Bisous from Benin!

My adventures serving in the Peace Corps

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Blog post for Social, Mobile, and Search Marketing

As Interest Fades in the Humanities, Colleges Worry I feel I have a unique perspective on this issue since I have a humanities degree but a career in IT. I don't think there's an easy resolution to this debate. In today's economy, how can you blame a student for pursuing a degree in a STEM field when that is where the jobs and money by and large exist? And since the recession, people are viewing college strictly as vocational training. While it is indeed training for a career, it is also training for how to be a good citizen, human being, and productive member of society. I work with so many brilliant IT people, and what they are capable of doing with computers absolutely blows my mind. But sometimes I am astounded at the lack of communication skilld, both written and spoken, that they posses. It is one thing to create a brilliant piece of software, it is quite another to have the rhetorical skills to effectively sell that software to others. I run into issues like this on a daily basis. My humanities degrees were to enriching for me, and helped land me a wonderful job where I know I am valued in no small part for my writing and communication skills. But I would be kidding myself if I thought my education was the only thing that landed me this job- Peace Corps, for one, certainly helped. I don't have any easy answers, but I wish there was a way to marry the two fields, rather than making it one versus the other. What do you think?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Three weeks.

I fly outta here three weeks from today. And it couldn't come soon enough: as if enough crappy things hadn't been happening to me, I found out that one of the kittens I just gave away (to my vet) was eaten by his dog. He told me this in the market like it was nothing, including the gruesome detail that the dog was playing with it like it was a mouse and bit its head off. Then he had the audacity to ask me if he could have another kitten and if we could hang out before I leave. I know it's not really his fault, but still. I cried myself to sleep that night, and had to get out of Lobogo for a few days, hence my Internet access. It was nice, I hung out with two of my fellow PCVs, including one who had just lost her dog so she understood.
Anyway, I'll head back to post today and leave it for good exactly two weeks from today. MAN that's gonna be tough. I'm really not looking forward to it. I've been crying a lot lately, kinda on an emotional rollercoaster.
All that being said, I can't WAIT for America! I'll be down in Cotonou for the week before I leave; time for one last blog.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The end is near

As in, I fly out of Benin four weeks from tomorrow, and am about to head back to my village for the last time. It is seriously unbelieveable. I recently had my end of the year staff meeting (lasted 6 hours... for all the things I'll miss, that won't be one of them!!), and my Camp GLOW final report was turned in and approved, so I am officially done with my work. I've also finished most of my COS documents.
Now, all that's left is packing up some things in my house, and saying goodbye to people. For as excited as I am to be done and come home, I am REALLY not looking forward to the upcoming goodbyes and leaving my village. It is going to be so hard to leave some of these people, and oh lord, my cats. I get choked up just thinking about it. On the 30th I'm having a small goodbye party (which I have to pay for myself, even though other people TOLD me I was having it... gotta love Benin0, and I'll leave Lobogo sometime between the 4th and the 7th. I fly out of Benin the night of the 11th, and land in Detroit at 4:35 pm on Thursday the 12th! I'll have a day or two at home, then head to the west side of the state for four or five days of R&R.
I know you're still waiting for pictures from Camp GLOW, and of my last few weeks here; I've decided that I will load them all once I'm home, and I have Internet that is fast :)
I'll leave you with this lovely anecdote, another sure sign that it's time for me to get outta here:
Sunday, I was coming down to Cotonou with a kitten in a box on my lap: I was bringing it down for another volunteer who is taking it. All was well until we were in the suburbs of Cotonou and there was a detour since they were doing some road work on the main road. We turned off on the detour to see a huge line of cars in front of us at a standstill, so my driver decided to try and find another route rather than waiting. As we turned a corner, there was a small LAKE of standing water in front of us, one that had been there since May when the rainy season started, and contained many goodies such as dead chickens, feces, and trash. We all told the driver not to try it, but he did anyways. Our car was promptly inundated with the water that turned out to be 3 or 4 feet deep, and we all got SOAKED. The car immediately died, and the driver rushed off to find help. The other passengers and I had to basically swim through the sewer water to get to a shallow spot. Meanwhile, it's taking everything I have in my not to lose my lunch, and I still have a kitten in a box.
