I am going to start this blog entry off by listing a couple of facts that I have learned from living in Benin for a little over a month now.
1. Sorry mom and dad but you were wrong, you can not put tea tree oil everywhere
2. Going with out clothes in Africa at times is a choice
3. Yelling doesn’t always mean someone is angry
4. Opposite sexes definitely can’t be friends here
5. Having diarrhea in Benin is officially renamed as the Big D by yours truly
6. Getting diarrhea, constipation, or any type of sickness according to our Peace Corps Doctors is a choice
7. Half the African kids that play soccer are better than the professional soccer players
8. You can MacGyver the mess out of things around the house, for example a flat tire and a stick is a pretty fun game
9. Washing clothes by hand is a great workout
10. Just when you think you seen the most flies or gotten the most mosquito bites you are seriously surprised
Okay so as I said previously I am in Porto-Novo living with a family, and I recently just finished French Immersion which was incredibly rough. We had French for about seven to eight hours a day with only two half hour breaks and an hour and half lunch break. Now my day consists of French class and technical training. French has been really hard and at times really demoralizing. Right now I am at Novice High and by the time I swear in (September 15th) I have to be at Intermediate High. It is really hard trying to balance studying and spending time with my large family but it is nice that French is one of the many languages spoken at my house so I do get to practice. However, sometimes it really is a struggle and not only just to say, for instance, “I need you to boil my water longer or I will get sick”, but also because some things like eating with a fork, using a napkin/tissue/toilet paper is a total foreign concept.
Some other difficulties that arise from living in Benin would include the HUGE taboo of showing your knees. It is pretty scandalous, although I have seen plenty of Beninese girls show their knees but it is a definitely a big no for us. The lack of small bills/coins would be another difficulty. The Peace Corps pays us every two weeks (which I might add amounts to the whopping total of 3 dollars a day) and usually in big bills. The exchange rate is 500 CFA to 1 dollar. 500 CFA here can buy you a couple days lunch here no problem. In Benin, the CFA currency is just called Francs and since everyone is poor small change like 500 Francs and lower are used more. However if you a 1000 CFA and you need change you will probably have four to five people tell you they don’t have the change when they really do. Thank God there are fifty-some volunteers that I see pretty regularly that I can bum change off of them if need be and vice versa.
The last difficulty I would say would be sickness. Everyone, I believe, has been sick at one time or another. I won’t really go into detail because I know it is culturally taboo in the states to talk about diarrhea. Here, it is very common for people to openly talk about especially among us volunteers. It is usually the lunch topic of the day especially those who live in houses with latrines (outside concrete toilet or room with a whole) and their parents lock their latrines. Just like in most developing countries the left hand is very taboo and is considered the “dirty” hand so you have to beware of little kids who tend to forget, like one of my little brothers.
So those are just a few of the difficulties, however, as I said before I do enjoy my family and sometimes I do think I lucked out. This weekend was a little hard because my Mom’s son came with his girlfriend and their two children to visit his two kids that live at my house. (His wife and him and are divorced and he is also in the military so he doesn’t even live with his two other children). So on top of the six children we have two more which has been really hard in terms of privacy and quiet time to study and read. My family takes very good care of me but they definitely treat me like I have never lived on my own and I can’t do anything. My sister only allowed me to wash three shirts after taking over and bringing out a chair for me to sit down. After I insisted that I wash my underwear myself and they reluctantly agreed my one brother kept popping in to check on my which was pretty patronizing. Another brother instructed me that I need to sweep my room because it was Ce n’est pas bon a popular Beninese phrase meaning: that’s not good/well. He and my other two brothers proceeded to watch me sweep my room giving me instructions as if I never swept a room in my life to the point in which I snapped. I told the kids that I was 22 and didn’t need them to watch me like a circus animal every time I did something. I consider myself very lucky because like I said before I have fifty-three other volunteers going through the same thing as me and am able to totally get what I am going through.
Okay, so for the next blog I will talk about where I will be posted for the next two years, the attempt of riding a bike in Africa, hopefully a nice break from my host family, my many many marriage proposals as well as the guessing game of my ethnicity, and the Peace Corps version of a Friday night.