Monday, June 29, 2009

Back to Africa...Troisième Fois

Despite the difficulty in saying goodbye to people (especially knowing I'll miss my new cousin and Jen being the most gorgeous bride ever) leaving home was surprisingly easier the second time around. Because of that, I have to admit I am surprised at what a hard time I am having now being back in Benin and adjusting to life here again.

Things that I miss from home:
1. The ability to just go out at night, whether with my friends or just for a walk around the block with my dog and have streetlights and not feel unsafe. The fact that there IS a nightlife in the States
2. The ability to just run out to a store to buy a quick but delicious cup of coffee for a pick me up.
3. Hot showers and feeling remarkably clean ALL of the time
4. temperate climate
5. Not being a minority or hearing the yovo song, not being sexually harassed and touched, and not being asked for things every five minutes
6. The feeling of cool crisp sheets and my really comfortable bed with so many pillows that i can just recline into
7. Lighting that is not flourescent
8. Not breathing in massive amounts of smog constantly and the remarkable ease of transportation and close proximity of stores and things.

Those are just the highlights of an extremely long list in my journal here and does not include the obvious like my family and friends. I think I just have to give myself some time to get used to Benin again and start repressing the things I love from home like I must have done last year but in the meantime it is very hard being back for me. Really, it fluctuates...one instant I am fine and the next I'll have this sick feeling in my stomach willing every part of me to put in the call to COtonou that says I've decided to call it in and ET.

I went straight from COtonou to Porto Novo to work at Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World, ou bien, LEs filles guident notre monde) for the week. It was a good experience but was hard for me because camp started on sunday and i got there on tuesday and was on guard duty all day so I never really got to know a lot of the girls there (it is volunteers who picked girls who show promise and potential in 6ième or 5ième--young teens). The week is geared to share information with the girls on women's empowerment and rights, health information, studying tips, career panel with beninese women, etc. IT is also just a time for the girls to hang out with other girls their age and be kids and do fun activities like necklace making, art stuff, etc. Seeing the girls progress over the week and make friends with each other was really nice, even though I know thye'll never be able to maintain the friendship...no real affordable communication for them so it isn't possible. I don't think they've ever had the opportunity to just cut loose and have fun playing with sports balls, and each other, etc....just being girls. Certainly, their brothers do...but they'll naturally be occupied with housework at home. In fact it took some effort to get them to stop trying to do the dishes after meals and let volunteers do them (the man who was working on the grounds of where we were staying was shocked to see white people doing dishes 'Why don't you just hvae the girls do it?' he asked us and we had to tell him that we were perfectly capable and that the girls could go play 'And yesterday,' he continued 'I saw a man doing dishes,' referring to another volunteer, Christopher. Well now, astute observation, Holmes...in OUR country...men tend to make themselves more useful with stuff like that.

I saw my host family while in POrto Novo and that was fun...Especially giving them souvenirs from the states! They are getting ready to host a new stagiere (trainee) for PEace Corps who will be coming at the end of July, and it made me realize how much work they put into getting the house ready for me. They popped a bottle of really sweet and not so great tasting champagne and made a toast to my return which was a very sweet gesture.

I thought I would be really happy to get back to Dogbo and just get settled but it has been an up and down affair actually. I was in a bad mood on the trip back because I had 2 difficult moments along the way.
1. During campl glow we had explained to the girls why it is important to not throw garbage on the ground like they are accustomed to doing and so for the week they threw stuff in garbage cans we provided. If a girl was found picking up trash she earned points for her team. Saturday afternoon after all the other groups left and it was just Kristin and I with our girls we looked out and saw the ground was COVERED in garbage. As soon as the camp ended it was like everything they learned didn't matter anymore because you took away their incentive. That sounds so small but I was SO SO very frustrated and discouraged and just plain angry as i went around picking up their trash. 'What's the point; why do we bother, who cares, what difference are we making, why am i here?' was the littany of questions running through my head. Kristin reminded me that we can't expect to change the world but if even one girl doesn't throw her trash like that anymore than we have succeeded. I used to think like that too but now I guess I have to work to get that perspective back.

