Tuesday, October 30, 2007


last night was my first english class with the volunteers. it was awesome. it was supposed to start at 7:30 pm, but in typical fashion, people were wondering in around 8:00. i told them there are three rules: 1) respect yourself, your classmates and me; 2) no french, only english; 3) try your best. at the end of class, once everyone had arrived, i explained that showing up late was NOT respecting me or the other students. i also told them that they shouldn’t be afraid of making mistakes in english because they hear me making mistakes in french ALL the time. they laughed. they know it’s true.

i asked them if they wanted to have english names just to use in class to practice pronunciation, and they said yes, so i need to come up with a list before the next class.

we talked about why english is important, what they find most difficult, and what they hope to achieve in class… but then we spent the bulk of the time learning american phrases like, “what’s up? dude. yo. chillin’. cool. for real?” and of course, because it’s my class… “y’all.” they loved it. i explained that these are not phrases they will learn in class, and not phrases to use with their teachers or a boss, but phrases youth use with each other… and since our ministry is geared towards youth, it’s important to understand their language.

i wish you could have heard them, “what’s up, dude?” we were all beaming by the time class ended, and everyone promised they’d be on time next time. we’ll see :)

Monday, October 29, 2007


recently, i was stuffing my face at a birthday party for a missionary friend. the restaurant owner didn't seem to think i was eating enough (and you know i can eat... especially my peeps back at MEA who watched me scarf down donuts at every staff meeting, or my victory in the chicken sandwich eating contest... anything to win, right?) anyway, i decided to prove to the owner, and table of 20 something expats, that indeed, i had eaten my fill. here's me, the owner, and rob showing off our well fed bellies. starving in africa? not this girl!

this and that

don't have much time to update, so here are a few snippets:

1. i'm pink. had a great sunday in the sun with some girlfriends at what is likely benin's nicest beach. i felt like i was in a different world! but alas, putting on sunscreen once just isn't enough here. guess it beats the farmer's tan i've been sporting for months!

2. today is my first day of teaching. i just taught a class at the english international school (just a one time deal on how to take notes and study, random) and my english language classes start tonight! i'm very excited to be back in the classroom.

3. still no apartment, but i'm buying furniture from one of my girlfriends moving back to the states this week... so i'll be fully loaded once the apartment becomes a reality!

really, these could be 3 prayer requests... that i won't peel, that class will go well tonight (and this week) and that i'll have an apartment soooooooon!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

quazi-bush impressions

After running some errands on Monday with my Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) friend Sarah (including a stop at the local market and then the PC office, which has a great collection of used books to borrow), we set off for Sarah’s home, the village of Lobogo.

Lobogo is northwest of Cotonou, on the way to Lokossa. To get there from Cotonou, you take a bush taxi for a couple hours (depending on the road conditions) and then a 20 minute zemi into the quazi bush. Riding a zemi on a narrow red dirt road through stalks of corn is much more refreshing than riding through the smog of Cotonou.

Sarah lives in a concession (a group of rooms around an open space) with a man and his two wives and two kids, goats and chickens. Her house consists of a front room (which serves as a living room, dining room and office), a back room (which serves as her bedroom and kitchen) and then the latrine is behind the house beneath a banana tree. There is no running water, but you can collect rain water or have well water brought to you. Once you get used to the routine of filtering and boiling water for cooking and cleaning, it’s really not so bad. We actually cooked up a storm, making no-bake cookies and banana cake the first night (Sarah has a camp stove, but no oven, so I finally learned the art of creating your own dutch oven when making the banana cake). The second night we made a peanut sauce with tomatoes, onion and grated eggplant to go over lots more veggies (carrots, green beans, squash, more eggplant and green peppers… all purchased from the local market) and some kind of wheat pilaf stuff similar to rice. We also made a delicious salad and some orange oatmeal bread. PCVs in Benin have written a cookbook which is awesome to experiment with. I think I could really develop a love of cooking here. You have to love it because everything take so long to make! Cooking also requires a lot of creativity. Like when making the orange oatmeal bread, after cracking 3 rotten eggs (one exploded all over me) we finally gave up and substituted 1 tablespoon of corn starch. Worked great, though the rotten egg smell did linger in the house a bit longer than I would have liked. Gross. Anyway, being in the village is a great break from the city. I actually felt pretty darn pampered this morning. Sarah heated up my bucket shower water over the stove, so I had a warm “shower” in the crisp morning air under a banana tree. Who wouldn’t love that?

