Friday, July 27, 2012

Where I Will Be Living

Drum Roll Please: Missérété in Akpro- Missérété in Ouémé

Basically... I am going to be living in a small village about 10 minutes outside of Porto-Novo. I am in the region near the Atlantic Coast and near Nigeria. I am not far from Cotonou, so the main headquarters will also be my regional workstation. The village is called Missérété and I will be working closely with the communities of Blewan, Gome Sota, Sogbé Aledjo, and Vakon. I believe my house is in Vakon.

Leading up to Post Announcements I was hoping to get far away from the cities... but I think it will be OK. I will be living in a village so I won't have to see the city all the time (unless I have to go to Songhai) and since I am near the cities I will have easy access to most things I might need.

My village has electricity (don't know if that means I have electricity). My water close to (or in) my house. I might be first PCV to have a post at this site (the paperwork they gave me was vague). The local language is Goun. There is a health facility in my village. And it has been confirmed that there are no bats currently living in my house. Other than that I know very little about my village... some volunteers received a list with things like “population, religion, ect.” and some even got pictures of their house or supervisors. I did not receive any of that :(... if someone wants to google it for me...

Also, my job has evolved, I am now going to be a “Gardening Production Adviser.” From my current understanding that means I am going to continue to work with the practices of Songhai (where we do our training) even after training is over and with the “Centre Communal pour la Promotion Agricole.”
I am going to be working with local farmers/gardeners to promote new crops, composting, natural pesticides, irrigation systems and other sustainable gardening techniques as taught to me by the geniuses at Songhai. In addition, I am also going to be promoting and assisting with environmental education at the local schools.

We meet our supervisors on Friday, and then we go to see our posts on August 5th. I promise to take some pictures. Then maybe I will figure out how to post them with the slow internets. 

Can't believe its been a month already!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A New Dress

Today I got a new dress... We had our first language placement interviews today (since we started out language classes) and my host Mama had a new dress made for me to wear. And.. like all of the clothes here... It is pretty awesome.

Photo Courtesy of Sarah A. 
The couturier came over on Wednesday to take my measurements... which was really exciting because I have been wanting to go get clothes made, and I was starting to think it wouldn't happen until I got to post (since I NEVER go anywhere here). I wasn't expecting to have something made for me and it was a very very nice gift.
On Thursday, my class went to the Grande Marche and picked out fabric so the four of us could get class outfits made. (I know that sounds super geeky but one of the other classes did it and it was really adorable). We picked out a green and blue tissue and we are having outfits made to wear on Friday when we get our Post Assignments. (I went from zero.. to TWO new outfits like magic)...

The tissue here (that is what the fabric is called) is absolutely fabulous.

Otherwise nothing exciting to tell this week. Like I said we had our LPIs today... so it was a lot of studying and being exhausted and being very very sick of speaking french all the time. Very excited to get my post assignment on the 27th and I can't wait to let everyone know about where I will be living for the next two years!!!


Later Notes: I tested Intermediate-Low for my first Language interview (not sure how I feel about that)... but considering I was not able to explain that I needed my new outfit for the 27th (I thought I made that clear) I guess that's a fair language assessment. Then again everyone here speaks a different language than their neighbor, so you never know who is going to understand french.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

You Say Tomato...

Today I experienced the grocery store.

We occasionally go to the marche during lunch break at class... that is the outdoor market where you can buy most things. However, grocery stores do exist in Benin... they are not as commonly frequented as the marche (where you can buy fresh vegetables, beans and most grains)... and they are very small.

This weekend one of my brothers that live Cotonou was visiting, and today Mama, knowing that I had asked multiple times that week to help her cook, and that I like to cook, asked him to bring me to the grocery store so that I could pick out something to cook myself for dinner. Now, I knew full well even before stepping into the grocery store that the food was going to be different and that I wouldn't have the variety that I am used to. I have been asking to help cook... so that I can learn to cook the food that is here. The thought that I was going to cook myself a Beninois meal without ever getting to help her in the kitchen was a little overwhelming. But I am the girl who can make a meal out of anything... Right Mish?

I told Mama that the store was going to be different than what I am used to but I would see what I could come up with... and we were on our way.

Set the scene: A grocery store in Benin looks more like a 7-11 during the looming threat of a 10 day blizzard... not the NJ kind, the kind that sells liquor... Only in this version its mostly liquor... some toiletries... and 2 or 3 (very small and very very picked over) aisles of packaged foods. In these 2 or 3 isles you can buy: cous cous, pasta (only spaghetti and elbow macaroni), white rice, oats... cans of mixed vegetables.. canned olives...and you can stare hopelessly at a lot of empty shelf space. If you have the money the fancier of the two grocery stores we went to also had canned tomatoes and canned brussel sprouts.

