My adventures serving in the Peace Corps

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Post and Wish List

Hello! It has been quite en eventful week, so here goes: This week was the last week of model school, which meant lots of extra work for us. We had to write a final exam and grade it, which took quite a long time. I was in a new class this week, cinquième, which is the middle of the three grades I will be teaching. The kids were not at all well behaved! Many of them simply ignored us teachers, and had no interest in paying attention during class. I guess it was good practice for some of the problems I will deal with during the coming school years! We had some really bright and adorable kids too, though, and the class average on the test was fairly decent. They were tested things like city vocabulary, nationalities, and cardinal points. My personal favorite section, though, was the fill-in-the-blanks for giving directions. There was a small map of a city, and we asked kids to complete the directions from the tailor to the carpenter using words from a provided word box. One of the available words was “cross”, meant to be for “Cross the bridge,” and another word was “left.” The last sentence was supposed to be “The carpenter is on the left,” but many, many kids ended up saying “The carpenter is on the cross.” This really made me laugh, and some of the teachers joked that the kids were trying to be poetic and theological. Too funny. The kids took the test on Thursday, so Friday was a day for us to do fun things with the kids. We played some hangman, and then all of the classes had a singing/dancing competition with each other! Each class learned “Joy to the World” by Three Dog Night and made dance moves to it, then performed for a panel of judges I'm proud to say that my class got 2nd place out of 4 classes, and lost to a class of older kids :) It was a lot of fun. Last weekend I went to the market to shop for some things that I will need at my house in Lobogo. I had a fairly productive trip: I ended up getting 3 pots, some forks and spoons, some plates, some serving spoons, some baskets, some wash basins, a sturdy shopping sack to take to market with me, this really cool scrubby thing that is the hardcore African version of a loofah, and some gorgeous green and brown fabric that I got a skirt made out of :) The market proved to be pretty frustrating, though. Every vendor wants your business and screams yovo at you, which is an automatic turn-off for us. When we inquire about prices, they give you ones that are riiidiculously high and refuse to back down much because they assume that we have a ton of money. We did our best and bargained the prices to the death, but still overpaid on almost everything. I bargained with one lady and ended up buying some plates and utensils from her. I had bargained hard and was pleased with the deal I made. However, a few minutes later she approached me at another stall I was at, claiming that the price should have been 100 francs higher and that I therefore owed her that money. I was incredulous: that argument doesn't work when there are no fixed prices! I refused her, and she sulked away. A minute or two later, she came back to me yet again and tried to take the things I had bought from her! I was really upset with the scene she was causing and walked away, telling her how rude she was being. On Tuesday the regional Peace Corps doctor came and gave us a talk about health. He was a fabulous speaker, and gave us catch phrases to remember the advice he gave us, such as: “Get medieval on it” (when you have exposed raw skin, take 3 shots of whiskey and then roughly scrub the exposed skin with a plastic brush for several minutes in order to prevent infection. The whiskey is for the pain), “All men are pigs” (most men here just want to get in your pants), and “She's a prostitute, stupid” (nearly every woman in this country that initiates a conversation with a man is a prostitute, so don't think that they are actually interested in you). Needless to say, his speech was humorous, direct, un-PC, and wonderful. [He also mentioned that many men guilt-trip white women by calling them racist if they refuse their advances, which, as I think I mentioned in an earlier blog, has already happened to me! It's really such a rotten thing to say to someone who has chosen to live in West Africa for two years.] Speaking of the “All men are pigs” mantra, I sure had an experience with one this week. I was reading in the living room at my house when a man who I had never seen before walked in and sat down. This in itself is no shock: people show up unannounced all the time here. I said hello to him and continued reading. After a minute or so, he said “I want to watch TV.” I assumed he was asking if it would be alright to turn on the television since I was reading, so I replied “OK, that's fine.” He proceeded to give me an odd look and then said “So go turn it on for me.” I was so shocked that I didn't even get angry at first, and asked “What?” He replied “You're the woman, you should get up and turn it on.” I took a deep breath, and proceeded to inform him that he has 2 legs and is perfectly capable of turning the TV on for himself. He then laughed and called for one of the younger girls in the house to do it. I wanted to stop the girl from doing it but she speaks no French, so I couldn't. What an (excuse my French) asshole. It is SUCH a male-centric culture here, and that is proving to be one of the hardest things for me to deal with. Wednesday night, the mayor of Porto Novo had all of us to city hall for a gala that included dinner and live music and traditional dancing. We all wore our nicest Beninese-style outfits, and it was wonderful to see everyone dressed up in such beautiful fabric. The event itself was pretty interesting. We were served a decent dinner (complete with snail-kababs that I did NOT try, see picture) and lots of beer, and the entertainment was great. There was a live band with women, girls, and muscular men who danced in various traditional styles. The whole thing was lit from the front so that the dancers made huge shadows on the back of the stage that were really dramatic. The gala lasted until 11pm, which was so late for all of us who are used to going to bed between 9:30 and 10 :) They finally delivered my refrigerator this week. They claim it is new, but I'm not sure if I believe it. The handle is broken and the whole thing is a bit dirty, but they say this happened when it was shipped here from France. At first I was really unhappy, and then reminded myself that I am Peace Corps volunteer and I am