Monday, April 21, 2014

Eating in Cotonou

So I am finally heading back to post.. after spending 10 nights in Cotonou with a cough. (Just a cough no worries). After so many days in the medical-unit - you start to feel a little stir crazy, if you are lucky enough you have great friends who will deliver you food, cook with you, and or accompany you out to dinner. Since Cotonou is the city, and it is where the ex-pats live - you end up spending a lot of money. I COULD NOT eat like this every day on a Peace Corps budget... we do get a per-diem when we are sick and stuck in the city. So, I will be reimbursed, but generally speaking one of these meals costs about the same as 3-5 days of food at post - and I am really glad we get "paid" next week - because I am out of money.

That being said, I spent most of my week doing pretty close to nothing and boring work on the computer. I don't have much news to bring, instead we will talk about food.

Here are some things that I ate this week Cotonou. 
Yes you can get all of these things in Benin and much more -- 
if you have the Money and you are in Cotonou. 

Karim 24

One of the local Cotonou schwarma places (all of the cities in Benin have schwarma - due to the high population of Lebanese ex-pats). Volunteers like to debate where you can find the best schwarma. Most places have a vegetarian version, meat version, and chicken version. Vegetarian generally means they put french fries in your sandwich instead of meat. OK, why not. I personally am a fan of Karim 24 because if I ask nicely they will make me a schwarma without the non-vegan mayonnaise sauce AND I can also have hummus added which is a huge perk. They also have a hummus plate with veggies and bread that you can order. Not to mention they are centrally located and fast, so even though they don't deliver to the bureau, you can usually find a volunteer who will be passing Karim and will be willing to stop for you. 

Asian Food

This week I had Thai food, Chinese Food, AND Japanese food. Woah! There is a Japanese restaurant called Daruma (very expensive but also very delicious) where I was able to mange a "tofu steak with mushroom sauce" that was absolutely delicious, and sample some avocado rolls from my friends sushi platter (apparently I have friends who don't like avocados). -- I had Vegetarian Pad Thai at the Thai restaurant around the corner, Bangkok Terrasse, which is one of my favorite Cotonou meals. -- Via volunteer delivery I had eggplant beignets and a tofu and mixed vegetable dish from our favorite Chinese restaurant Hai King. -- Normally when in Cotonou I eat almost entirely Indian food (and had none this week) -- so that was an interesting change! Thanks to others being adventurous I had a really fun week of food. 

Pizza (sometimes delivery)

Pizza is self explanatory. So far I have had great success getting two restaurants to make a cheese-free veggie pie for me. Bon Appetit (pictured) and also New Livingstones. Both of these restaurants are volunteer favorites -- Bon Appetit delivers to the bureau, and we make it worth their while for sure. New Livingstones is the closest thing you will find in this country to an American sports bar - and they have a really great happy hour. 

Chicken Land (usually delivery)

Yea I know everyone is probably thinking, "Really Zoe? A place called Chicken Land?" -- But Chicken Land is a really friendly little restaurant down the street from our office - they will deliver to us and even have been known to take special requests for sodas (that they will search for us) and things like "please bring extra ketchup." They have a reasonable priced salad and fries (the only things they serve are fries salad and grilled chicken) -- and they are incredibly friendly to Peace Corps volunteers. The other day I was there having salad and had asked them to slice up a mango for me (that I had bought on the way) and they even offered to put it in my salad!!! They are really great. 

Cooking at the Bureau

The most cost effective way of eating is Cotonou is to cook your own food. Unfortunately when you are sick, you don't always have the energy for that. So, while usually I do most of my cooking when I am down here, this week I actually cooked very few meals - most of which were just plain pasta (or pasta with a tomato cream sauce made using soy milk someone picked up for me). We did have one really exciting night of making a veggie pot pie -- and of course in the bureau I am generally known for my chocolate cake and the occasional cookie pie. So it wouldn't be a week in the bureau without a little bit of chocolate cake. Of course, I was sick, so single serving vegan chocolate peanut chew cake in the microwave is just what had to happen.


