Saturday, January 19, 2008


So I want to try to write a blog post that kind of encompasses a normal day for me. I don’t know how well this will work but suffice it to say that this is kind of like a compilation of several things happening on different days, that all amounts to my average sort of day.
5 days a week I wake up at 8:30 in the morning. I have a cup of hot chocolate/Nescafe mixture and get ready for school. I try to be at school around 9:50. (On the 3 days I have a 10 am class) This leaves me about 20 or 25 minutes to greet the administration and chat with other professors. Technically, (by the schedule) class starts at 10, but after fighting against losing time in the classroom I have discovered that my student aren’t late and generally more ready to begin if I follow the actually practice of not starting until 10:10 or 10:15. This also gives me the opportunity to chat with the other teachers who, because we don’t have a staff room, congregate under a rather nice tree during the morning break. My school has something like 40 professors and I’m just beginning to feel like I’m getting to know some of the non-english teachers but its been slow going. Most of the teachers in Benin are on year by year contracts, so they might only be teaching at Copargo for the one year, or they might be back next year. My school has 3 female teachers aside from myself, two in the French department and one in physics. Or at least that’s how it was until this week. We got two new teachers, stationed here by the army these two are civil servants who are doing 6 months of service. The best thing, they are both women! I love watching them around the school in their uniforms. I think they are great example for the students. Women, teaching, and in the Army. Really fantastic.
Class is getting easier, the longer you teach the more used to it you become, and I’m starting to get a feel for my classrooms. When they actually understand something, when they don’t but are really bored or tired. My students are also becoming more interesting, they stopped being a mass of blank faces and have become individuals, which I think helps. I finish teaching at noon, and come home for lunch. I generally spend lunch and repos around the concession I eat and then chat with the other families here, or read and rest. After repos I make my social visits (on days when I don’t have afternoon classes Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday) almost always first is my mama.
Generally I sit with her for around an hour, sometimes she’s doing something and I help. Like shelling peanuts. Which is hard on the hands. She always has a series of questions to ask me, or things to comment on.
“Tante, this is hard work isn’t it?"
"Yes, it is, this one doesn’t want to open.” (indicating a nut)
“Do you have these over there?”
“In the states?”
“Yes the states, what other over there is there?”
“Yes we have these, but we don’t make sauce with them. We eat them just like this, or make peanut butter.”(she translates this into Dendi for her other friend who is there)
“You put that on bread don’t you?”
“Yes we put that on bread.”
“A hah!”
After Mama, I visit my other friends or just say hello in passing, then wind my way home for dinner. Unless I’ve been asked to eat dinner somewhere in which I case that’s where I go. After that I come home and begin to put together a lesson plan for the next class I have, sometimes when I’m working in the evenings the kids in the concession will come over and draw or read. I’ve started a wall of their artwork which makes them very happy.

Two Losses, Two Gains: Karma

I haven’t really wanted to write about this because most of us, still don’t really know what’s going to happen but I figure you’ve all probably read about it on someone else’s blog by now. My postmate, Mohamed, has been administratively separated from Peace Corps (Loss number one). He was sep’ed for having a moto, which as we all know is a big ‘no-no’. Now whether or not this can be counted as a big loss or not is still up in the air. As far as I know, Mohamed has no intention of leaving Copargo until his projects are finished. Unfortunately he is on vacation and so no one knows what his plans are, including me. He might be coming back he might not, who knows. I hope that he will come back for awhile, but I can’t really say what’s up. The good news on this score is that I’ll probably get a new post-mate next summer, Copargo has requested a health volunteer (this is not one of the gains as its not current).
My second loss is more upsetting, my cat Acoté is gone. Disappeared. I put him out as usual, the night before New Year’s eve, and he just never came home. At first I wasn’t worried because he’s a tough kitty but after a few days I started asking if anyone had seen him. No. People in Benin eat cats, children steal cats, I live next to the Gudron (highway), taxis don’t generally care what they hit. My thought here is that Acoté it beyond being able to come home at this point, whether he became dinner, a pancake, or someone else’s pet, I don’t really want to know. But after 2 weeks I’m willing to say that my cat is most likely not coming home. The neighbors have offered to help me find a new cat, and soon I’ll have to take them up on that, the mice that live in my ceiling have started coming down into the house. I assume because there isn’t cat presence around to scare them off anymore.
The two gains came together, as a kind of set. I was at the post-office in Djougou, to pick up a package that couldn’t be brought to Copargo, when I was first sort of told off by Estelle. Estelle is an old friend of Robyn’s (The volunteer I am replacing).
“Do you know who I am?”
“You’re Estelle.”
“You said you would come Saluer.”
“I’m sorry I was sick, and then on Vacation.”
“Oh, well you have to come to the health center to saluer.”
“I will.”
This was Wed. January 2nd. On Sunday I decided to go into town to get salad for dinner and took terra rouge home instead of Gudron. On the way I was flagged down. By Estelle (I will say, she is persistent.)
“I live here.”
“Oh, this is really close to my house.”
“I know, you didn’t come saluer.”
“The health center is fair away and I have a lot of correcting to get through before tomorrow.”
“Oh… this is Mirelle, (indicating another woman) she works at the health center too.”
“Hello Mirelle.”
“Did you buy food?” – Mirelle
“Yes Salad” –me
“You bought food? Nonono garble garble Robyn never, garble!” –Estelle (I still have trouble when people talk fast)
“Its just salad!” –me
“We’ll come by tonight at 8.” –Estelle (o.O what? Weren’t we just talking about salad?)
“umm, ok?” –me
And so they did, and took me to a buvette, for a soda (beers for them) and invited me to a fete the following Saturday. They also roped me into allowing them to tress my hair for the fete on Wednesday. So while they were tressing my hair Wednesday they invited me to come over for lunch on Thursday. On Thursday they cunningly got me to paint my nails. And of course there was the fete on Saturday. It was a decent party lots of speeches which I didn’t listen too, the real high point was that Lindsey, the Health Volunteer in Anandana (about 25 k from Copargo) was attending so I had someone to talk to, which was great.
So my two gains here are Estelle and Mirelle who seem to be intent and determined to be friends with me.

