My adventures serving in the Peace Corps
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Happy Thanksgiving! Thanksgiving is always one of my favorite weekends of the year: going to the bar with old high school friends, eating monkey bread with my parents while we watch the Muppet Christmas Carol to kick off the holiday season, going shopping on Friday! Not many people, though, can say they've spent their Thanksgiving in West Africa. I am currently up in the north of Benin in a city called Parakou (Benin's third largest city) with my fellow TEFL volunteers, and tonight we are grilling eight kilos of turkey, making mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes (I am in charge of those), stuffing, gravy, corn bread, and fruit salad! A few of us bought some wine and candles for the dinner, and I even bought myself some goat cheese :) It should be really nice! This week so far has been really nice. I left Lobogo on Friday afternoon (my neighbors are watching my cats- I miss them so much!) and headed to Dogbo, where I spent the night with my friend Catherine. We made lentil burgers and french fries which were SO good! I unfortunately was really sick all night, and got virtually no sleep that night. The next morning I got up early and headed to Azove, where I caught another taxi to Bohicon, where I caught a bus up to Tchatchou. I was a bit worried about all the traveling since my stomach was so upset, but I made it ok. The bus I took up to Tchatchou was a huge mess: I was supposed to get on one but it got a flat tire, I then had to get on a non-air conditioned bus, and our tire blew about twenty minutes before Tchatchou, so we spent two full hours on the side of the road in the hot afternoon sun while they fixed it. It was miserable, and by the time I got to Tchatchou I was exhausted and dehydrated and hungry, so we just did a quick tour of the village, made some sweet potato cheese soup for dinner, and turned in early. The next morning we made breakfast burritos and checked out Tchatchou's market. Let me take this opportunity to point out how different the north is from the south. The landscape is filled with rolling hills and lots of tall and brown trees and grasses, but no palm trees to be found. It is really hot, but it is a dry heat so it feels pretty wonderful. The people dress more conservatively (lots of long dress-like boubous for the men and almost all covered heads), probably because they are mostly Muslim. There is also an ethnic group up here called the Fulani or Peul who are nomadic herders across West Africa. They wear beautiful colors and silver jewelry and both of the men and women wear white and black makeup on their faces. It is not uncommon here to see a group of Fulani men leading a huge herd of hundreds of cattle walking down a major thoroughfare in the town. They therefore have milk and cheese and yogurt! Also, they make something delicious here called yam pilé, which is basically mashed yams and it is really good. The pictures are of them mashing the yams, and the video is of the same so that you can get the full effect. Our training in Parakou has been really nice. The training sessions themselves have been good: we discuss the problems we have been having both teaching and in the villlage, as well as things that are going really well. We have had sessions on how to get funding for small projects, incorporating gender sensitivity into our classrooms, etc. We have also had a lot of fun eating real food at the restaurants in the town (I have had fried chicken, french fries, pizza, and salad!), and we even had a Mexican food night and an 80s party (see pictures!) in honor of one volunteer's birthday. The real showers and internet have been wonderful, but here is the best things by far: I have been sleeping in the outdoor screened in area, and by the mornings it has been flat-out cold! It has been wonderful. The other pictures in this blog: an enhanced picture of the crazy spiders in my tree, the most bizarre spider I have ever seen, and the sweet webs of the huge spider in the palm tree. (You can't tell in the picture, but the web is about 3 feet by 3 feet.) Also more pictures of market day in Lobogo, including the huge snails people sell to eat. Finally, pictures of a voodoo parade that came through the market area, during which you had to bow to the high priest of give him money. There were men drumming and women singing; it was pretty awesome. Not a whole lot has gone on since my last post. Teaching wasn't too great last week. On Tuesday, one of my classes simply didn't show up because they were told their English teacher had changed for some reason, and they were supposed to turn in a take-home quiz that day. Wednesday the kids were really badly misbehaved, especially during a quiz I gave in one of my classes. I caught one kid cheating outright, and other kids were speaking in local language toward the end of the quiz so that I couldn't understand them. When I told students to leave the classroom after the quiz, they all but flat-out ignored me. Some teaching days