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Month: January, 2015

Things that Have Happened

Here some of the more ridiculous things that have happened to me in the past couple of months. All are true.

  • An old lady offered me snuff (ground up tobacco that you snort) out of a printer-ink bottle. I politely refused.
  • I had just gotten over being sick and a young man told me I was sick because I was suffering from “boy pallu” or boy malaria. This involves fever and chills and is caused by a lack of sex. (He found out that this was not an effective pick-up line)
  • I was told after the same sickness that I had malaria because I boil my water before I drink it. Therefore, the heat is already within the water and transfers to my body. (Note, I did not even have malaria which is caused ONLY BY MOSQUITOES.)
  • I carried two puppies in a cement bag 10 miles on the back of a moto as a favor to a friend. The moto broke down in the middle of nowhere and I had to wait beside an abandoned church with two puppies in a cement sack while waiting for my driver to go back to the closest town to get it fixed. Several people asked me what I was doing and I said “Going to Bante.” They responded “It doesn’t look like it. Give me a puppy.”
  • An ant colony moved into my water filter while I was away for a week. Half of them drowned because a water filter is in no way an appropriate home for an ant colony.
  • KuliKuli has so far killed 26 cockroaches (at least those are the bodies that I’ve found,) bitten the head off of one praying mantis, and pulled the tail off of 1 gecko, all within my house. Gecko tails continue to move for several minutes after they are severed—very entertaining for a cat. I’ve named the gecko Lefty—he still lives in my bathroom and is now very easy to identify.
  • Clyde moved back into my ceiling after a several week hiatus and KuliKuli is terrified of him. He hides behind my cleaning supplies whenever Clyde moves. This means KuliKuli is pretty smart because he knows that he should be afraid, but could also mean that I am pretty stupid because I let a terrifying monster live in my ceiling.
  • Although aware that I generally don’t eat meat, my local language tutor tried to convince me that it was worth breaking with my normal habits to eat some boiled cow skin because it is so delicious. (I was not convinced.)
  • I had a kid try to convince me to let her “paint” my nails with her finger and her spit. Although she waxed poetic about how shiny my nails would be, I refused. She did not understand when I tried to explain germs and is still mad at me.
  • I boiled the fermented milk I bought out of a bucket on a lady’s head to make it safe to drink and ended up accidentally making ricotta cheese! It was amazing.
  • I was told that only men can eat plantain chips and if I eat them I won’t be able to sleep. Fortunately I’ve been eating plantain chips pretty often and always sleep deeply so I had some contrary evidence from personal experience. They told me I didn’t know what I was talking about—there was no way I could be sleeping deeply after eating things that are “only for men.” Therefore, not only am I someone who eats things I shouldn’t but I am either a liar or do not know the quality of my own sleep.

Sample Day

What is it that I do every day? Well, that is highly variable. Some days I’m at the office all day, some days I don’t go into the office at all, and some days I go to visit other volunteers in their towns. Even though there’s no standard day, here’s a little sample that I think is pretty indicative of what I do:

6:00 am: am woken up by a child…or a goat? Screaming. Decide to ignore and go back to sleep.

7:15 am: Wake up grumpily—children wake me up again 15 minutes before my alarm was going to go off. Quickly tell myself to have an attitude adjustment.

7:15-7:30: Cuddle with KuliKuli. He’s really affectionate first thing in the morning.

7:30-8:00: Sweep my house, wipe down some surfaces. Despair because I live in squalor no matter how much I clean.

8:00-8:05: Clean KuliKuli’s litter box

8:05-8:25: Do dishes from yesterday

8:25-8:45: Have tea with milk and some sort of breakfast, usually bread with peanut butter and bananas

8:45-10:30: Work on Peace Corps paperwork or a blog post. Things that I have to do in English I cannot do at my office where everyone is speaking French and local language.

10:30-11:45: Go off to some sort of meeting on my bike. Today it is with the Director of the local high school. I’m going to talk to him about young motherhood and how many young mothers are in his school. Will try to get their contact information as well. This is for a project that a visiting French volunteer is doing.

11:45-12:15: Run errands. Pick up powdered milk, tomatoes, and stop by the ATM.

12:15-1:30: Take a nap. Beninese people are serious about naps and so am I.

1:30-1:45: Cuddle with KuliKuli. He might not want to cuddle right now, but I am persuasive because I have sugar-coated peanuts and he wants them.

1:45-2:45: Make and eat some sort of lunch while reading a book. Often some fruit and a couple of pieces of tofu or a hardboiled egg. Share the protein with KuliKuli.

2:45-3:00: Bike to my office which is on the other side of town. Say a prayer before I leave to avoid getting hit by a north-bound bus, which pass through at about this hour. Wear helmet.

3:00-5:00: Try to be productive. Get distracted by the 6 people in the office who don’t even work there and keep asking me questions. As there is only one room in the office, have nowhere to run. Become annoyed because there are a couple of people who know how to push my buttons about gender issues and they are doing their best to get a rise out of me. Resist becoming agitated until one of them says that statutory rape isn’t real, even with 12 year old girls. Tell them that is a completely messed up point of view and luckily Benin’s laws agree with me. Am laughingly told that Benin’s laws are not enforced so they don’t really count. Luckily I do not have a fever and therefore do not cry. I do, however, remove myself from the situation by going to visit the rabbits.

