My adventures serving in the Peace Corps
Sunday, July 27, 2008
Hello everyone! So, a few big things have happened since my last post: we visited Ouidah, one of he largest slave ports in West Africa, and I FOUND OUT THE VILLAGE WHERE I WILL BE LIVING AND TEACHING! I will start with that since that is the news we have all been waiting for :)
Most of you whom I spoke with knew that I wanted to be posted in the northern part of the country because of the lack of humidity and relative calm of life there. Well... my post is a small village called Lobogo, in the southwestern part of Benin. I was a bit disappointed when I first heard my location, but have since totally changed my mind. Here are some of the reasons why I'm excited:
-My region is the fruit capital of Benin. There is always fresh fruit in season: mangoes, guavas, papayas, bananas, pineapples, and oranges!!! (Speaking of oranges, I will never be able to eat an orange any way other than the Beninese way for the rest of my life- cut a small hole in the top and mush it and suck on it until you get every drop of juice and pulp out. So delicious! The oranges here are green, by the way)
-My region is almost an hour-long zemidjan ride off any main road, meaning no merchants/truck drivers will pass through the town (which = only the chilled-out people that live in the village will BE in the village)
-My region is essentially a lagoon. We are right by a large lake, and the area is extremely lush- hence all of the fruits and rice fields!
-I am about 2 hours away from Cotonou, which means I can easily go there to get ANYTHING that I need, including just about any kind of American food or toiletries. Also, if I get sick, I am only 2 hours away from the Medical Unit/Peace Corps Benin Headquarters, which has internet! I am, however, far enough away from the city that I won't experience any of its problems like pollution and overcrowding. There is also a major airport there (and one equally as close just over the border in Togo which can be cheaper to fly in and out of), meaning that I can easily pick up any of you lovely people when you come and visit me :)
-I have a fairly large house in a concession, meaning there are 4 or 5 houses within a walled-in area that share a well and “yard space”. This means that when I go out of town, someone will always be there keeping an eye on my house. I have electricity, but no running water. I also have my own private latrine which is nice. The volunteer who I am replacing left me a few pieces of furniture in the house, so I won't have to worry about buying things like dressers and cabinets when I get there.
-There is a Small Enterprise Development volunteer there who is almost finished with his 2 years of service. The way he talks about Lobogo, you would think that it is paradise! He absolutely LOVES it there, and is thinking about building a house there once his service is over. He is going to hook me up with his tailor, carpenter, market ladies, etc. and show me all the cool quirks of the town! He is also going to give me some of his furniture/kitchen supplies since he is finishing his service.
-There are lots of volunteers in my area, so I will have lots of people to easily visit if I want! There are even a few volunteers withing a long bike ride of my village!
-I am very close to some natural hot springs, a river that has hippos living in it, and the town of Grand Popo, a tropical resort/beach town right on the ocean!
-The current volunteer said that I can feel 100% safe there, even if I go out at night (don't worry mom, I'll still be very careful :)
-I don't have to dress as conservatively as I would have to in the north, meaning not full-length skirts and I can wear pants instead of only skirts and dresses! I can also wear tank tops.
-My village is located in “voodoo alley”, the part of the country where voodoo is heavily practiced and indeed originated. There are lot of awesome festivals and drumming parties to go to all year round!
Needless to say, the place sounds pretty neat. I actually will get to go visit it this week! Our school directors are coming to Porto Novo on Monday for a seminar that we have with them on Monday and Tuesday, and on Wednesday we will travel back to the village with them! I will then stay in the village, either with my director or with a host family, until Sunday when I will come back to Porto Novo. While there I will get to see the school where I will be teaching, my house, and Ryan (the volunteer who is almost done with his service there) is going to show me all around the town and introduce me to people. We have to travel back to Porto Novo by ourselves on Sunday, which is a bit scary! The “bush taxis” here are ridiculous: 5-seater cars with 9 people in them, and usually some livestock (many volunteers have been peed on be a goat while riding in bush taxis).
I am both excited and nervous to meet my school director! The TEFL volunteer who I am replacing was apparently very quiet and never spent much time in the village, so the school requested someone outgoing and fun. I am glad that the Peace Corps thought that I would fit the bill! I think that a big part of the reason that they put me in the south was because of my scoliosis; they didn't want me riding in a taxi for 10 hours if I were in the north and had to go to Cotonou.
There are lots of people who aren't sure how they feel about the location of their posts, but I think everyone will end up loving it. There are volunteers who are WAY up in the north and quite isolated. (Most of my closest friends are way up north :( I will definitely go up and visit, though, because it is supposed to be beautiful up there! We are planning a safari in Pendjari National Park in the northwest for Christmas! We are allowed to stay at any of Peace Corps' 3 workstations in the north for free, and use their kitchen/supplies/internet/library! When volunteers get together its like a giant slumber party at one of the workstations. For instance, last year they all got together at the workstation in Nattitingou on Thanksgiving and made a full out turkey dinner!
Ok, moving on to our excursion to Ouidah today. Ouidah is basically the world center of Voodoo, and was one of the largest slave deportation ports in West Africa. We first went to the Sacred Forest, which is an awesome old forest that is sacred because the first king of the area supposedly went into the forest an turned into a tree instead of dying. If you go to the tree and make a wish, as long as it is a positive wish, it supposedly will come true! The forest is filled with statues of various voodoo gods and crazy stories of sacred trees who stood back up when they were cut down. These were the biggest trees I have ever seen, along with the biggest ants and centipedes I have ever seen!
Then we went to the Python Temple. Pythons are sacred in Voodoo, and in Ouidah they have a small temple that has hundreds of pythons in it! People come to pray here and priests sacrifice goats here. We all got pictures with pythons wrapped around our necks!
We then went to the old Portuguese slave fort that has since been turned into a museum. It was nice as far as museums in Africa go, but still not much in the way of artifacts and preservation. Then they took us on the "slave route", the path that the slaves walked from the town to she beach/ships to be sent to the Americas. There is a tree that they had to walk around 9 times that was supposed to make them "forget" their life in Africa. The slaves who no one bought were buried alive in a mass grave, which we were also shown. At the beach in Ouidah, there is a really cool monument called "La Porte de Nonretour" ("The Door of No Return"). It was all pretty powerful and sad. We got to put our feet in the ocean there, which was warm and full of huge waves.
Other than that, life here has been pretty steady. Still have hoardes of kids screaming yovo at me wherever I go (although now I usually turn and tell them to call me madame or beninoise). I did get 2 awesome outfits made for me by a tailor! They are called "modeles" which are basically a long fitted skirt and tight fitted top to match. It cost me $45 total to get the material and get the 2 outfits made!
School is still plugging away; I get to start learning local language tomorrow. We start "model school" next week, where we teach a group of students English for 4 weeks, complete with a final at the end. I am nervous but excited! I also went to church again this morning- 4 hours long! That was really hard to sit through, but people were really happy to see me there.They did the offertory 3 times again, so I felt bad that I could only put money in once. Especially because no one here understands that we are volunteers and don't have much money! I have kids ask me for money on the streets multiple times a day.
The weather has been alright; hot and humid but usually a good breeze to counteract it. Anyways, I think that is enough for now! I miss everyone, and please give me a call!