Thursday, September 20, 2007

Mid Service Medical Checkup and the 52 new volunteers

My check up with the doctors went relatively well. The information learned can and will be summarized in bullet point form:

  • I have lost 10 pounds (4.5kg)
  • I have a low resting heart rate
  • I have giardia

I have the medication to treat giardia and will take it when I get back to post. The med unit is nice mainly by having unlimited access to internet and hot showers. There is a 8:00pm curfew though. I have also had some time to think about what makes hot showers so great and it comes down to one word… solubility.

Big News! The cell providers have finally reached agreements with the government and have resumed service. This means my phone is now working I can be reached at

+229 (Benin country code) 95 29 07 95 (Télécel now called Moov)
+229 (Benin country code) 97 01 62 95 (was called areeba but now bought by MTN)

depending on is I am within coverage. I am not sure if the two towers have been turned on in Kouandé as of yet. One way to find out…

Tara met me in Cotonou and together we took the shuttle up to Aplahoue to work the final two weeks of stage (stage is French for training or internship). It was good to be back in Aplahoue and see the EA crew. They are all doing well. The biggest surprise was that 2 more PCTs (Peace Corps Trainees) had decided that Peace Corps Benin was not for them. The other surprise was the level of French achieved for the people coming in with very low French. It is amazing to think that only 6 weeks ago some people spoke very little to no French and now are able to communicate all by themselves. I think the group as a whole is ready and pumped to go to post and graduate from Peace Corps High. The other thing I noticed was how much more mellow the group is now. I had said in an earlier post how it was really tiring working because they all had so many questions and need a lot of hand holding. That is completely normal and I chose to work because of those reasons. It is great to see that now they are more confident and comfortable (I think they are also tired). The last two weeks are programmed based on specific needs; since they already found out where they will be posted and have made a 2 day visit. We also had a trip to Grand Popo which is a beach about 2 hours away. All the sectors met there and spend a very nice sunny day at the beach.
Swearing in will be held at the American ambassadors house the 21st of Sept.

I will now leave you with an interesting fact:
“The seed of the Mediterranean Carob tree (ceratonia siliqua) is so regular in size it was originally used as the measurement for gold, the carat.”
Trees: Their Natural History – Peter Tomas


Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Being at Post for 2 weeks, My Garden and a Road Trip

After working with the new volunteers for a week in the south I decided to make my way back up north stopping in a town called Ouéssé; Lizzy a TEFL volunteers post. It always is nice to see what other people’s towns and houses are like. Ouéssé is nice and Lizzy’s house is very nice. They are replacing an old volunteer so we went to look at the new house and the CEG (High School) where Lizzy teaches. The classrooms are wood and thatch and at the beginning of each rainy season they fall down and have to be remade for the new school year. The paillote as they are called does not provide much in the way of protection from the elements. The teachers also have to use a propped up chalkboards, which some students can’t see because they are behind the wood poles. It goes without saying that there is no lighting in these paillote. So Lizzy has started a PCPP (yes, I know more Peace Corps acronyms. PCPP = Peace Corps Partnership Program) they are projects in which the funding comes from anyone that wants to donate. You could for example visit the Peace Corps website and find her project and donate some money for the construction of new classrooms.


I’ll wait till you are done donating to continue…

Ok. So after my visit I went back to post and spent a good two weeks there. The rains have started and this means not too much leaving the house. The Beninese don’t like being out in the rain and meetings are not a good enough reason to leave the house. I guess I don’t blame them and at least everyone knows that’s how it works so no one leaves the house. This is a good time for gardening. I had started a garden before I left for stage but upon my arrival found it to be a garden of weeds. I decided to give the garden another go. I planted basil, tomatoes, ruggetta salad, carrots, parsley, corn and both green and dark beans. So far the tomatoes, ruggetta, corn and beans have been showing some progress. I have some pictures posted of my garden and will continue do post them showing the progress.

Off topic I thought I would share a funny story. I was at home when a man and woman came to my door asking me if they knew what these were, handing me $6 dollars. (A $5 and a single) I said yes that they were American dollars. They asked me how much they were worth and I told them that about $1 = 500CFA. They asked me if I could exchange them, I decided that eventually I could use those dollars and these people could use the money. I asked them where they got them from, they said that they found the money in a pair of pants they bought at the market. Don’t you love it when you find money in your pants?

Later I realized that the rate is $1=480CFA and I had lost money on this deal. I had to laugh like hell.

The Moringa, Terminalia and Gmelina tree nursery is doing well; we even reseeded some of the sacks that didn’t grow, with the rains they should be able to grow in time for the planting.

I also took a day motorcycle trip with my friend Chabi (see Gallivant). We had been planning to visit his hometown of Birni and since he is on summer vacation we decided it would be a good time to do it. We took the moto from Kouandé to Birni on a more direct dirt road with not one but two broken bridges. The first was passable with getting a little wet, the second as my pictures show is passable by a 30cm strip. You pay someone 200CFA (40 cents) to walk the moto across the river. The ride was quite pleasant through millet, sorghum, corn and cotton fields. We also were lucky with the weather and didn’t get rained on. Just as we arrive at Chabi’s concession in Birni his sister starts screaming and crying hysterically and collapses into her family’s arms. Chabi pulls out two chairs for us and his aunt and other sister are talking to him he also explains that his sister has some kind of mental illness and will have these episodes from time to time. Before I can yell at him for not giving me some kind of warming beforehand he starts crying and says to me; look at my situation. I ask what situation and that just his sister is sick. He said that his cousin also has the same illness. It’s very sad because there really is no mental healthcare in Benin. They think that these things are caused by voodoo and that the treatment can be done by sending them to a traditional healer. Chabi was very quite and I got the feeling he wasn’t very happy to be home, maybe he was embarrassed. He did cheer up when he saw a high school friend and we chatted a while, including a heated soccer debate. (Will Benin make it in the Africa Cup in Ghana this wear, and will they win? Not to mention that the Dutch national teach is the best team not to have won a World Cup)

The next stop on our little trip was Perma to visit my host family. This is where Environmental Education sector had training for 9 weeks. It was really great to see my family, they all happen to be there because the kids come home during summer vacation. (Three of them go to school in Natitingou) I got to see Tara’s family as well. Everyone was doing well and they were genuinely happy to see me. I brought them wagashi. (Fulani cheese) Also my little brother doesn’t want to be a bandit anymore he wants to be an actor. So hopefully there will be more than just one famous Beninese Actor

Then we make the trip back to Kouandé. As I am typing this I am in Cotonou for my Mid-service (can you believe I have been here a year, because I can’t) medical check-up.

Stay tuned for my next adventure – Stool samples and getting a physical. What a cliffhanger that is…

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

James Bond Drinking Game!

James Bond Drinking Game

Drink every time:

  • James Bond orders a martini
  • James says something now considered to be sexist or racist
  • He wins at a card game
    • Double for anything other than Baccarat
  • He goes SCUBA diving
  • He goes sky diving
  • He goes skiing
  • He makes love to a woman
    • Double when he does so forcefully
  • He loses or someone takes away his PPK (gun)
  • You see James topless
  • A woman says: “Oh James”
  • The villain reveals his plans to James prematurely
Note: I write this after watching the first 17 James Bonds...