Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Counterpart Workshop!

On Tuesday afternoon, we bid farewell to the volunteers in the CED, TEFL and EA sectors after our last day of CORE training in Lokossa. While some people may see each other during their travels to post next week, many of us won't see each other until swearing in in September. It's crazy how fast time has flown by!

Pamela and I at the Lokossa training site. 

At this point in stage (training en Français), we have completed the French language and culture intensive five weeks  which also focused on administrative policies, health protocols and safety-security sessions. We now have a two day counterpart workshop here in Sé before leaving with our counterparts for a two week site visit. 

You may be wondering what a counterpart is. Well, a counterpart (aka homologue) is a member of our host structure (work site, health center for me) and community that has volunteered to be your main point of contact within your village and work with you to achieve your goals. They play an integral role in community integration and project implementation.

Today I was lucky enough to have both my counterpart, Daniel, and my supervisor, Odette, join the workshop. Odette was also here with her 9-month old who is absolutely adorable (somehow  
I get the placements with all the babies!) 

Day one of the workshop focused on introductions, brief expectations (of both the volunteer and counterpart), review of PC goals, and a session on how best to support your volunteer. Both Daniel and Odette are excited to welcome me to their community, so I anticipate an easy transition to site. 

We also reviewed how we will travel to site on Friday. While some people have much longer trips up north, I will be taking a taxi to Bohicon (probably 3 hours), then getting on a bus towards Parakou and disembarking in Glazoué (another 3 hours). From Glazoué, I'll take a zemi the remaining 10 km to Adourékoman!! (Seems easy enough, right?!)

There is a large packet of activities for us to complete while at site including meeting all of the officials, inspecting our future house (Lindsay will still be living there until I swear in, so I'll spend time with her too), visiting the local market (Wednesday's in Glazoué) and beginning to identify your action plan for your first three months at site. I'm really looking forward to finally exploring my new home and diving into local language tutoring (2 hours a day with my host father/village chief/landlord).

Here's to my next adventure and new life in the Collines!

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Site Reveal!!

One of the most anticipated parts of Pre-Service training is site announcement. After weeks of bonding with my fellow RCHs, we finally found out where, across Benin, we will be sent for our two years of service. The ceremony took place in Lokossa with the other sectors and one by one we recieved our placement packets by region. 

Our training manager, Giselle, started the event by reminding us that there is no perfect post: we make the post perfect for ourselves. Her intro was followed by traditional dancing and then she invited our Program Managers to call us up to the entrance to our classroom based on our location in Benin. 

They started with the departments closest to our training site and it struck me that there are some people who I will rarely see over the next two years because of our geographical location. When my name was called (right after Emily's) for the Collines department, I was elated!

The Collines are located smack in the middle of Benin and, from what I've heard, are gorgeous! I will be replacing an existing volunteer who is actually staying on for a third year in Cotonou. My village is named Adourékoman and located about 16 km from the nearest "city" of Glazoué, which is actually the site of Benin's third largest market. I've been told that I'll have great access to many fruits and vegetables year round at the market which is open every Wednesday. 

My host structure is a Health Center and my Beninese counterpart is a midwife named Daniel. Lindsay, who I will be replacing, has assured me that he is absolutely wonderful! 

In terms of my village, it has a population of approximately 2000 and one primary school. The closest secondary school is 5 km away. The next volunteer, Amanda, is in the Environmental Action sector and is about 8 km down the road from me and Cate (also EA) is only another mile away. We already have big plans to see each other regularly and combine some of our food security and malnutrition projects. 

While many volunteers have access to some amenities, my village has no electricity, running water, and very limited cell coverage. I don't yet know how frequently I will be able to blog, but fear not, I will keep you updated on life in my new home!

