Monday, December 20, 2010

Introducing the Newest Addition to Challa-Ogoi....

Born during repos on Tuesday, December 14th....


Hahah. I was really honored and taken aback. She’s the first child of my neighbor woman and the father is the Town Drummer (who I know has other kids, so I think multiple wives, not sure where they are though).

This picture was taken less than 2 hours after she was born; we had to track down batteries for my camera, otherwise it would have been like, 2 seconds after being born.

There are a lot more pictures in this album. I just give Barakat my camera and she takes tons of pictures.

When I get to America

I will probably (at least for a little while)…..

-wear a pagne ‘dress’ 24/7 (I’m bringing pagnes back for everyone, most convenient thing ever)

-eat everything with my (right) hand (everything is eaten with the hands, ragou (like pudding but made with yams), rice and beans, yam pilee (think mashed potatoes), etc. Only the right hand because the left hand is the dirty hand in Nagot….I buy tp in the big city so my left hand isn’t actually dirty, but peoples’ jaws drop if they see me use my left hand, so I’m pretty good about remembering now)

-never use my left hand for anything (^)

-only paint the nails on my left hand (^)

-always have braided hair (so easy and convenient…but actually probably not depending on my job)

-hold strangers’ babies (probably not, but imagining an American just handing their baby off to me because they needed to do something made me laugh)

-be freezing

-be really excited to see toilets and especially toilet paper

-not wear make-up (it’s heaven)

-drink water from any cup within reach, not necessarily mine (there’s like 1-2 cups of water per table/group, we share everything here)

-this is horrible, but it might accidentally happen….throw my trash anywhere and everywhere, wherever I happen to be standing. We all do it and we all feel really guilty…there aren’t trash cans. (At post I burn my trash, throw it in my latrine or give it to kids…they want it, also, at school there’s a trash can and I always use it..and I’m the only one and other teachers laugh at me)

-talk to people in a messed up mix of English, French and Nagot (my village basically only speaks Nagot, at school, in cities and while traveling I speak French, seeing volunteers I definitely speak Franglais)

-eat disgusting/bland food because I have no taste buds (I wish I could explain pate better, but basically it’s tasteless goo paste made from corn flour used to eat sauce)

-eat raging hot/spicy foods because it doesn’t faze me (seriously, I eat spicey spaghetti way too much)

-‘saluer’ (greet) every single person that I see:
- (like this: ‘Good morning, how are you? How did you sleep? How did you wake up? How is your health? How is your husband/wife? How are your kids? How is your home? Ok, I’m going to work now, I will see you at ___. Good sit (if they’re sitting). Eat well (if they’re eating). Have a good day.’

-Miss my village a lot, as well as the rain, watching goats, sitting with mamans, sling shotting with the boys, my girls, my girls playing with my hair, teaching (here), holding babies, seeing babies everywhere, buckets of cold water during the hottest part of the day, being able to validate going to sleep at 7:30 because it’s dark and candles are expensive, taxis (I may complain, but there’s always some hilarity, or I can reminisce and laugh), yam pilee, my family, everyone.

That last bit is kind of sappy, but I was just thinking about how much I love Benin, especially Challa, and how weird it is that after two years it’s a likely possibility that I will never be back. Beninese ask me all the time why I just come and then leave. It is kind of strange, I never know what to say in response...

Saturday, December 4, 2010

November Update

I lost interest in writing blogs for a while, and now that I’m trying to update, I don’t really know what to say. A lot has happened in my little corner of Africa…not really. bahah...but I did manage to write a ridiculously long blog post anyway. :)

First, the picture is of Harrison (and my foot). We were sitting on top of the hill in my village. Every morning I take him on walks and we either go up there or through the cashew 'orchard.' I posted more pictures on facebook last time I was here, they're all online (link is at the bottom). I have more pictures from Thanksgiving, but I forgot to bring my camera.

Anyway, teaching is going well; we have devoirs (examinations) next week. I became our school’s secretary this past week and typed up all the devoirs and they’re all (except for English class, obviously) in French. It was boring and it took forever (I typed with an English keyboard then went back and did accents). Other teachers and my director were in awe over how fast I type, it was hilarious. My director bought me two cokes on Thursday because of all my extra work.

I love my 6eme students, I teach all of the 6eme students at our school, which is really convenient for tests (they all take the same one). 6eme is first year English and they’re just adorable, fun and enthusiastic. I teach my three 6eme classes on Mondays and Thursdays, 8am-10am and 10am-12pm and 3pm-5pm. I mostly despise my one 5eme class. They’re horrible. They misbehave so much and it takes a lot of effort to get them involved in the class. Plus, they don’t remember anything from 6eme and the first 2 weeks was review.

I had to go to Cotonou for a follow up appointment on December 19th, Cotonou is always nice. I hate getting there and coming back, but the air conditioning, hot showers and delicious food always makes up for it. I got back to post Saturday and then Sunday had to leave for Parakou. Sunday through Thursday all the TEFLers had training! It was SO FUN!! It was great to be back in our group again. Wednesday night we did TEFLganger party which was ridiculous, hilarious and chaos did ensue. Brandon was me and was wearing my giraffe print tank dress, I have pictures, but I forgot to bring my camera here. I was Lauren and wore her signature outfit and bandana and

We had a TEFL Thanksgiving and it was great! It’s probably the most ‘homesick’ I’ve felt because I’ve never been away from home. I did get to talk to my mom, sister and grandma though which was good. I shouldn't say we, because I just made brownies, but a lot of people came together and made an AMAZING meal. The guard at the Peace Corps Parakou workstation killed the turkey, and then Katy and Jenny cleaned it or whatever and cooked it, and it was delicious. There was also stuffing (from baguettes), mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese (laughing cow cheese), fried potatoes, rolls, baguettes with garlic oil (amazing), SALAD (I miss it so much), fruit salad and lots of adult beverages. We all went around and said what we were thankful for and it was adorable and sappy and a great Thanksgiving!

I went back to village Friday. Then on Saturday the Phantom Oro was out during the day, he/it/they started at like 9:30am. It was so funny, I was just doing chores around the house and just had a pagne (2 meters of fabric used for everything) on as a wrap dress. This ancient old man came to the door and I said be right there and went to grap something to cover my shoulders, when I came back my front door was closed haha. Then I heard the chant of the phantom. I thought that was sweet.

When the phantom is out (usually at night), women have to stay inside with doors and windows closed. Incidentally, my friend Obden also visited that day. I didn’t think it would be a big deal because he’s a man. I guess it took him a while to find a zem to take him to my village (I’m a 15/20 minute zem ride from the highway). Luckily the Phantom went on repos (nap) shortly after he arrived (1pm), so we went to visit different people. While we were talking to a family people started shrieking and yelling that phantom was coming so we had to run back to my house and I could not stop laughing…oh voodoo… then the phantom went on repos again and we came back out and visited lots more people, ate rice and beans, visited Papa Challa and the buvette and the phantom didn’t return again, yay!
He is still out at night though. I feel like it’s just perma-phantom time in Challa-Ogoi. During my 9 weeks in Porto Novo their “Oro” only came out 2 nights. Maybe phantom is different, or maybe the men in my village just want an excuse to party every night.

Anyway, now I’m in Parakou, I got here yesterday morning and searched for a place to get a Burkina Faso visa…it’s not possible. So I have to go to Cotonou before I can go to Mali. If I get a visa on the boarder it’s 120mille, if I buy it in advance it’s only 61mille. (only…that’s $120, so almost an entire months’ salary). Anyway, it will be worth it, I’m SO EXCITED to go to Mali and see Dogon Country and the Nile River and everything else we’re doing!

