My adventures serving in the Peace Corps

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2010?!

Hard to believe that it's only two days away. 2010=the last year of my Peace Corps service=I'm coming home in less than eight months... wow. Nothing too sensational has happened since my last blog post, but I had to put another one up so you could see pictures of my kittens!!! They were alive and well when I got back to post, although I didn't discover this until a while after I had gotten home and searched for them to no avail and had started bawling! I eventually heard little sniffing sounds and found the kittens behind the books on my shelves. They looked healthy and happy; I think Belle had just hidden them there when she heard the door open. Belle has been really good about feeding them and cleaning them and laying with them; they are SO darling- enjoy the pictures and video! I left them in my house this time around for a few days, but I'm much less nervous about it now :) The rest of Christmas Eve and Christmas day were a lot of fun. On the 24th we went to a nice Italian restaurant for dinner and made gingerbread cookies, and spent most of Christmas day cooking an elaborate dinner that was basically Thanksgiving with steak instead of turkey- can't go wrong there! We lit Christmas-y candles, turned up the AC so we could wear sweatshirts and played Christmas music all day. I also got to talk to most of my family back home, which was really nice. All in all, a really nice time! Back at post, I mostly relaxed and spent time with the kittens. John Mark came to Lobogo last night and we just hung out and walked around the market. We headed down to Cotonou this afternoon, and we're gonna treat ourselves to some nice meals and possibly a swimming pool to celebrate New Years :) Saturday, it's back to post and back to the grind of teaching! Thanks for all of the help for Camp GLOW so far: we have raised almost $900. But, over $5000 to go, so please let your friends and coworkers know! Happy New Year!
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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas, round 2!

I hope everyone is getting all set for the big day tomorrow! It is so hard to believe that this is my second Christmas away from home. The Christmas season this time around feels different than it did last year. I think that last December, I was so sad to be away from home for it that I tried my best to ignore the fact that it was Christmastime. I would say that last December, I was pretty down overall for the whole month. This year, I had a pretty good month of December, and enjoyed decorating with friends and listening to Christmas music. I noticed the subtle Christms decorations around Cotonou and even a few in my village. It has been an enjoyable month, save for the one night after a bad day at school, when I was sweating in my house and listening to Christmas music, and one song just triggered something in my brain and I got overwhelmingly homesick and called my parents, asking for them to share some Christmas memories with me. I have just returned from Cotonou after spending solid week and a half at post, and it was really nice. Honestly, I don't think I have spent a chunk of time that long at post since July, so I really enjoyed all of the reading, relaxing, playing with my cats, and catching up with my friends in village. School finished up well. I was pretty happy with the grades that all of my students got on their midterms (MUCH better than last year), although my quatrieme classes bombed their make-up quizzes which they begged me for after failing their last ones. I even told tham EXACTLY what would be on it, so it was evident that they simply didn't study. It is really frustrating the way students view English as opposed to their other classes. The last day of school was interesting: first, I taught my students how to sing "We Wish you a Merry Christmas"- enjoy the videos! Second, my director scolded the teachers after having many parents complain to him about male professors sleeping with/trying to sleep with female students. Really, really, sad... though I'm glad the director had the courage to say something. I also helped another English teacher at my school write some of the national exam students must pass to go on to University and recieve their high school degree, so that was pretty neat. For as comfortable as he is in English, it was filled with errors and odd sentences such as "Ms. Yomba is jealous of her sister's dense breasts." What does that even mean?! Last bit of exciting news from Lobogo- Belle had her kittens!!! She had two, a grey one and a white one with brown spots. She even did it in the lined box I had set up for her! Awful timing though... she had them while I was at school, the day I was leaving to come down to Cotonou. So, I saw them for a grand total of about ten minutes. They are literally the size of mice right now, can't even walk or open their eyes. I think that Belle is a little lost as to how to deal with them. She ran up to me when I called her name, and the poor things were still clamped on mer nipples, dangling from her belly! I put up a few pictures of Belle from a few days before she had the kittens, to show you her cute bloated belly :) However, here is why I'm incredibly nervous: Catherine's cat had kittens about a week before mine, while Catherine was in Cotonou for a few days. Several people went into her house while she was gone to feed Scout, and apparently they all saw her with the kittens. Well, when Catherine returned home, all of the kittens were gone, and Scout was clinging to Catherine, obviously not taking care of them... she had eaten them! Apparently, this is a quasi-common phenomenon when cats have their first litter, especially if they are feeling stressed and/or if humans have touched the kittens or gotten too close. Needless to say, I am really nervous about this, so I kept my distance from all three of them, though Belle seemed to trust me enough to let me get close. After much debate, I decided to leave Baby, Belle, and the kittens in my house for these four days, with tons of food and water. I know it will probably be stressful to Belle not to be able to go out, but hopefully she will want to stay close to the kittens. I figured that was safer than trying to move them outside. So, keep your fingers crossed that Saturday when I return to my post, there will still be two little kitties there! I will take pictures of them soon, once again didn't want to stress Belle out. It will be really hard for me if there aren't, especially since I got to see them when they were first born. So, I guess you're wondering why I'm not off in Mali right now, far away from any computer... Well, about a week before we were supposed to leave, Catherine was hit by a moto in Cotonou. For the THIRD time. That girl has the worst luck in the world. She was about to get on a zemidjan, when another moto came from behind, not paying attention, and ran over her foot, sending her sprawling accross the busy road. Luckily nothing was broken, but she did have awful cuts and bruising, resulting in stitches. The doctor told her that she could not travel, and she's not too keen on travel right now after all of the bad luck she has had on Beninese roads. So, we had to scramble and change all of our Christmas plans. Our Mali group ended up splitting up between some other groups that were going, and I decided to cancel my trip altogether and spend Christmas with Catherine here in Cotonou. She is one of my best friends in country and I couldn't let her spend it alone. We have managed to make it pretty jazzy, though- brie and apples and sausage and wine last night, listening to Christmas music and watching movies, decorating gingerbread cookies, a nice Christmas dinner tomorrow... all in all a nice and laid-back (and air-conditioned!) Christmas. Not to mention I am saving a ton of money by not going to Mali! One last thing: my Camp GLOW proposal is finally on the Peace Corps website-hooray! Please see my earlier blog post on how to donate (really easy, just go to www..peacecorps.gov and click on "Donations", then search my name). It is a great Christmas present to give to someone! The proposal has only been up for six days, and we have already raised about $500! I will head back to post the day after Christmas, and then come back down to Cotonou for a few days around New Years. I was planning on staying the whole time, but I want to go back and check on my kitties! I hope you all have a lovely Christmas, and I can't tell you how happy I am that I will be there for it next year. My group starts leaving Benin in just over 7 months, unbelieveable.
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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Chaleur and spiders and PIRATES, oh my!

