My adventures serving in the Peace Corps

Friday, October 30, 2009

Maria's visit

Here another week has blown by. Immediately after posting my blog last week, I began what turned out to be the taxi ride fom hell. Not only were we graced with an engine that straight up died right after leaving Cotonou, we then got not one but TWO flat tires. Hence, the journey that was supposed to take 1 hour took 3, and I missed most of my meeting. Afterwards, Michelle and Catherine and I checked out the hotels in Possotome. Possotome is only 13km from my village, but standing in these hotels, you would think they were a world apart. They are absolutely beautiful and I hope Benin can start increasing its tourism there! We then headed back to Lobogo for the night and made pizza for dinner and cinnamon rolls for breakfast (both totally homemade)! Check out the pictures!
I finally started my quatrieme classes this week. On Wednesday, Maria came to observe me teach and check out my house. I think it went really well! She could tell I felt more comfortable in the classroom this year and says I have really improved. Of course, my school administration had to make a big deal out of her visit and take us out for drinks (even though Maria only drinks water). My old school director actually happened to be visiting that day, so he came with us, and unfortunately stole the show from the new director a bit.
The rest of the week was fine. I am trying to figure out if I may have committed a cultural faux pas: my next door neighbor (another teacher at the school) who was happy to drive me to school last year is now acting like I am a huge burden and is being quite rude to me, and I can't figure out why. I told him that I would be more than happy to take a zem if he would like, but he said no. I baked him cookies last night, so we'll see how he acts next week!After my first full day of teaching, I remembered how exhausting that is! I have been sleeping like a baby every night, which is definitely a welcome thing after not having slept very soundly since Kate died. My cats are still crazy (and pregnant) and stay out almost every night.
I'm now in Lokossa working on Camp GLOW stuff with Michelle. I think we are killing a chicken for dinner tonight! Tomorrow we head to Dogbo for a VAC meeting and Halloween party! I am being boring and reusing my 80s party costume, but lots of people are dressing as zemidjan drivers, market women, etc. It should be fun! I will update again next weekend when I am in Cotonou for the first Camp GLOW meeting. Happy halloween!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Gettin' back into the groove

Hey everyone! Sorry it has been a while since my last post... I haven't had much internet access, and I have been busy starting school and doing Camp GLOW stuff. Even though school has started, it still isn't in full swing. I STILL haven't been able to have class with two of my four classes because they don't have a classroom and therefore just don't show up. Our censeur also has not been around, so things have been hectic with working out schedules. School started in typical Beninese fashion: people not showing up for a few weeks, people getting kicked out for not having paid fees or- yes, this really happens- having too fancy of a hair weave. I knew what to expect this year, though, so I was much more patient with the process. Now that school has started, I am 80% relieved and 20% nostalgiac for summer! It is really good to have a set schedule once again, and I love how fast the time flies, but I forgot how exhausting teaching is! Being one your feet for five hours straight and then coming home to cook, clean, and lesson plan really takes up your day! I definitely feel much more comfortable as a teacher this year. I have my systems down for discipline, board organization, etc., and I think it makes a difference when the kids can feel that I am in control of the classroom. I am having a lot of fun teaching the basics like "to be" and "good morning" and counting to ten! We also had our first English department meeting this past week, and I am hopeful that those will be more useful this year. I am going to try and be head of the department this year, meaning I will run the meetings, meaning we will start on time and actually get stuff done :) My boss Maria is coming to observe me teach this coming Wednesday. I am really not at all nervous and think the session will go well. Last weekend, I celebrated my birthday with a few friends in Lokossa. Friday night we went out for beer and salad (yes, that is a really nice birthday dinner here!) and the next day we had a joint party for Miranna and I (see picture) at a yam pilee restaurant. Catherine has figured out how to make peanut butter filled cupcakes (amazing what you can do with a little creativity here in Benin!) so she brought those along. On my actual birthday I had to teach in the morning. That afternoon, Fifa and Mari and I baked a cake, and I ate dinner at my neighbors' house that night. They made pate and legume sauce for me (kind of like collard greens) with cheese and eggplant I had brought back from Lokossa. After dinner we ate the cake- Angele did NOT stick her fist in it this year! My neighbors then bought us all beers (even the wives and the hired help!) and we all danced for a while. They wanted me to teach them how to dance like a white person, which was pretty mortifying. They said they had seen white people dance in music videos and they wanted me to show them. I contented myself with watching them dance- Africans just have this inherent talant for amazing dancing. I have never seen anyeone else move thier body the way these people can. In the past week or two, my cats have essentially become outdoor cats. I was trying to keep them inside at night, but they would howl at the door for hours on end until I caved and let them out. I decided that the noise they make on the tin roof is more tolerable than the howling at the door and knocking things off shelves at 3am. Now that I have started letting them out overnight, I am pretty sure that Belle is pregnant, and has fleas. Nothing I can do about it, I guess. I am actually kind of excited to see little kittens born! When I go out of town over night now, I just put their food and water outside and lock them out of the house. Baby especially doesn't like it, but they will have to learn someday. Today I am heading to Come for a meeting about the regional English competition, and afterwards Michelle and Catherine and I are gonna have a nice dinner on the lake and then spend the night at my post. We are going to work on planning our Mali Christmas trip and our trip to Morocco on the way home next summer! Speaking of trips, John Mark and I are also in the process of planning our trip to Ghana in the spring! I am addicted to traveling :) I am in Cotonou now because I had a meeting with the organization I am hoping will fund Camp GLOW yesterday. Unfortunately they will not be able to give us a final answer for another three weeks or so. I will keep you posted on whether or not we will be looking for donations from home. So, all is well here. Time is REALLY flying and I am keeping planty busy with school and Camp GLOW. I know that people have been having trouble getting through to me by telephone- just keep trying over and over and over! That is usually what it takes. I miss all of you and am especially sad at this time of year ot be missing the beautiful Fall colors. I hear the weather has been quite cold over there (while it is starting to heat up dramatically here in Benin... check out the picture of the melting candles in my house)- have a cup of hot cider for me!
And enjoy the video: I fed one of the local monkeys!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


