Friday, January 27, 2012

Biweekly Update (1.27.12)

- The Struggles of a Wednesday. I went to Porto-Novo to work on getting the books for our library, but ran into several little annoying problems. First, the application to request books wasn't actually ready like my project partner told me, so we couldn't order books like I thought we were. Next, the organization's catalogue now doesn't have a bunch of the books I wanted (no worries, I have multiple backup plans). A drunk man got in my face to demand money, and no one in the very packed cyber decided to help me fend him off for a full 3 min. of him rubbing my arm and demanding my money. The bank took $80 extra out of my account for the shipping costs. And finally, the woman at the bookstore overcharged me for school books for my scholarship girl. Sigh. Having been here for a year and a half, though, I now have a solid list of calm-down-breathe-in strategies. I bought vegetables, made fresh mint tea, and listened to Adele. Stress: solved.

- The State of the Library: the room is now separated (!) from the informatique classroom, and the furniture is being built as I write. It looks good so far! Working through the pile of paperwork to get the books from France. Am hoping to order them in a week or two, which would be they'd be here in late February I think. As soon as that request's in, I'll start trying to find a librarian!

- Crime and Punishment. Someone (whoever printed this edition of the book) tricked me. After years of being intimidated by Russian literature, I finally looked at Dostoyevsky in our library and discovered that C&P was actually kind of a small book. Maybe 300 pages by the size of the book. I got it home and started reading, and then found out that The Modern Library just prints on super thin paper. It's like tracing paper, and now I have to read 550 pages. Cheaters.

- At School: we have our 2nd round of exams next week, so I've been hauling my very chatty classes through review lessons to make sure they've seen all the types of activities that'll be on the test. Ho hum. I also promised each of them an American pen if they can get a 15/20... 75% is a really good score here.

- Girl's Club Begins! Yes, I was supposed to start this in October. Thanks to projects and classroom availability, though it just started last week... It's pretty awesome. :)  Only 6 girls have showed up, but 4 were girls I took to Camp GLOW last year, and the others were shy girls from my classes, who I'm excited to work with. I kind of love them.  We sit in a circle (I am maybe the only teacher that will ever sit at a desk and just chat with them) and talk about things like how to study and what they want to be when they grow up.  They make fun of each other (and me), we play games, everyone laughs... it's amazing.  It's exactly what I want to be doing with my time.  And soon we're going to get into sex ed and setting goals and women's rights, which are, I think, the most important things I could possibly teach them.

- A quick note on Camp GLOW: It might just be in my classes, but you can really tell which girls came to GLOW. They speak up, they don't take crap from the boys next to them, they ask questions and engage with the lesson... They care about getting everything they can out of school. Feel lucky to have been a part of getting them to this point.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Happy Update: Camp GLOW is Funded!

Just heard the news that we've got all of the donations necessary for our girls' camp!  Thank you all so much!  

That means that all I've got left to fundraise for is the boys' camp (Camp BLOW) -- please keep talking that up, since we've still got $4,566.79 to go on that one.  Almost done with this round of fundraising!  And thanks for being amazing. :)

1/10: Pictures of National Traditional Religions Day

...that would be, Benin Stops for Giant Voodoo Party Day!  More pictures here: Photos October to March

This man, wearing a hoop skirt and jumping around like
crazy, is a voodoo fetish (spirit).

The lady in the middle is a voodoo priestess, and she is
awesome -- you should have seen her dance moves.

Speaking of dancing... see the dust flying?  Yep, that

The scarring here is part of the initiation ritual for girls
who will later become voodoo priestesses.  I think
they go through the ritual between ages 10 and 13ish,
but don't quote me on that.  These will eventually fade and
flatten until they're just flat, shiny designs on her skin.

Future voodoo priest, dancing.

As you can see from this spirit/man's face, most
people in the parade were very, very drunk.
And very happy!

Friday, January 13, 2012

...And Back to Benin (Updates: 1.12)

  • First of all, jet lag.  It's not fun.  Also, it's hot.  Mmmm, sweat, I forgot what you smelled like.

  • Playing Santa Claus. K, so one of the things I was most dreading (seriously, this caused no small amount of stress) was the people-asking-me-for-gifts thing.  I did bring gifts for people I'm close to or work with -- it'd be supremely culturally inappropriate to not do so --  but I didn't and couldn't buy gifts for everyone.

    I gave the ones I had as quickly as I could so I wouldn't have to hear "What'd you bring me?" and "Where's my gift??"  There were still quite a few people who searched me out to ask for their present, one of whom sent his mistress to demand his gift from me, but in general, people were pretty chill.  Only one showed up at my house, and almost everyone laughed it off if I said I brought them "good health" instead of a cadeau.  On the flip side, those people that I did bring gifts to were SO excited and thrilled to get presents, especially if there were photos involved.  Beninese people LOVE photos.

    So.  I think we're done with that.  Sigh of relief, and moving on.

  • Say My Name, Say My Name. While trying to think of gifts for all of my bajillion neighbors, I stumbled upon my old CD case from 8th grade.  Obviously, I raided it.  Now, my construction worker neighbors and founder-of-a-private-school-head-honcho neighbor have been singing falsetto gibberish to Destiny's Child "Survivor" and the Charlie's Angels soundtrack for about a week.  Win!

