My adventures serving in the Peace Corps

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


How, might you ask, does one get access to the internet when one is supposed to be on lock-down in one's village for three months? Easy: acquire a sinus infection and infected toe and you win a trip to the med unit in Cotonou! It's not as bad as it might sound. I thought I just had a bad cold and was too busy getting used to my village and setting up my house to actually pay attention to the symptoms. Last night it occurred to me that the constant stream of neon green slime emerging from my nose (sorry for being graphic, but this is Peace Corps, folks, where favorite conversation topics include tropical sea lice and rampant diarrhea) and the outrageous amount of pressure in my head were indeed symptoms of a sinus infection as opposed to a cold, so I called the doctor this morning and he told me to come on down. I also have had this weird... issue (for lack of a better term) with my toe that had been going on more or less since I got here that I am glad I will finally have looked at. I will never fail to mention the other wonderful benefits of Cotonou: air conditioning, and a dinner this evening that consisted of shwarma and fresh veggies with hummous and olive oil. Not to mention a brief respite in the monotony that is life in my village until school starts on October 6. So, village life! Last Monday the 8th a taxi came to pick me up (it was only 20 minutes late! Remarkable) and by some small miracle we were able to fit everything into/on top of the car. Because it is the end of rainy season and rainy season is an enemy of dirt roads, we had to find several alternate roads. Once we found these roads, it is a miracle that we did not drown or get stuck. Parts of this taxi literally didn't have a floor, yet we drove through some puddles (more like lakes) and pot holes and mud pits that hummers would dare not attempt in the USA. My first few days at post were nice because the girl who I am replacing was there to show me around and help me move in. She introduced me to a few people and we went and greeted lots of people around the village. We also tried out the new village cafeteria (the closest thing you get to a restaurant here) and I struck up a deal with the owner that he will buy fresh eggs for me once a week! Eggs, though I didn't eat them much in the States, are my main source of protein here. The fish always look horrible to me, possibly because the heads are still attached and tend to be covered in flies. (Nothing like the seafood counter in Trader Joes I had in mind when I put on my application that I really like seafood.) Once in a while there are a few varieties of mystery meat laying around the village, but once again I don't go there. The one time I bought what I think might have been turkey it was about 90% fat so I wasn't too thrilled about that. I really wish there were more cheese and nuts around, but not in my tiny village. Getting my house set up has been fun and time-consuming (which is actually a good thing when it comes to village life). My front room is my kitchen and dining room (a table with two chairs are on the way), complete with lots of shelving, a "counter top" of sorts, and my fridge. My back room is my bedroom and the living room. I got a bed frame made, which is really nice. It sure beats sleeping on the floor, which I've been doing since I got to Benin! I ordered a couch which should be done in the next few weeks. Lots of shelving in this room, too. Out back are my latrine and shower room (I ordered a stool for the shower so I can easily shave my legs. When the carpenter inquired as to why I needed a stool for the shower and I told him, he graciously informed me that only prostitutes in this country shave their legs. Thanks.), which I have surprisingly adapted to quite well. The latrine isn't bad, save for the minor swarm of cockroaches around it at night. Bucket showers are fine, though I never feel quite as clean as I do with normal showers because soap and shampoo don't lather as well when you are not as wet. I bought 2 huge trash cans that I pay the neighbor girls to fill from the well for me. (There is no way I would last doing this myself: the well is at least 50 feet deep and the bucket on the pulley holds like 2 liters of water) The biggest adventure involved in getting my house set up is cleaning. I have found some very interesting creatures living on shelves/on walls/in crevices along the way. I have gotten soooo much better at dealing with bugs than I was back at home, but I still get nervous when I have to dust off a high shelf. I got this cool bug spray that kills bugs from a distance, but with big spiders it takes them a long time to die. They first launch into a frenzied panic and do all sorts of crazy things like drop from the ceiling into your suitcase (no joke). There is this one brand of spider that is as flat as a sheet of paper and runs about as fast as a jaguar. Terrifying. There are also lots of lizards that live in my house, but they don't bother me, and they usually eat lots of the spiders. The other day as I was folding a pair of jeans, a lizard dropped out. Only in Africa. My life has settled into quite the routine here. School starts on October 6, so I have a few weeks of doing nothing. My day generally looks like this: 8am wake up 8-9 read/breakfast 9-10 shower/get ready for the day 10-11 clean 11-1 run errands/greet people/lunch 1-3 nap 3-6 read/play with neighbor kids/greet more people 6-8 dinner and dishes 8-9 journal 9 get ready for bed! As you can see, the pace