lucky to even have electricity, let alone a refrigerator. The fridge cost me about $150, whereas the brand new and really nice ones at the appliances showcase in Porto Novo all cost at least $300, so I think I will just settle for this one. I just hope it truly is new and therefore energy-efficient, because electricity is quite expensive here. We had our final language interview this week to determine our level (everyone needs to be at an intermediate level in order to swear-in as a volunteer). I thought my interview was so-so, but I was determined to be “superior,” which supposedly means fluent! I don't quite feel fluent yet, but I think I'll get there someday. Everyone in TEFL reached the necessary level, so we will all be swearing-in this week! Now for the best part of the week: our trip to paradise- I mean Grand Popo- yesterday. Grand Popo is a small resort town along the coast in western Benin, near Togo. The day didn't start off well at all: it was pouring (after about 3 straight weeks of sunshine), the van picked us up an hour late, and just as we were leaving the door fell off one of the other vans, so we had to pile a ton more people in our already-packed van. We got a flat tire on the way there which took a half hour to fix, and one of the other vans had a radiator problem and was stopped for an hour an a half, so they missed some of the fun in Grand Popo :( Despite all of this, the trip was amazing!!! Just as we got there the clouds disappeared and it became sunny and gorgeous. We were at a resort on the beach that has stout thatched huts to sit under at the beach, were given money with which we could buy lunch/goodies (they had a western-style restaurant there!), and a full bar! The waves were HUGE as they tend to be in West Africa, so we didn't do much swimming but we put our legs in. We ate our yummy lunch on the beach, and then some of us got cocktails!! It was quite the experience: lounging in a hammock on a gorgeous beach, on the equator, sipping a mai tai. (And you thought Peace Corps volunteers had a hard life :) After the cocktail and laying in the sun some more, we got delicious gelato! It was a really relaxing day despite the rough start. Yesterday was the first football game in Ann Arbor!! I must tell you all, I happened to look at the clock at about 3:15 Michigan time yesterday and teared-up because I knew that pregame was just starting. It is so weird not to be there and be a part of it all this year! (How weird, M Fanfare just came on my ipod) I still don't even know who won yesterday! I can't wait to hear about Rich Rod, the new stadium, the new traditions, etc! Send me newspaper clippings! Knowing all the excitement that is going on in Ann Arbor right now makes me pretty bummed to be so far away. But, hopefully I will be there for the season opener next year! To cheer myself up, I have been spending a lot of time with the little kids around my house this week. They are so cute and curious about everything. There are 2 little girls who I absolutely adore, and I find myself playing their mom all the time when no one else is around. I cleaned up one girl's knee when she scraped it, tell the mean older brothers to stop laughing, and hold them until they stop crying after they have been hurt. I love them so much and want to take them home with me!! Swear-in is this Friday in Cotonou. It will be so nice to finally feel the accomplishment of our hard work during training! All of the host families are invited, and they are so excited to meet the president and wear their new outfits made of the 40th anniversary fabric! I am not sure what all the ceremony will involve- probably lots of groveling to the government officials like they seem to love to do here. I will be giving a short speech in Sahoué, the language of Lobogo. I am also in the swear-in choir, and the facilitators wrote us two songs to sing, one dedicated to JFK about the different work that Peace Corps Benin does, and one about the 40th anniversary. The words are kind of silly, but the music is pretty. Tons of press will be there, so I will be all over the Beninese news :) After the actual ceremony, the president invited us to his home for dinner, which should be really cool. This coming week will be nice, we don't have much in the way of classes, and get to open our bank accounts and get ready to leave for our posts. We are staying overnight in Cotonou after swear-in so we can celebrate and do some shopping there. I think I am going to have a carpenter make me a bed frame this week, too. I leave one week from tomorrow, Monday Sept. 8, for my village. Peace Corps rented us each our own taxi, so we can load it up with stuff for post. I will be sad to leave Porto Novo, my family, and my friends/the other Americans, but I am also really excited for the calm of independent life in a village, where I can be on my own schedule, meet new people, cook for myself, etc. As I've said, since we can't leave post overnight during the first three months, I think it will be a lonely time. There are a few volunteers that I can make a day trip to visit, so I'm sure I will be doing that. I will definitely need your phone calls and letters/packages though! I got phone calls from two more of my best friends this week, which was really nice. Speaking of packages, hilarious story: my parents sent me three packages on July 23, and we were getting frustrated that I still didn't have them. Well, I finally got them on Friday, and stamped all over them was “Missent to Belize.” So, don't feel bad if you had never heard of Benin: people at the post office doesn't know it exists, either! Past of the problem might be the “Afrique de Ouest.” You should probably write “West AFRICA” instead, just to make sure they understand :) I will wrap up with a “wish list” since so many people have been asking what I would like them to send me: -hand sanitizer -face wash -American condiments (BBQ sauce, ranch dressing, olive oil, lemon juice, hot sauce, peanut butter, jam, etc.) -tampons -scotch tape -spiral notebooks -good books -deodorant -munchies/candy/gum (beef jerky especially for some protein) -nail polish -art supplies for teaching and for little kids to use (also things like this and little cheap toys to give to kids) -pictures from home! I will update this as I think of more things later. Anything sent is much appreciated, even if it is not on the list! Getting mail/packages here is like a mini-Christmas haha! Alright, sorry this was so long! I miss you all, especially knowing that it is football season in Ann Arbor! Later :)

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Two More Weeks...

