Thursday, December 27, 2007

Christmas and the falls

So I think I said that I was planning on spending Christmas at post, anyway I did infact decide agaisnt that, a bit last minute as well. Christmas here in Nati was really nice, Megan (cobly), Kate, Carly, Alex, Jordan, Natasha, Rima, Suny, and Danielle were the PSL 20s there, and then we had a couple psl 19s. Its was basically a massive feast of cheese and crackers, fries and sauce, sangria for the wine drinkers, and sodas or beer for the rest, cookies etc. We played loads of scrable and boggle, and hung out.
Megan and Kate even managed to organize a little christmas suprise for everyone, stockings with some candy and tastey treats. While it is not a holiday I am particularly attached to it was really nice.
So following christmas eve and Christmas the TEFL 8 of us decided to go up to the water falls. The taxi drive was long and very dusty, and while I was lucky enough to be in the front of the van the poor folks in the back got really dusted, I think carly and Alex, might still be feeling like they're breathing dirt the day after! We arrived at the falls and started our walk up, the first fall we got to was pretty, but small and we were all thinking 'is this it?' but we quickly discovered that a short climb/hike up the hill was the REAL water fall, tall and cascading into a massive pool of water at the bottom, and with all the moisture being kicked up the whole enclosure was green and beautiful, We had a bit to eat and then immediately got into the COLD water. You'll probably be happy to hear none of us jumped from the top although I'm hoping some of you can appericiate how tempting it was to try to climb up there and leap off it looked like it would have been awesome. We swam for at least an hour then sliced up watermelon to eat while we dried off a bit and warmed up. Even getting dusted again on the way home didn't ruin the fantastic view and beauty of these falls. A definate must see to parents planning on visiting. Hopefully Rima can get some pictures up when she gets back down south so we can show you how lovely it was.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Tabaski (pretty sure I spelled that wrong)

There was considerable confusion about the muslim fete this year, and for all I know maybe there is every year. No one seemed to know what day it was going to take place on, the school was taking Thursday off, but there was a possibility that the fete would be Tuesday or Wednesday not Thursday. In fact right up to the wire this debate raged, the Fete did end up starting Wednesday.
The lead up to the fete is relatively boring in its own way, one day I noticed a significantly larger number of sheep in town than usual, sheep in herds that is, then one day I noticed a significantly larger number of sheep in bush taxis than usual. Then one day I noticed a sheep in my concession. A real looker too, he was big and had a nice set of horns, nice thick coat, lot of greens to munch on, and glaring at me like there was no tomorrow.
Tuesday at school, the teachers made it known that indeed Wednesday had been declared the fete day, and while technically there would be class, there probably wouldn't be students. How right they were, my class Wed. had 5 students... 5 out of 71.... the class itslf went quickly µI gave them candy and we played hangman and sang jingle bells.
On the way home is when things got exciting, every other house I passed had a sheep being slaughtered in the front yard, which was just great, here I am a vegitarian who doesn't like looking at dead animals and I get to see about 10 or 12 dead or dying sheep in the span of 5 minutes, one in my very own concession. I ended up hiding in my house for about and hour or so hoping that evenutally the carcass would be removed for cooking purposes. It was although I had to request that the severed head be stored somewhere other than the basin in front of my house. So once the death was finished I did in fact join in the fete a bit. I had my feet painted red (it turned out orange) they wrote my name on my feet that is, they gave me plain rice without mutton which was very tastey and i spent the afternoon sitting under a small mango tree in my concession feeling very happy with the fete, that night I also got some yam pilé from my mama making it a very nice day full of good food.
Now on to christmas, which I also plan to spend at post.

The revenge of the cough

Anyone who knows me knows that in general, I don't get sick, or more specifically, I don't get colds, haven't infact been sick enough to miss a day of school or work since I was 16 or 17, which is why its not even funny, that in a country where 'cold' is anything below 85 degrees I seem to have finally gotten sick. And not like a little snifle, it started out as a little snifle, but its now turned into and ongoing battle to breath! For four weeks I have been spending my time swapping between blowing my nose and coughing up my lungs, well there is a bit more coughing than anything else. The even worse thing is there doesn't seem to be anything I can DO about it! nothing seems to qwell this, cough drops do nothing, tea, honey, allergy meds, nothing helps! its just ongoing, sometimes I think that its a combination of my asthma, which has not troubled me since I was a little kid and all the dirt in the air being kicked around by harmatan, but even that doesn't seem to add up. In any case I'm only marginally comforted by the fact that I am not the only one who is ill, there are quite a few students in my classes who are also coughing and hacking etc.. So there is no way to make this particular post anything but a pity party but, when writing about life in Benin, right now a huge part of my life is having a constant supply of cough drops.

