Thursday, February 28, 2008


i don't know where i came up with the name "sozzy" for my brother stephen, but i did. sozzy was my first best friend ever. being only 18 months apart, i didn't have to wait long. look at the love!
well yesterday was sozzy's birthday. i stopped by a street stand to buy a phone card from one of my african mamas, and told her i was going to use it to call my brother in the US for his birthday. she said, "tell him i said happy birthday too!"
i waited to call stephen till i was in porto novo with my students. together we all sang "happy birthday to you!" on stephen's voice mail. i hope it worked. we had fun singing anyway.

i love you sozzy!

Monday, February 25, 2008

jesus jive

when i'm in church here, i miss liturgy. when i'm in church in the states, i'll miss this...

weekend highlights

some of the less boring things i did this weekend (making vocab flash cards for gre not included).

1. welcomed abdu back to benin as a US citizen... yay abdu!! congrats on the citizenship!

2. made REALLY yummy BOX cake with store bought icing! the icing came from the US and i bought the box cake mix in ghana for $6. it was worth it. box cake in benin?!?! ooooh, delicious.

3. libations atop shannon's roof terrace. the harmattan breezes (or however you spell it... the suuuper dusty winds off the sahara) have made a fierce come back. we're not sure why, since we've entered the hot/humid season (like it's not always hot here, ha!). anyway, it makes for a cool night on the roof.

4. pot luck. if there's one thing missionaries do well, it's pot luck. we do more than one thing well, though.

5. salsa dancing. two interesting conversations: first, i was asked to "star" in yet another music video... in which i'd be playing the french lover of a beninioise starving artist, haha; second, one of the guys (romeo) offered to tie me to his back (like you do to babies) using a pagne (african all-purpose fabric) in order to get me home safely on a moto. i turned down both offers. nice that my dance partners were concerned about my safety while traveling at night! romeo did give the zemi driver a stern talking-to before sending me on my way.


pictured is an example of how one ties a baby to ones back using a pagne... just because the visual associated with the above paragraph doesn't work so well outside the cultural context of benin!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

just another day in africa

yesterday was one of those days i wouldn’t trade for the world. the students are off this week, after taking end-of-term exams, so we had a party to celebrate. it was scheduled from 10am to 4pm, but we were still going strong past 6pm, and i didn’t mind one bit. i think it was the most i’ve ever “played” with the students here. back home, youth leaders play all the time… but here the emphasis is on prayer and teaching—it’s good, but it’s all so serious. so while we did talk about how knowledge puffs up, but love builds up (1 corinthians 8), we also did a whole lot of messing around.

we played lots of games. my contribution was musical chairs (easy enough for me to explain in french!) which was hilarious when you’ve got over 40 “kids” falling over each other in their party clothes.

we also had a bit of a talent show with lots of singing, dancing and even some play-acting. i got some great video, which i’ll upload the next time i have the opportunity to be online for several hours. dancing is a form of worship here, and i had fun boogie-ing for Jesus with the best of them—even if i can’t make my shoulders move like water.

pelagie and i left the party to swing by augustine’s house. augustine makes my clothes and i teach her sisters. it’s been ages since i’ve visited her compound, as it’s now far from my home. she had a new outfit ready for me (pelagie picked out the fabric and design, complete with ruffles!) augustine handed me the skirt. i took one look at it and said, “this won’t fit. i’ve gained too much weight.” she argued until she saw i couldn’t pull the skirt up over my hips… “it’s true!” her exclamation was somewhat victorious, as it’s always a good thing to put on weight in africa. but i explained, “i cannot find a husband like this. i will have to diet soon.” while that may sound dramatic to you, you have to understand that the only thing more important than being well fed is being married in this culture. so if i’m going to turn down food, marriage is the only excuse i’ve got (skye taught me that trick in tanzania!) i also snapped some good pics of the kids in the compound. you can see it all here.

days like these i say “i live in africa” with glowing eyes and a singing heart.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

you've got mail

i was greeted by a lovely couple of emails this morning... first from lara:
so this morning i heard my roommate laughing across the apartment. i asked her "what's so funny"...she said that she was reading a blog about a girl in benin who was speaking politics with someone there.

and i was like "what's the name of that website"...and she was like "lauren laughs" and i was like "i know lauren...we email...she is good friends with eric! how do you know her?"

and she was like "i don't know..."

and then eric's response:
i get more referrals from laurenlaughs than any other site. i think she's a cultural icon.

thanks guys. still laughing out loud (much to the chagrin of my neighbor!)

Monday, February 18, 2008

lau for president!

that's what my zemi driver said today...

see, i was trying to get to the peace corps office (which was closed for president's day... like i'm going to remember federal government holidays while in benin? sheesh!) anyway, the conversation went something like this (but in french).

(following boring exchange of price haggling)...

me: you know, not all 'yovos' are rich.

zem: what about your president? he was here saturday. i love george bush.

me: you do?

zem: oh, yes. i love george bush. he is a good president.

me: well, he has done good things in africa (it's true!), but that's not the case for every country.

zem: what... terrorism? if a man comes into your house and hits you, you ought to hit him back!

