Thursday, December 24, 2009

Still Looking for that Last Minute Christmas Gift?

Look no further.

Click on the following link to donate to Peace Corps Benin's 2010 Camp GLOW. GLOW stands for Girls Leading Our World (Les filles guident notre monde) and is held annually in Porto Novo by Southern volunteers. About 50 girls from across Southern Benin are invited to participate in a week-long escape from their daily lives at home. Camp GLOW emphasizes the importance of staying in school for young girls and gives them an opportunity to learn about their bodies, finances, be introduced to computers for the first time etc.

I went straight to camp Glow after coming back to Benin last June and it was a pretty amazing week spent with these girls. Probably the most awesome thing to me was seeing these girls finally just get an opportunity to act their age and goof off with each other. Their brothers might get a opportunity to go out and play soccer with an old messed up ball. But at home, girls are cleaning, cooking, carrying their little siblings around on their backs all day, and often don't even have the time to study for school, never mind play. At first it was clear that they weren't even really sure how to and they were shy with each other. But by the end of the week they had all become friends and free time was no longer filled with awkward standing.

Last years camp was funded by PLAN, an international ONG. This year PLAN is unnable to fund the Camp and so we're asking for donations from home to help make this incredible event possible through the PCPP--peace corps partnership program. Please consider donating to this amazing cause. Really, even $5 helps, and if all of our families donate a little, it will go a long way to making this project a success. I'm including a link and instructions in case the link doesn't work. If you were going to send me anything, please consider doing this instead...i really don't need anything anyway. I appreciate your generosity especially given that it is the holiday season and we aren't in the best of financial times. Merry Christmas everyone.


Directions in case links don't work
1. go to and click on "Donations"
2. at this point, you can search by my last name, "Hurst", OR click on "view all volunteer projects" on the right side of the page
3. you can then search under "Benin" or "Michigan" (my home state)
4. click on the Camp GLOW PCPP. They can then read a short description of the project, see how much of the total has been raised, and make a donation.

Remember, all donations are tax deductible! Thank you everyone, and happy holidays!

Infanticide...Merry Christmas

Look at Scout...isn't she cute. I took these pictures to emphasize her pudgy belly pleine pleine with kittens. 2 Weekends ago I was in Lokossa working on my world map with Michelle. I had to go to Cotonou on Sunday...I'd just like to say that i didn't want to come to cotonou. Not at all, actually. Peace Corps asked me to come down for training review and to begin planning next year. I didn't feel comfortable traveling in Benin with all of the fetes coming which implicitly means lots of alcohol added into the mix of already terrible drivers. I even said that to michelle before leaving her house.

I went back to Dogbo (entirely opposite direction) first to check on Scout who was so so pregnant I thought she'd pop any day. SHe was still pregnant on Sunday and I left, planning to be back on Tuesday. For reasons that I'm not going to get into now, I didn't make it back Tuesday, but i found out from Kristin that Scout gave birth to 3 mouse-like cute little kittens under my bed. I had confirmation that they were all doing well on Thursday when someone checked in on them. I left cotonou Saturday for the sole purpose of making sure they were all okay and giving them to Basil to look after. But when I walked into my house, it swiftly became apparent that something was wrong. Scout ran right up to me, while Kristin told me she didn't leave her kittens at first when she walked in. Scout was clamoring for attention and pretty obviously distressed. As it turns out, there wasn't a single kitten in my house. Scout was so stressed out being in the house that she ate them all. There wasn't a trace of them...and there is no way in or out of my house for them. So feline infanticide. Have a holly jolly christmas. I am at least grateful that scout herself is okay because I would have been terribly upset if something had happened to her. She didn't let me out of a 6 inch range from her the entire 3 days that I was home. I guess in a way, it is also good that I never got to see the probably would have been more upsetting had I seen them before she ate them. Anyways, who knew cats do that? you learn something new every day.