Thursday, November 29, 2007


I just changed the setting of this blog to allow you to post comments without moderation, I've been writing for a few months now and I haven't gotten anything weird and I know that it can be difficult to try to post a comment and not see it up or any indication that it was posted for a month or more, anyway now all you comments will go on, BUT if I do start getting spammed I will go back to comment moderation.

Becoming a Statistic

So the mystery topic.
November 2nd, right around when Erin was letting us know she was leaving I was finding out that about 60,000 CFA (120 USD) was missing from my money envelope. As you have read I recently had a massive flood so since I had moved almost every possession I have to a new location I legitimately thought that I probably lost the money. I mean its not like i didn't lose all kinds of paper work only find it drying in random places around the house later. Then on November 10th I found out that of the 30,000 CFA I had left there was only 6,000. So I definately had a theif, someone coming into my house twice (at least) to take things of mine, they would have had to search, they would have had to watch me and learn my schedule when I was out of the house but not far enough away from the house to have locked the doors. Not at all a pleasant thought, and really not at all pleasant to deal with.
I went up to NAti and filled out my incident report, and talked to my PCVL. I also went to the bank and got money. Ended up talking to the Gendarmes and the Peace Corps, of course the money is not likely to be recovered, but its not tres grave. I think it would be hard for me to describe in writing, in a crowded cyber, how I felt about it then, but now things are well, my community has been really supportive of me, and of course shocked and outraged, but things are honestly going much better now, and Like I sazid the more distance (in terms of time) I get the better I feel about the whole thing.
Thanks to all the wonderful people who support me!

Friday, November 23, 2007

things are a bit behind

I kept meaning to write up a post about (you know what.. or hopefully you don't) but I'm just not able to write something that covers both the feelings ON THE DAY and the distance and ca va maintenant, Thanks giving this weekend and PSW in Parakou as of sunday. I'll keep trying for the blog post, or two or three, and considering the access to internet should be ok in Parakou maybe I'll even get them online.
LOVE to all

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The not so happy post about Erin.

So while I was off meeting buses full of white people Erin was in Cotonou in the med unit and at first it didn’t seem so bad until it was 2 weeks she’d been there and why weren’t they letting her come back? The answer, Erin is being medically separated from peace corps…. This is not happy news, and I don’t think anyone leaving is happy news but for me this is the first person to go home that I REALLY know, and that is in fact a very good friend. We’re not just losing the fantastically convient hub her house made in Djougou but really we’re losing just a friend, and I really really really wish she didn’t have to go, and it doesn’t seem fair, or right, or anything, but there isn’t anything that we can do. She has to take care of her injury and she has to do that at home. So Erin, its not the same without you in Djougou just a 20 minutes bush taxi ride of doom away, and I expect that I’ll spend the next 2 years, wishing you were still there even if I do at some point get used to going all the way to Kate’s place (an hour + Zemi ride of doom away) Seeing as she’ll be getting home probably before I get this up on the internet, Erin I miss you SO MUCH! And I hope that you don’t forget to eat the ice cream for me. (p.s. the mattress is awesome).

Two weeks straight no visits

So this is where I talk about how I spent two weeks straight at post without going anywhere and what my weekend was like after the big rain storm. On Saturday I went to a fellow teacher’s place she had promised me that she would take the day to teach me how to use the African yams, which are a main staple of the northern diet and provide a nice variation to pasta and rice which are pretty much my other options. I arrived at 11 which was the prearranged time but was of course to early because when a Beninese person says 11 what they mean is sometime after 11 more like 12 but being there early allowed them to show me the boarding buildings. CEG Copargo has a small group of boarding students and these particular teachers I was visiting are like the dorm parents. They showed me the girls side of the compound and I even got to see one of the sleeping rooms which was basically a concrete room with some cubby holes and mats rolled up against the wall, when I asked how many girls to a room the said 5 but this year they had a large number so sometimes 6… Considering my boarding experience of a single room with a sink, desk, and bed this seemed… cramped. But the rooms where clean and bug free and the girls and boys all seem to like the area so there you have it. They also took me to the Catholic Mission where I met Father Michel the French priest in residence, let me tell you I was not expecting to meet a white person, and I don’t think he was particularly expecting the visit of a white person either, but he seems nice enough, and I figure that as long as he is cool with me not being a christen then we’ll get along just fine, although his French is considerably harder for me to understand than the beninese French. The yam cooking commenced shortly after this visit and let me tell you, this is a lesson they should give to every volunteer that is moving north. Now most volunteers will say that they can just buy the yams already cooked, and why bother with buying them and cooking them themselves, but I really think its useful, particularly if you like to cook for yourself. The African yam is a HUGE root veggie, and when you first see one you’ll probably be a little frightened that you are ever expected to eat that. I learned that you can cut off a piece to use and leave the rest, that it will keep for a very long time. I learned that you can boil them, fry them, and pile them. I also learned that people will feed me loads and often its not things I should be eating, there was definitely unfried wagasi on the table and chicken which since I’m a vegetarian was not something I was excited about, but I suppose I’m happy it was chicken and not fish. Aside from the less appetizeing aspects of the meal it was delicious and I learned a very good lesson on how to prepare a yam. Of course the lesson doesn't end there! When I went to marche to buy yams I ended up with 6! Suffice it to say I don’t think I’ll be buying yams for a few weeks at least.
Now you might think that the weekend is over but its not. There is in fact more. The next day, Sunday I decided to get off my lazy ass and go for a bike ride get to see some of the country side, and so I went off on my bike in the direction of Taneka, 7 k away, My plan was to go for an hour bike ride so I’d go out for 30 mins and then come back in, wherever that got was where I was going but, 15 mintues into the bike ride, at Taneka I ran into a bus, which was really suprising! A BUS! But not just any bus, a bus full of white people! I mean what on earth was a bus full of white people doing on a backroad out to taneka in the north of Benin, but it gets better. I assumed as I do with most white people I see in this country that they were French, and so was planning on continuing on my way, but they stopped me. In English! A bus full of American white people! Who were so full of questions what was I doing where there any other aid programs in the area, was I really living this way minus running water and all?
"You must have running water?"
"No I get my water from a well."
"a WELL!" (you can i'm sure imagine the tax payers outrage)
"is it safe to drink? you must have tablets you add?"
"I filter it, and then boil it"
"thats alot of work for a glass of water"
"You have no idea..."
So instead of biking out the other 15 minutes I spent about 25 being drilled by American tourists. All the while a little dazed at finding the tourists where I did. Really really weird.