Sarah works as an English teacher in Lobogo. She has 4 classes of about 60 kids each, and each class lasts 2 hours. I fielded questions for 2 of her classes on Tuesday. Are you married? How old are you? How many children do you have? How many children does your father have? Do you have an identity card? Where are you from? Where do you live? Are you a teacher? Will you marry me? Sarah is a great teacher. She has the softest voice in the world, but it somehow carries over the 60 kids in her classroom (or more than 60 kids, if you count the kids that stand just outside and watch, which is easy enough when your classroom has only one wall).

After school on Tuesday, we met up with some people working with Population Services International (PSI) for an HIV/AIDS workshop hosted by two peer educators that have just been trained. They are a young man and young woman from the village who have agreed to be trained and to volunteer their time. The workshop they led was supposed to be for all the hairdressers of the village, but lots of other people came by to learn as well. At least 40 people were present. I was pretty impressed until the end of the workshop, when everyone ran up to grab fistfuls of free condoms, then ran off triumphant into the street. It made me wonder if that was the only reason they sat through the training, just to get free condoms. You’d guess by how quickly they ran off that the condoms wouldn’t last through the afternoon. But this was the first time the volunteers had completed a workshop, so they learned from the experience, and will handle condoms a bit differently next time. I learned a lot from the experience too.

Only other exciting village news to report is that I bought 4 meters of fabric at the market on Monday. It’s totally simple and my favorite colors (blue and brown), but completely comical, since the print on the fabric is of large electric fans. You can find the funniest fabrics here, decorated with the most common household items… toothpaste, tea cups, rolls of toilet paper. I’ve contemplated buying several, and finally settled on electric fans. It’ll make a lovely pagne!

Friday, October 19, 2007


the constant state of itching somewhere between where your feet stop and legs start.

why, oh WHY do mosquitos like my ankles so?

prayer in benin

prayer is something that really differs in benin. for one, people pray ALL the time. so much so, that is someone (seemingly randomly) exclaims, “Jesus!” you know they’re actually being reverent, not using the Lord’s name in vain. before pelagie and i leave the house to go to the market, we pray. before josue takes prisca to work in the morning, they pray. before we all go to bed at night, we pray, together, for each other. today i’m supposed to have a prayer meeting at the school we use for most of our meetings (i say supposed to because it’s been raining all day, which, quite literally, puts a damper on most plans). i’m told this will be a short meeting, since we’ve just be asked to come in and pray for the teachers as they start the school year. short means… maybe one hour. the prayer meeting (and i don’t mean church, this really was a meeting) i went to on sunday was five hours. different people take turns leading the prayer, but no one is ever praying alone. everyone prays their prayers aloud all at once. it can get pretty noisy, especially if the prayers are for protection against spiritual warfare, a constant concern to the beninoise Christian. everything is in the “blood of Jesus.” “dans la sang de Jesus! amen!!” it can be very exciting. and moving. you definitely don’t have to worry about falling asleep!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

my walk to the cyber

first off, it’s strange for me to walk to the cyber cafe. yes, people walk everywhere, but lots would take a zemi jan (moto taxi) rather than walk 10 minutes in the heat, and yovos are even less likely to walk. still, i like to compare it to my walks through federal hill from home to metro (oh, how i miss metro!) the roads are dirt/sand. palm trees are scattered about, but it’s not quite the same effect as the palm lined streets of CA, FL or SC. in fact, the palm trees are so unglamorous, that i didn’t even notice them for sight (maybe because there are so many other cool things to look at), but for sound. the leaves make this clapping sound in the wind. palm leaves are woven together to form walls, roofs, shade, floor mats, hats, anything. so i walk along this dirt road, side stepping piles of trash and standing water. in one spot, the water covers the whole of the road, so i have to walk on a low wall to keep from stepping in it. it’s not that i mind getting wet. i almost prefer to walk in the rain. it’s just that sitting water is a sure way to get sick or get worms… so i walk on the wall. my carpenter and his kids always smile and wave, which makes my day. other kids sing the yovo song, which is known throughout all of cotonou, “yovo, yovo, bon soir! cava bien, merci! yovo, yovo, bon soir! cava bien, merci!” sometimes i smile, sometimes i ignore them (really, the song does get annoying after you hear it for several months), and sometimes i sing with them… which really throws them for a loop. i wait for a few goats and chickens walk past, i try not to get hit by zemi’s, and then i arrive at the cyber café, where edmund (the owner) greets me with a huge smile. he thinks it’s funny that i walk, and offers me a ride back to my home-stay, but i tell him honestly that i like the walk.
this morning a zemi tried to take me to the cyber. i responded (no) in fon, “eh-o.” he laughed. there’s nothing funnier than a yovo speaking fon.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

here's an idea

so, back when i was working in the renewable energy world (i do miss that job and my peeps), someone mentioned the idea of a solar backpack. now that i'm here, i'm going to go ahead and say that this would be VERY useful. especially for trips to the village! which i plan to start next week. that should provide some great blogging material...


i was thinking that i'd write a quaint little post about how enchanting my walk to the cyber is, and all the interesting things i see... but then anne marie emailed me this absolutely hilarious video:

and i decided to share it instead. what former spanish teacher wouldn't appreciate such nonsense?!

