Friday, April 22, 2011

Quick List: Best Beninese Student Sentences

  • The cat has to die today. (Jared's class)
  • Ultimately, I was unhappy with the death of my sister. (Jared)
  • A woman who does business is a man. (Jared)
  • I are English class. (Lissa)
  • I like to eat my English teacher. (Jared)
  • I go to Pobe, and I am in my sister. (Alicia)
  • Teacher: Do you like bananas?
    Student: Affirmative. (Michael)
  • Doctor, I have a pain in my sex.  I have too many sexual partners and I fuck all the time. (Alicia)
  • I never have sex with the women.  I am telling the truth.  (Stephanie)
  • A person who swings is a swinger. (Lissa)
  • Mother, I am wear black shit. (Lissa)
  • I put me pencil case in me desk. (Dione)
  • Sebastien is as intelligent as fish. (Lissa)
  • Smoking cigarettes makes me feel like a new man. (Elyse)
  • Your mom's kind of music do you like. (Erik)
  • Lincoln went to the beach two days ago. Jennifer Lopez made a speech for her husband Shakira.  George Walker Bush leaded America like Republican for long time.  Akon was the best pop singer of America for long time.  (Dione)

Quick List: Best Beninese Compliments

These are a few of our favorite pick-up lines/compliments from the Beninese (in French unless otherwise noted).  We're flattered.
  • Your body makes me cry. (outlines a woman's body with hands)
  • You look exactly like Michael Jackson!  It's your smile, it's beautiful.  No, wait, it's good!  I know all of his songs!
  • You are so rotund and corpulent!
  • You make me so happy, it's like you came out of me!  (pretends to birth a baby)
  • You are the queen of the night! (English)
  • You are as pretty as Jay-Z!
  • You are a delicate rose.  I hope that Benin does not wither you.
  • You are a very beautiful man.

Way Late Weekly Update(s): 4.21.11

So... uhh... I haven't updated in about a year.  Sorry.  This no-computer thing is tough.  Major updates:

  • Birthday Weekend in Toffo!  I went to Bridget's post for the weekend before my birthday, and with Victoria and Kim, we spent a couple of days painting a nutritional mural for Bridget's health center.  Fun!  We wowed the women's groupement with our mad art skillz, then spent the night making tacos and carrot cake and dancing to Girl Talk.  Definitely not a party in the US, but comfortable and so sweet of the girls. :)
  • My Actual Birthday = Sucky but Saveable.  My birthday was on a Monday.  Monday is my hell day -- I teach all of my classes on the same day, which requires a loooot of energy.  Unfortunately, there was something in the air on the 11th, and my kids were breathing deeply... It was easily one of the worst behaved days of the whole year for every single one of my classes.  Probably my fault somehow, but I'm not sure what I could have done differently.  BUT, through the power of le portable, my day was saved -- five people called me!  I was in tears when I got home, but by the time I fell asleep, I was giggling to myself.  Thanks everyone!  And never underestimate the power of a surprise phone call to Africa.
  • What a Sad Soup.  One night, I wasn't too hungry so I made chicken soup, sans chicken and noodles.  My neighbor Elise came over to visit, and I showed her my dinner.  Her response:  (look of intense pity) "Ohhh.... Melissa... you have no fish or spaghetti in your house... do you need me to feed you?"
  • Scott Lomando, We Love You.  Last week, our first TEFL volunteer ETed (left Peace Corps and left home).  It was kind of a huge hit for a lot of us, both because we adored our Scotty and because it's always hard to remember how easy it would be to just go home... but I'm happy for him.  I honestly think he'll be way happier now, and as much as we'll miss him, that's what's important.  Scott, in case you read blogs, we miss you!  And we cheersed to you about 15,000 times during IST.  And we love you.  And mail us better beer from America.
  • Major Accomplishments of Last Week.  I bought heels!  They're kind of tacky, but after four shopping trips in two different marches, it was time to settle.  Plus, every girl needs a pair of plastic stilettos covered in rhinestones, right?  Sam and I also had an adventure to search out delicious ignam pilee in Porto Novo, and then caught up on Glee(!!!) on her computer.  
  • In-Service Training in Cotonou.  This week was IST for TEFL from PSL23... We talk mostly in acronyms here.  Anyway, so we brought our homologues (another English professor for each volunteer) and had a week of training: team teaching, cultural exchange, grants/financial aid, visual aids, and all sorts of other things.  My homologue Epiphane is young (27) and kind of quiet, so it took a while for us to start talking.  By the end of the week, though, he was cracking jokes and participating in our sessions.  He even helped put on a skit to thank the volunteers, which was so sweet!  Anyway, so great week, and great to see all of the other crazy, awesome volunteers.  I love us!
  • I GET TO TRAIN! This is the biggest news of the week for me -- I got chosen to train the new set of volunteers this summer! They get in in July, and all of us really, really want to get to meet them and help them get used to la vie PCV -- being chosen is a huge honor. PSL24, we can't wait to meet you! Send me/us questions if you have them, and bonne chance with the whole packing ordeal!

