It has been a while since I have updated and this was written over a couple months so bear with me.
I did end up going to Ghana and it was just what I needed. Some R&R is a somewhat English speaking country. I had to rush back up north to Ouassa-Pehunco since my postmates and I held a 3 day girls camp. We had 20 girls from Ouassa and the neighboring village of Tobre. We had talks on women’s health, the importance of education, nutrition, money management and Moringa. We also had a basketball lesson and field trip to the local cotton factory. The camp went really well and I think they really enjoyed having a couple days that were just for them.
Over the last two months we had two training sessions. ToT (Training of Trainers) and TDW (Training Design Workshop) in preparation of the new volunteers. (stagiers) The training was held in Cotonou and this kept me busy traveling from the north to the south. They finally arrived on the 20th of July. Even though I was not scheduled to work till the 2nd week I had to be in Cotonou for the VAC meeting (Volunteer Advisory Committee) representing the Atacora-Donga region. Since I didn’t want to make the 7 hour trip back up north only to return in a week I decided to stay and help out with the new volunteers. I was able to get on the bus to the airport and was part of the group of old volunteers that waited for the plane to arrive and clap as they exited the airport. There were a total of 59 of them. They all were tired and little bewildered to have finally arrived. The first couple of days were spent shuttling them to and from the office for medical interviews, meeting the staff, bike fitting and zemidjan training. They seem like a good group and have a lot of energy; they now start the long process of stage in various towns in the south for 9 weeks.
After I work the second week (week 2), I return to post for 6 weeks then work again the final two weeks (8 and 9).
With regard to work I am still waiting on the funding from Telefood to be approved. The Environmental club has been created and held its first meeting in Guilmaro. They will help installing and taking care of the botanical garden near the newly built high school. The woman’s group in Kouandé has been neglecting the tree nursery so I had to weed and replant some of the Moringa seeds. I hope that they are able to self manage better. I will try and develop some accountability system between the different woman’s groups. The woman’s group near the high school works better. There also have been some changes with my ONG (read: NGO), for starters the director has accepted another job and will not be able to keep running the ONG. The second change is that my homologue, Moura also got a new job working as the tractor driver for the Community of Kouandé. This also means he will be around less.
The big news these days in Benin would have to be that the big cell phone service providers, Moov (formerly Bell Benin) and MTN (formerly Areeba) have been having some issues with the government. The whole story is a little confusing but the result is that they cut service. Of course these are the two providers that 95% of the volunteers use and to which the Peace Corps office switched to. This leaves the volunteers even more out of touch with each other.
I just returned from the first week of staging for the new volunteers in Aplahoue. Aplahoue is in Adja land. Where the dominant language is Adja. The people are very loud and aggressive when compared to the people in the north. This had been my first real exposure to this different kind of life. It takes a little getting used to. For example the Zemidjans (moto taxis) will run over to you and grab your bags and fight with one another to determine who wins the faire. I found that it’s really fun to call them from a distance and watch the scramble to get to you. The new EA stagiers are doing well. We lost one already the first week. She had a boyfriend back home and decided this was just not for her. Better that she make that realization now than in two months. We also had one girls have to change host families since her ‘papa’ was never around and the only person who spoke French thus defeating the purpose of a host family. We moved her to a new family and everything seems to be fine.
I took the stagier out for a cultural lesson after class one day to discover the local drink Sodabe (read: distilled palm wine). We each had a shot and toasted to a great next two years. This cost me just over 60 cents.
We celebrated Benin’s Independence Day on August 1st. There was a big parade in Aplahoue. Of course we were told to be there at 9am, but it didn’t start until after 12. There was choreographed dancing, Zemidjans rode by and some doing tricks. The tailors made a dress; the taxi drivers drove by and almost killed us, singing women’s groups, the Bocce ball group had a demonstration as well.
There also was a voodoo ceremony taking place in the neighboring village that we were invited to. Since this was only the first day of the ceremony we just saw the chief Fetishiers arrive, one on a hammock being carried by people and the other on a person drawn cart. We saw people carrying Fetishes (spirits in various objected used in ceremonies) usually covered in Sodabe, palm wine and blood. The highlight was that the man in the cart had the head of a pigeon in his mouth with the body dangling from it. Slightly strange.
Overall working stage has been more exhausting that I thought it would be. Always having to be there to answer questions, work out problems, translate and help run technical sessions has really kept us busy. I only worked one week and can’t imagine how working two in a row would be and I will find out in 6 weeks when I work 2 in a row. I did enjoy feeling useful and having a lot of answers since I was just like them a year ago. They are a great group and will enjoy working with them in the future.