Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Back for Round Deux

So clearly yesterday was not enough time here even though I could write for hours and still not have enough time to say everything I want to say or everything that I have been doing. My next goal is to figure out how to post some pics here and I will try to bring my camera so you can see my host family, etc.

Ok random things. So what I was saying yesterday about the Pallu here--really everyone thinks every sickness is the pallu but i am the only one in my house with a mosquito net. President Bush has reserved a large sum of money for mosquito nets for benin but with essence being so cher maintenant, the boat with the nets (and, as it is, all of our new SAFE zemijahn helmets and bikes) has been long overdo and stuck out at sea until AFTER the rainy season is over. Because, you know, they will be most useful then. Disease goes up a lot in Benin during the rainy season.

To answer some questions, etc. For facial and body scarring, it really differs from family to family and tribe to tribe, and is too hard to keep track of all of it. I think my oldest brother in my fam has it because he is the oldest and it is three lines on the cheeks. Lots of little babies au village have it too but I think that the people have finally been largely taught here to use clean razors and needles for it, Dieu, merci. But there is all sorts of scarring all over the body and a lot of times on the back, breast and chest, it will be for healing purposes and traditional medicine will be rubbed into the wounds. For exampàle though, there is a tribe here who worships the python and they have their own special facial markings to identify that fact.

Saturday we went to Ouida all the way on the Western coast and actually visited the Python temple there. I wore a python on my neck and they are pretty heavy, i must say. Anyway, Benin is the voodoo capital of the world, pretty much, and Ouida is like the voodoo capital of Benin. We were taken on a tour of the sacred forest...part of it is portioned off for tourism, which in a way seems kind of beside the point and slightly sad to me. Anyway, walking into the sacred forest on your own is just NOT done...you will definitely come into trouble. As a woman especially. During the Aura fetishes and festivals in August as far as I , know, in the voodoo areas need to be indoors at dark because if one of the dancing haystacks (auras-NEVER say there is a person in there...he is a gaurdian) sees you they have every right to attack you and cut off your breasts.

What else...In Ouida we also visited the Point of No Return on the beach where slaves were sent off which was really interesting and sad as well. Thieves here are NOT tolerated by communites and the people here hold honor in high esteem. Like if you are bargaining at the market and know you are being lied to about the price and walk away from the deal, that person will be looked down upon by the other vendors. If you are caught stealing...well another trainee saw on hist street a man attacked by a crowd and beaten.

I have to say, Uncle Mike totally wins THIS round...I have seen more topless women than I anticipated, though mostly very deep au village and not in the city. Plus I think that is because we are in the South too. Though largely, if people here are poorly dressed, it is because there is no money and they are pretty ashamed of it. Like we cant really wear shorts but some Beninese will if it is all they can afford- still it doesnt mean it would be wise for us to do. Breast feeding is WAY more open here too and not seen at all as embarrasiing as it sometimes is in the US. Kids will walk up to their mom, grab their breast and the mom will just let them go to town. It Astounds me how the moms here and even little kids carry children strapped to their back with nothing but a piece of fabric. It really makes you wonder about all of our high tech strollers and what is REALLY necessary to raise kids. Also...pretty impressive what even the smallest person can carry on their heads. I"ve seen logs go on heads balanced on a littleclump of fabric to act like a cushion. It seems like a really useful way to carry stuff as the wieght is evenly apportioned throughout your whole body and it leaves your hands free. Maybe some day I will master that trick.

