Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Trials of Travel

After nearly two weeks of training in Lokossa and three months of provisonal status, we were finally awarded certificates recognizing our completion of Peace Corps Benin's pre service requirements. Simply put, we are officially official volunteers.

So what's changed and what have I been doing for the past six months if not considered a volunteer? Well, since swearing-in in September, I have been working to get to know my community. I have spent hours at the health center, participated in polio vaccination campaigns, gone to the fields to pick beans and cotton, and talked with countless villagers while shelling peanuts, drinking sodabi or dancing at church. The integration period (which will continue indefinitely) challenged me to adapt to my new surroundings and rely and build a new support system that starts with me at the base. As we were still considered PC Trainees, we were restricted from traveling away from post and limited to two workstation days a month. Some of the best advice I got from other volunteers was to stay in site as much as possible during the first three months, so I only visited Cotonou once and spent the rest of my time in Adourekoman and the surrounding communities.

The training session called Tech 2, which spanned December 6-12 marked our last training hurdle on the way to PCV status. Our homologues joined us to discuss action plans at post, malaria initiatives and various forms of conflict resolution under a cultural lens. On December 14 we started a two day training on the Care Group model and were joined by those homologues. This culminated in a very successful mock sensibilization in the Lokossa community and I was really proud of Fortune, my homologue, who took the reins, asked all the right questions, kept the women engaged and is excited to implement the program in village.

While training was exhausting, we got to enjoy time after sessions with the other volunteers, many of whom I have not seen or heard from in several months. Unlike Adourekoman, which has no food vendors, Lokossa is a bone fide city complete with a pizza restaurant (it takes about 3 hours from order to eating but when there's cold beer that's OK), a schwarma place and lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.

As much as I enjoy the benefits of city(ish) life, I was so happy to return to village, but if course it wasn't an easy trip. We left the training site at 7:45 when the 7 am bus finally arrived to take us to Bohicon. Wowo cried most of the way but we ended up making great time, pulling into the bus "station" in a little over 2 hours. The bus was immediately swarmed by drivers, grabbing at our bags and rushing off to fill their vehicles. Fortune and I stayed on to go to the taxi station which is locates on the other side of town. Our driver returned to our mini bus angered at the realization that one of the passengers hadn't paid before running off to search for him. In the meantime, our mini bus was blocking the driveway and a large SUV kept purposefully rear-ending us so we would move out of the way. What's another couple dents though?

Our driver finally came back and drove us to find a taxi. Instead of a bush taxi, we loaded our stuff into another mini bus bound for Bante, but the driver promised us we could get off in Dassa. We grabbed some of Bohicon's infamous bread and took off. About an hour into the ride, the rear doors on the bus shot open and out rolled my hiking backpack, tumbling several times across the highway. The driver didn't seem to think anything of it until the other passengers insisted we go back to retrieve it. He slammed the bus into reverse, threw my badly beaten and ripped backpack into the back and set off. Note to self: never pack valuables in that backpack, never sit in the back row and always be thankful for Beninese mamans who always look out for me. When we pulled over in Dassa another hour later, I was happy to be out of the bus.

Unfortunately the one taxi in Dassa wasn't in any hurry to gt on the road and instead was fully consumed by a riveting game of mancala. Despite Fortune insisting that we needed to get back to village, it was another 45 minutes before we finally set off, with 11 people crammed into a standard 4 door sedan. Typical.

Kabole was another 35 minutes away, but luckily I wasn't sitting on the stick shift (yes that happens) or on the lap of several people in the back seat. Fortune and I were dropped off in a cloud of dust and managed to find zems (motos) to take us directly to Adourekoman. Sporting my helmet and guarding wowo with my life, we slowly made it down the terre rouge and to my house.

Pulling into Adourekoman a bunch of children rushed forward to say hi and help me unload my belongings. I was greeted with a layer of dust on the floor and piles of bat poop in each corner. Despite that, everything looks and feels just as I left it, just like home.

After sweeping and mopping, I decides to lay down for a hammock nap. Three hours later I awoke to the sound of knocking and the delivery of some welcome rice from a neighbor. I am one lucky PCV and I can't wait for what these next couple months bring. Right now its time to unpack- vaccinations and some real work can wait for tomorrow! 

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