Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The good with the bad...

Time for our second round of Camp GLOW! Sunday morning I left Dogbo with my 5 best and brightest girl students and we crossed the south of Benin to arrive in Porto Novo for our one week of Camp GLOW (Girls Leading our World). So far, so great! The ambassador came to our opening ceremony on Monday morning and all the speakers so far have been really interesting. Yesterday and today are packed full with field trips to the National Assembly, a sustainable agriculture center, and an internet cafe to learn about computers. In between the learning, we've got arts and crafts and of course the girls can never get enough of singing, dancing, playing, and just laughing and smiling. My five girls have been great so far and I'm really proud of all of them. Everyone is pretty much in agreement that my littelest one, Edwige, is the cutest one of them all, and she's such a little firecracker! Students like that are reasons I hate to think of leaving Benin.

Ugh...I wanted to post pictures, but this computer wont let me!! boooo

Anyway, while camp is going great I just got some potentially bad news that I might not be replaced in Dogbo. This is devastating for a number of reasons. The biggest reason is that I've already told my school administration and all of my colleagues that I am being replaced, as well as neighbors and friends. Everyone was looking forward to having a new volunteer, and I know especially my colleagues will be very disappointed. I think the school administration and definitely my counterpart, Mr. Michael, will probably feel ashamed as if they did something wrong, which they absolutely did not.

The second reason it's horrible is because it means I have to empty my house, which is filled with lots of furniture and other things. Not only will it be time consuming, but the idea of giving things away is more exhausting than words can describe. I honestly don't think anyone who hasn't been here can understand me when I say giving things away is a horrible experience here and in general PCVs hate the thought of doing it, especially on such a large scale. The greediness and sense of entitlement with which people often approach a white person giving gifts is disheartening and angering. I'm already sad that my last few weeks will likely be tainted by such circumstances.

This news has come as a complete shock to me and I feel a little insulted that my boss told me I would be replaced and never actually informed me when she changed her mind. Luckily I heard it through the rumor mill, but even when I directly inquired I got a vague response. Of course there is still a chance they'll decide to use Dogbo, but based on their indecisiveness, I'm inclined to think no. For now, I'll just have to wait and see.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Take a deep breath, now where are you?

Well, I’ve got some time and a computer in front of me, so it’s time to write one of those thousands of blog entries that always ran through my head but never got to a computer to write. So I think it’s a pretty common random fact that scent is the sense strongest tied to memory. When I lived at home, the only scent that ever did it to me was Raspberry Rain Skintimate shower shave gel- the basement bathroom of Spanish summer camp every time. After living in a place completely new to all of my senses, I can say that it is absolutely true and always a very comforting surprise (almost right up there with the excitement and comfort of mail, almost). For a strange, inexplicable split second, I could be a thousand miles away 20 years ago. I even see the images of the place in my head.
Some are a little more common. Deodorant has brought me to Walgreens more than once, more the smell of the bottle though, not the actual deodorant. At the beginning I often went to my Dad’s cousins’ house (Jeff and Lynn) in Florida when I ran past the carpenter in the morning and had a particularly strong whiff of the sawdust. Sometimes it was my own dad’s handyman workshop though. Maybe that depended on the wood? Sometimes when I’m cooking I’ll be with my mom in the kitchen, but if it’s roasted onions it’s usually my aunt’s cooking, at her old house though, for Christmas or some other holiday. Disney World comes to me sort of frequently too, I think, though I can’t remember what has ever triggered it.
One extremely memorable time I was showering and out of nowhere for one second came something like grape juice, and I was suddenly in my old babysitter’s living room. I only went there until I was three. I hadn’t even remembered what the living room looked like, until that day in the shower. They sell dill or pickle flavoured Pringles here in Benin, and PCVs are unanimously in agreement that the inside of the can smells EXACTLY like Home Depot. Sawdust and plastic. The smell is fun, but as I’m sure you could imagine, they taste horrendous.
The best ones are so random, like my babysitter’s house, and they come and leave as quick as a dream. I even had one so super random this morning, but like a dream, it has escaped my memory now. I don’t remember where it was, but I thought, really?!? Where on Earth did that come from?? Sometimes it’s a random day in 1st grade, or maybe 10th. Sometimes it’s a birthday party or hiking trip. I can never duplicate it or predict it, and sometimes I can’t even detect any change in the smells around me that could have prompted it.
Whatever it is, I’ll surely miss it when I go. I don’t think it will happen so much at home, being back in a place so familiar to my senses. I only hope that every once in while my nose will catch something and I’ll be brought back here to Benin :-).

