Hi! Had a couple of hours to kill in Cotonou before picking up Sandy at the airport (!!!!!!!!!!!) so I had time for a post. Not much to say since I updated a week ago, other than I'm SO excited to have my first visitor from home!! The taxi for the airport is picking me up at 7:30pm and Sandy lands at 7:50. Tonight we are sleeping in air conditioning!! Since it is the hot season right now, I can't even tell you how much I'm looking forward to that! Tomorrow we head to Grand Popo for two days of relaxation on the beach, and Monday we will head to my village where we will get matching outfits made, Sandy will get to watch me teach for two days, and she will also get to experience the wonders of latrines and bucket showers :)
The rest of my weekend in Cotonou last week was actually fabulous. We went to a Thai restaurant called Bangkok Terrace for dinner and it was phenomenal, both for the food and for the setting. It is in the ritzy area of Cotonou, and is all outdoors with paper lanterns and colonial Thai decorations, complete with a mill with a working water wheel and fountains. It was adorable! The food was fabulous (I really, really miss Ann Arbor's ethnic food scene) and I even had a big glass of red wine with my dinner :)
The meeting to plan the GAD dinner went well, and we are planning a Cinqo de Mayo themed dinner for expatriates in Cotonou on May 2, to raise money for Peace Corps Benin's Gender and Development Fund. We are serving Mexican food and even have a salsa band coming to play so people can dance. We even have use of a margarita machine for the evening! The money we will raise is used 100% for volunteers doing projects like girl's clubs, family planning sessions, HIV/AIDS events, etc. I may even use some of the money for my library project!
Here is some preliminary info about that: my cousins Dan and Corene have tons of books from a library that has donated them to my school in Lobogo, which is wonderful! I am even toying with the idea of taking on the large secondary project of building a larger library at my school, since now it is one VERY small room overcrowded with books, but I will let you know about that when the time comes. For now, the problem is the cost of shipping all of those books to Benin. If you have any interest in helping, or have any questions, shoot myself or my father (firstname.lastname@example.org) an email.
I am also looking to raise money to buy my next door neighbor, Fifa, two pairs of eyeglasses. Fifa is albino, and therefore has very light eyes that are overly sensitive to light. She literally has to hold things 2 inches in front of her face in order to read them, and she is doing a year over in school now because of difficulties related to her deteriorating vision. Her family can not afford to buy her glasses, let alone take her to see an eye doctor, when the nearest one is three hours away. I have arranged with an NGO in Cotonou to get her a free eye exam, and will then be looking to buy her two pairs of glasses, perhaps when I come home over the summer. If you have any interest in donating any money for this, please let me know! There are some pictures of Fifa in earlier blog posts. I will also try and post some pictures of my current school library soon.
The other reason the weekend was great was that I got four packages! It was like Christmas! They contained such wonders as Kraft Parmesan cheese, febreeze, and maple syrup. That maple syrup, however, opened up during transit and spilled all over everything in that package, which was an absolute nightmare to clean. I managed to salvage half the bottle of maple syrup though!!
School this week went well but was extremely busy, as I had to finish grading exams and then calculate each of my students semester average, which is quite a long and complicated process. Glad to be done now, though! Unfortunately, the next round of exams is at the end of March, so I don't have much of a respite from the madness of grading exams. It's amazing how fast the school year is going. I found out today that end of the year exams are finished before the end of May! This week I taught my younger classes how to tell time in English, and with my older classes wee did a massive verb review, as their exams made it clear to me that they forgot everything they learned about conjugating verbs last year. Honestly, that was kind of fun to teach because we are never formally taught how to conjugate English verbs, so it was nice to have it logically laid out.
One obnoxious thing that happened this week was some man came to the school selling an elixir that "cures everything", so an impromptu staff meeting was held so all the teachers could hear about it. Not only did it cut out of class time, but people were actually buying this stuff, to cure "everything from cancer to infertility!" I was appalled. These were teachers buying into it, too. Ugh. It is things like this that remind me sometimes that I'm living in an animist and highly superstitious society.
For my travels this summer, I am now hoping to connect my France and USA trips, as that will save me over $1000 in airfare. I would be going to France the first week and a half in August and then heading directly home, to head back to Benin on September 8 or so. I am just waiting to make sure this is alright with Cam and Sarah who are meeting me in France. I am not thrilled about the idea of leaving here for over a month, but I can't turn down that much savings since I have no money saved up to begin with and am not making any now. As far as the France trip goes, we are now thinking a few days in Paris, 5 or so days in Grenoble with my host family, and then instead of time in Nice, we will spend a day or two doing wine tours :) Since the three of us are wine fiends, that should be the highlight of our trip!
One more exciting factoid: I found out I have yet another fruit tree in my front yard that is just starting to blossom: guava! I had never seen what a guava looked like, they look a bit like limes. You eat them skin an all. It was delicious! I am SO going to miss all the fresh fruit when I get home.
Guess that's all for now- I have to get ready to head to the airport! I will have internet access a lot next week as I will be at a hotel in Porto Novo for training (more air conditioning!!!), so don't hesitate to email me if you have any questions about donating to my projects! I thank you in advance! Oh, and happy Valentine's day! I will spend mine sipping cocktails on the beach :) I gave my students those cheesy candy hearts and tried to explain to them what they were and what Valentine's day is. I think they could have cared less- they were just grateful for the treats!