Friday, August 29, 2008

Who passed their French oral exam (yeah, Janet, I said it)?! This girl did...amaaaaaaaazingly!! I don't know how because I am most definitely NOT fluent in French but I came in at Novice/Mid and after 2 more tests have officially been bumped up to Advanced/Mid. So now I can officially swear in as a volunteer next friday, the 5th.

So to answer your question A. Loretta, we came in with 64 and now have 55 in my training class because another person left. It's so funny that you mention Elliot's blog. He's a health volunteer like me so we train together every day. Plus...he has a friend in Cape Verde with the Peace Corps who knows my friend Cathryn who's in Cape Verde with Peace Corps now too...small world, even in Africa. I'm excited for pictures! Though I have to be honest, I haven't gotten any packages yet though I heard that that is more because Peace Corps mail delivery is unreliable during training and gets better afterward (like they might have just not gotten to the post office to pick up packages because it isn't just me not getting mail, really they drop off some letters like once a week.) Plus I actually have a post office in Dogbo, so I might consider opening a boite postale when i get to Dogbo if I hear that other people are having luck with it--at least for getting letters.

This week we've been doing a lot of HIV/AIDS work which I am happy about because I will be working with HIV and AIDS a lot with my ONG (NGO in french, and HIV is VIH, and AIDS is SIDA). It is really interesting to talk about the topic here and when I say interesting what I man is extremely frustrating at times. Even our trainers--some of the most educated people in Venin who operate in the upper echelons of the health ministries here just don't know some things that we take for granted, or are operating under the myths that perpetuate the terrible stigma surrounding AIDS in Africa. For example, yesterday we were talking about HIV, and the head of our health training explained to us how she was invited to go swimmng with a man she knew who was HIV positive. She wouldn't go because he knew that she knew he was HIV positive and so she thought it was innappropriate that he would ask her to go with him, and she didn't understand what he was up to. We at first thought she meant that she said she wouldn't go and he took it offensively in the wrong way, but she clarified for us that indeed, she didn't go with him because he was HIV positive and we need to be careful around HIV positive people and not trust them because they can act erratically. Sometimes they are so angry that they are sick that they want to infect everyone she said, but she didn't quite seem to get that you can't get AIDS from swimming with an HIV positive person. It was, needless to say, a really awkward moment in training. And clearly some of the other trainers didn't agree with her but also kept mute because of social heirarchy here, since she was the superior. Some other things that our trainers didn't know was the concept of what defined body fluids--semen, vaginal, blood, and breast milk--and some didn't know that breastfeeding was a means of transmission of HIV from mother to child. So I can't help but wonder how this will be out au village when we are seeing this in the capital.

Actually, today we went to a secondary school to do sensibilizations with the classes there. We split up into 3 groups about transmission, prevention, and myths and realities. I was in the class talking about prevention and doing condom demonstrations. So we have these wooden penises in bulk...and i have to say, I am really happy that my ONG in Dogbo already ahs them too because I would imagine that getting to village and having to go request the fashioning of a wooden falice would be an awkward means of introduction to the local menusier (furniture maker/carver). Even hearing what kids already knew or didn't in the class was eye-opening. Some thought having sex with a virgin was a cure, that you could get HIV from a mosquito bite, and even that White people can't get AIDS. But the kids here are pretty composed because I think that condom demonstrations in the U.S. would be extremely awkward. I worked with about 7 children and when I asked for a boy and a girl to both try to put the condom on after me at first nop one wanted to and everyone was really reserved, but by the end, everyone in my group had done it properly, listed the steps along the way, and had a ton of questions. They asked why there was no cure for AIDS, why do you have to pinch the tip when putting it on, why do you have to tie it up when you are done, why are they so greasy (they don't understand the concept of the body's natural lubrication and there is a myth that the lubricant on condoms is in fact HIV in a ploy to disseminate the disease), and also why it is necessary to thow it away in the latrine or dig a hole and bury it (if you're wondering it is because little kids here play in garbage and will see them as fun things to blow in like balloons, amongst other sanitation reasons).

So a few nights ago we were invited to dinner with the mayor of Porto Noco which was fabulous and included an amawing show of local dance and music by local artisan troupes of Porto Novo. Also, I got to go to a great fete in Cotonou last sunday with my family in celebrating the death anniversary of a family member. Birthdays here really aren't a big deal--yesterday was my host brother's b-day and I was the only one who did anything for him. But dying...well dying here is pretty fantastic for everyone except the concerned party. There is a huge fete for the death itself and the important anniversaries. Also there is a show for the dead here every night to commemorate anniversaries of death to religious music for an hour. At the fete though I was annoyed because the DJ found out my name and spent the afternoon asking me over the microphone for money and telling me he would take my bag and wallet. Finally when he said to me in English "Catherine...i need CFA" i turned around and shouted "MOI AUSSI" (me too) because I am not a freaking bank and I just wanted to enjoy my fizzy pamplemousse in peace. It was just one of those days when the harrassement was getting old.

