My adventures serving in the Peace Corps

Monday, April 6, 2009


I am writing this blog just about ten minutes after watching one of the concession goats give birth in my bike shed. It was quite the site- and came with quite the sounds- but we now have a new goat in our concession that could literally fit into the palm of your hand. I know I have said this before, but I think that baby goats are just about the cutest things on earth.
I would take a picture of the little guy, but unfortunately my camera recently broke :( I think I mentioned that in my last blog. I emailed technical support at Kodak and they said I have to send my camera in for repairs. My parents are going to try and send a me a new camera by way of my friend who is visiting next month, since the one I have now is quite old. I don't want to go another four months without taking pictures!!!
Life since my last post has been a series of ups and downs. The first few days back in Lobogo after the week of being away and with friends were really tough. That is when the tragedy really hit me, and I just felt really sad an lonely. I didn't feel scared, but nonetheless had some trouble sleeping those first few nights, for obvious reasons. I think the reason I had a tough time was a combination of the support being with other volunteers was taken away, and I had no one in my village to commiserate with, as the way they deal with grief here is either very private or just saying “God wanted this.” I noticed that volunteers who live in towns with other volunteers or other westerners did not have this problem, so I realized that it was my isolation making it harder for me.
However, life has been getting better everyday, and I no longer have trouble sleeping nor do I get so sad and lonely in the evenings. Many people from home have called to support me though this, and I really appreciate that. I have definitely missed home more since this incident. It has helped getting back into the swing of things at school, and spending lots of time with my kitties! (They really care about me- the other night they caught a big fat mouse and dropped it at my feet triumphantly as a gift.)
School was the usual this week, with lots of frustrations because of discipline and building problems, and lots of fun in the classroom like when I taught the kids the “Days of the Week” song to the tune of the Addams Family theme song: There's Sunday and there's Monday, there's Tuesday and there's Wednesday, there's Thursday and there's Friday, and then there's Saturday! Days of the week (snap snap), days of the week (snap snap), days of the week, days of the week, days of the week! (snap snap) They went NUTS over that song! I have also been grading a lot of quizzes and tests this week, which I must confess is probably my least favorite part about teaching, both because it is very time consuming and because it is depressing when kids don't do as well as you would expect and hope.
Last weekend, I went to Lokossa to help grade the written portion of a regional English competition. That in itself wasn't too exciting, and was certainly frustrating at times. We were working with Beninese teachers, so everything inevitably took about five times as long as it needed to, and I also had to convince my fellow graders that even if the answer that the student wrote wasn't word for word what was on the answer key (such as for the short answer section), it could still be right. For instance, the answer key had “Would you watch my child on Tuesday?” listed as one of the answers, and I had to go through hell to convince them that “Would you mind watching my child on Tuesday?” meant the same thing and was also correct, since it wasn't listed on the answer key.
I was happy to go to Lokossa as it gave me some time away from the isolation of my village and with other volunteers, and after the competition we all went and got pounded yams, cheese, and beer for lunch. I met another American volunteer who is in Lokossa for two months, she is there for a college class. That evening, that girl, Michelle, and I went to the local missionary family's house and watched 27 Dresses, which was really nice. On the way home from Lokossa, I discovered a farm on the side of the road that sells fresh cheese! I bought some for myself and my neighbors.
This week I also decided the girl that I want to bring to Camp GLOW with me in June. We asked her the neighborhood where she lived, and my homologue and I said that we would be there that evening. Well, it turns out that she lives almost five kilometers from the school and literally out in the middle of the jungle. We had to use a machete to get through some of the bush on Blaise's moto, and it took us over twenty minutes to get there on a moto! That poor girl has to walk that four times every day, and she told us that she leaves her house at 5:30am to get to school by 8! My heart was breaking for her, but it also made me very happy that I had chosen her to come to the camp with me. When we got there, the ENTIRE family clan of about thirty people gathered around us, and we sat in a circle and had a meeting under the moonlight. I very politely introduced myself and told them all about the camp, and that I had chosen Carine because of her grades, good attitude, and potential. Everything I said was translated by Blaise, and he in turn translated the questions they were asking me. They want so much for Carine to do well for their family and not become a farmer like they are. Finally the VERY old grandfather- the head of the family- pulled out a shot glass and some sodabe (the local moonshine) and took a drink, signifying that he agreed to let Carine go. To seal the deal, Blaise and I also were required to drink and then bow to the grandfather.
I have to say that this was probably one of my favorite moments since arriving in Benin. There was something so magical about driving through the jungle in the moonlight, sitting with that huge group of bare-breasted women and decorated men, having a traditional meeting with them, and drinking their local brew as a symbol of agreement. All the while, a voodoo drum circle nearby in the jungle added to the effect. The fact that this very traditional family scrapes together the money to send Carine to school and wants her to succeed was so uplifting, and their agreement to let me take her to the camp made my night complete. They have invited me back in the daytime sometime next week to dine with them- I am really looking forward to it!
The bricklayers have added two layers of bricks to my back wall, and today they finally added the broken glass bottles (sort of like barbed wire). They were very timely about the bricks and came to do that right away, and then every day subsequently they promised to return to add the bottles, and finally showed up a week later. I can't say I'm shocked- it's the Beninese way. Similarly, the electrician has been promising to some every day for the past three weeks to fix one of my outdoor lights and only came after I told my homologue how exasperated I was. (My homologue apparently told the electrician I was “furious” and he came with many apologies.) The same thing happened with the tailor who was making a pair of pants for me this week: every day I went and he promised they would be done the next day, and every day he said to come back the next day. When he was finally finished, he hadn't done a great job and the pants were too big, so I STILL don't have them. Patience is a huge virtue here in Benin, folks...
On Saturday, we had an American BBQ in Dogbo! We made cheeseburgers, corn on the cob, jello, potato salad, coleslaw, and a cake (with Betty Crocker frosting sent from home!) It was SO delicious, and so much fun to make all of that stuff from scratch. We bought two kilos of meat and had to cut off all the fat and bad parts and then put it through the meat grinder several times, but most of the other work was minimal. We also had lots of delicious cold beer! Then on Sunday I stayed in Dogbo the whole day to work on revising the TEFL manual for the incoming volunteers this summer. It is so weird to start to become the “old guys” in Benin and to have much of the focus shift to the newbies coming on July 24! After a day of revisions, we made fresh pico de gallo and guacamole for dinner :)
Now I am in Lokossa in the cyber cafe, and I needed to head to the bank before going back to my village today. Starting Wednesday at noon is my spring break, which is 1.5 weeks long. Two of my fellow volunteers were supposed to come down and spend Easter weekend with me, but they found out at the last minute that they have a meeting up in the north and can't come, so I am kind of bummed about that. I still ave a few people coming later in the second week, though, which I'm really looking forward to. I will probably just end up celebrating Easter with my neighbors, which hopefully will be fun. Other than that it will just be a good and relaxing break, and I am glad that I don't have to travel anywhere! (I will be doing plenty of traveling during my summer break: I have recently decided to help run an English camp waaay up on the border of Benin and Niger at the beginning of July, and afterwards I will travel around visiting my friends who are posted in the north.)
Final thought for this blog: one year ago today I took off to France with my parents- so many good memories! One year ago yesterday was Maddie's ritzy bat mitzvah, too. I can't believe how fast time flies.
That's all for now. Keep the calls coming! They are really helping me through the tough time right now. And they help me get excited for coming home- just over four months now!

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