Monday, November 30, 2009

My thoughts and prayers go out to the So-Youn family and to the Peace Corps Morocco community as they mourn the death of one of their volunteers.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Fete-ing in DoGbO!!!

This past week has seen a lot of good food and fete-ing in Dogbo! Wednesday was Kristin's birthday so we went to eat at the local buvette and then people came back to my house for cake. I found balloons in Cotonou, which added a little bit of flare as well.

Thanksgiving au Benin, round deux was excellent. I was freaking out that none of the Thanksgiving boxes my family had sent me made it here but we managed to scrounge up a delicious meal in Dogbo with all Beninese found items anyway (with the exception of 2 cans of cranberry sauce, lovingly donated by Michelle and Kristin).

I never really thought that the first thanksgiving I hosted would be in West Africa but it was pretty awesome. There were 11 people at my house on Thursday for dinner. Angelina and Andrew were over all day cooking with me and then Kristin came over after class to help, and Michelle as well. Everyone else just came to eat, which worked out fine—too many cooks in the kitchen and all. We made cornbread stuffing (made the cornbread the day before and attempted to let it dry out—let me take a moment to expound how successful THAT was in a tropical climate…all I succeeded in doing was getting it covered in ants and having to brush them all off the next day before people got too grossed out), Turkey legs that Meredith brought down from Azove, glazed carrots, green bean “casserole” sort of, cranberry sauce, corn, gravy (Angelina made it from bouillion cubes and it was wonderful…don’t know how she did it. We didn’t have drippings because we fried the turkey and even though we boiled it first because meat here is too tough to eat if you don’t boil, the water got thrown out by accident). We also had garlic mashed potatoes, glazed “sweet potatoes” (not what you r thinking of—Beninese sweet potatoes). And I got up at 7 to make fresh onion herb bread which was a HUGE hit….so delicious…and it made a ton. We brought down the extra to Cotonou yesterday and bought meat to make sandwiches…AMAZING! Dessert was apple crumble pie and Michelle whipped up a “Green Papaya tastes just like Pumpkin Pie” that really did taste pretty much like a pumpkin pie. We had an amazing time hanging out together and cooking. We even splurged and bought 3 things of real butter!!! The smell of ACTUAL REAL butter melting on my stove to make the crisp topping was unbelievable. Never in my life have I appreciated that smell before like that. Angelina and I actually stopped dead in our tracks at the same time just realizing that the kitchen smelled like actual butter and we sort of basked in its glow for a few moments. Same thing with the smell and taste of turkey. All in all a great day. And Kristin’s mom had sent down thanksgiving napkins, plates, and tablecloth which set a nice ambience! No refrigerators here are inherently a problem for leftovers so my neighbors made out like bandits (as did scout…she is eating for several, after all), and we gave them the oil we fried with, which I think probably made them happier than any of the food we gave them. Friday morning we cleaned up the house and migrated down to Thanksgiving Round 2 in Cotonou for ALL of the Southern volunteers. I am bien full and can’t even think of food right now!

The cake!

My house decorated

Make a wish!

Bread in the middle of rising...there was so much dough

MY kitchen in the middle of cooking

Apple crumble pie...even made little leaves!

Andrew standing guard over the turkey

Angelina and Michelle, who always gives me the peace sign in photos

Our Thanksgiving spread

my plate!

Scout in a post turkey-scrap coma...or maybe in just a "I am so knocked up and tired" coma

Some Randomness...Aaaargh

Here's a little holiday randomness. I just realized some more things that have come to be normal to me that wouldn't be to anyone who had never been here before. Wood branch scaffolding to build buildings. It is interesting to me to see that since they used bamboo in China.

Then this is a fairly typical type of sign for coiffures in Benin...but I enjoyed the incorporation of the word seduction in this one and the picture was pretty jazzy.

So i was listening to BBCnews when i was cooking dinner the other night and almost fell down with shock at hearing "Cotonou" on BBC. So i turned up the volume more to hear what ever could have put Benin in international news. Naturally...piracy. I thought piracy was really just a problem around Somalia but apparently not. THe pirates, or rogues, are believed to be Nigerian (There's a shocker...Nigerians get blamed for EVERYThing bad that happens in Benin)and they even killed a man on board. Personally, I blame Johnny Depp for making piracy seem such an appealing career move. Looks like someone needs to send the Kraken out on these guys.

Stay tuned. Thanksgiving and World Map pictures to come soon!! Happy Tabaski

Monday, November 23, 2009

Where in the WORLD has the Time Gone?