It's Beginning to Feel a Lot like Christmas

Merry Christmas everyone! It is hard for me to believe that it is already December 24th...the date has certainly snuck up on me. Experiencing Christmas this second time around has been a very different experience than last year. I remember last year being asked by a fellow volunteer what I was doing to remember the Christmas season and I had told her nothing because I wanted to forget it was the Holidays altogether. Being away from home last year for the first time ever was fairly difficult for me and I found any reminders of what I was missing to be miserable. I didn't really enjoy Christmas day meme at all. THis year though I found myself getting really excited for Christmas. I started playing music about a month ago and took out all the decorations and cards i received last year to decorate my house. Plus i had a holiday crafts session--benin edition, to see how i could use the things in my marches to "spruce" up (haha) my holiday season in hot hot benin. Pictures included for your viewing pleasure.

painted winter scene on a calabash half

Calabash snowman! Hammered nails into the 3 halves to make holes and tied them together with string. Made the hat out of tissu scraps and a cotton ball, and the scarf was a tissu piece

My christmas wreath made out of tissu scraps tied around a manipulated coat hanger (idea courtesy of Mrs. Walsh's 4th grade activities). Topped off with ribbon and an ornament that Aunt Nancy wrapped my present with last year

cards that i got last year

advent wreath constructed entirely of computer paper that i colored laboriously. Every sunday i taped on a new paper flame.

lamp decorated with some of the ornaments that Aunt Annie sent me last year

I forgot to take pictures of the nativity that aunt Mary sent last year and the mini tree that my neighbor sent me, but oh well...there are some of the highlights.
I have to say I am really grateful to be spending the holiday season here with some of my closest friends. Being in Benin really has altered my understanding of family and what it means to be there for people. I might be an ocean away from home of birth, but I still get to spend Christmas with the family that I've found here and for that I am extremely lucky.

Just last evening my mom and dad’s 2 christmas boxes came in and so did my 2 thanksgiving packages so it is looking like we are going to have a pretty spectacular meal by Beninese standards. I have to say that I will miss that. Opening a box of gingerbread cookie mix probably would never phase me at home to any degree but I opened it here and everyone in the bureau with me now is RIDICULOUSLY excited to make gingerbread cookies tomorrow. Plus I received lots of ziplock bags that you can snip the ends off to make icing bags to decorate.

So like I said, December has been crazy. For my birthday Angelina and Michelle came over on the friday before to make dinner with me and just hang out. We had mexican and listened to Christmas music and watched the Muppet Christmas Carol and the Nightmare before Christmas. The next day we got up early and went to Hoedogli to do Kantos's annual talk about girls staying in school and gender issues in Benin as compared to the US. The taxi ride to Azove was chock full of harassement and then we were SWARMED when we got to Azove by the zems wanting to take us to Hoedogli. That might have been the scariest zem ride of all of my time in BEnin--barring the zem ride that landed me on the hood of a car in JUly. My driver took off first down the narrow dirt (but for all intents and purposes sand) road to Hoedogli. It was covered with people walking to and from Azove's marche and the sand kept making the zem wobble, which always makes me nervous. I thought my zem was going exceptionally fast so i told him to slow down again and again and he didn't listen. Then all of a sudden angelina and Michelle both passed me on their motos and my driver became indignant saying "tu vois?" (you see?) and sped up to beat them. THen it became a contest of idiots to see who could pass the other and Michelle Angelina and I were all screaming at our zems to slow down because they were being dangerous and we were nervous. When we finally got to Houedogli we were all shaken up and it kind of tainted our mood for the talk and the rest of the day.

Girls talk in Houedogli

Then on my birthday meme, Kristin came over, bearing mozzarella that she had brought up from Cotonou the day before and kept in my "cool bag" to keep it slightly cooler than normal temps in Benin. We made delicious calzones and watched Pearl Harbor in the spirit of the day.


With the World Map a week later, and being in Cotonou since then, December is practically over and soon we'll be ringing in 2010! Unbelievable. Well, Anyways, i hope that everyone has a very merry christmas tomorrow with their families--I know I will. Hope you all get what you want. Me? I have eggnog in a can sent from the USA...what more could one ask for?