The kitten was getting restless, so I decided to take my things and go look for a zem somewhere. By some small miracle, my backpack was on top of all of the other luggage in the trunk, and it was the only thing that was not completely soaked. (Other things in the trunk included baskets of tomatoes and bread that some of my fellow passengers were hopeing to sell in the market...) As I started off, an old man saw me and offered to direct me to the road, and I gladly accepted. Unfortunately, the route to the road included a 25 foot stretch of path through a flooded city garbage heap, and the smell was like nothing I'd ever experienced before. I really don't think I have ever been so disgusted. To top things off, the old man harrassed me for money since he helped me, and then on the zemidjan, my dress flew up, exposing my entire thigh, probably the most sexualized part of the body here. The kitten was trying desperately to get out of the box, so I couldn't afford to move my hands and fix it. As we were pulling away from a stoplight, a man on the zem next to mine reached out an brushed my thigh. SO nasty. Absolutely made my skin crawl. Needless to say, it wasn't one of my better days here in Benin. (Don't worry, I saw the doctors and took about ten hot showers as soon as I got to the bureau)

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Camp GLOW!

Here's the blog you've all been waiting for! I'll start by saying that camp was an enormous success. All the girls, volunteers, and tutrices left happy and empowered. So, here's a run-down of the week:
Sunday morning, I left my house at 9:15 to go and meet the girls and our taxi. Half of the girls were already there, and said they had been waiting since 8! I've taught them well: to be early is to be on time :) My homologue decided to go and look for the other three girls, who were apparently ready to go and just sitting calmly at their houses- I'll never understand some parts of this culture! Murphy's law, the taxi driver was about thirty minutes late and extremely casual about it. (He was one of those Beninese men who you can tell constantly congratulate themselves for being a man: he had his shirt rolled up above his pot belly for the whole ride down, spit out the window a lot, etc. Attractive, really.) All morning it was POURING, so the drive down was a bit scary. All of the massive potholes (like none you've ever seen before in America) were filled with water and therefore impossible to see, so I'm surprised we didn't lose a tire on the way down. Beninese people apparently don't find it necessary to do anything differently when driving in the rain; they don't use headlights, slow down, etc. Anyway, we stopped in Cotonou on the way down and I bought the girls some pounded yams for lunch (a northern food, so something most of them hadn't tried before). You could tell they loved sitting in the little restaurant like grown ups!
Upon arrival in Porto Novo, the chaos began. The driving rain made it difficult to move around a lot, and lots of people arrived late because of it. We had almost 60 mosquito nets to hang (and a few were stolen in the process), so that took some time. Girls arrived in big groups, and I had to remember every step involved in checking them in, giving them room assignments, telling them not to touch their newly-opened mosquito nets (they need time to air out because of the chemicals on them, if not they will sting your eyes and face), etc.
Let me back up quickly to the last three days before the camp: I was already back in village, obviously with no computer/Internet access. First, I got a call from the Peace Corps office, asking me many details about the Opening Ceremony for the camp. For as much as I think I understand Beninese culture now, I am still lost when it comes to the formalities of official events. Things have to be just so, and apparently whatever dignitaries you invite, it is YOUR responsibility to write their speeches for them. I also finally got the go-ahead from the NGO that donated soccer balls to the girls, though there was more paperwork to do for that. So, I was feeling pretty helpless and stressed in Lobogo. I also got calls from several volunteers saying that their girls couldn't make it, so I had to scramble around trying to find some replacements.
Now, back to the first night of camp, I was surprised to find we had 49 girls (as opposed to the original 50) since I had thought we had many cancellations the day before. Once all the girls were checked in and settled into their rooms, we had dinner and a welcome meeting. It was fun to show them how to use a toilet and shower, and to see how excited they all were about the week ahead. It was nice and cool all week because of the rain, and we didn't even have to use the ceiling fans in our rooms to sleep at night! I'm sure the girls were chilly, though :)
Monday morning was also high stress since we had the opening ceremony of the camp, and we had invited several dignitaries. The Peace Corps invitees showed up first, followed by the Ambassador. It was fun seeing the girls' faces when his motorcade drove into the center, American flags flying. We ended up having to wait nearly an hour for the Beninese dignitaries to show up (surprise surprise), but it was a good opportunity for me to chat with the Ambassador and tell him all about the camp. All in all, the people who arrived were: the Peace Corps Benin country director, the woman in charge of the education/gender sector of Peace Corps Benin, the Ambassador, and the second to the mayor of Porto Novo. The ceremony was nice and concise; I made a speech, as did the mayor's representative, the Ambassador, and the Country Director. We then took a really nice photo with everyone in it: girls, volunteers, invitees, and all. That day we then had sessions on the rights of women and children, how to deal with/avoid sexual harrassment (especially from teachers), and study skills/tips. After dinner, we did relay races, which the girls had never seen before and LOVED. It was really fun to watch the girls open up throughout the first day and lose all their shyness. Because these girls are the best from their respective schools and villages, they enjoyed and participated in the sessions, and had impeccable behavior.
