Thursday, August 27, 2015

Nutritional "Negotiations"

As Health Agents here in Benin, our major role is that of an educator. Through sensibilizations (health talks), demonstrations and group activities, our goal is to initiate behavioral change in a community to improve community health. 

This week, we focused on maternal health and nutrition. We started by learning about the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding until 6 months old, the importance of complimentary feeding, proper breastfeeding techniques, nutrition during sickness and how to treat and diagnose malnourished children. The Beninese government follows the guidelines set forth by the Essential Nutrition Actions, which outline the main areas of malnutrition and under nutrition in the country. By honing in on pregnant women and children under 5, we aim to ameliorate the nutrition practices of these groups and ultimately create a healthier population. 

Mark and Leland practice a simulated negotiation for exclusive breastfeeding and latching techniques. These guys are troopers!

In addition to breastfeeding practices, the actions specify supplementation of folic acid, iron (to prevent anemia which is only worsened by malaria), vitamin a and iodide (in the form of iodized salt to prevent goiter). It is also recommended that children under 5 receive deparasite medication biannually to prevent chronic anemia and other illnesses. 

While learning about these actions and how to educate the population on their importance, we learned about several practices that are common in Benin and make it increasingly difficult for us to initiate behavioral change. Forced feeding is fairly common here and can result in the asphyxiation of the enfant. In fact, during our community exercise today, Leland and I had to teach a mother why this was a dangerous practice and what techniques she could use instead, such as active feeding (remember the spoon plane flying into your mouth?). Another issue we faced in the community was the belief that horoscopes dictate what you can and cannot eat. One mother was adamant that neither of her children could eat fruits because of their sign. Despite sharing with her the health benefits and essential vitamins/nutrients in fruits such as bananas and oranges, she still refused to budge on her astrological guidance. 

Educating women on nutrition practices required employing negotiation practices. The negotiation process is crucial to triggering behavioral change because the educator does not discount the learners beliefs, but instead tries to offer them other solutions to their problems. We spent a long time this week practicing our negotiation skills for today's community integration exercise.  We drove out to a small village where 60+ women were waiting for us. In groups of two, plus a translator, we "negotiated" with each woman to ensure that she was practicing proper nutrition, hygiene, malaria prevention, and breastfeeding if she had a child under 2.  Many of the women were very receptive to our guidance and I think the exercise was very successful! We are finally getting used to the complications that arise when working with translators and I am thankful that I'll have Daniel to translate for me when I get to village. 

After telling women all morning that a great way to add nutrients to their children's diets is through enriched bouillie, we finally got to make some this afternoon. Beninese eat bouillie all the time. It is the intermediary of paté, liquid in consistency and generally sweetened with sugar to resemble a proper bowl of cream of wheat. Bouillie can be made of almost any cereal, but in order to enrich it, you can add one part soja (soy bean flour) to three parts other grains (we used sorghum, corn and millet which are all readily available here). Once we boiled the flour mixture, we added peanut butter and bananas, which we mashed in a tradition mortal with a monster pestle. The result was interesting, definitely tastier than plain bouillie! Tomorrow we will finish up our nutrition week with a tomato canning and food preservation lesson. 

We are down to the final three weeks before swear in! Team RCH is staying active (we did group yoga today!) and busy here in Sé. I hope everyone is enjoying the last few weeks of summer and getting ready for fall! 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Care Group Approach

Today marks 9 weeks in Benin!! As they say in Peace Corps, the days are long but the weeks are short. I couldn't agree more. 

This past week focused on maternal health 101 and culminated in small group mock Care Group meetings with women from the Sé community. After preparing all afternoon on Friday, Christy, Mark and I left school on Saturday morning to meet with seven women at a nearby house. Our objectives were to outline the purpose of a care group, define the care group model, describe the role of each key player and finally teach some facilitation skills that the women can use when interacting with their beneficiaries. 

Since I have not explained the Care Group (CG) approach, I'll outline it for you now. The basic premise behind CGs is to create a low-cost, sustainable and grassroots mechanism to quickly transfer information to a large number of people. The model was started in the mid 1990s in Mozambique and has since become a commonly adopted approach for disseminating health related programs. 

