My adventures serving in the Peace Corps
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Oh my gosh, where to begin! Amanda and I had an absolutely fabulous time together. Here is a synopsis of our week!
She got here last Sunday night, and by some minor miracle her flight was not only not-late, but it was even a bit early! But of course, in true Beninese fashion, customs and baggage claim took forever. We ended up taking a free shuttle back to our hotel and having a really nice steak dinner right on the water. The hotel was much nicer than I was expecting it to be, and it was glorious to sleep in air conditioning/with a comforter. The pool was huge and you could see the beach from the deck.
The next day, I showed her around the Peace Corps Bureau and introduced her to Beninese food: we ate pounded yams and Fulani cheese with our hands! We then spent the afternoon checking out the artisan's center, where we were promptly devoured by mosquitoes and fought over by different artisans in their booths. Amanda ended up getting a ton of cool jewelry and I finally got a new silver ring to replace the one I lost a few months ago! It is really beautiful hand-stamped Tuareg silver. After going back to our hotel and reading/watching the fishermen out on the water, we met up with my post mate Christopher and his friend from Chicago for a nice Italian dinner: wine, carpaccio, pasta, and cheese! We then headed back to our hotel for draught beer and late-night hookah- very relaxing!
The next day the real adventure began as Amanda and I took a taxi and zemidjans to my village. The taxi was quite crowded and the moto ride was very long and the drivers went too fast, but Amanda did really well! Back in my village that night we just took it easy and played with my cats (Amanda fell in love with them immediately). For dinner we had wine and cheese, and RIGHT after we had stuffed ourselves and were preparing to go back inside, my neighbor brought out a huge plate of rice and eggs for us, which we had to eat some of or be perceived as unspeakably rude. So, Amanda got an immediate taste of bizarre Beninese hospitality!
We spent the next day relaxing and walking around Lobogo, meeting some of my friends there. I took her to my favorite breezy bar to have a drink and we got rice and beans for lunch! For dinner that night, we made homemade pizza with real mozzarella we had bought in Cotonou. While we were making it, my proprietor came to the door and asked if he and his friends could take us out for drinks later in the night, to which I had to say yes. When we went out, he promptly ordered Amanda and I tons of chicken and akassa (fermented corn paste), even though he knew we had just eaten an enormous dinner. Once again, we were obliged to eat some of the food. They then took us to see one of their friends, who explained that he wanted to marry me even though he already had a wife, because he wants to see the United States. The situation was really uncomfortable because I couldn't use my usual tactic of just being very forceful (and borderline mean if I have to be) to tell them that I am not interested because he was our host and my proprietors friend. Needless to say, Amanda got to witness some of the more bizarre and annoying aspects of Beninese culture that night.
The next day was market day in Lobogo, so we spent a long time taking that in and buying lots of pretty fabric for Amanda to take home. We also got the obligatory matching fabric and got matching dresses made out of it! It is always fun to have a guest and see them in awe of things like the market. Sometimes I forget how crazy and unique it truly is! Our gourmet eating for the week continued: for breakfast we made oatmeal chocolate chip pancakes (which were so awesome that we made them three more times during her stay!) and for dinner we did fried rice. (You folks at home probably laugh at how much I write about food, but this is stuff that you can either never get here or never would make just for yourself! When you live pretty consistently off of rice and beans, things like fried rice and pancakes are definitely gourmet :)
On Friday we took off for Grand Popo. On this taxi ride Amanda got a taste or drivers waiting around for an hour for absolutely no reason, and also music blasting so loud that we literally had to shout into each others' ears. Whatever craziness we encountered on the way there, our time on the beach totally made up for it! We spent several hours on the beach drinking cocktails, went back to the room and took glorious real showers, and then had a really nice dinner under the stars on the beach. The next day, we did it all again, only we had longer on the beach! It was so, so relaxing. Playing in the waves was super fun, but the next day I was sore because the undertow was so strong and we had to fight it the whole time! The only downside to our second day there came when we were trying to sleep that night. Whoever was in the room next to us had LOUD sex at least three times during the night, loud enough to wake us both out of a deep sleep and make us grumpy. The first time it was really funny and we couldn't stop laughing, but the other two times when we were awoken in the middle of the night were really obnoxious.
