My adventures serving in the Peace Corps

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Lobogo Tomorrow!!!

Well people, this will probably be last blog post for a while, so enjoy! I will begin by saying that I was unable to upload many of my pictures and videos for some reason, sorry! Hopefully I can get them up in a few weeks. As you know, Friday was our Swearing-In in Cotonou. Unfortunately, it poured all day long :(. We left Porto Novo really early in the morning and drove to the Palais de Congres in Cotonou. (Before I left my house in the morning, my papa informed me that they still hadn't picked up their outfits made of the swear-in tissue from the tailor because they didn't have enough money to, and asked to borrow money from me to do it. I gave it to them, and then my papa didn't even come to the ceremony. I know there are cultural differences involved, but I was pretty hurt by this. My mama and favorite little sister ended up coming, though.) It was in a ritzy part of town that we had never been to before, filled with tall and clean buildings. The Palais itself was a really beautiful building, done in a very artsy and rounded modern architectural style. In true Beninese style, the ceremony was supposed to start at 9am, but it didn't start until 10, with many people arriving as late as 11. The ceremony was in a huge hall, but certainly wasn't full. It was neat, the man who was president of Benin when Peace Corps started here attended, along with the U.S. Ambassador and other diplomats and ex-pats. More yovos than I've ever seen in one place since I've been here! Benin's current president did not end up coming, though. Towards the beginning of the ceremony, there was a video commemorating forty years of Peace Corps in Benin. The pictures from the early years here were pretty amazing! There were a few video clips of JFK creating the Peace Corps and one of him saying that “there is absolutely nothing more patriotic you can do as an American than to serve in the Peace Corps; there is no greater manifestation of the American spirit, and Peace Corps volunteers are America's brightest and best.” I think everyone teared-up during that part! It really made us all feel good about what we are doing, and also provoked some discussion among us about how most Americans revere the military as the ultimate thing you can do for your country; military members get paid and have so many benefits, whereas Peace Corps volunteers are respected to a point but not known about by many Americans, and don't get paid or receive many benefits from the government. Joining the military is seen as sacrificial and joining the Peace Corps is seen as noble at best, though I've heard some people call it selfish because they don't think that one person can make that big of a difference and we are just looking for a rich cultural experience with all expenses paid. No matter what people say, we all feel good about what we're doing and know we are making a difference! A man who was in the second Peace Corps delegation to Benin in 1969 spoke at the ceremony, which was really cool to hear. Can you imagine doing the Peace Corps back then- barley any cars, no electricity or water anywhere, no phone calls home! Must have been quite an experience. Many other officials spoke as well. It was so funny watching all the media that was covering the event: when someone speaks, there are a million reporters on stage in front of them with cameras and microphones so that the audience can't see the speaker. Big cultural difference there. Many of us gave speeches in local languages which was really cool. It was so weird hearing/seeing these young white people speaking these crazy tonal languages! They also had a neat anniversary cake that they cut on stage (that turned out to be about 95% rum when we ate it later). The singing was a bit of a disaster: many people didn't know the words/pitches, the guitar broke, and the last song ended up being a prerecorded CD that we sang along with and Ellias, one of the facilitators lip-synced along with the recording as we danced in the background. Most of us were laughing too hard- because the audience was dancing along- to sing well. At the end of the ceremony, we all had to raise our right hands and repeat and sign the oath of service after the ambassador, which is the same oath that military and government officials take. It felt really good afterwards to know that we were now officially volunteers, and we hugged and cheered! After the ceremony they served refreshments in the lobby, were I witnessed another difference between Beninese and American culture. The drinks were served at a bar in the lobby and there were a few people walking around with trays of snacks. Well, there was absolutely no semblance of a line at the bar or a correlation between when you stepped up to the bar and when you should get served. Worse still were the snack trays. People were literally bowling one another over to get to them as if they were starving, and when they got to the trays there was no polite “Well we should only take one and leave the rest so that everyone may get some.” Women were literally shoveling 4 or 5 pieces of cake into napkins and shoving them in their purses to have for later. Many volunteers didn't even get anything to eat, as it was literally dangerous in the lobby because you would be stampeded by the ravenous Beninese. I learn a new aspect of the culture every day, that's for sure! After the ceremony we had about two hours of free time in Cotonou, so John Mark and I went to get hummus and shwarma for lunch. That night was a dinner at the Palais, provided by but not attended by the President. The dinner wasn't too wonderful since there were enough plates and utensils for about 2/3 of the attendees, and you had to eat your dinner standing around in a crowded room with hardly any air conditioning. I did get to talk to the director of Peace Corps Africa for a while though, which was neat, and they also had an open bar so I got two glasses of Bordeaux :) That night we stayed at the Catholic mission in Cotonou, and even though we were were all super exhausted since we had gotten up at 5am, we stayed up celebrating until the early hours of the morning. It was really fun but also bittersweet since we knew that we won't be seeing many of these people until next year! It is odd that up until now our Peace Corps experience has been very group-oriented and we have been going through things together, whereas starting this week and for the rest of our service it will be very individualistic. Saturday morning we came back to Porto Novo so we could begin getting ready to leave for post on Sunday and Monday. Unfortunately I couldn't do much yesterday because of some sort of problem I'm having with my toe. I am not entirely sure if it is infected or not, but is hurts and is producing a lot of water and looks pretty weird. I am hoping tat it's not infected and have been cleaning it, putting antibiotic ointment on it and keeping it covered with bandages. The problem with issues on your feet, though, is that it is nearly impossible to keep them dry and clean, especially since a new and heavy rainy season has started. If it doesn't get any better within a week I am going to have to go see the doctors in Cotonou, which is the LAST thing I want to do right after moving to my village. I also have a small bug bits that got infected on the back of my leg, but I am taking good care of that too and am not too worried about it. I also have a cold. It really is true that changing climates and germ environments throws your immune system for quite a loop. Today I still have to buy a few things at the market, say goodbye to a few friends, and finish packing up my stuff to take to post with me. I think I am leaving at about 9am tomorrow morning, which will get me to my village around noon. The volunteer who I am replacing is actually going to be visiting the village on Monday and Tuesday so she is going to help me move in a show me around Lobogo a bit, which is nice. I am excited and very nervous to go. I am sad to leave my littlest host sister, who absolutely adores me. She always has to be hugging or petting me, and last week, in her broken French, she said to me “One day, you and I, we're going to get married.” It just about broke my heart! I wish I could bring here back to the States with me. Anyways, as I said I will not have internet at least for a few weeks, since the closest internet to my village is a good 45 minutes. However, September 26 I think I am going to the town that has internet to celebrate my friends birthday, so hopefully I will be able to update then. I will also not be able to pick up mail as frequently now. So, the best way to reach me is by phone, and believe me I will really be needing it in my three months of isolation! I will have a lot more free time now, so you can really call me anytime before 5pm EST. Texting is good too :) Thanks again for following my blog, and keep it up, it just won't be updated as regularly! Wish me luck on my big adventure! Lots of love from Africa xoxo

1 comment:

Anastácio Soberbo said...

Olá, goût très du Blogue.
Excuse ne pas écrire plus, mais mon français n'est pas bon.
Une accolade depuis le Portugal