A Care Group in its simplest form, and the form which we will be applying here in Benin, consists of three different groups of people. First, the volunteer (PCVs) or a health educator, conducts monthly or bimonthly meetings on various health topics. The volunteer prepares lessons with a counterpart (person 2), who assists in translating both the language and cultural appropriateness of the conversation. They are usually a community health worker and are crucial to helping the volunteer become acclimated in the community and integrated with the women she is working with. The third group, and most important, are the leader Mothers. Each Care Group should have between 6-10 mothers who are highly motivated and dedicated to bettering the health of their community. Each mother is responsible for attending meetings and then visiting ten families of pregnant women or households with children under 5 to share the information. In this pyramid approach, one educator can reach up to 100 households by only training 10 women. 

Our practice session in Sé went off without a hitch. We still aren't used to speaking in short sentences for a translator, but that will just take practice. The women in our group were very interested in learning more about preventing child diseases, malaria treatment and prevention, and nutrition. This next week we will be meeting up with the women again to practice a nutrition session, but unfortunately these are just exercises and we won't be continuing with these groups in Sé. Either way, it gives me something to look forward to implementing when I get to post this fall!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Technically Challenged

Technical training kicked off on Monday and we have been running nonstop ever since. 

The RCH curriculum for Tech I is Maternal and Child Health with a focus on nutrition, family planning and prenatal care. We have already covered how to form a Care Group, how to assist with a prenatal consultation, the Beninese vaccination schedule for pregnant women and infants, and danger signs during pregnancy. While being inundated with all of this information, we are continuing intensive language training. 

Now that we have our post assignments, some of us have switched from French class to learning our local language. Because Idaasha is spoken by relatively few people (and none of our existing teachers), they brought in a special tutor to work with Rama and I every day. Unfortunately, Rama is learning Tcha and, while similar, there are some important differences between the two languages. It has made for some frustrating classes, but we're getting the hang of it and should be fluent by the end of training... Just kidding!!

Along with our days full of school, we have spent the last couple afternoons scouring local boutiques to pick a tissu for swearing in. It is customary in the Peace Corps Benin to wear meme-tiss by sector and many of us will be buying extra fabric to gift to our host families as a final thank you before we move to post. I haven't yet started a daily countdown to swear in, but I'm excited to announce that we will be swearing in at the Embassy in Cotonou on September 17th!

In my regular Thursday fashion, I'll leave you with a couple tidbits of thanks:

1. After being sick at the beginning of the week, my body has rebounded and I'm feeling great. I'm grateful to my fellow RCHers for listening to me vent (complain) and over share about all my odd ailments (but we're Health volunteers and grossly interested anyways).

2. One of the things I've looked forward to is having lots of reading time here. I have officially finished 6 books since arriving in Benin and can't wait to tackle more of the list. If you have any suggestions, I'd love to hear them!!

3. We received a huge stack of technical resources yesterday. One of them is "Where there is no Doctor," a Peace Corps bible and the ultimate resource for rural community health workers. For anyone doing health work in the developing world, I highly recommend you take a look. 

The nights here aren't as cool as Adourékoman, but the Nescafé is strong and the bucket baths refreshing. What more could I ask for?!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Friends and Family

One of the biggest concerns most Peace Corps volunteers have, or at least I did, before leaving home was battling homesickness. While we try our best to stay connected, we go away acknowledging that we will miss special events, celebrations and the mundane activities of daily life. For me, it was knowing that I'll miss blueberry season, which always reminds me of my grandpa, and summer sunset kayak trips on the lake. Despite it all, I couldn't be happier that I'm here in Benin. 

Peace Corps has become an instant family. Our RCH stage is there for each other, whether to help deal with the transition or just as an ear to vent to. Knowing that most people are only a text away makes living here so much easier. With only a month to go, it's sad to think that most of us won't see each other on a regular basis, but reassuring that we will remain close as we endure/thrive/power through this experience together. 