Happy weekend everyone! I don't have a whole lot of exciting news this week, but I thought I would update since I'm at a cyber cafe.
This week flew by, I think because we're so busy. We start model school at 7:30 every morning, and once we have taught class, observed other teachers, and given each other feedback, we don't get home for lunch until noon. Class starts again at 3, when we have an hour and a half of language, then we have to lesson plan for the next day, which takes at least an hour. Most of the teachers usually go out for a cold beer afterwards, which is totally necessary after dealing with kids and lesson planning in the heat and humidity all day. By the time I get home at night, eat dinner, and finish lesson planning/test writing, it is 9:30 and I am exhausted so I go to bed! Even though I get up at 6, I am still getting more sleep now than I have in a while.
I taught my first disastrous lesson this week, as well as my first 2 hour lesson. The disaster lesson was on television vocabulary like soap opera, game show, commercial, etc. The lesson didn't go well both because I was in a new class and overestimated what the kids would know, and because I hadn't planned it carefully enough. It was a good learning opportunity for me, though, and when I retaught the lesson the next day it went MUCH better. My 2 hour lesson was on giving advice, specifically with “should” and “shouldn't”. The lesson went pretty well, but I found it was hard to teach some concepts because of their limited vocabulary.
The mail situation has continued to frustrate me this week. I got a card from my mom and a small package from my grandma, which were wonderful, but that's all! I know for a fact that several people sent me packages and envelopes in July that still haven't gotten here! I have, however, gotten a few letters and small packages within a week and a half of them being sent from the U.S.! Another frustration was that Peace Corps made us reimburse them for taxes they had to pay on packages of ours, but still haven't given us the packages! We gave them the money on Wednesday, thinking they had the packages for us then, but that would make too much sense, so we haven't gotten them yet. The general rule of thumb throughout training so far has been that if something is logical, you shouldn't count on it. I could go into details, but just know that good old American logic is completely missing here and that has been a huge frustration of all of the stagiaires so far. All part of cultural immersion, I guess.
Here's a good story: one of the volunteers had 2 scorpions in her bed this week. I almost died when I heard this, and, Murphy's law, come home to find a more-or-less tarantula on the wall of my bedroom. I decided to get one of the kids to kill it for me, presumably with a shoe. The 7 or 8 year old proceeds to smash the spider against the wall with his hand, even though it is nearly bigger than his hand. Sigh. It is humbling to know that a 7 year old is much braver than you will ever be.
Let's see, what else... we got our swearing-in fabric this week. It sure is... pink! I decided to give some to my host mama and papa so that they can have outfits made out of it and then we can all have matching outfits to wear to swear-in and whenever else we want. They LOVED it! They needed more than I had anticipated, so between their outfits and mine, I won't have much left over. That's ok, I will send home what I have left for you all to see.
This week the host families had a meeting with training facilitators from Peace Corps. My papa came home and told me all the gossip from it! I guess that the families are overall very happy with us, but of course had things to vent about, such as us not liking or eating enough food and not taking more than 2 showers a day- scandalous, I know. We wrote anonymous comments to be read at the meeting too. We also had another person ET (Early Terminate) this week, brining our group's count to 55 people since 9 have ETed.
Next week we are invited to a gala at city hall in Porto Novo which should be pretty fun. We were told to come dressed in our finest Beninese-style clothing and get ready to dance the night away! People are getting excited for swear in too, which is in 13 days! That also means that training is almost over, thank goodness. This coming week is the last real week of training, and the last week should be all parties and getting ready to move to post! Speaking of, I get my refrigerator today!! I also went to the supermarket this morning and bought things I will need to cook at post such as a ton of olive oil, soy sauce, mustard, and jam. I'm going shopping for pots/pans and other household items later this afternoon.
I have been thinking about home a lot lately since everyone is in band week right now! I hope that is going well; I miss it! The first football game is a week from today, and it KILLS me that I can't watch it!!! Only 2 more weeks until we move to our villages, crazy. Keep up the letters/packages, and I would still love some phone calls! Much love!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad!

Today is my parents' (34th?) wedding anniversary. Happy anniversary, mom and dad! They are going to Iridescence for dinner tonight, the restaurant on top of Motor City Casino that Cam took me to for my goodbye dinner. It was sooo delicious, I'm jealous!
