My adventures serving in the Peace Corps

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Hard to believe that it's only two days away. 2010=the last year of my Peace Corps service=I'm coming home in less than eight months... wow. Nothing too sensational has happened since my last blog post, but I had to put another one up so you could see pictures of my kittens!!! They were alive and well when I got back to post, although I didn't discover this until a while after I had gotten home and searched for them to no avail and had started bawling! I eventually heard little sniffing sounds and found the kittens behind the books on my shelves. They looked healthy and happy; I think Belle had just hidden them there when she heard the door open. Belle has been really good about feeding them and cleaning them and laying with them; they are SO darling- enjoy the pictures and video! I left them in my house this time around for a few days, but I'm much less nervous about it now :) The rest of Christmas Eve and Christmas day were a lot of fun. On the 24th we went to a nice Italian restaurant for dinner and made gingerbread cookies, and spent most of Christmas day cooking an elaborate dinner that was basically Thanksgiving with steak instead of turkey- can't go wrong there! We lit Christmas-y candles, turned up the AC so we could wear sweatshirts and played Christmas music all day. I also got to talk to most of my family back home, which was really nice. All in all, a really nice time! Back at post, I mostly relaxed and spent time with the kittens. John Mark came to Lobogo last night and we just hung out and walked around the market. We headed down to Cotonou this afternoon, and we're gonna treat ourselves to some nice meals and possibly a swimming pool to celebrate New Years :) Saturday, it's back to post and back to the grind of teaching! Thanks for all of the help for Camp GLOW so far: we have raised almost $900. But, over $5000 to go, so please let your friends and coworkers know! Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas, round 2!

I hope everyone is getting all set for the big day tomorrow! It is so hard to believe that this is my second Christmas away from home. The Christmas season this time around feels different than it did last year. I think that last December, I was so sad to be away from home for it that I tried my best to ignore the fact that it was Christmastime. I would say that last December, I was pretty down overall for the whole month. This year, I had a pretty good month of December, and enjoyed decorating with friends and listening to Christmas music. I noticed the subtle Christms decorations around Cotonou and even a few in my village. It has been an enjoyable month, save for the one night after a bad day at school, when I was sweating in my house and listening to Christmas music, and one song just triggered something in my brain and I got overwhelmingly homesick and called my parents, asking for them to share some Christmas memories with me. I have just returned from Cotonou after spending solid week and a half at post, and it was really nice. Honestly, I don't think I have spent a chunk of time that long at post since July, so I really enjoyed all of the reading, relaxing, playing with my cats, and catching up with my friends in village. School finished up well. I was pretty happy with the grades that all of my students got on their midterms (MUCH better than last year), although my quatrieme classes bombed their make-up quizzes which they begged me for after failing their last ones. I even told tham EXACTLY what would be on it, so it was evident that they simply didn't study. It is really frustrating the way students view English as opposed to their other classes. The last day of school was interesting: first, I taught my students how to sing "We Wish you a Merry Christmas"- enjoy the videos! Second, my director scolded the teachers after having many parents complain to him about male professors sleeping with/trying to sleep with female students. Really, really, sad... though I'm glad the director had the courage to say something. I also helped another English teacher at my school write some of the national exam students must pass to go on to University and recieve their high school degree, so that was pretty neat. For as comfortable as he is in English, it was filled with errors and odd sentences such as "Ms. Yomba is jealous of her sister's dense breasts." What does that even mean?! Last bit of exciting news from Lobogo- Belle had her kittens!!! She had two, a grey one and a white one with brown spots. She even did it in the lined box I had set up for her! Awful timing though... she had them while I was at school, the day I was leaving to come down to Cotonou. So, I saw them for a grand total of about ten minutes. They are literally the size of mice right now, can't even walk or open their eyes. I think that Belle is a little lost as to how to deal with them. She ran up to me when I called her name, and the poor things were still clamped on mer nipples, dangling from her belly! I put up a few pictures of Belle from a few days before she had the kittens, to show you her cute bloated belly :) However, here is why I'm incredibly nervous: Catherine's cat had kittens about a week before mine, while Catherine was in Cotonou for a few days. Several people went into her house while she was gone to feed Scout, and apparently they all saw her with the kittens. Well, when Catherine returned home, all of the kittens were gone, and Scout was clinging to Catherine, obviously not taking care of them... she had eaten them! Apparently, this is a quasi-common phenomenon when cats have their first litter, especially if they are feeling stressed and/or if humans have touched the kittens or gotten too close. Needless to say, I am really nervous about this, so I kept my distance from all three of them, though Belle seemed to trust me enough to let me get close. After much debate, I decided to leave Baby, Belle, and the kittens in my house for these four days, with tons of food and water. I know it will probably be stressful to Belle not to be able to go out, but hopefully she will want to stay close to the kittens. I figured that was safer than trying to move them outside. So, keep your fingers crossed that Saturday when I return to my post, there will still be two little kitties there! I will take pictures of them soon, once again didn't want to stress Belle out. It will be really hard for me if there aren't, especially since I got to see them when they were first born. So, I guess you're wondering why I'm not off in Mali right now, far away from any computer... Well, about a week before we were supposed to leave, Catherine was hit by a moto in Cotonou. For the THIRD time. That girl has the worst luck in the world. She was about to get on a zemidjan, when another moto came from behind, not paying attention, and ran over her foot, sending her sprawling accross the busy road. Luckily nothing was broken, but she did have awful cuts and bruising, resulting in stitches. The doctor told her that she could not travel, and she's not too keen on travel right now after all of the bad luck she has had on Beninese roads. So, we had to scramble and change all of our Christmas plans. Our Mali group ended up splitting up between some other groups that were going, and I decided to cancel my trip altogether and spend Christmas with Catherine here in Cotonou. She is one of my best friends in country and I couldn't let her spend it alone. We have managed to make it pretty jazzy, though- brie and apples and sausage and wine last night, listening to Christmas music and watching movies, decorating gingerbread cookies, a nice Christmas dinner tomorrow... all in all a nice and laid-back (and air-conditioned!) Christmas. Not to mention I am saving a ton of money by not going to Mali! One last thing: my Camp GLOW proposal is finally on the Peace Corps website-hooray! Please see my earlier blog post on how to donate (really easy, just go to and click on "Donations", then search my name). It is a great Christmas present to give to someone! The proposal has only been up for six days, and we have already raised about $500! I will head back to post the day after Christmas, and then come back down to Cotonou for a few days around New Years. I was planning on staying the whole time, but I want to go back and check on my kitties! I hope you all have a lovely Christmas, and I can't tell you how happy I am that I will be there for it next year. My group starts leaving Benin in just over 7 months, unbelieveable.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Chaleur and spiders and PIRATES, oh my!

