Monday, September 29, 2008

Where to Begin?

A lot has happened since the last time I blogged but then I sit down and can't remember all the things I wanted to say. I guess a fun starter is that I saw this pig being slaughtered the other day which was really disturbing. It was at the end of the road by my house and the thing was tied up on a table. A man pulled him to the edge of the table so its head hung off over a bucket and just stabbed him in the throat but it was squealing so loud it was a little too intense for me.

I've also had a bad week with bugs. Cockroaches are officially ruining my favorite time of the day--night time bucket shower under starlight before bed--with their constant presence just outside of my house. Better out then in though I guess...not that that even applies because I still get them in my house. On the bright side, Scout caught, killed, and ate her first roach the other day, reassuring me that she is indeed a savvy investment. I never really imagined getting to a point where I would prefer having spiders in my house...or hey, even roaches sound good after I found 2 scorpions on my wall the other day. I killed them toute suite, and had to bat scout away from them. I also painted so hopefully that will help me be able to see them more easily because they really blended with the cement walls before and I was lucky I noticed. I took a picture, and I found high speed internet in Lokossa when I went to the bank so I will bring my camera next time I go and upload my pictures.

Last monday I went to Lokossa for the bank which was the first time I went out and got a bush taxi for myself--I was pretty happy. The chauffer told me it would cost me 3,000CFA and I told him that was ridiculous and knew the real price, and that I wouldn't pay more than 400CFA for the half hour trip, and he conceded. This is one yovo that trick won't work with. Lokossa is a really nice town and it has a lot of things available there. I even found an eggplant which I used for an eggplant parm-type dish, minus the cheese naturally. It was really amazing. I've also mastered the art of making garlic bread in my little skillet so it was quite the Italian feast. I need to find a baking pan so that I can complete the makings of my little dutch oven.

So my house is finally coming along. I painted all the rooms--I should mention that everyone in Dogbo thinks I am crazy because I am a woman and I painted ALL by myself. I had my homologue and menusier come by just to see me in the middle of painting and congratulate me on my painting, my neighbors and people in the marché laugh at me, received looks of shock and awe elsewhere, and even my zem driver who dropped me off with the big bucket of paint at my house asked me 'You're going to paint? Toi meme? (you yourself?)' So, yay for cross cultural exchange and showing that at home this is entirely normal. I also made curtains for my 'living room' and my menusier is steadily working on the furniture so hopefully soon I can officially stop living out of my suitcases as I have been since July 1--THAT will be glorious. And I also moved my bed so now when it rains I won't wake up in the middle of the night to water dripping on my leg. I had my menusier make this table with a hole cut in it so that I can place a bowl in it so I was able to create a sort of pseudo-bathroom counter/sink area which makes me really happy. I fill it with water from my garbage can-o-water in the morning and use it for the day to wash my hands and face. THe next day I'll usually use the water for rinsing out other things, starting laundry, etc. You get really good at being resourceful with water here. It will be strange, I think, to come home and be able to turn on a tap and have as much water as I want whenever I want it--for showers too, or to not have to use filtered and boiled water to even brush my teeth, and I wonder if I'll ever really be comfortable with it again. I love showers, and dishwashers, and washing machines. But me, my dishes, and my clothes are clean here after I wash them, and now I know how little water it takes to do that. I think I have disappointed my petite, Basil (the kid who goes and gets me water every week for 25CFA a basine--it takes four basines to fill up my big garbage can) and this other girl who always comes to visit named Filomene because I like to do my laundry myself. The volunteer before me used to pay them to do her laundry and they always ask to do mine but the truth is that I like doing laundry. And even if I didn't I don't like other people touching my dirty clothes so I would probably do it anyway. Here's the thing...there's something really satisfying to having dirty clothes, putting some effort and soap into it, and getting clean, good smelling clothes when you are done. I think it's ironic because we build things to make our lives 'easier' at home but in a way they complicate things too. For example, laundry takes me a wicked long time...but when I'm done I'm spent and my arms are really tired. At home it would take a lot less time to toss a load in the machine, but then I'd have to use that time at the gym doing arm exercises instead to achieve the same result--what's the point. This is like the ultimate multitasking. And slightly random, I got a fan: Amazing.

Now that that is coming along I feel like I can explore Dogbo more and get out to meet more people. The people around my area are all starting to saluer me more and call me by my name, etc. which is really nice. But I haven't spent much time off of the Goudron or pavé (the two main roads in Dogbo that are paved) and need to start seeing more of the town on the terre rouge (red earth--non paved roads, which comprise most of dogbo).