Tomorrow I get to to go Grand Popo for a relaxing day with the trainees, and I am excited for that. I am anxious about going to post though because Porto Novo and my host family are definitely my comfort zone in Benin now. They want to louer a taxi and take me up to Dogbo to settle me in which is pretty moving into college...except not really.

Off the top of my head, those are the highlights. I've retyped this entire thing because the internet died on the first computer i was using so i am sufficiently annoyed maintenant.

Wishlist: A french press for coffee (i have a teeny one that make only 1 small cup) and actual non instant coffee since they really don't have it here and instant is trés chère.
cheapo ipod speakers from like a wallmart that can just plug into the ipod
secret clinical strength deoderant, shampoo and conditioner (there is NO conditioner here)

PS to anyone having trouble calling, i really have heard AMAZING things from other trainees whose families are using It is 12 cents a minute for Benin and you can use your CELL OR HOUSE phone because you are given a pin code to type in that they just charges the call. It is supposed to be working really well and a lot of peoples' families are using it...cheaper than phone cards too? i think...and skype.

Anywhoo...thanks for all the comments and support. It is definitely amazing to get to a computer and read what everyone says, and receiving letters is great--i read them over and over. ANd that occasional phone call really keeps me smiling for hours if not days afterwards...just ask my host maman. I definitely couldn't keep sane here without your support, so really, thank you!! Bonne chance for an amazing semester to everyone starting up again at the Cross and everywhere else!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Vacation's Over

So I got back to Porto Novo on Saturday from my post visit to Dogbo, and I can officially say that I will miss my toilet and shower. But really, Dogbo is pretty nice and I didn't spend enough time there to get the full picture of it, but I definitely enjoyed the town. I am fortunate enough to have some measure of infrastructure in the town and am not all the way out in the brush like some of my friends. It was however, definitely mostly mud houses once you get off the main road from what I could see, which is a far cry from Porto Novo. I didn't stay in my house because it wasn't ready so I stayed with the director of my NGO's wife in her concession. But I did get to see my house and it is pretty nice. It is 3 rooms-bedroom, kitchen, and living area. It is flanked by 3 other houses though I didn't really get the chance to meet my neighbors in the short time that I visited. The area around the house seems pretty nice and the concession behind me where my proprietor lives is really beautiful. I'm hoping to hang out there with some of the mama's because they all seem to be pretty nice. Behind my house I have a tiny little private outdoor area with my douche and an area that my homologue (work partner) told me was my cuisine (kitchen). In Benin, most people cook outside because they use coals and it gets extremely hot cooking in tiny spaces inside, but i plan to use that area to burn garbage and hang up a laundry line. At first I was admittedly shocked because the shower area has no roof, but I've decided that I like that better and let me tell you why.

So at the house where I was staying I had my own latrine and next to it, a douche as well. But I have to tell you that opening the door to the douche was like a little surprise each kind of creepy crawlies will be invading my shower this time? Usually it was just daddy longlegs and I decided I would leave them alone if they stayed put and didn't look like they were going to drop down from the ceiling on me when I least expected it. But my third night I opened up the door and there on the wall was a huge 2 1/2" long (at least) cockroach. Now I have to say I really don't appreciate cockroaches when they are teeny tiny ones walking around New York, never mind mutant African ones hanging out in my shower. It was a stare-down. Paralyzed with my fear/disgust at bugs, I stood there, literally for about 10 minutes pondering how to handle the situation, and he just stood there not moving as if I couldn't see him. So I found this gigantic pole, and don't ask me why but holding that pole actually made me feel inexplicably safer. From a distance I poked the roach's antennaes to see if it would have the good sense to just leave on it's own before meeting it's imminent doom, but it didn't. So I attempted to poke it a few times with the pole in Olympian javelin-like thrusts from outside of the douche but it was too elusive for me. So after about another 5 minutes I finally just sucked it up and walked into the room slowly and cautiously and heaved my foot at the wall as I kind of seized up at the same time. I got the damn thing but only slightly so it fell to the floor spastically on it's back and started sputtering around, when i walked over and put the Kabbash (aka my shoe) on the roach for good--THAT is a disgusting crunch. My problem with killing bugs here is that they are SO fast that I have this non-sensical fear that if I try to kill them and miss that they will come back with a vengeance...especially spiders. There is this spider here that is really really flat and moves like lightning (truly disgusting) and the same for the roaches. Ugh, it makes me shudder just to think of them. So anyway, the point is, at least my douche at my house is not in a small enclosed closet-like space with the threat of bugs falling down on me--just the stars, which-- by the way--are beautiful here. I don't have running water or anything in my house so we'll see how that goes, and my latrine is around the back and is for me only--it has a lock and is pretty secure. And the wall built around my "backyard" where my douche and cuisine are is lined with broken glass shards from bottles, etc. set into the cement to discourage anyone from jumping over.

