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Month: July, 2015

Back in Benin

It has been about a month since I came back from America, where I spent my time mostly eating and laying on the beach. During my first year in Benin, I forgot how easy everything is in America—need to pee? Go to a public bathroom and use the free toilet paper and soap. Want to interact in a culturally appropriate way with someone? Think back to childhood and ACT THE WAY YOUR MOMMA TAUGHT YOU. The only thing that is more difficult is holding babies, which are hard to find and which people are weirdly possessive of.

Unfortunately during the time that I was gone, KuliKuli ran away. I was holding out hope that he would return, but at this point, I am hoping he is living a happy, feral life somewhere in the marshes skirting Cotonou. I was thinking that since he ran away in the city, his chances of survival might be higher due to more refined tastes, i.e. less cat eating. Recently my new neighbor asked me what had happened to my cat and I said he ran away. She replied “Oh, someone definitely ate him. You know, that’s what people do here. Cats are very good meat.” Well. Here is where I was going to write something about the cosmic beauty of KuliKuli nourishing a child with a protein deficiency, but let’s be real, I’m not at that level of spiritual enlightenment. If you recently ate a friendly cat, it is in your best interest to never mention it to me.

Temporarily, I am living near the national stadium in Cotonou, where I have a little room with a nice cross-breeze and a refrigerator that I get to use for free! (Although it does smell like rotten fish, something I combat with baking soda (ineffective) as well as double-wrapping all of my food and holding my breath when I open the door (more effective.)) I’m still looking for my permanent home, so if you know anyone renting in or around the neighborhood where I work, let me know! (As I have told everyone who I know or have met one time in passing in Cotonou.) House hunting by myself is ineffective for multiple reasons, but mostly because 1) I have no idea what I’m doing and 2) I am white, meaning I will never ever get close to a good price once a landlord has seen my rich-looking face.

In the meantime, I have started work. I am working at a business center aimed at women, and will also be helping out with some Jesuits and a weaving enterprise. I’m mostly teaching English classes (meaning I am trying to GET OVER MYSELF AND LEARN SOME ENGLISH GRAMMAR) and running business clubs. With the weaving operation, I’m trying to help them turn a profit. I may be underqualified for all of this, but hell if I’m not enthusiastic.

This Saturday is Independence Day in Benin. I’m very excited to see everyone celebrate and participate in the general festivities. Not so exciting is the fact that the military has closed a huge stretch of the main road starting Tuesday morning. Word on the street is that they are practicing for a parade. Just imagine the US military closing a large chunk of the Beltway in DC starting June 29th so that the military could practice for a parade on the 4th. The cost of my commute has risen significantly and the likelihood that I will get in a moto crash has increased because everyone is using the same tiny, pothole-y backroads. There are many traffic jams. I am disgruntled, but trying hard not to be a complete humbug. Happy Independence Day!


Book List #2 (books 20-40)

I’ve underlined the ones that I think you should DEFINITELY READ. I’ve put an asterisk by the ones I wouldn’t spend time on. The rest are somewhere in-between. Obviously this is all completely subjective and based on my own personal taste.

  • Poor Economics, Abhijit Banerjee and  Esther Duflo
    • Very insightful—if you have any interest in development work or really just the way that humans make choices, this is a great read. Even if you know nothing about economics you will still be able to follow.
  • The Year of the Flood, Margaret Atwood
    • Good book, but not one of Atwood’s best, in my opinion.
  • Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood
    • I liked the Year of the Flood better (the two are linked in the same story.) Again, not a waste of time, not revolutionary.
  • Trainspotting, Irvine Walsh
    • Written in dialect, which I always enjoy, but I had a really hard time with the way that the narration skipped around from character to character. I wanted a plotline that was a little bit easier to follow.
  • A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn
    • Read this book, it is important. It is biased, but so is all history, and this gives a little bit of the other side from what you’ve probably been taught in school. Long, but worth it.
  • The Art of Racing in the Rain ** Garth Stein
    • I read this book because I really liked the title and for some reason I thought it was not literal. But this book is about race cars and is narrated by a dog. If you like those things, read this book, if you don’t, don’t. The plot isn’t great.
  • A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce
    • Way too Catholic and Irish for me. Does anyone understand this book? I liked snippets of it, but the inside of the Artist’s head is awfully tedious.
  • The Casual Vacancy, J. K. Rowling
    • Very British book, not as good as I was hoping it would be based on the author. Overall, kind of depressing—I like Rowling’s magical world better than when she writes about suburban muggles.
  • The Illustrated Man, Ray Bradbury
    • Bradbury is one of my favorite authors, and I’ve actually already read this book and read it again (which I never do.) Read it.
  • Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf
    • Lays out many truths about human nature stated in beautiful prose while also creating characters you care about. I loved this book.
  • Slave Narratives, a Folk History of Slavery in the United states from Interviews with Former Slaves,US Work Projects Administration
    • Could have used a little more editing, but very interesting first-hand accounts of slavery.
  • Get Shorty, Elmore Leonard
    • Fun gangster book based in Hollywood, highly fluffy, highly enjoyable.
  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith
    • A portrait of growing up in a time and place I can only imagine. The story feels real and you grow to love the characters. Wonderful imagery.
  • Why Nations Fail, Daron Acemoglu
    • An important book, especially when balanced out by reading Poor Economics. The author annoyingly repeats himself a lot, and the book is dense, but the ideas are good ones. Helps you intelligently think about plausible answers to questions like “Why do people in Benin continue to eschew the plow and embrace the simple hoe?”
  • Galapagos, Kurt Vonnegut
    • Vonnegut is good per usual, but not particularly stunning. I thought the ending was a little lackluster but really enjoyed the book overall.
  • Facing The Congo,** Jeffery Tayler
    • A book about a man going down the Congo River—his experiences, thoughts, and feelings. Pretty boring and repetitive, also the protagonist is not very likable.
  • The Importance of being Ernest, Oscar Wilde
    • Delightful little read. Short, sweet, and funny. Read it!
  • Where’d you go, Bernadette?  Maria Semple
    • Well written, funny. Great beach read when you are with your quirky family and you want to read about a family that is even quirkier.
  • Radiance of Tomorrow, Ishmael Beah
    • Very African. Well written and fairly depressing, touches on many of the realities of poor West African nations. Written by someone who straddles two cultures—you get the best of both worlds—someone who calls Sierra Leoneans his people, but who understands how Westerners think and has a beautiful grasp on English.
  • Congo, Michael Crichton
    • Highly interesting, quick read. If you are interested in natural resource extraction, technology, animals, or the Congo, you should read it!