So since I last updated, I have returned from the med unit in Cotonou, yay! I ended up having to stay there almost an extra 24 hours because the lab was running behind that day. I KNEW that it was a UTI, but since the lab results were taking so long they had me wait around and do some other exams, just for good measure. The lab results, of course, showed that it was a UTI, so I'm on meds now and it is more or less gone. I felt bad having to stick around the med unit for so long: there were people there who were a lot sicker than I was, and many volunteers were COSing (Completion Of Service), which requires a very thorough medical exam the ensure that you are going back to the States healthy, so the office was overcrowded and everyone was busy and grumpy! Oh well, I'm better now, and I once again got to sleep in air conditioning, watch movies, and eat lunch at a FABULOUS Indian restaurant :)
Teaching this week went well; I was still with the sixième, the youngest grade that I will be teaching and beginning English students. They had a test this week, which unfortunately most of them failed miserably. They seem to understand things during class, but forget them rather quickly. The test had a short reading comprehension followed by a few simple questions, prepositions such as in/on/under/between, and the demonstratives this/that/these/those. There was also a word scramble where kids had to rearrange simple phrases such as “Good afternoon, class. How are you?” and “I'm very well, thank you. Sit down.” We would get answers such as “You down well I'm afternoon, good. Very you. Thank?” It was a bit discouraging, but I think they'll get it eventually. I'm sure some of my beginning French tests must have looked a bit like that :)
Yesterday was interesting. We had French class in the morning, and once we got there we all decided we were going on strike (a VERY common thing for teachers to do here in Benin- it is not unheard of for teachers to strike for nearly a fifth of the school year) because we were not up to having a fairly pointless 2-hour lesson on a Saturday morning, followed by more activities that would take up the rest of the day. Our Monday-Friday is extraordinarily busy, and having French class at 8am on a Saturday morning (when nearly everyone in our group is at the advanced level) is the LAST thing we want to do, and it is not productive since we are all so tired and grumpy. Our strike ended after about 10 minutes, but it was good while it lasted! We then went to visit an old woman on the outskirts of the city who practices traditional/voodoo medicine. Through a translator, she told us that she can cure almost all ailments (with the exception of tuberculosis, leprosy, and HIV/AIDS) using a combination of plants and offerings to the fetish in her living room. The supposed climax of the visit was at the end when she invited us in to see her fetish, which ended up basically being a ball of cloth wearing a necklace and some feathers in the middle of a trash heap in the corner. It supposedly is able to tell what kind of sickness someone has.
After that visit yesterday, the TEFL volunteers had an Iron Chef competition instead of a regular cooking session like we usually have! It was a ton of fun. We split up into 3 teams of 5 people each (although since we have 14 people, my team only had 4 people. That was good- too many chefs spoil the soup!) I was a team captain. Each team was given a pile of basic ingredients, and there was a communal pile that the 3 teams had to fight to get ingredients from. They unveiled the secret ingredient at the last second, and it was fresh coconuts. Each group had to prepare a main course and a dessert, each featuring coconut.
My group was awesome! For the main course, we made the most DELICIOUS spicy curry peanut coconut milk stew. We sautéed onion, ginger, and garlic in oil, then added potatoes, carrots, and eggplant. For the broth we added water, plenty of coconut milk, about 1.5 cups of peanut butter and flour to thicken. We finished by adding wagasi cheese for our protein (our group was the vegetarian of the three), and plenty of fresh coconut. For spicing we added TONS of curry, a bit of clove, salt, and some chili powder for heat. It was SO good! Since presentation was part of the evaluation, we served it in hollowed-out coconut shells, garnished with fresh avocado and an eggplant cutout of Benin! I will definitely be making this stew again!
For dessert we toasted oats in vanilla sugar and butter, then fried bananas and pineapples in butter and laid them on top of the oats. We then toasted fresh coconut and put plenty of that on top. For our presentation, we made a pineapple cut out of Africa and laid it on top :) We had to be very creative, because we literally only had a chopping knife, 2 frying pans, and a swiss army knife for our utensils. For instance, we used a carrot to stir our stew! We ended up getting second place out of the three teams (the team that won baked a custard cake with banana coconut frosting!). We were happy with ourselves, though, and got some awesome prizes: I got 2 forks and a can opener! (When you are in the Peace Corps, this is a WONDERFUL prize, haha) I posted a picture of the judging taking place.
Nothing else too earth shattering is going on around here. I leave for my village three weeks from today, which is both thrilling and a bit scary. I am looking forward to training being over, though. This week I saw a lizard that was only an inch long (picture), as well as a lizard stick his tongue out and catch a huge cockroach about a foot in front of my face- never a dull or creature-free moment here :) I spent quite a bit of money this week on a good fan and a refrigerator for my house in Lobogo, which I think will end up being a wise investment. I also really embarrassed myself: when riding my bike home the other night, a man on a moped came up alongside me and started asking how I was and flirting with me. This is very, very common here, so I didn't even bother to look his way. He wouldn't leave me alone, so I started telling him to go away, leave me alone, I'm tired of this, etc. When he STILL wouldn't leave me alone, I finally turned and looked at him, ready to start yelling... and realized it was my host papa's brother. Oops. I felt really bad, and I apologized. Finally, I got an awesome package this week from my cousins (which they put together at Dan Camp, a cousins-only hangout time that I missed this year), containing letter from each of them, some hand sanitizer, my favorite gum, ramen noodles, and a piglet temporary tattoo (awesome). The letters were really sweet and made me tear up! I will share the really sweet one written by my little cousin Austin:
“Dear Angelina,
I'm so glad you're serving other people with a great attitude for so long in a different country. Being away from family must be so hard, but that's what these letters are supposed to be for. I love you and I'll see you sometime.