So on my way to the marché yesterday I got a phone call from the French doctor who lives in Dogbo and works at Hopital St. Camille at the end of my street. She has been here for a year and will be leaving in June. Her husband is a professor at the CEG (school) here and they have two little adorable boys. Anyway she invited me and my postmate over for lunch with her fam and the French laboratory technician, who has already been here 3 years and leaving in 2 months. They are with the French NGO Fidesco. It was a lot of fun and we had lasagna (with a cream type sauce--no cheese) with salad (really just lettuce with a light vinagrette) which was absolutely amazing. It tasted so delicious and familiar. On a random note related to that, I found green peppers with my veggie mama at the last marche day and bought 2 even though they are pretty darn expensive and was able to make egg salad which tasted fabulous. So I felt so happy to be able to hang out in the presence of other yovos yesterday afternoon that I actually started to feel guilty about it. I realized that there is a definite yovo solidarity kind of thing that happens here. When you see another yovo on the street in a town like Dogbo(I mean to say not in the capital or Cotonou, or tourist spots like grand popo and park pendjari) you stop and talk to them and it is entirely clear that what brought you to stopping is that you are both white and 'what the heck are you doing here' is going through both your heads. But I couldn't help but think when I got home last night that why should that--spending time with other yovos--make my day? Isn't it counter to what I am trying to achieve here? But the more I thought about it the more I came to realize it wasn't just that they were yovos that mattered, it was that we share a pretty common culture. You can say Europe is a different culture from the U.S. all you want but we share some pretty basic western values and behaviors that are markedly different from Beninese culture. I can talk to a French man who is already married and it is completely normal--there's no chance that it will turn into a sketchy marriage proposal or anything like that. I can saluer him in the street and shake his hand and not worry about a leering look or that he won't let go of my hand for an innappropriately long period of time. And I can play with their kids who are bubbling with personality and not worry about them asking me for everything on my person--which is also a problem with women here too (il faut donner -you must give-...insert chosen item here) I get asked for anything from my earrings, ponytail holder, pants, bandana, etc. ANd maybe you'd think....well geez it's a ponytail holder, just give it to them it's no big deal. But the problem is in the precedent you set in doing that and the image of the yovo that you put in peoples' heads. So i never actually give them anything because I'd never see the end of it. So I realized that it is that kind of stuff that I miss and clung too when I was with the French family. We could just hang out for a few hours in the afternoon in a social situation with norms that were completely normal and familiar to me and it felt refreshing. I also met a Dutch couple who is working with an ONG here in Dogbo for 3 years already with another 2 ahead who are really nice and I hope to get to spend some time with as well. The woman works with my homologue a lot on different projects so hopefully we will be able to collaborate sometimes.

On another note...i don't know if there are more Albinos here or if they just stand out more here because, well...clearly...but I see a lot of Albinos walking around Benin--more than I ever noticed in the US. I would think Africa would not be the place to be if you lack pigment in your skin. ANd it is interesting because I heard on BBC in July that witch doctors in Tanzania were encouraging the murder of Albinos to use their parts for prosperity, luck et les choses comme ça. Good thing that hasn't happened here. I still have to check out the voodoo areas in my marche. They have some pretty funky stuff. ALright, this post is quite long now and I am going to end it for now. à la prochaine. Love, and miss you all!


Aunt Loretta said...

What can I say that has not already been said ... you are a trooper. Each time I read I worry that much more for you. Uncle Mike was so upset to hear about the machete incident ... I think he was seriously considering flying to Africa to set them straight. His Nieces don't call him "Uncle Buck" for no reason ... I can't say I blame you about the pig. Had I been there I probably would have tried to save it and ended up getting myself killed. I couldn't stand to hear that and I give you credit for dealing with it. You are a good person, inside and out and I hope those Beninese people know how lucky and blessed they are to have such a wonderful individual in their presence. It's funny how you miss the littlest things. Just reading this made me long to give you a hug, but you're there and I'm here, so that's not going to happen, but do me a favor and when you read this, just close your eyes and imagine me hugging you okay? Love you with all my heart!!!! Aunt Loretta

Anonymous said...

Hey buddy,
How are you? It's good to hear from you. It's sooo weird you being over there. The things you're experiencing...some good some that worry me...anyways. I think it's really cool you're making a little home for yourself and conducting such lovely culinary endeavors. Bugs...ewww...well at least Scout is earning his keep...hehe-kinda. Also guessing you can never watch Babe again. When I hear you talk about plumbing, makes me feel completely spoiled for what we have here. I hear you may visit sometime in the spring, bet you'll never leave the bathtub, hehe. I wouldn't blame you. The best thing I can say about your blog is that, despite it being incrediably new and a bit daunting, you're being YOU. Wonderful glorious persistent you and that makes me soooooooooooo proud of you. You go yovo!!! Hehe. Miss you a lot buddy. So weird its now autumn, your season (well mine too) think I'll take some pictures of the foliage when it comes and bring you some fall. Well luv ya buddy and SERIOUSLY take care of yourself!!! Talk soon Cath

Uncle BigMike said...

Hey now you know where to get some fresh bacon,porkchops,ham,ect ect ect.I would like to see some pics of the bush taxi and the Cockroaches.When you get the chance.Well you take care and be safe.........

Aunt Nancy said...

omg catherineeee. im looking at the pictures. im sorry i havnt been on in like forever but i caught up tonight and this is absolutely crazy. the pictures, your lifestyle, everything. you are truly the most amazing person i know. i give you so much credit and you really are a trooper. Reading your posts makes me worry girl, i cant help but wonder how safe you could possibly be. I pray for you every day and i really miss you. i love you catherine. love your cousin, emily :)