It's been a couple of (fairly busy) weeks since I last updated, so go ahead and settle in for a long-ish read :) I guess the last time I updated I was in Cotonou, seeing if my parasites were gone (I think they are- the doctors never called to tell me otherwise) and getting my end-of-the-year report done so that Washington DC will know that I have accomplished something in the past year! Peace Corps has moved everything to electronic format, but they definitely still haven't worked out all of the kinks yet. I must admit my first few days at post having nothing much to do were tough. After being so busy with school, the free time was somewhat overwhelming. I did enjoy all the time to read, go on walks, nap, cook (I haven't been eating any street food- hopefully that will keep me parasite-free for a while!), etc, but it was almost too much. I think that my brain is finally starting to have time to process the death of my friend and the difficulty of living on my own through it, so it has been a bit difficult to sleep lately. I also think I was just plain old more tired during the school year, so I probably slept better then because of that. I am definitely glad that I am so busy for the rest of this summer! On Tuesday the 9th I took Fifa to Cotonou for the MercyShips free eye clinic. We left Lobogo just past seven and got to the clinic a bit before ten, but the clinic had already filled for the day and we were amongst a crowd of very upset Beninese people who didn't understand why they could not be let in. The man trying to explain it to them was a white man from New Zealand who didn't speak any French or Fon, and when he saw me he asked if I spoke French and could help him out. I did the best I could, but the people were being very stubborn and not listening, shouting “But look at my child!” Many of their children didn't seem to have any eye problems, but the prospect of a free exam (or free anything) is too much for a Beninese to pass up. Because I had helped him and spoke English (and, probably- however unfortunately- because I am white) the man said they would squeeze Fifa and I in. Even though I felt a bit guilty about this, I was happy that our 5 hours of traveling that day were not in vain. We sat through a long line that involved much cutting and fighting, since the Beninese don't really understand the concept of a line, and finally got to see the doctor, a British gentleman. After a quick look at her eyes, it was determined that they were mostly healthy other than a very small cataract, but her eyesight is so bad that she is more or less blind. They then referred me to the head optometrist (the British doctor kept scolding me for saying “eye doctor”) aboard the ship and told us to come back the following Monday. After that, Fifa and I took off to a hamburger joint for lunch, where upon ordering we were informed that they had neither hamburger meat nor french fries that day, so we headed to a different place, where they had both of those things. Fifa had never had/seen/heard of a hamburger before, and she thought it was hysterical how wide you have to open your mouth to eat one! Every time she tried to take a bite she started cracking up. I also had to show her how to use her first toilet! Afterwards, we went to get ice cream (again, something she had never heard of) and Fifa started gulping it down. She suddenly grasped her head and started saying “Angelina! I'm sick!! My head!” She had her first ice cream headache :) It was so much fun to treat her for the day. I even brought her to Headquarters where the staff promptly fell in love with her. The next day another TEFL volunteer came to my post to visit me! We had lunch at the floating restaurant in Possotome and then walked around my village. She is in the far north, so was floored at how green and lush and humid it is down here. (The north is very arid, borderline desert, and I seriously live in the middle of a jungle.) It rained over night and in the morning so we had a lazy morning making pancakes and reading the latest magazines she had from the States. (Seriously, send magazines. They are the BEST things to get here so we feel connected to home!) Rainy season is finally in full gear, and it rains every day, sometimes only briefly and sometimes around the clock. I have decided that I absolutely love when it rains over night, it makes me feel so cozy inside my house! It has cooled things down an unbelievable amount, it is now a full ten or twelve degrees cooler inside my house all the time than it was during hot season. The only downsides to rainy season are traveling (I have already gotten into tons of near-accidents on zems who go too fast in the mud) and the unavailability of dry sand for cat litter! Saturday the 13th was my neighbor's baptism and first communion, so I went to the mass for that and then there was a HUGE party in my concession with tons of fish, rice, chicken, collard greens, bissap, and beer! I stayed in party mode the next day which was Flag Day (hey, any excuse for a party, right?) and one of the volunteers near me threw a very American party where everything was fried: fish and chips, onion rings, mozzarella sticks (made with the local cheese), chili, and beer pong! It was delicious and a lot of fun, and tons of volunteers came, I think about twenty of us. The girl who threw it has an amazing house on the second story of a building over looking the lake- check out the pictures! The following day I had to take Fifa back to Cotonou to see the optometrist. We arrived on time but there had been some sort of mix up and the doctor was not there, but luckily we were able to schedule a time to see him that afternoon. This time I took Fifa to get her first pizza, and by her request we went to get ice cream again afterwards :) When we saw the optometrist that afternoon, he determined that she needs a huge prescription. He had some donated glasses that came somewhat close to what she needs, so she has a temporary pair right now (though they still don't help much since she has such poor vision). He told us to come back on July 20 when he will do a more thorough exam, and then order glasses for her through the ship so that it will be free of charge to us! He was a very nice man from Los Angeles, and he and his wife volunteer on the ship together. That night another TEFL volunteer came back to Lobogo with us, and we made an AWESOME salad with apples, chicken salad, raisins, and blue cheese, which we ate by candle light since there was a huge storm raging and the power was out. She then pulled Oreos out of her bag that she had gotten in a package! The next morning was very misty and cool, so we went on a long walk through my village. On Wednesday I visited the girls I am bringing to Camp GLOW to tell them what they should bring and when/where to meet on Sunday when we head to Porto Novo. I was nervous since I had not seen them for a month that they might have gone to Nigeria for the summer to work or something (most students do), but they were both there and are still really excited about the camp! It was quite perilous