The second day started with a craft session run by PCVs. They could choose between collage making and book binding, and both were a huge hit. We were originally nervous that the book binding might be too complicated/lengthy, but the girls were really perceptive and followed the instructions well, and made adorable fabric-covered journals. I helped with the collage session, and it was really interesting to see the pictures they chose to cut out of the magazines. It tended to be a lot of photos of people, along with fauna and commercial products. These sessions were great since the girls normally have to artistic outlet. We then had a session on puberty, reproduction, and hygiene, which the girls LOVED and asked tons of questions. That afternoon, half the group went to a local museum, and the other half went to Songhai, that organic farm/green technology center in Porto Novo. It is honestly one of the most innovative, self-sustaining places I've ever seen, and it's here in Benin. Crazy, huh? At Songhai, they took a tour of the farm and then learned how to use computers: Word and basic Internet searches. I could tell that the girls felt really empowered to be able to use a computer, especially since many of their peers have never even seen one. That night we watched Bend it like Beckham, which was particularly relevant, both because it was girls playing soccer and because of the World Cup going on right now. I have never seen a group of people be so invested in a film: they cheered everytime someone scored a goal! They absolutely loved it, especially since we projected it up onto a big screen just like a movie theater. This was a good ending to a not-so-good day for me personally: I had a man at Songhai refuse to take me as the camp director because I was a woman (then had the audacity to call me his wife), and a woman on the street completely ignored myself and some other volunteers because, we were told, she hates white people. We also were having some problems with the caterer (that unfortunately continued throughout the rest of the week): arriving late, giving us fish when we were supposed to have meat, claiming that there was no fruit to be found in the whole city even though that's what we paid for. (That being said, the girls still ate awesome food and a ton compared to what they are given at home. They actually got to eat meat!)
Wednesday morning, we visited the National Assembly, basically the Beninese equivalent to our House of Respresentatives. It was quite interesting, and the girls got to sit in the seats of the deputies and ask questions through their microphones. They asked tons of good questions, such as "If there are 83 deputies in the National Assembly, why are only 9 of them women?!" These girls are so lucky; most Beninese never get to visit a government building like this. That afternoon, the girls once again went to Songhai and the museum, visiting whichever one they had not seen the day before. That night, the girls had time in their teams to develop skits about any topic we'd discussed during the week.
Quick explanation of the team system: the girls were divided into 5 teams of ten girls each. Three or four volunteers were assigned to each team, along with one Beninese tutrice. At the end of each day, the teams met to discuss the themes touched upon that day. Teams also had a competition the whole week. Teams could win or lose points, depending on factors such as participation in sessions, behavior, helping out, etc. At the end of the week, all the points were tallied and each member of the winning team received some cool prizes: a dictionary, compass set, and nice notebook.
Thursday started out with a session all about soccer: how to play, rules of the game, strategies, how to inflate a ball. We then held a mini tournament. It was amazing to see how awesome some of these girls were at soccer! One of my girls in particular was fantastic. We then had two young Beninese people come in to do a sensibilisation on HIV/AIDS and malaria, which the girls really enjoyed. We even did a condom demonstration, which the girls were really mature about. (Side note: nearly all the sessions were run by Beninese people, not volunteers.) We also had a woman living with HIV come in to talk to the girls, to show them that she was a normal person and tell them her story. That afternoon, we had a really good session on nutrition. It's an important session for these girls since the Beninese diet is so full of carbs and void of nutrition. (These people aren't starving like a lot of people think, they just don't have enough vitamins.) That night was fantastic, we had a DJ come to do a dance party for these girls, and let me tell you, these girls can DANCE. They insisted we dance with them, but they just end up making us look silly :) They really let loose and got to shine since it's normally the boys who take over the dance floor. It was a lot of fun.
