My adventures serving in the Peace Corps

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Peace Out, Benin

I can not believe this time has actually come- I have been waiting to write a “goodbye Africa” blog for a long time :) Pictures in this blog: an awesome BBQ chicken salad I made, my homologue, his wife, and oldest son at my house for pancakes and coffee, pizza I made with real mozzarella, ice cream sundaes we discovered in Cotonou (keep in mind this is sub-Saharan Africa!), Belle on my mosquito net, the Amazon women fighters at the Independence Day parade, military at the parade, the president driving by (in the photo he is all the way to the right), and my friends and I at the parade.
My last two weeks have been pretty busy. At the end of July, Melissa and Katie, two other TEFL volunteers, came to Lobogo for a few days. The first night we walked around town and then made homemade ravioli, and the second day we literally didn't even leave the concession! We just lounged around and played cards all day. Unfortunately, that day I got pretty sick with a high fever and bad headache, so I ended up having to just lay in my bed most of the evening. I did not feel well enough to head to Lokossa for the fete the next day, but I didn't want to miss out so I went anyway :)
We were able to find a direct taxi from Lobogo to Lokossa because of the fete which was nice. Since I was feeling crappy I stayed at Michelle's house all day while the other went out for lunch and walked around. We all went to sleep early since we were getting up early for the fete the next day.
We left Michelle's house early the next morning and headed to the parade site. (I think I mentioned in an earlier blog that the national independence day party was being held here?) Lokossa was PACKED with people dressed in their finest, many wearing fabric with the president's face plastered all over it. (Some volunteers who recently went to Ghana found Barack Obama fabric!) The parade route was lined with every branch of the Beninese military decked out in their full regalia, and upon arrival we promptly embarrassed ourselves by blatantly staring at a military vehicle driving by, when we realized that EVERYONE else had their backs turned in respect. Oh well. Us yovos don't know any better! A woman also came up very quickly and pinned a small Beninese pendant on us, then charged us for it. They were cute though, so we paid!
After standing around for about an hour, the crowd got very quiet, and suddenly clapping and cheering started. The president drive by right in front of us, saluting the military. Fifteen minutes later, he drove by going back the other way, this time smiling and waving. I got a decent but short video of the first pass by. After that many of the military branches and bands went marching, but the crowd got too big and pushy so we headed out.
We walked to a big public park and watched two government helicopters take off (the Beninese went nuts). We then got pounded yams for lunch, and each of us unknowingly ordered a half chicken! After we walked to another public park where we watched the zangbetos perform. They look like big pyramidal haystacks that periodically shake and dance, but when the climax comes and they lift up the hay, there is nothing underneath! It truly is amazing; we tried for a long time to figure out how they do it and truly couldn't. After that most people headed out, and Michelle, Nathaniel and I found a salad joint for dinner.
When we were looking for zems to take us back to Michelle's after dinner, we stumbled upon a crowded park where there was live music and dance perfomances. There were some INCREDIBLE dancers and some not so incredible singers. At one point, they asked for people from the crowd to come up on stage, and Nathaniel got up there! He did a little bit of free style rapping, and when he was finished an spoke a bit of local language, the crowd went crazy. Half of the crowd was watching him, and the other half was watching Michelle and I for our reaction! Later, a man in full Michael costume got up and did a spot-on performance of Billie Jean, moonwalk and all.
The next day Michelle and I headed to Catherine's post to start planning our holiday trip to Mali. We are planning to visit the mud mosque in Djenne and then do a four day trek through Dogon country, where the people live in the cliffs. We will have a guide who leads us on the hike and shows us the best vistas and villages, and each night we will sleep on the cliffs under the stars. This trip will cost a pretty penny, so I am asking for some help from home as birthday/Christmas presents.
We made delicious Mexican food for dinner and watched Mean Girls before bed :) The next morning we made a coffee cake and watched Blood Diamond. It was good to see this movie again because I understood and recognized so much more in it. They were pretty accurate in their depictions of West African cities and villages. Staying in movie mode, Michelle and I watched Slumdog Millionaire that night, which was really good. Unfortunately, it was a bootleg copy and really bad quality, so I will definitely have to see that one again.
The next day I headed back to Lobogo and promptly realized I had forgotten my checkbook at the bank in Lokossa, so I had to go right back. Luckily I was able to get the checks with no problem, and all of them were accounted for. I stayed with Michelle yet another night, this time we went out for salad and then baked a key lime pie. We watched The Last King of Scotland, which was really sad and intense.
On Thursday, my homologue had me over for lunch. It was really yummy and we ended up talking for a few hours afterward. I love having frank, intellectual conversations with him. The rest of my time in Lobogo was spent getting ready for my trip: doing laundry, packing, making lists of things to do/see/buy/eat at home, saying goodbye to people, and cat-proofing my house! (The new trend is that when I leave for more then one night, the cats get crazy and knock everything off the shelves, break things, and sometimes pee in places where they shouldn't :( It was very odd leaving my house and my cats and the village for such a long time, but this is a much needed break! Of course, everyone reminded me about a million times to bring them “bonne choses” from America. Of course I want to bring them back a few things, but it doesn't have the same feel-good sense that it usually would because they expect so much.
Well, that's all from Benin! I head to the airport at 8pm tomorrow night and catch the red-eye to Paris. I will probably do a quick update or two from France and home, but I will be busy enjoying myself :) SEE you all soon!

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