama selling it subsequently gave me 8 more because I looked funny eating the first one.

- Interesting Conversation. I visited one of the mamas’ houses, and I ended up sitting with her, her husband and another mama and having a long conversation about cultural differences. We talked a lot about disciplining kids – I announced that I don’t hit kids in my class, and they were shocked (people here are proud of how they keep kids in line). “But how do you discipline, then? How do you do it in America?” That started a conversation about detention and non-corporal-punishment punishments, and then somehow we got into the idea that neither my father nor my uncles can force me to marry anyone. This blew their minds.

 - Projects Might Be A Go Sometime Soon Ish.  Finally got to talk to the school's director (my boss) about the projects I want to start: an English club, and a girls' club, mainly.  I'd written formal proposals for them, so he seemed much more into it this time around.  He said to remind him next time we have school, and he'll talk to the surveillant general about how best to have kids sign up.  I'm excited!  I also talked to my friend Gabriel, a history teacher, and we might try to paint a giant world map on the side of one of the buildings -- our school has a couple of maps, but they're all in storage and never on display.  That's dumb, and doesn't help kids learn.  Thus, giant world map.

 - Thank you so much for your donations to Camp GLOW!  I just found out that we're only about $500 away from our goal, which means that yall are awesome.  I am so, so excited about Camp GLOW -- thanks for helping it to happen!

Donnez-Moi Un Cadeau: Gift-Giving in Africa

I just finished “The Poisonwood Bible” by Barbara Kingsolver a couple of weeks ago, and since then I’ve been thinking a lot about the African concept of gift giving (funny thing about Peace Corps – you have a lot of time to think). The book itself is about a Southern Baptist family that goes to live in the Congo in the 1950s, and even without living in Africa, it’s a fantastic read. Really, go get it.

Okay, why it’s got me thinking: I don’t want to spoil the story, but towards the end the family finds out that during their absolute worst times, the people in their village were always giving them little things secretly, even though the villagers had next to nothing to give.

People here are always, always asking me for gifts. If I go to Parakou on break, they want gifts, if I go to Cotonou to work, they want gifts, and sometimes they just want gifts for no reason. To a Westerner who’s grown up in America, the land that lauds hard work and individualism, people just walking up and saying “give me a gift, yovo,” is really kind of aggravating. Why should I give you a gift? What have you done for me?

But see, here’s the thing: if a Beninese person has even a little extra, he/she will give it away. If a family’s papaya tree gives more fruit than the family needs, they’ll almost always give it to someone rather than selling it for their own benefit. I’ve gotten a lot of fruit this way (and mango season’s coming soon!). They also give little presents just because—when I sit outside with the mamas, a lot of times someone will hand me a little dish of roasted peanuts or a freshly peeled orange. Nothing gigantic or ostentatious, but just a little something to show their friendship.

I can’t say it doesn’t bug me when half of the village asks me what I’ve brought them every time I leave town. This last time, for example, people I’ve never spoken to came up to me to ask why I hadn’t brought them things from Parakou. I am, however, starting to understand why it’s that way.

Even though I don’t like it, part of the issue is that I’m white, and most white people here have more money than the average villager. And I do: I shop in supermarkets sometimes, I travel, I have electricity and a nice bike and enough clothes to change my outfit every day of the week. They see that, and to them, it just makes sense. She has a little extra, why wouldn’t she want to share?

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Adventures in Niamey: Day 3

Day 3: Niamey to Malanville (and Giraffes!)

6am – Sam wakes up with eyes swollen shut from mysterious and invisible bugs.  Dione: “Well, is it better now?”  Bevin: “I don’t know, I didn’t put my glasses on to check.”

6:50am -- Man with bus who's taking us to Malanville is, confusingly, 10 minutes early.  He's also brought 3 extra men with him, one of whom is wearing a ski mask.  The van has bars on some of the windows.  Briefly wonder aloud if we're being kidnapped, then get in the car anyway.