Now comes the craziest part of my week. One of the girls I brought, Elise, has a disease, one that her parents called a "bone" disease. I was told it flared up during the rainy season when it's cooler, so my homologue was hesitant to let her come in case her disease flared up. But, she really wanted to come and assured us that she would bring her medicine for it, and that ibpruofen helps it a lot. During the dance party, she came up to me crying and saying that it was flaring up and she hurt, so another volunteer gave her ibpruofen and took her to her room to lie down. When the night was finished and everyone else headed to bed, I went to check on her. She was in HORRIBLE pain, writhing and crying in her bed. It seemed as if the ibpruofen had done nothing. We were constantly massaging her back and making her drink water. We finally decided to move her into my room so that her roomates could get some sleep, and we sat up with her for hours. It was so hard to see this smart, adorable little girl in so much pain. At 3am, she told us she needed to go to the hospital, so I called the Peace Corps emergency line to ask what hospital we should go to. A nice man who worked at the center drive us (two other volunteers, myself, and the girl) there in his car. He also helped us once there. (We were first taken to a back-alley clinic that looked way too sketchy, so we told him we needed to go to the big regional hospital in Porto Novo). It was such a surreal place: people sleeping all over the hospital grounds, sewer water flooding certain areas, rats. There was no one to direct us where to go, so we finally found the pediatric emergency room. It was a really hard place to see. There were two or three kids to a bed, and really bad looking patients all around. The baby on the bed next to us convulsed with each beat of his heart, there was a little girl who couldn't blink, kids in comas, etc. There was a pool of blood on the floor next to Elise's bed. The nurse came to give her an IV, and did it in a really rough and irresponsible manner, constantly bumping and pulling on the needle. There is absolutely NO bedside manner here; it's as if the nurses are there to do their job and the patients shouldn't interfere. Since it was 4am, there was no doctor there (naturally...), so they were not authorized to give her any pain meds, only a rehydrating IV drip, so she was still in terrible pain. We called in for replacement volunteers at around 8:30am so that we could get some sleep. I haven't pulled an all-nighter like that since freshman year of college! Meanwhile we had not been able to get a hold of anyone in her family (though when we did, they weren't panicked; these pain attacks are fairly common). The doctor fianlly came with the lab results and it turns out that she has Sickle Cell Anemia, occassionally causing her these massive pain attacks. In the U.S., patients are given morphine to ease the pain. Shortly after we left her with the other volunteers, the pain started to subside and she was able to get some sleep, so she came home aroung 11am that day. Not only was the whole hospital experience depressing, jarring, and sad, but it was also backwards and dysfunctional. For instance, the hospital does not simply bring you the medicine you need. They write you a prescription, and YOU are respinsible for taking it to the cashier, paying, and then going out to the pharmacy to get it. I guess it is assumed that a family member will be there to help, but what if they're not? Nor does the hospital feed the patient, it's once again the responsibility of the patient or a family member to get food. I guess it's a product of the collectivist society here. All in all, it was one of the craziest nights I've ever had and one I'll not soon forget.
Friday morning, the campers did a session on gender roles that they got really passionate about- why can't a woman do that?! Of course she can! Men can cook, too! Etc. It was really neat to see them get fired up like that. Then a panel of four professional Beninese women came to talk to the girls about how they got into these high-profile jobs in this male-dominated society. That afternoon the girls learned about money management and how to create a budget, and then got to make beautiful bead necklaces with an artisan from Ouidah. The last night, the girls preformed their skits, and it was once again heartbreaking to see how accurately they portrayed the typical Beninese man. They were great actressses and clearly loved performing!
The last morning of the camp, we just held a quick session synthesizing everything we'd learned during the week and encouraging girls to share what they'd learned with their peers, and then gave awards. The winning team got the prizes I mentioned above, and every girl got a tshirt, certificate, Camp GLOW bracelet, group photo, and soccer ball. They also got to take home their mosquito net and the books, collages, and necklaces they had made. Needless to say, they left the camp very happy :) One of the girls even presented me with flowers during the ceremony, which was really sweet. It was then time for the girls to pack up and head out. Of course, my taxi driver promised he would be there no later than 11am, and didn't show up until 3. Every time I called him, he would lie and tell me he was around the corner, and he eventually stopped answering my calls. It's infuriating that they can get away with things like that here; my homologue told me that there was no way I could pay him less since the price was already negotiated. I was especially angry because Elise wasn't feeing well, and since he arrived so late we had no time to stop in Ouidah to show the girls the ocean like we had originally planned (none of these girls had ever seen the water before!) Once again, the driver didn't apologize, and was pretty rude the rest of the way home. We had another unfortunate event at the end of camp: we realized one of the tutrices had stolen a lot of things from us, such as extra camp tshirts, bowls, toilet paper, and soap. When we privately confronted her about it (we had proof that she had done it), she threw a big fit and started insulting the camp, campers, and volunteers before running off. It was really unfortunate.