I'm also pretty lucky because even though the language of the Couffo region where Dogbo is is Adja, mostly everyone I came across understood French, which is EXTREMELY nice to know. I also had a few other Yovo sightings when I was there, though they are mostly French--but it is good to know that Dogbo is used to having Yovos pass in and out because sometimes it is difficult if you are in the smaller villages where there has never been one before. The marché is every 5 days but I can still find mostly everything that I need when it isn't marché day either in little vendor stalls or on women's heads as they walk around selling stuff which is nice because Dogbo is a big enough town.

I didn't spend enough time with my work partner or ONG (NGO in French) to formulate a definite opinion of either, but they seem really nice and I guess I will be getting to know the organization and my work partner better eventually no matter what. I made the rounds with my homologue to visit the police, gendarmerie , mayor, hospital, health center, PTT (post office), and all of the other important people in Dogbo so that I could start to get to know them, and kind of just as a security precaution that is required by Peace Corps. And perhaps most importantly (except not really) I found the FanMilk Depot in Dogbo on the main road just a 10 minute walk away from chez moi. FanMilk, I've discovered, really has the power to make even the worst of days just that much better.

I was in Dogbo from Weds to Saturday and there were definitely times when I was by myself and it can get lonely. So I walked out to the marché and made my first marché mama friend. She was this little old woman who was really sweet and asking me all about why I was there etc. and did the whole saluer-ing thing with me. I also went to this 'Cafeteria' which reminded me of one of the diners in Worcester (the bully) in a way and the stuff there was pretty tasty. Plus when I passed by it later the woman who worked there waved and smiled at me, and salué-ed so it was that kind of stuff that made me feel okay there and like I would be able to make this whole living in Africa thing work. And it will be nice when I go back in September because I will have another Peace Corps Volunteer in Dogbo with me and there are a bunch of volunteers nearby in neighboring villages only like a half hour or so away.

When I left, I took the brush taxi by myself for the first time--even though my homologue discuter-ed the bonne prix for me before I got in. I have to say, traveling in Benin really puts a new meaning to the phrase 'Bon Voyage' for me. Whenever someone (ie- my work partner) says 'Bon Voyage' to me as I descend into a brush taxi, I say my obligatory "merci" but I really can't help thinking "fat chance" considering there are already 12 other people in this clown car you call a taxi and you want me to put my grosses fesses where? At least there were no animals in the car.

Coming home was awesome. It was great to see my host family and I think my 'maman' was surprised when i gave her a big hug--I was surprised how much i missed them after a few days of being away. They want to take me up to Dogbo when I move to help me settle in, but I don't know if that could work logistically since Peace Corps is getting me a car to take all of my stuff--It would be nice though, and my fam doesn't have a car or anything so they would have to louer a taxi. We went to this great fete saturday night at a museum in Porto Novo. It was a beautiful cool evening and my 'papa' had invitations to this cultural festival. An evening of Beninese dance and song, under the stars when the power cut out (twice--again...infrastructure), and I had a really amazing time...especially when my little sister who really likes to dance decided to march up on stage randomly and dance away much to the delight of everyone in attendance including the Mayor and King of Porto Novo. Well anyway, I could go on but I've been here for an hour and should prob get going. I will come back later in the week and write more! I miss you all!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Pizza in Benin...

Remember how I said the chicken was the best thing I had had in Benin? I take it back. Today we had another cooking session this time with western food and we made pizza. That's right...Pizza. But not only pizza, we made cookies too. Some of the PCVs took a taxi to cotonou to search out mozarella cheese and we all made these little personal pizzas with delicious fresh vegetables from the marché. We even baked the crusts ourselves. It was honestly better than a lot of pizza I've had at home because it was SO fresh and not processed. You can find the yeast packets and baking sodas and all that jazz in the little marchés and stores around, and they bought chocolate in cotonou to chop up and toss in the cookie dough. Plus I thought that when I left that I wouldn't be able to bake for 2 years but they showed us how to make a little dutch oven by propping up tomato paste cans in the bottom of a pot and baking in a pan over a low flame with the lid closed. You just have to doucement with your hands because it is tricky to get the pan out at the end. It was pretty exciting for everyone, to be entirely honest. Especially after this week because pretty much everyone is getting worn out from training and all the french and the cultural overload. Post visit is this week so it should be good to have a slight break from the routine and get out of Porto Novo for a few days.