I did have to come back here anyway, I wanted to type up my English devoirs and get them copied, and I had to print another vacation request form and a few other forms for a secondary project I have in the works. PLUS, I got to skype my family!! The Parakou workstation got satellite internet!!! I was able to see and talk to everyone for over 2 hours, for FREE! My cousin Cali is so freaking adorable and I’m so thankful to Peace Corps for putting satellite internet in. I didn’t realize how much I missed everyone until today, but it was such a great pick me up. Yay. 

Anyway, that was a big highlight for me. Oh and on a completely unrelated note, I’m 99% sure I have giardia, I won’t give you the details, but I have every symptom, and it sucks. So, I’m going to call the doctors tomorrow and see what they want me to do…probably go to Cotonou. Convenient for me, but I will have to starve myself to ensure that said symptoms don’t affect my taxi or bus ride down.

BUS! On my way down to Cotonou for my appointment I got a bus, it was fantastic. I was standing there on the highway and this bus slows down and a guy yells “COTONOU??” and I, starting to run, yell back, “YES!?” and then he motions me to get on and I jumped on a moving bus. It was really exciting and then the best, most comfortable, efficient ride of my life in Benin. I got a whole row to myself and was able to sleep.

Ummm…my birthday is on Sunday (December 5th)!

Also, I ate slugs in village, they were DISGUSTING, but they were served to me and probably good because they have protein (I think?).

I don’t know what else to say…
I posted a lot more pictures, so check them out here:

I leave for my trip to Mali on December 20th and get back January 2nd; I plan to stay at post for all of January though, so, if that actually happens I won’t be back online until February.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Some Random Pictures and Clubbing in Cotonou

I am LEAVING the med unit tomorrow (Wednesday, October 20th) by 8am! I'm going with two PCVL (Peace Corps Volunteer Leaders), so we will have a taxi to ourselves, which means no random stopping and we get our own seats. I'm so excited and happy to return to village!! (I do have to return for one night in a month, but that's a month away and I'll only be here for a quick blood test and then I'm finished.)

The photo uploader is down, so I will just provide this link to 30+ random photos (you don't need facebook) -

There are photos of the Peace Corps Bureau, food, tan lines, my hair and clubbing in Cotonou.

Clubbing was friend Lissa and I went with two other volunteers, Sam and Antonio. We didn't go until midnight, which is normal here (apparently), and we didn't leave until 5am, which is normal as well. Actually, when we left, the club was the busiest I had seen it!

It was SO FUN!! It was great to hang out with Lissa and do something so random and ridiculous. We had to dodge creepers more so than in normal daily life (but, not that much more). It was much easier since we were with two men, and could point and say they were our husbands.

Walking back to the Bureau we stopped at the 'cafeteria' which is across the street and is open 24/7. They serve spicy (pimente) omelettes, baguettes, porridge, spicy spaghetti, nescafe powder coffee and tea. They also put mayonaise on EVERYTHING. I have to reiterate multiple times for them not to give me mayo. I always get half a baguette with a one egg omelette (no pimente)and margarine for 20 cents. ANYWAY, we all got omelette sandwiches and casually mentioned the 3 giant rats we saw before realizing how gross it was and leaving after the 4th one. This amuses me because if I had been in America I would have FLIPPED out, but now, rats don't really phase me....I see dead ones being sold on the street all the time (yum...).

Saturday, October 16, 2010

“Beninese mathematics are incredible. They’ve turned a 5 seater into a 9 seater. REVOLUTIONARY” – Erik English

The title of this blog is a text from my friend Erik which very accurately describes traveling in Benin. He was going up north today and after waiting several hours for a taxi was crammed into a car with 8 other people. Oh Benin.

Steps to travel out of my village:
1. Call Nicolas the zem driver, or see him in village, tell him that I want to go Anseke the next morning to wait for a taxi on the gidron (highway).
2.Eat breakfast, eat seconds, eat thirds, learn Nagot, listen/watch people gossiping, and inform everyone that I’m leaving, why I’m leaving, who I’ll see and when I’ll be back then answer any further questions they may have.
3.Nicolas meets me at breakfast place and after greeting people we head to Anseke.
4.Nicolas is the NICEST guy ever and sits with me on the side of the highway and helps me wave down cars and busses. Whenever a car goes by I jump, wave and yell, “PARAKOU!!!” or “COTONOU!!!” hahahah, so fun and funny…I actually enjoy that part because of the ridiculousness.
5.Get a sun burn, talk to the peanut and gasoline vendors, chat with Nicolas.
6.A car pulls over, a man who just arrived steals the spot (it happened, ugh!)
7.Another car pulls over, Nicolas talks to the driver in local language (very helpful) and I greet him and the passengers and try to look friendly and compactable.
8.I’m instructed where to sit, I’ve been given the shot gun seat all but one time. (I had to switch taxis once and got put in the death seat…the middle front, on the center nothing/console/e –brake.)
- I like the shot gun seat the best, besides getting sun burnt, I get to hang my head out the window and breathe.
**3-4 people sit in the front two seats and 4-5 people sit in the back 3 seats**

It all depends on luck…..
- Going to Parakou took me almost 5 hours and 3 taxis (the first two broke down).
- Going back home from Parakou took 1.5 hours…however, I did wait at the taxi gare for TWO hours for the taxi to leave. I still don’t understand why it took so long. I even asked to pay for two seats (the front seat, which is actually 2 seats in Benin) and he said yes, but then filled my 2nd seat!
- Going to Challa Ogoi on move in day took 12 hours, on post visit day it took 8 hours, to get to Cotonou last Wednesday took me 7 hours
- On my recent trip to Cotonou I got a free ride halfway here. A really nice old man in a Mercedes Benz gave me a ride all the way to Dassa! It was WONDERFUL! Nicolas talked to him first and told him I was weak and sick, and he was insistent on giving me a (free) ride. We talked about Peace Corps (which he knew about), his CEG (he’s a principal), teaching, living in Benin, America and the differences, etc. I was really thirsty at one point so we stopped at a Buvette in a village along the way and I bought a coke, he ordered a beer and I insisted on paying for it, after a few minutes he finally let me. We stopped one other time so I could meet his daughter, and he could give her a package. In Dassa he stopped a taxi van and got me a seat, it was really really nice!! Vans are slightly better, but still cramped, and I didn’t have a window seat, but I was really zoned out and sick so I don’t even really remember those 5 hours.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

2am Update/Mosquitoes

First, I just woke myself up in the movie room at the workstation because I was furiously scratching my arms and face....3 new giant bites on my FACE and 7 on my arms. UGH!! The hall window was open so now I'm deformed and in pain.

Second, I have been in Cotonou for over a week now, I'm praying I get to go home Saturday morning. I think I'm just going to have to stop hoping for anything. I wanted to go home Monday, well, I never wanted to be here, but I really really wanted to be home by Monday. Cotonou is boring and expensive and dirty. Plus, I feel like I'm living in a college dorm again.

I will update you about my last two weeks at post, trip to Parakou, taxis, my pets and my week in Cotonou all tomorrow. I've been watching movies, facebook chatting and just wandering and exploring Cotonou every day.

OH! Today I bought a camera, so I will share some Cotonou photos, I also took some of my foot tan lines, hair and food (haha). I'm even more excited to go back home now so I can get photos of my village and friends for you all!

Anyway, as it's after 2am here, I'm going to bid you all goodnight and go to sleep.

Until tomorrow,

Sunday, October 10, 2010

One Week in Challa Ogoï, A Day in Village and Church

Map of my village (kind of, there are way more houses, and it's not to scale or really that accurate, but that kind of gives you an idea)

Map of my house!