It turned out that our sleepless night was only the precursor to a not so good day. First, we get to breakfast, and were informed that they only had lunch, so we had to order heavy food first thing in the morning. Then, it turned out to be REALLY hot when we were walking around the town and looking at different artisans' shops, and Amanda was worried that she might faint from the heat. When we finally tried to get out of Grand Popo, we stood for an hour in the baking sun, not able to find a taxi, and finally decided to take motos out of the town. We found out the next day that right around the same time, two Caucasians on motos had been hit by a bus and killed, so that was pretty upsetting. Then, on our moto ride back to Lobogo, my zemidjan was going way too fast on these little jungle paths, and at one point we rounded a curve and ran straight into a muddy ditch, only to flip up and crash into the bushes nearby. Luckily, no one was seriously hurt, and I came away from the accident only with a very minor burn and some sore muscles. The way people drive here makes me furious! So, to make ourselves feel better we made our delicious pancakes, played lots of rummy, and went to bed!
Monday morning we walked to my school and I showed her around there, and then spent the afternoon at the breezy buvette. She read a book for work and I graded papers! Unfortunately, Amanda wasn't feeling so hot, so we just relaxed and played with my kitties for the rest of the night. On Tuesday we went to Possotome and checked out the two cool hotels there. While we were sitting waiting for our lunch at one of the hotels, a strong breeze came and the sky turned black, and Amanda excitedly waited to see her first African rain. Well, not only did she get a rain, but more or less a hurricane came over Possotome and the floating restaurant we were on, so we had to immediately rush to the one part of the restaurant where we would not get soaked. While we were sitting there (shivering!) waiting out the storm, a caravan of black armored SUVs pulls up and out step several men in suits and lots of security guards who also run to the small rain-proof corner Turns out that it was the Minister of Sports doing a tour or our commune, and he and his entourage ate lots of hors d'oeurves and drank a lot before promptly leaving the restaurant again! They gave us some of their food which was nice, since our orders got pushed aside when the important people showed up :) We also chatted for a while with the minister and the mayor of my commune. As a fitting ending to yet another bizarre day, my cats refused to come in at night and so I left them out all night for the first time, only to awaken at 6am to them running up and down my tin roof, crying to be let in. The power was also out all night, so Amanda and I baked cookies by candle and head lamp light!
Yesterday, after saying goodbye to everyone in my concession (Amanda really loved Fifa, who in turn adored her. Amanda is helping to pay for Fifas glasses this summer which is really great of her!) we headed back down to Cotonou, where we did some last minute shopping at the artisan's center and then had a nice dinner for one last hurrah before she took off! Unfortunately, our trip to the airport was kind of scary. First, the zems sent us mixed messages about pricing, who would take us, etc. Then, we stopped to get gas before the airport and my zem demanded money for gas, which is not unheard of but not common either. So, we hesitantly gave it to him and he said he would give us our change at the airport, even though I heavily protested this. As we continued to the airport, he started telling me that I was mean, and that since I was mean I should give him my helmet as a gift. Then, he told me that I was going to marry him. When I told him I was already married, he just kept screaming “Je m'en fou de ton mari!” (Translation: I don't give a f**k about your husband!) and said he would drop me off right then and there if I did not agree. When we finally got to the airport they dropped us off in a remote corner and speedily drove away before we could get our change. It was a really bad experience, although it could have been much worse had they tried to take Amanda's bags or something. I want to assure you that these occurrences are rare and I normally feel safe riding on zems, but last night definitely left a bad taste in my mouth. After that we said our goodbyes (she promised that she will come visit me in Ann Arbor when I am home this summer!) and I shared a zem back with Christopher since I was still shaken up from our bad zem ride. Having Amanda here was so awesome, and it has made me itch to have more visitors!! If you are interested please let me know!!
I am now hanging out in Cotonou until tomorrow, when I will head back to my region for a cooking session. The theme this time is breakfast! In the evening we are making breakfast burritos, yogurt parfaits with granola, and mimosas, and in the morning we are doing peanut butter banana french toast and chocolate chip pancakes! It should be a lot of fun. It will be back to the real world for me next week, when I have to finish grading finals and calculating year-end grades, and I have to sort the books that arrived from the US for our library! June will continue to be busy as I prepare for Camp GLOW (and prepare to take over the leadership of it for next year) and have a friend coming down from the north later in the month. I can't believe how fast time is flying; I leave for my big trip in two an a half months!
Last but not least, my stupid phone! The reception in my village is still out, so this weekend I will be getting a new phone number. I will get that number to you when I have it, although I don't think I will post it on my blog this time since some creepy people saw my old number and have called it wanting to meet me. You can always get it from my parents, too. It was been so frustrating not being able to hear from home for over five weeks!
Hope all is well at home and summer is starting out beautifully :)