All being said and done, I would call the camp a fantastic success. All of the girls were extremely bright and I know they will do something with the lessons they learned. Elise is feeling better now, and all in all only missed a half day of camp activities. (Once back in Lobogo, her parents and brother traveled all the way from their farm many kilometers away to my house to thank me profusely for taking care of her.) Being camp director was of course stressful, but extremely satisfying. My one complaint would be that because I was so busy taking care of logistics, I didn't have as much time to play with the girls this year.
Back in Lobogo, I couldn't even catch up on sleep the next day as it was Fifa's first communion and I had to go to the four hour long Mass for that :( We then had an all day long party for her in our concession which I had to attend, and even if I had wanted to nap I couldn't have because the music was blasting so loud. First communion fetes are a really big deal here: they set up a tent, rented chairs, hired a DJ, killed a goat and pig and chicken. They even had a photographer going around and snapping tons of pictures!
The next two days I spent at school, giving students their final grades and filling out school grade books and report cards. I can't believe I'm officially done with all my school duties! Saying goodbye to my students was as sad as I thought it might be, maybe because it just doesn't quite seem real yet. I told them to stop by and say goodbye to me at some point during the next few weeks. I'll see all my colleagues one more time at the end of the year staff meeting on Friday. On Tuesday night, I gave away one of the two kittens to my vet, the other one will go to another volunteer next week. (It's a good thing, too- they were starting to destroy my house! I'll miss them, though.)
On Wednesday I came down to Cotonou to write the final report for my camp and got that all wrapped up, and on Thursday I had my final medical exam/check out. Looks like I'm healthy! Friday a few of us headed to Dogbo for one last reginal cooking session; we made sandwiches and coleslaw for dinner and red, white, and blue pancakes (with dried blueberries and strawberries) for breakfast. We also watched the Ghana v. Uraguay game at a bar that night, and the energy was incredible. People were literally dancing in the streets when Ghana scored a goal! It was too bad that Ghana lost.
I'm now back down in Cotonou staying with my friends who work at the embassy here. They are about to go home for vacation, and since I'm leaving soon, I don't think I'll see them again. They are SO sweet, and they treated me to dinner last night. It's so nice staying in a house that feels just like America! We spent the morning watching CNN and Discovery channel, and made coffee and cinnamon roles for breakfast :) Tonight there is a big potluck at one of the embassy workers' houses, so it'll be a nice way to celebrate the 4th! I'll head back to village tomorrow. I think I'll only leave one more time before I leave for good, to give all the Camp GLOW paperwork to the person who is taking the camp over next year (a man!) By the way, if you're wondering why I haven't gotten mail or packages in a long time, it turns out it's because of the volcano! All the stopped up air traffic caused major back-ups in the mail system.
I arrive in America exactly 5.5 weeks from today, can you believe it?? I can't. I'm really, REALLY excited to come home, but am getting pretty sad about leaving some of my friends and especially my cats here. I'll have my last 3 weeks or so in village just to spend time with those people and pack up my house.
This is probably one of my last blogs! Sorry it was so long. I will post pictures from the camp when I get a chance.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

4 days!

Thought I'd do a quick update before my couple weeks of craziness start! I'm down in Cotonou, doing all of the last-minute things for Camp GLOW.
As far as school goes, the kids took their final exams last week and I've graded half of them (all the quatrieme exams, that I wrote). For whatever reason, they really bombed it. I thought it was a very reasonable test, and had my colleagues look over it to confirm that. When I asked some of the students why the test was difficult for them, they said it was because I wrote "do NOT copy sentences from the text" for their answers in the short answer section. Normally, this is exactly what they'll do, and get all up in arms when I give them partial or no credit for it; apparently Beninese teachers find this way of answering acceptable. It was a bummer, especially getting that from my favorite class.
