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.

1 comment:

Aunt Nancy said...

It's been way too long since I've read your blog. Our hard drive crashed and I lost your site info. Anyway...I'm Back!! I love your world map project. I wish I was there and could lend a hand. It's a project right up my alley. It sounded so ambitious as I read about it but now that I see the kids you're working with I think it's nothing short of amazing. Those aren't kids... many of them are just toddlers!! You must have the patience of a saint. Can't wait to see the finished mural. It might be fun to have a "sister" wall map of just Benin. It could be more "folksy" with pictures of local sites the children are familiar with(the marche, Cotonou..) Just an idea, it's easy for me to spend your time. Love you. Be well and be safe.
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