The Rain Storm and why you should always close the windows

This Friday, the 26th of October was not an awesome day. It basically started with my only Friday class which was not horrible, but also not great. Anyway I thought the day would be mediocre at best seeing as what I really wanted to be doing was going to Bajoudai for the whipping fete and instead I was in Copargo, waiting for the first teacher’s meeting. Which was to say the leas,t horrible, uncomfortable desk seats for 3 hours, and I really just can’t pay attention for that along especially when everything is in French. I kept focus until they had one of the teachers read a four page document all the way through, then I lost my focus and honestly didn’t understand a single word after that. Then when I thought I was blessedly free of the meeting they told me that now we had to go to the buvette… so off we all go to the buvette while I’m explaining that while I’m not a muslim I also still don’t drink. This confounded them. It started to rain as we got to the buvette and within 5 minutes it was a down pour, all out thunder lightening, power outage, wind whipping storm, that lasted for 45 minutes before it let up enough for me to feel safe biking home. Meanwhile I was happily thinking during the mostly silent buvette trip well at least my buckets which I left outside will be full… only to get home to one of the girls in my concession saying I had forgotten to close my windows. My heart just dropped, at first when I walked in I thought it wouldn’t be so bad, the floor in the salon seemed mostly dry and the study didn’t look too bad, but then I went into my bedroom where I had a small lake, at least a half an inch of water, on the floor and almost everything I own was wet, including my ipod and my laptop. I can’t even begin to tell you, I pretty much just sat there too tired to even cry for the horrible day just made absolutely and completely awful. So this was about 8 pm and tiredly started mopping up the water using rags a dust pan and my broom. I spread things out to let them dry and closed all the windows, by the time I had mopped up all the standing water I had 2/3 of a bucket full of water, I finished by setting my fan to blow at the floor for the night and by 10 was finally able to start cooking dinner. I feel the need at this point to thank my dad who through his effortless sense of humor managed to get my mind off how completely distressed I was by the fact that my laptop and my ipod could very well be broken and never work again and that many of my papers and photos were destroyed. So I got to bed completely exhausted just around eleven telling myself that things would be dry and look better in the morning.
They did, the floor except for a few resistant patches was totally dry, most of the paper, a bit crinkled and with slightly runny ink are dry and legible. The ipod and the laptop are turning on and functioning without glitches. I couldn’t ask more considering the extent of the disaster.
Lesson learned.

