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