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).


Aunt Loretta said...

Morning Catherine ~ You really didn't think I would let Aunt Nancy get ahead of me did you?? You know sibling rivarly .. ha ha ha. Only kidding. I check your blog rather often alway hoping for an update. Everything sounds so amazing and you are quite inspirational. I couldn't be prouder! I mail two (2) boxes this morning and I'm sending Dad a check for him to deposit for you ... just in case you need some funds for something. I've got to get to work, so I'll write more later. Love you much!! Aunt Loretta

Aunt Linda said...

morning catherine-i have to finish reading BUT I still want to be a contender and beat Aunt Nancy and at least stay in second place to Aunt Loretta I'll post when I read your entire post. Love ya Aunt Linda

Uncle Big Mike said...

Hello kid.See there are a few things I know,Its all that reading and pictures from the National Geographic and the internet.I am working on getting you another headlamp for a backup.Well keep writing it makes Aunt Loretta Happy.Take care and be Safe.Love Uncle BigMike......................PS I even beat Aunt Nancy..........

Andrea said...

My mind can not fully comprehend everything you wrote these past two days!! Seriously, once you mentioned any type of disease my body went into a mini shock! You must be extra extra careful! I usually think Purell will solve most problems but damn. I am trying to visualize everything you are seeing and experiencing and it must be incredible. You are doing an amazing job and your attitude is so inspiring. I feel like I should not complain as much about this crap job! Please write more!! Miss you. Love, Andrea

Anonymous said...

Hey buddy,
How are you? Interesting stories buddy, very interesting. It def. sounds like another world over. From the Sacred Forest, to the rules of Voodoo town, and the bucket showering, guess you're experiencing a whole new world. Amazing stuff. It makes me feel guilty when I take a shower or have some nice clean cold filtered water. Me sorry! All that about disease, whoa dude, seriously be careful. Also safety safety safety!
I'm still doing the letter writing w/ you figuring that's the best shot of communication. Skype is being weird. Prob will buy a calling card, but just for voice purposes I guess since time is a huge factor. Same thing w/ email know you don't have a lot of time or money to keep going online so letter writing it is. Hey its old fashioned, and ya know how much of a classist I am hehe. Molly and Dora are ok, they got into a fight, Molly got a few bites and has to wear an e-collar, but they're ok. Dora will be going to Atlanta in Sept. with Meg. As for me, I'm ok, you'll get all the scoop in my letters b/c I'm already writing too much here.
So again please be safe and take care of yourself. Miss you oodles!

Jan Jan said...

I love that you keep updating your blog, so please do not stop! It really is amazing hearing how other people raise their children using such different ways! However....never would I let my boobs hang out! lol sorry had to put that out there!

The whole voodoo thing is very scary...so please do not wander into any forests.

I miss you!!! xoxoxox janjan

maman et papa said...

Cher Catherine,
Je ne comprend pas pourquoi je ne peu pas écrire en français. Comment est que je vais apprendre moi-même ! Et alors je réponds comme ça ! (By the way you can always get « maman » to help you if you print it out! (LOL)!!)

I’ll y a beaucoup d’information dans ton blog passer. Je voudrais bien savoir comment tu prends à voir les femmes sans blouse ? Et aussi, a t’il une chois que tu n’aime pas ? Et en reverse, quelque chois tu aime de plus !

Comment fait tu avec l’eau pour boire, et combien temps prend tu pour avoir un litre? Quand tu manges avec la famille, es que tu aides avec la cuisine ? Aide tu avec la vaisselle ? Quoi mange tu pour le petit déjeuner ?

C’est assez de question, je te laisse maintenant avec sait question et aussi pour te dire q’ont et très faire de toi et ont vas essayer de téléphoner demain avant de partir pour le club.

Gross bis et beaucoup d’amoure de nous !

Kuehn said...

Hey Dude,

I like reading your blog! Was Sam the one who asked about Africa's national anthem? I can see her doing that, she asked me if India was in Africa last week.

Keep writing and stay away from those good for nothing mosquitos. Oh, and try and write some stuff about any african wildlife you see. It must be awesome!

- James

Anonymous said...

Hi Catherine,
I spent some time tonight catching up on your blog. I am so behind the times.
What a lesson you are giving all of us. . . I have a notebook here to jot down unknown names and places.
I sent your mom two nice photos from the Vineyard. I'll get your mailing address and send copies to you if mom hasn't already.
So glad things are falling into place. xoxo Huf

kegan said...

Hi Catherine - I'm your mom's cousin and got your blog info from Loretta. Just want to say I think what you are doing is amazing!! Keep up the good work ;-) Take care of yourself! Katherine

Aunt Nancy said...


bobcor said...

Nous essayons de suivre ton aventure sur ton blog et nous sommes impressionnés par ce que tu fais. Si j'ai bien tout compris tu apprends le français ce qui facilitera notre communication.
Chez nous en Belgique tout va bien: Il pleut!
A bientôt
On t'embrasse, Anne Robert Véronique et Carole

Aunt Nancy said...

Hi Darlin'
I was having all sorts of trouble with my password when I last tried to write. Aunt Linda Wouldn't help me and Aunt Loretta didn't even call me back when I left a message begging for help. I think they're just jealous because they know I'm your favorite Aunt. I don't think they'll be so cocky when I get a Birthday present trip to Africa to visit you, do you?! We'll see who's laughing then!
Anyway...I think I've been married to Uncle John too long. I've turned into such a worrier. Take NO chances with the tatas! I don't want you going into any forest after dark. I also don't think it necessary to be sailing in canoes near hippos. Wearing pythons on your neck is henceforth forbidden. If you must, hold one in your hands, preferably with gloves. You do have some don't you?
The customs and sights you are seeing are fascinating. You are so lucky(and brave) to be experiencing all you are. It's so weird to think that Africans think that we have given them AIDS and that we are the ones to smell. I'm excited that you are so excited about your training. I can't wait to hear about your post.
As for us...We are off on a vacation tomorrow so I'll write when we get back. Emily is feeling better. The rip-off of it all is that there was no kissing involved! She probably got it from her friends soda or lip gloss or something so sad like that! Bummer. As always,be well and be safe.
Love, Aunt Nancy

Caity said...

cat! i am so amazed by all the things you have been up to! i really wish i could come visit you there and see you in your element. i'm so proud of you for enduring through all the tough parts (the kids following and calling you yovo) and the adjustments--you said many have already dropped out but i'm so glad you're still there! i hope you find the exclamation point on the french keyboard soon (you are too funny) and i get a kick out of your parents leaving their comments en francais. thinking of you all the time and i love reading your posts! hopefully i can get some crystal light to you, what address do i send it to? love always, Tweed

Rob said...

Hey Catherine - sorry I'm the worst brother ever and haven't been on your blog since you've been gone. Work is busy and school starts Tuesday. Everything seems good by you. What's your mailing address so I can send you a care package? The Mets are doing really well. Mom tells me you're into a game called the "gamble"- nice. I'm sure you saw Obama named his running mate. Will you do a mail in ballot? Went to vegas last weekend with erin - pretty fun...Talk to you soon - Love you