So I have been doing some cool stuff in training. You want an interesting read, look up Moringa. It is an AMAZING tree that has so much nutritional and medicinal value it would blow your mind. And it grows in pretty much all of the areas of the world that need it most. you dry it and crush it to eat straight or add to porridges for kids and it can literally bring them back to the green zone on the "growth charts" we use within 2 weeks. And the plant grows ridiculously fast. you can eat the leaves as is as well--it has vita,ins, nutrients, protein...it really is just incredible and i think my post will have potential to work with moringa in the community. Yesterday we went "au village" to work on PACA (participatory analysis for community action) in which you asses community needs before trying to assert yourself in the area. It helps you attain some letitimacy and more importantly has the community-separated into men women, and children, naturally--figure out for THEMSELVES the resources that THEY have that can be utilized within their own areas. Its about self empowerment, and while we"ve only been training with it and practicing, Im really excited to work with it in my community. Its pretty much a much more intense and extended version of what I was working on for community organizing my last semester at school. So yesterday I worked with another trainee and this group of women to have them map out their day and what they do each day for different times of year--its imp because then YOU know when are good times to have meetings, work with the community etc. the women are so much fun to work with and the men don"t know what to do with themselvezs...they kept coming over to see what the women were drawing for THEIR sheet. Its really funny. And it is so strange how we have to operate. When you are out in the bush you cant really say "the meeting is at 9am" ...you have to say, the meeting is when the sun is this high, and gesture because they don"t know time, etc. Its just a lot of things you wouldnt normally think of or consider....at least for me anyway.

So tomorrow I go spend a few days with a volunteer "on the ground" to see their projects and how they live, and at the end of august I spend a long weekend at my post to check it out. Our swear in is scheduled for September 5th and is going to be a huge fete celebrating 40 years in Benin. PResident Yayi Boni is even coming I believe. Actually...Yayi Boni was just in the USA. Anyone see that in the news? It was prety big news here but I didnt see it in when I was trying to search an article for it.

Cross cultural traning has definitely been interesting. We did this exercise where we wrote down our stereotypes of Beninoise and they wrote down their stereotypes of us, and ironically, often they think that we are givers of AIDS and HIV in vaccinations etc. in order to get rid of them, and that AIDS is a "white man" disease...that we started it. They often think that Americans smell and are dirty and I am AMAZED at how much people shower here...2 or3 times a day especially in Chaleur when it is so hot. They are always asking me to shower and its odd because we all came in with the idea of having to conserve water. Hauling water for 3 showers a day will not be fun. At least bucket showers are really good for conserving water though.

Well anyway...think I covered enough for today? I actually made a list of things to talk about before coming here. So...mom and dad. hahaha for the post in french. Do you have any idea how long it takes me to read that? give it a few months at least. this is 300 francs per hour (haha...Thats really only like seventy five cents in US money), people...peace corps doesnt Pay that much. I love you anyway though.

Aunt Nancy--It is my hope that one day you get to respond first since A.Linda and Aunt Loretta always beat you...maybe today is your day, since i doubt people expected a double whammy back to back post. And I hope emily is feeling better soon even though mono lasts FOREVER (who"ve you been kissing? haha)

Thanks for all the comments--your support is amazing and keeps me smiling on the most trying of days. I am pretty excited for the crystal light and packages too... thank you SOOOOO much. if i knew how to make an exclamation point i would insert one here. But really? Im holding out for a pic of an annie outfit. haha. I miss you all a ton and it was great getting to talk to some of you the other day. I found ANOTHER cheap calling option... www.keepcalling.com. Another girl here uses it and said her family talks for like twelve cents a minute. If you call and havent gotten through, im sorry but dont know what to say. I leave my phone on here every night from 6pm on (1pm your time on the eastern seaboard)

PS, cathy...what happened with dora and molly???

Miss you all and cant wait to post again and write more letters after training is over. (insert exclamation point here again).

Monday, July 28, 2008

Hey Again
Back in the cyber at Porto Novo but I dont have a ton of time so will trytosqueeze as much as possible for now. Thanks for all the comments and support. Training is exhausting but going well. It is split into technical, cross cultural, and language training. I bumped up to levels in french not that that now entirely matters as i just found out my post and will be in a village that spêaks ADJA.