Vraiment? It’s already after Thanksgiving!! What happened to November? I have been really busy since the start of the month and so I can’t even believe that it is over. In little over a month from now I’ll be ringing in 2010 on an escarpment in Mali and then fete-ing my SECOND (and last) voodoo day in Benin and getting ready for my parents’ visit!! I’m overwhelmed at how fast the time is going.

When I got out of the med unit and back to Dogbo this summer, I started to freak out that I didn’t have any work happening and hadn’t accomplished anything since coming back from the states. I spent a week at post, 3 weeks in the med unit in cotonou, 2 weeks at post, then 2 weeks in Porto Novo during training, and since my real work partner was in Porto Novo for all 9 weeks of training and I had been in the States for nearly a month, I really have ANYthing going on. I sat sitting in my house pondering why I was even here and what I could possibly do and thought of the world map. I went to an orphanage in Lokossa last year to learn how to make soy cheese and remembered they had a really great wall for one so I asked Michelle if she’d want to do one.

Several months later, the project is finally underway! It took awhile to talk to the matron of the orphanage, coordinate a time to go, and get together what we needed but last weekend we showed up Friday morning ready to start. Most of the children were at school when we started, which was good because it gave us some time to get our bearings and figure out how to get started. The World Map manual of Peace Corps plans it out along a grid method so we had to mark off the walls and then, possibly the hardest part of all, do math. As anyone who knows me might imagine, we had some technical difficulty with that and ended up erasing the entire grid.

Admittedly, I had been nervous that, given my motivation of my suggestion to do a world map and the way in which we started going about it, that there would be no sort of ownership of this project by the orphanage itself—that we would be just these two foreigners coming in and designing and doing a project all by ourselves that didn’t really make any difference there. I could not have been happier or more pleasantly surprised when the kids got involved. AS they trickled in from school they were all so curious and wanted to help put up tape, draw, and paint. I was really unsure about the kids (especially the little ones) helping to draw and paint the smaller detailed areas of the map—More so than Michelle, who is a teacher here and works with kids all the time. But I forgot to take into account how precise and neat Beninese people are in general in things like measurements and line drawing. It kind of in a way goes back to just the way they are taught…it HAS to be precise…everything. Works out perfectly for things like this—they are great!

When I came to the orphanage last year, the children were gathered around to greet us in rehearsed unison. It was cute and I’ve seen it a lot in Benin and Tanzania. But there is just something so artificial or at least superficial about it that it becomes frustrating. Working with the children for even just a few hours served to tear down all of the walls of formality between us. Michelle and I are now called by our first names instead of “Madame” or “Tata” and the children hang on us, play with us, tickle us and run away, clamor to help, correct our French, and act just as their impish selves. They are AMAZING and I think that this might be my favorite thing that I’ve done so far in Benin. I like that I can walk into the orphanage and not feel like an outsider and that the kids are actually happy to see me. On our second day a group of Beninese men came in to talk to the Patron there and the children came out and did their little rehearsed welcome and I smiled to myself, knowing that that morning when we had walked up, they came running toward us to take our stuff inside and play and work with us.

We didn’t get to finish the map in a weekend—and even if we hadn’t lost time with our miscalculations, we wouldn’t have finished. So we are going back the second week in December to finish. On the agenda before then is finding accurate information since the manual we are using still has Zaire and Yugoslavia on it, and we can’t find slovenia. Plus we need a list of country names in French to make it more useful for the kids. I am excited to go back to the orphanage with them and do geography stuff with the kids because they haven’t a clue about how to read maps or the world in which they live. We might even write another small grant to go back and do a mural of just Benin and its Departments. My Porto Novian host brothers came to visit me and couldn’t find Dogbo on a map of Benin so I think that would be a good project as well. Anyway, I’m putting up pictures for your viewing pleasure…enjoy! I’ll update again when it is finished.

Me spinning the kids at the end of the first day of world map painting--as soon as one went up they all wanted to spin

Frederick, Georgie, and I

Michelle with blue paint and gas for cleaning burning through her skin...beause in every picture I take of her she has to give me the peace sign. :)

Michelle with the plumb line before we even started drawing our first line

Mariane--she used to be highly anemic and has gotten so much healthier. I remember seeing her last year and she was so timid...seeing her warm up to us has been really great

Me taping up the border so we don't paint outside of the box

Me with Eduad, my little helper; and Florence, there for moral support

Michelle with Eduad, Janvier 1 and Janvier 2

Kids assessing the measurements

Michelle mixing up the "pate" and "sauce" as the kids were calling the paint and tints. Bon Cuisine!

