My adventures serving in the Peace Corps

Sunday, May 3, 2009


I absolutely can't believe that I have been out of the United States for over ten months now. I know I am starting to sound like a broken record, but my goodness how time flies!
This week has had its share of ups and downs. I taught school for two days this week, and even that was quite a feat. Most of the professors were on strike, so many students didn't show up. (Of course, no one bothered to tell me about the strike ahead of time.) Then, Wednesday, there was a soccer match between Lobogo and the neighboring village of Bopa, and the students all had permission to skip school and go watch the game. Once again, nobody bothered to tell me about this ahead of time, and about 1/3 of my students showed up, even though it was the last class before finals/of the year! Then Thursday and Friday were national holidays, so... I am done teaching for the year...?!?!
Another fun school story this week: we had a staff meeting that consisted of our administration telling us what horrible teachers we all were, based on first semester grades. Apparently, there are some classes in which no students are getting over a 50%. When asked what we could do to improve our teaching, teachers began standing up and proclaiming that they are already doing everything they could possibly do, and that the problem is that the students are stupid and lazy. Needless to say, I lost it and stood up and gave small suggestions for improvement like not writing notes on the board and then going to sleep while the students copy, not taking 30 minute phone calls in the middle of class, etc. Of course, I was just laughed at, but the administration was really happy that I spoke up and I was proud of myself. It really made me realize some key differences between work and motivation philosophy between Beninese and Americans. They are always asking, "what's in it for me?" instead of "what is the stake for the children?" Of course, this meeting lasted a wholly unnecessary 2.5 hours. Sigh.
This week I also finalized my girls for Camp GLOW. My homologue and I went to see the family of the second girl I am taking. It wasn't as magical as the first night ride through the jungle, but still really beautiful. The next day we went back to the family of the first girl because they wanted us to see them during the day. The girl herself wasn't there, and her mother and family were off working in the market. So, it was the grandparents (realllly old, no teeth, insert various National-Geographic-elderly-African-people stereotypes here) and TONS of filthy kids rolling around in the dirt. This group (I say group because I am pretty sure there is more than one wife) of parents has fifteen children between the ages of 1 and 10, all on a farmer's living.
The highlight of the afternoon was the grandpa taking us out to one of his fields, cutting down a palm tree, and showing us how to drain it of its wine. So, we drank fresh palm wine straight out of the tree! It tasted like milky beer that was slightly sweet. He then showed us how he distills the wine to make this horrid moonshine. The water he cools the liquor through looks and smells like it hasn't been changed in twenty years, and the cotton the final product drips through looks like it's alive. Disgusting. Afterwards, Blaise and I went to Bopa to ask the mayor for funding for our transportation to Camp GLOW. He was so impressed that I only asked for the price of transportation and didn't try to get more money out of him that he gave us extra money for the girls to have to spend on themselves at the camp! They are going to be so excited!
As I mentioned earlier, Friday was Labor Day, a huge holiday in Benin. The different groups of laborers in Lobogo (tailors, zemidjan drivers, etc.) got matching fabric, and in the evening, the whole village was out drinking and dancing! I had no idea this holiday was going to be like this, and I had one of those "Peace Corps moments" where I had a few beers and danced to quintessentially West African music and danced Beninese style under the moonlight with other villagers. It was so much fun!
That day I also started a book called "The Water is Wide" by Pat Conroy, and let me tell you- if you are looking for an almost exact portrait of what I'm doing here, this book is it. The author was a volunteer teacher on a small island off the coast of South Carolina circa 1970. The people on the island barely speak English, don't have any concept of the outside world, he has limited resources, etc. I was laughing so hard throughout the whole beginning of the book because it is so spot-on. Please pick up this book!
I am now in Cotonou. Last night was our ex-pat fund raising fiesta, and it was a decent success. We ended up making about $2000 to be used entirely by volunteers doing small gender and development projects. The event was held in the backyard of an ex-pat's home under big tents. We had a live salsa band that was really good, and a catering company provided Mexican food! I worked drinks the whole night, which meant sticking my arms into VERY icy water every minute or two to get people a beer. In true Beninese style, we didn't have a bottle opener until about 30 minutes after the event had started. The crowd we had was an interesting mix: loud Americans, picky ex-pats refusing to drink without straws, etc. Definitely good entertainment! The auction that went along with the dinner was somewhat disappointing- I think the ex-pats were more interested in dinner and dancing. Many beautiful pieces donated by artists and artisans sold for quite a bit under what they should have. Oh well, we still had fun and made some good money!
I will be heading back to Lobogo tomorrow. I think I might have amoebas again :(, so I am going to see the doctors tomorrow morning. Amanda comes a week from today!!!! I am giddy! I am also really excited to get my new camera! This week I will just be proctoring practice exams at the school, so not much work to do. Finally, the cell phone network is STILL down in my village!! Keep trying to call, I am hoping they will fix it ASAP. If they have not fixed it by mid-May, I am going to have to switch providers and get a new phone number- such a pain in the butt. Happy May!

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