So this happened a while ago, but I forgot to write about it until now. A few weeks ago, PIRATES attacked a ship 18 miles off the coast of Benin! Believed to be Nigerians, they boarded a Ukranian oil tanker and killed one crew member before- get ready- the BENINESE NAVY stepped in to save the day. The Beninese Navy?! I'm picturing a bunch of old men in fishing boats here. (No, in all fairness I do know that Benin has a Navy, it's just that you never hear of them being needed for anything.) Apparently pirate attacks off the coast of West Africa have grown much more frequent over the past year or two, and what makes these attacks different from the ones in Somalia is their close proximity to shore. Crazy! I still can't get over the fact that Benin was mentioned on the BBC!
I have been stuck in Cotonou for the past four days, mostly just lazing around. I did have two meetings with the president of the Mamans Modeles who are sponsoring Camp GLOW this year, both were at the restaurant that she owns and manages! Pretty cool to see a Beninese woman doing stuff like that. I just checked and the PCPP is still not up on the website, but I will be surprised if it is not up by the end of the work week. Hope you're all enduring the bitter cold over there; I am, I kid you not, sweating profusely as I type this.

Monday, December 7, 2009

How to Donate to Camp GLOW!

***CAVEAT***: you can't donate yet! It should be ready and on the website within the week, so keep checking back!
Simply go to the Peace Corps website ( and click on "Donations". That will lead you to a page where you can seach projects by volunteer last name. Or, you can click on "View all Volunteer Projects" on the right side of the page, and that will lead you to a place where you can search for PCPPs by country of service or home state. The page will show how much money is still needed for the project.
So, keep checking! It should be up soon! I will still send out an email the next time I have internet access and I know for sure that it is posted. Happy donating!

PCPP is approved!