Saturday, October 20, 2007


updated (a little) my contact info


I’ve started teaching. I mean really started. Some of the other TEFL volunteers have not really started yet. Their first weeks were filled with classrooms with 2 or 3 students, if they were lucky and no students if they were even luckier (they got to go home). My first class was about 20 students, and being incalculably stubborn I decided that the sooner I got started the sooner kids would realize that they had to come to my classes even if they didn’t have teachers in their other classes. I started teaching. “Good morning class!” “…..” “How are you today?” “…..” “I’m fine, please sit down.” “….” (they sit but only because they get the hand motion.) Gestures are a huge part of teaching for me. The only reason my students do anything is because they understand the hand gesture. I act like I’m holding a pen and writing, they copy. I put my finger across my lips, be quiet. They quiet for about 5 seconds. I raise my hand toward the ceiling palm up (like I’m lifting a tray), they stand, the reverse, move my hand down, palm down, they sit. Finger to the ear and they pretend to listen, or maybe they do listen. I point to my mouth and move my finger forward, “say it, ‘It is a pen.’ Say it.” They look at me and fumble through what might be “it is a pen.” And what might also be “inhma anhm penahim” (cough bic cough). Students from other classes who come to my door tremble because they know to get the eraser like their teacher asked them to they will have to go through saying “I need the duster.” In english…
“What do you need?”
“Chiffon, si vous plait”
“What class are you?”
“Tu as besoin le chiffon?”
“Say it, ‘I need the duster’” (accompanied by hand gesture)
“I… chiffon”
“I need the duster.” (gesture)
“I need….” (squirm)
“I need the duster.” (gesture)
“I…. duster” (shuffle)
“I need the duster.” (gesture)
“I need …(shuffle)...duster”
“Very good, it’s on the table.” (point)
I don’t think any of the students put through this will ever volunteer to come and get the duster from my class again. But to be honest what were they expecting, I’m an English teacher, they need to speak English to me, honestly.
My students also are perplexed by having to ask permission to leave the class. They love that I’ll follow a student to the door and make them go back to their seat, until it’s them I follow.
“What do you need?”
“Je vais pisser.” (not sure of spelling but quite literally, “I’m going to piss”)
“You want to go out?” (they know ‘go out’)
“Teacher may I go out?” (gesture)
“May I out?” (hopeful)
“Teacher may I go out?” (gesture)
I’m sure you get the picture. They also don’t seem to understand why my class isn’t fun and easy, I mean English with the English speaker white person is supposed to be fun and easy right? songs, games, play time… not my class… not yet, so far they haven’t earned the right to sing, and honestly how many songs are there that consist of school supplies and greatings? Good morning copybook! I have a pen. This is a desk… that is a table, does not a great lyric make.
So perhaps now we get down to the nitty gritty… I have 4 classes of 6eme twice a week, which is 16 hours of class time a week, but only two lesson plans, with slight tweaks for the different groups. I never appreciated how much effort my teachers must have put into being teachers before now. Or how horrible it must be to ask a question in class and have your students give you a series of blank empty stares. Now I know, I suppose its probably vindicating to read this and realize that now I get it. “Do you understand?” (while pointing to the board where it says UNDERSTAND = COMPRENDRE in big friendly letters)
“Do you understand” They repeat.
“it’s a question, c’est une questionne. Le reponse est yes or no. Comprenez-vous?”
“Comprenez-vous?” they repeat.
“Oui ou non?”
“Oui ou non?” they repeat.
This was my first class with this group. Now they always respond with “YES!” which is not all that much more comforting. “What day is today?....Today is Monday.” “ Monday.” “do you understand?” “YES!” five minutes later, “What day is today?” “…….” (blink..blink). Oh yes they understand…

1st week copargo

So you never really realize how hard it is to move to a totally new place without much of a support system until you do it. Now imagine doing that in a language you can hardly speak and that your neighbors can hardly speak as well. Food is hard to find, your bathroom smells horrible, your not sure if your ever going to get enough water to stop being dehydrated, and all you want to do is hide in your house and mope and that’s the absolute last thing you should be doing. Books have never looked so attractive, and the idea of putting yourself out there and possibly being taken advantage of, of possibly making a huge mistake, of possibly discovering that the peace corps is not for you, is driving you to distraction, but not enough distraction to help you forget how lonely you are. This is the first week at post. It’s hard, really really hard. And the second week isn’t much better. There are some positives though, when you join the peace corps they tell you repeatedly to celebrate everything. So here are some things that I celebrated in my first week at post: Finding and buying eggs, beginning to get my own water from the well (I have more than I need now), getting the guts to go to my director’s house, and the pres. of the APE’s house and greet them etc., managing to get to and back from Djougou twice, no help (not kidding first time I ever flagged down a bush taxi all by myself), having enough water to be able to use some freshly boiled water in my bucket shower (so nice), and hitting all new levels of achievement on my computer games (maybe not something to be as proud of but hey, I’m really really bored).
Now on to the more concrete things about post, I live in a four room house, I have a study, and salon, a kitchen and a bedroom, (I walk into the study at least once a day just so I feel like its getting used). I also have a complete set of furniture, which is fantastic. I have no running water but pretty reliable electricity. I have a latrine in the back of my house, which shares a pit with my concession’s latrine which makes keeping the smell down really hard. A small bucket shower stall, and a back slab of concrete, walled in with a drain so I can do laundry and the dishes back there. There is a well in the middle of my concession about 10 feet from my front door, I get about 3 or 4 buckets of water from the well a day. You never realize how much water you need and how much you use it for until you have to haul ever drop of that water into your house; dishes: 1 or 2 buckets depending on what I make, laundry: 2 buckets, drinking and cooking: 1 bucket filtered and boiled (per day), shower: 1 bucket (per shower unless I wash my hair, then 1 ½), miscellaneous: 1 bucket (hand washing, cleaning etc.). Now what exactly does one bucket constitute in terms of effort? You might ask, after all its only a bucket. 1 bucket is approximately 2 bags of water pulled from the well. I usually pull two buckets at a time, this is four bags of water from the well, I take my two buckets out and then throw the bag down the well, the drop is easily 12 feet if not more, you haul the bag up, dump it in the bucket and then do it again, until the buckets are full, then carry the buckets into the house where I empty them either into the water filter, the laundry/dishes basins, or my large water container for later use. A bucket weighs more than my cat but less than oh I don’t know… my propane tank. This is how one deals with the water at my house, and while you might think I’m spending an excessive amount of time in this post on water, trust me, I’m giving this post an equal proportion of writing to how much I think about getting and using water.
So far Copargo has been a very nice place to be, everyone has been friendly and helpful, things are a bit far away, since I’m on the edge of town but its good exercise to walk or bike in for market etc. The area is beautiful, and while its still the pause between rainy (cold) season and dry (hot season) its been beautiful weather not to hot etc, and by the time it really does start getting hot I can look forward to harmatan (which I can’t spell) which will make things very cool in the mornings.
I haven’t started teaching yet but I’ll try to write up a post on that once I do, so far there isn’t much else to say about what I’m up to, really mostly sweeping, and hauling water, but I’m sure things will pick up next week when I start teaching.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Less than a week to go

