Monday, May 18, 2009
2 More Weeks!!!
So a lot has gone on I suppose since the last time i wrote. But to start off, here is a picture of one of the bonne choses that I inherited...my bench/couch thing! Like I said last time, i re-varnished it, had a cushion made for it (and only I could find tissu THAT pink in Benin...a few PCVs have already asked me if I got that fabric sent from America...no my friends, i just keep my eyes peeled on dogbo marche days with a natural gravity toward obnoxiously bright colored things and anything pink, especially), and now my little salon is looking very shnazzy and I can actually have people over and offer them a place to sit. Ironically, I still spend quite a bit of time on the floor because I got so used to sitting on the floor my first several months at post. oh well.
So Benin has been going well lately with the exception of a few minor snafoos. Par example...electricity. I have gotten ripped off on my electric bill since i moved in in September. The best thing if you don't have your own counter is to have a subcounter in your house so that you know exactly how much electricity YOU are using yourself but there wasn't one in my house when I moved in and I decided to not put one in because they are kind of expensive (for volunteers...especially with the small amt of Money you had to buy everything you needed when you first move in) and I thought I would just see how it goes for a few months...most volunteers, depending on where they live though, spend between 1,500CFA to 3,000CFA per month for a few light bulbs, computers, fan, etc. A brief word about electricity in Benin. Since there aren't addresses on the dirt roads or anything, factures (bills) are kind of done by family compounds and the chefs of the households (aka...the main man). Factures are delivered by SB--the electric company--to the heads of households by hand and several months (usually 3-4) after the fact.
SO...when in started out, my proprietors son (not the proprietor himself because he doesn't really speak french and i don't really speak aja beyond greetings and random words like egbo--that means goat and won't help me discuss electricity bills) would come to my house with the facture that was for 3 households including mine. He told me I owed him 2,000 and it seemed reasonable so I paid it. Next month he came and told me it was 3,000 and I started to question it just because i wasn't using any MORE electricity than the previous month ( i have a few lights and a fan). But I let it go because the price fluctuates. Then...at the end of December, he comes over with the facture for november/December (unusually timely, it was for the last 2 weeks in November and first 3 in December--that's another thing...the periods in the factures are annoyingly random) and as usual i asked him how much I was responsible for and he told me 6,000CFA. Well, frankly...i flipped out. Mani and Carie were there and I made quite the stink about how he was ripping me off seeing as how for the first 3 weeks of december I was in porto novo and hadn't used a single bit of electricity, and shouldn't owe 6,000CFA for 2 weeks. That, apparently, required way too much critical thinking for his peanut sized brain, and we butted heads, leaving me with no choice but to pay because i didn't have any way of proving how little electricity I used. Next month, he ripped me off again and I became so incensed that i handed him my money, walked down to the marche, bought the dumb subcounter, and used HIS electrician to install it that day. Problem solved right? haha, no, silly...this is Benin.
So...for MONTHS i heard nothing about electricity until 2 sundays ago when he came to my door with his brother and 2 factures that SB had just done. They handed me the facture and started to make as if to enter my house when i firmly told them that they would not be entering (inappropriate to have a man in my house, never mind 2). I had been marking down how many KWh i used at the first of each month and went to grab the paper with my notes so we could calculate my contribution. I told them i wanted to take the factures to SB to figure out how much one KWh costs and they were just like "No...it's 150CFA." So i said that's fine and calculated that i used about 14 KWh in February so I owed 2100CFA. Since the other facture was during a time when i didn't have the subcounter in my house i couldn't calculate it but told them i refused to pay more since i use approximately the same amount of electricity per month unless i am traveling and i use less. Well he was outraged and told me I couldn't possibly be right (and im sure he was genuinely surprised at how little i had to actually pay since he'd been jacking up MY share every month). Well, I have a temper....and i got a little out of control with him so that we were reduced to a shouting match. This was probably extremely exacerbated by how I've been feeling in Benin lately in light of several recent events and my overall exhaustion with being treated as inferior and with disrespect because I am a woman. He didn't believe the numbers I wrote down at the end of every month and told me he wanted to come into my house to look at the counter himself. 1.-this is an ABSOLUTE no since the counter is in my bedroom and this is beyond inappropriate. 2.-he couldn't seem to wrap his mind around the fact that if he saw it himself it would make absolutely NO difference since the facture was for FEbruary and we are now in May and THEREFORE...the number on the counter had changed. His second line of attack was to ask me how i calculated that i used 14KWh and i explained it to him and he just blatantly refused to believe me. He laughed at me like i was a stupid moron when i told him that every 10 turns of the last number in the red decimal point zone of the counter equals 1KWh and tried to tell me that every turn was actually one KWh itself. All i could think of was that i graduated at the top of my class from one of the most competetive liberal arts schools in america and here i was trying to explain myself to this man who thinks that I am an idiot and who doesn't even have a highschool education. I know that some of the most valuable education isn't ever even from the classroom, and I know that it's pompous and arrogant of me to have been thinking like that--I KNOW--but at the time, in the moment, I couldn't help it because I was just so angry. I tried to explain to him that if he stopped for one minute to think about this and do the math for what he just said, that i would owe more than the entire facture is worth and that doesn't even include the other 2 houses on the bill. So anyways, he refused to accept the number i told him and i refused to pay more and i just kind of shoved the money in his arms which is one step away from throwing it on the floor...a beninese insult...and i told him he could take it or he could have nothing and take it up with the director of my ong. At this point he told me he was just going to cut my power and he gave me back my money as I dialled my director and had him speak to the propietors son directly--who, as it happens, wore this snivelling little grin the entire time that i felt quite compelled to just slap right off violently. I mean, i could literally feel my face flushing and my blood pressure rising because i was just so stressed and incensed.