going back into the jungle where they live because of all the rain we've had, and we kept getting stuck, but my zem managed to maneuver through it. That night I heard form some family at home who are in town for my cousin Tim's graduation party- I can't believe I missed it! My whole family is going to the west coast of the state for a week, and I am really bummed I am missing it. I am SO looking forward to coming home: 6.5 weeks!!! I am already planning fun things to do and delicious meals to have, though I am mostly looking forward to simple things like air conditioning, hot water/showers/toilets, sleeping with a blanket, ice cubes... you get the idea :) Once again, I will be in Ann Arbor August 15- September 7, save for August 24-28 when I will be taking a vacation up north with my parents and a possible one night trip to NYC, so let me know if we can see each other! I am going to be pleasantly busy but want to see as many people as I can before I take off for another year. Before I go on, here is a list of pictures in this blog: the absurdly long green beans they grow in Africa, delicious eggplant Parmesan and mashed potatoes with veggie gravy I made, Fifa devouring a hamburger, a pizza, and ice cream, women preparing food for my neighbor's baptism party, beer pong and the view from Sara who had the Flag day party's house, our awesome salad, some of my favorite pictures of children I have taken so far, what bananas look like growing on the tree, and my dumb cat who thinks the litter box is also her bed. The movies are dancing/singing at the baptism mass and a huuuge earthworm crawling around behind my house during a rainstorm. On Saturday we finally had our end of the year staff meeting, and thank goodness it wasn't quite as painful as I had expected. I really mentally prepared myself for it! Of course, it was supposed to start at nine and didn't actually start until 10:30, although a decent number of people were there around nine. There were all the usual absurd formalities to get bogged down in, and then the director scolded us for a mediocre set of school-wide grades for the year. Of course, at this the teachers went crazy, blaming it all on the lazy students and their parents. It just kills me how people don't have a strong sense of responsibility sometimes. They start saying things like “only God can judge me as a teacher.” It was even evident when people came two and three hours late to the meeting- they immediately got mad and rattled off a billion excuses. Another frustration was how these meetings turn into a shouting match between our director and teachers. Everyone talks over everyone and our director literally loses his voice begging to be heard. Then real chaos broke out at the end when they brought out the food. No one listened to the directions that we were all to stay in our seats, and instead were literally knocking each other over and screaming to get at the food. I can tell I have trained myself to be patient though, as I was able to just shake my head at most of this, as opposed to the first meeting of the year when I was ready to rip my hair out. Here's a good story to wrap-up with: the other night, my cats were at the door wanting to come in. So I opened the door, and Baby runs in with something HUGE in her mouth. She drops it, and immediately a GIGANTIC bat starts flying around my house. We are talking one of those horror movie, three-foot wingspan guys- it is quite possible that Dracula himself was in my house. I immediately ran outside so I could watch safely behind the screen (thus no pictures :( ) and watched for ten minutes while my cats tortured the poor thing and gradually destroyed its wings, and finally ate it. I swear, who needs TV or internet when you have cats and big scary jungle creatures? Though I am now in Porto Novo for Camp GLOW, I will write a separate blog about that and post it next time I am in Cotonou on July 1. I really miss home lately, I think because the time is getting so close to when I get to come visit! Can you believe that in a week I will have been gone a full year?? Time really flies. I hope everyone is having a beautiful summer!
My adventures serving in the Peace Corps
Thursday, June 4, 2009
Here's a quick update since I am bored in Cotonou. Michelle and I's ravioli was sooo good last weekend, check out the pictures! It was a lot of work and pretty time consuming, but totally worth it. To top it off, we watched Forrest Gump during dinner :)
Then Sunday I headed to Azove to work with Jordan on Camp GLOW stuff. She gave me a lot of good information. It is going to be a lot of work to run this camp next year, but I am really looking forward to doing it. One of the possibilities for funding it is to start an online donation from people back at home, which I may consider doing. I will let you know!
This week at post has been pretty uneventful. I filled out my end of the year report for Peace Corps, and was pretty disappointed to see that just under half of my students "passed" (got an average of 10/20 or higher) English this year. Before you freak out like I did (I was holding back tears in front of my work partners), remember that this grade is based solely on 2 very difficult tests and one quiz, and also know that 50% is pretty high for an English class. I talked to my homologue and censeur about this and we discussed reasons for this and how I was feeling about it. I also had a good talk with my censeur on how I see we can do things better next year, namely the weekly staff meetings. He told me that he wanted me to follow my four classes on to next year, and I politely refused. I think he was surprised that I didn't just obey him, but I told him why I wanted a new batch of kids and explained that me being a volunteer gives me a little leverage in terms of what I want to do here. I also really wanted to teach the beginning levels again next year because I like giving the kids a strong foundation in English.
As I said, uneventful otherwise. I have been feeling better this week (seeing the doctors tomorrow to see if I got rid of the parasites, again), but I have been having trouble sleeping. I have been cooking a lot this week. This morning I had just made up pancake batter and put the first one on the griddle when my gas ran out! It was really sad and all the batter went to waste (except for the bit that my cats devoured).
Now I am in Cotonou turning in reports, work forms, seeing the doctors, etc. I realized that I landed in Benin exactly eleven months ago today! Anyway, I got two packages which was a nice surprise, and for dinner tonight I went to a place called DFC that serves- you'll love this- fried chicken! We got fried chicken and fries and soda, it was absurdly American and delicious. The restaurant even has a playplace out back! We didn't get to play in it, though :( I am heading back to Lobogo tomorrow but I think I will be back here on Monday or Tuesday to finally bring Fifa to see the eye doctor. Then later next week, I have a friend or two coming to visit which is exciting. So far, the summer has not been boring!