So I will with a strange sort of confidence say that this will likely be the very ast post from Lokossa. Its Tuesday and by Friday afternoon I will offically have sworn in as a Peace Corps volunteer, in front of the Ambassador and everything. By sunday evening (all things going as planned) I will be at post and away from internet for a few weeks. I am planning on getting a cell phone on thursday when we are in Cotonou for banking and shopping, if you want my phone number, you'll have to let e know betwween now and thursday evening because otherwise i won't email it out to you. (this is a public blog so i will not be posting my number here). Model school is offically over and now we are getting down to the nitty gritty bits of what to buy before you go to post, how to survive your first three months, since we aren't supposed to leave post until Dec. 22, yea I know, crazy! but such is life.... crazy that is. There are a few things we will have to leave post for, our VAC meeting in Oct. and our PSW in November (no I'm really not going to tell you what that all stands for, it really won't help you anyway :]) Just know that they count as work days away from post and we won't get in trouble for them. Also in good news there is another TEFL volunteer posted very near me, and we are all thrilled to have yet another post-mate to add to our collection. (yes thats right I have a collection of post mates)
Also highly amusing: I found out that Pheobe, Mae, and my teaching in 4eme really wasn't all that bad ;) when asked on their final exam to right an If clause (type 1) [or if - will] there were multiple responses of "If you come late to class, the teacher will kill you." You see threats work :)
Thats about all for now, we are all consolidating ur pictures today in an attempt to be able to get as many different ones as possible on line while we are in Cotonou, so keep your eyes peeled for a few new pics either on my pages or on the other PCTs (soon to be PCVs!) pages after thursday.
Wish us luck for Swear In!

Friday, September 7, 2007

Model School

Is it sad that I'm getting used to the french keybord? I think it might be a little... However I promised a blog entry on model school so here it is.
The first two weeks of model school I taught 4éme which is kind of like teaching 8th or 9th grade. Except there is no set age for the students they were anywhere from 11 to 19 and anything from cute and smart to big and smart ass-ish. The real problem being that some of the older students didn't really understand that a 23 year old teacher who has their license really has no interest in a 4éme student... really come on. But I guess thats very much the culture here. As for teaching 4éme itself; I learned alot and not all of it about teaching... in fact I learned more about English grammar in those 2 weeks than I ever thought I would I mean honestly future perfect progressive?? past perfect progressive??? I will have been living in Benin for 9 weeks on September 21st... I had been living in the states before that... who knew? not me thats for sure and really what is the difference between 'If you come late to class the teacher will kill you', and 'If you came late to class the teacher would kill you'...? [thats right #2 is an untrue statement while #1 is a true statement ;)]
As it is now I'm teaching 6éme... and not just because I threatened to kill the students (Mae and Pheobe did too after all... come to think of it we all got moved to 6éme) 6éme is considerably easier to teach (i.e. 'Diane is HIS sister.... or Aaron's sister.... or the sister of Aaron; I stand, you stand, he,she,it stands, we stand, you(p) stand, they stand) not hard really and the kids don't understand words like kill.... late... or well kill is really the important one for them not to understand. ;)
[If you are reading this without your morning coffee you might think that the previous wasn't funny, in which case I kindly ask that you go get some coffee and try again later.]
In any case model school hasn't been all that bad, we lesson plan and then we teach and its all good, or well mostly good, sometimes our lessons bomb big time but model school is all about mistakes and learning so its no big deal if we get one hour of blank stares silence (even though thats incredibly painful to teach) we get through and we don't make the same mistake twice.
I think thats about all for now, i have club francaise (or circle des amis) tonight which is when all of the french speakers get to sound all cool and french and all the other people get to be humiliated by their shite french (mind you its not as painful as it was 7 weeks ago, but it still isn't awesome) only made better by the presence of cookies, soda, and fried yams or gataeu and piment (yum....)
So in order to not be late for my session in how to torture a Novice high french speaker I'll sign off here.
(also, got another picture posted, maybe a third soon?)