That means that within a few days' time (hopefully), you will be able to donate to Camp GLOW! It was approved this afternoon by the director of Peace Corps Benin, and will be sent on to Washington DC tomorrow. I'm told that when it reaches PC in Washington, it gets online within a few days. I'm still not exactly sure of the precise process for donating, but I will let you know as soon as I do.
Once again, I am back in Cotonou... I am beginning to feel like I live here! I returned to my village last Tuesday night and taught class on Wednesday and Thursday. We reviewed for the midterms that are taking place this week, and it was a lot of fun, especially with my older classes! I am really enjoying working with them. We reviewed adjectives we had learned like "afraid", "dizzy", "sick", etc and it was so much fun- I acted each one out. For "afraid", I cowered behind a students and said that there was a lion on the other side of the door; for "dizzy" I spun around in about ten circles and then stumbled around the classroom. The kids loved it, and they were actors as well when they had to do doctor-patient dialogues. I really hope they do well on the exams! I wrote the exams for both sixieme and quatrieme, so that should give my students a better chance at succeeding.
Friday morning, I headed to Dogbo to celebrate Catherine's birthday. I zemmed straight there again, but this week we took a different path than normal. It was seriously like driving through the enchanted forest/the most stereotypical image of rural Africa that you could imagine: dense jungle complete with vines and monkeys, topless women and scantily clad men, the tiniest mud-and-thatch villages you can imagine. I honestly believe that 75% of them had never seen a white person before, so driving though that area caused a huge shit storm. We were stopped multiple times en route by villagers blocking the road with a log, demanding money to pass. Can you imagine someone doing that in America?! Crazy.
Getting to Catherine's house was really nice- it is so Christmas-y! She had tons of decorations out, candles burning, and Christmas music playing. (Later in the weekend, we even made a homemade wreath- check out the picture! Other pictures are of more Harmattan dust in the air in my village.) That night, her, Michelle, and I made mexican food and brownies for dinner, and watched the Muppet Christmas Carol! It was also fun seeing her cat which is just as, if not more pregnant than mine.
We got up early the next morning to head to a small village where we were participating in a youth-oriented panel discussion. Once we got out of the taxi, we had to zem to the village, and I must say that I have never had a scarier zem experience here in Benin. The road to the village was a narrow and crowded sand path with lots of twists and turns, and I would estimate that our zems were taking it at about sixty mph. Not only were there other zems on the path and women walking to the market, but the dust was kicking up in our faces so much that we could hardly see and inch in front of our faces. We were screaming at our drivers to slow down, and they completely ignored us. When we got to our destination and I told him how dangerous he was being, he only laughed. It was awful and we were all really shaken up. Travel during the holiday season is not great: prices go up, and many drivers have had too much to drink, even at 8am.
The forum was not particularly great. It consisted of a huge group of young adults asking the five of us volunteers questions about life in America, mostly relating to women's rights. I suppose we planted seeds in their heads about the way things could be, but it really seemed like us just telling them how much better America is than Benin and them not being able to do a thing about it. The room was also boiling hot and the forum lasted about three hours, so those factors didn't help, either. One cool part about the day, though, was we got to see a library in the village that is exclusively for girls. Apparently of the 360 or so girls who used the library last year, only three of them didn't pass on to the next grade level, which is astounding for this country. To top off our not-so-great day, Catherine was describing the brown widow spiders (like black widows, only deadlier) she sometimes gets in her back area, and when she showed me what their egg sacks look like, I discovered that I, too, have them at my house. Great. At least we made yummy pad thai for dinner...
The next morning we made bacon (sent from home) and cinnamon rolls and watched The Nightmare Before Christmas, so the day definitely started off on a better foot! I then came down to Cotonou and got some work done, which has been easy to do as I have been the ONLY volunteer here this whole time. This literally NEVER happens, so I have been trying to make the most of it! Today I finalized my PCPP and met with the president of the organization who is co-sponsoring Camp GLOW- the Reseau des Mamans Modeles (model mamas). They are an awesome organization of Beninese women who are lawyers, entrepreneurs, doctors, etc. and do activities such as "take your daughter to work day", so they should be perfect to help out with Camp GLOW! I met with the woman at the restaurant she owns, and she treated me to a nice dinner.
I guess the last thing I will talk about is our trip to Mali that is coming up in a few weeks. In the past year or so, several westerners have been captured and ransomed by terrorists in the Sahel (the southern part of the Sahara). About a week and a half ago, a Frenchman was captured outside of his hotel in northeastern Mali, and back in June, a British man was captured and murdered there. The recent kidnapping, combined with the termination of Peace Corps in Niger, have resurrected concerns about safety in the area. That all being said, the area where my group is traveling is not near to any of these places- Mali is an enormous country. After much discussion and a slight modification of our itinterary, I think that our trip will still be a go. We have a large group, we won't be traveling with much money, and are going with a guide who has worked with Peace Corps for many years, so we all feel pretty safe about it. I don't want this to freak you out, I just thought that I should let you all know what is going on.
I think that I am returning to my post tomorrow, but there is a slight chance that it will not be until Thursday or Friday. Hopefully, I can just stay there until the 23rd when the trip begins!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Thanksgiving! (a.k.a. the weekend from travel hell)

