My adventures serving in the Peace Corps

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The new volunteers Swore-in

and I feel old. We had a good time that weekend: Friday night we went out for dinner and dancing for two volunteers' birthdays. Swear-in was the next morning, and the bureau was a zoo. The ceremony was held in the back of the Peace Corps bureau, and looked really nice. All of the TEFL volunteers for my year (minus one) were there, so it was great seeing everyone!
Later that day John Mark and I headed back to Lobogo, and made some yummy baguette pizzas. That night he started feeling sick, but nonetheless we went to the market and walked around. For the rest of the night and most of today, he was glued to the latrine. I'm telling you folks, that's one of the glories of Peace Corps Benin. We tried to enjoy the rest of our night with a movie and a big salad and we baked some banana bread, but he was pretty miserable :(
Now we're back in Cotonou and I will be here for the week doing a workshop Monday-Thursday with my homologue. He called me last night to let me know that the director and censeur of our school were moved, so that will be interesting this year... it will probably make our school year start even later- fabulous. I will have internet access and AC all week, so that will be nice!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Back into the groove

Sorry it has been a while since my last post. Readjusting to life in Benin has definitely been challenging. Getting back to Lobogo for the first time was exciting... for about five minutes. When I opened my front door, a wave of hideous cat-urine smell hit me, and I saw that my cats had absolutely destroyed my house. Not only had they knocked everything off my shelves, but they had eaten a lot of my food that they could obviously smell through the bags, including my precious tuna and chicken packets. When I continued back into my bedroom, I saw where the smell was coming from: they had decided to use my bed/matress as a litter box while I was away. Angele then informed me that Belle had squeezed through my wooden blinds and ripped a hole in my screen, escaping out the back of my house (so, the screen had to be replaces ASAP lest I get lots of creatures in my house). It took me a few days to clean up from all of that. I let my matress dry in the sun, treated it with lots of Febreeze, and flipped it over. Surprisingly, the smell is gone now.
The first few days of sitting around doing nothing were really hard, especially after the constant go-go-go of being home. I was really sad being there alone, and kept thinking "A week ago, I was..." I definitely made a few teary phone calls home!
The saddness has all but dissappeared by now. I have gotten quite busy, and that obviously helps. I took Fifa into Cotonou one last time to pick up her glasses, and to our mutual delight they help her a lot! She has been wearing them all the time since we got them which is a good sign. I really hope they help her in school this year! Then Michelle came over for a few days, and we literally spent that entire time working on a 2000 piece Times Square puzzle I brought back from the States, and STILL couldn't finish it! (see picture :)
Later that week, I was surprised when Ryan, a former volunteer in Lobogo, showed up for a visit. He is back in Benin working on an import/export business he wants to set up, plus he just wanted to visit everyone! It has been nice seeing him; one night we went out for drinks and then he invited me to dinner at his old neighbors' house.
That weekend Michelle, Catherine, and I got together to start working on our Camp GLOW fund request and plan our trip to Mali. The picture of the clean laundry laying out to dry on the dirt pile was taken there... no comment necessary. It looks like that trip is really coming together! We will be spending Christmas Eve and Christmas up in Natitingou just like I did last year, and then traveling to Burkina Faso on the 26th. On the 27th and 28th we will get up to Mali and see the huge mud mosque in Djenne, and the 29th to the 1st will be our hike through Dogon country. I can't wait! We already have our guide booked, so all we have to do before then is book a few hotels- the rest will be done in transit. As usual when I get together with those girls, we watched lots of movies and ate lots of good food :) I had brought a few baking mixes back from the States ad they were all awesome!
Then Catherine came back to Lobogo with me for a night. We were greeted with a HUGE funeral party going on across the street from my house, and, as usual, their music was BLARING round the clock. Even at four in the morning, it sounded like someone was holding a loud radio up to my ear! The music continued for two more days, and stopped just as I was on the brink of insanity. I barely got a wink of sleep.
On Tuesday I helped out at a local English club with some other volunteers, where we talked about American sports. I then went back to Lokossa with Michelle where we- surprise- cooked and watched a movie. When I got back to post, I was greeted by two three-hour-old goats in my concession- check out the pictures!
Now I'm down in Cotonou for the night. The bureau is REALLY crowded with the last few volunteers the year ahead of me leaving, people doing mid-service medical exams, and the new volunteers swearing-in tomorrow. I can't believe they are already swearing-in! I feel bad, though- last year since it was the 40th anniversary of Peace Corps Benin, we got to swear-in at the congressional palace with a huge party, and this year the new volunteers are just swaering-in at the bureau! I also recently realized that I have less than eleven months left here in Benin: my friend Catherine and I should be leaving Benin sometime in the first half of August, and we will then go to Morocco for about ten days before heading home. So, I should be home by the end of August!! (Although I won't know exact dates until probably May) Tomorrow John Mark and I will head bac to Lobogo until Sunday, and then return to Cotonou for a Designing Behavior Change workshop we are doing with our homologues next week.
So, I am definitely feeling better than I was, but it's taken a while! I am really sad that I am missing fall colors and a great football season. And I have hardly gotten any phone calls so far... please call! I need it! Miss you all :)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

God Bless America. Seriously.