Sunday, April 13, 2014

PCV Project Donations

Peace Corps Volunteers all around the world would love your donations to help with community projects. Everything from camps, to new school buildings, to wells and latrines, there is a PCV somewhere trying to make it happen.

Peace Corps Volunteers do funded projects that rely on outside grant money (ie USAID), fund-raised money (Gender and Equality), special country specific donations (Kate Puzey Memorial Fund), and the ever so popular PCPP (where we post online and beg you for money – read on). We are not allowed to fund our own projects with personal money.

If you are wondering why this is the first time you are hearing of this on my blog, it is because I personally have  not chosen to do a large funded project in my community (there are arguments both for and against doing funded projects). I am however, hoping to help out with and bring girls to our local Camp GLOW, which is currently looking for funding. Camp GLOW (girls leading our world) is a annual PCV organized girls camp that is held for a week during the summer break.

"Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) is a weeklong girls' empowerment camp that has been organized annually nationwide since 2003. The camp brings together Beninese girls (ages 12-16), influential women within the community, and Peace Corps Volunteers. Throughout the week, the girls learn a variety of life skills to help them become better leaders and students in their communities. Topics covered include: personal financial planning, sexual health and hygiene, computer literacy, goal-setting, HIV/AIDS awareness, study and leadership skills, malaria prevention, and games to encourage cooperation among the girls. Girls also take excursions to national government institutions, in addition to meeting successful Beninese women in various professional roles. The camp's primary objective is to encourage girls to stay in school. Beninese women and men lead the camp sessions and facilitate discussions. Volunteers invite prominent women from their communities to serve as camp counselors. These women serve as role models for the girls. 
During the week, girls design strategies for sharing information learned at the camp with their communities and become leaders in their villages, schools, and families. At the end of the camp, the girls complete action plans and are given a "toolkit" for planning and executing a mini version of Camp GLOW in their communities. The communities are contributing by providing transportation of the girls to and from camp. While Camp GLOW provides these girls useful skills with which to become leaders, it also provides the opportunity to forge relationships with like-minded young women and female role models."

I know that if you are my facebook friend, you have already heard it. For the rest of you, I just want to say that hosting Camps is one of the best things (in my opinion) that PCVs are able to do for their host country. No matter the subject (we also have boys camps, business camps and environmental camps - to name a few) it is an opportunity to bring children together from different parts of the country, allow them to meet HCN role models, and talk to the children about the importance of staying in school, various health issues, and help them become role models in their community among their peers.

Even if you are not interested in donating to help out a camp, there are many other PCVs world wide currently looking for project donations in all sectors of Peace Corps work that can be found here. All of these projects are being run by amazing, hard working people (especially the Benin volunteers) who are working to better the lives of others, and as cultural ambassadors for you! :)

Click HERE if you would like to donate to camp glow. Project Funded!!! Thank YOU!!!
Click HERE to see all current PCV projects looking for donations.

FYI donations are tax deductible. 

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Font de Canaletes

Drinking from this fountain means I will be back in Barcelona some day.

In the mean time I am back in Benin and ready to take on these final few months!


Friday, April 4, 2014

Vegan Barcelona

Preparing for my vacation in Barcelona, I did a lot of research about where to eat. I was left with an impression (based on the internet) that we might have some trouble finding places to eat. Regionally – Catalonia isn't the best for vegan fare. This was definitely true when we made a day trip to Figueres, where my lunch consisted of a glass of wine and some bread. Barcelona however, was a really great city for vegan and vegetarian dining! 

My dad and I put together a list – of our favorite vegan/vegetarian dining experiences in BCN.
We meant to stop at 5 – but settled for 6.

