Monday, October 27, 2008

Can't believe i forgot about ms. scout!

That's all i have time for...took a half hour to load this picture so I will post more next week. (there is another longer post right below)

It's Not Easy Being La Blanche

Picture: Top : Sorry A. Annie / right: Doing PACA (participatory analysis for community action) au village during stage (training)'s like 'where's waldo'. / below: why yes...that IS a giant falice in the sacred forest! / Me and Jeremy at Swear-In in a bad self taken picture.

On our way back from Cotonou last Monday in an overcrowded crappy brush taxi with an angry driver at night and lightning in the distance (in the direction in which we were heading) rendering our trip contrary to nearly every peace corps recommendation for volunteer in-country travel...

"Michelle: If this stretch of road right here is really messed up we're probably just outside of Lokossa (about a half hour away from Dogbo).

Me: OR...we could be in any number of places seeing as how you just described about 90 percent of the roadways in Benin.
Michelle: true"

So I went to Cotonou last Monday to vote, which is why I did not blog, and it was fabulous. It's funny because Cotonou didn't really phase me when we first arrived here. I thought it was dirty, scary, and overwhelming. But Cotonou on Monday was like a magical place in which we did not have nearly enough time to putter around since it took forever to get there in our taxi and we had to leave by 5 if we wanted even a hope of getting back before dark. I met up with my papa because lord knows to top that debacle of a weekend off, i discovered that they took my phone charger with them by mistake since they have the same phone as me so I had to borrow my neighbor's. At least he works in Cotonou otherwise I don't know whe I would have gotten it back. We went to the Festival des glaces for lunch where I had a cheeseburger (with unidentified cheese...but it was SOOO good) and actual icecream which has been missing since June. Michelle and I hit up several of the supermarchés in which I was able to find a number of things i haven't seen since june, the highlight of which was definitely soy sauce and raisons. I also found apples!!! 200CFA each and worth every CFA. That is only like 50 cents US but it is pretty chère here considering a whole pineapple is about 75CFA. I bought a bag of 6 and have been enjoying them quite a bit. I even made a itty bitty apple crisp with one of them the other night. Which reminds me. I've finally consumed enough tomato paste to be able to construct a dutch oven so I have been a baking fiend. I use it to cope with bad days and it is marvelous. (below is dutch oven and me at the python temple of ouidah)

And speaking of bad days. I have been in a kind of funk for the past 2 weeks or so, and I am getting frustrated by it. I have no patience for being called yovo or hearing that god-forsaken song. ANd it has been happening a lot lately...or maybe it is not more than usual but just that my tolerance is finished. I live here. I am not a tourist...and so it really is hard to realize that no matter how long you are here or how bien integre you are you will ALWAYS and FOREVER be an outsider. It's like moving to a place like swan's island, maine...if you're not born there you will always be 'from away.' And a lot of kids have been walking up to me saying 'donnes d'argent' (give money). I actually freaked out last week and screamed down the street at them at the top of my lungs so that everyone thought i was probably a crazy Yovo "Je ne suis pas une banque!!" (I am not a bank!). And then I hopped into the taxi yesterday to go to Lokossa for high speed internet to try to upload pictures (the cyber didn't open till 5 on sunday and didn't work when it did) and a kid in the back of the taxi asks me if I live near Klaus...who is apparently a German volunteer that runs the orphanage in Dogbo. I just turned to the kid and said in french..."actually...i don't know all of the white people in Benin." And I don't know Klaus...i just know of him. Race isn't really taboo to talk about here like it is in the U.S. I soon as i reject a Beninese man's offer for coffee or marraige i have to hear 'are you racist?' So it isn't difficult to just talk about black and white. With the U.S. elections coming up I've also been really frustrated. Everyone keeps asking who I am voting for which I will not say, and everyone here is really into the elections even though they have no idea what they are talking about for the most part. My host family didn't even know the name of the republican candidate, and most people I talk to don't seem to have anything insightful to add to a discussion beyond 'John McCain is old, and Obama is young and black.' So whenever I tell people that I don't want to say who I voted for they look at me and say something along the lines of "oh you would never vote for a black person. You're will vote for le blanc." In the taxi home from cotonou when one guy started saying how McCain is old i told him that didn't mean he was a bad candidate and that age and experience bring a lot of good things to a campaign and he automatically assumed that I voted for him. I can't help but think I'm in Africa with all of YOU black people so why do you assume that I would never vote for Obama. It has just been a lot of black versus white forced on me in recent weeks and it is wearing quite thin. THere has also been a LARGE group of Dutch people in and out of Dogbo for the last 2 weeks checking up on their NGO projects here. The group of students with them organized a whole sporting even on Saturday so I went over to the school to watch some of the soccer matches and even my friend here, Chanceline, saw all of the Dutch people and turned to me and said ''s your people. You should go talk to them." I don't know all of the dutch people...and they are not MY people. They are from an entirely different country. And i find it as annoying as when people talk about Africa like it is a monolithic lump...or the Middle East. Every country here is markedly different despite large similarities. It is sooooo annoying. So yeah...i've had more and more days where I've felt like shutting myself away and pretending I am not here. Which is probably why I made regular bread, teriyaki stir fry (with my newly found soy sauce), and papya bread last thursday. IT might also just be that I've never gone so long without seeing family and friends though, and that fall is my favorite season at home and i am acutely aware as I sit in my house constantly sweating, that I am missing it. And for there is nothing like Halloween here with the exception of the presence of Voodoo. But I do have a halloween part/ VAC regional meeting for volunteers in Azové on Friday and need to think of a costume. ANy ideas? What are you going as?
This is a picture of all of us in the buses one day during training...not much unlike a bush taxi. Actually...bush taxis are usually more crowded.