Tuesday, September 28th

So I’ve been at post just over a week. I LOVE my village, I could not be happier. I already feel like I’m at home and feel like the luckiest volunteer because I think my post is definitely the best 

Challa Ogoï is really tiny, but for what we don’t have here, people and community totally makes up for it. I love everyone here!

This week I’ve been busy rearranging and cleaning. I’ve swept all the walls and floors, dusted all the furniture and then bleach water cleaned all the furniture and the floors. It feels new and clean. I decided I didn’t want to do tile, and I don’t think I want to paint either. I actually am a little embarrassed and uncomfortable by how nice my house is. It’s probably the nicest house in my village, and I just have so much stuff. I think tile would just be over the top and ridiculous.

Getting my house in order had taken a while because I spend a lot of time meeting and spending time with people in my village. I want to get to know people and be a presence in the village. Plus, I want friends! Haha.

Anyway, here’s what a day looks like (school doesn’t start for a couple weeks):

5:30am/6am – Gong/Drum goes off
6ish am – let Harrison outside, feed him
6:20am – crawl back into bed, be attacked by Harrison and Moose, listen to people sweeping, singing, greeting each other
7am – get up, sweep, make bed, get ready for the day

8am – 9/9:30am – Walk to breakfast, sit and talk, greet people, meet people for an hour or so, eat WAY too much and feel really really full. Breakfast is soo good. It’s little fried bean flour dough balls and bouillie, which is like porridge. In Nagot it’s ika and koko.

9:30am-1pm– walk around, talk to random people, sit under trees in silence with people, talk to kids, wonder what to do until lunch time, organize my house, rearrange, go through the mass load of peace corps paperwork, greet everyone who comes to my house, paint kid’s nails, play with Harrison and Moose, sweep, etc

12pm/1pm – Lunch with bean lady. 100 F for a delicious heaping plate of perfectly steamed white rice and perfectly cooked (without piment) brown/pinto (?) beans and red sauce. I LOVE and look forward to this lunch every day, I think because I was so deprived in Porto Novo. Bean lady sits and watches me eat every day, she speaks some French. She sat by me at church and helped me figure out what to do too.

1pm/2pm – 3pm/4pm: Shower time, nap time, reading in bed time. When school is in session 12pm-3pm is repose every day.

4pm-7pm: Hang out with Taoffics, think about what I’m going to eat for dinner, ask other people what they’re eating for dinner, get invited to dinner at their house, walk around and greet other side of village, have kids show me around, walk through 'marche,' perhaps buy some tomatoes and pretend like I’m going to cook…later give tomatoes away because I’m eating dinner with people

7pm/8pm: Dinner, yam pillet with neighbors, Taoffics 3 times this week.

8pm-11pm: reading by candle light, listening to sounds of Challa.

And repeat!

School supposedly starts October 4th and this will be way different, I don’t think school will really start until the following week though, or the one after that.

I’m going to Parakou this Friday to do banking and buy a couple things. I’m just going to go for the day because I don’t want to leave behind Harrison and Moose overnight.

Sunday I went to the Protestant church…it was interesting. I thought it was supposed to start at 9, so I arrived at breakfast at 8:15am. I ate breakfast, talked and listened to gossip and then began wondering why we were still sitting there at 8:50am. At about 9:15am a maman tells me that church starts at 10am. Ok, that’s fine, I just decided to hang out until then. At around 10:20am we meander over to the church. Church finally starts at 11:30am. This is Benin. Three months ago I would have freaked out. Now, it doesn’t even phase me. This is normal for Benin, this is why I carry a book with me at all times.

Anyway, church. The men sit on the left side, the women on the right, the eligible women sit in a section in the front right and the kids sit/lay in a little area between the women and eligible women. I went with the maman who makes ika (bean gateaux at breakfast) and rice and beans maman. Rice and beans maman sat next to me in the womens’ section. I was instructed to sit with the eligible women, but I said I wasn’t really eligible because I didn’t want to get married for at least ten years. This was amusing for them, but they accepted after some joking around. Well, at the end of service the Censure from my school (kind of like vice principal) stands up and announces that I’m actually single, I just didn’t want to sit in the eligible women section. Three men stood up and rice and beans maman told me that they would marry me. Great, thanks!

Shopping for Post, Pets and Hair

(10/11/10 - These pictures are from last week, Moose has probably doubled in size since I bought him/her. They're best friends now and both sleep with me and Moose is the sweetest, most cuddly cat ever now, and he eats bugs!!)

Sunday, September 19th

Tomorrow I head to Challa-Ogoï! I’m so so excited. Stephanie, Michael and I will be sharing a van ride to our posts. I am dreading what a packed ride it’s going to be because I have a ton of stuff. We each have a mattress, bicycle, large metal chest, water filter, two buckets, luggage, plus whatever we may have bought to pack into one van. I am trying not to dwell on it.

So, surprise, I have a kitten and a puppy! Yesterday, Saturday, I met Jenny at the Grand Marche to buy stuff and get a kitten with her. I got there first and bought a ton of tissu (material to get clothes made), and other supplies I think I might need: toilet paper, a bucket, a plastic bowl, a scrubber, popcorn, flour, sugar, pasta, margarine, tomato paste and cookies.

When Jenny got there we walked to the lady I knew had kittens (in the meat section) and they had us sit down. Well, they brought out TWO kittens and they were adorable. They’re from the same litter and Jenny’s is probably double the size of mine. She didn’t think I should by mine, but I kind of want to save him or her. She’s so flipping cute: orange, gray, black and white and really really tiny. She’s kind of mean, but I imagine she’ll get used to me. The zem ride home was horrible, she was super pissed off and wouldn’t stop hissing and meowing. I would too if I was shoved in a box.

She has gotten nicer and nicer and is already purring when I pet her. However, I also got my puppy today! Now my kitten hates me even more! But, he is SO ADORABLE!! He is pretty small, but sturdy and healthy and clean. He’s black with white paws and a white tip tail and some tan areas, for example, two little tan eyebrows. He’s so cuddly and friendly and calm. Kristen has been calling him Indy, for ‘Independent’ because he just kind of does his own thing while his three siblings play. I haven’t decided what I want to call him yet, but I like human names for dogs, so I’m probably going to change it.

I also got my hair tressed today. It took SIX hours, but it looks sooo cool. I wish I had a camera because I can’t really explain it. It’s definitely my favorite tress style thus far.

Jenny left for her post today, so crazy! She is way up in the NE corner; we’re about six hours apart. We parted ways last night in a monsoon of rain, I walked back home in knee deep ‘mersa’ water as I like to call it. I can’t believe I’m leaving tomorrow, SO excited!

Swear In Ceremony

Saturday, September 18th

On Friday I became an official Peace Corps Volunteer! There was a surprisingly short ceremony at the ambassador’s house in Cotonou, we (the trainees) repeated an oath and now we’re all official. Yay! It was actually really fun, the ambassador’s house is gorgeous! It was overwhelming to be in such a nice place. He and his wife are extremely personable and nice as well. His wife wasn’t even phased when I was gushing about the wonderful bathroom and the mirrors…I never see mirrors!