Cat Bar was easily our favorite dining experience in Barcalona, not only was it close to where we were staying, but it was also incredibly delicious. If Cat Bar were in Philly, we would eat there all the time. I might even say that they have better burgers that our current go to veggie burger dive (dare I?) -- Car Bar is only open in the evenings (after 16h) and is closed on Sundays. They have a very basic menu, of 5 different vegan veggie burgers (bean, mushroom, eggplant, etc) as well as a daily burger special. You can get your burger served with patates bravas (a local specialty), english chips (aka fries) or a salad. Appetizers include soups salads and a hummus plate. We ate here 3 times, not out of necessity. The beer list, made up of all european vegan brews, was also incredible. My dad liked the Brew Dog beers from UK – I was partial to a local BCN beer - "Edge Porter"

Blue Project, a small lunchonette is located next to The Blue Project Foundation (an art gallery) right around the corner from the Museau Xocolate. They have weird hours, opening at 10h and closing at 20h – they have an al a carte menu all day, but only serve lunch from 13h until 16h. We ate here twice, once we stopped in for a snack not knowing what to expect, after which we decided we had to go back for lunch. They serve vegan and raw food (not entirely raw) – and their food was AMAZING and reasonably priced. Raw carrot cake, vegan Banana ice cream, grilled tofu sandwhiches --- and my dad said that sunflower bread on his raw sandwhich was the best raw bread he has ever had. If you are visiting the Chocolate Museum (which you should) go here for lunch after. Also fairly close to Picasso, and the Mammoth Museum (also incredible).

Mostly vegetarian, with a few vegan options. La Bascula does serve some seafood and egg dishes – they have copies of the menu in multiple languages so you should be fine. Really great warm vegan sandwich (and I am sure the rest of the menu is great too) and nice beer and wine options. The place has a super nice homey atmosphere.  Open from 13h until 23h, this is a late afternoon, order at the counter, and find a seat at a giant table type establishment. CASH ONLY. Incredibly friendly staff. 

Where we ate the first night, Teresa Carles is a fancier vegetarian restaurant with many vegan and a few raw options. Coming from Benin, my body just felt happier after eating a hearty and nutritious meal here. We shared a fruit and veggie salad (it had strawberries!!) – I ate the vegan lasagna for dinner (absolutely amazing) and my dad had the cashew cheese vegetable rolls. Aside from the typical wine and beer list they also offer juices and smoothies. Not the type of place you would eat at every night (like I said it is a bit fancier) but they are definitely worth checking out.

This is not a vegetarian restaurant BUT they offer a vegetarian fixed menu. Orgiens specializes in local Catalonia fare, which is what made this place really neat. We did not get to eat a lot of local specialties during our stay since the majority of them are meat and seafood heavy (although I did love the pan au tomate). – The vegetarian menu at Orgiens requires two people (and is rather expensive at 20 euro a person) – but this comes with 3 tapas style dishes, two appetizers, two entrees, and two deserts. A glass of wine for each person and a Catalan shot is brought to you with dessert. The menu is not flexible, meaning you will get one of everything (even if you both wanted the same entree) so we just split each dish in half and tried everything!! – Just as a heads up this menu is vegetarian (and seafood free – looking at you Air France) but it is not entirely vegan. For example one of the salads had goat cheese on it. Despite the price and the lack of flexibility we REALLY enjoyed our dining experience here and we were thankful to fine a Catalan restaurant that actually had a vegetarian dinner menu.

I was going to stop at 5 but this lunch chain was just too good to leave out. We went to the location on Princessa in the Bari Gotic/ El Born ish area. Wok to Walk is to go stir fry.. limited seating also available. The staff was amazing and friendly and they easily accommodate your dietary needs. You basically build your own dish, and can ask for any base to be made for you without eggs. Everything is fried up for you on the spot. And they clean the pans between each order. (They work in the open and I watched them do it). This was a quick easy inexpensive and filling meal with lots and lots of vegetarian options.