I'm keeping my fingers crossed that my sixieme students did much better... the test was all on verbs in simple present form, which we worked on for over a month but they STILL were having a difficult time with. I even decided not to progress in the curriculum and instead stayed on verbs for a long time since they are so important (and I have quatrieme students who STILL can't conjugate well). So we'll see! I did a really good review session with one class, but got rained out when I was supposed to do it with my other sixieme class. (Life 100% STOPS here when it's raining. People don't leave their house, mostly because they really can't- the roads turn to mush and it's hard to see when driving a zem into the rain.) When I arranged a makeup review session, we got rained out again! It wasn't a total waste of the afternoon, though: several students happened to be walking by when the rain got really hard, so we all huddled under the porch at the front of my concession. They stayed with me for almost three hours and we talked about EVERYTHING, from weather patterns in America to Hollywood. (One asked, "When they kill someone in an American movie... is it real? Do they really die?") It was one of those classic Peace Corps moments that I'll never forget.
Life in Lobogo is going well, but little things keep coming up that remind me why I'm excited tohead home in August. An especially devastating one happened this week: a FOUR YEAR OLD girl in my concession told us that she's been having sex with teenage boys from the neighborhood. When she was telling Angele and the other gathered around... they were laughing. A lot. Laughing with intermittent heavy beatings of the poor girl. I'm not even going to try to analyze why they reacted this way, because I can't even begin to understand it. They made her show them the positions she had sex in, and then made her pull down her underwear for them to see. It was one of the most upsetting experiences I've had here, made even worse by the fact that I really didn't understand what was going on and I knew there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. Really, really sad.
The biggest news: Camp GLOW starts in four days!!! I have been working really hard the past few days to do all of the last minute things: supply shopping, printing out certificates, getting soccer balls for all the girls, etc. I'm feeling pretty good about the camp, and I think I've done just about all that I can for now. I found out that not only the ambassador and his wife will be at the opening ceremony, but so will tons of ministers,(probably) the mayor of Porto Novo, and lots of people from the Peace Corps' office. The news might even show up! Keep posted for updates about the camp in early July! This wouldn't have been possible without all your donations, so thank you :)
Last night I was invited to dinner at my friends' house, the ones we stayed with during Kate's memorial that work at the embassy. It was so nice! Lots of wine, pizza, salad... so nice to have a nice dinner in a nice home with nice people :) While there, I heard a hilarious pick-up line that white women often get in Benin: "Let's make an Obama." Wow.
I'll head back to post today for a few days before the camp. My girls and tutrice are getting really excited! We are going to rent a whole taxi to take us straight there which will be nice. I only have a bit more time to spend with my kittens, so I'm gonna try to soak them up these next few days. They taught themselves how to use the litter box and run around the house like they own the place :)
Wish me luck for GLOW!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Bad day

I'm having a bad day and decided to rant about it. Here's why:
1. Remember the goat I wrote about in my last post, who was it by a moto? About two days ago, it just decided to give up on life (even though it had been eating and walking much better the day before). It laid down in the dirt and didn't move for almost 48 hours, refusing food or water. So, for as hard and sad as it was, we all decided to let it go. The thing is, it was taking FOREVER to die, just sitting there wheezing and moaning for two full days. As of last night it was still alive, and I woke up around 1am to the sound of pounding rain that lasted for at least an hour. The poor thing drowned in a puddle that formed around it. SO sad. And my neighbors just laughed at me the whole time it was dying when I would squat by it and pet it a bit. God forbid we show a little compassion.
2. AWFUL day teaching. The kids refused to sweep the class (as usual), so we started late. I reminded them that this was our last week together, so please leave me with good memories of them, and they proceeded to act worse than ever. I sent several kids home, changed many of their seats, and took points off their conduct grades, but to no avail. When I told them that I was sad they were acting this way during our second-to-last class together, they just laughed. It was horrible. After talking to some other TEFL volunteers, this seems to be the case across the board since the school year is extended and the kids are really antsy. I know it's a lot to hope for, but I just want this last bit of teaching to feel good and go smoothly.
3. As usual, I offered to help edit all of the English exams. However, the secretary has gotten bold and told me she wanted me to TYPE all of them, getting angry when I told her I didn't have time to do that, even though it's HER job.
4. I am in Lokossa to get money from the bank because I literally had none. Our taxi broke down about a mile outside the city, so I ended up having to walk the rest of the way, in the midday sun. I can't even count the number of "Bonjour cherie!"s I got en route, and one man actually became furious that I didn't respond to him.
5. Now, in the cybercafe, the man next to me is unabashedly looking at porn online and touching himself to boot. Fabulous.
