Sunday, August 31, 2008

Almost there...

8/24/2008
I had a wonderful moment last night. I woke up at 1:00 a.m. To the sound of excessively loud partying next door. When they party here, their parties are loud, be they a wedding, birthday, or funeral. They bring in tents, and most noticeably, big P.A. Systems from which music is played at top volume for the entire duration of the party.

I woke up angry – It was late – I was tired. I'm often accused of being an old lady like that. They were loud and it made me very grumpy. Then came the rain. The rain is like a pause button here. Life haults. In seconds, the loud speakers were all off, and there was a peace that can only be achieved with a downpour or an electrical outage. I ran outside to pull my clothes off the line, came back in, and fell fast asleep.

In a place like Minnesota, you learn to deal with bad weather. Since it only rains a few months of the year here, it is halting. I get the feeling that it is a chance for everything to stop - to rest. Sort of like a blizzard in the midwest, though honestly, that's not enough to keep Minnesotans from going to the store for milk.

I can't imagine what the dry season will be like here – seeing all the green dry up into desert – the dust blowing up with the dry winds. I wonder what will bring peace then, when there is no rain.

8/26/2008
Tonight we had a big party with the Maire of the city of Porto Novo. We were treated very well, with a nice meal and significant entertainment, including several music and dancing groups. The downside, no vegetarian food. My entré, rice and cous cous. Honestly, had there been any meet that looked apetizing to me, I would have eaten it, but I can't help but be a bit disgusted by escargo, fish staring back at me, and tough chicken. I am used to seeing sanitary meat eating back in the states. We'll see if I will eventually break down and start eating meat here. . .

The entertainment was good. I especially liked the traditional dancing. I wish there had been a commentator to walk us through all of the dances. They were beautiful - bright costumes, headdresses, and various other props. It doesn't hurt their cause, either, that west-Africans are such beautiful, graceful people.

The music is growing on me. Right now, I struggle to enjoy it as I find it to be a bit heterophonic, if not caucophonic. I'm sure after two years, I will find some rhyme or reason to the rythms and melodies.

8/30/2008

On Friday I had my language interview. It was nerve racking. A poor result could have put off my swearing in, but fortunately I passed with flying colors. When I went I first arrived, I was novice intermediate, which is sort of 101 level French. Now, I've gone up 5 levels to advanced low. That is similar, I suppose, to 103 or 104.

I am not going to lie and say I feel really great about my French, or that I really deserve that ranking, but I am confident at this point, that I can communicate with people. It might be crappy French, but I get the job done, and besides, I'm here to teach English, not French.

On a funny note, after receiving the ranking, the facilitator made the announcement that my friend and I would be giving a speech in French at the swearing in, because we had made the most progress. I didn't understand a word of what she said, and I had to ask a friend to translate. So much for advanced low.

Swear in celebrations this year coincide with 40th anniversary of the Peace Corps in Benin. The president of the country will even be there and all of our families are invited. It should be a ruckus.

Yesterday, Peace Corps took us on an excursion to Grand Popo, a resort village on the western atlantic coast of Benin. It gave us 6 hours of uncomfortable bush-taxi riding, and about 3-4 hours to relax on the beach, depending on how long one's bush taxi broke down for (Ours just had a flat tire, another van was set back by an hour because of a radiator belt).

Benin is not a tourist destination, so even the “resort” areas are pretty undeveloped. Fortunately, it's New Jersey. The riptide is so strong on the Benin coast, that one can't swim much here. I waded a little bit, had some good conversations, got a bit of sunburn, and maybe even a cocktail. I get the impression that these areas tend to be visited by diplomats, various volunteers and missionaries, and people visiting diplomats and various volunteers. I might come down to visit my friend Angelina who lives about an hour away, and hit the beach a little bit while I'm at it.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Pictures


Madam Nora and I shared a 6eme class this week.



I think I have explained that for dress here, the norm is to go to the Marche, find fabric you like, take it to the Tailor or Seamstress, and have your outfit made. I am waiting on my first outfit but several of my friends are on their second, third, or 10th. Angelina, Kristen, Naima, Claire, Sarah


Maman et Moi.

End of Stage in sight...