After reading my site placement packet cover to cover, we broke for lunch and came back at 1:30 to meet our local language tutors. The local language I will be learning is Idaasha (pronounced ee-dah-cha). My tutor, Fortune, will also be my host father during my two week site visit that starts next week. In addition to wearing those hats, he is the Village Chief. In fact, his family, the Badjagou's, started the village and make up about 40% of the population. Since they started the village, his father is the town's storyteller and apparently carries on the local oral tradition. 

Fortune and I hit it off really well while I tried to get the hang of a few Idaasha salutations. We talked about some potential projects I can start in village and the importance of food security and latrines. Lindsay has already set up hand washing stations and done malaria work in village so it will be great to catch up with her when I'm there next week. 

Today we had our second Language Placement Interview (LPI) in French to assess our progress and evaluate our readiness to serve. As we waited for each person to complete their 15 minute discussion, the rest of us chilled around the compound, studied and soaked in the reality that we finally know where we are moving to. 

I'm now back in Sé and happy to be "home."  It's a relaxing Saturday, I have laundry to do and there's a breeze flowing through my back yard. Tomorrow the girls are planning a quick market trip and I may be joining my grandmother at church. I'll let you know how that goes!

P.S. I received my first pieces of mail today and was one happy camper during mail time. It only took a month for letters to arrive! If you're interested in sending anything, check out my mailing address on the Contact Me link above.  I promise to write back!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Fun times in Sé

There is so much to be grateful for this week here in Benin, but as we hit the one month mark, some of us needed a little comedic pick me up, so I've been noting down some of the funny moments of the last week. 

1. While applying sunscreen as a lotion before bed one night, I realized that I may permanently smell like SPF 30. I guess there are worse scented things. 

2. While cleaning my latrine (it's customary here to sweep your room and latrine twice a day: the sand never goes away!), I realized there was an abundance of dead spiders. Although I'm thankful that they're already goners, it made me think: Where do the dead spiders come from? What scarier, beastly predator lurks in the dark corners of my latrine?

3. I love my host family and my mom happens to be a fantastic cook. When I leave for school each morning they even ask what I want for dinner. The other day I decided to make it easy on them and ask for pâte, but when I was served a bowl bigger than my face, I got a sinking feeling in my stomach. I think every volunteer has to have undergone the overpâting initiation. I'm glad I'm now part of that club. 

4. Pima burns. These aren't really funny but totally preventable. Pima is the equivalent of a habanero pepper, maybe even spicier. The Beninese grind it on a grinding stone and add it to EVERYTHING! I offered to grind it the other day and without thinking, brushed it off the grinding stone into a bowl with my bare hands. Almost a day later the burn gradually disappeared and the tingly feeling in palms receded. Lesson learned: don't touch the Pima!

5. As some of you may know, I got my hair braided (tressé) this past Sunday at the local coiffeur. It took a little over 13 hours but I love it and it certainly gives me a little street cred here in Sé. One minor issue: I didn't really think about having to fit a headlamp or helmet on my head before increasing its volume with tons of braids... Oops!

We're all incredibly excited (and anxiously nervous) for site announcement on Friday. We have an official ceremony in Lokossa to find out where we will be spending the next two years, so stayed tuned for the whereabouts of this Benin Variant!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Voodoo forests, Pythons and the Beach!

Yesterday we finally got to go on our much anticipated field trip to Ouidah and Grand-Popo. All four sectors met up and by 9:30 we were on the road to the capital of Voodoo and the historic slave port of West Africa.

Our first stop of the day was a Portuguese fort which was once used to house slaves leaving West Africa for the New World. The fort has been converted into a museum dedicated to the slave trade and a photo gallery exhibiting images of voodoo traditions and ceremonies around the globe. The grounds are sprinkled with large mango trees and old cannons housed within tall fortress walls. 

From the fort, we drove to The Sacred Forest. It is here that Voodoo was born. The story of how it came to be is slightly confusing, feauring a talking dog, magical trees and a King who was seeking solace from the demands of his reign. In the center of the forest is a huge tree, Sequoia-like, that towers over a series of voodoo statues and creates a mystical environment under its looming canopy.  