I LOVE America. Coming home made me appreciate what we have in the States so, so much. I can't write about my trip home with the detail that I usually use, but I will try to give you and overview :)
Landing on American soil was seriously one of the most exciting moments I have had in a while. Stepping out of customs to see my mom and dad waiting for me was pretty emotional. Getting back to my house felt really good. Upon seeing my cats, I just started laughing and couldn't stop because- and I'm not exaggerating at all right now- those cats were as big as the goats in my village! Granted my cats in Benin are extremely tiny and these cats were very large, but it was seriously shocking! My first meal at home was good wine, a fruit salad containing no tropical fruits whatsoever, filet mignon, baked potatoes, broccoli, and my mom's chocolate cake. Sleeping in my bed with a comforter and AC was bliss.
The next day was filled with lots of happy reunions: I had breakfast at my grandma and grandpa Hurst's, homemade pizza at grandma D's with all of my relatives for lunch, and then Leah, Cam and Sarah made me dinner :) The rest of the week was filled with spending time with those people, spending hundreds of dollars at Meijers, REI, and Whole Foods, and eating an absurd amount of delicious food at my favorite restaurants. I also gave a presentation at Trinity about my first year of service, and that went really well.
The following week my parents and I did a trip Up North, which was really fun! On the first day we had breakfast with my friend Carly and her parents. Carly was a PCV in Benin who had JUST finished her service and gotten home to Kalamazoo. We also got to stop in Holland and see Dan and Corene's new house! That night we ended up in Ludington, where we played mini golf (STILL couldn't beat my dad!), walked the pier at sunset to watch the Badger go out, and hiked in the state park.
The next day we headed up the coast to the Leelenau peninsula, and ended up at Black Star Farms, a winery/creamery/B&B where we stayed for two days. The place was absolutely beautiful. The land was very lush and surrounded by vineyards ans stables. The Inn was gorgeous! We had a massive room with a fireplace, two king size beds, and gorgeous views. There was a sauna and jacuzzi we could use, and the common areas were nice. The first night we went to the wine and hors d'oeuvre reception at the Inn and then had an amaaaazing dinner at a trattoria in Traverse city. The second night we drove up Old Mission Peninsula, which was just as beautiful as I remembered. We had dinner at a nice Inn, where the mosquitoes were worse than I have ever experienced in Benin!
The next day we hugged the coast again all the way up to Mackinaw. We drove through the “Tunnel of Trees” which is a road on a bluff above Lake Michigan through dense forest and some of the most beautiful homes I have ever seen. We basically laid low in Mackinaw, spent the night in a nice B&B. On the way home the next day we stopped in Frankenmeuth for a chicken dinner!
That weekend Amanda and Morgan, friends from my study abroad, drove up from Chicago to see me. We spent all of Saturday shopping and walking around Ann Arbor, and then had a delicious dinner at Zingerman's Roadhouse. I laid a bit more low that week, since I had already done most of my shopping and eating, and a lot of my friends were busy with band week.
The last weekend was awesome! Mitch came on Friday and we went to Common Grill for dinner with my parents. Saturday was the game! I wore my fabulous dress, and we went to watch the band practice in the morning, where we saw TONS of band alums. It was sort of weird not being a part of the band, but I didn't envy them working so hard! I spent some time at euphgate, and then watched the step show for the first time ever! Watching pregame was so awesome, and I was SO proud of David, a good friends and former euph who is now the drum major. Then the game was sweet! So good seeing Michigan dominate again. It made me wish I could see every game this season!
That night Cam and Sarah's house had a party that was a lot of fun. The last full day I was home we had another gathering at my grandma D's where we ate lots of food and played bocce ball- I taught all of my friends that came how to play! The last day home was spent packing and saying a few last goodbyes. Goodbyes were actually harder for me this time around, probably because I knew exactly what I was coming back to and knew the loneliness that comes with being a Peace Corps volunteer. The flights home were not bad at all, I was actually able to sleep through most of them! Coming back was sort of sad, but I felt better as soon as I saw some of my Peace Corps friends that happened to be in Cotonou. It was also good to have rice and beans today- the food at home was awesome, but I actually got sick of eating so much and gained 8 pounds while I was home! Today I have just been readjusting to life here and organizing a few things before I head back to my village tomorrow.
So, long story short, my trip was absolutely fantastic and a really good break for me. I now have less than a year left as a volunteer here! I hope that I will readjust to the slow pace of life here; I know I will have a pretty hard time when I get back to Lobogo tomorrow, though I am SO SO excited to see my kitties!! School probably won't actually start for another month, though I will try to keep busy with looking for funding for Camp GLOW (I will let you know if I do a PCPP, which is where you can donate!). I also brought back a portable DVD player and some movies to keep me busy. Next week I will be back down in Cotonou with Fifa to get her glasses, and I will be back soon again after that when the new volunteers swear in. Hope all is well in the States and PLEASE call me, I'm really going to need it as I readjust to life here!