I am STUFFED. And sick of traveling. Here's why:
I left Lobogo on Wednesday to go to Dogbo to celebrate Kristin's birthday. We had a really nice time; we went to a "restaurant" and sat there for a few hours, feasting upon beef, rabbit, and chicken, probably more meat than I have had in my last six months of service. Afterwards, Catherine had us all over to her house where she had decorated with balloons and baked a delicious devil's food birthday cake! That night, when I unfolded Catherine's cot to sleep on, there was a scorpion inside. Honestly, it didn't even phase me. I just brushed it off and went to sleep. My, how Benin has changed me!
On Thursday, we started cooking at 8am. For breakfast, I made monkey bread for everyone, which is what my mom always makes on Thanksgiving morning. Needless to say, it didn't turn out as perfectly as her's always does, but nonetheless, it was impressive for Benin :) There were only three of us who cooked all day, and we divided the tasks pretty well. I made the gravy, corn bread-apple stuffing, and my first ever apple pie (see picture)! (We also had a "pumpkin" pie for dessert, made from unripe papaya.) They all turned out really well. We deep fried our turkey this year, which was much better than I was expecting it to be. For dinner we had eleven people, including four of the new volunteers who transferred from Guinea.
The next morning, Kristin and I got up at 5:30 for the long trip up to Parakou. The first leg of our trip was stress-free and went really smoothly: got right into a taxi for Bohicon and got there plenty early. Arriving at the bus station there, a man who works for a well-known bus company approached us to sell us tickets, but before we bought, we verified with him multiple times that there would be seats for us- often, the busses fill up in Cotonou and there are not seats left by the time they reach Bohicon. He assured us that we would have places, and we sat down to wait. When busses started arriving an hour later, we saw multiple busses from our company, but were always told that "This one is not your bus." Finally, all of the busses had come and gone, and there were about 15 of us left waiting for our bus. Mind you, this is at noon, when we had been promised that our bus would leave between 10 and 10:30; the man who had sold us our tickets kept disappearing and ignoring our questions. Finally, an odd bus (looked like a city bus, not a charter bus) pulled in and we were told to get on. Because there was no storage room under the bus, we each had to keep our luggage with us which was already a pain. We sat on the sweltering bus for an hour, none of us sure what we were waiting for. When we finally tracked down someone who worked on the bus, he said we were waiting for the bus to fill up... even though it was already three hours later than we were supposed to leave. Finally, at 1:30, with only THREE seats left to fill, they decided to cancel the bus, since it wasn't full. Mind you, they didn't even TELL us they were canceling the bus; only after about 30 minutes of noticing people taking their bags and leaving the bus did we realize something was up. We then had to track down the man who was lazing under a tree, and wait in line to get our money back. We were then on our own to get to Parakou. Luckily, we were able to rent a taxi with some of the other passangers, but at this point it was the middle of the afternoon and HOT. So, instead of a nice roomy and air conditioned bus ride, we smushed into a taxi for 4 hours. Oh, Benin...
We got to Parakou at dinner time, and headed out to eat with all of the TEFLers that were there. My parents called and told me about the Christmas tree, which made me sad for home... getting the Christmas tree is one of my favorite days of the whole year, and I can't WAIT to be home for it next year! I crashed at 10pm that night, even though I really wanted to stay up and catch up with my fellow TEFLers... traveling is exhausting! Sleeping in Parakou was blissful, by the way. Harmattan is in full force in the north, and that means that it gets downright COLD overnight. I made sure to get a bed in the outdoor gazeebo and brought along sweatpants and a long sleeved t-shirt to sleep in, and it was amazing. (The picture that looks like fog is actually all the dust in the air.)
We spent all of Saturday cooking. I was in charge of the sweet potato pie, so I headed to the market to buy supplies. Little did I know that Friday/Saturday was Tabaski, a huge muslim holiday, where they kill tons of goats, and that to drive to the market, you have to go directly through the slaughter grounds. Not only did I see such wonders as piles of goat heads and tons of goats lined up for the slaughter, but I was lucky enough to to drive by RIGHT as they were cutting a goat's throat. For as comfortable as I have gotten wth things like this, that still really shook me up. Anyway, I made an awesome sweet potato pie with fresh sliced apples in it, and it was a big hit. We brined some turkey and then cooked it on the grill, and it was delicious. We then played the requisite game of "Cornucopia", reflecting on our service so far, our memories of Kate, and our future plans. That is the beauty of having an (almost) all female group- you can talk abut mushy things like that! And yes, most of us cried at some point during the game :)
Yesterday was a very relaxing day. John Mark and I took the morning to plan our February trip to Ghana: living the hight life in Accra, meeting up with the artisans I developed an exhibit about, visiting some of the old slave forts, and lazing around on the beach. For the rest of the day, I watched THREE movies and ate yummy food (I'm serious, we all ate an absurd amount this weekend).
So today, I get on the 7am bus to Cotonou looking forward to 7 hours of air conditioned bliss. We made it all the way to the bus stop in Bohicon (yes, the SAME place I wa stuck on my way north), where we ran out of gas. They said it would take them about a half hour to fix this problem, but after two hours of waiting, they decided to- drumroll, please.... cancel the bus. WITHOUT giving anyone refunds or giving us another option for how to get to Cotonou. Once again, they never formally announced this, we all had to kind of figure it out on our own. Needless to say, everyone was furious and frantic to get the few open spots on other busses. Remember me saying how Beninese pople have no concept of a line? Well, ANGRY Beninese people REALLY don't have a concept of a line, and I didn't feel like pushing and shoving and clawing with them, so of course I was one of the last people to be dealt with. The men told me that there were exactly three seats left on the bus arriving from Natitingou, and promised that I could have one of them. When the bus arrived two hours later (even thuogh they had said 30 minutes max), there was only one seat, with four of us vying for it. Somehow, I got it (probably because I am white and was yelling at the driver, haha), and finally got to Cotonou a few hours ago. I'm telling you, travel in this country can be a nightmare and I have been forced to become an infinitely more patient person because of it.
Tomorrow I will head back to Lobogo, hopefully after meeting with some people about my Camp GLOW PCPP- I promise to keep you updated on when you can start donating! Unfortunately, I have to travel again next weekend, but it is only in my region and it is for a youth leadership forum and one of my best friend's birthday, so it should be fun. I am desperately hoping that after that I can just stay at my post until December 23rd when I leave for Mali!! (Please keep your fingers crossed that we will be able to go on that trip... they have had some problems with terrorists and westerners there recently, but luckily Mali is huge and it has all been in a totally different art of the country.) Not sure when I will be able to post next, so have a good start of the holiday season!! December is definitely the hardest month for me to be away, so keep those calls coming :)

