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.


Aunt Loretta said...

Good morning Sunshine ~ I've got to tell you, after your last two posts I don't know if I can continue eating meat. I was out fishing with Uncle Mike a few weeks ago and I have a problem with that too. Veggies are sounding better and better each day. Well, I've got to run to work, but I'll be back later tonight to comment some more ... just had to beat Maman and Papa

maman et papa said...

Hello Pumpkin,
One again you furnish us with amazing information. Some notes I found on the river: “The Ouémé River is the main river in Benin which starts in the northwestern sector. It is approximately 310 miles (510 km) long and flows southward where it is joined by its main affluent, the Okpara and the left bank and by the Zou on the right. It then divides into two branches, one discharging into Lake Nokoue in the Niger Delta near Cotonou and the other into Logoon Porto-Novo. Rain forests grow along the shores; navigation, although impeded by rapids, is possible during the rainy season. The river’s fish, including freshwater and processed, is exported to Nigeria and Togo. Millet, sweet potatoes, and yams are cultivated, and the Ouémé Valley development scheme has been undertaken to improve agriculture.” Another article stated that in 2006 a study was done and “organochlorine and organophosphorous pesticide residues were measured in more than 35 sediment samples collected on nine locations along the Ouémé River from upstream to downstream. Except for one location, Tanéka-Koko, all areas were contaminated by more than 20 pesticides.” Sounds like the Hudson River. Were you aware of this?
Would have been interesting to know what town you were in so we could find some information on it too. Chicken without a head – sorry but could not resist. I would agree with you, pay a couple extra franks and get a “clean” chicken – more enticing then having to do all that yourself. By the way, what did you do with the chicken once it was feathered? Did you eat it or the whole ordeal left you without an appetite?
Unless I misunderstand it seems that you do a lot of promenades although it does not necessarily mean you are always walking. Is this something that is done daily or only on weekends with family and friends? Now that you have a few dry days ahead of you, are the roads you travel better or now they are dusty and bumpy?
Well keep the info coming. It’s always fascinating to read about your adventures. We will be missing it once you get on post and cannot update it as often. By the way, maybe we can develop a “code” so I know the “blog” is updated then we can always be the first to read it and comment! LOL :)
Love you!

Uncle BigMike said...

Good luck getting the best of Loretta.She works on a computer at work and has two at home.You might beat her once in awhile...........I'll write when I read your blog.

Andrea said...

Hey Wauters! I can't believe you actually witnessed first hand the slaughter of a chicken. You are much braver than me! I love reading your posts because they can make me forget where I am and just envision where you are. Things have been tough lately..Kevin and I broke up and I am trying the best I can to stay busy. I really miss you and wish you were here! P.S. I think its awesome that you told that little girl off!!-Keep it up!

Andrea said...

Hey Wauters! I can't believe you actually witnessed first hand the slaughter of a chicken. You are much braver than me! I love reading your posts because they can make me forget where I am and just envision where you are. Things have been tough lately..Kevin and I broke up and I am trying the best I can to stay busy. I really miss you and wish you were here! P.S. I think its awesome that you told that little girl off!!-Keep it up!

Aunt Linda said...

Catherine, All I can say is wooo-This stuff is incredible!!! I feel like I'm in school working on a Social Studies project- it is fascinating!I hope a get 100%, if I keep reading and you keep writing I will. Be safe!
ps your Maman & Papa& godmother are pretty smart also!

Catherine said...

Hey buddy,
How are you? Sorry took me a few days to read your blog. Once again, you deliver with lovely bits of details and amazing adventures that bring some exitement into boring NY. Oh, great news, got your letter today!!!!!! Yippee! I of course am already writing a response! Well hope all is well and take care of yourself chica. TTYL Cat