While leaving family in the U.S. is hard, we have all been welcomed with open arms into the homes of the Beninese. As I've mentioned before, I love my host family. We laugh as I sweep my room, dance together to music videos after watching our 8:30 pm soap opera (dubbed in French from Spanish), and sit around the fire as I actually watch water boil. After an amazing two weeks in Adourékoman, I was looking forward to getting back to Sé. And for good reason: I was greeted with a running-while-screaming-"dada!"-hug from my main man Eddyson. This little guy brightens my day. 

He may also be the only Beninses kid in Sé who's only English word is "selfie." Sorry, not sorry. 

Stage is exhausting and rigorous. Between adjusting to a new culture, the heat, spicy foods and a different language, we are being tossed around like a prize goldfish in a plastic bag; we see the world outside the container, but we can't yet swim out on our own. I understand that they are easing us into our new lives here and I could be more thankful. 

When I left for the Peace Corps, my dad told me to befriend all the mamas, as they would be the ones to keep me safe here. While I will always have my host grandma, mom and sister, and the countless women in Adourékoman to back me up, I also have a new d.a.d. 

Daniel, my homologue has taken care of me from our first day at training and continues to check in on me every day. I look forward to getting to site and actually getting to know him better. It seems like there's nothing he can't do and no problem too big to conquer. 

Here's to the Adourékoman PCV team of Stage 28! 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

And Away We Fete!

It's been a crazy couple of days here in the Collines, wrapping up my site visit and celebrating the annual Yam festival. 

On Wednesday, we spent most of the day catching up with other volunteers in Galzoue for market day. Mama Ahovi made us burritos for lunch and we got some shopping done to bring food back to people in village. Lindsay was hosting two volunteers from Ghana who were here on vacation, so I toured them around the market. They were particularly interested in our tissu and the fetish market, which has everything from animal  heads for voodoo festivals to wooden dolls to ward off bad spirits. I was patticularly happy when I found a cold caffeinated coffee in the one store with a large refrigerator!

It was a rainy start on Thursday, but we had promised to bring the Ghanaian volunteers to climb a Colline, so we set off for Kpakpa where Amanda agreed to escort them around. Since it was wet, they did the same little nature walk we did, but the view was incredible none the less. 

While they were hiking, Lindsay and I sat down to discuss an action plan for Adourékoman. Since I am replacing a volunteer, I want to ensure that all existing projects continue to be monitored and that I don't redo work she has already completed. We came up with some great ideas and I can't wait to get to site to start implementing them!

We were invited to Vincent's house (Amanda's homologue) for lunch and ate our body weight in soja and manioc. It was delicious. I think my taste buds are finally adjusted to the Beninese amounts of pimante in each dish. 

When we got back to Adourékoman, I met with a carpenter to discuss the changes needed in the house before my arrival. Due to some termite issues, I need to replace both doors and the door frames and install new screen windows to comply with Peace Corps policy. Luckily Fortune and Daniel both know what needs to happen so I have some faith that it will get done before I return mid-September. 

After packing up my mosquito net and grabbing a change of party clothes, we hopped on motos towards Savalou to attend the annual yam festival. Savalou is the capital of the Collines and about an hour away by the terre rouge. Although the actual festival is the 15th (Le quinze Aôut), this was a special year. The king of Savalou, who blesses the beginning of the yam harvest, died recently, so this year was marked by the coronation of a new king. We were unsure what time this was happening on the 14th, so we all went a day early just in case.

On of the beauties of the Peace Corps is that we are all one big family. We got to Savalou in time to make dinner (sweet and sour okra!! Stay tuned for a recipe for this great one pot meal!) and crash at Rob's future house that has become the host site for anyone passing through. It was a warm night so we dragged a mattress into the courtyard, set up our mosquito nets and slept under the stars. 

Still unsure on the timing of the coronation, we woke up on Friday to grab breakfast at a local cafeteria (they had yogurt!!) before heading towards the king's palace.  The streets were bustling as people arrived from all around the country to attend. Long lines of women were marching in traditional voodoo ceremony apparel blessing the area and chanting. 

When we got up to the palace, there were only a couple occupied seats, so we decided to walk around a bit more. We ended up at a local buvette allied Merci pour L'Amour, and caught up with a few other volunteers and yovos that we had met. No one, even the locals, we're sure of the start time, so we walked to Nadege's house where we had been invited for lunch. 

