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? :)

Sunday, August 21, 2011

World Map Mural Project: On Est En Train

My wall!

Painting it blue as a base -- I did most of it, but hey, if the students are volunteering...

Kalyn, my new closemate, helps Sam with gridlines.

From left: Kalyn & Meaghan (my new closemates), Lou and I doing gridlines for my wall.  Sam
was taking the picture -- thanks everyone for helping!  Next up: drawing and painting.

Weekly Updates: 8.11.11

- I have a gnarly cold.  But thanks to free Peace Corps medicine, lots of water, and the “chicken” lentil soup, I’m almost better!

- Met my new closemates!  This past week the two girls who are going to replace Sam and Lou next to me.  Kalyn is going to be in Tchaada in Lou’s place (but as an English professor), and Maeghan’s going to be in Sam’s place in Gbozoume. We got to hang out a couple of times, first working on my world map project (update next), then having a potluck dinner at Lou’s.  Which was awesome:  Sam’s salad, Lou’s amaaaazing curry, and brownies from me, plus Maeghan & Kalyn’s 2 boxes of wine... we’re going to get along.  Yay new closemates!

- World Map Project: Finally on the way!  Spent last week chalking the wall space off on the rickety-est ladder I’ve ever seen, then painting the rectangle ocean-ish blue.  Lou, Sam, Kalyn and Maeghan visited to help out one morning, and we not only got the whole grid drawn (like a week of work for me alone), but also got the sections chalked.  Now to draw some countries.  Sidenote: Micronesia has waaaaaay too many tiny islands.  Waaaaay.

- Oro’s Coming... So remember that thing I talked about called oro? It’s a voodoo thing, and when it comes out (three days a year, usually in August), only men initiated in the secret society can go outside.  This year it’s September, dates TBD. It’s really, really bad news for anyone else who goes out, especially women, so on those days you just close your doors and windows and have a dance party in your underwear all day.  Not that bad. 

Thing is, I just found out that the three villages closest to me also do oro, and that I can’t go through them if oro’s out there.  And none of the villages do oro at the same time.  This is over a 15-day period, and oro can’t come out during marché day or Sundays... So according to my calculations, during oro season, travel’s going to be kind of difficult. 

Luckily, I’ll be out of town for almost all of September... except for five days right in the middle.  I’ve had about 5 different people track me down to tell me they’re going to let me know ASAP when the dates are announced, so positive note: my village is taking care of me.  Negative note: visiting Daagbé between training the new stage and going on vacation is maybe impossible. Sigh.

And Now, In Strange Requests...

My School Director: “Oh, you have a cat!  I forgot!”

Me:  “Yep... his name is Popsicle... he steals other people’s fish...”

Director: “Good! I have a very important question for you: can I have his poop?”

Me:  (pretty sure I’ve misheard the question)  “Umm... what?”

Director:  “I need his poop.  Like three days’ worth, and it needs to be fresh.  If I come back on Friday, can you save it until then?”

Me:  “Uhhh... yes?” (try really, really hard not to giggle)  “What’s it for?”

Director:  “Oh, it’s to do... something...”

Me: “Oh, okay... what thing?”

Director:  “Some.... thing...“ (looks evasively off into the distance) “You can keep it in a plastic bag and keep it outside so it doesn’t make your house smell.  You can put it...” (takes two full minutes to look around my complex for an appropriate cat poop stash spot)  “... oh!  In that empty building.  Put it there.  I’ll be back Friday.”

(We go to the buvette with the school accountant and have a serious nuts-and-bolts library project meeting.  I feel excellent about the beginning of the plans, though a little nervous about the actual implementation of them.  After an hour and a half we’re finished, and they drive me back home.  I get out of the car and walk toward my house, when out of the window my director yells his version of ‘good night, sleep tight’:)


Thursday, August 4, 2011

Visiting Benin by Auntie B

I'm so happy we visited you, Lissa. To experience a country through the eyes of someone living there was a much richer experience than visiting on my own or through a tour.

I have such great memories, the least of which is our hasty retreat from your office due to the mace. I've got my little man statue standing on my side table with my comb and I wore my pania to my
birthday party. I love, love the teal fabric pagne.

Visiting Benin by Lissa's mom- Part 2

Lissa lived in Porto Novo her first 3 months of training and her host family invited us for a meal-- we were overwhelmed by their generosity, friendliness, wonderful hospitality. They treated us like royalty!  We loved each one of them!!!

Here is Host Papa, his sister on his right, Barb then Host Mama, their 4 daughters. Also here is Papa's youngest daughter by his second wife, who we did not meet.

The meal they served was fantastic!!! So many dishes! Three types of meat and specially made fried plaintains because they are Lissa's favorite!  After all that, they gave us wonderful gifts to bring back to America with us.
Lissa lived on the 3rd floor.

Too soon it was time to say goodbye to our new friends and head back to Daagbe, Lissa's village.

In order to have a Peace Corps volunteer, the village or at least the person who requests a volunteer, must provide a place to live that’s not a hut and a has private bathroom. That’s it, that’s the requirement-- the bathroom could be a latrine and the water doesn’t have to be indoors or even running- some of the volunteers have to get their water from the local well.

