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Month: September, 2014

Sept. 26, 2014

Here are some things that are hard currently:

  1. I went to the bank to pick up my ATM card yesterday. This is a card that I ordered about two months ago. I have already tried to pick it up at another branch, with lots of frustration and miscommunication. It is important that I get it because the bank itself is an hour and a half away and I have to take a crowded (two people in front passenger seat, four people and however many little kids in back) taxi to get there. I’ve got an ATM in my town so with this card I will have easy access to my money and will be able to evade uncomfortable taxis. With all the steps and inefficiencies at the bank, it took almost three hours to get my ATM card. THREE HOURS. There was something especially infuriating about it because it was set up very much like a western bank, with people in western-style clothes etc. which gave me expectations that it might function like a western bank as well. No dice. The customer service specialist took a personal call from one of his buddies while in the middle of talking to me. That is pretty indicative.
  2. I really love to have visitors at my house and in the US I try to have a pretty much open-door policy. You in the neighborhood? Give me a call and drop by! But here there is a lot of dropping by and not a lot of calling beforehand. I had someone come to say hi to me at 7:30 am yesterday and someone else come at 10:00 pm. I am thinking of setting up visiting hours.
  3. There are 10000 spiders in my house. There is one in particular who is living inside my roll of toilet paper. He scares me for reasons you can imagine and I really want to get rid of him but he is too fast for me to kill.
  4. There are also rats and mice. They love to eat everything so I have to put my food in sealed plastic containers or in bowls hanging from the rafters with little cardboard guards above them so that the vermin cannot climb down the ropes. I left out some tomatoes last night because my hanging bowl was full and they were too ripe to keep in a sealed container. But then they had bites taken out of them in the morning. Mice and rats also poop a lot all over the places you would like them not to poop (NOT IN MY HOUSE NOT ON MY KITCHEN COUNTER ESPECIALLY)
  5. There is a gang of kids in my concession. They range in age from 1.5 to 14 and they are a lot. They often have their faces pushed up against my screen door watching me. They always want to be hanging out in my house. We’ve established rules like “you must knock if you would like to come in. You may not come in unless I say you can. When I ask you to leave, you must leave. No kids in my bedroom.” There are some other rules that I am currently implementing due to unforeseen issues. These include: “No feet on the kitchen table, no naked baby butts on the kitchen table, you may not throw trash on my floor, no hitting each other while under my roof, you may not chew plastic packaging like it is gum in my house because I am worried about your health even if your mom says it is ok.” Although having 9 or 10 kids in your living room can be a headache, it can also be very heartwarming. They are really into learning songs, so I have taught them some. So far, we can sing “Pony Boy,” “Hot Cross Buns” and “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” This is adorable and I especially like when the two year old sings along because she makes English-sounding noises instead of words.

Benin Blog 3

Now I am here in Bante—here where I will be for the next two years, here where my new home is. Bante is big enough to be considered a small city and it is on one of the two main north-south highways in the country. There are enough people here that I will not know everyone in my town in the next two years, but small enough that I can bike from one end to the other in about 15 minutes.

Everything is so new that it is a little overwhelming. I spent an entire day cleaning and still feel like my house is dirty. I am not that good at cleaning anyway, but when you take away things like a vacuum, Lysol wipes, and spray all-purpose cleaner, I get less effective. Simple things like “where can I buy matches to light my stove?” can seem like a huge problem to solve. In my best moments I step back and realize that

  1. I can ask anyone on the street to help me find anything and they generally will
  2. You can buy matches literally everywhere

So there will be an adjustment period, but it will be good. I have been riding around on my bike, stopping to talk to people whenever I feel like it or need to, and going to the important places in Bante to “saluer” or greet everyone. This involves walking into an important place like the mayor’s office, hoping that I am not looking as out of place as I feel. (I do look out of place; I am white, sweaty from biking, and also wearing capris, which no one here wears but make biking infinitely less of a hassle.) Then, even though I’m feeling awkward, I smile and make eye contact with someone and say “I am the new volunteer with the Peace Corps, and I’m here just to introduce myself and say hi!” And then everyone is friendly and I get sent to the people I should talk to, and people say things like “I will have you over to dinner soon!” Or “I will come to your house to saluer you soon!” Sometimes I get brought to the personal house of someone I’ve just met to say hi to the rest of the family. And it is really nice.