Thursday, September 6, 2007

At the New Cyber

I know I say this all the time, but I will have a post all about model school typed up and ready to go soon, right now I only have fifteen minutes so I'm going to make this quick-like.... I'm at the new cyber and it works fantastically, in fact I even got a picture loaded using this cyber so that was fantastic! I' waiting to see if a few more will load before i head back to school, anyway the one or more will be at the link to the right of the page --> that says my pictures.... GO LOOK! comment!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Post Visit: Copargo

Copargo is in the north of Benin, about an hour south of Natitingou but slightly north of Djougou it is one the highway so its a long town the follows the paved road, with some spread of dirt paths back into the housing. The market in Copargo is every 4 days and should have a decent selection of tomatos, yams, rice, beans, wagassi [wagashy] (cheese), and a few other things, like onions, nothing really tropical because the north is a bit more arid. So to get to Copargo what one would usually do is get to either Bohicon [boy-con] or Cotonou to get the confort lines bus (no i did not misspell comfort it really is an 'n') and then take that the 7 hours North to Copargo, but, we missed our bus. So instead the three of us going to the Nati workstation region and our three directors (big guys all) stuffed into a taxi and off we went, forgetting all concept of personal space for 7 hours, on this taxi ride, we hit a dog, ate pate, watched our taxi driver threaten a small child with the whip stick he kept on the dashboard, watched our taxi driver get into a petit fight with some random guy on the street, wondered how on earth our taxi driver knew that the random guys standing on the hill 100 yards behind us and waving his arms wanted a cigarette, and even eventually got to our posts. I arrive in Copargo around 6 in the evening and was taken to the house that will be mine for the next two years, only to discover, that not only am I inheriting a house, I'm also inheriting all of the furniture, bed, pots pans etc, buckets, basins, school supplies, and a cat. His name is Acote, he is incredably friendly and was all ready to curl up on my lap for a nap as soon as I arrived. My school is nice, it has a student population of a little less than 1500 and even a computer lab (no internet) and Robyn, the volunteer I'm replacing started a library project which I will probably end up finishing. Copargo also has a post office, a few small stores with non-parishable supplies, and the usual assortment of tailors, street vendors etc. There is also a catholic mission in Copargo. I met my post-mate Mohamed who was very nice, and despite not feeling well spent some time getting to know me and showing me around. The Area of Benin that Copargo is in (the north of the Donga region) is absolutely beautiful, with small mountains, rolling hills, and lots of patches of trees, right now its all very green as its the rainy season still, but we've been told that the north will start browning in october, which I figure works for me because I'm used to brown grass and hills. Mohamed also told me that the heat will only ever get as bad as it would be in Las Vegas, and that with a fan its not overwhelming, which is nice because I have electricity and Robyn left me a fan. After the post visit finished, I went to the Nati workstation for the night before catching the bus back home, the bus is considerably more comfortable than a taxi, and if you're into it they give you a fish sandwich. We took the bus to Bohicon, and then we took zems from Bohicon to Azove, which is about a 50 minute zem ride, unfortunately my zem got a flat tire half way so we had about 40 minutes of walking to the repair shop and repairing the tire (10 m walk 30 m repair) then we took a taxi from Azove back to Lokossa. The awesome thing about having a very short post visit, my total time in Copargo was less than 24 hours, is that all the money they factored in for time spent at post I get to keep so now I'm very wealthy.... well, I have more money than the people who were in the south and got to spend 3 days at their posts. We start model school on monday and I'm teaching at 10 am, i'll be doing functions of sentences to indicate health "I feel weak" "You should take medicine" "If you don't filter your water you will get sick." so wish me and all the other TEFL stagaires luck as we embark on our model school experiences!