One of the most important Voodoo spirits is one that constantly searches the globe in order to seek fulfillment. Unfortunately however, he is never fulfilled. He is depicted with horns, a Christian interpretation of the devil. Here's a picture; you can draw your own conclusions. 

From the Sacred Forest (and the thousands of Mosquitos that inhabit it), we make our next stop at the Temple of Pythons. In Voodoo culture, all pythons are sacred animals and you are never allowed to kill or harm one of them. For anyone who knows me, you know that I am terrified of snakes but in the name of Peace Corps and my motto "I'll try everything once," I decided to participate in the serpent ritual and have a snake bless me by wrapping it around my neck. 

I had made this decision before walking into the gate, but at the first site of one of the slithering beasts, I froze. There was no way that slimy, scaly monster was getting anywhere near me. I backed into a corner of the temple and watched from afar as most of the other volunteers nonchalantly allowed a snake on their neck. I knew that I would kick myself if I didn't try it now, so I eased up to one of the snake guides and gently pet the snake.  I decided that I would be able to let it around my neck if I was nowhere near the head. I thought this was communicated very clearly but here's how it played out: 

1. Carly and snake man share the snake. I am emotionally fine yet slightly panicked. 

2. Snake man decides I'm comfortable enough to hold the snake myself. He slips the head off his neck and turns it towards me. 

3. Panic sets in. There is a snake wrapped around my neck. What am I thinking?!?! 

4. The man steps away and I am on my own. Hysteric erupts. I am actually screaming at this point to have the snake removed from my neck but the man doesn't seem to care. Luckily the awesome other volunteers (Leland) came to my aid before I fainted in utter terror. 

So, one thing off my bucket list. I never again have to wrap a snake around my snake and I have officially received the mysterious sacred snake blessing. Oh the things I do in the name of adventure!

After collecting myself from the trauma of the Python temple, we loaded up the buses for Grand-Popo, Benin's beach town on the Atlantic. We spent the afternoon on the beach at Bel Azur, soaking up the sun and admiring the glistening blue water (it's official PC policy that we don't go in the water because of the strong currents).  There was also a beautiful pool, so many of us got our chlorine fix before loading the buses for the trip home. 

All in all, it was a great and adventurous day here in Benin! Now off to enjoying a relaxing Sunday in Sé!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

A quick Thursday thanks

It's been another great week here in Benin. Here are a couple highlights:

1. I have been consistently unprepared for the late afternoon rainstorms we have been having. They don't last long but the rain is so hard that we have to stop class because we can't hear over the noise echoing off the metal roof. The roads quickly turn into muddy red rivers and the trash piles that have accumulated in the school yard float away. While that doesn't seem like something to be thankful for, I am truly indebted to the Beninese woman who lent me an umbrella to trudge home the other day. Also, the rain has been bringing cooler night temperatures, which means a better nights sleep!

2. The food here has been great and I recently discovered La Vache Qui Rie cheese. While it used to scare me as a child, it's awesome on the baguettes that you can find anywhere here. Also on the food front, we found mango jam, which is delicious.  There's also a woman who sells fresh coconuts across from school, which make the perfect lunchtime snack!

3. Not really a thankful item, but more of a note to self. After biting into maggoty guavas on two different occasions, I have completely sworn off the fruit. There's only so many maggots one can ingest and I've met my quota (don't worry I survived!)

4. I attended a fascinating Voodoo ceremony last weekend. I'm working on how to describe it to you and unfortunately I don't have any photos, but stayed tuned!

5. Tomorrow, the RCH sector is competing in our own version of Beninese "Chopped." We have no idea what our mystery ingredient will be yet but bring it on!!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Slowing Down (While Still Speeding Ahead)

Living here in a Beninese village has been an eye-opening experience. Within a week, we were transplanted from our 24/7-email-checking-status-updating lives and brought to live at the end of a sandy road that bakes in the African sun, with a loving family who welcomed us with open arms, and in a village that lives and breathes with the season.  While I'm still fairly connected (blogging, photo sharing, email etc.) it is great to be able to sit back and enjoy the quietness of life here. 