Yesterday we went to a school to teach a class for kids on diarrhea and hand washing. It actually went really well. The kids were really well behaved except for when you ask for someone to answer a question because they all jump up raising their hands, smacking their lips in a kissing noise, and repeat ad nauseum "Ici, ici" (here, here). It might not sound annoying...but it is. And it is just generally not tolerated by TEFL volunteers so they tell us not to tolerate it either, even if it is how Beninese instructors run their classrooms. I think it can be avoided if you lay down your ground rules when you walk into a classroom and say that you will not call on students who conduct themselves that way but we didn't do that so it was our own faux pas. So the demonstration was a little difficult because there wer five of us ranging in french levels from the highly proficient to the barely proficient and non-engaging. Some parts were great and the kids were really engaged and answering, but in the beginning it took a few minutes for them to get going. The teacher also pretty much repeated everything we said anyway because even with high proficiency the kids didn't understand us all of the time. Now, I don't know if that is due to our bad accents or if they are just thrown by the fact that yovos are speaking french, because I've had this problem before (some of the younger children don't actually speak french though, and only know local languages like Fon and Goun).

But for example, a few weeks ago I went to a little boutique to buy credit for my phone and said to the woman sitting there (after saluer-ing her, naturally) "Je voudrais une carte de recharge pour glo." (I'd like a recharge card for glo--my company). She looked at me with a blank expression and said to me "Je ne parle pas anglais." (I don't speak english). Well, frankly I was a little thrown off because I hadn't spoken a word of english so I thought I'd give it another try and spoke a little slower, saying "Je veux acheter une carte de recharge pour glo." (I want to buy a recharge card for glow). Well...if you could only see the look of yovo frustration that I got at that moment when she perfect and slowly articulated english, mind you, "I do not speak English very well." I'm pretty sure that after a few seconds of surprise at hearing her speak English, I threw her a look of equal exasperation as i whipped out my phone and a 2,000CFA bill, and started gesturing at the sign for glo, but that seemed to get the message across, and there wasn't really a problem after that. Money talks, right? haha. And if all else fails, gesture wildly with props. But definitely can be frustrating sometimes, as amusing as it is in retrospect.

But anyway, so the school was a great experience and the children are very energetic but intense. I have to go for now (this is just a short post on my way home) but I will talk more about the school systems here some other time because it is definitely interesting. Ta-ta for now.

PS-Aunt Loretta...better get on didn't beat my mom and dad AND i beat you with a second post...uh oh. :) Miss you all

Oh...and yeah, there is definitely a cholera outbreak in Southern Benin right now that has already killed one person and has over 100 people sick. How delightful is that? Ou est l'eau de javel?

Friday, August 15, 2008

Oh, Sweet Infrastructure

So I told myself when I got back from Tanzania that I was going to do my best to not complain when I was stuck in traffic because of construction on the roads. After having our car get stuck on several occasions in massive amounts of mud during the rainy season there, forcing us to hop out and trek through it up to our bomba in our sneakers (prompting me to buy galoshes for benin) I thought to myself...well, at least we have the infrastructure to fix our roads when we really need them in the U.S.. I'll be honest, when I got home I still complained a little, but maybe after 2 years of this I'll stop. Getting around Benin in rainy season is not fun. The road that I take to the school where I train every day is dirt for the most part, and there is a lot of sand too. So even when it is dry my bike gets stuck in these massive sand pits all of the time which completely throws of my balance. About 3 weeks after I got here the rain had finally washed away a part of my was a completely disgusting, muddy mess and EVERY day when i got there I would have to dismount and walk my bike through this crooked little offroad path to get around it with way too many Beninese shouting "Yovo, doucement" (watch out, whitey). I was however, pleasantly surprised one day on my way to school when after about 2 weeks the road was repaired. Now, mind you...when I say repaired, I mean that there was dirt/sand brought in and dumped into the mud pit and packed down to raise the road back up. Since we're entering the little dry season it has been pretty well maintained too since they fixed it. So I don't know WHO fixed the road or when exactly, but the hint of mild infrastructure had me mildly surprised. I know that with the road that gave us so much trouble in Tanzania, at the end of rainy season all of the villagers came out and fixed it together, but optherwise they just dealt with it during the rains. I had the same level of surprise when a tree fell and blocked about 3/4 of the road one day but by that afternoon it was cleared. Maybe it is because we are in the capital...I really don't know.