We went to the fancier one first.. and I think since I looked so overwhelmed my host brother offered to take me to another store (little did I know that I was in the better of the two). In the second store I ended up buying a bag of macaroni and a small jar of olives. I honestly had NO IDEA what to do. In the first store I probably could have thrown together what I would refer to at home as an “end of the week meal”. I brought home my findings... and when I got home I showed Mama what I bought... and with what was probably the most defeated look ever on my face all I could say to Mama was “Je ne sais pas.” I think she felt bad for me.. and she made beans and rice for dinner.

THAT BEING SAID Its not all bad in the food world... as much as the grocery store was my inner chef's worse nightmare. The marche is pretty nice, aside from the tomatoes. You can buy many fresh vegetables: peppers (spicy I have yet to see bells), eggplants, carrots, zucchini, onions, cabbage and greens... many types of beans... oranges, pineapples, ginger root, fresh coconuts, lemons, bananas, and mangoes during mango season. I have even heard rumors of beets.

I am still trying to think of a name for the tomatoes.. because tomatoes they are not. They are small and pale and do not contain juice... kind of like juice-less plum tomatoes with no flavor.

Side note: The smaller grocery store was selling one very surprising product: There was a mystery product labeled “Vegetarian Protein”... It was dried,, being sold on the shelf in a plastic bag, and resembled pork rinds. I wouldn't know how to cook what ever it was. Maybe an adventure for another day?

Happy Belated Birthday Mom!

Dreaming of Jersey Fresh,


Friday, July 6, 2012

The First Week

Still Surviving in Benin. 

This week has had a lot of Ups and Downs. Mostly downs to be completely honest, but I think that is almost expected for a PCT's fist week of intense language training and host family immersion. 

I know everyone's biggest question is how is my host family? So I will start there. Luckily my host family, while obviously a  big adjustment, is not one of the downs. They are tres gentil. I have my own little apartment area in the back of the house, with a bedroom, a small bathroom, a little living room, and a small kitchen where I can boil my drinking water. There are a lot of communication difficulties, which I was really overwhelmed by earlier in the week (I think Mama was too).. but we are working through it. We get along well, it is usually just me and Mama around, and while we can't really speak very easily to each other we have enjoyed our attempts... and have done a lot of looking at photo albums.

My big story this week however is not my host family, it is my bicycle. Mon Velo.

I have a funny story to share, at least funny to anyone who knows me.. and how timid I am with a bike. There is this major road that runs through Porto Novo where I am currently living. On Tuesday we were given our bikes... and expected to ride them home.. through a city I don't know... down a road that I never imagined biking on in my worst nightmares... in the heat.. with impending downpours. I can do this right?

So I call papa... and he comes with the Moto... (The plan being for those who don't know the way home yet to follow someone home). Now I am doing pretty good over all considering there are giant ditches.. I am barely breathing.. sweating up a storm.. can't figure out how to switch gears on this bike (that I have never ridden before), and on the verge of tears because I am absolutely terrified. In fact at this point I have made it more than half way home with out dieing. Only stopping to walk the bike once for a little bit (because I thought I was going to pass out from fright). I get back on the bike.. excited because I am almost home.. and next thing a I know I have to swerve out of the way of a Zemi. I lose control of the bike and fall off. YES I FELL OFF THE BIKE ON DAY 1. 

So I know how to fall of a bike, I landed on my feet, didn't get hurt, am bareing the fact that there are many people laughing and yelling YOVO the local word for “look its a white person” and trying to decide my next move.. When all I see is Rachel running towards me. Why on earth is Rachel running towards me?? Oh. The Peace Corps bus full of health trainees going back to Dangbo saw me fall and pulled over to come save me. So now my slight misfortune has become a spectacle. Lots of Yovos... and me sobbing out of fright and embarresment and just everything from the week coming out all at once.. and Papa looking absolutely ?terrified?. They collective decision was to load my bike onto the roof of the bus, and have Papa take me home on the Moto, the bus followed us back to drop off my bike... and everyone got off the bus to give me hugs one by one and wish me a happy belated birthday (another spectacle... although much appreciated). And now... I am not allowed to ride my bicycle (says Papa). So glad I took those classes. 

While at the time I was absolutely horrified and embarresed I am actually really glad this happened. After about three straight days of wanting to give up and come home (between home sickness and actual sickness and just feeling lost) I realized that the worst that has really happened thus far... is I fell off my bike. And really, that isn't that bad. I also realized how supportive everyone is in my training class, and within just a few moments, I went from feeling like I had nobody to feeling (as Mama put it later that evening) that I have “many many brothers and sisters.” 

If I had written this post before the bike incident.. my outlook would have been very bleak.. but I am optimistic now. I have a lot to learn, and while I am not the best with my French or my bike riding and yes I am also afraid of the Motos... I have come to realize I also have a lot of positives... experience in my field, the desire to learn, and the endurance to go through with what is probably going to be the most difficult (and rewarding) two years of my life. 

As we say here at Peace Corps Training..

Du Courage!