Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A lonely beginning . . .

Septembert 23rd, Tcharou, Benin
Every morning I am woken up by the wind rattling my house and rain pattering on my tin roof. The rain will end soon and then the Harmattan will come and the children will go back to school. I will begin my shortlived careeer as a teacher. The children look tired. Tired of vacation. Tired of apprentessing their parents. They are ready to go back into the regular routine of learning and memorizing, and being with all of their friends.

These first two weeks have been lonesome. I spent my time here surrounded by people who are fascinated by my existance but not neccesarily interested in who I am. Some people are welcoming, but often the hospitality doesn’t go beyond a handshake and « kah weh ruh ». I don’t take it personally. I am the outsider, and it is my job to get to know the community, and to get them to know me. It is difficult though. They see me as white. The « yovos » from the south couple with the Beriban « baturei ! » and the occasional Nigerian « white man ! » I am close enough to Nigeria here, that occasionally people speak english to me. I find their french far more comprehensible then their Small Small, the nigerian dialect of English.

I go take a few walks everyday. I figure if I really want to belong here, people have to get used to seeing me. They are. I am slowly recognizing people I have already met – the friends of the landlord, teachers, administrators, old men. My house is in a concession, which means it is really 4 or 5 houses set together in a square off the road. The landlord, known by the locals as Patron, lords over the concession and the village. He is taller than me, and young, no more then thirty five, and his ponch belly shows his success as a transporteur. He is clearly a story of rags to riches, made evident by his poor french and casual lifestyle. His new house across from mine has tile floor, a glass chandelier, and large leather chairs pointing towards his sattelite connected television. His gang of friends is omnipresent, especially during the season of Ramadan. They pray and break their fast together after sundown. I eat with them every night, a gift of Patron, and I feel a bit guilty not having fasted as the famished men dig into their starchy yams and drink their fermented porridge.

Its a man’s world here, and that is made clear by the constant work of the women. I’m not sure who is who. I don’t know if the Patron has one wife or two or three, but there are always at least two women around and they are always working. They wake me up, when they are making yam pilet outside my window before sunrise. I try to talk to Maman and I feel like I am in the way. I will ask her how to say something in Beriba, or how much an onion should cost at the marche, and she doesn’t stop her work to answer. She keeps pace, stirring her food and breast feeding the baby at the same time and gives me the information I need to know. Her life is pretty good, I imagine, living with the richest man in the commune, but at the same time, the American in me wonders what she could have been.

A few thousand miles away from the life I led as a church musician, I find myself drawn to the church. There is time for it here, and it is a good starting point, something I have common with the people, and that population is relatively small for the village. After wandering around a few days in a row, I found the mission on the outskirts of town. It has one of the nicest houses I have seen in Benin, and it is joined by a retreat house, an orphanage run by 4 nuns, and a library yet to be open. The mission is led by a priest and a transitional deacon who is perhaps as lonely as I am. He’s an outsider too, from the south, and isn’t part of the local ethnic groups that entrench the area. The things that bother me about the church seem a lot less important here in west-africa, where the weekly collection is a few dollars, and life is slow, and simple. I think deacon is amused, or at least fascinated by the fact that with my education, we are on the same intellectual playing field. He will be ordained in December and I tell him regularly that he ought to go and study at one of my alma maters. He is gentle and caring and I think that might be al you really need to be a good priest.

I have time now, to listen and to experience. My coffee tastes better to me now that I have to hold a funnel in the air over my mug and drip hot water through a filter. Sometimes, I feel like a hermit monk. Like Merton, or one of the other holy men before him, but then I look up from my writing, and see that a crowd of children staring at me intently. I ask them if they are enjoying watching me. They walk into the street, and play and shout and scream. The evening is noisy. The call to prayer rings in my ears. I may be lonely, but I am not alone.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Top ten experiences I have never had before coming to my village

Ten. Woken up by turkeys crowing out side my bedroom window.

Nine. Ate dinner with five african men and I was the only one in traditional african clothing.

Eight. Successfully greeted someone in the local language.

Seven. Eaten dinner on the floor.

Six. Woken by a goat fight.

Five. Been woken by women pounding yams.