(making hitting motions rather than keeping both hands on the handle bars, yikes!)

me: you know, this time next year we will have a new president. we have elections in november.

zem: yes. i know clinton is the democrat, obama is the senator and john is the republican.

(well, he's almost right... i'm pretty impressed!)

me: if you could vote for the american president, who would you vote for?

zem: i would vote for you.

me: me? you would vote for me? i am not running.

zem: okay then i would vote for john. he is a republican. i want john to win because i love george bush.

who knew? zemi drivers are republicans! i wonder how many african taxi drivers in america would side with mr. zemi. people here really do love bush, but they also just love america. one beninoise friend of mine said, "i love bush because i love democracy. but i liked clinton too... he was jovial."

lau's presidential pole (of one) all the way from cotonou: john wins... but only because i'm not running!

Friday, February 15, 2008


yes, a very important plane will be touching down in cotonou tomorrow. peeps in benin have known about this trip long before we were supposed to. can't keep a secret here! i'm hoping to make it out to the runway, as i think air force one and i ought to be acquainted... especially since propane one and i are such good buddies. and it has been about a year since i was in the same room as bush... but somehow i think i won't make the security cut this time around. "what, missionary lau isn't on your list?" (insert pouty face).

fried egg

do you remember that commercial from probably 15 years back where they'd show an egg and say, "this is your brain..." then they'd crack it into a frying pan, where the egg would begin to pop and sizzle... "this is your brain on drugs. any questions?" that was the commercial. short and, uh, sweet.

well, i'm not on drugs (except anti-malarials)... but this i-just-took-my-braids-out picture would suggest otherwise. pop and sizzle.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

happy valentines day... PUNK

nothing says "i love you" like braids and jazz hands!

compliments of my students in porto novo.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

dirty handshake

there is a "secret" handshake in benin that gives me the creeps. if you shake a guy's hand, and he moves his finger to your palm, it's a proposition. to agree, you return the finger-to-palm gesture. to disagree, in my case, i play dumb. but really, it's a slap-worthy offense.

i mention this only because i received the dirty handshake moments ago from a man i greet every week. and i'll see him again on my way back home. brrrrr.... gives me the heeby jeebies. if you come to benin, beware the dirty handshake!

the journey back

so... i took a bus back to benin saturday... but this wasn't just any bus. their slogan: "it's not a plane, it's not a bus... it's a coach." i guess by "coach" they mean a 50-seater with air conditioning and a bathroom on board. and really, that is a pretty big deal. it's a nigerian owned company, so everyone speaks english (or broken english, which they seem to call bitter english?)

anyway, the remarkable thing about this "coach" was not the amenities, but the preaching! yes, as soon as the bus left the parking lot in accra, a man stood up and started preaching and praying. "this bus company has never suffered a loss because we pray every morning before we travel. you need not fear for your life if you pray in the name of JEEEEESus. i tell you now, all things are possible in the name of JEEEEESus. if you want a car, if you want to travel, you should pray for it in the name of JEEEEESus." this went on for about half an hour, and then the man took an offering. seriously. he took an offering on the bus. i noticed very few people paid him, though most were praying.

then, just to reinforce the message preached, we watched a 4 hour movie with the moral: Jesus trumps witches. i would tell you the whole plot, but it could take pages. just know it had all the necessary ingredients for nigerian film: a barren wife, a cheating husband, an untrustworthy house girl (accomplice in infidelity), a witch, a pastor, an unhappy mother-in-law. good times.

after the movie ended, they started playing tapes of "smack down"... like... the fake wresting. so bizarre! there ought to be a surcharge for entertainment. in the end, i did arrive safely to benin (of course i prayed for safe travels) and all is well. thanks be to God.

Friday, February 08, 2008

parting is such sweet sorrow

just watched "shakespeare in love" with the ghana girls... one last hoorah before i head back to benin tomorrow!

ghana girls, i will miss you... and your chocolate moles!

Thursday, February 07, 2008

gha-gha for ghana

cheesiest title ever? i think so.

but it's true! this past week in ghana has been just right and totally unexpected. i have fallen into an awesome group of girls, all missionaries. it's like accra is a breeding ground for single female missionary types... only we were all born elsewhere, and there's actually no breeding whatsoever. but you catch my drift. pictured are me, margaret, sherri and erin.

we dined at the most amazing restaurant ever (or at least ever in my history of living in africa). i ordered sushi, which was a dietary necessity for me back in the day. i ate sushi at least once a week in charm city b'more. our friend john said he had been sick twice after eating sushi at this particular restaurant, but i figured my stomach is pretty much made of steel after eating street food for so long. sushi smooshy. no sickness here!

also pictured is a bit o' black star pride. see, it's the africa cup of nations, which happens to be hosted here in accra. peeps have been going absolutely crazy all week for ghana football (soccer) paraphernalia. this guy worked a little magic on his car with flags and masking tape. sadly, the black stars lost to cameroon tonight. the city is in mourning. wonder if that means i can buy a jersey at half price tomorrow?

in any case, ghana is lovely. most especially because of the people.