Monday, October 15, 2007

where in the world?

so... my visa states that i have to leave the country every 3 months, meaning i have to leave benin by november 8. granted, i could just drive to togo, and i might, but i was really hoping to visit friends that happen to be in tanzania at that time. interestingly enough... it cost about twice as much to travel IN africa as it does to travel OUT of africa. shoot. paris would be cheapest, but who do i know in paris? so, i'm wondering... anyone have friends i can visit in paris or elsewhere?

Friday, October 12, 2007

new pic

ron and ruth just sent me some pics from their visit last month. here we are enjoying a coke at a bar on stilts in ganvie (benin's venice), the village on a lake. you can see appliqué hangings that are typical of benin hanging behind us.

pictured are ron, ruth, alexis and me. alexis is one of the peeps i work with here. he does all our bookkeeping and he speaks english pretty well too! he's a ray of sunshine in my life.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

pride is cool

the past couple nights i've gone out with some girlfriends to a little patio bar around the corner from where i'm dog sitting. a lovely beninoise woman just opened the place, and i think we may have been her first customers. i keep going back because i love the sense of pride she exudes. at one point she asked me to follow her to "regardez" look at something, she was so excited, and led me to the bathroom. i wasn't sure what she meant at first, but then realized she was just glowing with pride at how nice and clean it was, and she wanted me to tell her so. so i gave her as many compliments on the bathroom (which really was nice and clean) as i could think of. each time i go to the bar, she gives me a "cadeau" or gift... last night it was an apple. i shouldn't have eaten it, since the yovo are supposed to soak their fruits and veggies in bleach water before eating them (unless they're cooked) to ward of parasites our bodies aren't used to, but i ate it anyway. it was a cadeau! my stomach seems just fine so far...

Monday, October 08, 2007

beheading in benin

so this actually happened about 2 weeks ago, and i didn't mention it because i didn't want to alarm anyone, but i hear it made the news back in the states, so here's a link to the story. there has only been one beheading in benin, but it happened to be in the village where my friend sarah lives. she's a peace corps volunteer. luckily, she was visiting cotonou, safe and sound... but she is back there now, so please pray for sarah's peace of mind. and safety. and a good start to the school year.

on the bright side, it's a very beautiful day in benin today!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

bath tubs

i just discovered a bath tub in the house where i'm dog sitting. WOW!

and i'm using a much more posh internet cafe for the next 10 days than i usually get to enjoy, complete with a much faster connection... so i have successfully uploaded a few new pics to my photo gallery. i'll highlight a few now...

this is one of my many roommates. he's about 3 inches, in case you can't tell. i call him gregor (i hope some of you can figure out why.)

this is my carpenter who works in a shack down the road. he was making my bed in this picture, which is waiting in storage for a home.

this is a navy guy and the benin flag on the navy boat that took us out "whale watching" (if you can call it that). you can see the city of cotonou in the background.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

benin in action

i've pointed you to rob's blog a few times before, because really, there' s just too much here for one girl to cover. it helps to have blogging friends. but rob also has a series of videos on youtube that will give you an even better idea of life in benin, as well as life with the baker family, if you're interested... it is one of my homes away from home!

click here to see rob's videos.

i'll try to upload some of my own one day... i'm also thinking of podcasting. wouldn't that be fun? but first things first. the apartment hunt continues. and school starts tomorrow!! (we think...)

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

apartments and body odor

apartment update... i looked at one yesterday that was great, but too big and too expensive. 3 bedrooms, living room, huge kitchen, huge terrace, 2 bathrooms... $275. i know. you think it's a steal, but it's over my budget. plus, 3 bedrooms is really more responsibility than i need! i saw two over the weekend that were waaaay to dark and dreary.

the good news is that starting tomorrow, i get to dog sit for some friends, AND stay in their house with hot running water! not that i'd want a hot shower at this point. the temperatures are climbing here, and i'm waiting for my body to adjust.

which reminds me... something weird about this place... while i basically sweat all the time, i find there is no such thing as BO. i guess when you sweat enough, it just stops smelling? an odd discovery, i know, but intriguing enough to share with the broader public, i think.