My adventures serving in the Peace Corps

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Kittens, visas, and the end of January?!

Where did January go?? Barely over 6 months of service remain.
A week ago today, at about 8pm, I was petting Baby when some fluid started dripping out of her and she started having contractions, so I knew she had gone into labor. I set up shop next to her and prepared everything to make her comfortable. After a full hour of contrations, nothing had happened, which I thought was odd. About an hour after that, the kitten started coming out, feet first, which for kittens is backwards. About thirty minutes later, she hadn't made any more progress, so I started to worry and called my parents for some help. After doing some research, we found that you are supposed to gently help pull the kitten out when the cat is having contractions (of course, using hot towels and vaseline and gloves and all of those other fancy things that I don't have at my disposal here). By the time we had figured this out, Baby had given up and stopped pushing, and the kitten was cold to the touch and hanging half way out of her. I was fairly certain that the kitten was dead, and was now worried about the danger this posed to Baby. Both Angele and I tried pulling it out, to no avail. Finally, an electrician stopped by (at almost midnight) and yanked the kitten out. It was horrible to watch and I was so scared that it was going to tear Baby's uterus or something, but I think she was ok. The kitten was indeed dead. The other cats ate the placenta but left the kitten alone, so I put it in a box and gave it to Angele to dispose of. Bless her heart, I think she buried it the next morning- I couldn't bear the thought of just throwing it down a latrine. Other than very minor bleeding for a day or two afterwards, Baby seems to be doing fine, and is now acting as mommy #2 for the other kittens! They immediately started feeding from her and letting her pick them up and give them baths. Enjoy the pictures of the kittens with their new momma! The two kittens are doing great, really healthy and active. I even litter-box trained them this week! In a week or two they will each go off to their new homes.
School has been a bit discouraging lately. Last week we had review sessions for the final exams this week, and in my older classes, my students really didn't know much. We've been working on these subjects for weeks, and they seemed to be getting it up until then. The exam (which I wrote) was neither easy nor hard, but the class which I have graded so far got an average of 7.76 out of 20! Really disappointing. Once again, it is clear to me that they simply didn't study.
This week I had to proctor exams, which you might recall from last year that I absolutely hate doing. The students don't respect me (you don't proctor for your own classes), and think that since I am different that I will be lax and they can goof off an talk during the exam. When I told one class to be quiet, they only laughed at me and continued talking, so I had to call in the surveillant who told me to give a zero to the next student who so much as coughed. In another class, I had one student get up and nearly run out of classroom before I could do anything about it. All of the students seemed shocked when I would make one of them change seats or antyhing like that. On the bright side, proctoring for other students makes me really appreciate how much my own students respect me!
Last weekend I went to Michelle's post for one night to plan out the agenda for the next GLOW meeting and work on writing some exams for the regional English competition. After getting our work done, we cooked an awesome dinner and stayed up until 2:30am playing Take Two, this game kind of like Scrabble but fast-paced. We joked that this was the latest we had stayed up in forever and what a fun Saturday night activity it was haha!
I am now down in Cotonou getting my visa for Ghana, since we are leaving on that trip three weeks from tomorrow! I'm also going to try to make our Ghana hotel reservations. The brass casters in a Ghanaian village that I helped design an exhibit about are willing to meet with me, so I'm really excited about that. We're also going to soak up the big city life in Accra (sushi and a movie theater!), check out the slave castel in Cape Coast, and spend a few days relaxing on the beach.
All of this traveling is a bit nerve-racking. Not only was Catherine recently in several moto accidents, and not only have I seen multiple dead bodies on the side of the road from accidents recently, but about two weeks ago, three volunteers were on a bus coming down to Cotonou when the bus brakes failed and they plowed head-on into a semi. All three people in the semi died, 10 people on the bus died, and several people who had been on the road side died too. Most of the people who weren't instantly killed had very bad injuries. By some miracle, all op the volunteers were ok, though very shooken up from what had happened and seeing all the carnage. Because they came into contact with so much blood, they all have to take the emergency anti-HIV drugs that make you really sick.
Death in Africa is a funny thing. It happens so much and can happen so quickly that people don't view even awful incidents like this as much of a tragedy. To them, it is all "God's will". You do become a bit desensitized from it; even I have gotten used to seeing dead bodies on the roadside after an accident. And, as morbid as this may sound, I have never been so aware of my own mortality as I am here. In America, we feel so far removed from deaths, especially tragic ones, but here, I am forced to think about it and pray silently every time I get onto a moto or into a taxi. Death really is just a part of life here. I don't mean to be morbid or depressing, it's just something to think about, and unfortunately something I'm forced to think about a lot here.
Tomorrow I will head to Dobgo for a cooking session with a few friends and to take some things from Catherine's house. I'll be back down in Cotonou a week from tomorrow for a Camp GLOW meeting (keep those donations coming!) and that breakfast with members of the State Department. Stay warm!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sad day