I also tried to fete Angele for her birthday, i.e. I gave her some money to buy fish and rice. Well, she bought the things and prepared them, but her husband came home so we couldn't eat until about 6 hours later because he gave her somany things to do. By the time we ate, she only served me and her husband, and I don't think she got any even though it was HER birthday. The food was also cold and a litte rancid.
I went to the mayor's office yesterday to ask for money for the girls' transport to Camp GLOW, which he gave me, though the whole encounter was a bit uncomfortable after his advances towards me last year. Sigh. My house is also a disaster right now, plus all the stress getting ready for camp and the end of the year and COS.
So, needless to say I'm not the happiest camper today. The good news is that I'm now taking 6 girls to Camp GLOW, and when I informed the sixth girl, the BIGGEST smile spread across her face and she got really giddy. It's so good to see a reaction like that out of girls who are used to being so stoic around their superiors! Camp is coming up FAST- can you believe it's June now??- 19 days! The kittens are also helping keep me sane. Their ears have opened and they can walk pretty normally now. They have also become extremey playful... so cute!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

I'm still alive! (despite viscious goats and the sky falling)

Wow, I can't believe that it's been over a month since my last post... and here I always bragged about how up-to-date my blog was :( sorry! I had absolutely no idea how crazy my last few months here in Benin were going to get. And there truly are only a few months left... And now, the moment you've all been waiting for: AUGUST 12! I will leave my village on August 4 or 5 and then fly out of Benin on the 11th. Just over two months, how crazy is that?? I feel like I've been waiting for so long to know an actual date.
I won't bore you with excruciating details of the last month of my life, but here's a taste:
-We had our last Camp GLOW meeting! We divvied up the number of girls that each volunteer gets to bring, and this year I am bringing 5! It was hard to choose, but I think I picked some really hard-working and driven girls, all from my sixieme classes. I have been visiting the girls' families with my homologue, and so far so good. No crazy bush-whacking moonlit experiences this year, but that's ok. Most of the work for Camp GLOW is done, or at least has been delegated. What I am having a hard time with now is just trusting that all of the delegated work will get done... I know it will! We have some great volunteers working on the camp this year. Camp starts in 26 days!
-On April 30, Andrew and I ran some camp errands in Porto Novo, mainly giving people down payments and trying (unsuccessfully) to meet with the mayor. We then headed to his post to hang out for the weekend and celebrate Labor day there. He lives north of Porto Novo in the Oueme river vally, which, believe it or not, is the second most fertile vally in all of AFRICA after the Nile. It really is just a beautiful, lush area, and his town is on a bit of a hill overlooking the river... which was beautiful until it rained. And rained. Than it kept raining. And rained some more. I literally got stuck there and extra day because of the rain that just wouldn't stop and the resulting quicksand/mud. The only time we ventured out of his house that day was to buy food to make some dinner, and it took us almost two hours of desperate sinking and sliding to walk a grand total of maybe a 1/4 mile. Sounds silly, but it made me REALLY appreciate drainage and sewer systems in the US!
-Belle and Baby had their kittens!! Belle had hers the morning of the Cotonou GAD fundraiser, so I didn't end up going to that. I got to watch the whole thing which was pretty fascinating. She had two adorable and healthy kittens, both white with brown and black spots. Honestly, they look a lot more like Baby! Speaking of Baby, she went into labor two days later just as I was on my way out the door. When I got back from class, there was a bit of liquid on the floor and Baby was definitely skinnier, but no sign of any kittens. My guess (hope) is the kitten(s) was stillborn and she ate it, in which case I'm sure glad I wasn't there to see it! Like before, she is acting like momma #2 for Belle's kittens, which is really cute.
-Sad story about kittens... sorry to retell this awful story, but it's fruitful to know the random and cruel way people treat animals here sometime. Brigitte, another PCV who took one of Belle's first kittens, was out of town for a training and left the kitten with her neighbors. One night while she was gone, the cat was outside in front of the house, when an old man with a walking stick started beating it mercilessly. It was able to jump into a well for safety ("safety") and the neighbors were able to get it out. Unfortunately, most of it's bones were broken and it could barely walk, and couldn't control its bladder or bowels. Brigitte called me crying, asking my permission to put the cat to sleep. Obviously I said yes, but the story just broke my heart. She said the hardest part about it all was the indifference of her Beninese friends and neighbors, just telling her to "get a new one." She has not yet told me if she ended up putting him down or not. I also recently witnessed one of the beby goats in my concession get hit by a moto and break one of it's legs pretty badly. Now it's mother refuses to nurse it and it is growing very weak. I have had a pretty thick skin so far when it comes to animals here, but both of those things have made me cry.