of life here is much slower than what we Americans are used to. There are pros and cons to this. I love having the time and freedom to do what I want when I want, but it gets boring quite easily and I have more time to think about what I am missing at home.I am the only non Beninese person in the village, which is tough because I can't relate well to people and I am always started at because of it. Cooking is another interesting thing au village. You need to go to the market more or less daily to buy food for the day. Breakfast is never a problem, I usually have an orange or banana and some toast. Since lunch is at the hottest time of the day, I am tired, and eating on the streets is cheaper than it would cost me to make my own food PLUS I don't have to do dishes, I eat street food more or less daily for lunch. I go to the same woman every day who usually has eggs and once in a while has turkey and cheese, all served over a bed of rice in a delicious and spicy red sauce. She is going to make a lot of money off of me over the next two years. Since it is very hard to find vegetables in my village (except for once in a while African eggplant, which is shaped like a bell pepper and is white and orange and is DELICIOUS), my dinner usually ends up being a small plate of couscous or rise or spaghetti. Like I said, it is really tough to eat in a balanced way here. Market day is every 5 days in my village, and I discovered that you can find just about anything (other than vegetables. However, there is a woman who comes from a big town to the market who is willing to make an arrangement with me to buy me vegetables and bring them to Lobogo on market days!!) on those days. I am planning on getting a kitten or two at the next market day on Sunday. It will be very different from owning cats in the states (they have lots of babies, and fleas, and eat rice and fish instead of cat food), but I think they will really keep me company. It is pretty horrifying how they keep the livestock at the markets though, tied up by its neck or with limbs bound and lying sideways on the ground. I need to get over it. On market days the village probably quadruples in size, and you can find lots of really delicious snack foods too. Speaking of livestock, here's a story for you: the other night I got home to find several cattle in my front yard. Cattle here don't look like cattle in the U.S. by the way. These are the celebrity cattle: overwhelmingly emaciated. Anyways, I woke up at about 3am to a loud chopping sound in my front yard. I lay awake listening to it for a while, and finally decide to go towards my front door for a better listen. To my surprise, the noise was coming from just in front of my house! I began to get a bit nervous, for the only thing near my door worth chopping is my bike lock/chain. So, I was convinced that someone was trying to steal my bike, and didn't want to open my door to investigate if I was going to be faced with a machete-wielding thief. (PS it is not a myth: people here really do carry machetes with them all the time, to hack through bush and whatnot) After nearly 2 hours of laying awake and being quite nervous, I finally slept until morning. When I went out to investigate, my bike was still there and I saw no signs of chopped anything, so I asked my next door neighbor what it was, to which he quite casually responded "Oh, they slaughtered a cattle right in front of our doors last night. The chopping was them cutting up the meat and bones." Why on earth, you might ask, would someone slaughter a cow at 3am? The answer is simple: we are in Africa! Why WOULDN'T you kill a cow at 3am? As I have said approximately 59085098349058 times before, sleep is not sacred here. The neighbor was so kind as to warn me when they were killing another one around noon that day, so as not to disturb my... lunch? Never mind a good night's sleep, though. The poor thing took a long time to die, though, so I had to listen to it suffer which really really really bothered me. They then cut it all up, and even removed the green mush from its intestines. While doing so, I happened to walk by, and one man insisted on shaking my hand. Disease control, anyone? I immediately went and scrubbed it almost raw. People at post have been quite nice to me. My landlord's first wife is really really nice, but unfortunately doesn't live in the concession because he beat her one too many times. I went to the 4th birthday party of the daughter of one of the other English teachers, and I have spent some time with my homologue (another English teacher at my school who I will work closely with) and his wife and kids. My neighbors have also been really helpful in finding me a carpenter, taxis, etc. My taxi ride to Cotonou this morning, which normally should take just over 2 hours, took a solid 5. We stopped several times to tie down the hood and/or trunk, pick up an 8th or 9th passenger (in a 5-seater car), and several times it seemed we stopped for no reason at all. I am getting much, much better at being patient about these things. Most Americans would rip their hair out by the end of the trip, not that they would have gotten in a taxi that was in that poor of a condition in the first place. Anyways, it is almost 11pm here which is pretty late for me, so off to bed I go! I added some more pictures from Swear-In and the video of my papa and sons singing. Enjoy! Keep the letters and phone calls coming- they really help!! I think I will be updating a week from Friday when I go to Lokossa for the day. A la prochaine!

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