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)...it'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.
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 mean...as 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 white...you 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 'Look...it'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 Owen...no 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?
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!