Stay Tuned!

Just because I’m leaving doesn’t mean I’m done posting! I have several more posts in the works about my life here, and many photos, which I’ll be able to post when I return to America. It will actually probably help me readjust to America if I can spend time writing about and posting photos of my life in Benin.

This is also the first of many, many thank yous I owe. To everyone who read this blog, thank you for your support. It’s been especially amazing to meet new Volunteers who recognize my name! Thank you to the 7th graders in Ohio who corresponded with my students here! Thank you to all my friends and family. Your love and support have sustained me.
And a special thank you to my boyfriend: it hasn’t been easy, but your love has been one of the main reasons I’m as strong as I am.

Also a special thank you to anyone who ever sent me food. You have NO idea what good food tastes like until you taste maple flavoring for the first time in a year.

So thank you and stay tuned for more!

Leaving

As you’ve probably heard, Peace Corps Washington is in the process of evacuating Volunteers and Trainees from Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea due to the Ebola virus. My thoughts have been with these Volunteers and their communities. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to be forced to leave your community, and to leave behind all your friends, knowing that if something happens, you were protected because you’re American, but your friends aren’t so lucky.

I’m not nearly in the same situation. But I am in the process of leaving my village, and leaving Benin. It’s been difficult.

First of all, there are the physical difficulties of leaving. I am unfortunately not being replaced (partly because the mayor stole my rent money, partly because Peace Corps Washington is nervous about my being so close to Nigeria, which is mostly ridiculous, but I digress).
This means nobody is moving into my house, so I have to get rid of everything. This presents a few issues, chief among them that I don’t have a latrine, so anything in my house I need to throw away but don’t want children to find and play with, I will have to burn.

I also have to distribute all my belongings without causing undue amounts of jealousy and bad feelings. This is a Herculean task, since views on ownership, gifts, friendship, and jealousy are often radically different from my American viewpoint. I know it’s impossible to give away all my stuff without causing some jealousy and bad feelings, but I would like to try to mitigate it as much as possible, since it’s unlikely there will be an American in my village again (at least for the foreseeable future).

I also have to arrange to get a large chunk of my stuff to the Peace Corps office in Cotonou. This includes my gas tanks, mattress, any Peace Corps issued books, my (broken) solar lamp, the remaining contents of my medical kit, my water filter, and anything else I want to take home with me. I’m also selling my couch and a table and chairs to a friend who is doing his third year in Cotonou, so we’ll have to fit all of this in one taxi. Which is not a problem, Beningenuity will allow the taxi driver to find a way to tie all of that down on the roof for anything that doesn’t fit inside. No, the problem is more hiring a taxi that will actually arrive relatively on time, and take me where I need to go without price-gouging me. Plus since it’s Oro season, there are fewer taxis in the area, so I’ll have less choice.

Beyond the actual packing and cleaning, there’s the emotional toll of leaving. I have to say goodbye to the people who have helped me in some of my darkest moments, and who have witnessed the accomplishments I’m most proud of. The people who taught me how to carry water on my head, and how to keep a class of 45 middle school-ers interested in English grammar. The people who have become my friends. The people who have become my family. The people who I know I won’t see in the next couple years, and may never see again.

I’m not really ready for this. I’m still in the denial phase, and probably will be up until the taxi pulls away with me in it. But I know I’ll be bawling as they take me out of here. Because as much as I complain about how hard it can be to live and work here, it’s become my home.

Keeping Kitties Safe from Gris-gris

Once again, it’s Oro season. That time of year when I have to leave my village or stay inside while a cult of machete-wielding men run around with impunity. It’s both cooler and way, way less cool than it sounds.
Unfortunately, this year it comes right in the middle of my very last week in village, which means one less day for me to say my goodbyes.
But such is life in West Africa: nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, goes according to plan.

In honor of the time when Vodun (Voodoo) is most visible in my community, I thought I’d share how we in DaagbĂ© protect our furry friends from voodoo. First of all, most people don’t have dogs. Pets aren’t friends – they are food, or they eat pests. There’s no sense in sentimentalizing animals that you’re going to eat, or for whom there is a high percentage that they’ll die or disappear. That being said, cats are a relatively common household animal, since they eat mice and rats.

But cats (among many other animals) are used sometimes in gris-gris.
This is the form of voodoo that Americans might call “black magic” – it’s sorcery, used to hurt someone. Most voodoo priests will tell you that this goes against their religion, which is mostly true. But people use it against those suspected of theft or other bad behaviors.
I’m not sure how common it is to gris-gris someone, since most Beninese do not like to talk about it with anyone, let alone a nosy foreigner who wouldn’t understand anyway. I have been able to confirm that some people use cats in some sort of sacrifice. I also know that people eat cats sometimes, though I’ve never been able to confirm if the two are related. My guess is not.

In any case, there is a way for a conscientious cat owner to protect their feline from being stolen for use in ceremonies: cut off part of its ear, or the tip of its tail. Apparently, a cat with a large visible scar like that cannot be used in voodoo ceremonies.

So if you own a cat and you live in my little corner of West Africa, be kind. Cut off part of your cat’s ear.