World Map 2

The weekend after my birthday I went back to Lokossa to follow up on the world map with Michelle. Once again it went amazingly and was so much fun to hang out with the kids. It went much quicker than we thought it would with the painting and was much more rewarding this time to see it get filled in little by little. We thought the black background would really make it pop. IT still isn't finished--we have to outline countries and write all of their names and oceans and stuff in French, etc. That will probably take awhile, plus we're on the search for teeny tiny sharpies to do it. But I'm posting up additional pictures for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy!

Charlie doing his compass

Almost done!

Me painting

Dieu donnait painting


Willie, emion, georgie, and 2 other kids

Michelle and all of the little camera monsters


Kids goofing off

Janvier 2 and Marcellin painting

Frederick being silly

Janvier, marcellin, and michelle

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Mali Update

Michelle, Angelina, Heidi, Sarah, Claire, and I are slated to leave the day after Christmas for Ougadougou in Burkina Faso for a night, before heading onward to Mali. We're planning on going to Djenne to see the mud mosque there before heading to Mopti to begin a trek of Dogon Country through new years. Due to recent kidnappings and growing threat to tourists in Northern Mali, especially the timbuktu area, Peace Corps is urging caution for travel there. Timbuktu is now off limits and Mopti was discouraged as well, though now that has been changed. So far we are still planning on going on our trip as are 2 other groups of Benin PCVs--the guide we have has worked with Benin PCVs in the past--took Kate and a group of TEFL volunteers through Dogon Country last year and got really good reviews. There is Peace COrps in Mali and they are not on standfast or consolidated or anything like that, so I'm hoping it remains okay. I'm attaching articles regarding the issues for anyone who is interested and will keep you updated.

French Kidnapping of November 2009

Large Group Kidnapping Jan 2009

Update re: January Kidnapping--Murder of British National

US Arming Mali to Fight North Africa Al-Qaeda Branch

Monday, November 30, 2009

My thoughts and prayers go out to the So-Youn family and to the Peace Corps Morocco community as they mourn the death of one of their volunteers.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Fete-ing in DoGbO!!!

This past week has seen a lot of good food and fete-ing in Dogbo! Wednesday was Kristin's birthday so we went to eat at the local buvette and then people came back to my house for cake. I found balloons in Cotonou, which added a little bit of flare as well.

Thanksgiving au Benin, round deux was excellent. I was freaking out that none of the Thanksgiving boxes my family had sent me made it here but we managed to scrounge up a delicious meal in Dogbo with all Beninese found items anyway (with the exception of 2 cans of cranberry sauce, lovingly donated by Michelle and Kristin).

I never really thought that the first thanksgiving I hosted would be in West Africa but it was pretty awesome. There were 11 people at my house on Thursday for dinner. Angelina and Andrew were over all day cooking with me and then Kristin came over after class to help, and Michelle as well. Everyone else just came to eat, which worked out fine—too many cooks in the kitchen and all. We made cornbread stuffing (made the cornbread the day before and attempted to let it dry out—let me take a moment to expound how successful THAT was in a tropical climate…all I succeeded in doing was getting it covered in ants and having to brush them all off the next day before people got too grossed out), Turkey legs that Meredith brought down from Azove, glazed carrots, green bean “casserole” sort of, cranberry sauce, corn, gravy (Angelina made it from bouillion cubes and it was wonderful…don’t know how she did it. We didn’t have drippings because we fried the turkey and even though we boiled it first because meat here is too tough to eat if you don’t boil, the water got thrown out by accident). We also had garlic mashed potatoes, glazed “sweet potatoes” (not what you r thinking of—Beninese sweet potatoes). And I got up at 7 to make fresh onion herb bread which was a HUGE hit….so delicious…and it made a ton. We brought down the extra to Cotonou yesterday and bought meat to make sandwiches…AMAZING! Dessert was apple crumble pie and Michelle whipped up a “Green Papaya tastes just like Pumpkin Pie” that really did taste pretty much like a pumpkin pie. We had an amazing time hanging out together and cooking. We even splurged and bought 3 things of real butter!!! The smell of ACTUAL REAL butter melting on my stove to make the crisp topping was unbelievable. Never in my life have I appreciated that smell before like that. Angelina and I actually stopped dead in our tracks at the same time just realizing that the kitchen smelled like actual butter and we sort of basked in its glow for a few moments. Same thing with the smell and taste of turkey. All in all a great day. And Kristin’s mom had sent down thanksgiving napkins, plates, and tablecloth which set a nice ambience! No refrigerators here are inherently a problem for leftovers so my neighbors made out like bandits (as did scout…she is eating for several, after all), and we gave them the oil we fried with, which I think probably made them happier than any of the food we gave them. Friday morning we cleaned up the house and migrated down to Thanksgiving Round 2 in Cotonou for ALL of the Southern volunteers. I am bien full and can’t even think of food right now!