Friday, November 20, 2009

I love you all! Now give me your money :)

As promised, here I am in Cotonou working on Camp GLOW yet again. It has been officially decided that we will be doing a PCPP to fund the project, which means that YOU can donate! We are in the process of finalizing the project proposal and budget, and by the time it gets through the bureau here in Cotonou and then the one in Washington DC, we're hoping to have the project on the website by Christmas. Once the project is online, I will definitely post a blog with detailed instructions on how to donate. All donations are tax deductible, and there is no minimum donation! Even $5 helps :)
This week went pretty well. As I said before, it is starting to get HOT. (As in, so hot that I can't take mid-day naps in my house with the fan pointed directly at my face going full speed anymore. So I have to nap outside under the mango tree, and as you can imagine, a sleeping yovo is something to be eagerly gawked at here. Are we really that fascinating, even while we are sleeping??) Harmattan, the wind that blows down from the dusty Sahara for about a month, literally arrived overnight on Wednesday night. This would be happy news in the north of Benin where Harmattan=very chilly weather, especially in the mornings, along with the dust. But us lucky volunteers down south only get the dust, no cold :( It was incredible how dusty I got in my taxi ride down here. The sun is always under a constant haze now, and a layer of dust covers everything in the house, no matter how many times you dust and sweep.
Remember how I was saying how happy I was with my first round of quizzes? Yeah, well, scratch that. My younger students did fairly well, but my older kids, to whom I gave a quiz on verb revision, for the most part failed miserably. Here is what is frustrating about that: 1. These were all verb tenses they had learned over the past two years. There was no new material on the quiz. 2. They were flying through the material on class, and I could tell that they really understood it. 3. Some students just blatently ignored the directions. For instance, in the section labeled "Simple Present" and for which the directions were "conjugate the verbs in simple present", they would conjugate all of the verbs in simple past. Literally, the class average for this quiz was 6 out of 20. Of course the students weren't happy and started begging me for a make-up quiz, and I have yet to decide if I will offer them one or not. It is obvious to me that most students simply didn't study. Some students did really well on the quiz, and I made the quiz MUCH easier than the exercises we had been doing in class, so I know I didn't just give them an unreasonable task. Luckily, we are now starting in on the new curriculum in that class, entitled "Health", and I get to teach fun words like the verb "to vomit", and "chronic diarrhea"!
This week the other English teachers came to observe me teach a class. To be quite honest, the experiece wasn't nearly as good as I thought it was going to be. First of all, I had to squeeze a two-hour lesson into one hour, so I didn't get to enforce the material as much as I would have liked. Then, when we gave feedback at the end, in true Beninese style, they tore me a new one. No positive comments (even though I had made it a point to plan a really good lesson, complete with visual aides, acting/role play, group work, and used NO French whatsoever) The feedback they gave me was absurdly nit-picky (though they made it sounds like I had committed a grave error by, say, not underlining the date) and tended to be along the lines of "Why aren't you using the teacher's manual? There are lots of exercises you should use in there!" nevermind that the government text books are FILLED with errors and somewhat vague exercises. I took it all with a grain of salt and did my best to consider the few helpful comments I received. I think that we will be observing some of the other English teachers in the coming weeks, so I will be interested to see how that goes. I think that at our next AP meeting, I will give a presentation on how to give feedback: the person who taught will go first, positive feedback first, constructive criticism only, etc.
At that meeting we also elected the two department heads. It was myself and another teacher up for one of the positions, and they decided to let the two of us talk it out. I could tell how desperately the other teacher wanted it, probably both for the title and the small amount of extra money they receive, so we worked out a system in which he will have the title but mostly I will be in charge of selecting/editing/typing exam papers and running the weekly meetings.
I began tutoring a student (not one of mine) in English this week. His English was very good and I think he has only good intentions asking for my help. He did ask "What can you give me?" and "Can I charge my cell phone at your house?", but I think he is truly just trying to get better at English- his goal is to go to university in America. I hate the fact that I'm even suspicious about things like this, but you kind of have to be in this country.
In other news, my health is still in a good state (knock on wood!), although apparently my toenail is falling off (no idea why, that's just what the doctor said) and I have a fungus on my arm. Exciting! I got a letter in my mailbox with "medically confidential" stamped all over it, and for a fleeting, joyful moment I thought maybe I would get shipped to South Africa for some sort of evaluation (this is warped, I know. But it's South Africa!) Unfortunately, or I guess fortunately, it was just saying that all of my midservice lab tests had come back clear. My cats are fine, although it is now Baby's turn to be in heat, and she literally has a totally different personality than she used to. Luckily from watching Belle go through the same thing and the return to normal, I know it will pass. I think they are both pregnant now!
This coming week I will head to Dogbo to celebrate my friend Kristin's birthday, and then Thanksgiving on Thursday. Some of the new Guinea volunteers will be joining us, so that is nice. Then Kristin and I will head up to Parakou for TEFL Thanksigiving/Ghana trip planning. I will be back in Cotonou on Monday the 30th and will post a blog then. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Just kidding!