8 – 20 -2008

Life with model school continues. There are really wonderful days and really long tiring days. Sometimes I teach a lesson and think, “that was fantastic,” and sometimes I teach a lesson and want to cry. Fortunately, the latter happens rarely. This week I’m teaching 6eme, which is first year English. My students are 12-16 years old. The class size is a bit smaller because the divided classes so that we would have more time to teach. Right now, I’m with the lovely Nora, and we take turns teaching ever day. Half the days she teachers 2 and I teach 1, and the other days she teaches 1 hours and I teach 2.

It’s funny now, as I habituate to life here, how things that used to seem strange or odd, now seem completely normal. Several times a week, we go to a Buvette (Bar) after class. For me, the goal is usually to find some beignets (fried dough balls) on the street, but I usually end up having a soda, or some days even a beer. I don’t even think twice when the bar maman wipes down the table with gasoline to make the flies go away or when a goat (they call them mutons, but they’re not) wanders through the bar area looking for scraps.

I haven’t figured out the livestock system here. Were I hungry for a slice of goat or chicken, I think it would be quite easy for me to abduct an animal and have him for dinner. They wander around the streets looking for food. I have no idea how they find their way home.

They are apt little animals, especially the goats. I’m convinced that they are more skilled at crossing the streets here than most of the stagiers. They barely need to look both ways and they know when to bolt. I’ve yet to see any muton roadkill, which of course doesn’t mean that there is no such thing here – but really, I’ve always thought goats were smart. They are.

One of the highlights of my week was receiving a small package from Paul, master webdesigner and basso-profundo of the magnificent District of Columbia. Before leaving, we had discussed the possibility of him preparing a monthly volume of NPR podcasts for me. Sure enough, I received the first volume, including The Splendid Table, Wait! Wait!, Bill Moyers, NPR Religion, and Speaking of Faith. I’ve taken to listening to podcasts (and David Sedaris’s new book, thanks Ellen!), before bed. It helps me to fall asleep, not at all unlike my former All Things Considered naps back in the States. The CD came just in time, too, as I had just listened to my last edition of the Splendid Table for the 3rd time the day before they arrived. It’s the little things that make me happy here, really.

8-22-2008
On the list of things to which I have become accustomed, I ought to add the five-time-daily call to prayer by the Muslims. This isn’t to say, I can sleep through the 5:30 call to prayer coming from a speaker phone outside my window, but rather that my body knows it is time to go to sleep at 9:30, so that I can wake up at 5:30 with the Muslims. Sometimes I wake up at 4:45 or 5:00 with the first cockcrow. Shortly after, at 5:00 the early-birds start chanting the call to prayer. A sort of rumble starts coming from the city. It grows, gets louder, and explodes with the Mosque outside my window at 5:30. It’s almost like you can hear the sun groaning in an attempt to rise. .

An interesting note for you liturgy dorks – I have several friends who are living with Christian families, catholic and other denominations, who get up at 4:30 every morning to pray together. Why do they do it? My friend’s host-father said, “We want to be first (beat the Muslims) to greet God in the morning.” The delighted cynic in me, can’t help but wonder if this is how the Liturgy of the Hours (Divine Office, which resulted in the breviary) started. Christians felt that they needed to compete with the Pagans and Jews among them, so they because praying at similar times. The fact that we borrowed practices from both Pagan (Lucernarium at night) and Jewish (benedictus) rituals.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Some Photos

As a teacher, I have rediscovered the joy of drawing chalks, and cartoon goat drawing.

Some local flair. Star and Castel are local beers. Youki is a beninese soda of which I am very fond. They have a flavor called mocha I like a lot. Finally, baignet, fried doughballs, because life is better fried.

See. Life is better fried. Fellow stagiers Lucy, Katie, Claire, Naima; all of the TEFL group.


Monica had a dress made with Immaculate conception fabric.
Angelina and I cooking up a storm. I just cracked a coconut against the wall and dumped the milk into our dish. Mmmm.

Bisous from Benin...

8-12-2008

I taught my first two hour class today. It was draining. I am tired and my voice is soar. The class – fantastic. My feedback was stellar and I felt great about it.

There’s a little trick in French where you can use the phrase “Je suis en train due + verb,” which is sort of like present continuous, but translates literally as “I’m on the train of + verb.” Beninese like to shorten it, and sometimes say simply, “Tu est en train!” Which means “You’re doing it!” Really, I am! I’m teaching! I’m on the train. It feels good.