2. WHen stopped at a light in Cotonou a man selling phone credit took my hand in his as it rested on the window. I pushed him off and took my hand inside the car and he reached in and touched me again so I yelled at him and Kristin hit him. he did it again and then I had to hit him and he still wouldn't leave me alone so finally the light turned green and we left. I was at least glad our camp glow girls from dogbo were with us so that they could see they can stand up for themselves and not have to deal with that kind of behavior here.

When I got home, outside of my house was a mess because the rain had knocked over a tree and I was really stressed about that on top of everything else. THen within minutes, Basil came over to say hi and welcome me back. He saw the tree and ran off to grab a machete, came back, and cleaned up everything for me before getting me water. THat really made a difference in my mood and I was really grateful to him. It was really nice getting Scout back too. My return has been pretty awesome in terms of people welcoming me back and noting i had been gone for so long.

BUt in general, being here is just hard right now. Our country director has been forced to resign and we are currently with only an interim acting country director. Our training staff is severely impacted by resignations amongst other things. One of my closer friends ETed (early terminated) her service while I Was home so she is not here anymore as did another volunteer. MOst of the training group ahead of us is leaving and some are suggesting that the new training group not be brought in at the end of july. WHile I understand where they are coming from I believe that to not bring them would be extremely demoralizing to us and that that will never happen.

I guess I never stopped and thought about how Kate's murder was affecting my work here, but it is. I don't do anything no without stopping to think, 'Well what does this mean for me...could doing this somehow put me in danger or make my community angry?' I've especially had to think of this regarding some articles i wanted to write for Bisou BIsou that i now think might be too controversial, and it proved extremely salient my last night of camp glow when a girl came to me and 2 other volunteers to solicit our help in dealing with her lousy home situation with her dad. Her dad never wanted her because he was divorcing her mother and wanted her to have an abortion so he hates this girl and doesn't support her like the 13 other kids he has with 7 different women. When we suggested living with her mother (or about 7 other suggestions that she found not workable) she told us she couldn't because her belief in Voodoo. HEr father sold her soul to one of the 3 voudons of the water. THe fetishers will use gris gris to kill her if she should go live with her mother, she believes and there is no convincing her otherwise. IT would be extremely inappropriate to suggest that those beliefs are not true to her. As much as i was moved to REALLY REALLY want to help her I can't possibly because I don't want to get involved with something like that and maybe put myself at risk with her family. The other PCVs feel the same way. We decided to contact the PC facilitator I often work with in Lokossa to have him help and speak to the girl since he is more culturally aware, but I do not want anything to happen to him either, and he IS connected to PC so that comes back to us anyway since we are the volunteers who live nearby.

I worry about all of the facilitators we have training new volunteers not because I think they are out to hurt us but because I think that they are friends with each other and giving events of the last several months, I think it casts a shadow on this coming stage. All in all, it just feels very constricted in terms of work here so I have to see how that progresses and if it gets better.

So at this point it is really one day at a time while I readjust here. Going to Cotonou on Friday for the weekend because there is a dinner at the ambassadors home that I will be going to, so I am looking forward to that. Will write again soon! Miss everyone from home!

1 comment:

Catherine said...

Hello Dear Friend,
So nice to hear from you! Guess bringing the computer was a good bet. I had a feeling it would be weird to go to the U.S. (was sooo going to say home, hehe) then back to Benin. It's sounds hard from this vantage point and you're the one going through it. I'm throwing you a hug cross-continental XXXXXX You'll get back to your normal soon, you always do, you're nothing if not resilient. I know it must be frustrating with trying to affect the people you come across postively, but you're just one person, there's only so much you can do. Change is important, take Gandhi "Be the change you want to see in the world", change is not really something that is measured in size. It's just a process in life- so don't get too discouraged. You're doing WONDERFULLY!!! I applaud you and your efforts. Seriously, everyone (as you recently experienced) loves you and is sooooo extremely proud, take that to heart. As I always say, be the wonder that is you :) Miss ya oodles! Cat