Packages/letters seem to have no pattern in terms of how long they take to get here. I got the package from my cousins 10 days after they sent it- it was a padded envelope, but I got a different padded envelope three weeks after it was sent. My parents sent packages 4 weeks ago that I still have not gotten (although I have a hunch that they are at the post office, Peace Corps just hasn't picked them up yet). So, don't get frustrated by the inconsistency of the postal system! I will get things eventually :) It does seem to help, though, if you use a padded envelope instead of a box. It will get here more quickly, be less tempting to thieves, and I don't have to pay expensive Beninese tax on it!
Last bit of information: starting tomorrow (Monday August 18), I will have a new phone number. I mentioned in a previous post that I would be getting a new one because my current service does not get coverage in my village. You will dial everything else EXACTLY the same (i. e. whatever code you use on, plus the country code is the same (229), making my number (229) 97 67 51 28. So, everything is the same, just the core 8 digits has changed. This number should work with keepcallingcom, and may even work with Skype, I'm not sure. If you have a spare moment, I would love to hear from you! I haven't gotten many phone calls yet, but I will needs them soon, especially during my first three months at post when I am not allowed to see any of the other volunteers! I hope everyone at home is doing well! To all of you getting ready to start MMB band week- good luck! I love and miss you all!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

... but I DO have a UTI.

Ugh. I am back in the med unit in Cotonou, this time because I have a Urinary Tract Infection. (They are the worst EVER, but luckily easily treatable) I feel really bad about having to miss yet another day of model school, but c'est la vie, I guess.
Teaching is going fine; this week we had to write/administer both a quiz and a test for the kids. The kids in my class are learning things like "I am from Porto Novo. She is from America." and "The pen is on/under/in the desk," etc. It is kind of fun and surprisingly a bit challenging to go back to the basics of English.
We have has a few more people ET (Early Terminate), bringing our total down to 56 (we were originally 64). It is a bummer, but, I guess Peace Corps isn't for everyone. Not too much else is going on... I'm getting a dress and skrit made at the tailor this week, also today I ordered the "beef" at a buvette and was served cow skin. Declicious. (and by delicious I mean DISGUSTING) Today we also watched the testimonials of volunteers who have contracted HIV during their service, which was quite depressing (but easily avoidable). Also got a package this week from my friend Sarah that had stuff to hang on my walls, gum, and chocolate!! I would love some more packages like this :)
That's all for now, I'll let you know if my UTI gets better soon!

Sunday, August 10, 2008


Had time for another update. Speaking of, I have gotten tons of compliments on my blog from friends, family, and strangers; I really appreciate all of you following my adventures here in Benin! I have been really lucky lately in happening to have lots of opportunities to connect to the internet, however, this will not be the case for my entire 2 years here!!! I am currently living in a big city with cheap and easy-to-use internet cafes within a bike ride of my house, plus I was sick and at Headquarters in Cotonou, so the internet has been readily available. Once I move to my village on September 7, I will maybe have internet access once a month, if I'm lucky. (And that will involve traveling to either Cotonou or Lokossa, 2 big cities that aren't too far away but are not convenient to get to.) Also, during my first three months at post, I am not allowed to leave my village for any overnight trips (my first internet access will probably be around Thanksgiving when we have a week of In-Service Training in Parakou, a big city in the north). So, while I very, very much appreciate the readership and comments/compliments, try not to get used to these weekly-plus updates! Don't forget, you can always call and write me to stay in-touch!! I love getting mail :)
Yesterday, I learned how to do a few things that you would never imagine me doing: I learned how to remove bicycle wheels and repair a flat tire, I learned how to crush vegetables to a pulp very quickly using a slab of stone, I learned how to gut a fish, and I learned how to kill, clean, cut, and cook a chicken! This bike classes we take are quite useful, since we ride our bikes everywhere and there are no bike repairmen in villages who know how to work with fancy 21-speed bikes. Learning about the fish was also pretty useful (albeit rather disgusting). This won't surprise most of you, but I couldn't watch the chicken being killed, but I was fine seeing it afterwards and helped to pluck its feathers (see picture). We did all this at a cooking session yesterday where we made fish sandwiches, fried wagasi cheese (made by the nomadic cow-herding tribe called the Peul or Fulani in the north part of the country. It's pretty rubbery but not too bad), and chicken and rice in peanut sauce. For the sauce we crushed tomatoes (that's what I'm doing in the photo), onions, garlic, hot peppers (called “pima” here), and ginger on a stone slab using a small rounded stone that you grip and roll along the slab. Most Beninese have this cooking tool in their homes.