New Year's Day

So I’m writing this considerably after New Year’s Day, so you’ll have to bear with my patchy memory. I went to bed just after midnight New Year’s Eve, and was frankly astounded I made it to midnight, there was nothing special that night, although I heard a few fire works go off and some loud music not much else. The Next morning I woke up to the sound of pilè-ing. Probably around 9 or 10, I was served yam pilé with peanut sauce and soy cheese for breakfast, now I know that sounds bizarre but hey it was delicious. Around noon, when people were maybe beginning to think about eating again after the mid-morning pilé I started handing out cookies, I think I got really close on getting enough cookies for everyone to have one. They were a big hit. I went to the catholic mission to deliver a few cookies and was invited to stay for lunch and celebrate the new year there with them, so of course I did. That was rice and pasta for me, with pork for the meat eaters, salad, and papaya and bananas. Delicious. After lunch I went back home and gathered up the cookies and bread I had made for Mama, and went out to give them to her, and she reminded me that I was to come back for yam pilé later. I received, 13 eggs from my censor, I think it’s traditional to give meat, but he of course knows I am a vegetarian. I didn’t get a lot of food given to me but did get lots of I’m so sorry, we don’t have anything vegetarian to give you, messages. I can however be very glad for the few families that are always willing to try to make something for me, my next door neighbors, my mama, the catholic mission and a few others. I took a loaf of bread to the teachers who are like dorm parents at the catholic boarding school, and was given yogurt mixed with couscous, which while not quite what I’m used to was also wonderful. The day ended of course with me having the best yam pilé I’ve found in Copargo (or anywhere) with Mama. It was a really busy day, taking someone cookies here is not quite the same as in the states, you take them food, sit down, have a glass of water, or juice, or some food, chat about life and the kids and the house, and the pets, and work, etc. Then you give and receive about 10 minutes of happy new years and good wishes before you finally go back home. If there is a meal included this little trip to drop off cookies can take over an hour. But over all it was an incredibly pleasant way to spend new year’s day.


The first batch of cookies is done, it made about 25, 5 of which are no good because the first set in the dutch over got the bottoms burned, I was nervous about the heat, to hot and the bottom burns, not hot enough the cookie isn’t as good, but I got it down for the next 4 sets. Without brown sugar the cookies are lacking a little something, but I doubt anyone but me will notice. So one set of oatmeal cranberry cookies down. (before you ask, no there are no cranberries here, yet another bon chose my mom sent. :]) Also, we’ll see but yesterday when I mentioned to my Mama that I would be making cookies today for New Years she seemed really surprised and asked to come over and watch how they are made, so it’s possible that I’ll have a baking lesson today on cookies too, but since this is Africa and more often than not people say they are going to come over then don’t I’m not sure she’ll actually come. I also got scolded gently by one of the priests at the catholic mission he stopped me on the way back from buying butter.
“Miriam, are you in the world?”
“Yes I’m here.”(the amusing thing here is that while in french this conversation happens a lot, tu existe?, but this took place in English which made the question seem really odd to me)
“We haven’t seen you.”
“I meant to stop by but I’ve been sick, and then I was busy.”
“We’ll see you then.”
The really aggravating thing about this is that while I’ve been sick and grading deviors etc. People seem to think that I should have been visiting them, what I want to know is if they are that into seeing me why haven’t they ever come over to visit me? No ever stops by my place. Anyway, I’m planning on heading over today with a book on the Baha’i Faith (Baha’u’llah and the New Era) they are really curious about the Baha’i faith and want to learn more about my religion, but they read English better than speak it so I’m taking them the book to pour over, since there is no way I can even begin to explain religion in French.