Right now, as I type, I'm sitting in front of a small wood burning stove, on a wooden bench, babysitting my pot of paté blanche that I'm making the family for dinner (now that I'm the paté expert in the house... But really there is novelty in having the yovo make dinner). The chickens in our yard keep running across my feet, my mom is washing dishes in a huge metal basin, someone outside the compound is singing in some foreign language I can't understand and my grandma is attempting to pick papayas from the tree in our yard. Life is slow and sweet. Why doesn't "Life is good" have a shirt with a nice steaming pot of corn meal?!

One of my favorite parts of being here in village is the night sky. I can't even begin to tell you how beautiful a clear night is. With no light pollution and rarely any cloud cover, the sky sparkles with the light of millions of stars. I've never seen anything like it. 

Today was another great Sé day. We started with French class then took a trip across the road to the local Croix Rouge (Red Cross) which provides services such as basic obstetrics and non emergency medical care. In the afternoon, we had our site preference interviews with our RCH program manager, Christian. I can't wait to find out where we will all be placed and am really excited about starting local language classes (most likely Fon for a southern placement and Bariba for a northern placement).  

There is a huge soccer tournament taking place behind the school so things start getting very hectic, and thus distracting, towards the end of the day. But, no worries, we're all working hard and loving life!

Logging off to watch the sunset and tend to my paté!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Sé(eing) Colors

We're halfway through the first half of training, with our site placement announcements just around the corner (next Friday!) The past weeks have been jam packed of French classes and cross culture lectures. To top it off, we have all had varying, yet wonderful, honestly experiences in our respective villages. 

Beninese culture is extremely rich. Once know as the Kingdom of Abomey, this region has remained a melting pot of West African traditions. I won't bore you with a history lesson (just check out the "About Benin" tab above!) but I will take some time to tell you about one of the more colorful pieces of Beninese culture. 

Tissu is the traditional fabric here in Benin. It ranges in quality from cheaper low- quality weaves to pricey wax prints from Holland. Each design is brightly colored and boldly printed. The fabric can be purchased almost anywhere: from a street vendor, in the marché or at a boutique. When purchasing, it is customary to barter with the seller, a practice we are all growing more accustomed to. 

The fabric itself is sold in varying lengths. A pagne (pronounced pahn-yea) is 2 meters in length and is often worn wrapped around the body as a skirt. These can also double as towels, aprons, baby carriers, dresses, hats and a multitude of other items (the Beninese get creative!). A demi-piece is 6 meters in length and often the common size for sale in the market. A piece is 12 meters, which would be a lot of fabric for any one outfit, but a great idea if you want matching clothing with a group of people.

Once you have picked out and properly haggled for your fabric, you can either use it as a pagne (any way you want) or bring it to any one of the many tailors in town. Like in the U.S., there are tailors that specialize in either men's or women's clothing, and each of their respective boutiques is wallpapered with potential clothing designs. 

Having spent some time looking through dress designs on Google, my host sister took me to a local tailor for my first dress. Once I explained that I didn't want any huge ruffles, glitter or large buttons, we negotiated a price ($5 to make a dress) and I was fitted. It was a very quick process and I was told to come by in a week to pick it up. 

Fitting day arrived and I love my first tissu dress! It's hot pink with bright yellow fish, what could be better?!  

The RCH group spent the weekend celebrating Samara's birthday. Her host mother threw her a party at their house, complete with the tradional alcohol Sodabe and plenty of couscous.  We had a great time hanging out without the prospect of another lecture looming ahead of us. 

On Monday, we spent the late morning learning how to light coal fires and make flan over an open flame. Our facilitators helped us make the first one and then we made one on our own. When we finally ate them in the afternoon, they all admitted that ours was better. RCH for the win!

