Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Family Time!

As I mentioned earlier, my host family is wonderful! While most volunteers have a host mom and siblings, I have a grandma, mom, sister and lots of kids.  They have been incredibly warm and welcoming, and most of all, worried about my general health and weight- I get enough food at each meal to feed a small army.

It's a very interesting household because from what I've discovered, none of the husbands live in the house.  Even though I've only been with them for two nights (and am writing this from our main training site during a CORE day- once a week all volunteers come from their respective training villages for medical and other group trainings), I think I have a pretty good handle on the family dynamics:

1. Fidele is my grandmother.  She owns the house, is fluent in French and worked as a midwife for 30+ years.  She owns the house that we live in, which I gathered is not uncommon for our commune.  While most volunteers eat their meals in their rooms, I am lucky enough to eat in the sitting room with Fidele, so we can chat while we eat.  She's taken it upon herself to teach me some Fon and the local language and has been absolutely adamant that every visitor only speak to me in French.  She's already taught me how to get water from the well, carry it on my head, and the proper Beninese way to sweep (I sweep my bedroom before bed and after breakfast each day).

2. Constance is Fidele's daughter.  She recently moved to Sé from Cotonou where she was working as a tailor.  She has been cooking all of the meals and spends most of her time in the kitchen, a separate building next to our house.  The food here has been delicious.  On the first night, I received a huge bowl of couscous with fried fish on top, a vat of pate (the traditional Beninese dish composed of water and a starch: pate blanche uses corn flour, pate noir uses yam flour and pate rouge uses tomatoes.  It has the consistency of hardened Cream of Wheat and most Beninese form it into a ball and dip it in some sort of tomato sauce with pima, the traditional spicy sauce.)  Constance has asked me what I want for each meal and on Sunday I got a huge salad topped with fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, avocados, red onion and pineapple.  She was also very proud of the "American style" vinaigrette she concocted with mayonnaise and fresh lime juice. Constance is married to Eric, who works as a cement mixer (gravier), but does not live in the house with us.  I'm not quite sure where he sleeps, but he eats most meals with us and speaks French very well.

3. Christiane is Constance's eldest daughter.  She is 22 years old and is my go-to for anything in the house.  She has two kids, Edison and Jean- Eudes.  Edison is two years old and adorable! He speaks very little French but has been instructed to only speak French with me.  Most importantly, I've invited him to sit next to me at every meal, so he helps me eat all the bread I'm given (because there's no way I can eat an entire baguette at every meal!).  Jean-Eudes is 9 months old and currently teething.  He is also learning how to walk and is a little monster crawling around the house.  Like all babies here, he doesn't wear a diaper, so he pees right on the floor, or outside if the person holding him is able to get him there fast enough.  It will be interesting to see how "potty-training" happens here in Benin. 

4. Oscar is my 14 year old brother and Constance's second child.  He is currently on vacation from school until September but really helpful when it comes to anything French or Fon.  We spent an entire afternoon going over specific foods in Fon and reading French stories from his Level 2 workbook.  As a older child in Benin, he is often asked to watch over the babies and run to fetch items from a local boutique.  When I first met him, he was hanging around the porch with his friends, eyes glued to a phone screen, watching a movie in English.  I'm not sure where it was streaming from, but it's comforting to know that there is internet access in village.

Speaking of access, we are still working on getting cell phones to communicate in Benin and activating our smart phones for Internet access.  There is decent 3G coverage across the country and I'm hoping to be able to activate a hotspot in village to be able to communicate.  Stay tuned for a whatsapp number!

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