Friday, June 4, 2010

The final countdown...

Well, it's official. I'm leaving Benin on August 11th and flying home to Chicago! In order to get all the administrative stuff done and also see my host family in Porto Novo before I go, I'll be moving out of my home in Dogbo on August 5th. Exactly 2 months from tomorrow. Funny how we were all so excited to get our dates at our close of service conference, but as soon as we got them, the terror and panic creeped in right next to the excitement and anticipation.

Now it's all just wrapping up and saying my goodbyes. I've already started informing my colleagues, neighbors, and friends of the date. I've even starting telling my marché mamas, even though none of the speak french and I don't know how to say I'm leaving August 5th in Aja. Do they even have calendars? haha, oh well, I can tell by their sad expressions that they understand. It's really sad, but really sort of fulfilling at the same time, to realize that I do actually have people I really want to say goodbye to and will be sad to leave behind. A year ago at this time I asked a 2nd year volunteer if she was ready to go, and she said no because she still had so many people to say goodbye to. "You actually have people to say goodbye to??" I couldn't believe it, at that point I wouldn't have. It's amazing how it hasn't been until my second year that I feel like I've really made real connections with people.

Yesterday was my last day of class. School isn't over because we've still got exams and giving grades, but my last lesson as an English teacher in Benin is over and done. I can't say that I'll be sad to leave many school frustrations behind, but I will be sad to leave the students behind. I'll never know which few of them will continue and graduate and go onto university. And I don't even want to think of the rest of their English education!!!! haha...

Despite all the goodbyes it is still of course a very exciting time, and I've got to start job hunting and then looking into grad schools. I've also got our girls summer camp, Camp GLOW to look forward to in a few weeks!

Well, it has been raining for the last 8 hours and I think it just let up so I can walk home to make dinner. It is officially rainy season because we've had cloud cover for the last 4 days and I can actually leave my house in the afternoons :-).

Lastly- I DO plan on bringing Jasper home if he can manage to stay alive and healthy until then. It's hard to imagine re-adjusting without him. I hope he likes the snow :-)

Happy Holiday

So apparently Tuesday was Arbor Day. How, you ask, did I know it was Arbor Day? I knew it was Arbor Day because I showed up to school to find that they had sent all the students home. Why, you ask, did they send all the students home on Arbor Day? Well, they sent all the students home to go plant trees. Right, because any child sent home from school is going to go home and plant trees. Right.

I just smiled, chuckled, and went home. Look how far I've come.

Friday, May 14, 2010


I finally finished uploading my Mali pictures to facebook, and I also put up other pictures since January, including some Take Our Daughters to Work Day. Check 'em out-

