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!!!


Aunt Loretta said...

Hey Cat ~

You had me rolling while reading this post. I can feel you're maternal instincts shining through ... just like your GodMother's ... wink, wink. Please tell Scout not to be offended. I know her name ... it was just a typo. Sometimes multi-tasking causes me to make typos ... C'est la vie! How interesting your Mama's behavior and attitude towards Dogbo and it's locals. Humans are rather interesting people. Uncle Mike got you 2 head lamps ... don't tell Papa, but one was suppose to be his, but Uncle Mike felt you needed it more :-)
As you say, it's Columbus Day; however, I am working .... 13 years ago the NSLIJ Health System had to give up Columbus Day for Martin Luther King Day ... What can you do? I tried call you this past weekend, but kept getting a message that you were unavailable ... I'll try again later in the week. Love you big time .... Aunt Loretta

Uncle BigMike said...

The flashlight that you have should still work if you clean off the batterie acid with a tooth brush and some white vinegar if you can get it there,let it dry. Then try some fresh batteries.Wash your hands if you touch the acid.The batteries might have gone bad from the flight there they might have frozen.If you can buy new ones that might be best.I'll send you a new light anyway and I'll hold onto the other one if you need it.Well take care and be safe...........

Aunt Linda said...

Hello Catherine, It's been a long time since I wrote but I still read all your posts just didn't have time to sit and write. It was great talking to you on sisters weekend you sound terrific. I'm still amazed at how well you have fit into your new life >I am proud! I couldn't help but laugh when I was reading about the rabbits just tried to picture it, but like everything else I try to picture I am sure it is sooo much different, hope you get to send out some real pictures soon. Love you, be safe!! Love Aunt Linda

Aunt Loretta said...

Hi Catherine ~ Glad we finally got to speak yesterday. You sound wonderful and it always lightens my heart to hear your voice. I know you're heading to Cotonou this coming Monday, so you'll be checking this so I wanted to let you know that I mailed your "goodie" box today. There are so many wonderful things inside, not only for you, but for Scout too. I hope she likes her surprises. I ran out of room, so I have the makings for another box. I will make it your "birthday" "Chirstmas" box and will get it off to in a few weeks. Please let me know if there's anything you really need and I'll be sure to include it. The box I sent this morning has 12 boxes of Crystal Light ... in case you were running low. But if there's anything else, let me know and I'll incude it in the next box. Love you to the moon and back!! Aunt Loretta

Brian said...

Hey Catherine! Sam gave me the note you sent along with hers - it was so lovely of you to write, thank you!!! Things over here are pretty hectic - we have moved to our own house in the O'side, my race is coming up in about a week and half, and Ella is speaking in sentences, DEMANDING many unreasonable things - i.e. she wants daddy to lay down in her (toddler) bed with her, she wants to go running with daddy, etc etc. Otherwise, NY is the same, I am sure your gig over there is much more enlightening. :) Stay safe and healthy!!!


Cathryn said...

Hey Catherine, I didnºt have a chance to read your blog until today, but man sounds like your host families visit was crazy, haha I would have loved to see rabbits running around your house, thats quite a riot. I love that you fam couldnºt believe that you didnºt miss tv. We also watched a ton of terrible Brazilian soap operas, and whenever I laughed at some rediculously dramatic scene, they would give me the look of death, like how could you possibly think that is funny? ha oo well.
When are you going to post some pictures? Iºd like to see some of your life there. Talk to ya soon.

maman et papa said...

Hello Catherine,
Sorry we have not written to your blog recently but it's really due to us speaking with you more often and getting the updates to you verbally. Last night our 45 minute conversation was packed full of interesting information.

Happy to hear that your cold is getting better and the weather has finally changed for the better as well; at least for the next few weeks; and not so humid. To be dry enough for you to need a “blanket” to sleep must be nice. (By the way – this morning there was frost on the car windows which I needed to scrape off). Was also glad the scorpions seem to be under control. We will send you some spray foam this weekend so you will be able to seal off some of the holes you have on the outside!

I must say it was nice to speak with you this morning although I was saddened by the harassment you seem to be getting from children. I know it must be hard, having to continually hear that song and being asked for money! Hope it works out for the better and as long as adults are showing respect this may eventually rub off on the children. Would it help just to ignore them – or make it worse? (Although I cannot place myself in your situation – did you know when we first came to this country, while on line in department and grocery stores, some people called us “DP’s” – meaning we were “Displaced Persons” after WWII and it saddened and angered Bonnemaman as well.) Hope our conversation made it better!

A thought came to me after we hung up – from what I can gather, “Marche Day” seems to be a big highlight of the week. I know when staying with my grandparents in Belgium, we used to go twice a week – Tuesdays and Saturdays and I was always excited to see all the items on display. Rabbits, chickens and little pigs were hung up on hooks; fresh fish in large bins, baskets of fruits and clothing booths were all about. There were also lots of beautiful seasonal flowers and of course candy and chocolate merchants my favorite since I would always get a sample or two). Is this similar in Benin?

Hope your friend will be able to pick up some of the packages for you this weekend. Give us the code so we know that you got something. Will probably speak with you on Sunday morning or Monday evening depending on what is going on here.

Hope the weekend will be better for you! As you know, we are very proud of you. Keep your head up and hang in there. Give Scout a belly rub for me.
Love you!