Nadege is the midwife for the main health center in Savalou, but was recently tansferred from a smaller town in the west of the Collines where she was the supervisor of a current third year volunteer. Since moving to Savalou, she has gotten married and now lives in a gorgeous new house with her husband, Alexander, and their kids. 

In true Beninese fashion, her hospitality was amazing. She had a full bar cart set up and had prepared an entire buffet of food. While it's a huge fashion faux pas in the USA to wear the same pattern or outfit, meme-tiss (same tissu) is all the rage. Lindsay and I had arching outfits made for the festival (and one for Daniel so we can all match in village) and we presented Nadege with some of the fabric. She was thrilled! 

After our late lunch there, we ventured back up the hill to check on the coronation ceremony. It still haden't started, so I decided to head back to Adourékoman before dark. The logistics of all this travel was complicated, but Fortune's daughter, Tatiana, was being Baptized at a special mass on Saturday morning and I had to attend. It turns out that the coronation happened minutes after I hopped on a moto, but so it goes. At least I tried!

I got back to village after an eventful moto ride (the chain broke in the middle of nowhere along the terre rouge, but many people stopped to help us and fetch a mechanic) that took over 3 hours to get home. Exhausted, Daniel invited me over for a late dinner and cold beer; he truly is superman!  By the time I got my net up again, I was ready to crash. 

Saturday morning was an early wake up for a supposed 7 am departure for the church. When I rolled out of bed to an empty house at 6:40, I realized there was no huge rush... Welcome to Benin Time (BT). We finally left the house at 7:45 and Lindsay, who arrived by moto that morning, met us at church. 

Like the last masse commande I attended, everyone in the community was invited and since there was guaranteed to be food afterwards, there was a good crowd. The mass was conducted in Idaasha and 12 babies were baptized on the steps of the alter. Lindsay and I were invited up to take pictures of all the cuteness! Since I have actually never attended a baptism in the USA, I can't tell you if it was different, but everyone was happy and even the babies held it together. 

After the baptism, Lindsay and I were invited back to Fortune's house to continue fete-ing. We were given a huge bowl of rice and another of spaghetti. We also cracked open a box of sangria to celebrate the occasion. At this point, my camera died, so you will have to wait for Lindsay to send me pictures from the 20 minute photo shoot we had with the babies, my host family and everyone else who wanted a photo with us. (I do have one of us though!)

After the meal and a village tour to say our goodbyes, we caught motos to head back to Savalou for the real yam festival. I had all my baggage with me and Lindsay decided to go meet her Ghanaian friends in Cotonou, so I went straight to the house to drop everything off. I met up with Caitlin, a volunteer who is completing her service in two weeks (!), who wanted to go visit Nadege. I called and we were invited to yet another meal. 

After finding Nadege's house, 15 minutes down a long dirt road, it became clear that the meal was actually a party at Alexander's familial house. Caitlin stayed for a drink before leaving for another event, but I decided to stay with the family and celebrate Ignam Fete in true Beninese fashion. 

We loaded up two cars of various family members and drove up the hill towards the King's palace, where Alexander's family lives. The house is built into the side of a Colline and we hiked around, getting an amazing view of all of Savalou. The woman brought out pre-boiled ignams and began the process of making  Ignam pilé. The ignams (like yams) have a starchy consistency and are pounded in a knee high mortar with a long wooden pestle until they are like a sticky mashed potato.  Pounding is usually done in sets of two or three people, with each one throwing down their paddle to mash the Ignam. 

We set out mats on the terrace and both the men and women ate from communal platters. This was by far the best Ignam pilé I have tasted so far and it's even better when you eat it with your hands! We capped off the meal with a bottle of red wine and then packed up to go visit the palace. 

The palace was crowded with people watching a voodoo ceremony to bless the spirits of the dead, but we couldn't get close enough to really see what was happening inside the circle. We actually left quickly after one person became possessed by a fetish and the kids panicked. And I can understand why! More on voodoo and my experiences with it so far later. 

