THIS BLOG DOES NOT REPRESENT THE BELIEFS, POLICIES OR VIEWS OF THE PEACE CORPS.
First off, sorry for the long period of being MIA! I don’t go to the internet café often and when I do, it takes so long to load WordPress that I’m going to have my mom upload things from now on – so please stop calling my mother to ask if I’m alive – it’s distressing to her to get calls asking if I’m dead. The letter “e” also currently does not work on my keyboard on my laptop so I have to control+v when I type Es, which makes it hard to type something, save it, and upload it later at the internet café.
Another reason I haven’t posted is that I’ve also been crazy busy!
We’re staying in Porto Novo, the political capital of Benin. Most days we have language and culture classes all day. For me that meant learning Fon, the language spoken somewhat widely across the south of the country. We also sometimes have sessions on safety and security, or medical, or bike maintenance, or administrative issues.
For instance one day we learned the procedure if there’s some sort of country-wideemergency, including the code words that will be used on the national radio if for some reason Peace Corps can’t contact us directly. The prospect of that system being activated is so remote that it makes me feel like I’m in a spy movie!
I just got back from 2 weeks at my village! I will be in Daagbe, which is very close to Porto-Novo and about 5 km from the border with Nigeria. I’m incredibly happy to be there! It’s fairly small, which means I will actually get to integrate well (its much harder to get to know people in a bigger town or city) but it’s also fairly close to Porto-Novo and Cotonou, so if there’s anything I need that’s not available in village it should only be a minor hassle to get it.
There are also fresh fruits and veggies available year round, which means everyone will be very jealous of me when the volunteers posted in the North can only get onions and garlic for weeks at a time. I’m now back in Porto Novo for more training – this time on teaching and the national curriculum as well as PeaceCorps curriculum. We will swear in as Volunteers in mid September and start our actual Service!
In Porto Novo we are living with host families. My family, family Baladja, lives in a suburb type neighborhood, about 20-25 minutes on bike from the city center. My Papa is thedirecteur of a local college, which means he’s the principle of a middle/high school. The rest of the family consists of Maman, and Amen and Gloria, 19-year-old twins (not identical since Amen is a boy). They have been really good about helping teach me how to do things so I won’t be helpless when I get to post.
My family (and my family at my post visit in Daagbe) feed me so much!
If at the end of my stay I’m not at least somewhat visibly fatter, their friends, family and neighbors will say they are bad hosts. I’m also convinced that all Beninese have an extra stomach because I have never seen people eat such huge amounts regularly, including all frat boys I have ever met and my boyfriend Daniel. They genuinely do not understand when I say “no, there is literally no more room, it’s delicious but I physically cannot eat one more bite,” because for them, there is always extra room no matter how much you’ve just eaten.
I’m doing my best to oblige my family when I’m not sick, and my discovery of a lady who sells amazing beignets near my friend Betsy’s house will definitely help me in my family’s goal of having me gain weight!
Food here tends to be incredibly starchy. Every meal has at least one major starch, typically rice, pate, or akassa here in the south. Pate is made from corn flour and is kind of like very veryvery thick cream of wheat. Akassa is kind of like tofu but made of fermented corn flour, and has a sour taste (and does not sit well with me so I avoid it now).
Things in general are going really well here! I love the other Trainees and Volunteers that I’ve met. I feel like I’m adjusting well:
to riding a bike even though I don’t really like it, to the attention and the “Yovo” song (the song kids sing when they see a white person), to the food, to the languages, and to the microbes that are no longer regularly making me slightly ill. I even have new Beninese outfits to show off!
If you want to get in contact with me, I absolutely love getting mail!
Letters get here pretty quickly. I also read emails every couple weeks and even respond to some of them. If you want me to send you a letter, send me your address (in email or letter) and I’ll write to you! I put them in envelopes with American stamps, then send them to the Peace Corps office in Cotonou, where whoever is going to the States next will take them in their suitcase and mail them from the US. Believe it or not, this is faster and more sure of reaching the recipient than using the Beninese postal service, and much cheaper. I love writing and receiving mail! And after training, once I get settled into my post and after my first few weeks of teaching, I should have more regular internet access (probably mid October), and for Christmas I might even buy myself an internet key, in which case I could check email and facebook at least once a week. Until then, know I’m probably still alive and thinking of all you back home!