Apparently I couldn't stay away from the big city for more than a week! No, I'm down in Cotonou because I wanted to find out if PLAN would fund Camp GLOW this year, and when I FINALLY got a hold of them today, they said that they will not have an answer for us until January. So, I am 99% certain that we will be funding the camp using a PCPP (Peace Corps Partnership Program), which allows friends and families at home to donate. I will absolutely keep you updated on that and will let you know when you are able to go online and donate, probably starting sometime around Christmas.
School is moving right along. I gave my first quizzes this week, and so far I am quite happy with the results. My sixieme students seem to be doing better than they were last year, and I am moving along much more quickly in the curriculum, which tells me that I am a better teacher the second time around. I am frustrated, however, with my quatrieme (older) students. We spent the first two full weeks of class reviewing verb tenses, and they seemed to be doing really well with that. When I gave them a quiz, which was basically a simplified/watered-down version of what we had been doing in class, many of them were angry about how hard the quiz was. I won't pass any judgements yet since I have not started grading the papers, but it was frustrating hearing them say that, because that tells me that they didn't study.
We did not vote for head of the department this week since many people were absent for the meeting, but supposedly we are doing so next week. During our meeting next week, all of the English teachers are going to observe me teaching a class! I am a bit nervous but mostly excited to show them some new ideas, and that you really don't have to use French in the classroom.
One sad/scary thing happened this week. As I was arriving home from school one day, I noticed that Angele was wearing pants. (An odd way to start a story, I know, but when her husband is around, he does not allow her to wear pants, only skirts.) She greeted me loudly and I could tell that she was in a rather bold mood. As I was walking into my house moments later, I heard a commotion behind me, and saw that Angele and Victoire (the second wife of my proprietor) we having an all out fist fight. We're talking a real fight, not some girly spat. Even with two huge men trying to restrain them, they still managed to get at each other and give each other cuts and bruises. I still do not know what the fight was about, but I assume any small thing would have set them off- as you might imagine, the two wives don't really get along. When all was said and done, Victoire hired a photographer to take pictures of the mess and the damage, obviously with the intention of showing their husband when he returns home on the weekend. I can only hope that he is merciful towards Angele; he has always favored his secnd (and much younger) wife. Honestly, I am afraid that he might kick her out of the house. The whole village is gossiping about it now, and one man even told me I should intervene because they would listen to a stragner/white person, and I respectfully declined. I have no business interfering in a situation like this.
Let's see, other news from Lobogo... Belle is most definitely pregnant, her nipples are about half an inch long now. One night in my latrine, a cockroach boldly crawled right across my foot. I pulled a tick bigger than a ladybug out of Baby's neck. (The critter stories never stop, do they?) It's getting hotter than hell here; I don't know how I will survive another hot season. Three of my best friends from home called me this week, which was a pleasant surprise!
Tomorrow I will head back to post, but will probably have to come back to Cotonou in a week to work on the Camp GLOW PCPP. Have a nice week!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Halloween and 1st GLOW meeting