Like most American festivals, the Ignam fete also has a huge open market and music stand at the local fairgrounds. I joined the family as they drove down there to explore the stalls filled with fake jewelry, ointments that promise to have magical properties and other fair wares. 

Seven hours after heading to Nadege's house, I finally got back to the PC house in Savalou. Everyone else was getting ready to sleep and preparing for our early departure to our respective training sites today. I was lucky and got to travel back with two other volunteers, which makes navigating and negotiating much easier. 

The three of us met at the bus area at 6:30 this morning hoping for a 7 am departure. We finally pulled out at 7:40, with 23 people in a mini bus that clearly seats 18. The trip to Bohicon was rather uneventful and when we arrived at the terminal, we weren't swarmed by drivers like we were on our way to post. Like seasoned volunteers, we found a taxi heading to Sé, negotiated down from the yovo rate and sat around eating avocado and baguette sandwiches while the driver searched for other passengers. 

We left the terminal with 6 passengers plus the driver and a trunk that was tied down with a bungee cord. (We didn't join the Peace Corps to be comfortable!) Despite a couple drop offs and pick ups along the route, we didn't have any problems and I was actually thrilled when I pulled into Sé and started down my dirt road towards home. 

While it was sad to leave Adourékoman and my new friends there, I received a running-while-screaming-then-tackled welcome from Eddy and Jean Eudes who has just started walking!! I'm excited to kick off Technical training this week and can't believe that we are only 5 weeks from becoming real Peace Corps Volunteers!!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Natural Beauty

The weather has turned slightly and last night I actually thought to myself "wow, it's chilly tonight." Then I came to my senses and realized that my new "chilly" reality was actually one in which I could comfortably fall asleep in a tank top and shorts without sweating to death.

Although it's the rainy season, it rained for the first time this afternoon (first time since I got to Adourékoman a week ago.) As I mentioned earlier, the lack of rain has brought on famine conditions here: the corn has dried up and the beans have shriveled. Only the cotton fields seem to be growing. Today's rain is a good sign though. And if it means there might actually be a harvest here, I can handle the goats and chickens following inside the house to seek shelter.

It's been a very relaxing weekend here. On Friday, Amanda and I decided to hike one of the local Collines. Much to everyone's dismay, we set off with Amanda's supervisor, who promised us that he would lead the way and bushwhack the path. Fortune drove me to our meeting point and dropped me off on the terre rouge, claiming a fear of heights and snakes (and we all know how I feel about snakes!!).

The Colline that we climbed was hardly a hike, but just getting out and being active was amazing. And, on top, the view was incredible. We could see all of the local villages, the camps set up by the herdsman, and the terre rouge going off into the distance.

Since it didn't take that long to summit, we hiked around the top for a while, played on the rock faces and explored each side of the Colline. Wherever we turned, the view only got better. It truly is beautiful here, especially with everything being so lush right now. 

After our little adventure, we were invited back to Roman's house (Amanda's supervisor in Kpakpa) for lunch. His wife cooked a great mélange of beans and corn while we chatted about life in our respective villages. It turned out that Fortune never went back to Adourékoman and instead visited his sister in Kpakpa, so I lucked out and caught a ride back with him. 

Back in village, I bid farewell to Daniel, who was off to visit family in Togo for the weekend. I joked about having abandonment issues and assured him I could definitely handle a weekend alone here. Before heading home, I visited Sabine and did temporary tattoos with all of her kids, which they love! (Lindsay brought 2000 temporary tattoos from Oriental Trading and they are perfect!)

Chez Fortune, we cooked a rice dinner and I read out loud to all the kids before heading to bed. Lindsay left me with a children's book that describes different religions including Catholicism (practiced by most in Adourékoman) and Judaism (moi and Lindsay).  These kids are going to know so much about Judaism and are fascinated by the holidays and traditions. It's great Goal Three in action!

I spent Saturday with Sabine at the health center. There was a constant stream of children coming in with simple malaria (not malaria grave), so we were handing out coartem like it was candy (but not really.) We talked about ways to reduce the number of malaria cases and how to best educate the population. I think Sabine will be a great counterpart for the women's group I plan to start when I return in September. 