    Painting a nutritional mural with Bridget.  We were working on the protein wall
    after doing the vitamin-rich foods group.
  • Breastfeeding!
    The rain is coming back!  The end of the hot season is coming!
    With Bevin and Dione in Cotonou during IST.  We spent waaaaay too much on
    chicken caesar salads (1/18th of my monthly salary), and it was waaaaaaay worth it.
    At the outdoor bar, all together.  I love my TEFLers!
    This is Epiphane, my oh-so-talented Beninese homologue (work partner). He's balancing a beer
    bottle on a cell phone, which he's holding with his mouth.
    Jenny and I -- love this girl.  LOVE.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Packing Tips for PSL 24

I just found out that there's a Facebook group for Peace Corps Benin PSL24 -- the next group of volunteers coming in here.  (Sidenote:  How crazy is it that we've already been here 9 months?)  Reactions:

A.  YAAAAAAY!!!!  Congratulations, yall, we're SO excited to see you!
B.  Holy $*%^, you've got a lot to pack.

Based on my vague memory of the 6 weeks before departure, I'm guessing that you're freaking out a little bit.  Googling packing lists, cross-referencing stuff you find on blogs, shopping stores you've never considered looking into before (personal examples: NorthFace website, REI, and Chaco's), and having personal meltdowns at the thought of finding the perfect all-weather underwater solar charger/multitool combo.

Because you don't have enough information to sort through already (how about those visa forms?), here's my must-haves.  I'm also going to edit the Benin packing list they email out, mainly because it still includes a Walkman and is written entirely in Comic Sans.  Gross. 

Without further rambling, my list of things you should definitely/definitely not shove in those 80lbs of luggage.