Four. Chased children out of my house who randomly decided to enter.

Three. Washed my hands with gas.

Two. Made a savory peanut butter and onion tapioca pudding.

One. Heard a man peeing outside my window.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

I'm Out...

Well friends. Tomorrow I head north to my little village in the commune of Tchaorou. I wont tell you the name of the village for security's sake. But heres the map. Au revoir.



Agrandir le plan

Thursday, September 4, 2008

This is it. . .

In a phone conversation with my sister (theologianmom.com) the other day, I was led to believe that despite my flowery, esoteric writing, you all really have no clue what is going on and what will go on in the next couple days of my life. So, here you go. This is what is up:

Today, Thursday – Today is a shopping day for us. Angelina and I went to the Supermarch√© to purchase some necessaries, like bleach and cooking oil. After we did a little road side shopping, and I found a large plastic barrel for keeping water in my house and a mirror for staring at myself. Now, we’re at Songhai (songhai.org) for our last two hours of internet before we leave. For me, this will mean fewer blogposts. If at all, monthly as we are not supposed to leave posts for more then 24 hours in the first 3 months. This period is jokingly referred to as <> and is supposed to facilitate good integration.

Tomorrow, Friday – A bus will take all volunteers from Porto-Novo to Cotonou for our swearing in ceremony. The president of Benin will be there. As a reward for strong improvement in language, I will be giving a speech on behalf of the volunteers… in French. Shortly after I will be singing a solo in a song that was written for the occasion… and all of this will be done in a bright fuchsia Bou Bou. All the TEFL volunteers are wearing the same color of 40th anniversary fabric. In the evening, we will be having a dinner with the president. I think I have mentioned before that this is all a big deal because it is also the 40th anniversary of uninterrupted peace corps service in Benin, which is impressive, given all the political unrest many countries have had. Friday night, we will stay at Saint Jean Eude in Cotonou.

Saturday –We will return to Porto Novo. Then packing and the last day with the fam. If I have a spare minute, I might get back to a cyber, but who knows.

Sunday – A taxi will come to my house and take me to my new house up north! I will be sharing the taxi with one other volunteer. It will be packed and the roof will be piled high with mattresses, boxes and such. Fun times.

September – School doesn’t start until October, so I will have time to get used to life au village before it begins. I will need to find a tutor in French and Beriba, and start thinking about how I want to teach.

There is a chance that I will not be able to get to the internet at all in the coming months. I did buy a cell phone which will allow me to check e-mail when the cell phone provider’s internet service actually works. It is also a good way for me to follow news and politics.

More then ever, I will appreciate your calls, so if you feel like it, my numbers are 97956597 and 95829539 . The latter is my internet cell phone, which will be in my house at all times. My former number is no longer in service.

Wish me luck, and now more then ever, keep me in your minds and prayers. These next couple of weeks will likely be the hardest of the Peace Corps experience!
JM

Respect at 3am

A major daily even for me continues to be the call to prayer; now two hours earlier as a result of the arrival of the month of Ramadan. I’ve joked in the past, suggesting that there is a mosque megaphone pointed directly in my bedroom window. This is a small exaggeration, it is actually just across the street.

Mosques seem like a good place to prayer, for some reason this morning, twenty minutes before call to prayer, two men decided to sing… loudly… this time legitimately right outside my window. Perhaps excited by the singing frenzy, the bread lady decided it was an opportune time to begin yelling, “pain chaud!” her hope I believe, to make money off of the starving Muslims before the sun would come up.

That coupled with 200 other mosques beginning call to prayer was enough to make me not like Muslims for the 30 minutes I was awake. As I said to Maman, I have a hard time respecting anything or anyone that wakes me up at three in the morning. I am happy to respect them at 12 noon, but 3am is pushing it.

I grumpily pulled out my ipod and started listening to Saint Saens organ symphony, followed by Verdi’s firey requiem. Comfortable music that helped me to fall fast asleep once again. Though many try to revive the hours in the Catholic Church;, including myself, I can see why they might have faded away. God loves me just as much when I am asleep; and I am pretty sure he would rather I stay that way; then be grumpy with the Mosque outside my window at 3am in the morning.