I've been helping my host mom cook a lot and trying to learn the names of local foods, and where to buy them, in Idaasha. She speaks French relatively well, but my host siblings are always willing to help. Fortune's second wife has more limited French, so she has been helping with my Idaasha. She is also the mother of Tatiana, my 5 week old host sister, and they love nothing more than passing her off to me when I don't have my hands full. In fact, I have already been told that I will be holding her at her baptism next week. 

Sunday's are the slowest days in village, with most people attending mass in the morning. I chose to hang back today to play with the kids and do some laundry, which my host sister quickly took from me and proceeded to do at a rate exponentially faster than me. I was gifted a watermelon from a neighbor, so I cut it up and shared it with all the kids. 

Tonight, I'm learning how to make traditional beans and I promised the kids an English lesson. Off to start my fire and duck the pelting rain!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Post Visit Thanks

Visiting Adourékoman has been amazing!
With Lindsay as my guide, we have navigated the village, salue'd (greeted) countless people (it's tradition here to stop and greet everyone in village, especially in the morning and upon your return) and today had my first vaccination day in Zaffe. 

As I mentioned earlier, Zaffe is the larger arrondissement hospital about 7 km from Adourékoman. Every Thursday is vaccination day and women come from the surrounding villages with their babies for the 6, 10, 14 week and 9 month vaccines. Since this is the main social event of the week for the women, they dress in their best, break out all their jewelry and cloth their babies in the finest knits and booties. It's absolutely adorable. 

This morning there were 15 babies for vaccinations and an addition 5 babies who were born in the last week here to get their newborn vaccinations. Since the newborn vaccinations come in bottles that contain 10 doses, they are often not actually given at birth and instead they wait until the next Thursday. There was a baby born this morning who came out just in time to get his vaccine. Lucky guy!

Post vaccinations (the cuteness takes a quick turn downhill when they pull out the needles), Lindsay and I hopped on a moto to visit an Environment Camp that is taking place this week in the Collines. Camps are a huge part of Peace Corps worldwide and especially here in Benin.  Almost every week during the school vacation, PCVs host different types of camps and volunteers from around the country can bring a couple kids to participate. 

The camp we visited is being run by the Environmental Action volunteers with a focus on different aspects of the EA curriculum. When we arrived, the kids were recieving materials to do an egg drop from the water tower, so we looked on as each team worked to use specific materials to protect their egg. Ultimately, the purple team won with a drop from 7 m. 

One of the main goals of PC Benin is food security. It's a major issue here and I have already heard talk in my village of the famine conditions in the field because of the drought this wet season. In fact, it hasn't rained once in the last week and the corn is starting to burn before its harvested. 

A solution to ease the burden of food security in Benin is to do food preservation projects such as canning and drying vegetables to eat in the off season. The volunteers today were teaching kids how to can and store tomatoes using a series of sterilizations and boils. This is something I will probably end up doing in Adourekomen too as they are suffering from this years drought. 

After leaving camp, Lindsay and I rode back to Glazoué to pick up a couple items for dinner tonight and some tissu (fabric) so that we can have a matching "family photo" with Daniel. Tonight we are making Indonesian peanut noodles for Daniel and Fortune (and anyone else who stops by). I'm excited to get in the kitchen and learn the secret recipe!

So, in all, I'm thankful for an amazing post, wonderful friends and this beautiful country that I get to call home. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Market Day!

It's been a busy couple days here in Adourékoman! 

Since it was the end of the month, Daniel and I spent the last two days checking numbers and finializing written reports for the health centers in the Dassa-Glazoué zone. Most of what needed to be done was number crunching vaccination records and ensuring that all patients were accounted for. It was interesting and between copying columns for Daniel and checking the math, there was a lot of down time. I got to visit the Heath center in Zaffe, which has electricity, running water, a lab and a maternity ward. I'll be doing vaccination clinics there every Thursday, but definitely want to spend more time there with the doctor and other staff!

I'm realizing that Peace Corps will come with a lot of down time. I have been reading a lot, which I love, and have been  learning some basic survival Idaasha with Fortune on a daily basis. 