Benin is also, i have decided, not overly animal friendly. On my way out to a small village for a sensibilization a few weeks ago, I saw a little dog that had been killed and was hanging from a bar suspended over the little dirt road. It was for a voodoo ceremony, my homologue told me, to avoid bad luck. I cringed. Then I was in the marché last week one evening buying ginger for my teriyaki sauce when all of a sudden this group of kids screamed and came running with sticks. I had no idea what was going on and then i saw this huge rat run by me and jump onto one of the legs of a table. I felt really bad because he was clearly a gonner and he actually looked like he knew it was coming because it dug its claws in and had no where to go. THe kids starting beating it with sticks until it died. Everyone in the marché thought i was ridiculous because I had stopped to stare dumbfounded, having never have seen that before and the woman had been holding out my change for several seconds before I even noticed. They all laughed at me.
Pictures are taking forever here so I hope that you appreciate them :). I really want to get up some of my house, the scorpions, and my host fam so I hope I have time because I have an aja lesson at 18 heures aka...6pm which is in a half an hour. Anywhoo. That is all for the writing part for now. Be back soon. A la prochaine!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

I'll come back tomorrow to post for real and attempt the pictures again. don't even is just internet in benin.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Visit...ou bien, The Invasion

So I am going to start by mentioning--and A. Annie may want to skip on down to the next paragraph-- that in the upper right hand corner of the cyber right now there is a daddy longlegs who is wrapping up a fly he caught to eat. Normally that might gross me out but now I think it is actually kind of interesting.

Ok, so anyway, my host family came to visit this weekend from Saturday into Sunday. Seeing as how this is Benin, I didn't really have a say in the matter...they just told me they were coming and that was that. So it was probably good that my friend couldn't end up coming over on Friday night like we planned. Friday was our marché day so some people came up to Dogbo for the day and we had a Chinese food night. It was delicious. We made a Korean BBC type pulled meat that we wrapped up in itty bitty lettuce leaves we found with shredded carrot and pepper, and onion (One of the people comes from Lokossa where there is a lot more stuff available all the time so she brought the veggies with her). Then we made fried rice (AMAZING) and egg drop soup. For dessert we found these peanuty balls of goodness in the marché. But my one friend who I haven't seen since swear in and who lives kind of far was going to come spend the night and we had tentative plans but never confirmed them and then I never heard from her. Turns out her reseau (cell phone reception) was cut in her village for days so she couldn't get in touch with me. We have the same reseau, GloBenin, but c'est le vie in Benin I suppose. And like I said, since then I had to get ready for my host fam, it ended up working out okay.

Anyone who knows me and my lack of patience for little kids and anal retentive penchant for cleaning and neatness would be surprised to see me still sane after the 27 hours (yes i counted) that I was reunited with my host family in Dogbo. house is tiny. I mean, it is perfectly fine for me and Scout (who, by the way, Aunt Loretta is quite insulted by you undermining her femininity by calling her scott, though she sends a meow back to pork and beans) but it was not big enough for my host fam. 8 people and a cat (and all sorts of innumerable creepy crawlies) in a itty bitty house with no running water or bathroom, or furniture, and no tv (please note...i don't care that I don't have a tv but my host family was HORRIFIED...and bored, since they missed their poorly french-dubbed Spanish soap operas). I am actually going to backtrack and preface this tale with the disclaimer that I LOVE my host family. THey are amazing people who treated me very well for the 9 weeks I stayed with them, and I cried when I left for Dogbo. That being said, pray let me continue.