The cake!

My house decorated

Make a wish!

Bread in the middle of rising...there was so much dough

MY kitchen in the middle of cooking

Apple crumble pie...even made little leaves!

Andrew standing guard over the turkey

Angelina and Michelle, who always gives me the peace sign in photos

Our Thanksgiving spread

my plate!

Scout in a post turkey-scrap coma...or maybe in just a "I am so knocked up and tired" coma

Some Randomness...Aaaargh

Here's a little holiday randomness. I just realized some more things that have come to be normal to me that wouldn't be to anyone who had never been here before. Wood branch scaffolding to build buildings. It is interesting to me to see that since they used bamboo in China.

Then this is a fairly typical type of sign for coiffures in Benin...but I enjoyed the incorporation of the word seduction in this one and the picture was pretty jazzy.

So i was listening to BBCnews when i was cooking dinner the other night and almost fell down with shock at hearing "Cotonou" on BBC. So i turned up the volume more to hear what ever could have put Benin in international news. Naturally...piracy. I thought piracy was really just a problem around Somalia but apparently not. THe pirates, or rogues, are believed to be Nigerian (There's a shocker...Nigerians get blamed for EVERYThing bad that happens in Benin)and they even killed a man on board. Personally, I blame Johnny Depp for making piracy seem such an appealing career move. Looks like someone needs to send the Kraken out on these guys.

Stay tuned. Thanksgiving and World Map pictures to come soon!! Happy Tabaski

Monday, November 23, 2009

Where in the WORLD has the Time Gone?

Vraiment? It’s already after Thanksgiving!! What happened to November? I have been really busy since the start of the month and so I can’t even believe that it is over. In little over a month from now I’ll be ringing in 2010 on an escarpment in Mali and then fete-ing my SECOND (and last) voodoo day in Benin and getting ready for my parents’ visit!! I’m overwhelmed at how fast the time is going.

When I got out of the med unit and back to Dogbo this summer, I started to freak out that I didn’t have any work happening and hadn’t accomplished anything since coming back from the states. I spent a week at post, 3 weeks in the med unit in cotonou, 2 weeks at post, then 2 weeks in Porto Novo during training, and since my real work partner was in Porto Novo for all 9 weeks of training and I had been in the States for nearly a month, I really have ANYthing going on. I sat sitting in my house pondering why I was even here and what I could possibly do and thought of the world map. I went to an orphanage in Lokossa last year to learn how to make soy cheese and remembered they had a really great wall for one so I asked Michelle if she’d want to do one.

Several months later, the project is finally underway! It took awhile to talk to the matron of the orphanage, coordinate a time to go, and get together what we needed but last weekend we showed up Friday morning ready to start. Most of the children were at school when we started, which was good because it gave us some time to get our bearings and figure out how to get started. The World Map manual of Peace Corps plans it out along a grid method so we had to mark off the walls and then, possibly the hardest part of all, do math. As anyone who knows me might imagine, we had some technical difficulty with that and ended up erasing the entire grid.