  • Don't bring a $150 solar charger.  Most of us have electricity, and that's easy to have sent once you get your post.
  • TEFL: Bring a watch.  Nobody's on time ever, but you'll want it anyway.
  • If you bring a computer, BRING BACKUP MEMORY.  Africa murders technology, especially Macs.
  • If you've got a camera, bring extra batteries and memory cards.  There's a pattern here somewhere.
  • A battery-powered handheld fan, like $10 at Target. I didn't bring one, and I was supremely jealous of my friend's during stage.
  • Wind-up flashlight (battery free) and a headlamp.  Headlamps are awesome and make you feel like a Ghostbuster.
  • Speakers!  Especially TEFL.  Go to Bed, Bath and Beyond, but check them before you buy them.
  • Swiss army knife.  Is that technology?
  • Duct tape and superglue.  Duct tape is definitely technology.
  • Extra headphones.  I brought 4 pairs.
For the ladies/pretty boys/people who wear clothes: 
  • OPI nail polish holds up best. 
  • Bring makeup and cute clothes/shoes -- you'll want to feel hot sometimes (in the non-chaleur way), and Tevas just don't do it. 
  • Fake wedding ring and Photoshopped pics of you and a random guy to show people when you travel (mine is of me and Keith Urban.  Be creative!). 
  • A massive bottle of conditioner, because it's expensive.
  • Likewise, tampons.
  • Black linen capris, and at least two professional outfits.
  • Professional shoes. Not necessarily heels, but leather sandals are much better than Tevas -- I bought a pair of Born sandals, and the other profs love them.  Plus, they're really comfy.
  • BRING VITAMINS.  Your hair will start falling out because of the malaria meds, and you'll lose way more if you're not taking a multivite.  (The ones the med office has are worthless.)
  • Rain jacket.
  • Extra glasses!  Really cheap ones at
  • Swimsuit, but don't spend years finding an "appropriate" one.  A non-string bikini works.
  • Stickers for your helmet -- they're a point of personal pride.  Mine has a fake flower glued to the side.
  • 20+ pairs of underwears.  That's for one year (they wear out quickly).  Have Mom mail 20 more at the 1 year mark.
Home Stuff:
  • Fitted sheets.  Oh my god, fitted sheets.  And steal the blanket from the plane. 
  • At least one good pillow.
  • Lots of stamps.  And if you bring envelopes, keep them in a zip-loc so that the humidity doesn't kill them.
  • Thermarest or yoga mat.  Absolutely necessary for traveling.
  • Two boxes of Zip-locs, one gallon-sized and one normal-sized
  • A journal or a notebook or something.  Even if you don't write, it's nice to have a log of all the really outrageous stories/conversations you accumulate
  • Good pens, as the ones here suck.
  • Little bug spray to keep in your purse for mosquito-related emergencies.
Food! (and Kitchen)
  • Lots of spices and vanilla.  Like the economy bottles.  Plain rice is only interesting for about 4 seconds.
  • Worchestershire sauce.  See above.
  • Imitation butter flavoring!
  • A handful of drink mix packets... really easy to mail too.
  • A good can opener, sharp knives, and a pepper grinder.  No, really.
  • Rainy day gifts for yourself, like M&Ms.  You can't overstate the power of a bag of M&Ms on a really bad day in Africa.
Don't Bring:
  • Clothes that have to be ironed or dry cleaned
  • Socks if you don't do exercise
  • Expensive solar-powered stuff
  • Too many books (we have a good library, but bring 1 or 2)
  • French grammar books
  • Towel... well, okay, here's the deal: they take forever to dry in the south, which is where you'll be for stage.  Bring a quick-drying one, or wait till you get here and we'll help you buy a pagne to use.
  • Sticky tack.  It rips paint off of the walls.

We'll edit the packing list as a group and post it soon.  In the meantime, good luck, du courage, and email me with questions! 

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Holy Voodoo Baked Potatoes!

I can't figure out how to do a password (Caroline, tips?), so this will be less juicy than it would otherwise be...

I spent two evenings this week visiting a voodoo man (voodoun or voodouno) in a village near mine.  I mentioned wanting to visit the one in my village to a primary school teacher friend, but he hold me that my village voodoun isn't very powerful... I actually think that traditional medicine works a lot of the time (lots of their plant remedies have been studied for Western medicine), and I wanted to check it out for myself.  So he went to his favorite voodoo man, then with the holy okay brought me to visit.

The first night was pretty chill -- I asked silly yovo questions (with the aid of my friend translating, as I don't speak Gun and he doesn't speak French), he tried to extract a lot of money from me (voodoo guys are famous for that), and we took shots from the holy voodoo sodabi (moonshine) bottle.  Voodoo man also spent a lot of time staring at me with intense, kind of convincingly soul-reading eyes, and saying things to the other people present in Gun.  My friend half-translated one speech: "he...wife... jealous... yovo..."