  • My two favorite compliments from the past week (hahahhaha): 
    • "You have gotten fat!  You must have been drinking lots of your mother's milk!" -- GbloGblo  
    • "My, you have changed in only 12 days! You are so fat now, and your skin has lost its color!  So, so fat!" -- GbloGblo's husband

  • Nigerian Gas Prices Skyrocket, Everyone Freaks Out. Nigeria's government removed the subsidies on gasoline a week or so ago, freeing up something like $7.3 billion a year in government spending.  (If that money manages to actually go to something good, like education or health improvements, that would be great for the country.  It remains to be seen, though.)  A liter of gas was at 65 naira, and as of January 2nd, it was at 130 or 140 naira.  More info here.

    Since most of Benin's gas comes illegally from Nigeria, the price change is having a huge effect on everything here.  Transport costs are now way more expensive (sometimes close to double the earlier price), and anything imported (loooooots of things) is pricier too. Lines to get gas are four hours long, and everyone running a taxi or a zem is really on edge.  In Nigeria, there are riots in different parts of the country, and two of the three unions of Nigerian oil workers are now on strike.

    We're waiting it out.  I'm totally safe, and all we have to deal with right now are higher transportation costs and people telling us, "You know, gas is really expensive right now! The price is higher now!" all the time.
  • Tuesday: National Voodoo Day!  Post to follow. :)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Weekly Update: Christmas Break

I went to a sparkly magical place for Christmas -- America!  It was an awesome, much-needed trip, and even though I'm supremely jet-lagged right now, I think it's important to list some highlights before I go back to village.  Thus, my list (in no particular order):

  • Seeing The Differences.  It had been a year and a half since I'd been in my home country, and it was kind of surreal to be back.  I stopped quite a few times just to double-check and make sure I was actually there.  It was especially interesting to see the differences in American people and African people now that I'm kind of settled in in my village:  Americans seemed weirdly obsessed with things like TV characters, new things, weight loss, and parenting.  On the flip side, it was incredibly comforting to remember that men actually treat you like an equal in America -- I knew that wasn't something I just made up!  
  • Also: we are SO rich.  The amount of stuff we have is craaaazy compared to the bare-walls-and-two-chairs thing most of my neighbors have going on.  My trip to Target was kind of stressful as a result -- how do you choose between 5 types of pretty much the same thing? And why do we need that many??
  • I'm Not All The Way Normal.  I think I did a really good job of being normal while home, but there were a couple of little accidents.  On several occasions, I accidentally said sarcastic things in Peace Corps-brand French, which would have been hilarious if I had been with other volunteers.  As it was, I just sounded like a snob.  My best moment, though, might have been when I yelled "Ko ko ko!" (what we do instead of knocking) and then just walked into my sister's room, where she was half-dressed and NOT pleased.  Oops. Guess I should have waited for the "Mé mé mé."
  • Gained 7 lbs!  Greatly added by Mom and Lauren following me around with snacks and cake pops, I'm proud to say that I gained a whole 7 lbs. while home.  Take that, amoebas.
  • MY PROJECT IS FUNDED!  This one was a huge moment -- I was so excited to find out that I'd gotten all of the donations needed to start my library project.  Thank you thank you thank you for all of your donations and advertising help!  Best part? We over-raised by several hundred dollars, so I get to donate some money to the camps, too!
  • Saw Some Favorite People. Miraculously, all four of my best friends from high school (including one who was a Bolivian exchange student -- hey Dani!) were in town at the same time this year, so we got to have a real reunion! We all got together to go wedding dress shopping with Lauren, who will be getting married in July 2013.  We're all bridesmaids, and it was wonderful to be together and making fun of each other just like we used to do.  :)  Also got to see a couple of old friends from high school and skype most of my friends from Rice.  Glad to see yall's faces!
  • Other Favorite Activities: Chai tea tasting with Mandee, who bought me 7 different types for Christmas. :)  Shopping with Mom, and mani/pedi-getting with Lauren.  Snow inner tubing with cousins. Fashion help from Katiebelle, and breakfast with my Dad.  Eating.  Just being home for a little while.
  • All in all, a fantastic trip.  Was it hard to come back?  Yeah, kinda.  But I'm so glad I went, and now, I'm calm and recharged for these last few months.  Bring on the projects, I'm ready!

Notes From The Flight(s) Home

- Accidentally got a little, uh, tipsy, at the JFK airport. I ordered a single margarita at Chili's, thinking that I should probably have one before I went back to the Land of No Tequila. What arrived in front of me was a shaker approximately the size of an Octoberfest beer; that is, barely smaller than a bathtub. As a half-Texan AND very tough Peace Corps volunteer, I felt that it was my duty to finish the thing. It filled my martini glass 7 times (well, okay, I think it was 7... Counting may not be my strong suit at this very moment), and I drank it all. I am therefore maybe a little drunksies. Related: just got on a plane that might be going to Barcelona. Will find out when I get there.

- (Later) Upon boarding the plane, immediately passed out. Like before we even started taxiing. Apparently my sister's tendency to drool is hereditary. Luckily, the window doesn't seem to care.

 - 6-Hour Layover in Paris was made less awful by the arrival of my fellow volunteer and closemate Kalyn, who spent Christmas in France.  We traded fun stories of all the weird things we accidentally did/said while in the West, then ate everything we could find before boarding.  The flight was easy, we landed on time, and despite literally falling on my butt over my giant mass of duffle bags, we made it to the workstation alive.  

 - Now: To Village! Anticipate some stress this week as everyone I know asks me to give them things from America, but am also excited to get going on some projects.  Stay tuned for updates on my scholarship girl project, the beginnings of the library (i.e. nagging my director until he starts moving on room separation), and surviving hot season.  Was so glad to see everyone this trip!  Now, onto the next 9 months. :)