Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Baby it's HOT Outside

With extra training in Porto Novo for 2 weeks and then spending time in Bohicon afterwards for Christmas, December has absolutely flown by. I can't believe that tomorroRemove Formatting from selectionw is NEw Years Eve. I have absolutely no plans whatsoever. Life has been so crazy that since I finally just got back to post I don't particularly feel like hopping in a brush taxi to go to any fetes in porto novo or further south of here with another volunteer. It feels way easier to say I'm coming home in 2010 when it is 2009 already too, so I am looking forward to that!

So anyway, it's back to the latrine and cold bucket shower for me, but air conditioning and running water was fabulous while it lasted. And to be honest, cold bucket showers are pretty much the only thing that ever cools me off any way so I don't mind, especially with chaleur--the hot season-- which is starting now and should continue until the rainy season picks up again in april or so. From where I am standing that seems a long way off. Now that its been several weeks without rain the dust here is becoming worse and worse. A layer of dust covers everything all the time. It just hangs in the air and it is pretty impossible to keep things 100 percent clean: I've stopped trying, really. ANts don't really seem to be a problem in my house most of the time but some second year volunteers told me that it might get bad with the dry season now, and that ants go looking for water. I'll admit when i got back from Bohicon i was disgusted to see that my water jug of clean boiled water was swimming with dead ants (i have NO idea how they got in) but i think it might have been a fluke because it hasn't happened again since. THey don't go for my food though and I never really see them around which is nice, considering that at the volunteers house I was staying in in BOhicon, if you left food out for more than 10 minutes it was swarming with ants and everything has to be really well sealed, double bagged, etc. IT just gets annoying after awhile. I'll stick with my scorpions.

So anyway...Bohicon. Spending Christmas here was definitely harder than Thanksgiving or my birthday and I missed home a lot, but we mostly had fun up in BOhicon fete-ing with the kids around there anyway. One of the volunteers organized this project with her NGO to give out presents to the orphans and less well off kids around her area so over a thousand presents (toys and clothes) were sent from her family in the US to give out. It was a pretty amazing gesture but I had some personal problems with the project and it wasn't really what I was anticipating when I signed up to help out. No one was even wearing a Christmas santa suit and with nothing to connect it to CHristmas in any way I couldn't get over it feeling like we were just a bunch of yovos giving out stuff to kids here for nothing, completely opposite of what we're going for here as peace corps volunteers trying to build self sustainability. Actually it also hadn't slipped by our joking notice when we saw a big santa clause statue in a porto novo supermarché that Santa doesn't really do much to help the yovo image either--white guy, giving stuff out for free. Some of the kids were really grateful, and then some just frustrated me. No sooner had we stepped off the motos than the kids would come up to us starting with their "donne-moi." It drove me crazy. We had every intention of giving these kids something but the minute they asked I just wanted to say no, turn around, and drive away. One of the other volunteers with us was getting frustrated that the kids weren't saying thank you. The kids came up all quiet and shy looking and would take their present and walk away. I'll have to admit, it's nothing like what i imagined of children here before I came. I thought they would be bubbling with personality and happy but they just seemed almost like zombies. The mothers were disheartening as they tried to push their kids up to get the biggest thing even though they didn't know what it would be, and sometimes tried to get second presents. It was bizarrely cut-throat. Eventually we had to keep the mothers outside altogether at one of the fetes. As for the kids and moms not saying thank you...it's going to be hard for me to effectively put my finger on what about that didn't bother me. I mean it did on some level, but on another it felt like a pride issue for them where i might understand where they wouldn't want to say thank you to the white person who came into their village to give their children presents. It's complicated I guess and i danced a fine line at feeling indignant at the lack of appreciation for us being there, and guilt for feeling so indignant at times because I'm not so convinced that what we were doing was so very wonderful to begin with. The volunteer who organized it got really angry when some of the mothers would ask to switch what their kid got because we were just giving out plastic bags with clothes and stuff in it and sometimes a baby would get toddler clothers, or a girl a boys outfit, etc. While I could kind of see where she was coming from since she had put in a lot of effort to organize the events, as had her family in buying and sending presents, I also really saw where the moms were coming from too. SHould they be so incredibly grateful for something we would probably not accept for our own families if the situation were reversed? I don't know...like i said...it was difficult, and i've had a hard time processing it. I'm putting some pictures of it up.

Pictures: Christmas fetes around Bohicon. I'm in the pink and blue boomba on the right.

The pictures with the scary santa clause that makes me think of The Nightmare before Christmas is actually from a party at an orphanage in Porto Novo. That fete was a lot of fun because the kids were animated an happy to see and talk to us. Maybe it was just the orphanage setting that was different because at the orphanage in Bohicon we had fun as well, actually getting to play with the toys with the children. THey were all really happy and fun to be around, and playing jump rope was a big hit for the boys and the girls.

Speaking of the NIghtmare before Christmas...another interesting Beninese tradition... Kids go 'trick-or-treating' for lack of a better word in ordernounce the coming of CHristmas and New Years. One kid gets dressed up in a costume witha creepy mask and goes around witha bunch of other kids singing ind dancing and collecting money from people, and I don't truly understand the significance of it, I just know it is supposed to announce the coming fete. It was pretty interesting. National Voodoo Day is coming up on January 10th so hopefully something fun will happen for that too.
Picture: Christmas 'trick-or-treater'

After leaving Bohicon two other PCVs came down to Dogbo to spend 2 nights chez moi, which was a lot of fun and helped ease the transition to being back here alone after practically a month of constant yovo presence. We actually went one day to visit another volunteer nearby who is right on the Togo border, so we took a little pirogue over the river and walked around Togo for an hour or so. You may not be able to tell from the picture...which looks remarkably like Benin...or from my passport that does not have a TOgo visa...but I was there, and it was fun.

Pictures: On the way to Togo and the Jungle on the other side 'o the border.

THat was the least amt of baggage I've ever taken with me during international travel!!! Well...until next time, and peut etre...next year! Happy New Year!


Maman et Papa said...

It was good to finally see an entry to your blog. Seems like too long has past us by but I know it isn't easy to post. Christmas was the same for us, a void which could not be filled. Speaking with you helped, especially that it was at the start of your day!
We will speak with you next year (haha)!
We are so proud of you!
Love You!
(Did you notice the bottom of our blog?)

Anonymous said...

Hey buddy!
Great to hear from you! Happy 2009! You were missed all around at Christmas. Sorry those kids weren't more demonstrative with their gratitude. At least you know, within yourself, that it was a good deed. That's what matters. As for the ants, well that sounds like something out of that Hershey bar commercial that aired a few years ago. You know the one where all these ants are carrying off the candy bar from the picnic table? Hehe. That's sooo interesting about the Nightmare Before Xmas references. Always an excellent movie. Oh and National Voodoo day? hehe, can't wait to hear about that one! Well gotta get going. Wonderful to hear from you and don't worry about how others behave (i know that's easier said than done), but you're making a difference. You really are, especially to your friends and family back at home who love and miss you! So take care of you!