Playing spades with Gabriel (another teacher) on Lissa's porch
Lissa has a 3-room apartment in a concession which is a row of about 8 apartments. Each one has 3 rooms, electricity most of the time, and running water with a real toilet and shower! The kitchen is as you make it- Lissa has a propane tank and a 2-burner stove on a table. (Lissa has even designed a little dutch-oven that she bakes banana bread and brownies in!) She has a large bucket for water and scoops out what she needs into other plastic pails for cooking, washing, etc. Her neighbor, Elise, uses charcoal to cook, but I don’t know what sort of stove she uses.

The people are all so amazing and wonderfully friendly, hospitable and fun, too!  Of course Lissa was translating non-stop as everyone speaks French.

Lissa's neighbors, Elisa and her husband brought scrumptuous fish meal!

Elise, Lissa's neighbor will be opening a computer service business in which she will type and print documents and make copies and such.  She is a real sweetheart... We enjoyed their citron flavored sodebe even though it, like moonshine, had a real kick! 

Head coutourie and I with my new custom-made skirt

Barb and I bought tissu, the local cotton fabric with the wild and wonderful designs.  For a couple of dollars the couterie made us a pair of pajama pants, a wrap skirt, and a custom made skirt. It's addictive because they are so good. You choose a style from hundreds of pictures on the wall and they take your measurements and sew it up- beautiful and perfect!
Everyone we met in Lissa's village was wonderful, beautiful, and gracious. They all wanted us to enjoy Benin and were very proud of their country!

We also found some cool local industries- Palm oil (like olive oil or canola oil for cooking) is made- whew so much hot labor! The palm nuts have to be husked, roasted, put in water and stomped on, then the resulting foam is boiled and the result is pressed down for the oil to flow!  

And a local group of carvers in a mud and thatch roof compound. We bought a couple of things because the whole experience was amazing!

Our trip to Benin was fantastic because the Beninese people are fantastic! We loved everything we saw and everyone we met.
What a wonderful adventure! 

Visiting Benin by Lissa's mom

July couldn’t come too quickly for me as my sister Barbara and I prepared to visit our Lissa in Benin, West Africa! Excited for the first hug and to see her, but also excited to experience Benin!

The Beninese people that we met were outstanding- hospitable and wanting us to enjoy their fantastic country!! To give you an example, even the zem motorcycle drivers were asking us how our visit in Benin was and when we answered that it was very beautiful and the people were wonderful, they all agreed with us and were very happy.

In Lissa’s area of Benin, the common language is “Gún”, but many people learn French in school. Lissa doesn’t know Gún, but she has learned an amazing amount of French in one year and was able to translate non-stop even very subtle ideas... our questions and those of the people we met never stopped!

The first two days, Lissa took us sightseeing we drove to Ouidah (pronounced wee-dah) to visit two important things... the Voodoo python temple- it was a very powerful place in the Voodoo religion, but we declined the offer of a special ceremony by the Voodoo priest there. We did hold a python- I was surprised by how squeamish Barb and I were about the snakes- they were boa constrictors and well fed so lazy-- not harmful but still! We could hardly get near them!
 Ouidah is also the first place from which slaves were exported to the Americas. Sadly we visited the tree where most slaves were sold and went down the long long road that they had to walk in chains to the waiting boats. I wondered why the Beninese didn’t run and hide or move away when all this started, but the driver told us that the warring tribes would take prisoners and sell them... so sad!

But happiness awaited! We stopped at a fresh fish restaurant- YUM! and had our first taste of “pâte”. It’s corn mush- mine was “pâte rouge” so red with tomato, I think. It’s served in a huge plop with a sauce. Great if you are trying to carb-load!
Then onto the ocean in Grand Popo- Lissa and two Peace Corps friends, Dione and Sam, Barb and I had a WONDERFUL time- see the beautiful rooms with the mosquito netting... the undertow is so strong you don’t dare even wade, but the waves were incredible and the breeze perfect for sleeping.

The “gas station” -- “real” gas stations are closed due to the huge number of these black market stands selling gasoline from Nigeria. They filter the gas with the black cloth and pour it through a funnel into the gas tank.

Henry, our taxi driver, stopped to fill up. He’s educated but couldn’t find a job, so he drives a taxi. His wife is finishing her bachelors degree.
By now Barb and I had been soaking up the different sights for a couple of days and we were amazed at what we’d seen.

Lissa's student selling lunch...rice and beans I think

So many people carrying heavy, huge loads on their heads!

notice the suitcase on the gas tank?
So many zem motorcycle taxis- they carry EVERYTHING- we saw motorcycles carrying a refrigerator, and another with a huge stack of tires, one with a casket and lots with up to 5 people on them!


We once hailed a van type taxi. Since there were five of us, we got the entire back seat to ourselves! You don’t have to pay for children who sit in your lap- there were 6 or 7 passengers in the middle seat and at least 3 or 4 in the front seats... once Dione got out to head back to her town, an old man climbed in the back with us- at least he looked old- people there age very quickly!

The poverty seemed everywhere to us. People in dirt or palm branch huts... many buildings either not finished or without windows...but really they seemed like they were having a good life, too. So many waved and were friendly and welcoming to the “yovos”- white people. I came away thinking that the people deal with their circumstances just like we do- they try to have the best life possible given what life has dealt them.

In order to have a Peace Corps volunteer, the village or at least the person who requests a volunteer, must provide a place to live that’s not a hut and a has private bathroom. That’s it, that’s the requirement-- the bathroom could be a latrine and the water doesn’t have to be indoors or even running- some of the volunteers have to get their water from the local well.

end of part 1