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.