Very very continued long story short, the comptable for my ONG came over to sit down with me and the proprietor's son to work it out and the comptable knows entirely that he was trying to cheat me because he was pulling some shenanigans during our mtg for the month when i didn't have a counter. My comptable called him out on it as being dishonest but we just kind of settled and have arrived at a new system. I will mark down how many KWh i use per month at the first of every month like i was already doing and pay 150CFA per KWh every month regardless of the facture, and now my ong will help me regulate it. You'd think that would make me feel better, and it does...a little. But in general i still feel really angry and bitter about it because the proprietor's son accepted as true exactly what i said when it came from the mouth of another beninese man. Just not the white woman. On top of everything else that has happened here recently...i just really am discovering an awesome respect and appreciation for women's rights and the ability to walk down the street and NOT be sexually harassed or 'ma cheried'.
Like today for exampe. I am in Cotonou working on my session plans for when I have to do training for new trainees this summer. I stepped out of the office to find some streetfood and was talking to a maman. I heard this hissing noise behind me from a man sitting in a car trying to get my attention (they doing hissing like trying to get a cat's attention and then they do the kissing noise too normally). I ignored him and walked on to the next maman with some beignets and a young girl came up next to me and tapped my arm to tell me that the man in the car wanted to talk to me. I turned around to look at him and told her 'i don't know him, he can leave.' The maman in front of me told me "Il vous aime--he likes you" and i told her i didn't care. SO he drove away kind of embarassed (at least I think so since all of the mamans were kind of having a loud chuckle at his expense). And honestly, i think that is where female volunteers in Benin make a huge difference. Every time we tell off a man here acting like a pig, it sets an amazing example for girls here. It says that maybe after all they don't have to put up with cat calls, subordination, or sleep with their teachers to get good grades, or respond no matter what whenever a guy gives them some sort of positive attention. They aren't used to seeing women stand up for themselves and shut men down. It's why every time i hear "ma cherie" i whip around to berate them, telling them i am not their cherie, and to shut their mouths and respect themselves if they continue. Public humiliation goes a long way, i find, in getting men here to shut up and leave you alone.
But anyways, other than all that, work has been going well and really picking up lately. Like I said, I've been in Cotonou since monday working on my session plans with another volunteer for this summer. It's been a lot of work but is coming along really well, and I think that this year's stage (training) will be great.
I also started baby-weighing in the nearby village of Koutime (koo-chee-may)...it took us long enough to find a scale but we finally did and it went pretty well for our first time. I think that the three of us (kantos, the other pcv nearby and i) will get better with more and more practice. I didn't get peed on even one time, though i did make several babies cry at the mere sight of my white skin. Some of them have never seen white people before. It's heartbreaking to see, but their mom's think that it is hysterical. I was really excited that the women were so into it because they practically weighed the babies themselves often enough. That's great because it means that when volunteers leave they can carry it on themselves if they have a scale (and we're trying to figure out a way for women's groups to get UNICEF baby-weighing scales and harnesses). Baby-weighing can get complicated in Benin because mothers are supposed to have their carnet de sante for their child (health book) but often don't or have lost it, etc. Even if they do have the book a lot of times it is filled out incorrectly or birth date and weight information, or name or parental information is missing. The carnets also have a section for vaccinations so it is useful to see if the mom is taking her child to national vaccination days. The center of the carnet is the growth chart where you plot the age and weight of babies up until 3 years of age in order to make sure they are healthy. The growth chart is really a great indicator of child development and can help you see trends that might be going on in the child's life (ie--during june and july their weight drops, maybe because of diarhea or other illness brought on by rainy season; 6 months in, the weight drops, maybe because weaning has started and with water consumption the baby has got diarhea; or maybe 11 months into the babies life his weight drops because his mother has had another child and is not continuing breastfeeding of her first child, etc.) It is all really interesting to see. It is also interesting to note that most mothers in village haven't a clue as to when their children are born. You have to ask them if it was hot or raining when they were born, etc. because if they don't know AND don't have the carnet de sante with that info then you are at a loss. SOmetimes we plot a baby and freak out because we think it must be really malnourished and then look up at the baby to see it's a little chubster--the problem is just that the mom probably gave us the wrong date of birth so on the chart it looks as though it is very underweight for its age.
Pictures: Baby-weighing in Koutime. Not the most flattering shots of me, but how much of a cutie patootie is that baby!?
In addition, i am almost done with my first issue of Bisou Bisou!!! When the french is finalized (it could use some more correcting) I'll see if there is any way I can link it to the blog because I am really excited about it and think it came out really well! I met with a student the other day so she can help me out with some of the nuances in my french and she really liked it a lot...have an article on healthy relationships, contraception, a condom true or false quiz with explained answers, and a word search and riddle...all in all, it's looking good.
Other than that there isn't too much big news going on. Spent Saturday afternoon at Grand Popo to celebrate the French and Dutch womens' birthdays and that was a fun little yovo shindig--well, with the exception of the trip TO grand popo but I'm not going to get into it because i spent the first half of this entry being rather negative and really the day was quite fun in general. I'm heading back to Dogbo tomorrow and am SO excited that 2 weeks from now i will be sitting in my house with my family and my dog, and my gizmo. This weekend we are having the next installment of the Dogbo cooking sessions--breakfast for dinner...everyone is coming up and it should be fun. Anyways, until next time!