My adventures serving in the Peace Corps

Monday, November 30, 2009

Thanksgiving! (a.k.a. the weekend from travel hell)

I am STUFFED. And sick of traveling. Here's why:
I left Lobogo on Wednesday to go to Dogbo to celebrate Kristin's birthday. We had a really nice time; we went to a "restaurant" and sat there for a few hours, feasting upon beef, rabbit, and chicken, probably more meat than I have had in my last six months of service. Afterwards, Catherine had us all over to her house where she had decorated with balloons and baked a delicious devil's food birthday cake! That night, when I unfolded Catherine's cot to sleep on, there was a scorpion inside. Honestly, it didn't even phase me. I just brushed it off and went to sleep. My, how Benin has changed me!
On Thursday, we started cooking at 8am. For breakfast, I made monkey bread for everyone, which is what my mom always makes on Thanksgiving morning. Needless to say, it didn't turn out as perfectly as her's always does, but nonetheless, it was impressive for Benin :) There were only three of us who cooked all day, and we divided the tasks pretty well. I made the gravy, corn bread-apple stuffing, and my first ever apple pie (see picture)! (We also had a "pumpkin" pie for dessert, made from unripe papaya.) They all turned out really well. We deep fried our turkey this year, which was much better than I was expecting it to be. For dinner we had eleven people, including four of the new volunteers who transferred from Guinea.
The next morning, Kristin and I got up at 5:30 for the long trip up to Parakou. The first leg of our trip was stress-free and went really smoothly: got right into a taxi for Bohicon and got there plenty early. Arriving at the bus station there, a man who works for a well-known bus company approached us to sell us tickets, but before we bought, we verified with him multiple times that there would be seats for us- often, the busses fill up in Cotonou and there are not seats left by the time they reach Bohicon. He assured us that we would have places, and we sat down to wait. When busses started arriving an hour later, we saw multiple busses from our company, but were always told that "This one is not your bus." Finally, all of the busses had come and gone, and there were about 15 of us left waiting for our bus. Mind you, this is at noon, when we had been promised that our bus would leave between 10 and 10:30; the man who had sold us our tickets kept disappearing and ignoring our questions. Finally, an odd bus (looked like a city bus, not a charter bus) pulled in and we were told to get on. Because there was no storage room under the bus, we each had to keep our luggage with us which was already a pain. We sat on the sweltering bus for an hour, none of us sure what we were waiting for. When we finally tracked down someone who worked on the bus, he said we were waiting for the bus to fill up... even though it was already three hours later than we were supposed to leave. Finally, at 1:30, with only THREE seats left to fill, they decided to cancel the bus, since it wasn't full. Mind you, they didn't even TELL us they were canceling the bus; only after about 30 minutes of noticing people taking their bags and leaving the bus did we realize something was up. We then had to track down the man who was lazing under a tree, and wait in line to get our money back. We were then on our own to get to Parakou. Luckily, we were able to rent a taxi with some of the other passangers, but at this point it was the middle of the afternoon and HOT. So, instead of a nice roomy and air conditioned bus ride, we smushed into a taxi for 4 hours. Oh, Benin...
We got to Parakou at dinner time, and headed out to eat with all of the TEFLers that were there. My parents called and told me about the Christmas tree, which made me sad for home... getting the Christmas tree is one of my favorite days of the whole year, and I can't WAIT to be home for it next year! I crashed at 10pm that night, even though I really wanted to stay up and catch up with my fellow TEFLers... traveling is exhausting! Sleeping in Parakou was blissful, by the way. Harmattan is in full force in the north, and that means that it gets downright COLD overnight. I made sure to get a bed in the outdoor gazeebo and brought along sweatpants and a long sleeved t-shirt to sleep in, and it was amazing. (The picture that looks like fog is actually all the dust in the air.)
We spent all of Saturday cooking. I was in charge of the sweet potato pie, so I headed to the market to buy supplies. Little did I know that Friday/Saturday was Tabaski, a huge muslim holiday, where they kill tons of goats, and that to drive to the market, you have to go directly through the slaughter grounds. Not only did I see such wonders as piles of goat heads and tons of goats lined up for the slaughter, but I was lucky enough to to drive by RIGHT as they were cutting a goat's throat. For as comfortable as I have gotten wth things like this, that still really shook me up. Anyway, I made an awesome sweet potato pie with fresh sliced apples in it, and it was a big hit. We brined some turkey and then cooked it on the grill, and it was delicious. We then played the requisite game of "Cornucopia", reflecting on our service so far, our memories of Kate, and our future plans. That is the beauty of having an (almost) all female group- you can talk abut mushy things like that! And yes, most of us cried at some point during the game :)
Yesterday was a very relaxing day. John Mark and I took the morning to plan our February trip to Ghana: living the hight life in Accra, meeting up with the artisans I developed an exhibit about, visiting some of the old slave forts, and lazing around on the beach. For the rest of the day, I watched THREE movies and ate yummy food (I'm serious, we all ate an absurd amount this weekend).
So today, I get on the 7am bus to Cotonou looking forward to 7 hours of air conditioned bliss. We made it all the way to the bus stop in Bohicon (yes, the SAME place I wa stuck on my way north), where we ran out of gas. They said it would take them about a half hour to fix this problem, but after two hours of waiting, they decided to- drumroll, please.... cancel the bus. WITHOUT giving anyone refunds or giving us another option for how to get to Cotonou. Once again, they never formally announced this, we all had to kind of figure it out on our own. Needless to say, everyone was furious and frantic to get the few open spots on other busses. Remember me saying how Beninese pople have no concept of a line? Well, ANGRY Beninese people REALLY don't have a concept of a line, and I didn't feel like pushing and shoving and clawing with them, so of course I was one of the last people to be dealt with. The men told me that there were exactly three seats left on the bus arriving from Natitingou, and promised that I could have one of them. When the bus arrived two hours later (even thuogh they had said 30 minutes max), there was only one seat, with four of us vying for it. Somehow, I got it (probably because I am white and was yelling at the driver, haha), and finally got to Cotonou a few hours ago. I'm telling you, travel in this country can be a nightmare and I have been forced to become an infinitely more patient person because of it.
Tomorrow I will head back to Lobogo, hopefully after meeting with some people about my Camp GLOW PCPP- I promise to keep you updated on when you can start donating! Unfortunately, I have to travel again next weekend, but it is only in my region and it is for a youth leadership forum and one of my best friend's birthday, so it should be fun. I am desperately hoping that after that I can just stay at my post until December 23rd when I leave for Mali!! (Please keep your fingers crossed that we will be able to go on that trip... they have had some problems with terrorists and westerners there recently, but luckily Mali is huge and it has all been in a totally different art of the country.) Not sure when I will be able to post next, so have a good start of the holiday season!! December is definitely the hardest month for me to be away, so keep those calls coming :)

1 comment:

loehrke said...

Whoa!! The food looks GREAT and sounds AMAZING!!! You could all be on "Top Chef Benin" and win top prize running away!!!
Loved your blog entry....for some reason I never tire of desciptions of travel in country. It is just amazing to me how many random and odd ways there are to screw things up!!
But out of your entire blog entry the phrase that will stay with me (and haunt me) is: "piles of goat heads ". Oh, Benin.....
Stay happy and healthy!!, Mark Loehrke (Carly's dad)