Catherine is leaving today; I came down to Cotonou for the weekend to spend some time with her and say goodbye. She seems to be in a really good place, though, and ready to go. I'm happy for her! Soon she will be in the good ol' USofA, enjoying all of the amenities there, while I still have seven months of sweating and intestinal parasites ahead of me.
The kittens are fine; they are incessantly curious now and since they can walk more or less normally, are running all around the house and I always have to be careful not to step on them! The vet came last week to give Belle and Baby their annual rabies shots, and also gave the kittens some deworming stuff. He seemed to think they were perfectly healthy. Still can't tell the gender of the cats. I will be giving the kittens away in the first part of February, one to another volunteer and one to a fellow English teacher at my school. I didn't have many pictures of them from this week- the camera just doesn't capture how cute they are! Hopefully next time I'll have some pictures to post.
School went pretty well this week. Exams start a week form tomorrow, so I had to submit my exams this past week. I have finally figured out why one of my quatrieme classes seem to get the lessons better than my other one: the other one has English class after three hours of exhausting gym class baking in the African sun and heat. Gym class here is nothing like what we have in America: the kids are FILTHY afterwards because they literally roll around in the dirt, do tons of tumbling and gymnastics. It's amazing how athletic and strong they are. They get so dirty that they even have burrs in their hair when they are finished! And it's not like they can take a shower afterwards like you can in the US. The two hours of English are hard for me, too- the kids stink!
Now that it's the new year, it's time for me to start really working on Camp GLOW. We're about to book the venue, and soon we will start contacting guest speakers, chauffers, etc. I've just checked the Peace Corps' website, we've raised about $1400 out of $6000 so far, so please tell people you know to think about donating!
Once again, I can't believe how fast time is moving. Only one semester left of school, then Camp GLOW, then I'm done! I still don't know when I'll be coming home. Depending on if we get early leave dates or not, I could be home as early as late July, or as late as late September. I'm hoping for sometime in August- I would really like to make it home for the first football game! Plus, once all of my work is finished by early July, I'm gonna be bored out of my mind and chomping at the bit to go home. I won't know an exact date until the end of May.
This past week I was informed that I was selected to particiate in a breakfast at the ambassador's house with some government members, though I don't have too much information on that yet. Pretty cool, though!
I came down to Cotonou on Friday morning, and have just been hanging out with Catherine and relaxing. The first night we made homemade tomato soup and grilled cheese and watched some old movies. Unfortunately, yesterday I felt AWFUL the entire day- mild fever, aches, chills, and horrible stomach cramps, so I stayed in bed most of the day. Knock on wood, but I'm feeling mostly better this morning. We'll say goodbye to Catherine and leave Cotonou in a few hours. I'm hoping that I stay well this week, my kids need to have class this last week before final exams! I really want them to do well.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Guess who's back down in Cotonou?

Yeah. This lucky girl thought she broke her thumb, so she had to come down here for the THIRD time in two weeks to get x-rays. Monday night I accidentally slammed the heavy metal lid of my lock box down onto my thumb. It immediately became swollen and hurt too much to move, so I called the doctors the next day and they told me to come down to get the x-rays. The clinic where I went to get the x-rays was pretty archaic; the x-ray machine was enormous and looked like some sort of crazy machine from the 1950s. Turns out that nothing was broken or fractured, I just have some crazy bruising going on and it still hurts pretty bad to move it. So obviously, nothing much happened since the last time I posted. Got back to school on Monday morning only to have the director tell us that all the teachers had a week-long training in a city south of here that started in one hour, so everyone left. (I didn't have to go, thank goodness) So all the kids showed up to class on their first day after break for nothing! I still held class, which I'm sure my students were just thrilled about. Though when I showed up on Tuesday morning to try and teach before I headed down for my x-rays, only about 10% of my students were there, so I cancelled class. The kittens are still doing fine. In fact, Belle has decided that it is time for them to become more mobile, so she drags them all around the house, much to their dismay :) She as started dragging them up into my bed at night, and tucking them right up under my chin to sleep!! It is so precious. I am hoping that when I go back tomorrow, they will have started walking normally and exploring on their own a bit more. So, enjoy the pictures and video of them! And quick explanation of other pictures: the jungle-like ones are the view from my walk through the brush every evening when the sun is setting, and the funny one of Michelle and I is a typical Beninese portrait! We realized that we were wearing the same outfit today (meme tissue shirt and jeans), so we did the typical marriage photo where sunglasses are hip and no one is smiling or looking at the camera. It looks ridiculous, but I'm telling you, this is pretty spot on. Cotonou has been fine, lazed around watching the Tudors all day today, and went out for Indian food. Unfortunately, Catherine has decided to leave Benin, so I will be back down here in just over a week to see her off. It's going to be really hard for me when she leaves. Not only was she one of my best friends here, but we were supposed to do our COS trip to Morocco together on the way home this summer. I totally support her decision, though, and think it was the right thing for her to do. I'll sure miss her, though :(