My adventures serving in the Peace Corps
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!]