Sunday, July 26, 2009

From Mildew to "I do"

So I am officially out of the medical unit., which is good considering that it was driving me crazy. I am used to being alone most of the time here and I spent over 2 weeks constantly surrounded by a flurry of volunteers passing through Cotonou on their way to vacations or ending their service. I love seeing other volunteers but that was just too much. I couldn’t really walk for the majority of my stay there because my feet were so cut up and I wasn’t ready to get back on a zem so my movement for those two weeks was confined to hobbling around (because I swear, being a yovo in Benin doesn't draw enough attention to me...i need to add bandages and a limp) in about a 2 block radius away from headquarters. The only thing to do during the day was read, watch movies, or sit on the computer…all a novelty when you visit Cotonou maybe once a month but not after day 4 nevermind 14.

After a few days the intensity of what happened seemed to diminish. I stopped replaying it every few minutes in my head. But then every time that I thought I was doing just fine something would remind me about the accident. The following Sunday, for example, I put on the dress I wore that day for the first time since the accident and realized the whole skirt section of it was entirely shredded from dragging along the road. I had a cut on my thumb also that wasn’t healing and was surprisingly irritating considering its small size. A few days after that (about a week and a half after my accident) I finally was able to pull out a small shard of glass that had been jammed in there. I’m still shaken up enough that I haven’t zemmed yet still. It is inevitable if I am going to stay here so I should probably just bite the bullet and try it out in Dogbo before I’ll have to in Cotonou or Porto Novo. But anyways...

I’m fairly certain that the nail on my left big toe is destined to fall off. I think it was just too damaged after the impact. It keeps oozing blood and well….ooze… from underneath and is an opaque white color. Every time there is pressure on it, it hurts and yet it feels oddly detached. So I am sure it is only a matter of time before my feet look like my grandpa’s, which for those of you who haven't seen them...well...just be grateful. :)

At any rate, coming back to Dogbo for some reason seems to have snapped me out of the funk I was in when I got back to Benin. All of a sudden I was really happy to be in my house in my town. It was great to see everyone, especially my neighbor, Rosine. I was surprised at how many people in my neighborhood had heard that I was in an accident. They were all pretty glad to hear that I was okay and that I was back. Most of my marche mamans just thought that I had been traveling though and when I told them what happened they all dropped their jaws and made this little sound of exclamation and tongue clucking that only exists in Benin…well, maybe in West Africa.

Rainy season is in full swing here (a fact that I was lamenting since I spent most of rainy season in the states and the medical unit and it happens to be the coolest time of year in Southern seems like a missed opportunity) and I am starting to realize that the grass really IS always greener on the other side. Of course trite punning aside, it’s actually amazingly green here right now. Southern Benin never gets too brown because it is a tropical climate and perpetually humid as opposed to up north, which is far more arid. But by the end of dry season all greenery flanking roadsides was covered in a thick layer of reddish brown dust and plants were much smaller. As soon as the first rains fell here everything started growing back in full force. But anyways, when I was in the height of dry season here I really was hating the heat and the constant layers of dust that covered everything in my house. All I wanted was one cool rainy day. I’m not sick of the rain. I think it could rain almost every day and I would never get tired of it. But with constant extreme humidity and persistent rainfall come several annoying issues.

1. Mud…oh, the mud is partout.

2. My laundry takes about 3 days to dry and at that point smells kind of funky.

3. Mildew. The mildew is aussi partout. My whole bedroom reeks of mildew. I stripped my bed and washed my sheets only to realize that it is actually my mattress that still smells. My wall hanging in my room gets wet when it rains since there is a leak in my roof above that wall, so it too is starting to smell fairly awful. But the worst is my clothes. All the clothes in my drawers are starting to smell and it isn’t as if washing clothes here is a piece of cake. And they smell all mildewy by the time they dry now anyway.

But apart from the mildew's acerbic attack on my nose every day, I’ve been having a pretty good time since being back in Dogbo. I took a lot of pictures of people in Dogbo before I left for vacation. While I was home, I had them printed and brought them back to give to people, a job hadn't finished before my little sejour in Cotonou. So i went out the other day to give the girls that I worked with at the cyber their pictures. They started shrieking with excitement when they saw them and were SO happy to have copies (there was a group shot for each of them and then each of them struck a pose as well in an individual shot). They invited me to a ceremony Saturday to celebrate their finishing up their "apprenticeship" with computers at the cyber, which had me really excited--not the ceremony...honestly after a year here I can officially say that beninese ceremonies tend to be boring and extremely awkward, especially as the lone yovo...but to be invited to participate with them and included in their celebration made me really happy.

