The most important part of the week was, obviously, when I got to choose my departure date (terrifying!) -- Bridget, Victoria, Sam and I will be leaving Benin on September 1st. Whoa. I'm starting to both dread and anticipate that date... I can't wait to see yall, but I'm going to be a bundle of tears and nerves when we hit mid-August. More on that later.
Anyway. So the conference was amazing. Highlights:
- They fed us fancy hotel food (like fish brochettes and chicken with mushroom sauce) three times a day. By lunch of the first day, we all felt sick from stuffing ourselves (it's there! We won't have it again until America! Must. Eat. It. ALL.), and by dinner of the last day, most of us were just nibbling on the ridiculous dishes served to us. Sad, but true: we just can't do rich food en masse anymore.
- Famous! We were on TV! There was a ceremony and certificates presented by government ministers (the Beninese LOVE certificates), and throughout the whole thing about a bajillion cameras. Vicky and Bridget even got interviewed on TV-- in local language (my heroes)! Learned: if there is a camera in your face and you do not want it there, just look directly at it, wink, and do the Sarah Palin pow pow pow thing. Works.
- Pool Parties! Peace Corps Benin does do some really nice things for its volunteers, and one of those things is treating us to an amazing hotel for our COS Conference. Our smiley training manager, Gisele, made it a point of telling us every day how proud she was of us for making it to the end, and that this conference was a celebration of our services. It's nice to be celebrated. Especially when that celebration takes the form of air conditioning, hot water, and a real, live, CLEAN pool. :)
- Vitamin C. I will not sing the graduation song, but that's what it felt like. The 45 of us have become an incredible support network for eachother: we've seen the best days and the worst days, heard the ridiculous stories and been indignant, fired-up, entertained, and surprised on behalf of our fellow volunteers. This conference was the last time I'll see many of them, and it was wonderful, bittersweet, and important to spend some time together before the great depart.
Post-conference, I still didn't have school (Thursday was a national holiday, and I don't work Friday or Saturday), so a group of us went to Grand Popo for a day or two to soak up the sun and just relax. I am sunburned, relaxed, and so happy. Oh, explanation: Grand Popo is Benin's "resort" town, and by that I mean there are hotels and moderately clean beaches. Because we're poor, we picked a PCV favorite for our lodging: a rasta hotel called "Lion Bar". Every room had a different rasta on it (I was in Bob Marley), everything was red, green and yellow, all of the people working there had amazing dreads, and yes, the whole place smelled a little illegal.
We spent two days walking barefoot in the sand, playing cards, drinking cocktails and dancing around in the surf. It was perfect, it was beautiful, and it was just what we wanted to complete our final week of being all together.
*Seriously, people? I have translated this way too many times already. Close of Service.
** Pre-Service Learning group, or the people that came into PC Benin at the same time as me (about 45 of us total). PSL 23 4eva!