I have been talking to a lot of current volunteers who are getting ready to take a late summer vacation back to the States, and it has made me pretty jealous. There are so many things from home that I miss: hot showers, my cats, friends and family, the weather, walking downtown Ann Arbor, coffee shops, and just the culture in general. I am getting nostalgic that I will not be around this year to see Pioneer's band camp at Interlochen (I think for the first time in 9 years!), and especially that I will not be around for Michigan Marching Band and the start of the football season. I am NOT sad that I'm missing sweating in the hot sun for 2 weeks at the end of August in preparation for marching season, though :) You all have to promise to keep me updated on the football season this year!! Send me newspaper articles! (I would also appreciate articles and updates about the election and the Olympics)
All of the talk about people visiting home has made me reevaluate my feelings on visiting the USA during my service. Before coming here I was quite against the idea, saying that I should use my time in Africa to visit places on this continent because who knows when I will back. I still have some of those sentiments, however, I am starting to think that a 2009 trip to the U.S. might be in order. For as much as I would like my parents to come here, one ticket it much less expensive than two, and it might be a fun trip to make as a family someday. It would also allow me to see more friends and family than just my parents, and give me a very nice break, both mentally and physically, from my service. It is also fairly expensive and quite slow to travel around Africa. If I came home, it would either be at the very end of summer next year so that I could catch the first U of M football game, or for Christmastime. I can't come home during the fall as I'd like to because I teach mid-September through mid-December. This all depends on how my vacation time works out (I may be taking some time off next summer when some of my best friends are coming to Africa for a visit), and of course on money. A ticket back to the States is around $1500, so I would definitely be looking for some financial contributions from back home to make the trip possible. We'll see, and I will keep you all posted on my decision!
Enough rambling about home- I'm still having a great time here in Benin! I decided to skip out on church this morning because the times that I have gone it has lasted close to 4 hours and has all been in the local language so I haven't understood any of it! They also do the offertory 3 times, so I felt bad when I only gave one of the times. My family says they are preparing escargot- snails- for Sunday dinner later today, and I told them I don't think I can partake with them. The escargots here are not the butter and herb soaked delicacies that you get in fine restaurants, but horrible, slimy black slugs the size of an adult hand. I may get adventuresome and try a bite, but I told them not to count on it! I teach model school 3 times this week, 2 one-hour lessons (tomorrow's lesson will be classroom objects) and 1 two-hour lesson. The schedule is getting pretty exhausting, but we only have about 3 more weeks of it. I'll talk to you later- everybody to take a swim in the pool or walk to get some ice cream at the Washtenaw Dairy for me, would you? :)

Friday, August 8, 2008

I Don't Have Malaria!

Thank goodness. I came to the med unit in Cotonou yesterday because I had had a fever for 6 days, which sometimes means malaria as opposed to a virus. Turns out it is just a virus, and I am heading back to Porto Novo in a few hours. I DID get to sleep in an air conditioned room, use lots of internet, and eat real Quaker oatmeal while here though, yay! A few of my friends are here sick too- one has amoebas living in his digestive system, sick! Unfortunately because I have been here I have missed 2 of the lessons I was supposed to teach, but oh well. More to come later!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Me Complaining

Just thought I would do a quick update as long as I'm at a cybercafe. I taught my first lesson yesterday!! Right now we are doing something called “model school” for 4 weeks, which is basically a free 3 hour/day English class to prepare the students for the coming year, while giving us TEFL volunteers a chance to practice teaching before we have to do it for real next month! My lesson went alright, although I was the last teacher of the day so the students were antsy and chatty. We learned the numbers 1-20 and learned how to ask someone their age. It is a bit frustrating here because you can't use ANY French in your lessons, only English with drawings and acting to help you out. (This is the teaching philosophy here and we aren't allowed to mess with it since the kids will all be taking a national standardized test based on these standards) It is hard teaching the beginning English speakers, though, without using French, since they have nothing to base the English off of! I'm sure I'll get used to it soon enough. We each teach 3-4 days a week for an hour or 2 each day, so it is pretty intense training! Also, because model school is taking up our time to be in training classes, they have now made the TEFL volunteers come to school a half hour early and stay 15 minutes later... they were for sure not kidding when they said TEFL's training is more intense than everyone else's. (Stage is just a hard time in general, because the Beninese teaching style is very repetitive and group-oriented as opposed to the American idea that once something has been learned, you can move onto something else. Here we will so literally 4 or 5 different group activities on the same subject even if it is something we learned in middle school That is one huge complaint of volunteers- we are all adults and it is like being back in middle school again.)
Those of us who are advanced in French got to start learning the local language of our village! Since I am the only one learning Sahoue, I have a private tutor!It is odd being back to the basics of a language, but I learned things like “mifon” which means good morning, “odabo” which means good evening, and “ayow” which means I'm chillin', more or less.
I have been sick for the past few days, again. I have gotten this a few times now, just a 48 hour intense fever and then it's all gone. If it happens again, I will probably go and see the doctors in Cotonou (which is not a bad vacation- you get so sleep in air conditioning with sheets and a bedspread, they have wireless, hot water to shower in, and a huge movie room) A lot of people in my stage have been sick lately.