Me with Eduad--he looks cute but don't be fooled...i have never met such a whiney and cry baby child in my life...every 2 seconds it's something. Eh...he is still cute though

All the kids...they were surounding a picture of a plane they just drew for us in the dirt but i don't think you can see it. They were the head bands for gym at school

Georgie being held by his friend who's name I forget...God, they love the camera

Me with all the kids

Janvier 1 and 2 heading up the grid efforts

drawing the grid...round 2

Georgie and 2 favs

Charlie painting our compass...he was SO excited to help and can't wait to paint it

Ironically enough this boy's name is Dieu Donnait. I always feel badly for albinos here because they look like they are physically in pain with their blisters and their squinting from the sun. But Michelle and I thought it ironic that he is albino and that she had christened my halloween "yovo baby" Dieu Donnait as well.

Michelle drawing Europe with some help from the kids

Thumbs up, seven up everyone!

Sylvie and I painting "yellow" countries. Russia is ridiculously large. And the peace corps map for frame of reference still has Yugoslavia and Zaire up so we're going to have to do some editing/research!

Janvier 1 and Bienvenue painting...with a baby on her back--that is pretty amazing.

Monday, November 2, 2009


Have you ever heard the cries of a petrified mouse in the agonizing throes of death? When I said to my host family that I wanted a kitten to rid me of the burden of personally dealing with all manner of creepy crawlies in my house, i never took into account the pitiful frightened shrieks of mice that that would entail. Cockroaches crunch, lizards are noiseless--When Scout catches them, I can handle it...but mice, that is a different case entirely. Maybe it's the fur (or that i had hamsters and worked in a vet's office for 2.5 years), I don't know why it bothers me more--I mean, i think lizards are pretty cute here, but i don't mind if scout kills them so long as she eats them all and doesn't leave half a corpse for me to clean up later. But as I blogged a few weeks ago, when for the first time Scout caught herself a mouse at night, I found it really disturbing to listen to her killing it.

And that is why I am in the med unit right now--because I'm the only freak volunteer in Benin that tries to save a mouse in her house, instead of trying to hit it with a shoe.

So last Saturday morning (the 24th) i woke up and it was pouring. It is the end of the short rainy season now in Southern Benin--the last hoorah before my life will grow decreasingly pleasant in direct correlation with the increasing temperatures until about May of 2010. I didn't want to get out of bed at all since it was so delightfully cool with Scout curled up next to me, and I love listening to the rain patter on my tin roof. But i did drag myself up because I was supposed to go to Come by 1 for a meeting to plan the English competition across CEGs in the MOno Kouffo this spring.

So I walked into my kitchen to open up my back door and when I turned around, I jumped back. There in my basin that I use as a sort of pseudo-sink, was a mouse, swimming and struggling for dear life, trying not to drown. It couldn't climb the plastic and kept trying to jump out but couldn't make it--it must have just fallen in because it didn't look like this itty bitty thing could keep up this effort for long. Scout hadn't noticed yet so I took a step toward it to lift the basin out and throw the whole thing outside. But then the mouse jumped again and i freaked out. So I got a second basine to cover it and took the basin outside in the rain, closing the door to keep scout in the house. I tossed all the contents out and this stupid little mouse that apparently can't take a hint, bee-lines it straight for me. I squealed and jumped backwards, kicking my foot against my wooden door by accident. It stung quite a bit, and i got a small cut on the back of my ankle that started to bleed, but I didn't really think anything of it. I rinsed it and put a bandaid on, and that was that. I certainly have dealt with much worse in Benin.

When I was up in Badjoude for the whipping fete my bandaid fell off. I didn't really care because the cut looked pretty much healed. i didn't even think it was open anymore. But toward the afternoon I noticed flies kept landing on it so I figured it had to be open after all, and asked Heidi for a bandaid. Too late, I guess. I came back to Dogbo, and everything seemed totally fine all week.

Friday evening i got back from my walk and the back of my heal was hurting me. I looked and there was a little lump that i took to be a blister--no big deal, I get blisters a lot here and I thought it was probably just because I chose socks that weren't thick enough. As the evening went on I started to think maybe it wasn't a blister since it didn't appear to be filled with liquid at all and was just red and inflammed, and hot. Well, maybe the rubbing of my sneaker just irritated the cut on my ankle...whatever. i went to bed.

