Monday, October 27, 2008

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!


Catherine said...

Again, first commenter, wahooo!!! Well, from your lovely pictures, you look good, dude. Tan and healthy from what I can tell. It's sooo good to see recent pics of you. Don't worry, haven't forgotten what you look like. Oh "love" the snake as a boa, nice fashion sense, hehe. About the voting thing, well that's just the way things are I guess as we happily talked about. Good for you to stay firm with your principles. Sad news about that dog, :( voodoo capital of the world, huh. Oh my, well guess you kinda have halloween very day, hehe. Well again loved the pictures. Stay safe! Miss ya! Cath

maman et papa said...

Great pictures Catherine. You look super too! Thanks for taking the time to upload them.

Knowing that it takes so much time maybe one of your home and another one from your fam. would be great the next time.

Don't let the children get to you. It's probably a game to them since they do not have other things to do. By the way - how old are these kids? Should they not be in school, or is this occuring during repas? Speaking of games, aside from harassing you, what do children do there to amuse themselves. Do they play football (soccer) in the streets? Do they play cricket there or baseball?

What do the adults do when they are harassing you like this? Do they just ignore it or do they urge them on?

Anyway, miss you and can't wait to talk to you soon!
Love you!

Cathryn said...

Pictures finally! You look beautiful in your swear in picture, what are you wearing, did you get that made there. btw I also love your h and m shirt, haha. I tried to call once again today and it didn't work but I did get your text again, i will have to try and figure that out.

Aunt Nancy said...

andeadefHi Catherine,
As" they" say, It is better to look good than to feel good, and Darlin' you look marvelous!! It's true - you do look marvelous, and you look happy too! I'm sure those nasty children get on your nerves though. What do they say to you when you respond to their yovo comments? Maybe they like to see you get upset by it - not too different than the bullies here at home. Try to let it go if you can white girl, those scary spiders and scorpions are worse. I accidently discovered I can enlarge your pictures and they are so cool. First of all, I'm hoping that little girl with the head wrap on the left in the group shot is not one of the nasty kids. She is adorable. What is the artwork on the ground all about? It looks important and I'm guessing that is why you gathered around it. In the shot with the python(you crazy thing), what type of building is on the right. It has a metal grate window and it looks interesting. Speaking of interesting - that dutch oven has me confused. I know you explained it before but I don't get it. You'll have to demonstrate when you get home. No fancy restaurants for you - we'll have a cookout and you can show us all what you learned. Bet you can't wait! About that giant statue. Ironically, it's the only picture I can't enlarge, not that it needs enlarging, oh my! Can't wait to see more of you life through pictures. As always, you are loved and missed. Be well and be safe. Love, Aunt Nancy xx

Aunt Loretta said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Aunt Loretta said...

Ahhh, my beautiful God-Daughter. You look fantastic and I was so glad to see you face .... made me realize, that much more, how much I miss you :-) Ms. Scout is quite the "looker" ... She could stop traffic. Only kidding. Your Mom and I were talking about what big feet and ears she has, but I guess there are many varieties of cats… even in Africa. Anyway, she's going to look just lovely in the collar and leash ensemble Uncle Mike and I sent her along in your box of goodies. We also put in a flea collar and some cat treats ... Pounce ... mmm mmmm good. I sent you some great things too like new pony tail holders, foot cream, lots and lots of crystal light, oatmeal raisin protein bars, chicken, tuna and salmon packs ... you get the drift. I've got the makings of another box and will start putting it together for you Birthday/Christmas. Again, you look wonderful and it brought my heart such joy to see your face and that beautiful smile. Love you millions ......... Aunt Loretta

Cathryn said...

Hey, I finally had a chance to actually read your blog.
Man I wasnºt sure if it was just me, with the election thing. I donºt like saying who I voted for, and every time someone asks and I say I donºt want to say the go ´oo that means you voted for Mccain´, like wtf, maybe I just donºt think that it is any of your buisness. The whole point of our electoral system is that people donºt know who you voted for, so that you can actually make your own decisions... geez. Everyone here and every European that Iºve met here too is a huge Obama supporter and just love talking all about him, which is fine, but than it always comes down to, because heºs black, which I just think is not the reason you should vote for someone. I found that it is extremely hard to try to explain that to people, that you should vote for someone that you believe will be the best president, not because of the color of their skin... Anyway, I went on a little tyraid there. But the other day I called you again, and I thought that I actually got threw to you but it was just an echo, and so I talked to myself for a couple of minutes... which was embarassing to say the least, when the lady at the store asked me who I talked to... haha. OOo well I will try to call you again, Iºm not sure why Iºve had so many issues. Hope you have a great halloween, and post more pictures soon!

Aunt Loretta said...

Trick or Treat, Smell my feet, Give me something good to eat ...
Happy Halloween Catherine!!

michelle said...

hahaha...i forgot about my little quote about the roads!