Another infrastructure issue--Trash the sense that...there IS none. Stuff gets chucked to the side of the road and c'est tout. There is garbage everywhere and I see people all of the time carting big wheelbarrows to the teeny crossbridge by my house and deposit their garbage into the marsh below. It is pretty gross. My host family actually has a person come every so often and take the garbage away but I haven't exactly figured out what happens to it after that. Au village IF there are latrines, a lot of people throw things down the latrines. When I was on my tech visit, the volunteer showed us how to burn our trash safely, but it doesn't seem like burning garbage is une bonne idée. At the school we just kind of formed a pile of garbage that gets bigger every day and I guess over time will decompose (fingers crossed). But everything here is given in plastic bags (sachets) so I am going to start using my tote bag when i go to the marché at post in order to cut down on stuff like that. TO burn the garbage we need to use petrol from the marchés. And really, some of the marchés are like little wonderlands and you'd be SO surprised what you can find there, like Lipton's just that Nothing is ever garaunteed. Très bizarre.

So earlier this week we went to visit a traditional healing woman, a practicer of vodun or voodoo. She talked to us about her "fetish" which is a thing (don't ask what the thing're not allowed to actually view it, and it is wrapped up and hidden in the corner of the room) used for practicing voodoo. Many families have familial fetishes. And a little aside about voodoo...if you cut your toenails or hair here burn or dispose of your clippings because it is BAD gris gris and you do not want it used in voodoo, if you leave it lying out for the taking. But anyway, She inherited hers from her father because she was the oldest girl in her family who survived and there were no boys. So when people go to her, she will try to heal them, and she will consult the fetish for permission to heal the person and for it to bestow its power on the treatment that she will use (various natural medications from leaves, etc.) She said she can not heal tuberculosis, and often she treats 'crazyness'--the village fou's. For yovos it takes a much longer time to help because usually they don't actually believe in the vodun but she said she has worked with yovos in the past with great success. I was surprised to learn how long it takes for treatment via local medicine to work because she said the person would have to come back several times over a period of a few months until they were healed. AND i was also surprised at her price tag. I thought that people would go the traditional route because they couldn't afford it but she charges 25,000CFA up front for a first consultation and 100,000CFA at the end for the actual healing, usually. I mean, granted she admitted that there is nothing to stop someone from getting treated and then not paying but it still seemed très chère. The fetish will go to her daughter when she dies who is now studying medicine also. The hospitals and traditional healers here seem to work together sometimes. For example if she can not heal a person she sometimes sends them to a hospital and visa versa, she said--which I found particularly interesting. A lot of the time here, people hate and don't trust the hospitals because they associate it with people dying. But it is a truly painful cycle because the reason that so many people die is because they avoid going for so long that by the time they do when they are really sick it is already too late to help. It is a HUGE problem in Benin, especially with Malaria.

Okay, so yeah...despite all that I still ate the chicken last week...only a little though. It was really tough and I didn't love it too much. But going off of the traditional practices idea, it was really cool because I had been cutting onions and crying my eyes out (the onions here are truly potent and if I am even in the room when they are being cut by someone else i start tearing up). So one of the facilitators handed me a leaf...i need to get the name...and told me to put it in my mouth and I literally stopped crying immediately. It really worked extremely well and I found that to be amazing.

So I am having a really difficult week here in terms of high frustration levels with the men of Benin. It's really difficult to get through a day here without a marraige proposal or some other kind of harassement from someone, and for some of the other female trainees and I, it's becoming a huge cultural barrier to overcome. I've definitely found myself in a few situations where I am just not comfortable and end up leaving. I just have to take a deep breath I think, and find a coping mechanism that will keep me sane. But other than that, life is good. I'm enjoying the little dry season so far because it is cooler, usually, and I get to go to visit my post next week, so that is pretty exciting. Thanks for the info on the Oueme river...I did not, in fact, know all of that. I don't know the exact name of the petite village either...mon faux pas.

I'm glad you got my letter, Cath. As much as it is disappointing and a morale killer when people early terminate their service (and two more people did this week...) I at least know that they will be heading back to the states within a few days or week and will be dropping off my letters in the U.S. post...haha. :) Well that is all for now. Hope all is well with everyone over on the other side of the Atlantic. I hope I start getting your snail mail soon, if you sent something (I just got a letter from the start of July that took a little va-cay in Uganda before meandering over to Benin despite the fact that the envelope clearly said WEST AFRICA on it...oh well...c'est la vie.) Miss you all a lot.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Great Success

OK--so I am a little frustrated because I just got kicked off the internet 5 times and if this post gets erased I will officially be annoyed. But I am otherwise in a good mood because of 2 events in particular that happened this week. Firstly...there is this store near where I have class that I and some trainees sometimes go to to just to get out for a bit. Every time we went the little kids there would break out into song--the Yovo song that is. "Yovo Yovo Bonsoir. ça va bien, merci..." and it goes on. Usually it is more tolerable when the kids call me yovo than adults, but finally one day I had enough and took a leaf out of the other volunteers' books and said to the little girl "Ce n'est pas yovo. Yovo n'est pas gentile. Je suis Madame." It's not yovo, yovo isn't nice. Call me madame, pretty much, en anglais. So the other day I went back there and the girl came up behind me and said "Bonsoir madame." I have to say, it was pretty amazing and felt like a major breakthrough. one down...lots to go.