-Finally had a good old "hang out in Lokossa" weekend like I used to do ALL the time last year. We baked a pound cake and I learned how to make my favorite Beninese sauce. Can't wait to make it for some of you next year!
-Crazy weather. For a while, it seemed like the rain was pretty predictable, at least once every few days. Now, it seems to go a while with no rain, and it is SO hot. One day last week, I left my house for school and noticed that the sky was dark and looked like rain. I arrived at school just in time to see students and professors alike SPRINTING to take cover inside classrooms. I looked out over the soccer field to see that the sky was LITERALLY falling. It had turned black as tar and was rapidly lowering to the ground. The wind must have been blowing at 90mph, and suddenly the fiercest rain I have ever, EVER seen was falling. I was actually cold for a few minutes there! I now know that I had not experienced a real African rain until that moment.
-COS conference happened! It was at a really nice hotel in Cotonou right on the ocean (alongside the fishing tenements, lovely). Not only did we get to stay in air conditioned rooms with hot showers, but we had a HUGE swimming pool and were fed some pretty fabulous meals each day. It was really the first time we had been together as a group since training, and it's probably the last time a lot of us will see each other. The first day of the conference, we talked a lot about the logistics of COSing, picked our dates (which was SO painless... they basically let us decide amongst ourselves and there were plenty of slots available, so I basically had my pick from August 9 on... hence the 11th! I'm COSing with Michelle and Kristin, two of my best friends here in country, so that will be nice), and talked about honing our Peace Corps experiences into concrete skills. The second day was dedicated to resume writing and interview skills, along with giving feedback to PC Benin administration. We had a fancy luncheon that day during which we received certificates of thanks from the various Beninese ministries we serve... I was shown on national news accepting my award! That night, we had Kendra's bachelorette party! Please appreciate the veil made out of mosquito netting :) Her boyfriend proposed to her when he visited Benin last summer, and they are planning to get married in Atlanta in May 2011! Kendra is another TEFL volunteer. On the last day, we talked about readjusting to life in the US, how to share our experience with others back at home, and strategies for saying goodbye to our villages. We put together a really nice slideshow of our time here, too. You'll all have to be very patient with me when I come back home for good... it's gonna be a tough adjustment and I'll probably want to talk your ear off. On the way home from COS conference, I stopped at a nice bakery in Cotonou and got a slice of cake and lots of cookies for Mariam and the girls since it was her birthday. (She wanted me to bake her a cake; she had reminded me about 4 zillion times when her birthday was.) Turns out she was having a little birthday party, complete with a photographer (the hallmark of any Beninese celebration) and all! The cookies were a big hit with the kids :)
Now, the part about viscious goats. You might wonder why I'm down in Cotonou, during the school week and a whopping three days after COS conference ended. I'm in the med unit because- I kid you not (pun intended)- I was bit by a goat. On the hand. Quite hard. I had some bread in my hand and wasn't paying attention, and up snuck the goat and chomped down on my fingers. It broke the skin, and after washing it, reading the med book, and lots of deliberation, I decided to call the doctors to see if I needed any treatment. I woke up this morning with a red, sore, puffy finger, so I think I made the right choice. The good news is, goats can't carry rabies, so no risk there. I did, however, have to get a tetnus shot and am now on antibiotics. There are some things about Benin that I don't think I'll miss much!
I would say that I am overall quite happy right now, though I'm really stressed out. It's the end of the school year (last week teaching!), which means typing and grading exams and calculating year-end grades, and my end of the year report to Peace Corps. Camp GLOW is 3.5 weeks away. And now I have all my mountains of COS paperwork to fill out. So, I'll do my best to keep updating. Not sure when the next time I'll have internet access is, probably in two weeks or so when I'll come down to put the finishing touches on Camp GLOW. I'm going to try and spend as much time in Lobogo in these last few months as possible.
Quick explanation of the pictures: Mari's birthday party, the bachelorette party, the press crowding in front of the podium so the audience can't see a thing, as is usual here in Benin, the kittens!, a pink chicken (people dye them to identify which one is theirs), and one of my students who showed up as a Pink Lady one day!