Yesterday, Lindsay got back to post, so I was able to check out my future house and meet some of her local contacts. The house is great: two rooms, a big backyard that will be perfect for my hammock, a kitchen, latrine and shower area. There is a large cistern that I will use to store water for the dry season, but when the power is working, I will gather my water there and store it in big covered jars. 

Yesterday, Lindsay invited some of the local kids over to weed the backyard in exchange for bitter leaf and citronelle. With the land cleared, I'll not only prevent a bug infestation in the grass, but I'll be able to eventually start a garden. I brought some pumpkin, arugula, snap pea and beet seeds that I'll try to plant in September when I move in. 

Last night, Sabine invited us over for dinner; I'm realizing that someone will always have extra food they want to share with me. She is actually a great cook (she's already sent over beans for lunch) and her kids are adorable. This morning, Lindsay and I greeted them with some beignets and played catch with a little lime. 

Wednesday's here are market days. 
Each week, Amanda, Cate, moi and the other local volunteers will meet up in Glazoué for shopping and a day of out-of-village rest. There is a small restaurant in Kabole where the mama (owner) will cook any type of food we want, let us charge our electronics (!!!) and lock up our belongings when we go to market. 

Today at the market, we got to try attieke, a specialty dish from Cote D'Ivoire. The market is the third largest in Benin and people pour in from the surrounding countries (Nigeria, Togo etc.) and bring their wares to buy and sell. Here's a quick photo of Amamda and I eating in the market. Attieke is a fermented manioc mix with couscous, fried plantains and pimante. It was really yummy!!

We're sitting here hanging out at Mama's with some other volunteers before heading back to village later today. Tomorrow is a vaccination day in Zaffe so in excited for another day of work!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Independence Day

I had a great first weekend at post!

Saturday, August 1st, is Independence Day here in Benin, so we all knew that we would get to experience the festivities. In addition to Independence Day, Adourékoman was celebrating the 10 year anniversary of the death of one of its Badjagou matriarchs. 

The day started with a special mass at the Catholic Church in town. The entire Badjagou family (most of the village) was wearing matching tissu. The service was conducted in Idaasha, so I'm glad that I had Fortune and Daniel to translate for me. The choir sang, there was a lot of dancing and Fortune insisted on introducing me publicly to the whole community. We stood in front of hundreds of people and he handed me the mic to greet the crowd. I'm still working to get the Idaasha salutations, but everyone appreciated my efforts. 

After the service, there was a big luncheon provided by the family and shots of the local brew, Sodabe, were passed around. 

When I got home, Fortune insisted we drive into Glazoué for Independence Day celebrations.  The trip is about 20 minutes down a red dirt road and I'm coming to the conclusion that I will be doing that drive a lot. 

Our first stop was at a buvette where the other chefs du village were gathered for a party. We joined them for a drink and then stayed to eat some yam pilé, a traditional dish in the Collines. It's an interesting mix between paté and mashed potatoes. 

From this fête, we drove to another, passing Egungun vodun spirits along the road. At a different buvette, I was introduced to the mayor of gome and the other delegates from his arrondissement. We were invited for another drink but I said I was too full from the yams. I realize this could be considered rude, but there is only so much Beninoise this girl can drink (although I'll rarely turn down the pamplemousse soda- it tastes like Fresca!!)

When we finally made it back to village, I took a quick bucket bath in my open air shower and crashed for a nap. I woke up and decided to explore the village on my own. 

I ended up settling in at the Health Center and hanging out with Daniel while he attended to some patients. I played around with a baby who ended up peeing on me (that's twice in two days)... I'm getting used to it. 

Fortune finally sent his kids to come get me for a dinner of paté. I helped his wife prepare the dinner and an accompanying peanut sauce. By the time everything was ready, I was exhausted. I managed to sneak in a short bucket shower before a rain storm rolled in. 

I woke up this morning having promised Fortune and Daniel that I would join them at mass. I managed to drink a whole bowl of hot chocolate before running off to Daniel's house. I was informed that mass started at 8 am sharp, but when we rolled in at 8:30, it hadn't even started.  