It was dumping rain throughout most of the ceremony, but we were luckily shuttled back to the Bureau. A group of us managed to get shuttles to Erevan which is this giant American like store in Cotonou with pretty much anything you want. Everything was ridiculously expensive (small thing of maple syrup was $14). I bought Pringles, two snickers bars, cleaning gloves, incense and lots of stuff for a puppy!! I bought dry puppy food, a few things of wet dog food, a collar and a flea collar! I’m definitely going to get a puppy I decided. Maybe if I have a rodent or bug problem I’ll get a kitten later, but I think a puppy will be better companionship at my post. Plus, to be honest, I’ve never lived alone and I’m a huge wuss, so a puppy will aid with that too. :)

When I got back to the Bureau I was sitting in the lounge and heard Kristen, a 3rd year volunteer talking about how she needed to find homes for her puppies! It was so perfect, I already had bought the stuff. So, she and I are going to meet tomorrow (Sunday) and I’m going to take one of her puppies. She thinks they’re around seven weeks old. I don’t know if I’ll get a boy or a girl or what he or she will look like, but I’m so excited! Especially to be getting one from an American. Beninese just don’t really care about dogs. The puppy my host family has is so food crazed and psychotic, I would never want to take her. I’m not sure if they got her like that, or if it’s just because they feed her pate (nutritionless carb) and keep her chained 24/7, but I just feel better about getting a puppy from an American. Anyway, I’ll let you know what he or she is like!

After Erevan and talking to Kristen, me, Jenny and Lissa went to a restaurant and bought these sandwich/wrap things called shawarma. It was SO good! Grilled chicken, tomato, cabbage, pepper and sauce (ketchup and mayo), all grilled together in the wrap. Mmmm. I love food in Cotonou :)

Finally, we were all shuttled back to Porto Novo. We had a party at a hotel, and all stayed the night. It was fun to relax, dress like an American, and have one final get together with the whole group. I don’t think we’ll all be together again until our close of service meeting two years from now, weird!

Not So Wonderful Things About Benin.

(I wrote this on September 14th while still living in Porto Novo, it's more about Porto Novo than Benin, none of these, besides mosquitoes apply to my life in village)

Disclaimer: I already posted wonderful things about Benin and added to the list today.

1. Mosquitoes
- Mosquito bites
- Mosquito nets (though it’s fantastic for scratching mosquito bites)
- Daily Malaria medication

2. Sand
-Think about going to the beach and trying to de sand yourself before you get back in the car and the itchy feeling you have because it’s impossible…now, think about having that same feeling every single day.
- Sweeping every day

3. YOVO!!
- This should be number one. I hate hate hate the word Yovo. It means white person or foreigner and children SCREAM it, they freak out when they see you and repeat it as loudly and as obnoxiously as possible, or they sing a stupid song, “Yovo Yovo Bonsoir, ca va bien, merci” over and over again. It’s even more annoying when adults use it, but I can tell when they’re just greeting versus when they’re being obnoxious.
- Unless it’s an old person, I do not respond to yovo. Ninety percent of the time I completely ignore it. Sometimes if kids are following me, insistent on getting me to say something I’ll give them a mean lecture (I have a name, yovo is impolite, ask me my name, or just: It’s MADAME!). They either run away terrified, or attempt saying my name or say Madame and I respond and ask their name, how their day is, etc.
- PS: I remember reading blogs and thinking, oh it can’t be that bad, and they should just get used to it, blah blah blah. It IS that bad!! You cannot understand unless you’ve lived here for more than a couple weeks. I remember the first few days thinking, oh how cute and waving and smiling, etc. Now, I want to yell at all every child who utters the word! !!! 

4. Give me a gift, give me a money
- There is a huge misconception that all Americans are rich. I couldn’t afford to give handouts in the United States either, but I especially can’t now! Children, adults, even students ask for money, gifts, my shoes, etc every day. Usually I just ask for something in return and they look confused then I say I’m a poor volunteer.
- Interesting fact: My living stipend is $180/month, in Philadelphia we all received $220 for food for one and a half days.

5. No, I will not marry you.
- So many of the men are so self consumed they will just tell me to marry them, or just be perves and continue to antagonize. Most of the time I’m able to joke and that’s the best way to get them to lay off, but if I’m in a bad mood (walking to or from school in 180 degree weather), I CANNOT joke, DO NOT TOUCH ME, I am a demon and will freak out in the meanest French insults I can come up with (you are not intelligent, you are young, you are not handsome, you are annoying, do not speak to me, you are impolite).
- When I’m not in a bad mood I can joke and tease them. Often times they will ask for your bride price and I’ll say something like a new house, a new car, 500 cows, etc. This always gets a laugh. Or the other good one is to say, I need a husband to do the cooking and cleaning and to take care of the children, it always gets a laugh too. Some people say they already have three husbands, would you like to be the fourth? Etc.

Trip to Quidah

Sunday, September 12th

Yesterday, Saturday, all of us stagiaires went to Quidah on a field trip. Quidah is the most well known historical, cultural and tourist spot in Benin. There is a wonderful museum with information about the history of Benin (Kingdom of Dahomey), the first kings and people and traditions and culture. There is also a lot of information, paintings and other artwork about the slave trade, starting with the Portuguese, whom shipped slaves to Brazil and Portugal. We walked through the museum first.

We also visited the slave graveyard on the walk to the Point of No Return. Millions of slaves died in route to the ships due to horrific conditions, starvation, etc and were mass piled in the graveyard. The Point of No Return is right on the beach, our guide told us that to say goodbye to their country and family slaves would walk around a tree, 5 times if they were a woman and 7 times if they were a man. *I think.* I am definitely going to return to Quidah sometime soon because it was REALLY difficult to be in such a large group, especially because I was really interested and wanted to learn more about everything. There were a lot of people just not interested and talking and it was difficult to hear our guide, plus we were limited on time. They only split us into two groups, so it was 30-35 people per group to one guide. I would write more, but I can’t be sure about what I heard. I talked to my Papa more about it when I got home, but he didn’t really know that much. It was still really intense and emotional. The paintings spoke for themselves in many instances. There were also original slave chains in one section of the museum.

We also visited the Sacred Forest and the Temple of Pythons. These were more cultural sites with a lot of Voodoo stuff. It was raining and I was behind so I heard nothing at the Sacred Forest, but it was gorgeous and peaceful and had lots of interesting statues (and huge millipedes!). I wish I had a camera!! The Temple of Pythons was really fun. Pythons are sacred protectors in Voodoo.

We arrived at the Python Temple and were ushered inside past a group of people intensely praying in a little room, with a tiny goat chained up outside. After the prayer room is a weird dome shaped room where all the snakes are kept and a man just brings out these pythons and hands them to people. (I couldn’t help pondering how that lax behavior with snakes would never fly in America because of insurance costs and fear of being sued haha). Anyway, I have no fear of snakes and Rosa, Jared and I walked up and took a couple. Tons of people took pictures so someday they will be on facebook or other blogs. It was fun to help people who were scared hold the snakes and put them on their necks for photos and such. At one point I was holding four pythons.

My friend Jenny and I wanted a photo together so I went back and grabbed two and suddenly was swept up by this large group of Africans (I’m guessing Togolese or Beninese because they didn’t speak English, Nigerians). I took at least 20 photos with this group. They had me hold the two snakes and they would pose with me for their photographer. At one point I was handed a baby and told to hold the snake next to the baby. It was hilarious. My friend Dione got a picture of them posing with me. I’m not sure if it was just because I am white and also an ‘attraction’ like the snakes, or a combo of that and them not wanting to hold snakes alone. It was SO FUNNY though. I wish I had had a video camera for that particular adventure. Anyway, a little bit later I turned around to leave the temple and there was the poor baby goat, slit throat, sacrificed to the Gods RIGHT in front of us, it was so gross. I’ve seen lots of chickens butchered but it was way more sad to see the cute little goat in a puddle of blood. 

And yes, that’s how this blog will end. Haha.

One Night in Cotonou (mostly reminiscing about food)

Saturday, September 4th

Thursday night I was shuttled to Peace Corps headquarters in Cotonou because I needed my 2nd post exposure rabies shot on Friday morning. This meant that I got to stay overnight in the medical ward where there is air conditioning!! I was freezing; it was so glorious; I slept with a sheet and a blanket! I also took two hot showers. I’m going to buy the puppy something really delicious because it was the best way to celebrate my 50th day in Benin!