We were in Lokossa today for more medical, admin and safety classes. One of our PCMOs (PC Medical Officers) spent 2 hours talking to us about HIV in Benin: with about 10% of the population diagnosed, it's a harsh reality that many of us will face in our villages over the next two years. In admin we completed paperwork to open our own Beninese bank accounts and learning how to submit for reimbursement.  Any questions we asked was answered with a simple "there's a special form for that." Figures.  Our safety meting focused on transportation in Benin: always wear your helmet, travel restrictions (no Nigeria or Niger) and how to request leave and travel abroad. Total information overload. 

We will be spending the rest of the week here in Sé before meeting up with the whole group on Saturday for a field trip to Ouidah (the voodoo capital) and Grand Popo (the beach!!). 

Off to do my nightly spider sweep and head to bed!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Thankful Thursday

It's been another wonderful week here in Benin! Here are some highlights as I head into the weekend:

1. French is coming along really well and I am loving our daily classes. All the years taking French through the WH public school system are finally paying off (thanks Mme. Brand!!)
2. My host family is fabulous! And today I came home to the beat gift ever- a big, clean ice cube!! So much love I this house. 
3. I was afraid that the families of the spiders I killed in my latrine would come back with avengence. That has yet to happen. 
4. The Beninese people are some of the friendliest I have ever met. It's customary here to greet everyone you walk by so I have to double my walking time when planning to go anywhere, but I love the random conversations I have on a daily basis. 
5. Doing laundry isn't one of the most glamorous parts of my day but this little guy certainly makes it better. (And he's actually pretty good at wringing the water out!)

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Kitchen Chronicles: Sauce D'arachide

One of the most frequently asked questions I received before coming to Benin was "what are you going to eat for two years?!" While I wasn't really concerned about my options here, I knew that there would be some major changes in my diet. I have been very pleasantly surprised at the abundance and availability of fresh fruits and vegetables (that we can only eat after several washes and bleach rinses), nuts, grains and yogurt! 

The traditional Beninese dish, paté, can best be described as a cold, hard, plain cream of wheat. It's served as a scoop that the Beninese take chunks off of and dip into a sauce. I prefer it warm, piping hot actually, and would love to try some with a little cinnamon sugar and raisins for breakfast (Dream big, Carly!). What the paté lacks in intrinsic flavor (it really is just flour and water), the accompanying sauce makes up for. Most of the sauces I have tried so far have been either tomato based or composed of a stringy legume that has a sticky consistency. Needless to say, I was excited when my mom asked if I would like to try traditional Beninese sauce d'arachide. 

Arachides are technically groundnuts in French, but here in Benin, the term is used for peanuts. They are sold on the street boiled, dry roasted and shelled and in every size and shape cookie you can imagine. We have even found the equivalent of peanut butter here (it will be great with the Fluff I brought over... Yes, I brought Fluff for a rainy day).

I got home from school today excited about cooking this new dish. So far, I've learned how to make Paté, rice, couscous, salad (veggie prep) and fish (gutting a whole fish), probably because I spend most of my time at home in the kitchen. While it was unrelated to tonight's meal, I helped my mom (Constance) pick out corn kernels from a huge bag that she bought at the market. Although I was hoping for popcorn, we sorted out all the kernels, picking out the bad seeds, before carrying the bowl down the road to the mill. Tomorrow we'll go back to pick up our freshly ground corn meal!

The arachide (darn autocorrect keeps changing these to arachnids-- I can ASSURE you that I'm not eating spiders!) prep started at our trusty grinding stone. This is the same stone we use to prepare Pima sauce (like chili paste).  Instead of grinding up whole peanuts, Christiane ground up some homemade peanut biscuits. She added water until it became a thick paste. 

While we were grinding up peanut cookies, Fidele (grand-mere) was busy starting the rest of the sauce. She chopped up fresh tomatoes (they have grape tomatoes here in the market!) and onions and added them to some tomato paste. After it came to a boil, we added some pepper, salt, pima, and finally the peanut paste. It took some time for the peanut paste to break down in the liquid, but eventually the whole thing came to a boil. We added some prepared fish (because no meal here is complete without a meat group) and let it stew. 

