Friday, July 8, 2016

Relishing the Differences

Although there are some major differences between my life as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Benin and my pre-PC life, I'm always surprised by how many things have stayed the same over the past year. Sure, I live without running water and electricity, can't buy fresh produce on a daily basis while roaming through the aisles of a big grocery store and my definition of dressed now includes a sports bra and two meters of colorful fabric (which would have been a total fashion faux pas in my past life!) I don't want to exaggerate, but some aspects of life have gotten easier since moving to West Africa.

Being social in America always required making plans, getting ready, arriving on time and usually making small talk with strangers. Here in village, however, I am constantly entertaining. My house is a revolving door of women who come to say hi and make sure I'm eating, children who want bubble gum, tattoos or just some time to color away from home, and village leaders who stop in with new ideas on how to grow our community. I find myself boiling large pots of water to serve tea to my visitors, and always having snacks on hand for hungry kids.  While I never knew my neighbors in America, I have become family to the 2000 people living around me. There is something beautiful in sharing customs, goals and the mundane tasks of daily life with people who, on paper, appear so different.

As much as I integrate into Beninese culture and village life, I will always be an American, a foreigner. I don't think I'll ever enjoy eating a mayonnaise sandwich or refrain from cringing every time my neighbor slaughters a goat.   But, now I have these experiences, stories, and a new perspective on the patchwork of our global community. And for that I am so lucky.

This past week, I celebrated the Fourth of July surrounded by Peace Corps friends, both Beninese and American. Nothing says July 4th like cold beer, burgers and red, white and blue, no matter where you are in the world. I enjoyed teaching some of the Peace Corps staff how to build the perfect burger (with ketchup, mustard AND relish, of course) singing all the lyrics to "summer of '69," and watching them look quizically at potato salad that still had the skin. Although most people think my role as a PCV is strictly health related, I've realized it's so much more than that. I'm a cultural ambassador, a student and a member of a community that I truly love.

Benin has taught me that you can never walk alone in life. Despite how different the people around you may act, look, talk or dress, we all want the same things. Happiness is sharing, learning, growing and laughing, no matter where you are. 

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