Lokossa part 2 (or the real post)

So as I said last post I did in fact manage to get off my butt and type a post up on my laptop for your consumption. Because I'm so lazy this is going to be a rather long post or maybe two rather long posts. First lets talk a bit about Lokossa where I'm living. I live with a host family here and they are very nice to me although almost all of our interactions settle around food and greetings since thats where my french is good and their english is good. I have of course, my own room here with a small table, chair, bed, portable stove, and my footlocker. The house also has a flush toilet and a shower, which is naturally cold, but in reality I have yet to actually want a hot shower, although I'm sure the time will come. My family speaks french and Fon, and I even occasionally use the fon greeting which I don't know how to spell accurately using the american alphabet but I'll try ( a fon gangi a) which is generally responded to with (uhh) most of the time when people are using local languages questions can be responded to with some type of (uhh) sound and a repeat of the phrase (uhh a fon gangi). As you've probably already guessed Lokossa is a slightly larger town, and has a cyber (internet cafe) we pay about a dollar and hour, or 4$ for 5 hours (what a deal)! We go to class everymorning at 8 am, where we have french lessons for 2 hours, then usually techinical lessons on teaching, cross-cultural lessons, health, or bike lessons. Morning classes are 8 - 12:30, then we have lunch and repose until 3-6/7 for the rest of our lessons, now I'm sure your all thinking "wow! they get a three hour lunch break!" but think of it this way as well, some of the stagaires live a half-hour bike ride a way, so they get home eat, have a shower and come back, for me its nice because I'm very central so I only have to cross the street to get to school but it still ends up being a very long day. We recently got our new language levels, I've moved from novice low to novice high which is fantastic, because it gives me hope that at some point I will be able to function in french and that when I move to post in september I won't flounder.
We also were here for the Benin Independence day (august 1) which was quite the experience. We all went to see the parade which was more like a disorganized wander, than a parade, but some of the groups were amazing, dancing and singing down the street, while carrying these HUGE drums on their heads and the person dancing and singing behind them beat out the music on the drum. The parade ended in this monumet/park thing, and the groups that walked in the parade all split up and started dancing and singing in place, some of the stagaires, myself inculded got pulled into one of the circles of dancing and were taught what we are now calling 'the chicken dance' but it was incredibly fun, and very beautiful.
So The other post I'm going to be typing up is all about my post visit, to Copargo, go forth read and comment ;)

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Life in Lokossa

So Its been awhile since I updated but to be honest I'm really busy, internet is incrediblyslow, and no one is commenting, in fact I don't even get email; aside from that things are going well I received my post, so fro the next to years (as of sept. 21) I'll be livng iin the northwest region of benin in a town called Kopargo; I'll take thismomentto explain a few things about the french keybord, 1 it sucks, 2 you have to shift for a period so I no longer use one, welcome to the lifeof semicolons and commas; 3 the internet is ridiculous; i can spend one hour trying to send one email, and not be successfull;
My goal is to type up a few posts on mylaptop and post them from my usb drive but for that you'll have to wait for another week or so, until then wish me luck on my post visit, and don't expect pictures (they don't load at all)


In Cotonou, there are many strange things, some are unpleasant, some are pleasant and some just are. As I fall asleep at night, under my mosquito net, I gear the slow growl of the car and their loud low horns and the fast zip of the zems and their high quick horns. The bugs buzz outside my window, and unsurprisingly my room smells vaguely like sweat.
When I wake up at 7 am I hear the crow of the roosters faint in the distance and the quiet sounds of my roommate getting ready for the day. Breakfast generally consists of crusty bread, butter, and our choice of hot chocolate, Nescafe, or tea. After breakfast the work begins. When we go into the PC headquarters in Cotonou, things smell different; when we first arrived they had dug up the sewers so there were piles of black smelly sludge lining the streets, as you continue to walk the smells of unknown roasted meats and even a few vegetables.
People sell everything on the streets here, fruit, sandals, toiletries, plus, clothes, snacks, both fresh and packaged, all carried on the tops of their heads. (I bought a pair of flip-flops for 300 CFA which is like 75 cents) There are also the all important fan milk carts, fan milk is best described as frozen deliciousness, but is really like frozen yogurt, softer than ice cream but firmer (depending on where it was in the cart) than a smoothie. They come in many flavors, chocolate (tastes like chocolate milk) Fanyogo (which tastes like vanilla yogurt) a few fruit flavors (citrus) and Fan Ice (by far the best flavor, if you ask me, it tastes like a mix between cake batter ice cream and the best frosting you’ve ever had. It’s amazing)
We get called ‘Yovo’ a lot. A yovo is a white person or a foreigner, and children will yell it out in the streets as we go past ‘yovo, yovo, yovo!’ they laugh and smile, and jump up and down, they even have a little song they sing, the yovo song. We must look ridiculous half the time, there are 60 sweaty tired white people all crammed into a bus and some vans, or walking around in large groups, so many yovos all at once! We must be quite the sight to see!
It’s hard to write everything that has gone on, and I have only been here for three days, but already there is so much to say! St. Jean Eudes, (where we are staying in Cotonou) is a monastery, we are all in rooms with between 2 and 7 people to room with its own little bathroom (toilet, sink, and shower) the water usually works at least twice a day so we can get showers and wash up.
I’ve also learned how to ride a zem or zemidjan (moto-taxis) always with my helmet of course, and it was surprisingly fun! We all got together in a group of about 20 for a lesson and the PC had brought in enough zems for all of us, we were given helmets and a basic lesson in how to hail, give our location and barter a price, and then were sent on a petit tour, and a grand tour. It was hilarious, here we all are in the middle of Cotonou all wearing HUGE white helmets, and we are riding in this fleet down the street and then later around the block! People were pointing and laughing, and waving, the children having a great time and doing their whole ‘yovo’ thing!
So on wed. the 25th I believe we will head up to Lokossa where our training will commence for the next 8 ½ weeks, and finally we will meet our host families!
More to come!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