5:00-5:15: Go pet some rabbits. Calm down. Then get a little upset because this rabbit raising project has been going on for 6 months and only one rabbit has been sold. Also because we had 80 rabbits and now we have 27 due to deaths from disease (from overcrowding??) Leave the rabbits.

5:15-6:30: Try to have a meeting with my work partner. Wait 20 minutes until he is free, during which I study my local language notes. Go into his office and try to create realistic goals and plans for the next week or two. Instead, talk about grandiose dreams for the organization. Struggle to communicate my concerns about feasibility of plans.

6:30-7:00: Bike home. Do not hit any goats on the way, and also do not get hit by a moto.

7:00-7:30: Sit outside with my neighbors. Let the kids pet KuliKuli. Tell them not to stick their fingers in his mouth. Go back inside, close screen door to keep kids out. Tell the kids to stop licking the screen door. (WHY?)

7:30-8:30: Make and eat dinner. Probably couscous with onions and tomatoes and an egg or tofu (whichever I didn’t have for lunch.) Dream of a salad.

8:30-9:00: Organize my house a little bit and make a mental list of the things to do tomorrow.

9:00-9:15: Shower. Right now it is chilly in the morning and at night so this is not particularly pleasant. Use a bucket of water with a cup to pour over myself. Don’t wash my hair because it isn’t a Sunday (don’t judge me.) Use specified foot toothbrush to try to get my feet clean. Think I have succeeded until I step into the brighter light of my house. Realize I will never have clean feet until I move back to America and the top layer of skin sloughs off.

9:15-11:00: Either skype with someone in the US, talk on the phone with a friend, read, or watch a movie.

11:00: Go to sleep with my mosquito net tucked in around me and KuliKuli sleeping in a cabinet by my head.

My Work

My job in Bante is to work in Community Economic Development. The host organization that the Peace Corps has placed me with is a tiny non-governmental organization called AVOSAH. My work partner and I make up the whole NGO along with a couple of people who show up every day to be unpaid secretaries. There is also a board of advisers but they are minimally involved.

With an organization that small, you may think that we have very specialized work. This is not the case. Among the goals/dreams for 2015 in the organization are: stop child labor/slavery, fix the garbage problem in Bante, open a sexual health center, open a center for young mothers, make sure every child is vaccinated, etc. Obviously we need make these dreams a little more feasible, and I’m working on ways to do that.

We also have several initiatives that are already going, including a rabbit raising business that drives me crazy. The rabbits are literally pooping away money while they are not being sold. If not for the 12 year old boy who takes care of the rabbits, I would have no hope. But this kid is smart and motivated and he makes me proud. Hopefully soon it will be a thriving business.

I have a couple of groups of women who I am working with to start some sort of income-generating activity. We’ve talked about gardening, chicken-raising (GOD NO PLEASE I HATE CHICKENS) and some other activities as possibilities. Seems like a good way to spend my time, but each time we are supposed to meet either I am sick or no one shows up. When a meeting does work out I often have extreme translation problems because most of the women speak no French and I can basically only greet and shop in local language. My interpreters sometimes say what I say and sometimes say whatever they think is the best thing to say. I’m usually not sure which is happening.

I’m planning on starting a business club with some school dropouts this month, and there is popular demand for an English club, which I will do as well. I’ve warned everyone that my understanding of grammar is dismal, but I guess we can just have conversations, watch movies, and read comics. Sounds fun, no?

Partially because I’ve been sick so much and partially because I am just horrified by hygiene here, I want to start a hand-washing initiative in schools and restaurants. There are simple hand-washing stations that a local welder could build and sell to schools and restaurants. I will help with marketing (THINK OF ALL OF THE DIARHEA YOU WILL AVOID!!) and hopefully it will take off. As of now, there is nowhere to wash your hands at the local schools and at restaurants (where you eat with your hands) most places offer you a bowl of water to wash your hands with but no soap. It is a big problem.

Women’s and girl’s empowerment is something that I also want to work on. In the coming months, I’d like to start either a girls’ soccer team or a girls’ club. There are a lot of inequalities between the genders here, and there are many serious problems that stem from it. There are many many young mothers in Bante, which means many girls drop out of school or have to take a long break to have their babies, and also means that their quality of life and financial independence are compromised. High school teachers sleeping with their students is pretty normal here and it makes me sick. Prostitution isn’t talked about much, but it is pretty normal here too. People don’t understand why I get so upset when we are talking about these things, which makes me even more upset—how can they not be as upset as I am? So you can see why I feel the need to do something with girls’ empowerment past trying to be a role model in my everyday life.

I have some other ideas and dreams, but we’ll see how it goes. It has been hard to get things started, as I’ve been sick a lot, my work partner has been out of town a lot, and right now we have a French volunteer who will only be here a couple of months so we are trying to put a lot of energy into her projects. But. In the next couple of weeks I plan to launch several things, and try to re-invigorate the things that I have already launched. Hopefully it works.