The yovo calling is still frustrating, but I’ve taken to chastising children using the following phrases:

“Il ne faut pas m’appele yovo!”
“Je ne m’apelle yovo!”
etc, etc.

I get a lot of confounded looks when I do this. It’s a shock for them, I think, because they are so ridiculously happy to see me, and they can’t possibly understand why I, a month plus after having arrived, am tired of being called a whitey.

8-13-2008
Today Angelina and I shared a zem. We did this on Sunday when we went fabric shopping, but the challenge today was that we both were wearing back packs. Between that and our bulky helmets banging together, a good time was had by all, and my tailbone hurts.

Regarding my teaching, I’ve been having fun throwing in little things that the kids have no chance of getting, including.

1. I had the HRC logo in full color on the chalkboard with my grammar rule for the comparative of equality.

2. I did an exercise where the kids had to write sentences with comparative of inferiority. The exercise had a picture of two stick people, one named George, the other named Barack, and there was a < sign with the word “smart.” The answer was, “George is less smart than Barack.”

3. When talking about adjectives, I made all the girls stand up and I said, “Are you smart?” and all the girls said, “yes!” Then all the boys stood up. I said “Are girls smart?” I didn’t let them sit down until they said “yes.”

8-16-2008

I know it’s normal for things to get lost in translation, but sometimes unfortunate things are gained. Today, my facilitator was ordering around classroom sweepers. I said, “A____ you are a slave driver!”

Later in the morning he came up to me, confused and a bit upset. He thought the term was some kind of nasty offense and Kate and I had to explain that it was a cliché – a harmless one at that. That having happened, the word really does sound awful to me, and I imagine it sounded especially awful to a culture victimized by the slave trade.
**
Today in language class I ended up in an awkward situation where my language facilitator wanted me to talk about my ideal woman. Not wanting to risk losing the respect of the facilitator by coming out (hey, it’s the culture, I’m trying to accept it), this is what I said,
*She must be very strong
*She must do all the house work
*She must be 20-30 years older than me
*She must not have a mustache
*She shouldn’t be intelligent
*She shouldn’t work except for in the home.

“John Mark – tu es bizarre,” was my facilitator’s response.

8-16-2008

Every week, we have various cross-cultural sessions. The purpose is, I believe, to help us integrate and adapt. We cook, talk about stereotypes, taboos, and occasionally go on field trips like the one to Ouidah I posted about the other week.

Last week we went on trips to various places of worship, and then reported back to the larger group about the place we visited. With my group, I visited a Tron temple, which is a sort of voudon that comes out of Akra, Ghana.

Outside of the temple, which was no more than a mud hut, we asked questions in French which were tan translated to Fon for the Fetishman (priest). This particular cult has a positive edge. Their goal is to combat sorcery, which is achieved by sacrifice of animals and the offering of cola nuts through fetishes.

The cult is generally polygamist, and one must be married to someone of the same tradition to remain a member. There are also sexual restrictions – one my not have sex on the day he or she enters the temple, those days being usually Friday and Thursday. Yes, he did make sure that none of us had had sex before we entered the temple.

The beliefs of this sect are almost monotheistic. They believe in one great God, and believe in smaller fetishes that help you to communicate with God. The priest claimed to be able to help with fertility, illness, and all kinds of life situations.

The Beninese take their religion seriously here, and I’m really impressed by the peaceful plurality. The milieu of popular religion here includes:

*Voudon (Voodoo) including Tron and Zangbeto (Zangbetto is the cult with the men dressed up in straw that come out at night. If a woman sees one, she will die in three days.

*Christianisme Céleste – This is a very popular form of Christianism with animism. It has an interesting history. They have a series of anointings and baptism, but I don’t’ believe they celebrate the Eucharist.

*Islam & Christianity

*Eckism – My host family is Eckist. They believe in Eck which seems to be the Holy Spirit. It’s based out of Chanhassen, MN. You can imagine what a surprise it was to come into their home and see a large picture of a balding, white, Midwestern Man posted in the parlor. That’s the religion’s leader – the living Eck Master, Harold Kemp.