I can't believe it. And here I was so sure I have had a parasite for a few months... I am down in Cotonou for my mid-service medical exam. It went smoothly, other than getting a lecture about how it is clearly my fault that I am getting the parasites... even though you can get them from a fly simply landing on your food. As I have said a million times, I am one of the few volunteers that still boils my water, bleaches my vegetables, etc. Apparently, though, I have the highest iron count in my blood of any girl in Peace Corps Benin right now :)
Once again, hanging around Cotonou has proven to be exceptionally boring. This time around, I didn't splurge on food and ate omlette sandwiches all week. I have gotten to a point in my service where those actually sound delicious...
I am heading back to my village in just a few minutes. Hopefully I will begin teaching on Monday! This year I am teaching sixieme (beginning English, one of the levels I taught last year), and quatrieme (one level higher than I taugh last year). I will be teaching Monday-Thursday, 8-12, with one afternoon class at some point during the week. I am really looking forward to getting back to a more normal schedule and spending more time at post (yet having things to do there). My DVD player that I brought back really helps in the entertainment department. I have also been sleeping a little bit better, which I am grateful for. Hopefully school will help me sleep even more soundly. I will be in my village until next weekend, when I will head to Lokossa for a birthday celebration with some of my friends :)
Enjoy the Fall colors for me!

Friday, October 2, 2009

DBC Workshop

We just finished the Designing Behavior Change workshop yesterday. It was four full days of learning the technicalities of how to select an appropriate behavior you would like to see change, how to define your priority group and who influences them, how to figure out what stage of change they are currently in, what is keeping them from changing their behavior, how to pick appropriate activities to omplement the change, and how to measure your results. It was a pretty intense couple of days, but I'm really glad I participated. We each brought our homologue, but unfortunately mine had to leave halfway through the workshop. Working with Beninese is both really rewarding and sometimes frustrating. The portion of the workshop run by an American was appreciated more by the volunteers, and the part run by a West African (she was from Burkina Faso) was appreciated more by the Beninese. I think the homologues really enjoyed the workshop- it was many of their first times to Cotonou! They got to stay in a nice hotel, get fed good food, and, of course, they got the requisite certificate at the end of the week :) They looove their certificates! (Seriously, I would bet you that 75% of them already have it framed and hanging in their house) Several people brought female homologues to the workshop which was exciting. Beninese women are definitely reserved in groups like that and it was fun encouraging them to open up throughout the week.
I mentioned that my homologue had to leave halfway through the week. The director and censeur (like a vice principal) were both moved to other schools, so Blaise (my homologue) is the only member of the administration who didn't change schools. He had to be there to show them the ropes and get the school ready for the start of the new year. (Technically, school started yesterday, which means they will spend the next 2-3 weeks setting up peoples' schedules and cleaning up the school, and FINALLY start teaching by mid-October.) I don't think the administration change should effect me too much, I will just have to let them know what my duties as a Peace Corps Volunteer are there.
Throughout the week there were tons of people at the bureau, which meant spending too much money on nice dinners: I had a cheeseburger (brought my own cheese to the restaurant and saved myself almost $5!), Indian food, AND Italian... there goes my budget for a while! Luckily, we got per diem for the workshop. It was really good spending time with TEFL volunteers, almost everyone from my year was down here. I think I will see them all again for Thanksgiving- we had such an amazing one last year that we are going to do it again this year!
I am heading back to my post today, but will have to come back on Monday for my mid-service medical exam. I got a new phone (my old one was shutting itself down a lot) so call me! :)