Thursday Night
- Beachside bar right on the water with eight other volunteers.
- Watching the sunset from said bar
- Having a Pepsi, even though I prefer Coke, it reminded me of America and family hahah (Cotonou is the only place where they have anything besides Coke).
- Buying a delicious plate of food for 1500F ($3) at the restaurant called Plate of Food. It included a heaping pile of freshly made fries, fried chicken and a huge green romaine-like salad with real salad dressing –not mayonnaise - and tons of fresh veggies!
- Ice Cream at Baguette Dorr, one scoop chocolate, one scoop vanilla/chocolate in a bowl with a cone (1000F - $2). Best ice cream in Benin, according to every PC person, and I concur, it was amazing.
- Seriously considering buying a 2nd dinner at Baguette Dorr when two other volunteers bought double cheeseburgers, including AMERICAN CHEESE and french fries on the burger….next time
- Watching the newish Leonardo DiCaprio movie, Inception, which was FANTASTIC.
- Hanging out with volunteers, exploring the bureau (headquarters), free internet

- Waking up freezing
- Missing the 7:30am shuttle back to Porto Novo (not my fault!)
- Free oatmeal for breakfast
- Watching a movie so painfully bad it was funny, with PCV Kara (2nd Sex and the City movie).
- Lunch at Mandarin: BEST FOOD ever! I got “Mandarin Maniceesh (spelling?). Everyone got a Maniceesh, Erik and I got the Mandarin one which includes chicken, diced tomatoes and onion and delicious cheese (2500F, $5). They’re basically pizzas, but the pizza dough reminds me of naan (Indian bread). Erin and Colleen got Formage Maniceesh (1500F, $3) which is cheese, but the waiter brings out fresh veggies to eat with them. It was also delicious. Oh, and Erik got meat hummus (hummus with a pile of ground meat in the middle), it was served with small bread rounds (like naan as well), and was surprisingly tasty as well. I dreamt about Mandarin last night, it was that good. When you all visit me I will take you there.
- Watching Inception again (AND, Erik is going to put it on my external hard drive, yay!!)
- Napping in a freezing, air conditioned room
- Free, PC, air conditioned shuttle back to Porto Novo with four other volunteers, one other stagiaire (trainee like me), and two facilitators

And, here I am. Back in Porto Novo….back to stage. I cannot wait to be sworn in and get to post and have freedom, privacy and hopefully sleep! Also, next time I go to Cotonou I will bring more money so I can gorge more. 


Friday, September 3rd

I’ve finished three weeks of model school and have one more to go! It’s hard to believe how fast it’s gone by. I was extremely nervous to begin model school, but have ended up LOVING it! Even with 60+ students in a class, I still love teaching. I’m not surprised because I’ve always considered becoming a teacher. I will definitely know if it’s the right choice for me after two years of teaching full time, but right now, I can definitely envision myself continuing to teach when I get back to the States.

Classroom management amuses me because I still feel so young and slightly bad. I was one of those kids who was always sent out of the class, moved to the front (or back) of class, on ‘steps,’ etc. I wasn’t a ‘trouble maker,’ but I was definitely a ‘distraction’ all through K-12. I just talk/talked too much. I got over interrupting around 9th grade, but I could never shut up. I thought as a teacher I would empathize with these students, because I know I didn’t even realize I was doing it a lot of times. BUT, I do not. I empathize with my old teachers and implore their forgiveness for being SO ANNOYING!! I still like these students because they are funny, usually smart and not like the malicious trouble makers (attention seeking boys), but omg, side conversations and blurting answers is REALLY annoying! Haha.

My favorite strategy for dealing with bad classroom behavior is embarrassment. For example, calling on students when they’re not paying attention and they can’t answer the question, changing students’ seats, or having them sit up front by me. Some teachers make their students stand in the corner of the room, facing the corner, but I haven’t yet had to resort to that.

For late students I haven’t really decided what I want to do in terms of punishment. I don’t want to send them home, but it’s really annoying when they come in late! (Sorry every first period teacher I had junior and senior year of high school). At post I won’t send them to the censure because they’ll be beaten. My school at least doesn’t use chains or whips, but they do use sticks/wood. One, I’m not morally ok with that type of corporal punishment and two, it’s actually against the law in Benin (but not enforced, anywhere). I think I may have them stay after class double however many minutes they were late, or write sentences. Hopefully my students won’t be late as much as the students in model school are, because students’ families will be paying for school. We offer model school for free, it’s like free English classes for redoublants (grade repeaters) and students who just want to improve.

When I get to post I will be teaching four classes. Three 6eme classes (like 6th grade) and one 5eme class (7th grade). Second semester I may teach 4eme (8th grade). My favorite grade to teach is 6eme because it’s their first year of English class (first year of l’ecole secondaire/middle school too) and they’re just funnier, cuter and they like singing and games!

PS: There are four grades in l’ecole secondaire: 6eme, 5eme, 4eme and 3eme. They all must take English, French, Math and Science, but they choose their 5th class, I think. It’s probably different in my village because of resources. I’ll let you know!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Baking and Laundry in Benin

I just wanted to share with all you Americans how to do laundry by hand (in Benin) and how to bake without an oven!

1. Evenly fill a giant pot with 2-3inches of sand.
2. Place 2-3 small (tuna/tomato paste size) empty cans face down in the center of the pot.
3. Place lid on pot then put pot on burner with low to medium flame (pre-heating stage).
4. Prepare your dough and place in a small baking dish.
5. Place baking dish on cans, making sure it does not touch the sides of the pot.
6. Return lid and bake for probably double the time it would normally take.
(Variation: turn your baking dish upside down for a baking sheet).


Sunday is my 'Laundry Day'
There are two ways, the first few weeks I did it the way my Mama taught me:

Real Beninese Way
1. Separate clothes by color, things you fear may 'bleed' (new tisu for example), and what is absolutely necessary, because laundry is a PAIN. I for example have yet to wash the jeans I wore in Philadelphia.
2. Take 3-5 items, dunk in water, then scrub each item with a bar of laundry soap, collar, armits, etc. Mix around in the soapy water, knead the clothes, etc.
3. Squeeze excess water from each item of clothing then move to a new bucket with clean water. Soap again (not as much), knead clothes, etc.
4. Squeeze out each item again and put in a different basin with clean water, mix around, 'rinse.'
5. Squeeze excess water from each item again and put into another 'rinse' basin, hopefully get all of the soap out.
6. Squeeze excess water and hang everything to dry and pray that it doesn't dump rain (which it inevitably will).
**Your hands will be raw and red and throbbing**

My New, Easier (I think) Way
1. Buy laundry powder soap
2. Dump powder in bucket and fill with water
3. If any of the clothes you want to wash have stains, rub water and bar soap on the stain, or if anything is really dirty, scrub appropriate area with bar soap (I think I'll be getting a stain stick from America soon, YAY).
4. Place similar color clothing in bucket, swish around, dunk, put lid on bucket and let set for an hour or two or however long you want.
5. One by one remove items and squeeze out excess water.
6. In a shallow basin with 1-2 inches of clean water, rinse clothes one-by-one.
7. Rinse twice, and hang to dry.
**Hands will still be red and raw with this method**

Akon + Food Poisoning

Friday afternoon we were told that it was unsafe for stagiaires (trainees) to attend the Akon concert and we were forbidden to be in Cotonou on Saturday. This would have been really sad for me, but I ended up having food poisoning and was really sick Friday-Sunday anyway. I'm pretty much better now, but I will just say that food poisoning without running water is a HUGE pain! The water and therefore toilet at my host house wasn't working, so I had to get buckets of water from the well to 'flush' the toilet. When you're trying everything not to barf it's really difficult to pull water.

