My adventures serving in the Peace Corps
Thursday, September 4, 2008
More Pictures and Videos
Hey, just a quick update. I added new pictures and a video to my last post, be sure to check them out! Monday was our prize-giving ceremony for model school, which went pretty well. As prizes, the kids got English dictionaries, pens, notebooks, etc. Tuesday we did lots of wrap-up sessions, and in true Peace Corps style, took lots of “post-tests” even though they don't count for anything. We had a session where we learned about possible secondary projects we can do involving gender and development, which is something I'm really interested in. The gender inequality here is hard to deal with everyday, especially in schools with sexual harassment, so I think I will do a project in this area. I have never been a bra-burning feminist, but being in this country makes me feel strongly about the issue. There is something every summer called Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World), where volunteers bring girls from all over the country to a week-long summer camp. The girls go on field trips to government meetings and museums, meet successful Beninese women, and do fun summer camp type things for female empowerment, all free of charge to them. Especially because many girls never get to travel outside of their village, this is a really special thing for them. Yesterday we talked about how to deal with loneliness during the first three months at post which was really good to hear about. Yesterday I also had a little bit of an issue involving my host family. I will preface this story by saying how much I love my host family, which makes “having issues” with them even harder. I had mentioned to my papa that I was curious how much bed frames and mirrors cost here. Trying to be helpful, my papa asked some carpenters for bed prices. He came home and told me the prices, which seemed outrageously high (nearly half of the money that we get for out “settling-in allowance, with which to furnish our house), so I told him I was pretty sure I didn't want it. Same for the mirror: he called for his nephew who makes mirrors to come to the house and take the measurements for the mirror I want and calculate the price. The price came out to nearly $60 U.S. which is really pricey even in the States, let alone here. (Plus, I just wanted to find a mirror at the market, not get one custom-made for me.) Other volunteers told me that they got full-length mirrors for the equivalent of about $7, so I know that the $60 was way off. Once again, I said thanks but no thanks, and I would let him know if I later decided that I wanted one. Well, my papa spent all night trying to convince me that those prices were good, but I was still skeptical, so I told him that I would ask the Beninese facilitators this morning what they thought and give him a definitive answer at lunch. When I asked them, as I suspected, they were appalled at the prices and told me to absolutely refuse them (they were nearly triple normal prices). This obviously upset me because it made me wonder if my papa was trying to rip me off. One of the facilitators decided to call my papa and tell him the white lie that another volunteer who had recently completed service had left me a bed so I no longer needed one from the carpenter. My papa proceeded to tell the facilitator that he was angry because he already ordered the bed, and even offered to pay 1/5 of the cost for me. I still refused, and also told him that I didn't the mirror. He got very angry and hung up on me. I started crying because I now didn't know if my papa was trying to rip money off me because the prices were so outrageously high. The facilitators had to come to my house and try and calm him down, and he has been visibly angry at me since. I have been thinking about it since, and have decided that my papa was not the one trying to rip me off, but rather the vendors. I think that because my papa is old and quite well-off financially, they will tell him no matter what price and he will believe it. The situation was made more awkward because the mirror maker and carpenter were relatives, so my mama is quite upset because she feels that I insulted the family. The infuriating thing is that I never said that I wanted to go ahead and order these things! Our cultural differences and inability to communicate well make the situation worse and less understandable for both parties. While I know that papa was just trying to be helpful, it ended up turning into quite an upsetting ordeal. It is really unfortunate that this happened a few days before I leave because I think we might end up on a bit of a sour note, but so be it. I'm just thankful that I will have my own home in a few days, and didn't have to spend so much money! Another random rant: I am so sick of sleep not being sacred here!!! The Zangbeto/voodoo ceremony has been right in our driveway the last few nights, which means LOUD drumming for about an hour at 3am. It is also now Raamadan which means that the muslims now start praying over the loudspeaker at 3am instead of 5:30, and since they are fasting and can only eat before the sunrise the bread sellers are out screaming about their hot bread starting at about 2:30. It is also not unheard of for our doorbell to ring at 2am with someone looking to buy ice from us. This country is definitely for light sleepers or people who are afraid of things that go bump in the night. This afternoon I bought a mirror and a few more household items with my friend John Mark, since our bank accounts were finally opened and I have access to my settling-in allowance. Tomorrow is swear-in in Cotonou! Should be a really fun day- I hope my speech goes well, since it will be in front of the president and broadcast on international news! I will update again one more time before heading off to village on Monday! Bisous!