A post actually written at post rather than in the cyber, you all should be proud. Back at Copargo after the cough infested Christmas festivities, and I think that there is something to be said for familiar surroundings, the cough has abated somewhat back to the mild irritation it usually is rather than the ragging furor it was in Nati. Also here, every time I cough people nod sagely and commiserate with about their own coughs and the poussiere (dust) although really it's dirt, grit, and sand that’s blowing around, no wonder I’m coughing. After a study of the health book, I’ve ruled out pneumonia and bronchitis (no fever, and no yellow OR green mucus) as well as a cold, (none of the other symptoms) it says sometimes a cough can be caused by simple dehydration, drinking more hasn’t helped much, so I don’t think that’s it, the other explanation is of course air borne irritants to which all the remedy there is is a suppressant, which I’ve tried and doesn’t help, so poussiere it is. Thus I will most likely be cursed with some variety of cough until February or March when Harmatan ends. Joy.
On an up note I can say that cashew season has arrived! I had no idea that there were cashew trees in Benin buit I had been assured that the nuts these trees gave were even sweeter than peanuts. So patiently I waited until the nuts came, and low and behold… cashews! So now I get to watch the truly amusing sight of the petites in my concession retrieve the nuts, the rather boring sight of the sun drying of the nuts, the almost as amusing sight of the nuts having the beejesus roasted out of them, and then the truly welcome sight of the nuts being smashed open with rocks to reveal cashews. If you are going to be really hard working after all this you would fry them in butter and salt them, my mama does that for the ones she is going to sell. Not quite the same as an American cashew but tasty none-the-less and a very welcome change from peanuts.
In other news I finally baked cornbread for the first time here. I ended up begging a cup of corn flour from my neighbors (who considering the quanity they have to buy to make pate and all the other African specialties didn’t begrudge me a small amount). This little project was made infinitely easier by the fantastic surprise brought to me by the post man, a box from Mom with a mini bread loaf pan, and a bubble envelope with a single serving pizza dish, both ideal for my dutch oven, now allowing me to make breads biscuits and cookies, before I had no idea what I would bake in or on, now that problem is solved and the baking has begun. So my first attempt at cornbread was a resounding success with the concession and with my Mama, all of whom surprisingly enough had not had cornbread made for them before. Considering I’m the third volunteer here I was pretty sure either of the two previous volunteers would have baked at least once but everyone was stunned when I said I wanted to the corn flour to make bread.
“Is it possible to borrow some corn flour?” (C’est possible je prend un peu de mais?)
“Sure, are you going to make pate?” (Oui, tu vas faire pate?)
“No I’m going to make bread.” (Non, je vais faire pain.)
“Bread?!” (Pain?!)
“Yes corn bread, its sweet, like cake.”
(Oui, pain de mais, c’est douce, comme gateau.)
“You’re going to make…bread? Are you sure you don’t want to make pate?” (tu vas faire… pain? Pas pate? Which is not actually what she said but I can’t remember the question in French so you just get “not pate” because that’s easier)
“Yes, when its finished you can have some, if you like it I’ll make more.” (oui, quand c’est finis je vais donne un peu, si tu aime ca je vais faire ca encore.)
Then the disbelieving looks while the get me the flour. (I included the French so you would see that one, my French is still not so great but I get by anyway, and two that I do actually speak French with people sometimes :])In the end remembering being told that the Beninese don’t like sweet cornbread I added less sugar which made the bread less tasty to me, but everyone else thought it was fantastic and I have two Mamas who are already planning to come over and see how its made. My next plan is to spend all of new years eve baking cookies and bread. Why you might wonder? Well I was sitting with my mama the other afternoon, while she was making akassa. [Side note: My mama making Akassa is a great sight and I’m hoping she’ll let me photograph her someday doing it. She makes it over a fire in this massive cauldron stirring it with a giant wooden spoon. So essentially what the scene amounts to is mama bent over this huge cauldron of bubbling white stuff stirring away with a giant wooden spoon. I always think the scene despite its being set in Africa is a little taste of bubble bubble toil and trouble. ^.^]
“Are you busy cooking for new years?”
“I said are you busy cooking for New Years?”
“No, I mean, what?”
“For new years, your’re going to make something aren’t you?”
“I’m going to what?”
“Make something, like yam pilé, or pate, or rice.”
“You want me to make yam pilé?”
“Well, maybe not yam pilé, but we’re going to make lots of food and get sodas, and have a big party, you are going to make something.” (notice how its not a question.)
So now I’m tasked with making something, and in the absence of a crap load of rice, pate or yam pile, I’ve decided to bake for everyone, which means I have to make about 30 or 40 cookies at least. I think I can bake 5 or 6 at a time on my new pizza dish (thanks Mom! :]) so that means I have to bake at least 7 batches, so about 3 hours of work for the cookies, and probably more. I also want to do a couple more loaves of either corn bread or banana bread so that amounts to probably something like 5 hours of baking. Which would be really not stressful at all if I wasn’t doing it for a fete that is infact only 2 days away.