Wednesday, December 3, 2008

An American Holiday in Benin

It feels like so long since I've blogged probably because it has been so long. I was away last week a little for THanksgiving and the week was crazy before I left. Thanksgiving in Benin was better than I could have ever imagined. When I think about it, it might have been one of the best Thanksgivings I ever had simply because it got down to what the holiday was about--the people you spend it with and what being grateful for what you have.

I visited a friend up in a little village called Medengbé first for a day which was definitely interesting. She doesn't have electricity or water, but unlike in Dogbo, she doesn't really have people who can regularly bring her water so we spent a half hour together pulling up water from a well like contraption that holds rainwater so we had enough to cook drink and shower. That was really hard work, and i give her a lot of credit for doing it all the time since everyone in Dogbo laughs at me when i attempt carrying water on my head. Medengbe is about a third of the way up in Benin and in the Collines region (ca veut dire, the hills, en francais). My area in the Kouffo is an endless stretch of flat jungle green foliage as far as tthe eye can see so it was really nice to get to see a little more north where there is actual landscape (and it was a little cooler because of harmattan...mind you when i say cooler that is quite relative, and I was still sweating). Thursday we went to another volunteers house in Camaté to spend the day. Everybody was in charge of bringing something, and I had managed to find some vegetables and apples on my way up in BOhicon, a considerably large regional city (which means we had apple pie!). We were 10 PCVs all together and with a little help sent from home in the form of pumpkin pie spice, stuffing, and cider mix, we all helped in throwing together a Thanksgiving feast I would have never thought possible in Benin. I even defeathered a chicken, which was an interesting experience to say the least. Deborah, the volunteer in Camaté had arranged to put on a thanksgiving pageant for some BEninese friends...she even built a gigantic paper Mayflower and we saved some plucked feathers for Squanto's headdress, because we thought it would be great cross cultural exchange...but we never actually got around to it. We brought our feast over to her NGO there though, and decorated the area with paper turkeys, and shared the meal with some of her Beninese friends ( we did make everyone say what they were thankful for at least). And speaking of which, my thanks to everyone at home who is supporting me here in Benin because it would be impossible without you. It's funny to me because right before I left home, i had several melt-downs and thought there was no way I could leave my friends and family for 2 years. But it has been exactly those people I thought I couldn't leave that have been encouraging me here in thoughts, prayers, letters, packages, etc. WIthout that encouragement, I don't think I would be able to live an ocean away from home, and for that I am eternally grateful. ANyway, afterward we danced the night away until bed. We also split up and played soccer with a team here...they were way better...and the field was right at the foot of one of the was absolutely beautiful. When i have the patience of a saint, I will come back and post pictures, i promise. ANd to top off my already amazing thanksgiving day, i found out that my dear friend ms. jenn flynn is engaged, so I was on cloud nine! COngrats Jen! I still tear up! What an amazing thing to come home to!!

As great as being with friends for Thanksgiving was, I was more surprised at how amazing coming back to Dogbo was (with the exception of me getting massively sick on the way back down in Bohicon, and let me tell you...being sick on a moto like that is not fun...Especially when u consider that there really aren't public bathrooms here...thank god there was a bank with a bathroom in bohicon). I headed out to the marché to find eggs and was stopped by so many people on the street to say hi and that they hadn't seen me for a few days, how was i doing, etc. It actually really felt like coming home. And walking into my house was great. And then on Saturday I was going to come here to the cyber to blog but for the first time wasn't even in the mood. I ended up staying in my house to help Basil with his ENglish homework and then headed off to a soccer match at one of the schools here with Filomene.