So this happened a while ago, but I forgot to write about it until now. A few weeks ago, PIRATES attacked a ship 18 miles off the coast of Benin! Believed to be Nigerians, they boarded a Ukranian oil tanker and killed one crew member before- get ready- the BENINESE NAVY stepped in to save the day. The Beninese Navy?! I'm picturing a bunch of old men in fishing boats here. (No, in all fairness I do know that Benin has a Navy, it's just that you never hear of them being needed for anything.) Apparently pirate attacks off the coast of West Africa have grown much more frequent over the past year or two, and what makes these attacks different from the ones in Somalia is their close proximity to shore. Crazy! I still can't get over the fact that Benin was mentioned on the BBC!
I have been stuck in Cotonou for the past four days, mostly just lazing around. I did have two meetings with the president of the Mamans Modeles who are sponsoring Camp GLOW this year, both were at the restaurant that she owns and manages! Pretty cool to see a Beninese woman doing stuff like that. I just checked and the PCPP is still not up on the website, but I will be surprised if it is not up by the end of the work week. Hope you're all enduring the bitter cold over there; I am, I kid you not, sweating profusely as I type this.

Monday, December 7, 2009

How to Donate to Camp GLOW!

***CAVEAT***: you can't donate yet! It should be ready and on the website within the week, so keep checking back!
Simply go to the Peace Corps website (www.peacecorps.gov) and click on "Donations". That will lead you to a page where you can seach projects by volunteer last name. Or, you can click on "View all Volunteer Projects" on the right side of the page, and that will lead you to a place where you can search for PCPPs by country of service or home state. The page will show how much money is still needed for the project.
So, keep checking! It should be up soon! I will still send out an email the next time I have internet access and I know for sure that it is posted. Happy donating!

PCPP is approved!