Although I was expecting paté, I was served rice with the peanut sauce for dinner. It was delicious!! And, like most meals here where they try to constantly over feed me, I was served 19 bananas to top it off!

Monday, July 6, 2015

Vive Le Français!

Today marked the start of Week 2 of CORE training here in Benin. For the next 4 weeks, we will be focusing on full language immersion at our sectors' training sites.  Once a week, we will be traveling to the main site in Lokossa for lectures focused on health (ours, not part of RCH), security, and cultural integration activities. 

It's been hard having to travel back and forth to Lokossa every couple days (we left Sunday morning and are now back Monday night). Not only is packing a day pack on a daily basis difficult, but I miss my host family when I'm away for a couple nights. Luckily, with the start of week 2, we are getting on a regular schedule of group days on Tuesdays. This means we won't be pulled out of our homes as often and I'll have more time to play with Eddyson and Jean-Eudes!!

We just finished the kick-off of language immersion here in Lokossa.  From now on our motto here is "L'Anglais est mort, vive Le Français!" We symbolically buried a piece of paper that had "L'Anglais" written on it and were separated into groups based on how we plan to achieve our language learning goals. 

The groups were four different animals: the lion, the elephant, the chameleon, and the monkey.  Will you stalk your target and protect your family? Are you gentle, kind and enjoy a slower pace? Do you camouflage yourself in the language? Or do you prefer learning through repetition, group activities and games?

Tomorrow, we are here in Lokossa being training on the contents of the infamous Peace Corps medical kit. It contains everything from bandaids and ibuprofen to rehydration salts and detergents. The accompanying "Staying Healthy" book is a tome that I will be familiarizing myself with over the next couple weeks. 

All is well here. It's hot and sunny, but I love it. Even the bumpy roads (African massages) are growing on me.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

The 4th in Benin

We kicked off our Fourth of July celebrations last night here in Lokossa with a big acoustic song-a-long of as many patriotic songs we could all remember. We hit rock bottom with "Party in the USA," but had a great time struggling our way through the classics. I'm thankful a couple volunteers brought their guitar, mandolin and ukulele!

This morning we woke up for a quick breakfast of coffee, omelettes and bread. There is peanut butter, jam and Nutella here in Lokossa, which has been a treat. After breakfast, we met in our language groups for two hours. Currently, my class is working on irregular conjugations in the futur tense. It's been a great review and my teacher, Marie Josee, is fabulous!

Since we arrived in Benin, our programming manager, Giselle, has been talking to us about the feast that we were responsible for preparing today. We tried to come up with a menu for 100 people  without really understanding what was available in the market. By 10:30, there was a huge table d ingredients and the food prep teams got to work. 

Mark, Jake and I were assigned to a fish entree. We received a big bucket of whole fish, complete with eyes and everything!  They were partially frozen so we added some water to the bucket and hoped for the best. With some help from our facilitators, we learned how to properly gut and fillet a fish. We pan sautéed the fish over a propane stove and served it with a pineapple garlic salsa and pineapple fried rice. Once it was plated, I help Rachel make stovetop apple crisp with an oat crumble , which was a real hit! 

The ceremony started around 1:30 with a dance presentation by a group of local musicians and dancers.  Emma and I had been asked to prepare a few words about the history of the holiday and about how Americans celebrate it in the USA for the local officials and PC staff who joined us. Samara was willing to video the welcome speech for you!!

There was enough food to feed a small army: hamburgers, veggie burgers, hot dogs, a whole goat (Benin BBQ), potato salad, Mac and cheese, mango salsa, fruit salad, deviled eggs and more!! Everything was delicious!!

After the meal, we headed off the the local university for games of volleyball, basketball, handball and soccer against the university students. Everyone did a great job.  I volunteered for the cheer squad and we walked around to each game boosting morale in the African heat. 