Speaking of Cotonou, I think my address (the one I have listed on the blog) is going to remain the same for my 2 years of service. My post is only 2 hours away from Cotonou, so I thinkthat I will just have my mail and packages go there since it is more safe and faster than having them sent to the village. I will let you know if I change my mind, but the Cotonou address should be it!(I don’t know why the font changed here... weird)
Last thing to mention is the taxi incident that some of the volunteers in my stage were involved in. As I think I have said before, people here drive way too fast for road conditions, and there aren't many traffic laws; no seat belts in any of the cars. A group of volunteers were traveling back from their post visit together in a taxi, and the taxi was going about 60mph down a main road in a village. A guy tried running across the road in front of the taxi, and almost made it save for his foot/ankle. Apparently the hit produced a clean fracture that snapped the ankle in half and left his foot hanging from his leg by the skin. (SO many ways this accident could have been prevented, but I won't get into that) When the taxi turned around to see if the man was alright, a huge crown had formed around him and was angrily mobbing towards the taxi driver. (It is not uncommon for people to get lynched here for something careless like that) Eventually the driver agreed to take the man he had hit to the hospital, but that involved shoving the bleeding and screaming man into the already packed taxi with the volunteers and driving for close to an hour to the nearest hospital. Everyone is doing alright now, but it sure shook those volunteers up. Like I said, the driving here can be pretty scary and I'm glad that I only have to travel about 2 hours to get to Peace Corps Headquarters in Cotonou. There were another 2 volunteers this weekend who got into a small accident (they were rear ended pretty hard), but they are fine. Don't freak out because of reading this, the volunteers who have been here for 2 years said they have never seen or heard of these kind of accidents happening, it's just a bummer that they both happened this weekend.
Sorry to end on a depressing note, but that's all for now! A toute a l'heure!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Visit to Lobogo

Hey hey, here's another looong blog post coming your way! I met my school principal and visited my village this week so I have a lot to write about :) Before you read this post, though, be sure to check out the new pictures I posted on previous posts!
So, at the beginning of last week, we (the TEFL volunteers) each met the director (i. e. principal) of the CEG- College d'Enseignement Generale, combined middle and high school- where we will be teaching. All but one were men, and all of them are... unique. Being the director of a CEG gives you a lot of prestige here, so they all have big personalities! We then had 2 seminars with them where we discussed the differences in American and Beninese cultures and how that may effect our work. The best part about these seminars? They were held in an AIR CONDITIONED hotel :) (It's the little luxuries here, people)
Wednesday morning we headed off for Lobogo! We were able to rent a taxi because there were 3 volunteers and their directors heading in the same direction, which is a huge luxury here. As I've said, taxis are usually oooold and broken cars that are absolutely and miserably packed with people. And even though our taxi was private, it still leaked rain water on us the whole way there. We also bought some illegal Nigerian gasoline on the way- see photo! (Better then our taxi back, though, who kept gasoline in used water bottles on his glove compartment!) When we got to a town called Come, my director and I got off and took zemidjans the rest of the way to Lobogo. It was an hour-long drive, which is quite long to be riding on the back of a moped taxi! Plus the drive was all on bumpy dirt paths/roads, which didn't make it any easier.
The drive WAS, however, extremely beautiful. The are around my village is quite hilly and very green and lush with all different kinda of fruit trees and of course the ubiquitous palm tree. And the best part was the HUGE lake in the middle of it all! The lake is big enough that you can't see the other side of the lake while on the shore! It was very odd to have rolling hills, a peaceful lake, and... palm trees!
Lobogo really is in the middle of nowhere. There are two even smaller dirt paths that lead off the main dirt path that connects Lobogo to other villages, and the paths are lined with corn, palm trees, and some of the biggest (baobab?) trees I have ever seen. The town itself is obviously all dirt roads, and fairly spread out over quite a large area. There is a huge market, lots of voodoo temples (the family I stayed with lives right next door to a voodoo temple, and when I looked into the window of it, there were blood stains on one of the walls- creepy!), and plenty of small dirt foot paths on which people live. There is a really nice outdoor two-story buvette (bar) where there is always an awesome breeze, and a small super market where you can buy necessities like toilet paper, canned vegetables, notebooks, and imported French wine :) (Great thing for someone to send me: a wine opener!!!)
Speaking of the family I lived with, I had my first experience “roughing it”! My bed consisted of a small pile of hay (= lots of little bugs as bed fellows) covered with a pagne (length of cloth) on the floor. The shower area was just a small area demarcated with a few palm branches stuck into the ground, and- prepare yourselves, folks- a pit latrine. Yes I, Angelina Hurst, am now a pro at squatting over a fly and cockroach infested hole in the ground to go to the bathroom. For this, I am giving myself a huge amount of credit. (I have to get used to it, though, because that is the kind of bathroom I will be using for the next 2 years! The picture is the latrine at my house) I stayed with the family of the president of the APE (Association des Parents d'Eleves), the equivalent of the PTA. The family raised rabbits, chickens, ducks, pigs, goats, and bush rats to sell at the market. The weird thing about the family was that the mom was a year younger than me! People get married and have kids soo early here. She had a 5 month old baby that absolutely loved me and that I loved too! I held it for hours and hours :) (Remember how I used to not like babies? I have decided that I love them and am becoming slightly less adverse to the idea of coming home and thinking about settling down instead of my usual run-away-and-stay-single-and-independent-forever self. Scary, huh?)