Today's service was shorter than yesterday's special mass and there were far fewer attendees. We still got to dance down the aisles and song though. After church, Fortune brought me around to greet more villagers before heading off to Kpakpa to visit Amanda and Nell. 

Kpakpa is a small village about 15 minutes away by moto. Amanda, an EA volunteer, will be replacing Nell there after swear in. Cate, another EA volunteer who is only another 15 minutes away, joined us for lunch and we passed away the afternoon catching up on village life. I am eternally grateful that these two ladies are so close and we will get to see each other very regularly. 

After a relaxing afternoon in Kpakpa, Fortune and I returned to Adourékoman. I left to visit Daniel at the health center and ran into Odette who was just stopping by. 

Sabine, the other employee at the Health Center, sent over bean soup for lunch, so I will probably reheat that for dinner before being served more paté.

Everyone here is taking great care of me and being so welcoming. I'm looking forward to vaccination day at the center tomorrow and getting into the groove of life here. 

Here's a little taste of my beautiful scenery. Red dirt roads, Collines and palm trees for miles. 

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Journey to Post

Greetings from Adourékoman!!

Yesterday was a long day of travel starting with an attempted 7 am departure from Sè. Everyone who was heading up north loaded onto a bus with their homologue bound for Bohicon. Due to some (unforeseen) delays, we hit the road at 8:30. 

**The story I am about to recount is fairly graphic. Please scroll to the next set of asterisks to skip over.**

Just after Lokossa, we came to a stop on the road. Women were running towards us and we could see smoke rising from the road ahead. The driver slammed on the gas in reverse and we jolted backwards to avoid the oncoming traffic. 

At this point, we had no idea what we were witnessing. One homologue said that a fight broke out due to the elections, but they all assured us that we were safe. The driver pressed on and we continued down the road towards the smoke. 

As we drew nearer, we could tell that the road was partially barricaded with burning logs. A tree on the side of the road had been cut down and the leaves were smoking. Women around us were screaming and the men were arguing with each other. 

At the smoke we saw a group of three men dragging a man across the gravel path with a rope around his neck. Other men were beating him sharp sticks and he we was resisting their force. We watched as his body was placed on to the fiery brush. As we drove away, we heard a blood curdling scream. 

As observers, we had no idea what to do or say about what we just witnessed. One homologue began to pray loudly for the man and the rest of us were shocked. We found out that the man being killed was a thief and that public executions of this nature are common in cases of theft. 

When we arrived in Benin, we learned about cultural practices and observances that were different from our own. But, nothing prepared us for what we saw on the road. We are not here to criticize or blame, just to witness and that's what we did. Let's just say, we'd rather not witness anything like it again. 


We continued down the road and finally arrived in Bohicon, to a bustling bus terminal and hundreds of vendors trying to sell us their wares. Daniel helped me unload my bags from the roof of the bus and we gathered our belongings under a nearby sitting area. I was under the belief that we were taking a taxi to Galzoue, but Daniel had called his brother and he met us with a motorbike. We are lunch together at a nearby restaurant before Daniel and I set off to Adourékoman on bike. 

The countryside here is beautiful, lush and the rocky Colline outcroppings give the area an aura of extraterrestrial life. Wearing my helmet and positioned between Daniel and my large hiking backpack, which was strapped to the back, I was able to take in the landscape as we passed. 

The drive was almost 3 hours and by the time Daniel told me that we were close, I was thrilled. We turned down a red dirt road and about 10 km later, we arrived!

The village is small and everyone here is incredibly friendly. Right now, I am staying with the village chief and his family, but I will move into my own home (Lindsey's now) in September. My house is located about 20 m from Daniel's and only 250 m from the Health Center. 

Daniel brought me to the chief and after settling in, we set off to meet the village king and other important village officials. Luckily most of them speak French and I was able to communicate without a problem, but with some of the elders, Fortune served as my translator. 

I got a quick tour of the village before going to Daniel's for a spaghetti dinner. We returned home to hang my mosquito net, do my nightly spider search and take a quick bucket bath in the open air "shower" area under the stars. 

I'm glad that this is the place I will be calling home.