So I am going to be in DOGBO in the mono couffo region of southwestern Benin. I have a "post mate" aka another volunteer (tefl=teaching english foreign language) in my village with me. and several other PCVs are in the region. Im the only health volunteer but it leaves open opportunities for cross sectoral work. The area Im in tends to be more aggressive in terms of being yovoed and harassed by men, etc. but I guess you just have to develop a thicker skin. Ill be working with an NGO and my primary projects will tend to focus on HIV AIDS or SIDA as it is called here. The Couffo region has the highest concentration of AIDS infected Beninese. But as it is, HIV / AIDS really is not as bad for Benin as for many african countries. Malaria is without a doubt the WORST health issue in Benin. Its also frustrating because no one in my host family sleeps with mosquito nets even though they are considerably well off and know the risks, etc. Plus pretty much everyone here thinks they have the Pallu here (paladisme or malaria) EVERY time they are sick. Case in point, yesterday my "papa" woke up sick and says to me "Oh, cathi...its the pallu." Doubtful, but okay. It doesnt help that the health centers will treat for mallaria along with everything else because it is easier than testing what is wrong so people always have the idea that they have malaria.

Okay...so my house. Peace corps Benin actually has the highest housing standards for Peace Corps in West Africa because its been here for 40 years. We all have to AT LEAST have our own private latrine with a cover, private shower room, cement floors and walls (no mud huts for benin) windows and doors with screens and locks, tin roofs, and at least é though preferably " rooms. It kind of depends where you are. So Im pretty happy about that. I have electricity when i get to post for a few hours a day but my nearest source of water will be 200meters away. Thats a long way to haul buckets but what can you do? I think a lot of volunteers hire local kids to do it. While Being in the south unfotunately means that all my papers will continue to be soggy for the next to years perpetually with this nasty humidity, the odds of me having scorpions in my house like in the north has significantly decreased, which pleases me. The town has a pretty big marche, and is closer to Lokassa, another town with pretty much anything you could need in it i am told. My region has grand popo in it==the Big beninese beach resort and the ONLY safe beach to swim at here since the riptides are VERY Deadly. Also apparently there are some hippos who live by me and you can take a little canoe out to check them out which seems interesting since hippos are apparently kind of mean and I would NOT want to be in a little canoe like boat near one. Oh, another fun fact about my spot is that there is a fanmilk depot. Fanmilk just might be the most delicious snack in all of benin. its a togolese product and its kind of like icecream in a capri sun like pouch. Men walk around honking horns with little carts of fanmilk and during chaleur and pretty much every day here, when the fanmilk horn blows all the yovos in the area go running. They have us in the bag for anything cold here. My area will have 4 seasons, a long dry, long rainy, short dry, and short rainy season, which seems better than the norths 2 season year with the harmattan sandstorm winds. Well my time here is running out and i have to get ready to go au village today to practice some sensibilizations. I will try to get back for a longer time later this week to post more and respond to emails. Thanks everyone. I miss you all a ton. PS = I still havent figured out apostrophes or exclamation points etc on french keyboards. major bummer.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Hey Everyone,

So I am in a Cyber in Porto Novo and excited to finally have some time to write. pardon spelling errors please because it is a french keyboard and hard to type. it is really gret to read all of your comments so thank you so much=they are keeping me going! training is ridiculously busy and taxing==emotionally and physically...but thats okay. My host family here is very nice-- i have 4 brothers ages 3, 11, 12, and 15 and a 4 year old sister. They are really cute and help me avec ma français which is slowly but steadily improving. One of my brothers has traditional facial scarring and the family also speaks goon and fon. We are living with pretty well off families in porto novo so i think that getting to post might be a bit of a shock. For example right now i have a toilet which i am pretty sure will change soon when training is over.

A note about my phone. My number is 98 47 71 21. To Dial OUTSIDE of the US with a housephone, cell, etc you have to dial 011. that a lot of time doesnt apply if you r using a phone card because its already included to make an international call. the 229 number is Benins country code. So if you arent getting through that ,ight be why. you cant leave messages on them but i will leave it on every night pretty much from 6 till 1am here or so. Phones here are cool...you buy the phone and you dont have plans but you just pay as you go with recharge cards so they are really easy to use.