Admittedly, I had been nervous that, given my motivation of my suggestion to do a world map and the way in which we started going about it, that there would be no sort of ownership of this project by the orphanage itself—that we would be just these two foreigners coming in and designing and doing a project all by ourselves that didn’t really make any difference there. I could not have been happier or more pleasantly surprised when the kids got involved. AS they trickled in from school they were all so curious and wanted to help put up tape, draw, and paint. I was really unsure about the kids (especially the little ones) helping to draw and paint the smaller detailed areas of the map—More so than Michelle, who is a teacher here and works with kids all the time. But I forgot to take into account how precise and neat Beninese people are in general in things like measurements and line drawing. It kind of in a way goes back to just the way they are taught…it HAS to be precise…everything. Works out perfectly for things like this—they are great!

When I came to the orphanage last year, the children were gathered around to greet us in rehearsed unison. It was cute and I’ve seen it a lot in Benin and Tanzania. But there is just something so artificial or at least superficial about it that it becomes frustrating. Working with the children for even just a few hours served to tear down all of the walls of formality between us. Michelle and I are now called by our first names instead of “Madame” or “Tata” and the children hang on us, play with us, tickle us and run away, clamor to help, correct our French, and act just as their impish selves. They are AMAZING and I think that this might be my favorite thing that I’ve done so far in Benin. I like that I can walk into the orphanage and not feel like an outsider and that the kids are actually happy to see me. On our second day a group of Beninese men came in to talk to the Patron there and the children came out and did their little rehearsed welcome and I smiled to myself, knowing that that morning when we had walked up, they came running toward us to take our stuff inside and play and work with us.

We didn’t get to finish the map in a weekend—and even if we hadn’t lost time with our miscalculations, we wouldn’t have finished. So we are going back the second week in December to finish. On the agenda before then is finding accurate information since the manual we are using still has Zaire and Yugoslavia on it, and we can’t find slovenia. Plus we need a list of country names in French to make it more useful for the kids. I am excited to go back to the orphanage with them and do geography stuff with the kids because they haven’t a clue about how to read maps or the world in which they live. We might even write another small grant to go back and do a mural of just Benin and its Departments. My Porto Novian host brothers came to visit me and couldn’t find Dogbo on a map of Benin so I think that would be a good project as well. Anyway, I’m putting up pictures for your viewing pleasure…enjoy! I’ll update again when it is finished.

Me spinning the kids at the end of the first day of world map painting--as soon as one went up they all wanted to spin

Frederick, Georgie, and I

Michelle with blue paint and gas for cleaning burning through her skin...beause in every picture I take of her she has to give me the peace sign. :)

Michelle with the plumb line before we even started drawing our first line

Mariane--she used to be highly anemic and has gotten so much healthier. I remember seeing her last year and she was so timid...seeing her warm up to us has been really great

Me taping up the border so we don't paint outside of the box

Me with Eduad, my little helper; and Florence, there for moral support

Michelle with Eduad, Janvier 1 and Janvier 2

Kids assessing the measurements

Michelle mixing up the "pate" and "sauce" as the kids were calling the paint and tints. Bon Cuisine!

Me with Eduad--he looks cute but don't be fooled...i have never met such a whiney and cry baby child in my life...every 2 seconds it's something. Eh...he is still cute though

All the kids...they were surounding a picture of a plane they just drew for us in the dirt but i don't think you can see it. They were the head bands for gym at school

Georgie being held by his friend who's name I forget...God, they love the camera

Me with all the kids

Janvier 1 and 2 heading up the grid efforts

drawing the grid...round 2

Georgie and 2 favs

Charlie painting our compass...he was SO excited to help and can't wait to paint it

Ironically enough this boy's name is Dieu Donnait. I always feel badly for albinos here because they look like they are physically in pain with their blisters and their squinting from the sun. But Michelle and I thought it ironic that he is albino and that she had christened my halloween "yovo baby" Dieu Donnait as well.

Michelle drawing Europe with some help from the kids

Thumbs up, seven up everyone!

Sylvie and I painting "yellow" countries. Russia is ridiculously large. And the peace corps map for frame of reference still has Yugoslavia and Zaire up so we're going to have to do some editing/research!

Janvier 1 and Bienvenue painting...with a baby on her back--that is pretty amazing.