**

Today we went to a traditional medicine hospital. A couple of very serious men showed us around and talked to us about the medicine they use. It is all grown and made on sight, and is all originally African medicine (in other words, they don’t borrow from other traditional medicine traditionsd). They claimed to have cures for SIDA (AIDS), cancer, malaria, sickle-cell anemia, and diabetes. Some of my friends were upset by this. I wasn’t sure what to think. My guess is that 1. they probably do have some cures or effective organic drugs, but 2. they probably can’t really diagnose AIDS and various other diseases without doing blood work, which they don’t do so 3. they probably “treat” people for diseases they don’t have. What do you think?

They also offered spiritual consultations, which were sort of like fortune tellings that a few of my fellow stagiers took part in while the rest of us watched. I’m going to put a few pictures up on the blog shortly.

**

This afternoon we had an “Iron Chef” competition. I’ll be putting up pictures of this as well. The volunteer leaders divided us into three teams. I was with Angelina, Sarah, and Lucy. We were given a variety of useful ingredients and then one ingredient we must use (which was coconut). I’m pretty proud of what we did.

We made a curry stew with peanut butter (pâte d’arachide), potatoes, wagashu cheese (hand made cheese from the Fulani), and coconut milk. This actually turned out really well, but we still only ended up with 2nd place out of three. Alas. Fun was had by all.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Care Package Wish List

By popular demand, I have added a care package wish list.

Progress...

8-8-2008
I have not written lately because I am so busy with training. I am exhausted all the time. Training is intense now that model school has started. This is the “T.A.” part of stage (stage is training). With the offer of “free English classes,” the facilitators have managed to bring in almost 200 students, enough to have 2 classes of year 1 (6eme), and one class of year 2 (5eme) and 3 (4eme).

Every week, we get about 2-3 hours of in-class teaching. We are put into groups of trainees and we share a class for 2 weeks at a time, and then switch to another. Three people teach every day. This, plus language, cross-cultural, and bike training results in 60 hour weeks, and many late evenings. I come home and am ready to go to bed. Being a volunteer and all, there’s no comptime or vacation during stage, you just deal with it.

As an obvious result of it all, I haven’t done much introspection. I talked to Les today and she asked me how I was feeling about everything. I really don’t regret coming here to do this. I still feel good about it. The busy lifestyle helps me to look forward to going to my post, where I will finally be able to kick back and enjoy life au Beninois.

I taught two lessons this week and felt good enough about both of them. It’s funny to think about how nervous I was my first couple times performing in college. Now, for me, getting in front of a room full of people, especially kids, isn’t intimidating at all. I’m comfortable coming in and taking control. So far, I have had all the typical problems that were common with church choirs. Late comers, insufficient supplies, and talking.

Developing-country education has its quirks. Here are a few. How would you deal with them?

*Classrooms are essentially outdoors. They are like picnic shelter houses.
*Their roofs are made of aluminum or tin, so during a downpour, don’t even bother teaching.
*The classrooms might or might not have electricity, and if they do, don’t expect the light fixtures in the room to turn on. On a cloudy day, the kids might not be able to see the board.
*Classes are 60+ in size. Apparently at my post, I could have 80+ students in a single
post.
*There is no textbook. We teach from a photocopy of a very weak curriculum constructed by the Benenise government.
*As a result, we write everything on the board. Every dialogue, every vocabulary list, every reading sample, every exercise, every quiz, the children have to copy into notebooks from the chalkboard. Not only is this inconvenient, it’s a terrible waste of class time.
*Imagine learning a language without the ability to look up a word when you’re at home studying. Imagine learning a language solely from one person. Every misspelled word, every mistake I make, becomes concrete in their studies – it’s in their notebook which becomes their textbook.

Lately I’ve been thinking about “development” – what if a country took all of its resources – all the aid it received from foreign sources, and invested it entirely in education. So that every child went to school for free, had all the text books she needed, and really had the freedom to learn and explore -to exercise her own self-motivation. I think if this were to happen, a country might really develop a strong, well educated populous capable of bringing the country into a new age of independence and success.

8-9-2008
Today we had a cooking session. This involved a killing a chicken. In case you’re curious about the Beninois chicken killing processes, here are the steps.
**Killing a Chicken
1. Give the chicken its last drink of water. I’m not sure why they do this. Maybe it’s cultural.
2. Dig a hole in the sand.
3. Pluck feathers from the area of its neck you intend to cut.
3. Hold the chicken’s wings down with your feet. With your hands, hold its head and start cutting through the Chicken’s neck.
4. Allow chicken to bleed into hole in the ground. Give it time finish twitching and dying.
5. Soak in freshly boiled water.
6. Pull feathers out.
7. Gut and cook. Cook guts.

