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 :)

1 comment:

Ann said...

Hi Angelina! Us Dill's were at the UM game and thought about you when the band came out. We were with you in spirit! UM lost, unfortunately, but they said they'll do better.
Our love to you,
Ken, Ann, Andy, & Charlie