We will be spending the night in Lokossa before heading back to Sé tomorrow for more language and RCH classes. I miss my host family, Edi's mischievous smile and carrying Jean-Eudes on my back. 

Hope you're having a fabulous 4th!!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Life skills 101

When you join the Peace Corps, you have a vague idea of what you're getting yourself into. You know you're going to live with a host family in a foreign country, learn a new language and meet new people from different cultures and traditions. What you don't know is what types of experiences you will have: the little moments that make bucket baths, distance from family and endless mysterious foods worth it. 

Today started out as just another day in Sé. I woke up, got dressed and sat down for a breakfast omelette and some Nescafé (this still doesn't count as coffee but it'll do the trick). Christiane walked me to school in time for my 8:00 French class. While waiting for class to start, I tried out some of my new Abadja dance moves with the kids, only to embarrass myself terribly. But c'est la vie! 

Mark and Leland are attempting to teach all the kids about Crossfit and decided to give a burpee demo this morning too! Everyone was thoroughly amused. 

Our first French class ended by 10 and we left the school for a field trip to the market. This week the main market day in Sé was Thursday, and our teacher wanted us to have the real market experience.  

I love open markets. The variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, the piles of fabrics and the odd collection of animal heads remind you of the intricate beauty of a new culture. We walked around for over a hour, bartering for our first pieces of tissu (traditional Beninese fabric) and snacking on fresh grape tomatoes. 

Stowing away our goods, we returned to the school, grabbing a quick lunch of avocado and omelette sandwiches en route. 

Unlike most days, when we spend the afternoon participating in general lecture sessions, we spent this afternoon with Papa Velo (his real name is Mustapha), learning everyone you would ever want to know about bikes. 

So, I now know how to replace a tire, fix a chain, check the brakes and repair a leak. Thanks peace corps for these valuable life skills (that I hope I will never have to use!)

As we were getting ready to actually practice riding the bikes, the sky opened up and we had our first major rain storm here in Benin. The rain was so loud on the roof of the school that we couldn't hear the person next to us, so we just stopped and watched the rain fall, and quickly flood the school yard. While most kids would shy away from the mud and pools of murky water, the Beninese students began sliding through the puddles, savoring the opportunity to play in the rain. 

When 5 o'clock rolled around, I decided to brave the storm on my bike. Leland and I headed off towards home, struggling to navigate the mud, sand, pothole, puddles and animals on the dirt path. Needless to say, I may not do that again, but I received a warm welcome from my family when I arrived caked in dirt. They are the best!

Tomorrow we leave for Lokossa at 6 am for more classes and a big 4th of July celebration on Saturday. We are planning a huge American style feast, outdoor games and a fashion show! 

Off to pack and find some red, white and blue!

Thankful Thursday

We have been spending a lot of time over the last week going over various Peace Corps policies and participating in sessions on how to stay healthy here in Benin.  In one group activity, we came up with the idea to have a gratitude journal, so on days when things aren't going so well, we can look back and remember some of the things we are thankful for. While I will be keeping my own list, I've decided to share some of the highlights with you on a weekly basis. So, here we go!

1. My host family is amazing, friendly and it was wonderful to come back home to them after a long day of training.

2. Cockroaches eventually die when they get flipped onto their backs. I realized this because the roach population in my latrine has slowly been dying off. Clearly they aren't the most intelligent creatures.

3. It's mango season and I can buy a huge, juicy mango for the equivalent of 40 cents (the currency here is the CFA at about 575 to the dollar).

4. There is a running shower and toilet in Lokossa at our training site.  It's a luxury, even though it only works when there's electricity.

5. I have already made some amazing friends and can't wait to spend the next two years with these fabulous people!!

Selfies aren't as easy as you'd think when in the back row of a bus, driving down a pot-holed dirt road, and hitting your head on the roof when a tire explodes!