Tonight the stars are out. Not a few stars. Not even stars like you will see if you go camping an hour away from a city in the US. I am talking about stars that I thought might only exist in pictures in science books. Stars that are grand and plentiful. I can actually see the Milky Way with no problem even if I don’t have my glasses on.

This is just the beginning but it is seeming good.

Benin Blog 2

These are things I really like about being here:

  1. There are babies everywhere. They are all cute and I am allowed to hold them even if I don’t know the parents well.
  2. Everything is brightly colored. Especially the clothes. People in the US wear too much black.
  3. I can dance any time I want to and it is not weird. Other people are not too self-conscious to dance with me
  4. We recently had a little exposition of women’s groupments and young entrepreneurs selling their wares. A middle-aged woman walked in with a basin on her head. I assumed it was full of vegetables. I asked her if she needed help getting it down and she said yes. I started to take it off of her head and there was something moving inside. Tried to keep my cool while thinking AHHH THIS IS SOMETHING ALIVE!!!! While bringing whatever it was down to the ground, I got splashed in the face. It was, in fact, a basin full of catfish. About 10 catfish. And this woman had probably taken a moto to the expo with that basin full of water and catfish on her head without spilling it. I was in awe.
  5. You can find tapioca just about anywhere which is bittersweet because it makes me think of home and of my grandmother and makes me miss everyone but also tastes really good and reminds me how lucky I am to have so many people I love.
  6. People are expert greeters here. This can get a little overwhelming—How are you? And the fatigue from yesterday? And the family? And your house? Are you in good form? And your work? Etc. For some Americans this gets really old, but I love it. Even if there are prescribed questions and answers, there’s a little moment of bonding and acknowledgement each time you encounter someone.

Benin Blog Post 1

I landed here in Benin and the air smelled just like the air in Accra—smoky, damp, a hint of ocean. I am happy to be here. Not everything is easy—but things are not as hard as I expected either. My French, while far from perfect is coming, and it is getting better all the time. I think in French, dream in French, and can understand almost everything that is said to me as long as it isn’t too fast. Once my grammar catches up I’ll be flying. My host family is wonderful—a papa and a mamma, one sister who is 22, another who is 13, a 27 year old brother, and a 5 month old grandbaby. My sister is really wonderful and helps me understand Beninese culture and French. The baby smiles all the time and pees/throws up on me a little more than I would like. His affectionate nickname is “villain” in French.

I have a pretty big network now in the little suburb where I live, so I’m always running into someone I know, which I like a lot. Everyone thinks I am hilarious here—not sure exactly why. Sometimes I make a good joke and expect to be laughed at but sometimes I have no idea why everyone is telling me I am such a comedian. I suppose my life is just one big comedy.

Today I played soccer with a bunch of people in Peace Corps and their host brothers and sisters for a few hours. My little sister came with me and it was very fun. I am starting to learn how to smack talk in French. The host brother of one of my friends had told me I was “too fat” to play soccer. Here that is kind of a backhanded compliment. I said I was not in the best shape, but I could definitely play soccer, thankyouverymuch. Today we played against each other and he was very surprised that I was a “good defender.” I asked if I was still too fat to play soccer and he said “Some of your fat must be muscle.” Well.

In other news, I have eaten my weight in pineapple and continue to go to class 6 days a week to get better at French. I am resentful of our one hour lunch break in a culture that values daily siestas and generally has 2-3 hours for lunch—Peace Corps is supposed to facilitate integration! Other than that, things have been run better than I expected, and the people who are working on the ground are generally wonderful. I especially like my French teacher who has a soft spot for American rap and is extremely patient with me.

I have a phone number now as well and if you want it, send me an email or facebook message or ask my parents!

Miss and love everyone!