That means that within a few days' time (hopefully), you will be able to donate to Camp GLOW! It was approved this afternoon by the director of Peace Corps Benin, and will be sent on to Washington DC tomorrow. I'm told that when it reaches PC in Washington, it gets online within a few days. I'm still not exactly sure of the precise process for donating, but I will let you know as soon as I do.
Once again, I am back in Cotonou... I am beginning to feel like I live here! I returned to my village last Tuesday night and taught class on Wednesday and Thursday. We reviewed for the midterms that are taking place this week, and it was a lot of fun, especially with my older classes! I am really enjoying working with them. We reviewed adjectives we had learned like "afraid", "dizzy", "sick", etc and it was so much fun- I acted each one out. For "afraid", I cowered behind a students and said that there was a lion on the other side of the door; for "dizzy" I spun around in about ten circles and then stumbled around the classroom. The kids loved it, and they were actors as well when they had to do doctor-patient dialogues. I really hope they do well on the exams! I wrote the exams for both sixieme and quatrieme, so that should give my students a better chance at succeeding.
Friday morning, I headed to Dogbo to celebrate Catherine's birthday. I zemmed straight there again, but this week we took a different path than normal. It was seriously like driving through the enchanted forest/the most stereotypical image of rural Africa that you could imagine: dense jungle complete with vines and monkeys, topless women and scantily clad men, the tiniest mud-and-thatch villages you can imagine. I honestly believe that 75% of them had never seen a white person before, so driving though that area caused a huge shit storm. We were stopped multiple times en route by villagers blocking the road with a log, demanding money to pass. Can you imagine someone doing that in America?! Crazy.
Getting to Catherine's house was really nice- it is so Christmas-y! She had tons of decorations out, candles burning, and Christmas music playing. (Later in the weekend, we even made a homemade wreath- check out the picture! Other pictures are of more Harmattan dust in the air in my village.) That night, her, Michelle, and I made mexican food and brownies for dinner, and watched the Muppet Christmas Carol! It was also fun seeing her cat which is just as, if not more pregnant than mine.
We got up early the next morning to head to a small village where we were participating in a youth-oriented panel discussion. Once we got out of the taxi, we had to zem to the village, and I must say that I have never had a scarier zem experience here in Benin. The road to the village was a narrow and crowded sand path with lots of twists and turns, and I would estimate that our zems were taking it at about sixty mph. Not only were there other zems on the path and women walking to the market, but the dust was kicking up in our faces so much that we could hardly see and inch in front of our faces. We were screaming at our drivers to slow down, and they completely ignored us. When we got to our destination and I told him how dangerous he was being, he only laughed. It was awful and we were all really shaken up. Travel during the holiday season is not great: prices go up, and many drivers have had too much to drink, even at 8am.
The forum was not particularly great. It consisted of a huge group of young adults asking the five of us volunteers questions about life in America, mostly relating to women's rights. I suppose we planted seeds in their heads about the way things could be, but it really seemed like us just telling them how much better America is than Benin and them not being able to do a thing about it. The room was also boiling hot and the forum lasted about three hours, so those factors didn't help, either. One cool part about the day, though, was we got to see a library in the village that is exclusively for girls. Apparently of the 360 or so girls who used the library last year, only three of them didn't pass on to the next grade level, which is astounding for this country. To top off our not-so-great day, Catherine was describing the brown widow spiders (like black widows, only deadlier) she sometimes gets in her back area, and when she showed me what their egg sacks look like, I discovered that I, too, have them at my house. Great. At least we made yummy pad thai for dinner...
The next morning we made bacon (sent from home) and cinnamon rolls and watched The Nightmare Before Christmas, so the day definitely started off on a better foot! I then came down to Cotonou and got some work done, which has been easy to do as I have been the ONLY volunteer here this whole time. This literally NEVER happens, so I have been trying to make the most of it! Today I finalized my PCPP and met with the president of the organization who is co-sponsoring Camp GLOW- the Reseau des Mamans Modeles (model mamas). They are an awesome organization of Beninese women who are lawyers, entrepreneurs, doctors, etc. and do activities such as "take your daughter to work day", so they should be perfect to help out with Camp GLOW! I met with the woman at the restaurant she owns, and she treated me to a nice dinner.
I guess the last thing I will talk about is our trip to Mali that is coming up in a few weeks. In the past year or so, several westerners have been captured and ransomed by terrorists in the Sahel (the southern part of the Sahara). About a week and a half ago, a Frenchman was captured outside of his hotel in northeastern Mali, and back in June, a British man was captured and murdered there. The recent kidnapping, combined with the termination of Peace Corps in Niger, have resurrected concerns about safety in the area. That all being said, the area where my group is traveling is not near to any of these places- Mali is an enormous country. After much discussion and a slight modification of our itinterary, I think that our trip will still be a go. We have a large group, we won't be traveling with much money, and are going with a guide who has worked with Peace Corps for many years, so we all feel pretty safe about it. I don't want this to freak you out, I just thought that I should let you all know what is going on.
I think that I am returning to my post tomorrow, but there is a slight chance that it will not be until Thursday or Friday. Hopefully, I can just stay there until the 23rd when the trip begins!