So today I went to village to do some baby-weighing training. The babies are really cute (Lynn, you would love them) though it is really difficult to actually be seeing malnourished children. I had this ,o,ent today zhen i was putting the harness on one of the babies of "I am in a village in Africa weighing babies in a tiny village" and it was overwhelming. I am looking forward to being culturally integratred and can now better understand why they want you here for 2 years...it takes about the first year to adjust and find your place before you can be effective in projects. It is strange how people handle babies here. THey will sometimes swing them up by one arm and they arent so fragile here. I saw one brother hit his little sister hard in the face because she was underweight but it wasnt our place to do anything...we dont even speak the language. There have been a few ti,es of vigilante justice and corporal punishment so far. I havent experienced it in my family at all, Dieu merci. My family is pretty excited that i am from new york because they know it from movies. And they LOVE george bush here so so far this is one of the last few places where saying you worked for the Bush administration still elicits some excitement.

Another few people have early terminated and its always a small slap to morale, i've discovered. But so far I am liking it here. I have moments when i am really homesick but it comes and goes and i am mostly happy--especially since finding the bbc on my shortwave. at least now i dont feel so detached. The things we are learning about nutrition, breast feeding, health so far are all really interesting and I still mostly can't believe that i am here doing what I am doing. If someone zould tell g-ma I got her letter I'd be much obliged. So there is hardly any time to write letters in training but i pro,ise that i will write to you a tone when training is over. And i promise you'll get a letter post-marked from Africa SOME time but i have to space it out because we have very little money and we can send them for cheaper through the Peace Corps Headquarters. What else what else. There is so much that i can't even remember what i wanted to say. Ah...Really amazing fruit here. The pineapples and mangoes are great and i get a lot of fish for now since we r on the water (Not the kind of fish in NYC restaurants or anything but still yummy). You begin to understand the difference here far more between what you want and what you need here in terms of housing, food, etc. Its also a terrble feeling to be called YOVO (White person) everywhere you go. It is so culturally inappropriate to do that at home and it just gets to you after awhile with a parade of kids follozing you everywhere you go calling "yovo yovo, what did you bring me?"

Doing laundry is definitely something I will appreciate when i get home. I have a metal bucket, water and a bar of detergent. It is hard work but satisfying to do as well. It takes long to dry in the humidity. Boiling and filtering water is also a time consuming process...if anyone wants to send me crystal light I will love you forever. OK well I should wrap it up for now. I will write more soon I hope...maybe next weekend I will come to the cyber again. Hope you are all well. I miss you more than you know. Thanks again for your comments.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Call Me!

So I got a cell phone here. While it's really expensive for me to call home, you guys can call me for pretty cheap if you download Skype (It's free to download and an AMAZING program to talk to people internationally) or get a calling card!!! My phone doesn't take voicemails but I'll leave it on as much as I can and I am 5 hours ahead of NY (I'm usually up until midnight or so).

My number is 011 229 98 71 47 21
Dial just that and you'll reach me!

I really hope i get to hear from some people soon! Miss you all. Post more when there isn't a huge line!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Into Africa

So I am in Benin, and so far so good. I am a little homesick but starting to get used to it here. Scratch that. I am fooling no one and I am actually very homesick so far. I miss my friends and family, but I am coping. One girl is already leaving because she hates it so much here. Apparently about a third of volunteers end up leaving. I don't have a lot of time right now--I'm in headquarters and there is a line to use the computer. But it is interesting because there is virtually no gas here so it is being sold in the street in clear jars--all smuggled Nigerian gas. The people are very nice. I had zemidjahn training to ride the little motorcycles around and it was a lot of fun. One guy in our group fell through the roof and had to be evacuated to Senegal. Talk about getting off to a good start. I move into my host family on Wednesday, which is exciting and nerve-wracking. Anyway, the line has multiplied a lot. I'll post more soon. MISS YOU ALL!!!!

ps-Love the comment, jan jan. lol. I miss you too and hope your 4th was AMAZING!