9:13am -- Arrive at entrance to giraffe park!  Get cameras out and practice our action shots while taxi man negotiates with guide.  Also buy omelette sandwiches -- you can't be a National Geographic-quality photographer on an empty stomach.

10:30am -- After driving around in the bush (like on sand and stuff -- we had to get out once or twice because the bus got stuck) for an hour plus, the taxi man tells us that there's a pretty good chance we won't see giraffes because of the season.  The guide, who's riding on top of the van, talking fast in Hausa, and pointing at things with a stick agrees. Try to be tough and not cry, despite crushing disappointment.

10:36am -- Bevin, who is not riding on top of the van, speaking in a local language or carrying a stick, spots a giraffe on the horizon.  

10:42am -- We get out of the van and take pictures of a pregnant giraffe!  Trip is ruled an automatic success.  Also, giraffes are determined to look/move a lot like dinosaurs, based on our highly qualified opinions.

11:37am -- Leave park.  Super-professional taxi man announces that he'll leave us here, but we're in good hands with his driver.  We depart for Malanville.

12:03pm -- Driver stops van on side of road to tell us that he won't take us to Malanville, but to a city in Niger on the border.  He also tries to add more people to the van, which we've spent extra money to have all to ourselves .  This begins a series of arguments over the next three hours that leaves everyone angry and headachy.

2:30pm -- Finally get to the border, pay the *$^&$% driver a reduced fee.  Discover that it's actually easier to cross the border without the mandatory WHO Card than with it.  Rosa is almost refused entry into Benin, thanks to the visa that the Nigerien embassy filled out incorrectly.  Rosa sweet-talks the border guards, and we make it to Matt's house alive.

5:30pm -- Decide we're starving, make a massive pile of spicy eggs and breakfast potatoes for dinner.  Share life plans (Lissa determines that she should probably have a life plan).  Roll out mats on cement floor, and go to bed early, content to be "home" in Benin.

 (L to R): Rosa, me, and Bevin walking across the sand

We're on safari!  (L to R: Dione, me, random Nigerien man, Rosa, Bevin, and Sam)
Bridget with a giraffe -- I love this giraffe's expression in the background. 


Adventures in Niamey: Day 2

Day 2: Niamey
8am – While eating breakfast in Niamey (Niger) Rosa receives phone call from Peace Corps vice head honcho Lauren: “Whatever you do, don’t go to Niger.”  Um…

10am -- Go to Musee National, discover that the actual museum is closed.  Vendors outside are, however, excited to see us.  Buy Nigerien jewelry and gorgeous batiks.  Find man to take us to Malanville tomorrow; are surprised and slightly suspicious about how professional he is.

10:15am -- Sam, Lissa and Rosa go to bank to see if we've been paid (we haven't), while Dione, Bridget and Bevin wander around the Musee grounds and zoo.  The latter three spend 15-20 minutes blocking small children from playing on giant slide because they want to slide themselves.

Noon -- Meet at Grand Marché for rice, beans, and lots of talk about our lack of money (thank you, hotel).  Calculate how much we need to get back to Benin, realize we're short by about 50 mille ($100).  Brainstorm alternative sources of income, most of them legal.

1pm – Lissa calls her mother: “So… we may or may not be stranded in Niger.  Can you Western Union me $50?” Two hours later, she receives $300.  To the same question, another volunteer’s mother responds, “I am going to kill you.”

3pm – In order to be bien integré, we try crystallized slug “chewing gum.”  Street urchin subsequently receives a cadeau (gift).

6:25 pm – Eat dinner/watch sunset at awesome buvette on the water.  Bridget: “What is this weird, awesome sauce on my peas?? ...Oh my god, it’s butter!” (Everyone gasps.)

7pm – Bevin tells story about how father and brother make fun of her math skills.

7:30 pm – Spend 45 minutes trying to figure out dinner bill because 7 and 9 look similar.  Determine that this is the fault of “Bevin Math.”

(Photos courtesy of Bridget -- sorry, I can't upload photos yet.)