My adventures serving in the Peace Corps

Sunday, July 12, 2009

4th of July and Camp Kandi

It's been a busy few weeks of travel since I last updated. I left Cotonou the morning of the 2nd and took the bus to John Mark's village. As we were celebrating over a year away from home, we had to laugh because for dinner, we were making... Beninese food. Oh, how much we've changed in a year :) The next day the people from "Unseen Stories" (the American NGO that deals with child trafficking) came to Tchatchou and we helped them give two formations. At the morning showing, not many people showed up, so the school's vice principal had the brilliant idea of going across the street to the primary school where about 700 kids were hanging out and inviting all of them. Picture this: "Hey kids! There are four white people across the street with lots of fancy electronic equipment who want to show you a movie and give you free things!" Needless to say, all hell broke loose and a literal stampede of 700 kids tried to get into the classroom at the same time, ignoring the fact that the room held about 50 people comfortably. Not only was it impossible to quiet a group that size down, and the room stunk to high heaven, but the kids were so anxious to get in that three kids got trampled and had to go to the hospital, and they broke the door. When we tried to hold kids out, they pushed us and stepped on us, too. Also, when we did try to show the movie, the few kids who were listening couldn't understand a word of the movie because they have barely started learning French in school yet. Overall, it was a pretty frustrating experience. It was fun meeting the Americans who were there with the NGO, it turns out that one of the girls' uncles started Phoebe Hospital in Liberia, which my church at home supports. She is actually going there to volunteer for several months after she graduates! John Mark and I made them American spaghetti for lunch, which they were really grateful for after being subjected to Beninese food for so long. After lunch, we had a second formation for the Peul, which are the West African nomads who wear really bright colors, lots of jewelry, have gorgeous scarification and makeup, and speak their own language. They were really receptive to the film and we had a really great discussion about child trafficking afterwards, all through a translator. That night we sat under the stars for a long time before going to bed :) It was great seeing John Mark again, he is in the States now! I leave four weeks from today :)
On the 4th we headed to Parakou where the PCVs had a chili cook-off, both to celebrate the holiday AND our one year anniversary of landing in Benin! For the cook-off, there were five different entries and a blind taste test done by three judges! Then the rest of us got to dig in. We even had beer, corn bread, and sour cream to go with it! A couple of volunteers made a homemade American flag! See picture :) I also spent a good part of the day doing souvenir shopping for home :) I got to talk to alllllll of my family on the 4th, which was awesome. No one could believe that I have been gone for over a year now!
The next day we headed way up north to Kandi. The landscape up there curiously reminded me of southern France. It was really pretty, and the big differences between way up there and down where I live are: no palm trees up there, and TONS of cows everywhere! The peul herd cattle for a living, and they are all over the place. The Kandi workstation was cute and it was a nice place to stay for the week. There were 5 of us TEFL volunteers and then three environment volunteers who worked the camp for the week. We worked together to make 3 big meals throughout the week: spaghetti with tofu, mac n cheese, and a huge salad. The street food in Kandi was good too, there were tons of chick peas! Unfortunately, one day while eating on the street, Nora saw a bus (the buses that blow through town at 50 mph, hoping people get out of their way) hit a dog and take off one of its legs :( She couldn't stop crying for a while after that. (Driving here is truly scary. People pass other cars while going around blind curves or over hills, they drive WAY too fast. I am getting really tired of it.)
The camp was good overall. The kids had English class from 8-10, and then some activity lead by the environment volunteers from 10-12. They did things like kickball, learning about volcanoes and then making them out of baking soda and vinegar, cleaning up the school, how to draw using perspective, flying a kite, etc. Then, in the afternoons, they came back to watch Planet Earth! The kids really loved this at first, but got kind of fidgety by the end of the week. Us volunteers definitely loved it! We usually kept watching it when we got back to the workstation :)
I started the week team teaching the youngest grade with Nora, where we went over basic greetings and then taught them animal/habitat vocab in preparation for Planet Earth. By Wednesday, the class had grown too big and so we split it up and each took a class.I took the kids who will be starting secondary school in the Fall, so we worked on really basic things like the alphabet and spelling, numbers, and introductions. The kids were really young and there were tons of them (one day I had close to 100), so I definitely had some discipline issues. Actually, I made a student cry! I feel about it, but I didn't do anything rash. He was talking out of control while I was teaching, and I tried moving his seat twice, to no avail. I finally sent him to sit outside for ten minutes, and while he was outside the door he was STILL trying to disrupt the class, so I went out to tell him to leave the school. He wouldn't do it, so I finally picked him up and took him to the door... and he started crying and begging for forgiveness! There was no way I could go back at this point, and I didn't do anything undeserved. Comes with the territory, I guess.
We left Kandi Saturday to get back to Parakou, and after four hours in a taxi that stuffed FOUR people in the front and back and getting ripped off for our money, we got to the workstation. We got delicious chicken and fries for dinner, and then I spent the rest of my night discussing Michigan football with a fellow avid fan that I met! We took the bus down to Cotonou today. It was a long trip, and when we stopped for lunch, we all decided we wanted meat, so we went to a vendor with just a huge tray of meat. He cut off several chunks for each of us, and we thought it was delicious. We had to laugh at ourselves: here we were, eating uncovered mystery meat in sub-saharan Africa, dipping it in hot peppers and eating it with raw onions, thoroughly enjoying ourselves :) Tonight we're gonna get some Italian for dinner. Tomorrow I will head back to my post! I really miss my cats! I have been calling my neighbors every few days to check on them, and it sounds like they have refused to go outside while I have been gone. We will need to figure out how to encourage them while I am gone for a month! I am looking forward to relaxing in my village for a while, though I'm sure I'm going to start getting antsy for my trip. The new volunteers come on the 24th, so I will come down to Cotonou to welcome them! Not sure when the next time I will be able to update, though. SEE you all soon!

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