Monday, February 04, 2008

i'm a professional dancer

and no, i don't mean salsa.

it's time to update my resume to include my latest "job." the day before heading to ghana, i was filmed dancing with ashley and charita for a beninoise christian music video. ummm, yeah. we had rehearsed 3 or 4 times with our choreographer, tusin. the first was definitely the most difficult... learning to move our shoulders and hips like all our african friends. i was so sore the following day! but mathieu assogba (the musician) is such a fan of our wanna-be-african gyrations that he's actually asked us to dance in 8 (yes 8!) music videos. i pretty much put my foot down and said 1 is enough, but i may do one more just so our friend joanna (who couldn't make the filming after all those hours of practice!) can be on african national television too. see... one of the channels in benin is all music videos, all the time. there's a certain cadence to the variety: first an american song (usually a bad one), then a christian song, then a traditional song, then a beninoise rap, then a song against corruption... then the cycle begins again. so yeah. that'll be us... dancin' on the christian slot. dancing is a way of life here, a form of expression, really. you cannot go to church and sit still.

to be honest, mathieu is using us to break into the american and eurpoean market... and we're using him to have dvd of proof that we really are "famous" professional dancers in benin. poor mathieu is getting the short end of the stick.

props to rob for being our "manager."

Sunday, February 03, 2008

very surreal, very cool

so here i am in accra, ghana, staying at the SIM (missionary) guest house, and one of the peeps here mentioned that there are actually quite a few young adults here that get together pretty regularly... and would i be interested? hmmm... lau? social? why yes, of course!

just to be clear, i will italicize all surreal occurrences, as they would seem absolutely normal in any other context.

first, sherri (missionary) picked me up in her car and we drove on nice paved roads with street lights, traffic lanes and traffic lights. not one pot hole! not one motor bike! we arrived at stacey's (navy) house, where we met up with 10 other peeps in their 20's and 30's, watching american television projected onto the wall. we watched 2 episodes of american idol while eating chinese take out. i even got to have a yuengling, as one of the military guys had just brought back 8 cases! next we watched live college basketball for a bit, the texas tech vs. oklahoma state game, to be precise. yes, that's right! i, lau, in accra, ghana, got to see my home town of lubbock, tx, on live television! i called my granddad and left him a message, guessing he was at the game... and then... who should i see on tv, but my very own cousin blake! i squealed. i kid you not. then we watched pirates of the carribean 2 (a non-pirated version, for once), and then sherri drove me back to the guest house.

strange how such a normal, low-key night of socializing with people my own age and nationality could seem so foreign. and yet, i felt more "at home" in this room full of barely acquaintances than i've felt in months. and i didn't even realize i hadn't been feeling that way until i did feel that way, if that makes any sense at all. it was lovely.

Friday, February 01, 2008

going... going... ghana!

yes, i made the trek from benin to togo to ghana yesterday. my good friend, the doctor (she's ghanaian but working in cotonou as the doc for peace corps volunteers), was good enough to let me tag along in her ailing mercedez. she is headed to a wedding for her niece, who happens to be a model and was once the ghana nominee for miss universe. the groom is a tv personality. so while i initially thought i'd go to the wedding, as african weddings are BIG fetes, i'm now thinking i might just watch it on tv, considering my only friend there will be quite busy with her family!

the drive was interesting. for one, it turns out the doctor was at hopkins in b'more for a bit, at which point she attended grace fellowship church. ah! small world. most of my friends go to gfc, though i only braved the drive out the burbs once every month or so. we had fun reminiscing together. i love b'more.

border stops are also interesting... albeit a hassle. stop at benin border, get visa stamped, stop at togo border, get visa stamped... drive... stop at togo border, get visa stamped, stop at ghana border, get visa stamped. the cumbersome process went pretty smoothly, though, despite the fact my ghana visa looks fake.

the only problem we ran into was well into ghana, on our way to accra. there are police stops everywhere! which could be because the africa cup (soccer) is being hosted here (my students in benin are convinced that's why i traveled here!) anyway, one guard took my passport and told the doctor he wanted to copy some information from it, and that i was welcome to accompany him (which i wasn't too eager to do, as the guard beside him kept winking at me). she responded coolly, "that is fine, only, i'm not usually stopped for such formalities, given i have diplomatic plates." the guard took a few steps back, looked at the license plate sheepishly, and handed back my passport apologizing. score one for the doctor! too bad i'll be taking the non-diplomatic bus home next week...

not just a whole lot of differences to note between ghana and benin yet. they drive car taxis instead of motor bikes, for one. the biggest difference, though, is they speak english. or some form of english. this is hard for me to get used to, as i've now been conditioned to speak french to every african i see (i've heard stories of peace corps volunteers switching to french every time they see a black person back home, and now i'm not a bit surprised!) also, no one sings the "yovo" song when i pass by.

i'm hoping to get out and see some sights while i'm here, but the truth is i'm utterly exhausted, and i may just take this time to rest a LOT. we'll see. i'll keep you posted.