Halloween I woke up sweating first thing in the morning and had a slight headache. I stepped out of my bed and immediately felt pain in my foot from a cramped muscle and my ankle. I went outside to look at it in the sunlight and it appeared that the lump had grown slightly bigger. It was really sore and tender when I touched it. But I didn't cover it up because it didn't even look like there was any sort of open cut at all TO cover. I took 3 advil and went to the orphanage. As the day progressed, so did the lumpage. It kept getting bigger, redder, and hotter, and i verified with Dennis, our infection expert, that I probably indeed had something. I knew I was supposed to be down in Cotonou this friday so figured I would just see the doctor then. The whole day though i felt rather hot, dizzy, and feverish and had a headache. I left the Halloween fete early with Michelle and found when I went home that I had a 102 temperature. I took some tylenol and figured i would just see if that helped at all. It didn't.

My fever went down a bit, but when i woke up in the morning i saw that the infection was circling my ankle--it was red, warm, and swollen, and it kept growing. By the time everyone made it over for breakfast, general consensus was that I had a rather disgusting looking club foot and considering the rate at which it was puffing out, I would be stupid to wait until friday to see the doctor.

So i was that volunteer that called the PCMO on a Sunday morning, and interrupted her day off. She told me i should come in immediately and I kind of had to kick everyone out of my house, close up, feed scout, and peace out. But I'm glad I came in. It had encircled my ankle even more by the time i got to Cotonou and was very hot and red. I still had a fever and the teeniest tiniest opening of the teeniest tiniest stupid mouse-induced cut had started to dribble nasty smelling ooze down the back of my ankle by the time i saw her. At least she wasn't annoyed that I came in, and seemed to be worried about it.

When she asked me if i had any allergies to medications and I told her Keflex, she looked at me like I was playing some sort of sick joke on her. Never in my life has that been a problem, but naturally, that was exactly the medication she wanted to use to treat the infection. So she put me on a different type and is making me stay 2 nights to make sure it works, otherwise I have to do some I.V. therapy...yippee. Fortunately appears to be working. I woke up this morning and after my first dose of the antibiotics last night the swelling had gone down and the redness had dissipated a bit. It is actually kind of incredible to see how quickly it turned around. At any rate, once again I am in the medical unit, but thankfully the crisis seems to have passed. By Sunday noon i was actually starting to freak out with flashbacks to osteomylitis, and Dennis teasing me about amputation, etc. so i am glad that I seem to be bien on the mend with no fever and back to post tomorrow.

But really, November wouldn't have felt complete if it didn't start out with some sort of medical crisis...I mean I am, after all, averaging about one a month at least since returning to Benin in late June, n'est pas? So, lesson learned. next mouse I find. no mercy. Scout can have at it. Bon freaking appetit.

Happy Halloween

Kristin as a zem and me as a maman!

So Saturday was my second and last Halloween in Benin! I woke up in the morning and headed to one of the orphanages in Dogbo to start 'Lifeskills' activities with the boys there. Since they are in school we can only do it on weekends and there is always so much stuff and travel going on on weekends that it has been hard to coordinate. But anyways, I thought it started out great, and then halfway through working with them I was sure that they were bored to tears. But then when we were figuring out when I would come again they were all really excited and asked that I come back in 2 weeks.

After work in the morning, the fete-ing began! No one in Benin knows or has heard of Halloween so for the second year in a row, most neighbors thought we were pretty insane. But we still had a lot of fun anyway. Dennis came to Dogbo early to cook chili and we had our quarterly VAC meeting for volunteers in the Mono Kouffo regions. Afterwards we all ate and hung out for the night with a lot of fun costumes. I was a marche maman with my tacky gold earrings and necklace and fake baby--he didn't make a peep the whooooole night...just the way I like 'em. He was named Dieu Donnait (God Gives, more or less) by Michelle.

The next morning everyone came over to my place where angelina, michelle and I had been whipping up yummy cinnamon rolls! Kristin and DEnnis swooped in to make yummy pancakes and we all gorged ourselves before calling it a day.

I don't think I've ever sweat so much on Halloween before in my life--even last year...though granted, this might have been cause i had a fever--but I just kept telling myself that I will be enjoying the fall foliage and a warm cup of tea next year on Halloween. Whoo hoo! Enjoy the pics!

Miranna, the gym rat...scandalous outfit for benin, which is funny, when I consider what the girls at Holy Cross usually wore, or didn't wear on Halloween...oh, america

Dennis as...I don't think we ever really figured out what he was...a billboard for "seeing the world? sure, why not.

80's gal Angelina and moi, the maman

Nathaniel as a mechanic fixing charlie the zem driver's bike