Monday, June 29, 2009

There's No Place Like Home...

Home was amazing...Really no words to adequately describe just how amazing actually. I loved packing up my house here for the trip, and going down to Cotonou was one of the more comfortable taxi rides I"ve ever had in Benin. Naturally all of the zems at etoile rouge were being fairly evil and refused to give me the right price, or first addressed me as 'ma cherie.' So I was really happy to be getting the heck out of Benin when one zem finally drove up next to me and agreed to take me to the bureau for 150 CFA, as it should have been...NOT 200CFA. Naturally the other zems that i rejected were all following me to tell whatever zem i DID find not to take me for less than 200 but this guy was nice. WHen he dropped me off he told me all the others were angry at him for taking me for 150CFA. I told him I knew but that that was the right price and so they were being unfair and dishonest just because i was white, and he agreed saying that he knew we came to this country to help them and that we shouldn't be treated like that by people. 'Oh,' I thought, 'a bright shining light in Benin that makes me think it will be okay coming back here afterwards.'

Going to the Cotonou airport to check in felt so surreal...seeing where it all started. The airport, while small, was bigger than I remembered...and there was an actual western advertising poster with Hilary Swank on it, which was so bizarre to see. I have to say that after a year in Benin plane food was pretty fantastic and I was thrilled that I could speak with the flight attendents in French! Paris left me just enough time to be completely overwhelmed by the smells and the stores of the airport and the intense security, and of course, le plus importante, to find myself a deliciously warm and flaky pain au chocolat the likes of which have never existed in Benin. SInce the croissant itself cost me more than I spend on food over the course of several days here, i decided to abandon the original plan of buying an accompanying coffee. In flight entertainment...FANNNNNNtastic. I LOVED watching music videos and some movies i missed while here the past year. I was so excited and wired for the trip that I didn't sleep for more than 2 hours, and I started to tear up as we descended over New York. Stepping off the plane and touching American soil felt great, but not nearly as good as when i saw my dad and then my Aunts and brother right after customs. Then my mom...walked into her office and she screamed a little and came running over to hug me while we both started to cry. She even wore her sunflower scrubs for me!

Seeing everyone from, friends, neighbors, colleagues, was all so great and exciting and I ate amazing food (and bien grossied as everyone here has informed me...thanks a bundle, Bénin...American women just love being told how fat they got) and drank WONDERFUL margaritas. I forgot how much I love being home and in my house. Walking in for the first time was incredible...Everything looked SO beautiful and smelled fantastic. By the end of my stay home walking into the house felt just normal and regular so I am grateful to have the opportunity to see my home this way again. My room was redone by my dad and was a spectacular surprise and welcome. My dog was a putz who didn't recognize me at first but wasted no time making himself comfortable in our new digs once he realized who I was. And the giz aussi was taken by surprise and had to warm up to me before relaxing.

Going to a supermarket didn't overwhelm me like I thought it would. Some volunteers said they cried first time they were back in a supermarket but I was just excited to pick out bonnes choses to bring for myself and other volunteers. WHat really got me was walking into Lord and Taylors in NYC: THe shoe department first, and then seeing the clothes. THat was when i felt overwhelmed. Certainly not to the point of tears, mind you...but definitely stressed out and just overwhelmed by the sheer number and variety of really obnoxiously expensive things available for purchase there. I have clothes made here and see little shoe stands in the marche and that is it, so I was taken by surprise by that feeling.

A lot of people told me I appearred to have readjusted super quick and well to being back in the US but I don't really know how to respond to that. I mean...what was I supposed to do...dig a hole in my backyard for the bathroom? I fell back into my life there because that is my life and that is what i do in the U.S. It is not possible or practical to live how i do in Benin at home. BUt I don't think I looked at ANYthing the same way as I had before, ESPECIALLY the ease with which I could turn on a faucet and have hot and cold water that didn't have to be treated...I could just brush my teeth with it or drink it without boiling and filtering it first. Ice on hand and ready to go...a HUGE refrigerator...Scratch that...2 HUGE refrigerators and 3 freezers stocked with food to eat and no worry that the power is going to cut out every 10 minutes and maybe spoil your food. OH, and the glory of the washing machine. I like doing my clothes here most of the time but they just feel so much cleaner when they come out of a wash and dry cycle. I have to admit I was not equally enamored with the dishwasher. I couldn't help but not really see the point aside from when we all ate together and had a lot of dishes. But when it was just me putting in my breakfast dishes I couldn't help but think "this is so stupid...letting this barely dirty dish sit in here for afew days before washing it when I could just do it now." and so i did wash those by hand most of the time. THe feel of a good quality sponge in my hand that i knew was so easily replaceable by going to a store down the block (as opposed to a 3 hour trip to Cotonou to find a worser version) and washing a dish with soap and hot running water was a great feeling though i felt often at home that i was really wasting water. ALso using dishwear that was not plastic was pretty cool as well. verdict??? ça va un peu. Loved using my toilet at home...When it came to using a public restroom at the restaurant near the mall or in the Penn station, well, to be entirely honest...I'd take me latrine any day as opposed to dealing with nastyness and urine on the seats, etc. But in short, home was incredible, and I have to thank my friends, family, and especiall my parents for making my 3 weeks there so memorable and enjoyable. I love and miss you!

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