On a side note, a month before I left, I was discussing with Eikon the killing of chickens. The question was posed, "What would I do if someone in my village gave me a chicken. Sure enough, having never seen a chicken killed or plucked or gutted, I was able to tell him the entire process, step by step. I think the chicken killing is part of my inate German farmer identity, eventhough I`m several generations away from the farm folk - it is still there.

Now that that’s out of the way, I’ll tell you how we cooked it. The chicken was boiled in a pot just with water for a while. Later, a sauce was added. Here’s what was in it. If you want to make it, you can avoid hours of stone-milling by using a food processor. . . Don’t get me wrong, the milling was great, but activities like these make it evident why child labor is so popular here.

Sauce D’arachide (Peanut Sauce) – mill separately and then combine:
*tomatoes
*ginger (pealed and diced)
*garlic
*hot peppers (if you like spice)
*peanut butter (pâte d’arachide) – make sure it’s organic with no salt added.
*chicken flavoring (they add this to everything, I’m not sure it’s needed considering the gigantic chunks of meat)
*salt (they are pretty every with the salt in general)
*Add a can of tomatoe sauce for consistancy. They add tomatoe sauce to everything, I'm not sure its really needed.

I have to say, it’s funny – well, strange – to see my facilitators in the kitchen. These are strong willed professional Beninois who have surpassed many odds to be so successful. And then there we are, in the backyard, bent over stoves with them, - gutting various types of animals. On another cultural note, part of “being a woman” here is being able to touch hot things. They build up calluses and are able to pick up pans that have been quite hot on the stove. Crazy.

Jargon Benenise...

French here isn’t necessarily Parisian, and I am definitely learning the language with a west-African flare. Here are a few examples of the local jargon. I’m not sure exactly what usage is in France, but I get the impression from my Francophile friends that these are peculiarly local:

doucement! – This is a catch-all word here. It means careful, watch out, slowdown, relax, take it easy, attention! Literally, it means sweetly. If someone is talking too quickly and you want them to slow down, you say “doucement.” If your zemmi driver is driving recklessly – “doucement.” If someone trips – “doucement.” If you faint in a football stadium – “doucement.” You get it.

tu est la! – Strange to me. Sometimes when someone wants to saluer me (greet), they say “John, tu est la” which means, “John, you are there.” What do you say to that? Yes, yes I am.

c’est matin! – Another way to saluer. It’s the equivalent of saying “what’s up,” but translates literally as, “It’s the morning!” Another example of one where you want to say, “Yes, it is the morning!” Usually people answer with “ça va” meaning, “it goes.”

ça va? ça va. – Someone says “ça va,” meaning it goes, and you respond “Yes, it goes.” Classic.

bon soir - They use <> here the entire day.

Making cultural progress...

I’ve had lots of little moments lately that make me feel at home, or at least, not as lonely here. I’m used to French keyboards now, so I go to the wrong place for the m, q, and a, when I’m typing on my laptop. I’m having longer conversations with my Maman and Tanti, her sister here from Paris. My communication with the domestique, Rosa, has even improved.

There’s a bit of turn around as well. The things that really annoyed me when I first got here are old news. Meanwhile the things that were novel or at least cute, now drive me crazy. For example, I’m sick of the little kids (and some adults) who yell at me everyday, four times a day. They do so as if they have never seen me before, never mind that I bike through their neighborhood four times a day for the last 4 weeks.

And they have this song, a really nasty song. It goes like this:

Yovo, Yovo bon soir.
Ça va bien, merci,
Donnez moi cadeau.
translated as :

Whitey, Whitey, good afternoon,
I am fine, thank you,
give me a present.
The legend goes that the French colonists taught the little Africans to sing this song for them because they thought it was cute. I find it sickening. At a young age, they are formed to believe that people like myself are simply there to give them handouts. It really counters the whole mission of the Peace Corps, which to me, is really a mission of teaching subsistence and promoting cultural sharing.

Even scarier is the fact that it is quite possible that the Yovo song is some of the first French that Children learn here. Many of them don’t start learning French until they get to primary school because tribal languages (Fon, Goun, Beriba, etc) are often the first language of the home.

