Saturday, January 1, 2011

I'm too lazy to type a full blog tonight, so I'm stealing an exerpt from another people's blogs. We've all been hanging out a lot so we're doing a lot of the same things.
This is from my good friend Julia's blog (pretty much the only blog I try to read. It's hilarious.).
Holy gracious Benin is weird. Between Christmas and New Year's, they have...or do...something called Kaletas (I think that's what it's called) which my language teacher tried to explain to me a few weeks ago by saying, "You know, the masks that people wear around Christmas time" which I responded to with a blank stare, and we ended up changing the subject without having managed to understand each other, because...what the hell. But now I know what he was talking about!

It's kind of like H…alloween, but massively creepier and in December. Children walk around in small groups led by one child in a Kaletas costume, which consists of: 1 creepy, hard plastic mask with the likeness of an animal or occasionally of Santa Claus (the kid who came up to me was wearing a mask that looked a lot like Moobie, the golden calf from Dogma); 1 scarf tied around the head like a babushka so that the whole head behind the mask is covered; 2 dirty tube socks placed over the hands and arms; and 1 otherwise normal outfit. Presumably the scarf and socks are intended to cover all proof that the kid is human and not a terrifyingly expressionless cartoon character. Anyway, apparently what they do is walk around and, if they pass by an adult, the uncostumed kids start beating on drums while the Kaletas kid starts dancing, and the expectation is that after a few minutes the adult will give the kids some money. So it's like trick-or-treating? The kids who came up to me actually walked up to my balcony to dance for me, which turned out to be hilarious because my door is made of glass which, at that time of day, was essentially a mirror, so when the Kaletas kid started dancing he was immediately distracted by his own reflection and started dancing for my door instead of for me.

I went to a beach called Grand Popo for christmas. It was really great. Very laid back. I stayed in a hut on the beach that cost me 8 dollars total, each night - and I had two other people staying with me. So, it was only a little over 2 US dollars each night -- and right next door to a pizza place! (spent more money on pizza than on where I was staying!). New Years is Parakou. I'm going back to post tomorrow - I've been gone a while and I'm excited to get back.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Workstation : Cotonou

I just spent my first week down south back in Porto Novo for IST. I went to visit my host family. They were happy to see me.
Right now I'm waiting for the shower to be vacant. I'm going to the beach for Christmas. It's so different being down south. My friend Dione and I have a real plan for the day.
1/ Artisan's Market
2/ Embassy to drop off a letter
3/ Lunch
4/ Old America Clothes Market
5/ Rest
6/ Walk on the beach

One of the fullest days... only days I've planned... since getting to post (of course, I'm not AT post). I'm leaving tomorrow to go visit my friend Julia's post.
I haven't felt much like writing lately. Nothing to say.
It's funny how things here just kind of become... normal.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

burnt fingers and losing cats.

So, I'm in Cotonou. I'm starting to get a little frustrated that I can't get any work started. I had a 10 day evacuation to Parakou because of an incident with a former postmate, and now I'm down in Cotonou because of stomach problems and I burned 2 1/2 of my fingers when the gas oven exploded and my hand was in it. I'm really lucky I didn't hurt myself worse. It hurts, but it's not that bad. Just a little purple.
Katie wanted to know what kind of house you live in. We saw some people living in the city who lived in apartment buildings and some who lived in grass and mud huts with dirt floors. So we were wondering what your home in Kalale was like.
Peace Corps has a rule that we have to have at least tin on the roofs and cement on the walls and floor, so that's what I have. There are definately (35%?) people with mud huts and dirt floors in my town though. I'm in the "big town" in my area, so if you go outside of Kalale you'd find a much higher percentage.

becca, are there many people there who subsist off the land i.e hunters-fishermen-craftsmen- farmers . i know there are nomadic cattle herding people.just wondering.
I would say that most people here live 50% off of what they grow and do and 50% off of stuff they steal from Nigeria. They consider Nigerians horrible and dangerous, but if the boarders closed for one day, this country would not work. They use everything here, nothing is wasted... but they don't use it to the fullest extent. Like the idea of crop rotation is absolutely unheard of. They grow the same crops every season and then it takes all the nutrients out of the soil. That kind of thing.

i'm on my way to winning the company football pool just 5 more games to go packers lost a squeaker in o.t. they are 3and 3 for the season.and have many injuries al harris- clay mathews- nick barnett-nick collins-jermicheal findley ect but all there losses have been very close and none of these guys are season ending.maybe they will come back fresh.
NICE! :)
Those 2 OT losses hurt me bad. I'm glad we had two wins following.

