Monday, November 2, 2015

Birthdays, Brie and Another "City that Never Sleeps"

I had an absolutely wonderful birthday weekend here in Benin! Thanks to all my amazing Peace Corps friends for helping me celebrate being closer to 30 than I am to 20. Commencing my quarter life crisis momentarily.

Although I love being in village, and Daniel wanted to celebrate my birthday in Adourekoman, I came to Cotonou for the weekend. Beninese, well those in my village, don't really celebrate birthdays, well certainly not the extent that they celebrate deaths. If one does celebrate, it is customary for the person having the birthday to throw a party, which could include purchasing a cow for slaughter. I wasn't about to turn my front yard into a full on BBQ, so alas, Cotonou it is.

From Adourekoman, the trip to Cotonou can be anywhere from 4 to 9 hours, depending on the roads, traffic, mud levels, how impatient the driver is, whether or not the car is full, how many chickens are crossing the road, etc.  One thing I have absolutely given up on is the infamous question, "when will we get there?"

So, I managed to leave village on Friday morning by 6, after being told we were leaving at 4:30. The ride was pleasant and the driver speedy. I rolled in and out of sleep across the bumpy roads and red dirt landscape until we arrived around 11.  I headed straight to the Peace Corps workstation where I checked my mail, dropped off some paperwork and took advantage of the WiFi. There were a lot if people coming in for the weekend and it was nice to see lots of familiar faces.

In the afternoon, Emily, Melissa, Nicole and I went to grab schwarma at local spot before doing some necessary grocery shopping and some more business work at the office. To kick off the birthday festivities, we indulged in Ben and Jerry's Cookie Dough ice cream, which bring me back to my New England roots. Since I was staying with friends at their apartment, I left to drop off my bags before heading out for a birthday dinner at a local Indian restaurant.

Dinner was fantastic and the owner sent us a bottle of wine when hearing it was my birthday. I was convinced to stay out and went with a friend to a local bar where we met up with more peace corps volunteers and basked in the reality of the expat life. We finished the evening, and partied well into the morning, at a reggae bar called Jammin', where they turned off the music at midnight to sign Happy Birthday to me. And so it was, I officially turned 25 surrounded by amazing friends, cheap shots of some flaming alcohol and more dreads than I could count.

In the wee hours of Saturday morning, I got back to Lindsay and Ellen's house, where I spent some time admiring the view from their roof deck, before falling asleep to the soft him if a fan- life with electricity is one to be savored!

We woke up on Saturday to make brie stuffed pancakes complete with maple syrup, of the ultimate of glutinous birthday breakfasts. Lindsay and I headed to the grocery store to pick up food for dinner before returning home to grab our swimsuits and head to the embassy for open swim (the embassy pool is open to Peace Corps Volunteers from 2-6 pm on Saturdays, the only time when it us actually staffed by a lifeguard).

The pool was beautiful and refreshing. Many other pcvs showed up to take advantage of the water and lay in the sun.  Despite how much time we spend complaining about the heat, it all means nothing when your laying poolside in a bathing suit. There are certainly some perks to life near the equator.

From the embassy, we went back to the apartment to start dinner and get ready for Halloween. Although the holiday is not celebrated in Benin, the expat community never misses an opportunity to party. We started the evening at a local bar called Livingstone's, which has the infamous buy one get one happy hour, perfect for a PCV budget.

The place was packed but other volunteers had already staked out outdoor tables. After a couple hours of socializing, we walked to a Halloween party down the road. It was in full swing and people were rocking some great costumes. As the night wore on, the music got louder, people started dancing at at one point I tried a sip of some Beninese liquor that was bottled with a dead scorpion and rattle snake. This is the closest I will ever come to a snake by choice ever again!

Eventually we called it a night and headed home. Sunday was relaxing.  I spent the majority of the day charging my electronics, enjoying a hot shower and catching up with people at home. We cooked another fabulous dinner, invited over some friends and I spent some time admiring the Cotonou skyline before turning in.

I'm heading back to village today thankful for all of my amazing new friends who went out of their way to make this one of the beat birthdays yet. Thank you to everyone who sent messages and especially those of you who found a way to get mail to Benin (Grandma never fails to find the one Happy Halloween Birthday card that Hallmark makes each year!)

I feel so loved and can't wait to see what this next year brings! 

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