It’s one thing for random kids on the street to be singing this song at me, but when I came home the other day to hear Maman’s grandchildren chanting the song, I found myself exasperated. Fortunately my French has come along enough that I was able to say, “Mais je ne suis pas Yovo.”

This was returned by blank stares that said, “You lie.”

“Je n’aime pas le môt yovo. Que je m’apelle?”

“John,” They replied. Satisfied I left them there and went in the house.

Later that afternoon when I returned to home from class, the children were there to greet me, this time singing,

“Yovo John, Yovo John!”

I suppose that’s better, isn’t it? I’m no longer a just a yovo. I am a Yovo with a name. This counts for something, I think.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Ouidah and Slavery

An American playing tourist at a historic slave trading post, is a bit like a German paying homage at a concentration camp. It’s not easy. It’s not rewarding. It’s not enjoyable. Even still, we go there, and we remember all the awful things for which many of the white men who founded our country are responsible.

I’m not sure I can call it my best birthday ever – I had a cold, a sickly stomach, and I hadn’t slept at all the night before. I wasn’t prepared to really absorb the experience. I’m not sure that anyone can really prepare oneself for such profound memorials. Even still, it will probably be one of my most memorable birthdays.

Unfortunately, I don’t remember all the stops along the path, so I can’t recount them to you. Three, however, stick out in my mind. The landmarks make it clear that the kidnappers (usually from opposite battling tribes) were aware of the gravity of their actions. At one point, each person would walk around a tree – called the tree of forgetfulness. This would help them to forget their pasts, their history, and their home. Next they would be forced to run several times around a different tree. If they were not able to do so, they would be sent to a mass grave where they would be buried alive.

Those deemed worthy to be shipped to the new world, would be shipped off from the “Port of No Return.” There is an arch. On the side facing land, it recalls all those people torn from their African lives. On the opposite side, the side facing the Atlantic, the relief carving portrays the slaves’ belief that their spirits returning to Africa after death.

My 60 odd friends and I walked through the arch and forward to the ocean. Many of us took our shoes and waded in the Atlantic, taking pictures and drawing in the sand. It all seemed overwhelmingly ironic to me – like doing hopscotch in the holocaust museum – but I joined in, and that’s how I spent the rest of my time in Ouida.

Scarification is a big thing here. At a young age, small marks are cut into their faces. I assumed this was more of a tribal ritual the anything else, but when I asked my host brother he explained it differently. He said that at the time of the slave trade, the different tribes would cut their faces differently, so that if they found one another abroad, they would know that they are from the same tribe. They do this today, even though most of them live in cities, and are free of most other tribal practices, as a way to remember their ancestors that were violently taken away from them.

When I first arrived and saw all the scarification (fr: cicatrice), I was bothered. I thought it was a nasty ritual, but as I get to know the culture, I’m starting to understand better the cultural importance of such a practice. Now I appreciate it.
I think the cost of lives from the slave trade is a bit understated in comparison to other memorials – wars, genocides, famines. I might even venture to say these monuments in particular were understated, but at least they exist. At least ever year, during training 60+ Peace Corps trainees come to remember.

Post Visit and Independence Day

Peace Corps Log
7/26/2008
It’s my birthday. I celebrated by visiting an 18th century slave trading post
named Ouidah. I wrote an essay about this which I will share on my blog. I’m
not really sure that any human is really capable of grasping the gravity of
the history of the place. WE visited the Port of No Return,” a monument to
the many torn from their families in warfare. Then we pranced down to the
beach and waded in the water and took lots of photos.

7/31/2008
Here I am in the villqge– my future home. I’ve been assigned to take a siesta
by the patron, and I suppose I should. I’m beginning to experience culture
shock for the first time. Last night when I was served dinner, the Patron, in
the middle of doing his Muslim prayer workout, yelled “Monsieur, la gouche!”
I was eating with my left hand, being that I am ambidextrous, left dominate.
I had heard about this, but have not yet experienced it. Here tradition
dictates that you eat with your right and wipe your butt with your left. I
think I liked grandpa’s “It’s a sign of the devil” better than this. At least
his beliefs weren’t messed up and forced into some sort of practical
interpretation.

The village is on the Guidrone, one of the only major highways in the country,
that connects the north to the south. It’s in the commune of ____, which
is fabled to have better infrastructure and facilities, because the president
of the country keeps his home there.