They all poured into the house sending Scout scampering and began unloading their things as my blood pressure began to rise slightly. All of a sudden my maman let out a PIERCING scream and ran across the room "SCORPION...SCORPION...LE CHAT!" Scout found a scorpion and was trying to kill it, so I had to run over and squash it and maman did not stop freaking out until she saw it was dead. (ps--scorpion count is up to 9 and much to my dismay, i've learned that they CAN indeed move quite quickly when they want to and will start stabbing with their tail when they feel threatened). That being done, EVERY time Marianne or Matthieu touched the wall maman would scream at them to not touch the wall because they might get stung. And she never calmed down, searching endlessly for the entire time on all my walls and doorways for scorpions. Then she had to go to the bathroom so I grabbed my keys and took her around to the latrine. She took one look at it, shook her head, and wouldn't use it...nor did she want the rest of the family to...I won't go into details as to the alternative. Then we found a lizard in my house and maman screamed again until Germaine swatted it into shock with my little broom and balayed it out of the house (balayer is ther french verb to sweep). I guess I was surprised, and surprisingly indignant as to how my host family looked down on Dogbo and the people there, their fellow countrymen. I consider myself really lucky to be posted here because Dogbo actually has relatively a lot to offer compared to some people out in the teeny villages (ie--i am using internet right now) but they couldn't get over how so many of the houses were made from mud, and the latrines, and the lack of reputable restaurants, or that I didn't have a tv. I was actually getting kind of annoyed because they just kept putting down everything here, which was difficult to hear since I lived here. Plus I couldn't help but think that I myself come from the US and have way more than my host family and if i can live in Dogbo, they should be able to spend one night without complaining. I guess it made me think a lot because I have people here that I am friends with now and just because they don't have as much money doesn't mean that they are any less good people. Maman got really angry that Papa said one girl who visited me during their stay was in the same grade as her son because she was so much older. She told him not to dare compare her children to that girl. On an aside a lot of the kids here are really behind in school because there just isn't money to go every year even though it is like the equiv. of forty bucks in the USA...and this girl in particular, who befriended the volunteer before me and went to the Peace Corps girls empowermentcamp, CampGlo, started late and is repeating 6ieme (equivelant to first grade) because she refused sexual harassement by her male professor, which is an ever present problem in the schools here for girls, and so he failed her. SO i was really annoyed by my maman's criticizing her without even knowing her. Maman was also horrified because she was vodun, a practicer of voodoo (her dad has 10 wives and a little over 40 children) and the fam was surprised how much voodoo there is in Dogbo; and the fetisher outside of my house. I want to learn all about voodoo and their rituals, beliefs, etc. because it is such an integral part of Beninese culture, and I guess I was kind of disheartened to see how much my host family turned their noses up at it. It kind of reinforced for me the chasm there is between the capital Porto Novo, and the towns, and villages outside of the cities. And I never even considered Dogbo to be in the brush or uncivilized by any means.

So then I had to start taking things and hiding them from from the constant touching, bending and other interdit activities inflicted by my little host brother. And Maman was grossed out by the moss I have growing in my back area. I tried to clean it up but there is really no point until a little into the dry season because it just keeps growing with a vengeance. SO she had Germaine go out and find a brick for her to stand on for her bucket shower...Even though she was wearing flip flops. But maman made me a beautiful dress and Boomba (a traditional beninese outfit, which is wicked comfortable) with really pretty tissue (fabric) which is so nice of her. And she brought absolutely amazing food. Pork and yummy rice for lunch and the most delicious chicken I've had in country. My house actually smelled like at home when my mom is cooking.

So we went to bed because there was really nothing left to do as my host family pointed out (I for one, turned on my flashlight and read Saving Fish From Drowning by Amy Tan for a bit), and I could hear them moving around every few hours because Matthieu had a fever. They commandeered this huge ugly thing from the menusier to sleep on even though they came here knowing i didn't have beds and they had originally said they would be sleeping on mats. They didn't want to sleep on the floor because of scorpions but I couldn't help think that scorpions LIKE wood and could climb up the legs of that ridiculous wooden monstrosity in the middle of the night if they wanted to to sting you. I finally convinced papa to take it back with him to Porto Novo because i did NOT want it in my house and had no use for it...i already commandeered stuff from the menusier. My maman started yelling at him for cluttering up my salon. They kind of remind me of Sally FIeld and Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire with the dad acting like a little kid so that the mom always has to clean up the mess and gets really angry a lot.

