The end of my service is well within sight. Whether it is the steady deletion of numbers from my phonebook of COSing (Closing of Service) volunteers, the two year mark (July 21st) or the penultimate trip to the capital for the first part of the medical clearance I am reminded of how close the end of my time here is. Here they say: ‘time flies when you have your health’ and I would agree.
I have fairly mixed feeling about leaving. I mean I am ready to go but I will definitely miss some aspects of my life here. Riding on Zemidjans in the city, spending time with the friends in Kouandé, listening to crazy stories about gris-gris, drinking tchouck (millet beer), amazing people with my Bariba phrases (asking the pantless children: “Where are your pants?”), wearing même tissue (clothing), eating Ignam pile with my hands, eating mangos right off the tree, finally understanding how to make a joke in French with Beninese people, avocado sandwiches at the Boicon bus stop, wearing ‘joli’ clothing, freshly cut pineapple in Cotonou, the amazing waterfalls…
The questions arise of exactly what did I do for two years and what will I do after. The latter is easier to answer for me since I have already been accepted by Wageningen University in the Netherlands for a Masters program in Environmental Science. I decided to start the program Jan ‘09 to give myself time to visit friends and readjust. This leaves me with the harder question of what did I do here in Benin. The official version can be read in my DOS (Description of Service) and with 4 pages I can see (as much as it felt like it sometimes) I did do something. I have seen progress in Kouandé (not just because of me) the town went from having 5 hours of electricity to none, to 24 hours, back to none, then to 10. This last development is due to the rationing of diesel. The increased availability of salad and vegetables and over a longer period of time (I take some credit for this), and from having no cell phone coverage to have 3! The rest of my ‘activities’ can be found in the DOS, Girls Camps, World maps, Moringa promotion etc. Where I think volunteers do the most work is with the second and third goals of Peace Corps. In particular the interaction you have with people on a daily basis, exchanging ideas and information, specifically with regard to my culture and how things are ‘chez moi’. These are the things that are hard to put into words and write down. These are the things I will miss the most. I also feel that what they have given me far outweighs what I have given them.
p.s. The new weight is 144 lbs. (65kg for our European fans)