Do they have "medicine men" in every village.Anyone that acts like the village nurse and helps deliver babaies? What if someone breaks a leg,do they get rushed anywhere like we rush to the hospital?
This is a great question. There ARE "traditional healers" and it's just known that you have to do the traditional healing first for any type of sickness, wait 2-3 weeks, THEN seek professional care. Most plants' leaves are used for a tea for some type of sickness or another.
For babies, as exucation spreads less women are having them at home and more are using the sage-femmes (midwives) at the health centers. Unfortunately most of these women dont have any actual medical training and the health centers are full of disease and dirt.
Same with the hospitals. They're full of disease and people just sitting/dying on the floors. There aren't enough beds. I've seen a broken leg handled with someone snapping it back into what looked like it's place and a homemade brace to keep it straight.
(Peace Corps would go to the capital and med-evac-ed to South Africa is it was something they didn't feel confident fixing here.)

Oh - I forgot to tell you guys. I got rid of Dave (the cat, not the person). He was too much of a bother, I travel a lot and I couldn't go a night without him pooping on my bed. It just didn't work out. Near me is a 25yr old woman with a baby, a husband, and a very old mother she takes care of -- the woman is also starting highschool and working hard to pay for that. She expressed that they have a mouse problem, so a passed little Dave on. They call him "mreow mreow" because he's so loud.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Questions #2

What do you eat in a typical day? Have you eaten anything really strange (to us) yet?
Usually I don't have breakfast, but when I do it's either oatmeal or little fried balls of dough ("gateaux" - it means cakes, but it's not exactly sweet). For lunch my concession sister, Lucy, sells rice, sometimes cous-cous, and dish called pate rouge. I'm not sure if i've written about pate yet, but it's cornmeal and water boiled together to form a galatinous carb-y substance. Regular pate isn't my favorite dish, but pate rouge (red pate) is when they add tomato sauce to it - and that's delish! And for dinner, I usually have eggs and ketchup - or egg, tomato, and onion omlette on bread with mayo. OR I make pasta. My specialty is mac and cheese made with tomato and onion and "Laughing Cow" cheese (they sell it in bigger cities like Parakou! - and it's called "Le vache qui rit") and a little bit of mac and cheese powder. The only veggies I can get in village right now are tomatoes, onions, and little green eggplants. The fruits are bananas (on the brink of spoiling) and oranges.
Have you had goat yet?
My favorite eating days are THURSDAYS! And that's because it's marche day. And when the market is in town, I treat myself to "Street meat" and my choices are between a whole chicken ($3) and like a handful of "mouton" (sheep) for $1. *(Which they just call "viande" = meat. I wasn't sure if it was sheep or goat, but I did some investigation, i.e. looked at the skin of the animal laying next to the fire pit and discovered that it is, in fact, sheep.)*. So technically I haven't eaten goat yet, but I have a tough time walking past the man selling sheep and not getting a little taste! You can pick up just like 3 or 4 pieces of meat for about $0.20USD. The $3 chickens are amazing and involve a little more commitment than the mouton man, but the chicken in Kalale is honest to God like Publix rotisserie. It's NOT that good everywhere - it's actually usually pretty dry and not much meat. And the sheep usually has a lot of fat and bone - but not in Kalale. It's almost all quality meat. I'm so lucky to be in a place with such healthy animals! :)

Sorry I haven't seen any cool animals, Katie. Your pictures were totally awesome though! I'm jealous! Hopefully I'll be able to see something cool before I'm done over here.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Questions #1

