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!


maman et papa said...

We are so very proud of you – congratulations! We knew you would pass with flying colors – so here is the red white and blue waving at you!!!!

Talk to you soon – love you!

Anonymous said...

Hey buddy,
Man, your parents beat me, I thought for once I get first dibbs on your blog. Hehe. So how are ya? That's soooo great about passing French. Seriously, I'm impressed. Eating with the mayor that's cool, except for the annoying dj person. I give you a virtual hug for that (hug) You're tough though so no worries. Well all I have to say about the sex-ed, is well, good to know! That must be such a, UNIQUE, experience for you :). No conditioner, hmm, well now that you made a wish list, I'm sure you're going to get some much from your friends and family you won't even know where to put it, because: everyone loves and misses you! Well I have to bounce, start school tues, so many things to do. Hope you're doing well and take care! Cath

Aunt Loretta said...

Way to go Yovo! I knew you would do it. You're a smart cookie with a great head on your shoulders. I am going to hit the shops this weekend and will be taking your "wish" list with me. I'll get things off to you soon. Do I still send it to the address you provided us with way back when? Let me know. Love you and so proud of you.

Aunt Loretta

Uncle BigMike said...


Jan Jan said...

Hey My Wauters,

I am glad you passed you French test... considering i failed my speech check 2 times before I passed and that was in English hahaha...any who...I love the fact that you get to play with wooden penises and I have to teach kids how to write the number 1. I think you have the better end of the deal here!! NOT FAIR!

However, it is crazy the myths regarding sex, and I think you educating these children is great so they are well informed.

On MTV right now, My Super Sweet Sixteen has a show called Exiled where they send the bratty girls to weird places like Africa to show them what it is like to not be spoiled and rich. So I will watch it and think of you lol.

I start teaching tomorrow!!! I am so nervous right now!!!
Stay Strong!!! xoxoxox
Jan Jan <3

Aunt Loretta said...

Hey Cat ~

Hope you and the other PCV had a great time in Grand Popo over the weekend. As you know, I share your blog with some of my co-workers and they love hearing your updates. The one question that did pop up (no pun intended) after your latest blog was "are the wooden penises "actual true to life" size? Inquiring minds want to know. Love you lots and look forward to another update.

Aunt Loretta

Aunt Beth said...

Congratuletions Catherine! We are all so proud of you. Sorry I haven't posted in a while but the last few weeks of summer have been crazy. All I can say is "IT'S THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR!". The school bus will roll up about 7:30am tommorrow, and not a moment to soon. I was glad to hear you got all your packages, even if it was all at once. We need to plan better in the future. I hope your host family has fun with what I sent them. Please let them know how much we appreciate them looking out for you. We missed you at our Labor Day get together, you are always in our thoughts. Well tata for now, I mus go organize those school supplies. Love you, God Bless and be safe.

Erin said...

Hey Catherine,
Sounds like you are doing some fabulous things and having some great experiences! Rob and I miss you and can't wait to read more!
Be safe and love you,
<3 Erin

Aunt Linda said...

Hey Catherine,
Today was the first day of school. 8th grade is great. We missed you at the labor Day Party.

Love Cousin John
P.S I'll Write Back Soon:-)

Aunt Linda Says Hi!!

Aunt Nancy said...

Hi Catherine,
So sorry it's been so long since I've written. The family took a vacation to Italy and I kept thinking that I wished I had your number because I was in your time zone and I should have called! I just finished reading all the entries for the last 3 weeks and I can appreciate how hot you must have been. Rome was 100+ and we were dying. Uncle John had to bring 2 or 3 shirts with him wherever we were because he was soaked. We kept complaining about the temp/poor air conditioning/ lack of ice... but at the end of every day there was a fabulous meal that involved no massacre of chickens or cow carcasses.
I felt bad that you were so sick and I didn't even know it. Sometimes you feel better when you get a little sympathy from others and it stinks that you are automatically delayed your fair share of sympathy. If it makes you feel better, our Independence day wasn't so great and I'm sure the one in Benin wasn't so great either.
So what is a bushrat anyway? Is it really a rat from the bush? Give it a whirl - you may like it. Brendan's friend just got back from China and he ate cicadas as well as your friend the cockroach. He said they weren't too bad, guinea pigs were better. What is fanmilk too?
I can't believe all you are experiencing and learning. It seems to me that you are in another world, not another country. We take so much for granted here. How very lucky and also so very sad. I have been very negligent with letters and packages but I promise to try harder. The boys are back to school, so now my housework has been cut in half (really,by a million) and I should have a bit of free time.(After I read my books)! Until next time, remember that your loved and missed. Be well and be safe.
Love, Aunt Nancy xx

xo ~ Aunt Annie ~ xo said...

Congrats Catherine. I was sooo excited to receive your text message last week! What a nice surprise that was. I was happy to hear you FINALLY got everyone's you can tell, I've been thinking about your hair! :-) I knew you would enjoy THOSE items! Best wishes to you with all my love, hugs and kisses.
p.s. I cannot believe I am going to try this google/blogger AGAIN after ALL IT PUTS ME THROUGH!

Aunt Loretta said...

Hi Cat ~

Just wanted to say "Happy Swearing In Day"

So proud of you. Be well, be happy and God Bless :-)

Aunt Loretta

maman et papa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
maman et papa said...

By this time you are now officially a Peace Corp Volunteer. Congratulations! You have no idea how proud we are of all your accomplishments!

When we spoke you sounded happy and self-assured. We know that the next step will be exhilarating and frightening at the same time. We are confident you will be able to handle this without too much anxiety and are looking forward to hear of this experience.

We are also eager to know how you will “furnish” your new home and what items you may need from us. Within the next week or two we will be sending you another package. Let us know which items are urgent once you get “settled.”

Love you and God bless!

Catherine said...

Well done ! :)
French course