Happy weekend! The weekends are beginning to feel precious now that school is back in session- my weeks are crazy! Between teaching 4-6 hours a day, going to the market, lesson planning, and cooking/cleaning, my days are shot. Time is flying, and I am definitely ok with that.
Last weekend, we had our VAC meeting and Halloween party. We had some creative costumes: 2 zemidjan drivers, a Beninese mama, a Beninese mechanic. Kristin's neighbors got a huge kick out of those! The two French volunteers in Dogbo came to the party as Peace Corps volunteers (dirty, tattered t-shirts), so that was pretty funny, too. On a side note, it was lovely to be able to speak real French with them for a night. One of the girls turned out to be from my favorite little town in the Dordogne river valley! We made chili and corn chips for dinner, and made cinnamon rolls in the morning. The picture is of homemade donuts Michelle and I made the night before in Lokossa!
School went well this week. I am really impressed with my quatrieme students- they correctly remembered simple present, present continuous, present perfect, and simple past verb tenses! We have been reviewing all week since it has been my experience that they promptly forget all the English they have learned in a year the moment school is out for summer. (Students here don't take English as seriously as they take math and science.) One of my quatrieme classes only has three girls out of fifty students, so sad. This is one of the reasons that we have decided that the main focus of Camp GLOW this year will be giving girls techniques to stay in school. I am giving my first quizzes this week.
We had our first staff meeting this week, and I am pleased to report that they are much less painful this year with our new director- he doesn't like to hear himself talk as much as our old one did :) Our English department meetings have been going really well so far this year: we ONLY speak English, 8-10 people show up (as opposed to last year's 2-3), and we actually talk about grammar points and lesson strategies. This coming week, I will put myself up for election as head of the department... wish me luck! It will be interesting to see whether or not they will want a woman/outsider in charge.
This week my homologue came over and checked out my electricity counter and fan, to see if we could figure out why I pay about 4 times more than most volunteers for my electicity bill each month. He says that there is no problem with my counter or my fan, and that the problem is I just use my fan too much, and am being charged too much per kilowatt hour. (The part about the fan is bogus, I use my fan as much if not less than other volunteers... I bought a new, smaller fan here in Cotonou yesterday, in hopes that it will use less electricity.) He says that it is too late now to start asking to see the electricity bill so... I will just have to suck it up for the rest of my time here... which is now only nine months!
I am in Cotonou now because yesterday was our first meeting for Camp GLOW. About thirty volunteers showed up, which is wonderful. The only problem which could arise is not being able to allow all of those volunteers to actually stay at the camp for the week... I think we can only take about twenty. We'll see! I'm still waiting to hear if PLAN has decided to fund the camp or not this year.
I have also met the five new volunteers who transferred here from Guinea when their program recently closed due to civil unrest there. I can't imagine how hard it would be at this point in my service to pick up and leave your village/belongings/pets. Anyway, they all seem really nice. The new volunteers coming to my region is from Kalamazoo!
I will head back to post today, and hopefully stay there until the day before Thanksgiving. I have been traveling so much lately, and I am looking forward to a couple of weekends of doing nothing and lazing around Lobogo. The week of Thanksgiving I will take off for almost a week, during which I will have two Thanksgiving dinners and plan my February trip to Ghana! And speaking of trips, our Mali trip is coming up in less than 7 weeks! I am starting to itch for another vacation :) I hope you are all surviving the dropping temperatures. I am bitter because the volunteers in northern Benin are starting to gt Harmattan now, when they have to wear sweatshirts and socks to bed. Send some of the coldness my way- hot/dry season is just beginning :(

Friday, October 30, 2009

Maria's visit

Here another week has blown by. Immediately after posting my blog last week, I began what turned out to be the taxi ride fom hell. Not only were we graced with an engine that straight up died right after leaving Cotonou, we then got not one but TWO flat tires. Hence, the journey that was supposed to take 1 hour took 3, and I missed most of my meeting. Afterwards, Michelle and Catherine and I checked out the hotels in Possotome. Possotome is only 13km from my village, but standing in these hotels, you would think they were a world apart. They are absolutely beautiful and I hope Benin can start increasing its tourism there! We then headed back to Lobogo for the night and made pizza for dinner and cinnamon rolls for breakfast (both totally homemade)! Check out the pictures!
I finally started my quatrieme classes this week. On Wednesday, Maria came to observe me teach and check out my house. I think it went really well! She could tell I felt more comfortable in the classroom this year and says I have really improved. Of course, my school administration had to make a big deal out of her visit and take us out for drinks (even though Maria only drinks water). My old school director actually happened to be visiting that day, so he came with us, and unfortunately stole the show from the new director a bit.
The rest of the week was fine. I am trying to figure out if I may have committed a cultural faux pas: my next door neighbor (another teacher at the school) who was happy to drive me to school last year is now acting like I am a huge burden and is being quite rude to me, and I can't figure out why. I told him that I would be more than happy to take a zem if he would like, but he said no. I baked him cookies last night, so we'll see how he acts next week!After my first full day of teaching, I remembered how exhausting that is! I have been sleeping like a baby every night, which is definitely a welcome thing after not having slept very soundly since Kate died. My cats are still crazy (and pregnant) and stay out almost every night.
I'm now in Lokossa working on Camp GLOW stuff with Michelle. I think we are killing a chicken for dinner tonight! Tomorrow we head to Dogbo for a VAC meeting and Halloween party! I am being boring and reusing my 80s party costume, but lots of people are dressing as zemidjan drivers, market women, etc. It should be fun! I will update again next weekend when I am in Cotonou for the first Camp GLOW meeting. Happy halloween!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Gettin' back into the groove