How do the Beninese celebrate birthdays, or do they at all?
Well, other volunteers might have a different answer for this one. In my village of Kalale people most times don't know the year they were born, let alone the birthDAY. The easiest way to find the year someone was born (esp. a child) is to ask them (or their parents) how many chaleurs (the REALLY hot season) they've been through. But often times you'll talk to an older woman (80 or so)who will assure you that they are at least 120 - probably older. That being said, right before I left my host papa (who lived in the capital and came from an affluent family) was celebrating his 50-something by going out to see his family. Most parties here consist of a lot of food, dancing, and alcohol (unless you're religious!). Funny though - my host mama knew she was born on a thursday in September in the year 1956, but didn't know which one. And the family thought it was funny that I cared so much as to try to figure out what the possible dates could be.
What holidays do they celebrate?
I feel like that would be a better question to answer after I've been here an entire year. The word for celebration/party in french is fete and people here love any reason to fete. Most of the big ones are religious fetes (voodoo in the south, muslim in the north, and catholic spread around a little bit everywhere). Coming up sometime in the next month or so is Tabaski. I don't know much about it except that it's muslim and they're fattening up a considerable amount of goats to sacrifice (then eat!). I guess the streets run with goat blood for the next few days, but it's a delicious holiday. And Ramadan (the muslim fasting time) just finished not too long ago. There's also whipping fetes, and rights of passage fetes into adulthood for men. In those, a boy/man is whipped by an older person in the community and if he winces in pain at all, he hasn't made the passage into manhood. Whipping fetes aren't the same as the right of passage fetes (though they involve whips), but the big whipping fete is in february, so i'll be better to explain it after I experience it. In the south, the voodoo has crazy dancing fetes, but they also have spirits like the time of "Aura". And Aura (or auro... can't remember) is a spirit (or man in a costume) that travels the streets at night for a week or two in specific areas. And it's necessary to not travel during that time or be out in the streets. If you are, the aura beats you until you give him enough money... or you die. I'm not around any of that and Peace Corps gives fair warning of when that time is.
What "cause" has touched you the most over there (ie: what do the Benin people need the most that we Americans could help with, or are they doing just fine without us thank you very much?)
Another good question, I'm not sure exactly. I like that you added that they're doing just fine without us - because I've learned a lot since arriving about how aid is making Benin (and all of west africa poorer). I'm not sure if I told you all when I learned this, but 70 - 80% of the money in the Beninese government is foreign aid. Only 20-30% is actually revenued by the government. Which is absolutely wild! I'm happy to be here and happy to be helping, but nothing has hit me too hard yet. The one thing I'm excited to work with is Small Enterprise Development. Because if people can make their own money and they're making more on selling bread than they're spending on supplies, the economy will go up. It's hard though because there's no sense of competition at all. No one wants to do any better than their neighbor (And I don't think it's because they'd get ostracized, I genuinely think it's just people don't have a desire to make more than a dollar a day). Also the Beninese people know that they can't do too well, because if they do, they wont get more aid in the future. And if a kid is getting an allowance of 5 dollars to do the dishes, it doesn't make sense for the kid to do the dishes and the laundry and only earn 3 dollars.
A story that I think sums up aid in Africa really well was told to me by my friend, now 2nd year volunteer, Tony. He told about an NGO (Non-government organization) that came in, gave a lecture, and had the great idea to give out soccer balls. The NGO came in talked about health, nutrition, and staying active and distributed the soccer balls (some to older kids, some to younger kids, and some to parents/families). No sooner had the NGOs van left the village did grown men come out and literally beat up the kids to take their soccer balls - to the point that there were young children hurt and laying on the ground while older men took the soccer balls for themselves, their families, or to sell... or just break and treat like crap. The NGO had already left and after thinking they did such a good job will never know the tradgedy they caused as soon as they left. It's SO SO important to understand a culture when you go in to help them, and that's something I've really realized. Tony managed to get his hands on about 100 soccer balls given to him by the NGO that he's been giving out to anyone in his community that can prove they did a project to help the environment. He's found that when someone EARNS something, it's a lot more respected as their possession, AND they take much better care of it.
Another interesting story I read is about NGOs coming in and giving away rice and beans to malnourished/impovershed places. It seems like a great idea, how could it go wrong? But you have to think that when you give away something like rice, all the mamas who make their only money at the little boutique selling rice are now completely put out of business. So it creates a new group of poor, hungry people and doesn't take any groups out -- nor does it support local economy.
I kind of went off topic a little bit - and all this being said, it just gives me a new outlook to aid. I'm still more than ever interested in International crime. I'm seeing new avenues I can help with that and really figuring out the advantages and limitations of justice in small villages.
Have you seen any wild animals like lions or tigers?
I have not. Unfortunately tigers are only native to Asia. As far as Lions, when people came and really started building up Benin, they started at the coast and pushed the animals north. So, while I'm pretty far North the only places you could go to see all the awesome big game is at a HUGE safari park spanning part of Benin, Niger, and Burkina Faso called Parc W (on the east side) or Parc Pendjari on the west. Parc Pendjari is much more built up and because it's inbetween mountains the animals can't get out and there's a much better chance you'll see all the animals you came to see. It's about $150USD to get a guide and go on a few day safari though.
What else can we send you? Do you need anything?
You guys have been so so awesome about sending packages! It's pretty ridiculous. Thank you! There's really nothing I need right now. And I've gotten almost everything I've wanted. If anything comes up though (like for thanksgiving preparations), I'll let you guys know right away. Thank you so much again!

If anyone has any other questions, please ask! It's a lot easier to write this if I know what you guys want to hear. I'm getting used to living here now and the everyday stuff really has become... just every day stuff. But I want to explain what I can!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010