Friday, April 23, 2010

Evil Leprechauns

Last week I began my 3 pm class on Thursday afternoon with menacing clouds in the distance. Luckily they hadn’t arrived yet or else my students definitely wouldn’t have. Anyway, I began my lesson and hurried to get through as much as possible before the clouds broke and rain on the tin roof drowned out any hope of the students hearing me. Even though the rain would halt my lesson I was still excited for it to come and wash away the oppressive heat. Unfortunately, the once black and menacing clouds arrived a dull gray and didn’t treat us to much rain, just a small drizzle for while.
When the rain started, the sun was still brightly shining from the other side of the sky. So as my students quietly copied down clothes vocabulary (trousers, NOT pants of course, for British English) I started scrambling across the room trying to look out the holes between the straw walls and cement beams for a rainbow in the sky. I couldn’t find one but figured I ought to explain to the kids what I was doing. Luckily just the week before I had given them color-by-number rainbow worksheets (thanks mom!) to teach them colors. I had a student pull theirs out to explain that’s what I was looking for and asked if they knew what it was. “Ah hah!! Oui, oui, Madame, we know, we know.” I was about to explain the pot of gold and all when one boy said quite loudly, “Le serpent!! Sorcerie!!” All the kids laughed at the shock on my face and when I emphatically replied “What?? No!!!” I explained that we believe there is a pot of gold at the end of it and it’s very good luck. He just kept saying, no no, it’s bad, it’s sorcery. He wasn’t arguing with me, he just continued with his work and quietly repeated, no no no. Eventually I knew it was a battle I’d never win if the discussion was between good and evil, so I just said “ugh, it’s all science anyway and none of these stories are real!!!” I doubt they had any clue what this science was I was talking about, and I know the other students enjoyed my story, but my bet is at the end of the day they still all believed in his.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Too much Cotonou!

I'm down in the capital right now and unfortunately I'll have to be coming down every weekend for 5 out of the next 6 weeks for work and meetings. Boo to so much travel! But I suppose it's good I'll be keeping myself busy and passing the time.

One big reason for so much time here is to prepare my project "Take Our Daughters to Work Day". In conjunction with a big fundraiser dinner I'm helping to organize for Saturday, May 8th, we decided to invite some girls down from our villages to accompany professional Beninese women to work on Friday the 7th. Then, I'll be running a seminar for the girls to talk about career and education planning on the 8th and they'll give a short presentation about their experience to the dinner guests on Saturday night. The dinner is to raise awareness and funds for our Gender and Development Program and I'm excited that attendees will actually get to meet some women and girls who have benefitted from one of our projects.

It's all very exciting, actually. The whole project is in partnership with an NGO called Maman Modeles. It's comprised of professional woman located around the country and its been fun to meet some of them and see how much enthusiasm and energy they have for the project. Take Our Daughters to Work used to be a huge project for over 50 girls funded by USAID and run by Peace Corps Volunteers, but when USAID cut funding the project ended in 2003. My boss and the Maman Modeles were very excited and willing when I approached them with the idea of restarting it on a smaller scale (we'll have 8 girls this year). We held essay competitions for 3rd year secondary school girls in which they had to write about what woman they admire and why. Just yesterday I met with a Maman Modele to choose our 8 winners from amongst 38 entries. I've spent the rest of my time here writing up permission slips, grant proposals, and schedules, and I think it's already to go now until our big event! I'll be bringing 3 girls from Dogbo so I'll have to notify them and visit their parents for permission this week.

One of the most encouraging (and easy) things about this project is the history of the project itself. I found out from my boss that multiple girls who participated in 1999 and 2000 actually kept in touch with their Maman Modeles, finished their educations through university, and then their Maman Modeles helped them find professional jobs and relocate here to Cotonou. One of our Maman Modeles this year was actually a participating girl herself in 1999. Now she's a popular news reporter on one of the 3 major channels here in Benin. I'm jealous of whatever girls gets to spend Friday with her and the news crew!!

So, lots of time in Cotonou devoted to that, but also planning for our summer camps, a regional rep meeting with admin, and then, maybe the most exciting thing is 19th-22nd of May we have our official Close of Service Conference. It's at one of the nicest hotels in Cotonou with a full pool, AC, and CNN! I'll also be getting my official date for home at that point and then it'll be less than 3 months til the end. Crazy how time flies and it's all almost over! On the other hand, at this point I'm starting to look for and apply for jobs and I'm just getting anxious to get home to friends and family. Luckily all this weekend business will help the time fly by even faster and hopefully all of our projects will work out great in the meantime!