To get to the villqge from the south you go slightly up hill for about six
hours through the Collines area, called such for its Wisconsin-Dell-like rock
pile hills. They’re very pretty on the landscape, seemingly out of nowhere.
The land is more or less flat, and then these rocky hills pop up out of
nowhere.

We visited the school, the Centre De Santé, the commissioner, the chief of
polices, and various other people along the way. I’m not even sure who many o
them were, but the culture is such here, that you sort of wander into
people’s living rooms. No one worries about how clean things are, they shake
your hand and sit you down. There were lots of akward moments, and I’m pretty
sure that there will be many more.

8/4/2008
I was a bit ill after post, so I didn’t write much, but in conclusion to what I have written previously – I am quite happy with my post. I can sense that I’ll be able to fit in (as best a white man can) in the village, and that they will welcome me with open arms.

In seminar the other day, the Directeurs were talking about how impossible it is to find good English professors. We really are needed here, very directly. Of course, I’m still not confident that English teaching should be a priority in a country with such high rates of malnutrition and infant mortality, but hey, it’s what I’m here for!

On Saturday, the Censeur took me to Parakou on his moto – a 24 km ride – and left me with the Directeur. I spent the day with the Directeur and his family. We went to the Independence Day parade and I got to see Yahi BONI, the famed president of Benin. This was because Parakou was the official host of Independence Day this year. I ended up in a few crowds that made me a little uncomfortable – even one that was getting whipped by the military with belts to move back. I was just following the lead of the Directeur, going where he wanted me to, which led to a bit of stress throughout the day, as you’ll find out shortly.

We returned to his house shortly after the parade started so we could watch it on TV. He figured we’d actually get to see more of it, which was true. It was mostly a military parade. Every regiment from Benin was there in addition to soldiers marching from Nigera, Ghana, South Africa, France, Togo, and probably a few others. I actually fell asleep a little bit while watching it on the TV.

In the Afternoon, the Directeur decided to take me to a football game before depositing me at the PC Parakou workstation. Because the president was there as well, the crowds were awful. The Directeur found some friends and we packed ourselves in with them. Ten minutes later I fainted due to the heat. It was quite embarrassing. I was only out for a few seconds, and woke up to a bunch of men saying “Doucement! Doucement!” (n.b. in west Africa, doucement (which actually means sweetly) translates in many ways – careful! slow down! watch out!). Needless to say, I got to leave the game early, which was fine with me since I don’t really like watching sports.

The Directeur took me to the Parakou workstation, where I rested, ate dinner, spent the next day sick with digestion problems, and watched some movies. Benin has 3 workstations in addition to the Peace Corps Bureau. These are houses in bigger cities that PCVs can visit for work, internet, relaxing, and to enjoy the convenience of running water and electricity. I’m very lucky that the Parakou workstation is only 24 kilometers away.

The ride home was not so fantastic. We experienced something that many volunteers go their whole term of service without seeing. Our driver (we hired a car because there were 5 of us returning from the Parakou workstation) hit a pedestrian. It was surreal. I was in the front seat. The Chauffeur was driving too fast through a village, and someone decided to try to sprint across the road. A crowd gathered. There was some shouting and yelling, and a few minutes later, the five of us were all in the back seat, and in the front seat was a the man, screaming, crying, bleeding, with a compound fracture. 30 minutes later we were at a hospital. A new driver was found and for the rest of the afternoon, I think the five of us were still in shock.

For me, it compounded the preceding 4 days of continuous culture shock. I find myself analyzing – trying to figure out what I’m going to have to accept to live here. First off, there are essentially no traffic laws – if the driver had been driving safely through the village it wouldn’t have happened. Then, there’s no emergency response, and barely even a hospital – never mind that these villages are often 5 or 6 times larger then my home town in Iowa which has a large, well staffed hospital. Our Chauffeur became the person responsible for making sure this man got the help he needs. It seems life here as an American involves a lot of acceptance – accepting things that you wouldn’t dream of accepting in the US. The Beninois have a sense of fate that Americans don’t have. I’ll get used to it.

This week begins our 5 week long model school. Teachers recruit local kids to come in for free English lessons, and we practice teaching various curricula at various age levels. While we are here, we will be teaching 6eme and 5eme, which are similar to middle-school aged classes in the US. The following year, we continue on with the same classes, thus teach 5eme and 4eme.