Second, yesterday I went out to catch a zemijahn, and i got the vrai prix without a problem. Usually there is a beninese price for things and a yovo price for things. It is not simple to buy ANYthing here--you have to bargain for everything, including rides on zems. So yesterday when I greeted the zem driver and asked him how much the price was to where I was going, I knew it should have been about 200CFA and my host dad said it might even be 250CFA so I was expecting to have to discuter for that, figuring he would have started at like 300CFA or something. But when i asked the zem the price he didn't try to jack it up for the yovo, and he told me 200CFA flat out. I was pretty excited. It's an interesting dynamic here because with our carte blanche we get the best and the worst treatment at the same time. Like we could be charged way more for a ride on a brush taxi...but we might get the best seat in the house because the driver would save it for the yovo. It's really interesting. Tourists definitely don't help because tourists don't discuter (bargain) the prix. They just pay it because it is still so cheap to them. That's why everyone thinks we are rich and are always asking us to give them things...when you're on a volunteer's a bit more problematic, and the idea of the white man just giving stuff out is a overarching problematic social issue. That's what I liked about Peace Corps to begin with --is that it followed the whole self sufficiency idea of teach a man to fish so that the communities could help themselves as opposed to just throwing money at a social issue, but I've so far found that it is still a hard mindset to overcome here, because that's largely just how it has been done for a long time, by a lot of people.

Friday we went au village again to do a demonstration on cooking enriched food for the village, and to talk to them about pre and post natal care as well as family planning. It's better each time we go because we start to recogniwe the women and visa versa so we are able to build a rapport with them little by little. Each time we go they seem more engaged and willing to participate, and they clearly seem more at ease with us now than the first time when we were just a bunch of yovos. But it is still hard because our french is not that good and we do the presentations in french and then have some one else come and translate our french into the local language-- so you can imagine it is quite the process.

Saturday we had a beninese cooking session and we killed a scratch what i said the other day about not feeling bad about killing chickens because they are delicious. Maybe if it was the rooster outside my room that wakes me up at 5:30 every morning I wouldn't have felt as bad but I couldn't stand watching the chicken being killed. It wasn't very big, and to be humane the facilitators gave it a last drink of water. Then one of the trainees stood on the wings in a way while another held the feet so that it cuoldn't squirm, but it was making a terrible noise. Then another trainee cut it's throat but it was really terrible because the knife was so dull and she didn't know how hard she would have to press so it was more or less hacking away and it took awhile for the chicken to die. Ugh...I don't think I will ever do that. You can pay people in the marchés and extra 100CFA to kill and pluck them for you and that seems totally worth it. After we let the blood drain we dunk it in a pot of boiling water and pluck outthe feathers...the feathers that you can't get you burn off over a fire. I mean, in general it was still a really interesting thing to do...just sad.

And yesterday definitely had to have been my favorite day in Benin. I was invited to go "promenading" with my friend Heidi and her family and another trainee. But promenading really turned out to be a boat trip, which was fabulous. We went out to this village that floods during the rainy season so we got in a little pirogue (canoe type boat) and met up with the river Oueme and took it to her papa's old village. It was incredible to see these little huts built above the water. The cows, pigs, chickens, etc were all kept in these built up cages. They were made of sticks and just piled up grass on the water and were extremely small. I guess they always have to add more grass and stuff because the animals were eating it too...that could be a problem. Everyone is riding around in little boats, and even the school and the hospital (it was actually closed when we were there to use its latrines because the doctor was on strike since there is no medicine) were like little islands. It's hard to believe when rainy season is over it is all dry land. We took the little pirogue up to a house and went in to visit the friend of the man who took us and it is definitely a whole other world from Porto Novo...little mud floor and thatched roofs. The whole house was a little bigger than my bedroom at home, and the door was reaaaaaaaally tiny. But the whole day was just amazing--gorgeous and sunny, and being on the water was great. Of course we all forgot sunscreen on the first completely sunny day in Benin, but that's time. Well I have a lot more to report but I will save some for later this week.

That is pretty exciting about the Beninese Olympic athletes...i hope that they do well. Also, apologies aunt beth...i should not have ASSumed. my faux pas.