Anyway, The next morning I made them crepes which they really enjoyed, and all seemed to be okay. And then the other shoe dropped. My papa went out for awhile with the kids without telling me and came back suddenly hurrying me out back to show me how to use the intense insecticide he bought for me for the scorpions (i sprayed it this afternoon, which is why I've left my house for a few hours). While he was explaining it to me Marianne repeatedly called my named until I would pay attention. "Caterine...viens ici...regarde. Les Lapins." What? i thought as I went into the house and saw a huge rabbit hopping around my living room. Oh my god--I blurted that out in English. "Papa a acheté un lapin?" (Papa bought a rabbit?) I asked from my kitchen area. "NO" she cried enthusiastically and papa walked up behind me and said, "huit." I think my blood pressure topped off at that moment and i walked into my living room to see 3 huge rabbits and 5 little baby bunnies hopping around all over peeing and pooping on my floor (which i washed with bleach water as soon as they left). My maman was LIVID and started yelling at him and then he went out and left the rabbits there with all of us. I had to lock scout in my room and frankly wished I could have locked myself in there too because all my patience was spent. I was about ready for them to leave...actually I had been counting the hours since I woke up. But they finally 4:45 (even though they said they were leaving at 11...that is a cliché benin moment and why i NEVER leave my house without a book anymore because you spend so much time just waiting for meetings to start, etc.). The taxi pulled away with all the rabbits, the extra furniture, and all my family and I couldn't help but think Dieu Merci, as I walked to the marché with my post mate to vent and buy some pineapple and fanmilk to make me feel better.
So I really do love my host family...i just hope that the next time i see them it is in Porto Novo.

Well, it is Columbus Day and you're all enjoying your days off and I should be at Caumsett state Park with my mom for our annual walk, so it is a little sad today, which is why i am treating myself to an ungodly amt of internet time. I really miss apples here too...and my mom's apple sauce, and spiced cider. I haven't ever seen apples in Dogbo and the one time I saw them in Lokosso they were over 100CFA for one little one.

I have however, greatly enjoyed getting cheap and delicious pineapple, and am now an expert at cutting it quickly and effectively. By the time I leave I want to be really good at cutting coconut because my coconut girl in the marché always laughs at me that I ask her to do it for me. A random beninese thing that I never mentioned is that sphagetti sandwhiches are ever present here...yes...carbs wrapped in carbs. It is a really interesting concept.

Another random Beninese thing..homosexuality is illegal here. You could be jailed for a rumor of being gay...but at the same time it is totally normal for guys to walk down the street holding hands or hugging each other because it means they are BEST friends. Way less normal, is to see a heterosexual couple holding hands because it is culturally inappropriate. So I officially think this makes up for the short post last time. Hope everyone and everything at home is well. Happy Columbus Day!!!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

You Know You've Been in Africa for Awhile When...

1. You can remember with perfect clarity and slight nostalgia the last time you used an actual toilet. ( was one full month ago tomorrow--September 8th before I left my host family house. And I remember because I unfortunately had considerable gastrointestinal distress that day and spent a lot time there.)

2. You actually make a pro/con list between scorpions, spiders, and cockroaches that comes down on the side of spiders. (I know A. Annie knows what I'm talking about here)

So anyway, I got to go out 'au village' in Dogbo today to see the ongoing agricultural irrigation project that my NGO, GRADID, has been working on. They have been paired with a Belgian NGO (I think that the name was Propos), and I met the man (Peter) who has been living here for the past 4 years who was working for them. The village was really beautiful and definitely what I pictured when I thought of Africa...small mud houses in the middle of the brush. It was really fun to hang out with the people there for the day and see their village and fields. They served us rice with chicken and the most delicious pate rouge I've had in country since coming here when we were done. Okay? I'm going to try to explain...Benin is split into 12 departments and I live in the Couffo Department. Each Department is split into Communes, and Dogbo is the commune where I live...then Communes are split even further into Arrondissements, and then villages. So the village I went to today while part of Dogbo, could not have been more different from the Dogbo where I live--Dogbo proper, if that makes sense. OK...Sorry this was so short? I will write more next time...promise.

PS--scorpion tally is up to 6. Bring on the lavender