Surprisingly enough I have a bit of free time today. We spent the afternoon getting a few vaccinations, yellow fever is a must to enter Benin, and we also had to have a pollio vaccine after the age of 18 and an mmr booster after 13. So i got yellow fever in my right arm and mmr in my left. The logic escapes me, since now both of my arms will hurt when I have to haul my luggage tomorrow instead of just one. We had to wait from noon until about 2:45 because of course the shots were given in alphabetical order, but that I'm used to.
As to staging itself, its been good. I got here a day early and it seems like alot of the people who were here early are grouping together. I think its just a familiarity thing, we know each other's names, we had an extra night and morning to bond etc. But as time goes we are meeting a lot of people (there are 59 going to Benin, which is the smallest group in Philly, South Africa has 93 and Mali has over 80). Having the facebook group was really nice because I feel like there are few people here that I already know a little bit. Of course once we get to Benin we will spending most of our time with our groups (TEFL for me). I've read that staging is like the first few days of college, I guess thats about right. We spend alot of time talking about safety, security, anxieties, etc. And of course remembering to always always always take our malaria prophylaxis.
The Historic District of Philly is really nice and we got to do a bit of site-seeing (since we arrived early) and it was definitely nice to just kick back with a few other PCTs and see the liberty bell Independence hall etc.
Aside from that I now know that as an Education volunteer I'll be placed in Lokossa, Benin for my training which lasts until sept. 21. Lokossa is one of only two training sites with an internet cafe so I'll try to have a few updates while I'm there.
We fly out tomorrow and will be in transit until 6:30 pm local time in Cotonou on friday. It still hardly seems real that tomorrow I'll be starting the journey to Benin, but I'm very excited and can't wait to be there and get started on all things we are only talking about here.
The next post will be from Benin!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Staging Update

I've got my flights to Philly arranged. So the big news is that I have one less day to think about! I leave early morning on the 16th of July and spend the whole day flying to Philly. I get there and the next day at 1 pm we officially register as Peace Corps Trainees.

The ensuing days will be hectic I'm sure as we all try to meet and greet eachother. Only to fly off to Benin the evening of the 19th. After 24 hours of travel and a 5 hour layover in Paris we will Arrive in Cotonou probably ready to do nothing more than collapse on a convienient bit of floor and sleep for a few hours.

All of this has managed to make me less pissed off about the bad news of the last 2 days. My car got vandalised. Yes VANDALISED! "Why?" one might wonder, and perhaps its part of some cosmic process to ready me for the possibility of vandalism and theft in Africa. Or perhaps its some punk teenagers who have nothing better to do with their time than spray paint 'blood' and 'die' on 5 cars in my rather peaceful neighboorhood. In any case, the spray paint came off with an hour of scrubbing using my new fav product 'Goof Off' and after a wash and a wax the car is looking better than it has for at least a year. Overall a learning experience to be sure.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Horrible Heat

I just got back from a 4 (ish) day trip to Phoenix to visit the last of the Family. This trip allowed me to complete two of my goals. One to say goodbye to the relatives I hadn't seen yet. My grandparents etc. Which was nice, I rarely see that section of the family because they aren't on my bi-annual road trip to and from NY.

The second goal which I hadn't realized was a goal until I got there was to come to a fairly pleasant realization. No matter how horrible and hot it seems to be in Africa, all I have to do is remember the absolute heat of Arizona, at 110 degrees in a living room with one fan I thought 'if i can sit here in this heat for several hours enjoying conversation with my family, Benin (which according to my weather book only gets into the high 90s) won't be so bad'. The 20 degree difference in temperature between Phoenix, 110, and Reno, 90, is like heaven. In comparison Reno is cool and lovely. This will be something very positive to remember when I'm in Benin.

The family visit went very well over all, as usual wonderful to see Grandma and Grandpa, who always has a good story or three that I've never heard before.