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.


maman et papa said...

Hello Catherine,
Great info! Should I be worried that you will be bringing a “fetish” home? Should I worry about my toe-nails? Maybe as a safeguard I will no longer clip them – lol!

As you know I get a daily amount of “Food Network” viewing and behold on one program a chef was wearing “onion goggles.” Do you think you could use this in Benin? I also think it could double as eye protection when the heavy rains come. Let me know – will get you a pair or two! You will definitely need to tell us what leaf it was – hope it was not PI!!

I must tell you a day does not go by without someone asking how you are doing. More and more people know that you are there so we get bombarded with questions. It also puts Benin on the map for them where before they would never have known country or location! I refer them to your blog (it will be in HHC newsletter this month) so I expect more remarks or questions.

We are so very proud of you. Keep up the great work and hang in there. You have a great many people backing you. Love you and miss you lots!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Hey buddy,
Wow problems with male gender, hmm, do I need to send you some pepper spray? Hope not. That's interesting about the roads, hope its not too crazy, or at least endurable w/ your bike. As for the voodoo, is it possible they have cures for certain ailments, that we in the U.S aren't aware of, you prob know what I'm getting at :) Keep me posted. As always, wonderful to hear from you! Keep safe and miss ya! Cath