SO, no Akon. It slightly bothers me that they would forbid something like that, because we all are adults, but since it didn't affect me this time, I won't worry about it. I totally understand why they have certain rules and restrictions (like requiring helmets and forbidding travel to Nigeria), but the Akon thing seemed pretty silly. They even strongly encouraged current Volunteers (who have been here for a year or two already) to not go to the concert and to "think seriously about their safety."

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Best of Benin

- Babies (baby humans, baby goats, piglets, chicks, puppies, kittens, they're all just so freaking cute!)
- Communal care of babies (Mama's and others have no issue handing you their adorable baby)

- My students, they made my day today (and do every day). I had to face the board silently laughing for a good 30 seconds this morning.
- My students' accent when the speak English (that I'm quickly picking up)
- Teaching

- The people, everyone here is so much happier than Americans are, and they are always SO happy to see you!

- "Saluating" (greeting): you do it. to every person you see. "Hello, how are you, how is your health, how is your family, how are the kids, how is the house, how is the market," etc etc etc.

- My host family, I have the BEST host family in Benin.

- Parties, the Beninois know how to put on a fantastic fete.

- "Bonne appetite" - If you are eating at all, even if you put a piece of gum in your mouth, a Beninois will tell you "bonne appetite."

I dearly miss American food, but there is some food that I love here:
- Popcorn from the Mama across from the school (movie theater)
- Popcorn from the Mama across from my papa's estate (kettle corn)
- Donut balls with sugar from the Mama around the corner from my house
- Fanmilk, specifically FanCoctail (like a popsicle)
- Bisap (not sure how to spell it, but also like a popsicle)
- Ragu (my mama makes it: cubed yam or potatoes in broth with veggies)
- Yam pillet (smashed yams, shaped into discs served with sauce)
- French fries, Doris, my host sister, makes amazing french fries
- Experimental cooking (I've made delicious banana bread and macaroni and cheese)

I have three minutes left, so I will add to this later, tomorrow I'll be at the training site with (hopefully) wireless internet so I can post my blog about my post visit!

"Does racism exist in the United States?"

Last night my host sister and I were watching the news and Barack Obama came on the television, and she said, in PERFECT English, "Barack Obama, the first black President of the United States." Then, a few minutes later she asked me (in French) if racism existed in the United States.

Basically, in novice French, I said: 'Yes, racism does exist in the United States, but racism exists everywhere in the world. Someone may not like me because I have white skin, someone may not like you because you have black skin. Someone may think that the color of a person's skin indicates what kind of person they are: whether they are nice or mean, intelligent or not. People like you and me know that skin color has nothing to do with what makes someone a good or bad person.'

Doris accepted my response and agreed that racism is everywhere, but her question definitely surprised me. She wants to go to college in the United States (at GONZAGA!), so I was sure to include that there is little to no racism in Washington, and Americans whom are educated are not racist (I didn't say for the most part. I wasn't quite sure how to explain that). I have witnessed a lot of racism, (verbal, intentional and unintentional) towards Hispanic and Asian populations (in Washington). Maybe after a year we could have a more in depth conversation about racism.

Language barriers make life so much more difficult, yet so much simpler at the same time. I couldn't go into any speals about inner cities, immigration, refugees, migrant workers, farming/food production, gender, religion, ethnicity, etc etc etc (oh the life of a Political Science/Sociology major)...fortunately for Doris.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Post Visit + Pictures

See my facebook for pictures...if that happens to be's a link:

In a nutshell, I LOVE MY VILLAGE and I'm so excited to be finished with stage and move up there!! (There are captions on all the pictures, some are from Porto Novo, I only took a few in village, but Sarah took a lot more and will be in the US in 2 months, after traveling)

PS: "Sarah" (in some pictures) is the current volunteer whom I'm replacing and she's ridiculously awesome and I'm slightly intimidated to be replacing her because she's also a fantastic Volunteer.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

First (Ridiculously Long) Post from Benin! Friday, August 6th, 2010

(I typed this Friday night, but I just finally got to a cyber today, Tuesday, August 10th, 2010)

So, I’m finally typing a blog, first I’ll give you a rundown of my day, which was mostly typical:

(Week)Day in the Life

6:30am: Woke up, let the puppy out
7:10am: Walked to Maggie’s house (saw two pigs mating in the ‘road’)
7:15am: Met Jenny and Maggie and we continued walking
- Got called Yovo approximately 1 million times
7:50am: Arrived at school, CEG Davie, mingled and talked with people, everyone was REALLY excited to find out post assignments!

8am – 10am: French Class with Abel
- I LOVE my French teacher! I’ve learned so much and he is hilarious, in a Beninois way, mostly his giggle cracks me up hahah
- He speaks several local languages plus French, English, Spanish and Japanese…and he was taught by a Peace Corps volunteer when he was in grade school!

10am-10:30am: Usually we have a break from 10-10:30am, but today we found out posts!

10am-12:30pm: Post assignments
- Facilitators called out our name after saying our town name, then we grabbed our packet and stood on our ‘spot’ on a huge chalk map of Benin.
- I have Maggie, Michael and Stephanie near me, yay!! (Plus some other cool people.)

12:30pm-1:30pm is always lunch
- Found a new place with a younger woman vendor. It's on the side of the road in a little walk-in shack about the size of walk in closet, but she has a table with two benches and we got to sit down (out of the sun), and her prices are EXCELLENT.
- Her new baby lays under her work table
o She sells the typical food: beans, rice, onion tomato mixture, fried plantains
- I got my usual 100F of beans, but I got way more from her than my normal lady that hangs out wherever trainees go, and they’re better…but still require downing an entire nalgene of water due to spiciness. (I always bring bread and fruit from my breakfast because my Mama over feeds me at every meal).
- The baby started crying so she sat with us and breastfed, I love Africa

1:30pm-3:30pm: Usually technical class or language, today was the first day of model school, 4 trainees gave 1 hour lessons in 2 different classrooms

3:30-4:15pm: Today we gave feedback to the trainees who taught

4:15pm-5pm: Walked home (and ran into FanMilk guy on the way home, yay!)

Lissa, Jenny, Maggie and Brigitte came to my house, we watched Grease, ate donuts (vendor around the corner fries balls of dough and pours sugar over them, they taste like funnel cake, sooo good and only 10F each). We also painted our nails, it was a very girly afternoon, I painted Katia and Gifty’s nails too (my cousins), Katia still doesn’t speak to me

7pm : everyone left because it gets dark by 7:30pm

7pm-9:30pm: I hung out with family and ate dinner (usually friends don’t come over, but we wanted to talk about post assignments, I usually do random things with family from 5-9:30pm, it changes daily. Some days I retreat to my room and say I have a lot of homework. I ALWAYS go straight to my room and sit in front of the fan for about 5 minutes before anything though. Often Doris and I will ride our bikes to pick up food for dinner, or I’ll go somewhere with Mama, or just play with cousins or the puppy, etc etc)

9:30pm: Bucket bath/shower, the greatest portion of time is spent scrubbing feet. My foot scrubber/nail cleaner is one of the best things I brought: walking in sandals everyday on dirt/sand roads will earn you FILTHY, nasty feet.