The first evening, Ryan, the Small Enterprise Development volunteer who is in the village now but is leaving in a few weeks) introduced me to some people in the village and showed me my house! He also showed me his livestock collection and his garden which I have the option of inheriting! I have yet to decide if I will do it or not since I think it would take a decent amount of time and I don't know anything about gardening... but it would be nice to have all the things he grows: carrots, lettuce, cabbage, avocados, guavas, green beans, potatoes, watermelons, and herbs, among other things! That evening Ryan, myself, a few of his friends from Lobogo, and the two volunteers Ryan had doing their post visit with him went to the buvette and danced! It was really fun. When I got home, my family insisted that I could not sleep alone, so one of the teenage girls in the family put a straw mat on the floor of my room and slept there, haha.
The next day, my director took me to Bopa, the main village in the commune where the mayor and police are located. He introduced me to the mayor and the chief of police and showed me the post office. He also showed me the school where I will be teaching (see photo) and introduced me to the administration and several teachers. Random side note: there was a HUGE ant swarm at going across the school yard; there literally were so many that it looked like a massive black river. They bit me, too, and it hurt! It was a huge pain to keep getting on and off the zemidjan because I wore a modele- hence a skin-tight full length skirt- because I was meeting important people and wanted to look culturally appropriate. One very in-fashion clothing item in my region is to wear a towel around your neck. Not only is it bizarre, but it is completely disgusting because people constantly blow their noses into it and wipe their sweaty faces on it. My director was wearing one the whole week, and when I was riding on the back of his zemidjan it would flutter back towards me and stick to my legs and arms, sick. That night, Ryan and I and company went to a late-night village celebration where there were bizarre little musical and dancing acts that usually consisted of people lip syncing to come awful song and people throwing money at them.
Yesterday was August 1, Benin's independence day. My director took me too the celebration in Bopa, which was once again a 2.5 hour assortment of odd singing and dancing numbers. Some of the cultural dancers and musicians were cool, but 2.5 hours is a long time to sit still. We got there late, but of course, since I am a yovo, they made a seat for me in the front row and a cameraman filmed me the whole time- awkward. Afterwards we visited Possotome, a village that is right on the lake and not too far from Lobogo. The hot springs are there, which were pretty neat. We also visited Possotome's 2 hotels, which were about as close as you can get to paradise on earth. These were gorgeous tropical hotels right on the beach where you sit under a palm tree and people come by and serve you cocktails and fan you. One hotel had a floating bar/restaurant on the lake where instead of chairs they had couches. The grounds of the hotels were beautiful too, with plenty of flowers and palm trees. I am DEFINITELY heading there when I need a break from volunteering! There is an Environmental Action volunteer posted there this time around, so I will be visiting him a lot I think!
When we finally got back to Lobogo, we walked around the village for about 4 hours “saluer-ing” sooo many people: in essence, we had to go to about 40 peoples' houses just to sit for a minute and say hello and maybe have a beer. They said we were going around so that I could meet people, but they always spoke Sahoue, the local language, instead of French when we were there so I could never participate in conversation. In our culture this would be considered rude, but not here.
Before leaving Lobogo today, Ryan, the 2 other volunteers and I went to the market because it was market day. (There is a HUGE market that rotates around the region and makes 5 different stops. It is therefore in Lobogo every 5 days and today happened to be a market day) It was pretty incredible. There was tons of clothing, household items, more corn than I have ever seen in my life, tons of fish. There were also the biggest snails I have ever seen there that people buy all the time to eat- something I will NOT be trying. I mean, these things are the size of your foot. The thing that got to me the most, though, was the livestock. There were goats, chickens, geese, ducks, and kittens. They were all just tied up and crying,and most of them were going to be someone's dinner tonight, which really bothered me. I know I need to get over my soft spot for animals, but it will be really hard. I will never be able to kill and animal to eat, and I am going to try to avoid having to see one be killed. People throw rocks at the animals here and kick them. I know this is because they are generally seen as diseased and a nuisance to gardens and whatnot, but it is nonetheless really hard to me to accept. Today I saw a man tying a BABY goat onto the back of his bike seat to take home and the poor thing was just crying and crying and it made ME start to cry. (Mom, you wouldn't be able to handle it... in fact I wouldn't be surprised if you are on the verge of tears just from reading this haha)
For lunch Ryan got goat that this lady was cooking, and I made the mistake of looking into the pot: The entire goat's HEAD was floating in the middle of it, eyeballs, teeth, ears, and all! That definitely made my stomach turn. I have gotten much less uptight about my food already from being here, just because it is simply a fact of life that there might be bugs in it and things sit out uncovered all day long- c'est la vie! Since it was market day, we were able to find a taxi direct to Porto Novo, a 3 hour ride for the equivalent of $7.50 :) (The hardest things for me at the market is going to be figuring out the real price of things; everything is cheap in terms of US dollars, but they always quote a WAY high price in francs to white people, so you need to bargain it down.)
Well, that was my sejour in Lobogo! The phone service that I currently have does not work there, so I will be getting a new phone number shortly and will post it here once I have it. I have finally gotten a few phone calls from the states, but I still really want to hear from you all! Once again, the number is (229) 98 68 18 15 (if I gave the wrong number in a previous post, this one is correct) I love you all, and happy August! [Yikes, I have now officially been gone for over a month!]