Thursday, February 19, 2009

Valentine's Day

So while I never really hated valentines day--I mean, who would complain about getting boxes of chocolate, even if they are from your dad and grandpa?-- I can't say anything too spectacular has ever made me just LOVEEEEE the holiday either, until I decided to be proactive about it and treat myself to an amazing Valentine's here in Benin.

SO Saturday I headed down to Grand Popo, our beautiful beach conveniently located only about an hour and a half away from Dogbo, with some friends, and it was an amazing time. We stayed overnight in this little Rasta themed hostel type place called Lion Bar, where the rooms were clean, simple, and only the equivalant of five bucks per person, US$. I was in the 'Peter Tosh' room. Unfortunately my camera battery is dead so I'll have to come back to upload pictures. There's one communal shower and toilet there for all the rooms and its funny to think that that would have probably horrified me this time last year, while now i was just excited that there was actual running water. THe Lion Bar is right on the beach, just walk down a bit to sit under their little palm paillot things for shade. It was an absolutely magnificent day and definitely the first time I'd been to a beach in February in my life. SOme other volunteers came down for the day and some stayed over and so we had a really great time just hanging out. A group of fun German tourists were staying there on their way to Ghana the next day and actually, we ran into an RPCV who served in Cameroon about 10 years ago and hung out with us so that was pretty fun. Plus she treated us to breakfast the next day, which was equally amazing and much appreciated.

One volunteer was down with a family friend visiting from the U.S. too so we walked along the beach to the Auberge where they were staying to visit for a bit. Plus, the woman brought chocolates from the US, which the other PCV was nice enough to offer us so i did get a piece of v-day russell stover after all, even in benin. It was so much fun seeing a tourist here and it made me realize just how badly I want someone to come visit me, and not just to get spoiled. I really want to see Benin again through the eyes of someone who's never been here before and who doesn't just take women walking around with baskets on their heads and babies strapped to their backs with a pagne as normal. THis lady, bless her, wanted to take a picture of every goat she saw. While I admittedly have a strange affinity for the the goats here and think that they are rather adorable, if I took a pic of every one that I saw, my camera would be dead in 5 minutes.

Lion Bar was hopping at night with Reggae music and extremely cheap cocktails served in coconuts. Power cutting out? no problem. Snag a bottle of smuggled nigerian gas and power up that generator for some more good times. Fortunately because of my larium induced insomnia the night before I was able to actually sleep through the music sans probleme.

WHile we are in the dry season still, we are hitting that strange interim btw the weather patterns and it rains very occasionally and very briefly. Saturday night, a BEAUTIFUL lightning storm rolled in over the ocean and it was amazing to see (I'll post pics next time). Plus the rain was so refreshing and it actually felt 'cool' for the evening. We slept without a fan and didn't even break a sweat.

Sunday the PCV i was sharing a room with left early but I hung around Gpopo for the day to enjoy the beach. I was walking down the road and saw this little artisan shack to the side and stopped over to see what they were working on. The workshop belongs to these two guys from Burkina Faso, actually, David and Frederick. THey did a lot of calabash carving--like a huge gourd type thing used in a million different artistic ways here. I actually ended up getting a hand carved calabash lamp (I bargained the price down to a PCV friendly fare pretty well, if i do say so myself. Though I'm worried i'm going to go home, walk into a retail store and try to start bargaining, declaring that something is obscenely overpriced and walk away with a huff waiting for the vendor to lower the price for me. I'm pretty sure I'll be sorely disappointed when that doesn't happen at home and people will instead just think that i am crazy.) These guys kept the calabash natural (as opposed to the more touristy place down the street that charged way more and painted the calabash with different pictures and use machines for the work) and I watched the two of them carving meticulously with a leatherman. I honestly almost felt bad for paying so little for the lamp since to do that all by hand must take forever. And while I was waiting for them to finish polishing it off the other who had me in conversation, asked me off-handedly my name. In retrospect I'm glad I told the truth because he carved it into a calabash without my noticing while we were talking and cadeaued me with it before i left. It was pretty awesome. Plus they said that Fespaco is a great time and so I am even more excited to go.

Fespaco is this French and African film festical in BUrkina Faso they have every 2 years and I got my vacation request approved to go, so I'm heading up there next week and spending a week of the festival with a group of volunteers. I'm so excited for that and to just see Northern Benin in general. Don't know if I'll post again before the trip but I'll take lots of pictures!

Kind of random: People often ask me if there is any way they can support my service here by donating or what have you. Unfortunately the answer for right now is no since any monetary donations from home have to be done through a PCPP-Peace COrps Partnership Program--where I submit a project proposal to headquarters in DC, get it approved, and have a site put up with my project so that I can begin fundraising for it. Since that is mostly second year volunteers, I don't have a PCPP going yet. However, the school that I did some work and started an on-campus organization for during my time at holy cross, The Beverly School of Kenya ( , is in need of funding right now to continue with construction work. It is a boarding school that will be largely consistent of orphan children, and is located an hour or so outside of Nairobi. The school will be free for the children, provide them with homes and healthcare, and be largely self sustaining with a farm, etc. Especially after the post-election violence that rocked Kenya in January 2008, the need for such opportunities for Kenya's youth is evident, and I very much believe in the potential for this project. The school is aiming to open in July, but is struggling with donations and budget in light of the global financial crisis. Right now there are opportunities for buying windows for $140, doors for $100, sinks for $110 ea, toilets $110 ea (which I am slightly bitter about since even I don't have a toilet...haha...just kidding), a bag of cement $20 ea. and padlock $25ea. But actually, any amount is appreciated and if you are interested, checks can be made out to the Beverly School

Beverly school of Kenya
206 Boston Road
Sutton Ma. 01590

It is 501 c 3 non-profit organization so donations are tax deductable. If you're interested at all and you want more information about the school, to see pictures of construction and students, or to talk to its founder, Abdi Lidonde, who is currently working at Holy Cross for more details, etc. Please don' hesitate to email me and I can get you more info or a contact for Abdi.

I'll be back soon!!

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