By the end of that night, we were on good terms, mainly because he thought I was, a.) going to give him lots of money, and b.) afraid of his awesome power.  He blessed me, made me take another shot, and invited me back for the following night.  Strictly instructing me to bring my camera and several yams, he explained that he would give me a *free* demonstration of his powers by cooking the yams without fire.  "Without fire?" I asked, "Is that possible?"  "Everything is possible with the power of the god.Without fire." Normally this would cost me $50, but he liked me and wanted to do me a favor.  I slipped him $2 and bowed all the way to the ground, then went home to drunkenly lesson plan.

The next day (after some fantastically interesting classes), the primary school teacher took me and my yams to the voodoo man's place.  He was ready and waiting for me, delighted that I'd shown up, and as I sat down he said in fractured English, "You... not Madame.  You... sister."  Score.

He instructed his wife to heat a big pot over a fire.  Weird, as I thought we were doing this without fire, but whatever.  He cut up the yams, we took a round of moonshine shots, and when his wife brought the pot over, he started praying.  Sprinkling black powder on the bottom of the oiled pot, he carefully layered the yams on the bottom, sprinkled more magic powder on top, asked me to make wishes, and gave instructions to his wife.  To my great confusion, his wife then put the pot on top of a blazing fire as her husband mumbled prayers in Gun.  "We will wait, maybe an hour, and the yams will be cooked!"

Voodoo man sprinkles black powder into the pot.

Holy voodoo sodabi bottle.

Me: "Umm... didn't he say without fire?" 
Friend: "Yes... I guess he meant without water.  You will see, he will take the yams out of the pot and they will not be burned on the bottom!"
Me: "And usually this costs $50?"
Friend:  "Yes, but he is giving you a gift.  Take another shot."

At the end of the hour, voodoo man's wife brought over the pot, and the voodoo man opened it.  My astonished face made them all laugh (Oh my!  They're cooked!  And they're not burned!), and voodoo man declared that I could come back again another time.  He divided the yams up amongst all present (they were now full of power, and would ward away evil from all who ate, so it was important that we share), and we ate.

The voodouno sealed the evening's festivities by rubbing the black powder into our veins to attract goodness, and I thanked him with another $2 slipped into his hands while bowing to the ground.  Happy, entertainedly confused and, okay, a little drunk, I went home, surrounded by the good power of the black powder and the holy voodoo baked potatoes.

Preparing the yams... without fire.

Holy voodoo moonshine shots.  You can't pour for yourself.

Holy voodoo baby with awesome hair... ou bien the voodoo guy's grandbaby or something.

Baked potatoes!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Weekly Update: 3.28.11

  • Girls' Club. Despite my collegues' continued confusion over my girls' club (this week one of them suggested that I use the girls to clean my house every week), I'm still excited about it.  This week, I invited the sage-femme, the local obstetrician/medically-licensed midwife to talk to my girls about sex and puberty and things like that.  The awkward stuff that people just apparently don't explain to their little girls here.  Anyway, so I don't know how or why or whatever, but somehow word got out and 50 girls showed up to my meeting -- !!!!!  That's up from 16 usually. 

    The sage-femme was fantastic, and we answered a lot of questions about how pregnancy happens, what periods are (the girls were really confused and worried), and contraception... a lot of people, fully-grown women included, believe that counting the days of your period is effective (it's only 60%) and that you can't get pregnant the first time you have sex.  False.  So we did a lot of mythbusting, and the girls responded really well.  Next week I'm having a health volunteer come to do a condom demonstration and talk more about not getting pregnant.  I never really thought I'd be a sex educator for teen girls in Africa, but I'm here, and I'm really, really happy that I'm getting to do it.
  • The Birds and the Bees.  A girl got preganant in one of the other volunteers' girls' clubs, and she wondered how that could have happened after all of the sex ed she'd done with them.  Another friend explained it in a sad-but-funny, and unfortunately accurate way:  "Well, when a professor is attracted to a 15-year-old schoolgirl, he takes her out into a cornfield..."
  • The Voodoo Dates.  I went to a voodoo man this week to see more about Beninese traditional medicine, and I have fun stories.  This will be a separate post, and I'll probably password-protect it if I can.  If I do, I'll put the password on my Facebook page.
  • Friday Fete-Day.  My neighbor is a teacher at the primary school (everyone calls him Maitre, which means teacher), and he's also the founder/director of a fancy private school near Cotonou.  He was having a ceremony at his school to recognize the best students, and he invited Sam and I to go and present some of the gifts.  We went, and had a full day of being the honored white people -- we got great food and lots of free beer, we got to see some of the students do some crazy-awesome choreographed dances (dude, the kids can daaaance.), and the DJs played an entire Rihanna CD just for us. 

