Sunday, January 15, 2017

Slim Pickin'

January is already halfway over, signaling the peak of harmattan season and the endless sweeping that follows every gust of dusty wind. While most of my village friends complain about the cooler temperatures, I embrace the breeze and falling asleep without a pool a sweat. But, I know I've adjusted to the climate because even when it's in the low 80s, I can be seen wearing jeans and a sweatshirt (I have yet to start wearing a down jacket with fur hood like those seen around town.)

January also means cotton season. Right now all of the large open spaces in Adourekoman are filled with heaping piles of soft cotton, carted in from the fields. The village cotton committee is charged with weighing each persons crop and ensuring it gets loaded into one of the huge trucks that pass through town en route to the storage facility. Last week I decided to help load a couple baskets onto the truck, and while it was fun joking around with the guys in the truck, the best part was my cotton bound dismount from the top rung of the truck bed (certainly not PC recommended!)

I've talked about cotton a couple times on the blog, but this year has been harder on farmers. With the cost of seed and fertilizer going up and the price of cotton going down, many of our farmers are barely breaking even on this years crop. It's a really sad situation and has a lot of people considering planting other cash crops next year.

With everyone busy finishing up the cotton harvest, things have been pretty slow in village. Luckily we haven't seen any sick people at the health center in the past couple days (which could mean that they're refusing to come to the center instead of my optimistic "no one is sick and everyone is washing their hands!" attitude.

Sending lots of love from dusty, yet somehow healthy, Benin!

Monday, January 2, 2017

2017: The journey continues!

And, just like that, it's 2017! In a word, this last year was amazing. 2016 marked a full year living in Benin, countless exciting projects with the Peace Corps, travel across the continent and around the globe, and endless self discovery. It was a year that started and ended on the hazy beach of my side of the Atlantic, surrounded by wonderful friends and the hope for a joyous, healthy, loving and fortuitous new year. I can't ask for more.

Over the last couple months I've been on a blogging hiatus, a sabbatical if you will. While you may think I gave up or got lazy, I can assure you that this fall was chockfull of work in village, new programming initiatives, training the next generation of Peace Corps Benin's volunteers, some memorable weekend trips to explore this beautiful country and endless smiles. Here are some updates and highlights to catch you up:

  • Remember “Power Up Health,” my village project to bring solar power to Adourekoman? Well, it's grown into something bigger than I could have ever imagined! Though a collaboration with UNICEF, I was able to secure the donation of a vaccination fridge, which arrived with its own solar panel system and quickly became the envy of all regional health centers (video from announcing the arrival to my women's groups who erupted in song and dance). With the new self sufficient fridge, we reallocated our own panels to open the village's first boutique selling ice and cold beverages. Through some training on budgeting and basic accounting, we've managed to save over $200 by charging cell phones at the center and plan to set up a village loan system to ensure that all children can attend school and have the necessary materials to succeed! Everyone in village is overjoyed and rang in the New Year with ice cold beer and chilled sodabi for the first time ever!

  • The newest additions to the Peace Corps Benin family arrived in late September and recently swore in as official Peace Corps Volunteers, moved to their own villages and are already making waves in their new communities. I was lucky enough to spend a couple weeks with them all this fall and loved watching them figure out how to grow into their role as PCVs. I'm so excited to see all that they will accomplish in the coming months.
Learning how to permagarden and remembering that in
Peace Corps, "we may not have a dollar, but we can make change."

  • Upon my return from the Malaria bootcamp in Senegal, a fellow volunteer and I started to lay the framework for one of the bigger projects we'll tackle in 2017. The program, named ProACT, is an active case detection model for malaria that was initially piloted by PCVs in Senegal and has been adapted across Africa to reduce the burden of this deadly disease. In the next couple weeks, we'll be touring Northern Benin to identify communities for this second pilot program, first tested last year by two other amazing PCVs. I'll update you more as we progress!
I had the opportunity to lead a malaria curriculum through soccer to an amazing group of high school girls.
Let Girls Learn initiatives continue to be a priority in Peace Corps
and it is such a privilege to work with the next generation of Beninese leaders!

  • Village life continues to be the highlight of my Peace Corps experience. I've watched babies who's births I attended take their first steps and many children who used to cry at the sight of me now greet me every morning with loud banging and a continuous chant of “Sharloti Bonjour!” It's absolutely true when they say that you will receive more out of PC than you ever give, as my Adourekoman family has shown my the value of community, compassion, love, hope and growth. There is no doubt I could have made it this far without them.
Alphonse is my 2 year old best friend.
We've been working on basic conversation, brushing our teeth and of course, mastering downward dog.

  • Friends and family continue to be my rock as the continue to find my way in this crazy world. He has yet to make a blog appearance, but Elie remains my number one cheerleader on the ground, challenging me to dig deeper, look farther and never accept no for an answer. We've loved the opportunity to explore Benin together and become cat parents to this adorable little fur-ball, who unlike my first two feline friends, has managed to survive, grow and nibble his way to three months old. I am forever thankful for all of you who have followed along in my journey. Your support and words of encouragement are unrivaled in their ability to lift me up and push me forwards. Wherever you are, know that you're in my heart in a little slice of West African heaven.
Elie and I ringing in the new year in a harmattan dust storm at Possotome.

I don't know all that 2017 has in store, but it is certainly shaping up to be yet another exciting adventure. I look forward to sharing it all with you and wish you and your loved ones all the best as we enter this next chapter.

Welcome 2017: There's no looking back now!