Friday, August 17, 2007

And I can't wait to get on the road again...

Another update you say? Crazy I know. I have been traveling lot in the last week. My first trip was by accident. After playing bocce ball one of the men said the king wanted me to come with them to the ceremony in Firou. He elaborated that the ceremony was cleanse the bad will left there by the Bariba people. That a long time ago the Bariba killed a lot of Houssa (an ethnic group from Niger) and just put them in a mass grave and this is one reason why Kouandé had stopped developing. They decided it was time to go to the site and pray and make animal sacrifices. I said I would go and they said they would come by the house at 7am. I thought that they would forget but at 6:30 they started tapping on my door. I got ready and we went out in front of the king’s concession. There were a lot of cars starting to fill up including a large 18 wheeler type vehicle for people.

I ended up in the extended cab of a Helux truck. In the truck bed was a cow, a goat and a chicken for sacrifice and a number of human passengers.

The king had his own covered truck and sat shotgun. In the back he had people playing drums and horns every time we passed through a village.

After about 3 hours we started to come close to the town of Kerou (where there are two Peace Corps volunteers) at this time a sage femme started handing out beers. I was given a Guinness and started looking for Ben and Chanti only to find some French girl scouts… yeah. After stopping in Kerou to have a beer and say hi to the king we continued the 25km to Firou.

We arrived in Firou and were met by half the village they were all excited to see us. Of course we continued to give our respect to the king then made our way a km away where the mass grave was. This was a mound covered in rocks. Just as the prayers started it started to rain. Then it started to rain heavily. People ran under trees and back into the trucks. I was glad I brought my rain jacket and must have been a sorry sight, standing under a tree getting rained on. Once the rains stopped the animals were sacrificed and we were able to leave. We ate with the nurse at the hospital then stopped at a buvette for a beer. This beer turned into 4 because various people kept buying us rounds. The part that makes this interesting is that everyone else was drinking small beers and the beer I requested they only had large ones which is no big deal for one of two beers but for 4 it becomes a different story. At this point its starting to get dark and we drop off people in Kerou and I decide to try and find the other volunteers. As I was asking the zemidjan if he knew where Chanti lived he said yes but she is standing right there and sure enough she was across the street. She was on her way to meet Ben for a drink. It was a nice coincidence. We finally left Kerou and made the 3 hour trip back to Kouandé, the beers helped me sleep on the terrible muddy road. We arrived after 1am. What a long day.

Later that week I decided to visit Lizzy, a TEFL volunteer in Ouéssé. This took 4 taxies and all day. She has a really nice house and a fun village. I enjoy seeing other people’s posts. I saw the school where she teaches and met some of her friends. There also happen to be a death in the family next door and this as we all know means that very loud traditional music needs to be played for one and half days. Literally all night this music played, well no actually it stopped from 5am to 6am. Then started again and lasted well after I left. Right now I’m in Parakou workstation hanging out with the TEFL kids on their way back from post visits. Heading back to Natitingou today. Still no word on when the cell phone situation will be resolved but everyone has heard something from someone saying that it will be turned on this week… then next week… and so on.

Let me leave you with some Allman Brothers song lyrics:

Lord, I was born a ramblin' man
Trying to make a living and doing the best I can
When it's time for leaving, I hope you'll understand
That I was born a rambling man

Monday, August 06, 2007

Ghana, Girls Camp, PSL20 and Adja Land

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.