    At one point Maitre and his wife Elise invited us up on the stage to dance, and obviously, we did it.  The crowd went wild, cheering, joining us on stage, and giving us a traditional good-dancer compliment by sticking coins to our sweaty foreheads. I can't tell you how entertaining it was... just imagine white girls trying to Beninese dance.  The English teacher who was MCing, after we got off the stage, yelled (in English) into the microphone, "Congratulations, you tried!!" 

    After that we gave the gifts and little speeches, waited until Beninese superstar Sonia showed up, and watched her lipsynch/dance for a while.  She's close to 300 lbs. and a fierce dancer, and we were told we had to dance with her before we left.  We did, and she was terrifying -- she pawed the ground with her stiletto heel and then tried to start a dance-off with Sam and I.  Fearing loss and/or early death, we smiled, shook our butts a little bit, and got off the stage.  All-in-all, a thoroughly entertaining fete.
  • Return from Friday Fete-Day.  Sam and I tried to leave the fete well before dark, but were basically tied to the chair until we danced with Sonia.  We left, and were hoping to grab a taxi straight home.  Elise was traveling with us, and another teacher, but we couldn't get a taxi -- every single one was full.  Dark was falling fast, and we're supposed to be back in our houses by dark... we were a little worried.  The teacher finally talked a private vehicle into taking us (a woman in a Jeep Grand Cherokee), and we started out for home.  Five minutes later, we found ourselves in a solid traffic jam stretching from Cotonou to Porto-Novo with no signs of moving. 

    The next three hours included the following:  sitting still, offroading next to the highway, narrowly avoiding getting stuck in a big sand pit, sitting still some more, driving the wrong way on a busy road, walking on the same busy road, doubling on the back of the teacher's motorcycle, hitchhiking in the back of a wooden-floored truck, and, finally, zemming.  We got back at 11pm, exhausted and giggling uncontrollably.  We made it!
  • The Invisible War of March 26th, 2011.  The day after our traveling nightmare, I had to teach 6 hours of review classes for my kids... If I don't make them study their English, they usually don't.  I'd just finished teaching the first class when all of a sudden, the schoolyard went crazy.  Children and professors were fleeing from their classrooms, running away through the forest and yelling for everyone to leave.  The food-selling mamas were sprinting with their coolers on their heads, screaming the names of their children as they took off through the bush.  Everyone was yelling, "La guerre!  La guerre!" -- the war, the war! 

    I didn't know what was going on, but since everyone was leaving, I guessed I should too.  I had started packing up my things when one of my 6eme kids, Georges, came back from the forest to help me.  "Madame, move fast, there is a war!  Faster! Leave your bike, we will get it later, run with me!"  I started jogging, and saw a professor.  I asked him what was going on.

    "There's fighting in Porto Novo.  The zemidjans came back and reported it in the marche, and now everyone thinks they're coming here."  So basically, the people in my area are just really bad at relaying messages accurately... I bet Telephone would be a hilarious game here.  No one was convinced that the army wasn't going to start a war in Daagbe that afternoon, so I went home.  No kids came back to the school, and all of the vendors on the streets, shops, and marche stands were closed.  And that, my friends, is the story of the Invisible War.

The sage-femme, doing basic sex-ed for my girls' club.
Voodoo man.  Note the holy voodoo moonshine container the man in front of him is holding.  We all took shots.