I'll try to come back here some time between weds and friday...It's so wierd to think that I normally would be getting ready to go back to school in 2 weeks and summer should be ending because it is just like summer here allll the time and now we are starting to enter the short dry season until september so the humidity has dropped off A LITTLE. Haven't gotten any mail yet, but I'll let you know when it comes in. Lies, i actually did get a letter from grandma if you could tell her. Love and miss you all.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Ode to Secret Clinical Strength

I'd like to take a minute to sing the praises of the wonder that is Secret Clincal Strength Deoderant. That stuff is AMAZING. I mean, really...every single inch of your body can be sweating profusely but your arms are good to go. If I come back for a visit next year I would consider filling a suitcase with it for the return trip so I could slather it on all over...haha...that might not be a good idea though.

Thanks to everyone for the well wishes...i am DEFINTELY feeling better though we have a few people in the med Unit right now with amoebas and what i had seems to have gone around for a lmot of trainees. Glad thats over...for now. So the pictures at the cyber are not working out (sorry U. mike...and A. Annie...i know YOU would have wanted to see the spider picture too, wink wink) and I have to find another way to get some up...maybe when I get back to headquarters. We went to the marché today to do some price checking as a group and that was a really interesting experience. I had already gone a few time but not really gotten to see some of the stuff I saw today--it is a BIG marché. So we went over to the meat section and saw this big slab of meat hanging from a hook (it smells really bad there) and all of a sudden i notice on the floor next to me half in half out of this big metal bowl is the entire skin in one giant piece of the cow that is hanging up...It's hooves were attached and everything. I honestly have never seen ANYthing like it and it turned my stomach a little to see it. I mean the meat looked okay but seeing that was just unexpected. The vendor had his money sitting out on a pile of intestines which really makes me wonder about how dirty the money that i have is. The piles and piles of chickens sitting out in the marche are interesting too. They are all so sad looking and tied together. I don't feel THAT bad about the chickens though...they are the most delicious thing in Benin so far. If i eat any more unidentified fish pulled from a dirty river I might freak out...but sundays chez moi so far appears to be chicken day and it is the most delicious day of the week. I don't know how Ill be able to keep that up at post because you cant really buy and store chicken without a fridge. Its expenisive in supermarchés to buy chicken like how we have it in the US and to buy a chicken in the market and have them kill it for you means you have to eat the thing that day pretty much. Plus there ARE no supermarchés in Dogbo because they are so a yovo thing and are mostly in the big cities. I guess I will find out. They also have little puppies and kittens in the marché for a little over 1,000CFA and I definitely plan on getting a kitten--they are good for eating lizards and bugs in your house and I would be saving it from being dinner since they eat cats,dogs, and bushrat here. I haven't eaten any of that yet...Though i hear that bushrat is actually really good.

My family here actually does have a frig and freezer which is really unusual and they make ice and sell it to people all the time for 25CFA (about 400CFA per US dollar and dropping daily, as you know better than I, I am much is gas in NY now?). And yeah...its pretty normal for us to call our host families "mama" and "papa" and "mama" is a general sign of respect here. Like any volunteer who comes to my house calls my "mama" that and that is how you greet women in the marché too.

This is an entirely random observation that I forgot to mention earlier...belly buttons. Kids belly buttons here are often very deformed and in discussing it with volunteers it seems unsure why, though possibly having to do with innapropriate cutting of the umbilical chord at birth. It seems more common out in au village, but the other day this kid pulled his shirt up and it literally looked like a baseball was attached to his stomach it was so big.

Second random observation: Cement. The value of cement here is really is a huge symbol of status...Like to have a cement floor is pretty amazing. So often times, people will not invest their money in the bank but will instead invest money in cement, buying bags and or bricks of it. THey store it in their yards for when they have enough to build something or add onto their house. THere are so many unfinished buildings here because they start them, money runs out, and then they wait for more to continue. It's really kind of fascinating. On ly tech visit last week before I got sick we drove by the cement factory and the driver of the bus was pointing it out with A LOT of pride and it turns out that it manufactures ALL of the cement for the area and is tres important because of that fact.

C'est tout pour maintenant, je pense. (that's all for now, I think). But i will try to come back some time early next week when there is some stuff to report. There is a bday fete for a trainee on sunday which should be fun. There is also a trainee here who extended her 2 years of service with Peace COrps in Ukraine who just turned 30 so we already had a little partay for her too. Its a nice bit of normalcy every now and then to have it. I am pretty spoiled with internet in Porto Novo, because I will definitely not be able to post this much (probably only 2-3 times a month) when i get to Dogbo. THAT will be interesting.

Im sad about the tums too though I still have some for now...i think I might finally win aganist the ants...sneaky little insects...I devised a plan. I have this little pack of crackers double wrapped in ziplock bags and put in a plastic bag suspended midair from my mosquito net. I'd like to see those ants figure THAT out...though with my luck I'll get home now and there will be ants all over my crackers...(sigh).

