Sunday, August 23, 2009

How Many Men does it take to cut a Pineapple?

So I made it traveling through Cotonou for the first time again alive (though not entirely uneventful) and worked stage (training) in Porto Novo for 2 weeks. Peace Corps puts volunteer trainers up in a pretty swanky house (ie-electricity and running water) and gives us lovely per diem so it was a not-too –shabby stint

Last Sunday I was out looking for pineapple for breakfast with Heidi (because constant fried food and palm oil and street-food that I eat since I can’t cook in Porto Novo was wreaking havoc on my digestive system) but we were unable to find any. We saw two girls selling bread on the side of the road and asked them where we could find some. When they told us that the women only came out to sell that at night we just replied jokingly that we wanted some right now and the girl got up and decided to walk us to the woman’s house who sells them. So we walked off the main road into an area of mud-brick houses and came across 2 men milling about who looked quite surprised to see two yovos in their midst.

The girl told them of our pineapple needs and they brought some out and proceeded to hand them to me after discuter-ing the price. Seeing as how we don’t have any knives in our house we asked them to cut them for us (normally when you buy a pineapple they cut it up and put it in a little black plastic sachet manufactured en masse in Nigeria to go for you without even asking) and this was the response that we got.

The man looked at us and replied “There aren’t any women here right now.” That was followed by a brief pause in which I believe Heidi and I were contemplating how to proceed while focusing on not dropping our jaws in utter disbelief. The men handed us the pineapple again, indicating that WE were women and should just take it. We explained to them that we didn’t have any knives at our house and that really threw them for a loop and they started talking in local language about what to do. Heidi jokingly but also seriously asked “Quoi, tu n’est pas capable?” (What, you aren’t capable?) to which they repeated the fairly obvious observation that they were in fact men, not women. Finally the seemingly more competent of the 2 walked away, in what I assumed, would be an effort to go find a knife. Then we stood around in fairly typical awkward Beninese silence waiting for him to return and what had he found? Not a knife….nope, he went and found a woman to cut up our pineapples for us.

The woman had the less competent of the 2 hold a plate with a black sachet wrapped around it so that she could cut the pineapple onto it and pick up the sachet to hand us after she had finished. But it was really amusing to watch her scold the man for putting the sachet on it the wrong way and she finally just took it from him to do it herself completely. Oh, Benin.

I actually had a really interesting conversation with one of the facilitators (Host country national contract workers hired to train trainees during stage) who was my first language teacher last summer. I was running a session for the trainees about how to make soy cheese in village and we were waiting for the water to boil when I recounted to him the pineapple story and he laughed. He admitted that he, himself could not cut pineapples because he always cut his hand and his wife had to do it for him (she is a midwife). But then we got into a more serious discussion about the role of women here and it was really powerful to hear him concede that the women of this country walk around with “Benin’s economy held in a basket on their heads.”

Working stage was a really good experience for me, I think. Seeing all of the new arrivals made me realize how far I have come here in my French, my coping with daily trials, interrelations with other people both Beninese and American, and in just knowing Benin in general. I had started to take for granted how much I already knew here and how comfortable I was in my daily life and I think it was good to be reminded of when I first arrived here and hadn’t a clue what was going on. I am kind of hoping this group will breathe new life into PC Benin because we could use it, I think. They officially swear in as volunteers on September 25th.

It was really nice also seeing my host family while I was down in Porto Novo. They are hosting another stagiere this year and had a little shrine to America up in their house when I came in. Maman and I spent the afternoon cooking together and it was really nice just talking with her and hanging out with the kids.

So far only one of the new group has decided to ET (early terminate) and leave Benin, which is pretty impressive compared to my group at the same time. Unfortunately, another health volunteer that came in with me has decided to leave country and so it’s sad to see her go, and hard to lose another one of our own.

It is however, incredible to realize that I have been here now for almost 14 months and pretty soon am officially more than halfway done, no matter how I slice it with departure dates. Talking to the new trainees made me see that too. They are talking about how 2 years is so long and it is…I remember freaking out about that prospect when I got here last year. And it is crazy to think that after I have been home for almost a year they will still be in Benin. It is so exciting to think of how far we’ve come—that I only have one more chaleur and harmattan left in Benin (thank god), one more Christmas and Voodoo Day, that within 8-9 months I will be attending my COS conference (Close of Service Conference) together with the rest of my training group—the first time we will all be together since having sworn in as volunteers nearly a year ago.

Only 12 more months or so until I can meet my new cousin, Ella--I am so excited. Congratulations Aunt Annie and Uncle Tom!!! I’m glad we took the picture with all the girl cousins and A. Annie!

Until next time!


Aunt Nancy said...

How funny your pineapple story is. It's weird for me to imagine that the would rather be thought incapable than "womanly", and they than just wouldn't cut the damn thing up! I'm glad your time in Benin has reached the halfway point as well. Reading your thought have made me teary eyed, for you and for myself. I have been rather sad the last few weeks getting Emily and Brendan ready to go off to college. Emily is already homesick and she hasn't even left. I cannot, and I repeat CANNOT , imagine her in Benin for two years like you. Your being there is quite a testament to your dedication and also the support your parent have given you. I couldn't be as brave. Anyway... hop your pineapple was succulent and worth the walk and the wait. If not, at least you have a funny little tale to tell! I love you and miss you. Be well and be safe.
Aunt Nancy xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Aunt Loretta said...

The halfway mark …. What an accomplishment for you. An accomplishment reached, and not without your fair share of trials and tribulations. Hard to believe that this time last year you were just settling in!

Pineapple anyone???? What a story … I can’t believe that Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum wouldn’t cut the pineapple for you. Just proves to us, once again, that the world would die off if it were not for Women (who are capable of anything) …. And they say Men are the stronger sex! Rubbish!!!!!

Baby Ella is so adorable. I can’t wait to hold her. She has the sweetest face with the most adorable little nose and a head full of silky black hair …. Just like you did. It’s wild to think that she will be celebrating her first birthday around the time you return to us and you will be celebrating your 25th ….. I have a vivid memory of sitting at Grandma’s Dining Room table and holding you. You were less then a month old and wearing this little white crocheted dress and you were sound asleep. It was that day that your Mom asked me to be your Godmother ….. It was one of the best days of my life! I remember who proud I felt … being asked to be your Godmother … and I don’t think that feeling has ever left me!

You are amazing Kiddo. Just got your letter and will be writing back shortly. I’ve purchased you much Crystal Lite and pancake syrup so I will be putting a nice box together for you.

Love you to the moon and back ………………….. Aunt Loretta

Aunt Nancy said...

I keep telling people your pineapple story - it's still cracking me up, and everyone I tell as well. Brendan leaves tomorrow. Be well and be safe <3 Aunt Nancyx