are great, and some are terrible. I just have to remind myself that these are squirrelly adolescents that I'm dealing with, 40-70 of them in the same room. Also the age range in each class is 10-20 or so, so there are different levels of maturity and attention spans. Another example of ridiculous school policy: we had a staff meeting at 9am on Thursday morning. This means that all of the 8am classes had to be cut in half, and because staff meetings start late and take forever here, the 10am classes were canceled at the last minute. Why we couldn't have had the meeting on Wednesday afternoon when school is closed or one day during the three hour lunch break is beyond me. The meeting, of course, lasted for 4.5 hours (I promise you I am not exaggerating), and at times the teachers were so chatty and undisciplined that they seemed worse than my students. An example of why meetings last so long: we had a heated, 20-minute long debate over whether we should elect various banal committee members by a show of hands or by written ballot. Twenty minutes. I'm not kidding. And many teachers just didn't bother to show up; it is similar with the weekly English department meetings. I have also noticed that many teachers start their classes up to 45 minutes late, simply because they were chatting with another teacher or having a snack. Sometimes I get the impression that people don't take their jobs very seriously here. (This is definitely a generalization, though: there are many wonderful teachers and administrators.) The most exciting thing that happened this week: another American showed up in Lobogo! Turns out she is here for an internship with the UN, but she is only in Lobogo for one week. She studied late medieval art at Yale, and lived much of her life in France and Italy, what a bizarre coincidence! Needless to say, we had a lot to talk about. For the first time since I've been here, I felt like the veteran, because I had to show her how to use the latrine, and get her over her fear of spiders, street food, well water, and bucket showers. On Wednesday night we made tune noodle casserole, banana bread, and opened a bottle of wine, and on Thursday night my landlord killed a chicken for us. I wish she were staying longer! (But I don't think she does haha) I had my most depressing conversation yet with Angele. She has been really upset with the way Quirin has been treating her lately, and I guess the other night he pushed her to the ground in front of all of the neighbors which really upset her (obviously). She is tired of being treated so much worse than the second wife, both in big and small ways. For instance, Quirin lets the younger wife wear pants but not Angele. He will also hit Angele if she says anything remotely bad about Victoire, but if Victoire says anything bad to Angele he turns a blind eye. I guess recently he hit her hard enough that she peed blood :( She just kept saying to me things like “I have nothing in store in my life” and “If I died right now I would be happy because I know heaven is a wonderful place.” She also talked about wanting to run away and find a new husband, but if she tried that Quirin would hunt her down. It was so tragic to listen to, and I know there is absolutely nothing I can do for her. It was really, really sad. It is now Harmattan here in West Africa. I am extremely jealous of my friends in the north of the country, where they get these cold morning on a daily basis! While we get some of the dustiness in the south, it has been getting hotter. The heat is getting miserable, and now that it won't rain again until March, we don't have the daily afternoon downpour to cool the air. The sunsets up here are absolutely beautiful because of all the dust in the air. I have to apply chapstick every five minutes because the air is so dry! I continue to cook and bake a lot; this past weekend I made oatmeal M&M cookies and my neighbors were so impressed that they asked me if I were a sorcerer! I also learned to carry things on my head, and was paraded around my concession with a cooler on my head and everyone cheering and clapping :) Finally, I spoke with the woman who is coming here in February, Sandy. We made plans to spend a weekend at the resort in Grand Popo! I also spoke with my host family in France and they said we are welcome to stay in their house in July, even if they are not there. How nice of them! Really that's about it for this time... For those of you who have tried calling me lately, I understand that it has been hard for you to get a hold of me. (Which I'm hoping explains the low volume of phone calls to me lately!) The key is to be persistent: stay on the line even if it says the call can not be completed (it will often connect after a while anyways), and try six of seven times in a row. I am pretty sure that the problem lies with keepcalling and not my cell phone. I wish it were easier to get a hold of me! I hope you all have a happy Thanksgiving and enjoy the time with friends and family! You don't realize what a blessing it is until you have to go without it.