I am IMPRESSED by the research A. Loretta. Yes i DID make a wish at the tree, lol. I wish I could get my pics up from Ouidah...I have to figure something out with that. I can't wait to go to Grand Popo.

Hope all is well with you...yeah...Aidan is a saint compared to my little brother here, aunt beth. lol. he just swings open the door and starts slamming it or throws himself on the ground screaming. Sorry the mail was très chère, but I promise I'll appreciate it more than you know (exclamation point), lol. Miss you all a lot and am steadily working on my letter writing.

Monday, August 4, 2008

You Know it is Humid When...

1. The cover of your hard cover book has actually begun to curl up
2. The envelopes that you brought have begun to inconveniently seal themselves
3. One can sit perfectly still while expending little to no energy and STILL be sweating. IS as delightful as it sounds...haha. It's actually not THAT hot out today because there is a nice breeze. Okay, so I just got back from my technical visit with a volunteer in Pobé (an hour or so away from Porto Novo). Wednesday we went "au village" to do a sensibilization (teaching session) about cooking. We basically teach how to work within the parameters of what is available within their community to build on and enhance what they already do. So for example, the women were there cooking these beignets, and what we taught them was how to find, ecrisée (crush or grind) and add soy for protein in them. So they were the same thing, but healthier. We also made a moringa sauce with it which is that really nutritionally dense plant. The men of the village came too and they dont really do much but apparently they make sure the women do what they learned at home later on. The men and the women always work seperately and the men always get served first--I don't know if I am ever REALLY going to embrace that aspect of this culture.

So, Friday August 1st was Benin's Independence Day. I wish I could regale you with some spectacular tale of how it is celebrated here. As it is, I myself spent the day lying in the volunteers house with a 102 degree fever, throbbing head, and a stomach so bloated it hurt to even touch it with a finger. C'est la vie, right? Thus, having left the United States on July 3, this brings the tally to 2 independence day celebrations that I have missed this summer. Apparently there was a fete and parade and a lot of dancing, etc. but I guess I will have to wait until NEXT August to tell you.

Something that I did not know was that the actor Djimon Hounsou from Gladiator and Blood Diamond is Beninoise, and he was here yesterday. My "papa" met him and if i had been a home a little earlier, I would have gotten to go with him, but oh well.

Training is going well even though it feels like it is taking forever! I am pretty excited to see my post and I think my post visit is coming up on August 20...I go for 5 days there with my work partner to see the village, my house, my ONG (NGO en francais) that I will be working with, etc. It will be good, though I am nervous too. Another trainee decided to leave after the technical visit so we are down another one and usually a few more duck out after the post visit too. It tends to be RCH and EA (health and environment) over SED and TEFL (Small enterprise development and teaching english as a foreign language) who tend to early terminate and no one really knows why except that those two programs lack as much structure as the other two. So it actually felt nice to get back "home" in Porto Novo and my fam was pretty excited...especially Mariane and Matthew. Apparently being away broke some kind of barrier, and now they are all over me all the time to play and hang out. It's kind of cute...exhausting...but cute. But I am struck by how badly the littlest boy acts sometimes because his siblings are so well behaved. So I don't know if it is that he is spoiled and can get away with throwing tantrums or if he will just grow out of it and more like his brothers. Kids in this culture generally do EVERYthing for their parents...they are the go getters-definitely different from the U.S.

But yes mom and dad, I help out in the kitchen cooking and doing the dishes and it makes my 'mama' really happy because most of the other trainees aren't when she speaks to their families (you think you're soooooooo funny writing in french). But then again a lot of families don't want us to help out of they have domestiques to do the cooking because we are in the city so a lot of families here are pretty well off. I think that is really going to be a rough transition when we get out to post. I usually eat bread for breakfast with some hot cocoa or tea and butter or confiture, and lunch and dinner consist of eggs, pate (a pretty much nutritionally defunct mix of flour and water that is the staple of the diet here and many AFrican countries by different names) pasta, fish (i swear the fish is getting to be a bit much) etc. It is pretty repetetive. Cant wait to get more fruits and veggies when i get to post...I am definitely craving it.

Kuehn!!! I plead the fifth on that one but you MAY be right. lol. ask her. Zildlife so far actually hasn't been THAT extensive except for farm animals alllllll the time. Seen some interesting birds with these really long tails flying around. They are pretty and blue colored. I have an awesome picture of a spider to post so I will try to bring my camera later this week to the cyber.

Thanks for all your comments! Sometimes I start to feel reaaaaaally lonely here and then I get online and read your stuff and it makes me smile again. If there was a printer here, I would print it out and bring it back with me but there isn't so i can't wait for snail mail. lol. Alright. THat's all for now! à teut à l'heure! Miss you all!