10pm: Bed and reading, studying French or in today’s case typing this blog, until I fall asleep

And repeat!
Saturdays I have school from 8am-12:30pm, then free time
Sundays are ‘free days’ but I go to church for like 10 hours then do laundry and go to parties with my family

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been here three weeks. I can’t believe how time is flying and how much I truly love my life in Africa. There are some struggles (namely, heat), but I am happy, excited and looking forward to beginning my actual work in September. On that note, I did find out where I will be living and working for the next two years today! I’m not exactly sure when I move and I don’t want to crawl out of my mosquito net to find out, but I know it’s within the first two weeks of September. :)

I will be living in a tiny village in the Collines region of Benin. I don’t think I’m supposed to disclose on my blog my exact location (village name), but I will email you all to let you know. It’s in the NW region of the Collines, very close to Nigeria. It’s one of the smallest villages with less than 2000 people. I actually didn’t hear of anyone with 2000 people in their village, the smallest I heard from others was 3000. I really don’t know much yet, but I do know that I will have fresh fruit and vegetables year around, woohoo!! Plus, I’m located fairly close to the main highway which travels N-S Benin. I am the only woman professor at my school and I don’t have electricity or running water. I believe that the school (where I will be teaching) is getting electricity, so perhaps I will be able to charge my cell phone or laptop there, I will find out next week!

On Tuesday I will meet my new boss (Directeur/principal) and then Wednesday he and I will travel up to my new home! I will stay with a host family until Sunday and meet lots of people in village, visit the school, see my house, learn where to buy food, where the nearest bank is (I think about an hour), learn about transportation and everything else. I’m the 4th volunteer in the village so I am inheriting a fully furnished and stocked house! This is really exciting because we all receive a generous move in allowance to buy furniture and stuff…and I won’t have to use it for that! I can save it or spend it on more superficial (but important) items, like chocolate.

Speaking of chocolate, yesterday I baked bomb chocolate chip banana bread! It was SO delicious and I did it without any measuring devices, in an oven without temperature controls and with different ingredients then I was used to. My family loved it and it was devoured in minutes. My Mama loves loves loves chocolate and I guess Beninois (French for Beninese) usually don’t like our American treats, so I loved baking for her and I gave her the ‘recipe’ as well. I’m excited to make other things for them though, they are the MOST generous, kind, patient family, I don’t know how I got so lucky.

For the most part, being here just feels like another transition. I feel a lot like I did when I went off to college, some new things to get used to, but overly excited and eager to be here. I have had few medical problems (skin, mosquitoes), which seems like somewhat of a miracle, especially considering I had been drinking unsafe water up until three days ago. I’d been buying these 25F bags (sealed) of cold water because it’s hot, and cold water always sounds good and these particular ones aren’t chlorinated. Well I was drinking it on my way to language class and my teacher flipped! Apparently it’s not boiled or filtered and yada yada yada, and it says it (in French) on the package, hahaha. This is only funny because I am like the only trainee who has yet to have raging diarrhea, or other bowel related issues. ??? I was expecting to be barfing all the time when I got here, but no, I’ve been drinking African water and doing fine… However, in case the first 3 weeks involved some miraculous stroke of luck, I decided to stop drinking it anyway.  It’s worth it because I think my happiness would be severely negatively affected if I had diarrhea, I’ll have to post a picture of the school latrine (hole in the cement that’s very difficult to aim in) for you, and you’ll see why diarrhea would be extra detrimental here…

Hahaha, sorry for that, but, it is probably the most discussed subject among trainees, that and food we want to eat that we can’t have mailed. For example, Red Robin fries, or a blizzard, or a Dutch Brothers coffee, or Java Chip ice cream, or mint chocolate chip ice cream. Ahhh

I have actually gotten way better about finding food I like. Every day I buy 100F of Haricot (beans) and make a bean sandwich with bread I bring from home. This way I can save my money for cold drinks or fan milk. Fan milk is AMAZING. I like FanCoctail the best; it’s an icy fruity one, versus everyone else’s favorite, FanChoco which tastes like eating cold chocolate frosting to me. Plus, FanChoco is 150 and mine is 100, hah!

My biggest complaint, as probably any of you reading this already know, is that it’s freaking hot and humid, and this is the cool season. Unfortunately, despite it being the ‘cool season,’ I literally drip sweat walking, standing and/or sitting. Usually not until about noon, 12:30, but still, it’s horrendous. I’m grateful to be working in a school, that way I get “repo” which is when everything closes from 12pm-3pm. However, despite the break during the hottest part of the day, I am slightly sad over no electricity at my post. I won’t have a normal sized fan during the hot season, dear lord. I have my battery powered fan, but D batteries are pricey on my budget and it’s a tiny fan.

Anyway, the past three weeks have consisted of extensive training. It’s called Pre Service Training and I’m considered a Trainee, not a Volunteer. Six days a week I have classes in French (thank God), culture (voodoo, history of Benin, gender roles, food, etc etc), safety, bicycle and technical training where I learn how to teach English. Next week I start ‘model school’ (like student teaching) and that lasts until swear in.

PST is in Porto Novo and I’ve been living with an amazing host family here. I live with my Mama, Papa, Sister Doris (15) and right now three cousins are staying here: Laris (15), Gifty (7) and Katia (3). It makes for great French practice! I hang out with family every day. Doris is great, we ride our bikes to the market or wherever Mama needs something from, I’ve taught her random American things and she’s teaching me lots and lots of Beninois things! She also loved baking with me, so I’m excited to try other American recipes with her here in Benin. My Mama and Papa are so nice to me. My Papa drives me to school in the mornings a lot, that’s always fantastic because I get to sleep in a little.

I have yet to experience culture shock or want to go home, but I feel like I’ve always been adept to adapting and dealing with change and different people, practices and cultures. Plus, I have a wonderful host family, great friends and I love my program. What I can say about being in Benin is that I think about my gender more than I ever have before, or I am made aware of it, more than ever before. That sounds weird, but, basically, although life in the United States still isn’t the same for women as it is for men, I am really truly grateful to have been born in the US.

On the other hand, living here has illuminated some of my bad, American habits, for example, impatience and wastefulness. I haven’t even been here a month, but I will never think about water the same way again. I really really took water for granted in the States and I’ve already promised myself that I will never do so again. Also, garbage in general: compared to Beninois, I use and throw away WAY more than any Beninois. I’m so embarrassed when I take out my trash, I don’t even know where it comes from, but I feel guilty. When I get to post I’ll definitely have a compost and garden so that should help. Impatience, what can I say, I’m struggling to maintain patience, but I have a feeling after two years I’ll be ten times more patient than I was three weeks ago.

The pictures I’m going to try to post are of my neighbor kids, whom I LOVE! They’re so cute, I play soccer with them or teach them English or just let them climb all over me for probably an hour every day. The first picture I’m going to try to post is of Silo, and the other one includes his two older sisters, Sassay-Fruitta and Estelle. They’re my three favorites, especially Silo, he’s always so happy and always toddles after me and I have to carry him home, he’s just SO darn adorable!! PS: The picture of Silo shows him holding a Mickey Mouse sticker, I told the kids he was an American celebrity. They LOVE stickers and instead of continuing to pick them off my helmet I brought some out that I didn’t think I’d use in my classroom.

Alright, quote to leave you with:
“A pineapple a day keeps constipation away” – Dr. Rufin (my Beninois PC doctor) hahaha

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Contact Info and Goodbye Spokane

I received a lot of information from Peace Corps on Monday morning. I got to schedule my flight to Philadelphia and get my tickets for Africa!! I leave for Philadelphia on Tuesday, July 13th at 11am and land in Philadelphia at 7:38pm. We have training from noon on Wednesday until we leave to New York the next day. So, Thursday we head to JFK Airport via bus (2-5 hours), then to Paris at 11:30pm (7 hour flight) and finally to Benin (6 hour flight)! I'm so excited!