The Monday before THanksgiving I had gone out to this village called Kpodaha to work with a women's group there, teaching them how to incorporate Moringa into their diet. I think it was the perfect village too because they already had moringa growing all around they just didn't use it. I did a lesson on the african food groups with them (its quite different than ours) and asked them where they thought Moringa fit in and they all said within 'restorative foods' but the answer was in all 3 groups. SO when I asked how they used moringa in the community they told me they would use it to cure malaria, ou bien, palludisme, but never incorporated it into their cooking. So Kantos, one of my work partners, and I taught them how to add it to sauce, and how to dry it properly and crush it into powder to be added to bouille (porridge like thing people eat here). It is so incredible for nutritional recuperation, and i know i say that a lot but it is just amazing how well it works. I went back to Kpodaha yesterday to do a soja (soy) cheese formation with the women and they showed me more of the powder they had made after I left. It was really satisfying to see, to say the least. ANd working with them is great because NONE of them call me Yovo. They all say catherine and its gotten to the point that i show up and they are all smiling and happy to see me and work together, and im just as happy as them so it's a lot of fun. What is good about things like moringa and soy cheese is that it incorporates things that the women here are already doing and just adds a healthier more nutritious twist to it so it is easy for them to start doing it. The women were SO excited about the soy cheese that they exclaimed they were all going to be making it for the grand fete (New Years and Christmas).

Monday was also World AIDS Day and I worked with a group of students in one of the CEGs here (secondary school) to go class to class and do short little presentations on HIV/AIDS (VIH/SIDA en français). It started out really great with the younger kids but quickly devolved into absolute chaos with the older niveaus. There is absolutely NO classroom management and when the kids were moud, rude and obnoxious, the teachers did NOTHING to help out). I give a lot of credit to english teacher PCVs because that was my original assignment and I don't think I could have ever done it. I do not have the patience to deal with kids like that all day long. It was really disheartening too because I actually get asked questions like 'If a man has AIDS and his wife doesn't but he sleeps with another girl, can the girl get AIDS?' I can't make people see the seriousness of AIDS, i can just provide some info and advice, and perhaps, condoms when I can find them, so I wished that the kids would take it seriously. I guess i have a lot of tile to work on it. ANyway, time is up for today so I've got to run. HEading down to Porto Novo this weekend for a few weeks so that should be really exciting. I'll be back next week. Enjoy the cold weather and CHristmas preparations!!!


Aunt Loretta said...

Will you be having some birthday cake in Benin on Sunday????

Anonymous said...

Hey buddy,
Happy late-Thanksgiving! De-feathered a bird? Oh my, you certaintly put our Butterballs to shame. I think its wonderful the experience you had. I was worried you would be lonely, but you did quite well it sounds. I think also great that you had a "real" thanksgiving,including gratitude especially in the festivities. I feel guilty for all the things we have here and take advantage of. The life you lead over their makes mine feel sort of materialistic and superficial in comparison. I am sooooooooooo proud of you and all the things you do and continue to do. I think its great that people are finally calling by your lovely name instead of the other word. Again, sooo proud of you. I sent out today a letter and a xmas card that I hope you get in time. It's a "special" card, you'll know what I mean,hehe. Did you get my package yet? Can't wait to hear what you think! Well, I have to go back to doing papers, grrr. 3 papers to do in 9 days! Miss ya buddy and take care of you! Cath

Jan Jan said...

Hey my lil wauters,
I was so happy to talk to you on your birthday! I miss you so much, but i am so proud how fabulous you are doing. You do not understand how much i love telling people i have friends in the peace corps lol it automatically makes me seem wonderful however i am sooooo not compared to how nice you speak about the real value of Thanksgiving. I was focused on Black Friday and shopping all day long...maybe for like 15 hours but really who is counting? :) But i was just trying to help the economy? Does that count?

In reference to the students, I know you can do it. It may be disheartening to see how little they know, but just keep plugging along. Teaching them some information is better than no information at all.

All i can say is plucking a chicken. LISTEN when we go to Bennies you are helping no one cook my lowcarbsidilla! lol

Keep posting..ill try not to be mia (did you get my letter and package!!???)

I love you xoxoxox
<3 janjan