Hey everyone! Sorry it has been a while since my last post... I haven't had much internet access, and I have been busy starting school and doing Camp GLOW stuff. Even though school has started, it still isn't in full swing. I STILL haven't been able to have class with two of my four classes because they don't have a classroom and therefore just don't show up. Our censeur also has not been around, so things have been hectic with working out schedules. School started in typical Beninese fashion: people not showing up for a few weeks, people getting kicked out for not having paid fees or- yes, this really happens- having too fancy of a hair weave. I knew what to expect this year, though, so I was much more patient with the process. Now that school has started, I am 80% relieved and 20% nostalgiac for summer! It is really good to have a set schedule once again, and I love how fast the time flies, but I forgot how exhausting teaching is! Being one your feet for five hours straight and then coming home to cook, clean, and lesson plan really takes up your day! I definitely feel much more comfortable as a teacher this year. I have my systems down for discipline, board organization, etc., and I think it makes a difference when the kids can feel that I am in control of the classroom. I am having a lot of fun teaching the basics like "to be" and "good morning" and counting to ten! We also had our first English department meeting this past week, and I am hopeful that those will be more useful this year. I am going to try and be head of the department this year, meaning I will run the meetings, meaning we will start on time and actually get stuff done :) My boss Maria is coming to observe me teach this coming Wednesday. I am really not at all nervous and think the session will go well. Last weekend, I celebrated my birthday with a few friends in Lokossa. Friday night we went out for beer and salad (yes, that is a really nice birthday dinner here!) and the next day we had a joint party for Miranna and I (see picture) at a yam pilee restaurant. Catherine has figured out how to make peanut butter filled cupcakes (amazing what you can do with a little creativity here in Benin!) so she brought those along. On my actual birthday I had to teach in the morning. That afternoon, Fifa and Mari and I baked a cake, and I ate dinner at my neighbors' house that night. They made pate and legume sauce for me (kind of like collard greens) with cheese and eggplant I had brought back from Lokossa. After dinner we ate the cake- Angele did NOT stick her fist in it this year! My neighbors then bought us all beers (even the wives and the hired help!) and we all danced for a while. They wanted me to teach them how to dance like a white person, which was pretty mortifying. They said they had seen white people dance in music videos and they wanted me to show them. I contented myself with watching them dance- Africans just have this inherent talant for amazing dancing. I have never seen anyeone else move thier body the way these people can. In the past week or two, my cats have essentially become outdoor cats. I was trying to keep them inside at night, but they would howl at the door for hours on end until I caved and let them out. I decided that the noise they make on the tin roof is more tolerable than the howling at the door and knocking things off shelves at 3am. Now that I have started letting them out overnight, I am pretty sure that Belle is pregnant, and has fleas. Nothing I can do about it, I guess. I am actually kind of excited to see little kittens born! When I go out of town over night now, I just put their food and water outside and lock them out of the house. Baby especially doesn't like it, but they will have to learn someday. Today I am heading to Come for a meeting about the regional English competition, and afterwards Michelle and Catherine and I are gonna have a nice dinner on the lake and then spend the night at my post. We are going to work on planning our Mali Christmas trip and our trip to Morocco on the way home next summer! Speaking of trips, John Mark and I are also in the process of planning our trip to Ghana in the spring! I am addicted to traveling :) I am in Cotonou now because I had a meeting with the organization I am hoping will fund Camp GLOW yesterday. Unfortunately they will not be able to give us a final answer for another three weeks or so. I will keep you posted on whether or not we will be looking for donations from home. So, all is well here. Time is REALLY flying and I am keeping planty busy with school and Camp GLOW. I know that people have been having trouble getting through to me by telephone- just keep trying over and over and over! That is usually what it takes. I miss all of you and am especially sad at this time of year ot be missing the beautiful Fall colors. I hear the weather has been quite cold over there (while it is starting to heat up dramatically here in Benin... check out the picture of the melting candles in my house)- have a cup of hot cider for me!
And enjoy the video: I fed one of the local monkeys!