If you want to send me letters or packages here is my address:

Elyse Bell, PCV
Corps de la Paix
Cotonou, Benin
West Africa - L'Afrique D'Oeste

Air Mail - Par Avion

A note from Peace Corps about mail: Most packages sent to Benin arrive (sometimes a few months late). Nevertheless DO NOT send things that have important sentimental or monetary value. Don't send expensive items, such as the Volunteer's favorite pair of one-carat diamond earrings. Items such as food, and clothing have usually arrived with no problem, but it's expensive for the sender and receiver. If sending packages, "bubble envelopes" work best. If sending any food items, put them inside a ziploc bag. This will reduce chances that bugs or rats will devour them.

Also, please include the date on your letters, in case I receive them out of order. I will do the same.

Once I'm in Benin for a while I will let you know if there's anything I forgot or need or could desperately use, but, in the meantime, I would love to receive letters and communication from you! If you send a letter now I should have it when I arrive! :) I do have a few more things I want to get before I go, some of them I found on Amazon and made a wishlist:

Lastly, GOODBYE SPOKANE! It's been a good 4 years, I will miss you and your people, even the Spokies.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


After turning off my Ipod alarm on Friday morning, I checked my email (hoping for an update from my placement officer) and saw that there was an update in my Peace Corps toolkit! I FLEW out of my bed and ran to my living room to get my laptop and see what the update was:

"Congratulations! You have been invited to become a Peace Corps Volunteer."

After a few minutes of dancing around a freaking out I called my Mom and sent a mass text to all my family and friends. Such a relief, I was soo happy, excited and literally shaking. After calming down I realized I still had to wait to get all the details. :(

I finally (after what seemed like ages) got the invitation in the mail today!!! I've thought from the beginning that I was going to Benin. Even before I found blogs which talked about TEFL volunteers coming for training in July, I thought/hoped I would be going to Benin or Togo. I think it was a combo of me knowing someone from Benin who has family in Benin and the fact that one of the first Peace Corps blogs I read was by a volunteer in Togo.

Anyway, I digress. I am going to BENIN! I accepted the invitation about two hours ago. Here is the gist of my assignment!

Country: Benin
Program: Secondary Education TEFL (7th-9th grade)
Job Title: English Teacher
Dates of Service: September 17th, 2010 - September 17th, 2012
Orientation Dates: July 14th-15th, 2010
Pre-Service Training (in Benin): July 16th - September 17th, 2010

As a TEFL Volunteer my primary duties will entail:
1. Preparing lesson plans and teaching as many as 200 students (not all in one class) so that they will be prepared for the following year of study and the national examination;
2. Motivating students to learn English and introducing creative thinking techniques through your lessons;
3. Helping students find ways to put into practice in daily life the basic concepts learned in class;
4. Developing and introducing new texts, materials and teaching aids based on locally available materials affordable to the school and the students;
5. Participating in faculty meetings, grading tests and supervising students;
6. Fostering mutual understanding between Americans and Beninese through involvement in community life and secondary project activities.

I will spend 16-20 hours teaching per week and am also required to take on secondary projects that contribute to the development of my community outside my primary teaching position. Ideally, secondary projects should be financed solely by local community resources, as community-funded projects tend to be the most sustainable types of projects.

As part of the Peace Corps' HIV/AIDS initiative, I will be trained to be an advocate and educator for HIV/AIDS prevention. All volunteers are encouraged to work with their host country partners to develop activities that integrate HIV/AIDS education into their primary work.

Additionally, Benin has a Gender and Development program which I will be involved in. Some activities as part of this program include distributing scholarships to needy girls, organizing girls' camps, "Take Our Daughters to Work" conferences with host country nationals, leading girls' clubs at local schools and giving training on a variety of topics pertinent to women.

I'm very excited, nervous and overwhelmed!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

More Pictures from Mission Possible!

I love pictures so I will probably have many posts like this in the future...just pictures :) Included in this post are some from our Free Day (Denver Zoo and Red Rocks), and some from Escuela de Guadalupe and Safari Seconds (part of African Community Center).

Patience is a Virtue

I didn't end up getting all my medical information in until Mid January. Fortunately this wasn't such a big deal because Peace Corps was backed up and not reviewing volunteers' medical information until four months before their nominated departure time.

I've been cleared dentally, but have a few things Peace Corps wants me to send in before being cleared medically. Some of my blood test results weren't included in my packet, I have to redo one test and they also want me to have my doctor explain one of my past prescriptions. I will hopefully be able to fax it all in on Friday...hopefully! It depends if the lab finishes my test.

I seriously cannot wait to be finished with school and begin volunteering. I've been reading blog after blog, beginning to end, of current PCVs and getting more and more excited. I'm so so ready to get an assignment and go! I recently got back from spring break where I coordinated a volunteer trip for Gonzaga. It also just made me more excited and ready to begin volunteering for Peace Corps!

Gonzaga has a program called Mission Possible and sends out eight groups of student volunteers to eight different sites across the United States. My group went to Denver, CO. It was a great experience, I loved being a participant in Mississippi last year, but I loved coordinating this year even more. I thrive on a busy schedule and I love organizing, planning and running things :). I was up at 5am every morning and in bed, if I was lucky, around 11pm each night. My group members and I (17 total) each volunteered at least 50 hours during the week and I'm SO proud of everyone! My group was very young, mostly freshman and sophomores, and there was no complaining or whining! They all did a great job doing service work they hadn't experienced before. It was great to see students without that much service experience out of their comfort zone, they all really really impressed me, I feel like a proud mom!

We volunteered at the African Community Center (non profit refugee resettlement agency), Escuela de Guadalupe, Earth Links and the Denver Rescue Mission. We also volunteered at the church/school where we stayed by painting and cleaning up for them. It's located in an inner city Latino community so everyone also got some great cross cultural experience there. I was excited to get some Spanish practice in and we all also enjoyed and greatly appreciated incredible, generous hospitality from everyone, including a lot of delicious Mexican and El Salvadoran food. I met so many amazing people while volunteering and hope to keep in contact with them!

I also realized I would love working for a refugee resettlement agency or with refugees when I eventually am back in the states. I volunteer in Spokane with refugees and work one-on-one tutoring English and I love it. But, in Denver I got to teach a beginner English class with six students and it was much easier and more fun! My class consisted of Mana (Somalia), Letrufael (Eritrea), Graciela (Mexico), Nara (Bhutan), Ali Swe and Sa Le (Burma).

One of my favorite parts of the week was when I pulled a world map off the wall and did an English lesson using it. Everyone was excited to see their country on the map and we each got to learn more about each other. How many years they lived there, what other countries they had been to or lived in, how many siblings or children we all had and where they lived, etc. It was a GREAT way to practice English as well because it's a subject everyone was excited about. When I pointed out Mexico for Graciela, Mana said: "walk, walk, walk!" It was pretty funny, we all were laughing. The other students were shocked to see how close Graciela's home was and wondering why she just didn't walk back! Seeing how far from Denver their home country was made them proud as well, especially Nara. He kept pointing to Bhutan then to Denver, and measuring the distance. We also would point from one country to another showing how we all come from so far away from each other. Even me from the NW. It was just a great afternoon talk/lesson and I will always remember it!! I miss them so much already!! :)

Anyway, I will stop talking about Mission Possible, it's been all I've talked about this past week and I'm sure people are getting tired of it. Sorry! I really love the program and if I don't work with refugees, then I can see myself working for a University's community service program, creating and managing programs like Mission Possible. I'm a HUGE proponent, clearly. Anyway, I will let you know when I'm medically cleared for Peace Corps, I'll hopefully have an assignment quickly after that happens ! !

PS: The picture is of me and Mana :)