I arrived Saturday morning at 9am like the invitation said, though only God knows why. I mean, really...i've lived here long enough that I should have known that the ceremony wouldn't start until well after 11AM. I got there and the girls were all in meme tissu outfits, looking very shnazzy. They were going to a buvette to get chairs to set up and I went with them to help, lifting some chairs against their protests that "madame" shouldn't be doing that. It's like doing all my own handy work around my house...i think it sends a positive message. But anyways, i was sitting in the cyber lamenting the fact that after over a year of living here i was foolish enough to leave my house for a Beninese function without a book when my bored fiddling with my phone was interrupted by one of the men who works at the cyber. I know him and said hi and then I noticed that he was standing with another man, considerably older than him who I did not know. The older man didn't speak at all except to say bonjour. I guess I don't always...or ever...exude any sort of friendliness that would encourage conversation when a man comes up to me in this country though. The guy that I did know held out an envelope and said that the second man had wanted to talk to me when I had some time. I looked at the envelope and he was pointing at the man's name which was written on it. I was a little confused and thought maybe he was just showing me that so I'd know his name. I thought maybe he didn't speak French and wanted this guy to translate for us...and I figured that it had something to do with money because in usually does. I looked around the room that still had no guests in it and told him I had time then to talk if he wanted and the second man looked a little flustered. The first man said no, I should take the letter, and I looked at the older guy and told him if he wanted i could take it, read it later, and get back to him, and he nodded. The girls were sitting next to me and he didn't seem to want to talk in front of them. Again, I thought, prooooooooobably money. So i took the envelope and went back to playing a game on my phone.

Curiosity ever being a weakness of mine that was at the time encouraged by being bored waiting for the ceremony, I opened up the envelope a few minutes later just to see what it was about. My eyes stopped over the "objet" section which is the french equivalent of "Re:" What was his object you ask?

Proposition de Marriage.

Andddd the envelope got re-shut. As most of my friends and mom know...any sort of unwanted male attention tends to send me into hyperactive irrational panic mode. I felt my heartbeat skip a beat and this sick feeling settled into my stomach. When I first came to Benin, I did not do very well with the sexual harassement. Every time a man made a lewd comment, or I got "ma cheried" I would kind of squirm up inside and feel really uncomfortable and vulnerable. Over time I got over it. I learned how to come up with quick quips to shut men up and put them in their place, and stand up for myself here. I also learned when it wasn't worth it to even bother and to instead just ignore them. For the most part now, if a man starts hitting on me I walk away and maybe tell them to shut up and respect themselves. I don't however feel physically ill when it happens.

This situation however, brought that feeling back because while I've gotten marriage proposals before from men and their mothers I've never gotten such an official one. I mean, this man wrote out his qualifications to be my husband and was telling me how much he loved me....a girl whose name he doesn't even know. For me, coming from my culture in the States, it was beyond absurd. I felt a lot better when I left the cyber and felt in control again. I reminded myself that it doesn't mean anything because it takes two to tango, and if i have my way I will never see him again, nor will I respond to his request--I will merely tuck it into my journal for safekeeping in case I end up a spinster so that i can remind myself that at one time someone did want to marry me...even if he was at least twice my age and didn't know me at all.

Anyways, other than that, the ceremony was very nice and I was still happy to celebrate with the girls! A la prochaine!

1 comment:

Maman et Papa said...

It has been several weeks now since that dreadful Sunday morning when my cell phone rang and Mom said it was you. She then exclaimed that you had been in an accident and the line went dead. For the next hour we were frantic to try and get you again on the line. What went through our thoughts you cannot imagine. It was after an hour or so trying to get the Peace Corps Benin Headquarters that we decided enough of this, let’s call your “Maman and Papa.” I explained the situation to “Papa” and he said he would call us back as soon as possible. Within ten minutes he called back and stated that you were okay, nothing broken, but major scrapes and bruises. I returned the call a few minutes later to thank them for what they did: give us peace of mind to a point; and your Maman exclaimed that it was “nothing, after all she is your Maman.”
So here we are now in the present. Why we have not entered anything into your blog is mainly due to the fact we have spoken to you so often and told you all the thing we could have written, except maybe for a couple of small items. These I will now tell you here:
First my darling, you did not yet turn to go to your flight gate after your short visit home that I wanted to jump over the barrier, run and grab you and keep you from going back to Benin. Looking back to that now, maybe I should have done it but I knew you would not be happy; you needed to go back and fulfill your commitment. Let it be known that it was harder this time then on July 1st, 2008.
Second, and believe me when I say this, I WANT YOU HOME NOW! (Who else will go overnight with me on our beloved boat). I do not want you to spend another minute in a country were it seems you are not appreciated for all you and the Peace Corps are trying to do. I exclaim this so that you know how much we miss you. BUT, and this is a BIG BUT, I know what you are doing is something very special. It’s something that your heart beckons you to do and accomplish. For this we continue to be so proud of you and I realize that my selfish thought for you to come home is really because you are so far and I am not able to be physically there in your time of need. The telephone just does not cut it when I know you hurt.
Third: In a week you will be reaching the half-way point of your journey. When it started, we used to tell our friends it’s a twenty seven month journey. With a little luck it could be less. You are at the threshold of your fourteenth month. “Soon” you will be coming home; as the past year has flown by, especially the last eight weeks.
Will you be coming home now? Only you can answer that question. We all know you are intelligent and a determined woman. You have many aspirations for the future. What will these be? Will they bring you home or will you begin that proverbial new chapter in your life which will lead you to another realm? Time is on our side for now. The path you will be choosing, I know, will be a good one. You have always chosen the right path and for that we continue to be so proud of you. I know a few more marriage proposals will be coming your way but let them know that they need to go by me before you can make a decision.
Kidding aside my dear Catherine, continue to know how much we love and support you. Whatever you decide; come home now or in a few months, what you have done in the past year 99.9999999999% of the people have not done in a life time. So stand tall and be proud of your accomplishments. Coming home now or later will not deter that effort!